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Home Middelbare School EN Uittreksels Uittreksel Ira Levin – Boys from Brazil

Uittreksel Ira Levin – Boys from Brazil

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Extracts English Literature
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Ira Levin – Boys from Brazil

Joseph, (1982)


The novel was first published in 1976. The title is explained in the story by Frieda Maloney who had worked for an adoption agency, where she had to find foster homes for 94 baby boys who looked identical and who came from Brazil.


Ira Levin was born in 1929 in New York City, where he still lives and has raised three sons. He wrote his first novel in 1952, the crime novel A Kiss before Dying, which was an immediate public success. His second novel, Rosemary's baby, was published in 1964. It is a hair-raising fictitious account of modern devilry and witchcraft. It was made into a film starring Mia Farrow and John Cassavetes. In 1967 Ira Levin's third novel was published, This Perfect Day, which is a novel about a futuristic world controlled by computers. It was followed by The Stepford Wives in 1972 and Boys from Brazil which was his final novel.

The literary period:

Ira Levin is a twentieth century writer who started writing after the Second World War. His final novel is obviously based on this war.

The genre:

The novel has a factual background with which the author attempts to make it look like a documentary novel. The novel is a work of re-creation because it is an attempt to create an alternative history, using real persons, events and situations, but adding fictional elements. He writes about the ever-present possibility of a revival of dictatorial rule and the widespread fears that science may be used for evil purposes.


Doctor Mengele has summoned six former SS-men to a Japanese restaurant in Sao Paolo, Brazil, where he explains to them that they have been selected to carry out a task of the highest importance. Ninety-four men in different countries, civil servants, all between 64 and 66 years of age are to be killed on certain dates in the next 2,5 years. A young man Barry Koehler has bribed a waitress to plant a hidden tape recorder in the room, which she hands to him after the meeting. The waitress tells Mengele about this for more money. When Barry is phoning Liebermann, who pursues Nazi criminals, to tell him the story, the Nazi's murder him.

Liebermann doubts the information but he asks his friend Beynon to check the newspapers for deaths of 65-year old men. Liebermann hears of the first seven being killed and he tries to find the connection, but failing, he asks his students, presenting it as a hypothetical situation. One student, Klaus van Palmen offers his services in his investigations. Liebermann visits the widow of a man named Döring, where he also meets their 13-year old son, but he learns nothing new.

When Liebermann goes to the United States for a speaking tour, he happens to get in touch with another woman whose husband has been killed. When he visits her he is astonished to find that her son is the exact replica of the Döring boy, in appearance as well as in behavior, speech and age. He remembers the subject of Mengele's experiments at Auschwitz concentration camp, where he tried to breed perfect Aryans. In comparison with other victims it also turns out that even the families are similar. They all lead to Frieda Maloney, the German woman who ran an adoption agency and was a guard at Ravensbrück concentration camp. She is awaiting trial for mass murder and tells Liebermann that thirteen years ago she arranged adoption of baby boys supplied by a German organization in Brazil. She explains that the parents had to be of a certain age. She also remembers some of the names which appear on Liebermann's list of people killed so far. In Brazil, Mengele is furious to hear that the leaders of the Nazi-organization have called the whole operation off, as Liebermann's activities cause too large a risk.

Determined to finish the job himself, Mengele travels to the United States to kill both Liebermann and the remaining victims on the list. In Vienna Liebermann is told that Mengele has evidently succeeded in making 'mononuclear reproduction' work in human beings, enabling him to create exact replicas. Mengele's obvious object is to make exact replicas of Adolf Hitler himself.

Back in America Liebermann informs the Young Jewish Defenders, a militant organization led by Rabbi Gorin, who is eager and promises all possible help. Liebermann agrees with Henry Wheelock, who is one of the people who is to die, to meet at his house, but Mengele learns of this plan and he gets there first. He impersonates Liebermann, asks Wheelock to lock the dogs in the kitchen, and then he kills him. When Liebermann arrives he pretends to be Wheelock and pointing a gun at Liebermann, Mengele reveals himself, explaining how Adolf Hitler allowed him to take half a litre of his blood and a cutting of his skin, which enabled Mengele to produce replicas of Hitler in Brazil's jungle. In order to minimize the influence of their environment the babies were placed with couples who were of the same age, occupation and living conditions as Hitler's parents. Therefore the father has to be killed at the same age that Hitler's father died, so that the boys will grow up similar to Hitler, not only physically, but mentally and emotionally as well.

Trying to escape, Liebermann is shot and cannot move, but unexpectedly Bobby, Wheelock's son, returns home and orders the dogs to keep Mengele cornered. Although Mengele tries to talk to Bobby, the boy is convinced that Mengele is a dangerous lunatic and he orders the dogs to tear Mengele to pieces. Shortly after, the police arrive and Liebermann is taken to hospital to recover. Liebermann and Gorin have different opinions about what has to be done next. Gorin thinks all the boys should be killed to protect the world, but Liebermann cannot find it in his heart to do this. He flushes the list of names down the toilet, thus incurring the contempt and enmity of Gorin. The novel ends with a description of one of the boys attracting a stadium full of people, enthusiastically cheering him, just like in the old Hitler-films.


The story is placed around the time that it was published. This becomes clear as soon as the theme and contents are known. It is not really clear what is the exact time-lapse of the story.


The story takes place in Vienna, Brazil and the United States. Important places are the University in Vienna, Mengele's laboratory and Wheelock's house.

Characters and relationships:

Yakov Liebermann:

An anti-hero, he is tired, middle-aged and more a loser than a winner, his life has been

filled with tragedy. He pursues Nazi-criminals, but he is neither hard nor uncompromising. He is guided by

love and compassion even when it seems out of place. He is devoted to suffering humanity and thinks that

ordinary men will not give the Hitlers and Mengeles of this world another chance to terrorize it.

Doctor Mengele:

A counterfoil to Liebermann, he is devoted to his ideal of enslaving the greater part of

mankind. He has a single-minded fanaticism and a cold-blooded ruthlessness.

Rabbi Gorin:

An ally to Liebermann, but also a counterfoil to him in character. He believes that the solution to the

problems posed by the Hitlers and Mengeles of this world is to fight them with their own weapons.

Barry Koehler:

A man who tapes the initial meeting and thus warns Liebermann of the intended murders.

Klaus von Palmen:

A student of Liebermann who helps him to investigate the murders.


One of Mengele's victims.


One of Mengele's victims:

Frieda Maloney:

A German woman, once a guard in Ravensbrück concentration camp, and the person who

founded the foster homes for all the boys who were being produced by Mengele in Brazil.




The novel is really about the question whether violence should be met with violence. It is also linked to the question whether man is naturally inclined to evil, and if so, should this inclination be suppressed by force. Towards the end of the novel Liebermann and Gorin disagree about this central issue.

It is quite clear that the story is based on fact. One of the characters in the novel is the infamous Doctor Mengele, who is named, amongst other war criminals, by their real name. The character of Yakov Liebermann is clearly based on the tireless Simon Wiesenthal, who for thirty years has been leading the hunt for Nazi criminals from the headquarters of his organization in Vienna. Rabbi Gorin is based on the real life Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose organization also exists in real life, and has become known for its extremist views and actions. It is also known that many Nazi's took refuge in South America, namely in Brazil, after the defeat of the Third Reich in 1945.



Linguistic usage:

The language is modern American English, which is not too difficult to understand. The context of the sentence often explains the meaning of difficult words. No difficult sentence constructions are used, and the sentences themselves are often quite short.



The author is the omniscient person who has first-hand knowledge of everything that happens in the course of the story. The story is told in the third person and time is handled chronologically. The narrative is mainly aimed at creating suspense. It grips the reader from the beginning till the end of the story. Added tension is created because the reader usually knows just a little more than Liebermann, from whose point of view most of the story is told.


The novel consists of 9 chapters, of which the last one can be seen as an epilogue, which confronts the unsuspecting reader with the possible consequences of the judgement he may have formed.Own opinion on the book:

Your opinion!



Our mind is the most valuable possession that we have. The quality of our lives is, and will be, a reflection of how well we develop, train, and utilize this precious gift.

Ons brein is het meest waardevolle bezit dat we hebben. De kwaliteit van ons leven is, en zal zijn, een reflectie van hoe goed we dit kostbare geschenk ontwikkelen, trainen en gebruiken.

Brian Tracy