I finally managed to finish a book written by Michael Chabon, a writer I admire for being able to write in an amazingly dense style where every single word actually has a reason for being there. So even though The Final Solution is only 130 pages long, Chabon manages to pack quite a story into them.
The story takes place in 1944 in England. There’s an old detective who lives alone tending to his bees and who one day watches a young boy and his parrot walk along the train tracks, dangerously close to the third rail.
It seemed probable to him that in any given grouping of an African grey parrot—a notoriously prolix species—and a boy of nine or ten, at any given moment, one or the other of them ought to be talking.
The old man becomes curious because of the silence surrounding the pair, and it turns out that the boy and the bird have both escaped from Nazi Germany. While the boy doesn’t speak, the parrot repeats strings of numbers in German, which has attracted the attention of several mysterious figures. Eventually, someone is murdered and the parrot disappears. The old man starts helping the police solve the mystery of both the murder and the disappearance.
It is implied that the old detective is Sherlock Holmes. I can’t comment on how authentic the recreation of this iconic character is, but I thought the depiction of an old man who has to deal with the fact that both his body and his brain aren’t what they used to be anymore was well done. I also enjoyed the hints at how the detective used to work, how he used to both exasperate and astound the people he worked with.
Compared to the solutions offered by Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, the solution to this novella’s crime might fall a bit short. However, there is still the mystery that surrounds the boy. His story is told in short glimpses, and it takes a little while until the pieces come together: it is 1944, the boy is Jewish, and the book is called “the final solution”—the euphemism for the Nazis’ plan to annihilate the Jewish people. I had an idea of what the numbers that the parrot keeps repeating might mean, but I was wrong. The meaning was much more poignant than I had anticipated.