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From Vienna in the 1930s to England in the 1940s, and back, The Third Man is a story of dispossession, refuge, and the search for justice and humanity. Focusing on two Jewish families as the Holocaust approaches, the book gradually homes in on two individuals who survive but have to make difficult moral choices. At age five, Julie Bernstein is sent to safety in England via the Kindertransport. Growing up in a foster family, troubled by traumatic events, Julie thrives, but the growing violence in British-controlled Palestine-violence that spills over into Britain itself-forces her to reevaluate who she is and what she stands for. Ignaz Natanson, a butcher's apprentice, escapes to England, is interned as an enemy alien, changes his name to Nigel, and joins the British Army. He winds up in Vienna and returns, post-war, to track down the person who, for him, epitomizes the Nazi nightmare.
The famous 1949 film noir The Third Man provides a revealing lens through which to view the events and characters of the novel. With the help of the film, Ignaz/Nigel comes to a new understanding of himself-and of ordinary citizens lured by the false appeal of fascism. Inspired by the author's family, the novel presents a dark yet beautifully drawn world, a world of dehumanization and death but also of courage, love, and shared humanity.