Book Review: The Hideout by Egon Hostovsky

Book Review: The Hideout by Egon Hostovsky

Title: The Hideout
Author: Egon Hostovsky
Translator: Fern Long
Publisher: Pushkin Press
Hardcover: 128 pages
Source: NetGalley
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

A kind, blundering Czech engineer is pressured by the Nazi government to hand over his invention, which could be key to their military operations. He flees to Paris, hoping to sell his invention to the French government instead; yet when the Germans invade France, he is forced into hiding, and spends months in a dark, damp cellar. Alone, he dwells on his memories – of his troubled marriage, and his decision to leave his wife behind in Czechoslovakia. When he is given the unexpected chance to redeem himself, both to his wife and history, he seizes it with utter determination – even though this heroic act will be his last.

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*I received a free copy of this book from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.*

Overall Rating: 4 out of 5

The Hideout is a farewell letter from a man who has decided to strike a blow to the Nazis for the French resistance to a wife he left years before, apologizing for his mistakes and reflecting on how he ended up in his position. It’s not a typical WWII novel about giving a strong resistance to Nazi Germany, or even being a tragic victim of the regime, but rather an honest account of a weak-willed man who has a hard time making decisions and who was really just caught in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong set of circumstances. He’s not a hero, but a man who was unhappily married and trying to find happiness. In some ways, the narration reminded me of The Stranger by Camus. It’s not really an existential piece of work, but it has that same fluid type of narrative with a flawed character that I had trouble either rooting for or against.

What I loved about this novel was its approach towards providing an honest account; the narrator is not colored as a hero or a tragic victim; rather, he is simply a man in unfortunate circumstances. His confinement in his friend’s basement isn’t thrilling or heroic; it’s boring. The darkness blinds him, the isolation drives him mad, and he has so little to eat, he ends up losing his teeth. The narration is honest and straightforward and paints a bleak picture of the situation. While the story itself isn’t particularly thrilling, it brought up a lot of questions for me to ponder. Would it have been better for him to work with the Nazi government and chance meeting his wife and kids someday down the road? What is more important: family or keeping dangerous technology out of the hands of immoral people? What does happiness really mean anyway? And how can we possibly redeem our mistakes and the hurt done to the ones we love?

The Hideout is a short read and I’d recommend reading it in one setting in order to get the full effect of the story as a whole. I don’t think it’s the kind of story everyone would enjoy, but I do think that it’s worth a read. If you’re at all interested in literary works and analyzing them to find a deeper meaning, this one is definitely prime material for that; I could see this as a great companion to the World War II unit in a classroom.

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