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The Boys from Brazil by Ira Levin

By (Genny now just) Rusty | Books | August 27, 2009 |

By (Genny now just) Rusty | Books | August 27, 2009 |

Fun fact; I read this book because of a throwaway reference to it on “The Venture Brothers” episode “¡Viva los Muertos!” and I have to encourage you once again to start watching this show if you’re not. And I will be spoiling at least parts of the book, so steer clear if you want to remain innocent of all details.

Anyway, The Boys From Brazil is a sci fi thriller centered around the idea that after World War II ended, Dr.Mengele escaped to Brazil and continued his research. In the early 60’s, we witness a meeting where he sends out other exiled Nazi associates to kill a specific list of 94 men on or around specific dates. All the men are civil servants about 65 years old, and they’re scattered over several different countries. The conversation is surreptitiously recorded by an American boy who then tells the broad details of the conversation to Yakov Liebermann, a German Jew who hunts down Nazis who have escaped persecution to bring them to justice. Before the American can play his tape for Yakov, he is killed.

Most of the book is Liebermann trying to figure out why Mengele would order these men dead, with occasional scenes of the men who are killing them, or even the men who are being killed. Finally, Liebermann happens to see the sons of two of the men being hunted, one in Germany and one in America and realizes that they are identical. An incarcerated female Nazi helps fill in some of the gaps, after the war she fled to America and worked in an adoption agency. She was given directions to pull the files on a specific type of couple, who she would then approach with what looked like a standard black market adoption. The baby would come on a plane from Brazil, and she would pass it on to the couple, swearing them to secrecy. From there, the horrible truth begins to make itself apparent.

The Boys From Brazil is a neat little thriller, and a lot of the science quoted is surprisingly accurate for 1976 (although, I suppose at that time the theory was understood even if the practice had not been perfected). For its time I’m sure the book was inventive and shocking, even if it might not seem so now, 33 year later. The “we must never forget” message about the Holocaust and World War II was occasionally hammered at the reader which I found to be out of place with the surrounding story but I can understand the author’s intention. The book almost serves as a warning against the possibility of a situation like that arising again without the characters having to state it explicitly. Overall though I found the book fun and engaging even if the subject matter was fairly dark.

And it definitely helped to explain the “Venture Brothers” reference.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Genny (now just Rusty)’s review, check her blog, Rusty’s Ventures.

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.