Germany, 1918. Lukas Eichel is dropped off at an orphanage by his widowed mother. There, he is set upon by the houseboy and future antagonist, Heinrich Rosenfeld, and Lukas is forced to clean the kitchens. His love for mountaineering is born when he finds trading cards of famous alpinists and their routes, from discarded packages of meat extracts, lying on the kitchen floor. At the orphanage, Lukas and the other boys are cared for by Dr. Franz von Wolayer, who immediately shows his leanings toward future Nazism by telling Lukas that he has pure blood and that the mountains are the truest test of a man and a symbol of pride for Germany. The story quickly shifts to Lukas as an adult, as he continues to foster his love of climbing (under the scrutiny of Wolayer), reluctantly joins the Nazi army, fights, and is wounded. He is taken prisoner and sent, by Heinrich—now a Communist Russian—to a camp in Siberia. Eventually, Lukas is freed and finally gets to prove himself on a Himalayan climb.
Chaundy-Smart (founding editor of Gripped magazine) deftly weaves a book of mountaineering into the history of the era. Above the Reich is a look at how fascism became interwoven in the German interwar pastime of alpinism. In Lukas, Smart crafts a climber who climbs for himself when others do it for the Führer, and the consequences of those decisions resonate throughout the book. It’s not quite Seven Years in Tibet, but a worthy addition to the look at mountaineering and Nazism.
Review originally appeared in: Historical Novels Review Feb. 2017