JIRÍ WEIL OPENS his novel Mendelssohn is on the Roof (Daunt Books, £9.99, translated by Marie Winn with a preface by Philip Roth), detailing the Nazi occupation of Prague, with a classical account of the great flood. The goddess of justice (Themis, not Themida as she is misnamed here) instructs the two survivors of the deluge to cast behind them stones that will become the next human race.
In the ensuing narrative, the statue of Justice is one of several sculptures that are destroyed. Another represents the Jewish composer Felix Mendelssohn.
Much effort is spent identifying and removing his statue from the roof of the opera house so that Reinhard Heydrich, the Prague-based architect of the Final Solution, can watch a performance of Mozart’s Don Giovanni (where another statue drags the opera’s antihero off to hell) in Aryan peace.
In a marvellous conceit, the Nazis’ venerated composer Richard Wagner’s statue is almost toppled instead, after someone decides his large nose marks him out as the Jew.
Heinrich Heine, the great 19th-century Jewish poet, famously asserted that “where they burn books, they will also burn people”. For books, Weil substitutes stone.
The “learned Jew” who has been ordered (and failed) to identify the statue of Mendelssohn is also engaged in assembling the collection of Judaica that will fill the Nazis’ infamous Museum to an Extinct Race.
Weil, who, after faking suicide, survived to witness the failure of the Nazi enterprise, dying in 1959, would have relished the fact that the museum’s artefacts were to feature among the first stones cast in the regeneration that followed this modern “deluge”.
Heydrich’s cherished Meissen sculpture — naturally, stolen from Jews — is, conversely, destroyed as surely as its malign appropriator whose assassination Weil recounts.
Irony is his strongest suit. Though the novel is structurally uneven, fact and fiction are interwoven in clean, precise prose and Weil is unafraid to confront unpalatable horror head-on.