This most remarkable thing about this story, I think, is the timing. I don’t want to give the surprise away to those of you who haven’t read it, but just think about the fact that Dahl was able to write this incredibly compassionate and and yet subtly ironic story (about a woman who has lost three children in the last eighteen months and desperately wants her newborn to survive) after witnessing countless horrible atrocities in World War II. It’s amazing. It’s also worth noting that this story, unlike many others, does not have a surprise “twist” at the very end. There is a shocking revelation, but the reader arrives at it gradually throughout the story.
Spoiler warning! The narrative begins immediately after the birth of a baby, a boy. The doctor tries to reassure the mother Klara that the child is healthy and will survive, but she has lost all hope after her other three children have died. We also learn that she and her husband, Alois, have recently moved to this new city and that he is an overbearing, unsatisfied sort of man. The doctor manages to convince her that her new son is all right and she decides to name him Adolphus, or Adolf for short. She finally gets to hold her little Adolf and falls in love with the beautiful child. Her husband arrives (Note: the doctor addresses him as “Herr Hitler”!!) and comments on the boy’s small size. The doctor pleads with him to give his wife some needed support. He finally kisses her and tries to comfort her. “He must live, Alois,” she cries. “He must, he must… Oh God, be merciful unto him now…” Of course, we know that the very infant whose life she prays for is none other than Adolf Hitler, the man responsible for millions of deaths and years of suffering in World War II.