“Phillipa,” by Robert Hilliard. Parlance. 425 pages. $17.95.
“Phillipa” is the best self-published book I’ve read in years. Robert Hilliard, a major force in communications education and Professor Emeritus from Boston’s Emerson College, is the author of over thirty books on radio and television broadcasting. Now, in his retirement on Sanibel Island, he offers a brilliant novel examining the incremental rise of the Third Reich, the nightmare and aftermath of the Holocaust, and the unusual sensibilities of his remarkable and imposing title character.
Phillipa Kohn was born into an upper middle-class Jewish family in 1910. Her father was a Munich stockbroker, and her mother a status-hungry woman who insisted that her daughter think very highly of herself and be given the tools of education and culture to assure her social prominence. Nothing, no one, was too good for Phillipa. This beautiful young woman developed a calculating, prideful personality. She achieved an unusual degree of control over herself and her situation. Phillipa achieved self-sufficiency at the expense of spontaneity and a deeply felt sense of life’s flow.
After marrying the non-Jewish chair of the Philosophy Department at Heidelberg University, Phillipa earns a prominent place in the community’s intellectual and cultural life. As Mrs. Walter Pennman, she continues to hold herself above others while projecting an attractive cordiality. Phillipa is never truly bonded to Walter; rather, she manipulates her infatuated and frustrated husband. Proud of her self-containment; she never sheds a tear. Phillipa seems invulnerable, but emotionally hollow.
Mr. Hilliard uses the university setting to illustrate the effects of Nazi policies on people whose grasp of the situation is far better than their response to it. The author’s convincing delineation of the psychology of denial unfolds as human rights are slowly, then rapidly, stripped from dissenters, outsiders, and those accused or merely suspected of less than total allegiance to the government’s policies. People, including these college professors, become zombies – teaching only approved topics with approved texts handed down from above. Resistance, too long delayed, is meager and quickly – violently – suppressed.
As the wife of a well-regarded faculty member, Phillipa is safe for a while, but she soon is torn from her comfortable life – one of the millions of Jews, other minorities, and alleged dissenters crushed into slavery and potential extinction by the Nazi regime.
To read this review in its entirety, as it appears in the July 7-13 issue of the Fort Myers Florida Weekly, click here: Florida Weekly – Robert Hilliard