A brilliant exploration of sexual obsession and human frailty in a country gripped by war.
In a small town in occupied France during World War II, a teacher of German is recruited by the Gestapo to translate sensitive documents. Every week, waiting for the next assignment, our narrator sits outside the commandant's office and watches prisoners being led to detention cells before being deported. Always existing on the fringes of life, caring only for books, the teacher has never done anything heroic. And certainly this is no time to get entangled in other people's problems.
But one day a stunning Jewish soldier is among the prisoners. His name is Herman and the teacher recognizes him from their lives before the war. In an unprecedented act of boldness, the teacher sneaks Herman out of headquarters, brings him home, and hides him in the cellar, along with a cache of banned books. So begins an extraordinary and shattering affair in which two people and two antagonistic languages, Yiddish and German, are magnetically attracted.
In a tour de force of novelistic technique, Gilles Rozier never reveals the gender of his narrator--opening the question of how many levels of transgression and risk the teacher is taking by hiding Herman. THE MERCY ROOM is an exquisite novel about the power of desire and the competing forces of good or ill in the heart of each of us.
I really tried to love this book as it is about a period in time which greatly holds my interest. I just couldn't connect with the characters in the way I usually would but despite that, it's still a good little book to read.
Since I know this book is originally written in French, I will likely end reading this again at some point in both languages as something may have been lost in translation.
I admit I hadn't even noticed the sex of the main character wasn't revealed at any point but for some reason my mind automatically assumed the character was a female. Next time I may try reading it with the character as a male and see if that makes a difference also.