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IN BRIEF

Nonfiction

December 15, 1996|MICHAEL HARRIS

THE OTHER FACE OF LOVE: Dialogues With the Prison Experience of Albert Speer by Miriam Pollard (Crossroad: 179 pp., $17.95) The sheer audacity of this book is what draws us in. Pollard, a Cistercian nun living (peacefully, we assume) in a convent in Wrentham, Mass., dares to consider the guilt and redemption of Speer, Hitler's favorite architect and armaments minister for the Third Reich during much of World War II. Confined for 20 years in Berlin's Spandau Prison for war crimes--millions of slave laborers suffered under his orders--Speer underwent a religious conversion. Was it genuine? Pollard says yes. Can we, without trivializing the Nazis' atrocities, believe that God not only could exist but could forgive Speer? Yes again. Do Speer's prison diaries indicate that he ever felt forgiven? Probably not.

Pollard 's theology appears to be orthodox, but she chooses among Christianity's more compassionate strains in this meditation on sin, repentance and divine mercy. She holds, as Kurt Vonnegut does in "Mother Night," that most of us, plunked down in Germany in the 1930s, would have been Nazis too. Given Speer's loveless childhood, his ambition and his administrative genius, we might have committed similar crimes. Our good luck in escaping his temptations is only that, she says--not virtue. What these "dialogues" lack is what Speer's death in 1981 ruled out in the beginning: He can't reply directly to Pollard's interpretation of his often eloquent journal entries; it's a one-sided conversation.

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