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A Word Like a Bullet

Michael Hofmann: Heinrich Böll

18 July 2019
The Train Was on Time 
by Heinrich Böll, translated by Leila Vennewitz.
Penguin, 108 pp., £8.99, April 2019, 978 0 241 37038 4
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... Heinrich Böll​ was born in 1917, awarded the Nobel Prize in 1972 (the first German writer thus honoured since Thomas Mann in 1929 – Hermann Hesse having adopted Swiss citizenship, and Nelly Sachs Swedish) and died in 1985. He was an early instance, an avatar, of the writer as right thinker, as influencer, like Rushdie, like Solzhenitsyn, like Pasolini: his was the public leftish decent voice of Germany, or rather, of West Germany ...

It Never Occurred to Them

John Connelly: The Nazi Volksstaat

27 August 2009
Hitler’s Beneficiaries: How the Nazis Bought the German People 
by Götz Aly, translated by Jefferson Chase.
Verso, 448 pp., £19.99, August 2007, 978 1 84467 217 2
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... nailed down, sending huge quantities of loot back to their families. One of them was the writer Heinrich Böll, whose letters home were published in 2001. As cited by Aly, Böll’s six years in the Wehrmacht appear to have been one long shopping spree. Because of special rates of exchange, he was able to buy ...

Rendings

Edward Timms

19 April 1990
Thomas Mann and his Family 
by Marcel Reich-Ranicki, translated by Ralph Manheim.
Collins, 230 pp., £20, August 1989, 9780002158374
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... His generalisations about Jewish trouble-makers would apply almost equally well to a Catholic like Heinrich Böll, a Marxist like Brecht or a feminist like Christa Wolf. Moreover, at the very time when he was emphasising the significance of Jewish trouble-makers, his own stance was becoming increasingly conformist. Dissent, in short, should not be ...

Bad Nights

D.A.N. Jones

23 October 1986
The Casualty 
by Heinrich Böll, translated by Leila Vennewitz.
Chatto, 189 pp., £9.95, October 1986, 9780701129286
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Augustus 
by Allan Massie.
Bodley Head, 339 pp., £9.95, September 1986, 0 370 30757 7
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Gabriel’s Lament 
by Paul Bailey.
Cape, 331 pp., £9.95, September 1986, 0 224 02823 5
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The Mind and Body Shop 
by Frank Parkin.
Collins, 221 pp., £9.95, September 1986, 0 00 217695 5
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... When Heinrich Böll died, last year, we had come to respect him as a Roman Catholic pacifist, a Nobel Prizeman speaking measured words to young idealists. We may have forgotten the work of his youth, the two post-war novels based on his experience of service with the German Army in Russia. The 22 stories in The Casualty were written in the immediately post-war period, 1946 to 1952, so that they are ‘old’ stories, but satisfyingly youthful, physically aware of particulars, not seeking generalisations, hot-tempered, desperate and ashamed ...

Public Life

Pat Rogers

1 April 1982
A Model Childhood 
by Christa Wolf, translated by Ursule Molinaro and Hedwig Rappolt.
Virago, 407 pp., £8.95, April 1982, 0 86068 253 6
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The Safety Net 
by Heinrich Böll, translated by Leila Vennewitz.
Secker, 314 pp., £7.50, March 1982, 9780436054549
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The Country of her Dreams 
by Janice Elliott.
Hodder, 186 pp., £6.95, March 1982, 0 340 27830 7
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The Soul’s Gymansium and Other Stories 
by Harold Acton.
Hamish Hamilton, 165 pp., £7.95, February 1982, 0 241 10740 7
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... transcends the programmatic bent of her fiction. Which is exactly what you can’t say about Heinrich Böll. His journalistic sense of public life has always threatened to circumscribe his rendition of the way people actually live, and The Safety Net confirms the fact. It is organised all too carefully around a ‘theme’, ready made for ...

Cold Smoke, Wet Rubble

Penelope Fitzgerald

20 July 1995
The Silent Angel 
by Heinrich Böll, translated by Breon Mitchell.
Deutsch, 173 pp., £14.99, October 1994, 0 233 98907 2
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... This is Heinrich Böll’s apprentice novel, written between 1949 and 1951. Since Friedrich Middelhauve, who published his stories, was unwilling to bring out the novel, Böll put it by and with professional economy used passages from it in later books. For that reason it wasn’t published in his lifetime but has come out now, to mark what would have been his 75th birthday ...

In Berlin

Philip Oltermann

5 July 2012
... 1970s, when, like Axel Springer’s other papers, it showcased Germany at its arrogant worst, and Heinrich Böll wrote novels in which young people’s lives were blighted by the attentions of its reporters. During the Cold War, Bild was reliably right-wing but it has long since been trying to capture the centre ground. It has made peace with its enemies ...

Cushy Numbers

Neal Ascherson

3 November 1983
French and Germans, Germans and French: A Personal Interpretation of France under Two Occupations, 1914-1918/1940-1944 
by Richard Cobb.
University Press of New England, 188 pp., £10.95, July 1983, 0 87451 225 5
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Still Life: Scenes from a Tunbridge Wells Childhood 
by Richard Cobb.
Chatto, 161 pp., £8.95, September 1983, 0 7011 2695 7
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... this marvellous book of Cobb’s has a spiritual father, then it is not a Frenchman but a German: Heinrich Böll. And the novel of Böll’s which counted was, very plainly, Der Zug war pünktlich – The train was on time – that unforgettable story of a troop train full of German soldiers returning from ...
2 January 1997
The Politics of the Unpolitical: German Writers and the Problem of Power, 1770-1871 
by Gordon A. Craig.
Oxford, 190 pp., £22.50, July 1995, 0 19 509499 9
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... all about des Gedankens Blässe – the pale cast of thought. Others played on the same theme. For Heinrich Heine the Germans reigned supreme only ‘in the realm of dreams’; Marx sneered that they had only thought what other peoples had done. These contemporary cadences were surely in the mind of a modern historian, Rolf Engelsing, when he suggested that ...

Take a pig’s head, add one spoonful of medium rage

Iain Bamforth: The poetry of Günter Grass

28 October 1999
Selected Poems: 1956-93 
by Günter Grass, translated by Michael Hamburger.
Faber, 155 pp., £9.99, February 1999, 0 571 19518 0
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... long seemed bigger than the award, as if he had already won it – say, in 1972, when it went to Heinrich Böll. Or perhaps in its wisdom the Nobel Committee had it earmarked for him years ago, this last Nobel of the bad old century. Indeed, the latter half of the century in Germany has been his century, for how many writers have seen their private ...
20 March 1980
Fortune’s Hostages 
by Caroline Moorehead.
Hamish Hamilton, 256 pp., £8.95, January 1980, 0 241 10320 7
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... three splinter communist parties and compiled a list of “radical” quotations from people like Heinrich Böll and Gunter Grass, whom they accused of encouraging the violence by standing out against authority.’ Ms Moorehead concludes that the ‘conditions of poverty, oppression and alienation that caused the terrorists to kidnap, assassinate and ...

A Leap from the Bridge

Alexander Scrimgeour: Wolfgang Koeppen

12 December 2002
The Hothouse 
by Wolfgang Koeppen, translated by Michael Hofmann.
Granta, 221 pp., £14.99, May 2002, 1 86207 509 3
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... that stifles his idealism. Koeppen’s writing went against the grain in style as well as content. Heinrich Böll, the other major writer of the 1950s who criticised the Federal Republic (though later, and not as mercilessly), used more traditional methods to tell more traditional tales that were far more popular with the German public. Koeppen revived ...

What time is it?

Michael Wood

16 February 1989
Dreams of Roses and Fire 
by Eyvind Johnson, translated by Erik Friis.
Dedalus, 384 pp., £11.95, December 1988, 0 946626 40 5
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Women in a River Landscape 
by Heinrich Böll, translated by David McLintock.
Secker, 208 pp., £10.95, February 1989, 0 436 05460 4
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The Standard Life of a Temporary Pantyhose Salesman 
by Aldo Busi, translated by Raymond Rosenthal.
Faber, 430 pp., £12.95, January 1989, 0 571 14657 0
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... Drouin’s could register as a significant victory for beleaguered human reason. The time of Heinrich Böll’s Women in a River Landscape is quieter, shabbier, less lurid, but also a possessed and a political time. ‘I only caught a glimpse of him,’ a woman says of a former high-ranking Nazi: ‘white-haired, distinguished, lots of Old World ...

Nobody is God

Robert Taubman

4 February 1982
Rabbit is Rich 
by John Updike.
Deutsch, 467 pp., £7.95, January 1982, 0 233 97424 5
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Charlotte: Life or Theatre? 
by Charlotte Salomon.
Allen Lane, 784 pp., £30, September 1981, 0 7139 1425 4
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Weights and Measures 
by Joseph Roth.
Peter Owen, 150 pp., £7.50, January 1982, 0 7206 0562 8
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November 
by Rolf Schneider.
Hamish Hamilton, 235 pp., £7.95, July 1981, 0 241 10347 9
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... except at a distance. Not that the tone is cruel or inhumane: Schneider’s is very much that of Heinrich Böll, in the laconic, police-report style of The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum; and Böll is famously in support of humanity and justice. But it’s a distancing tone; and if its advantages are the precision and ...

The Real Woman in the Real Cupboard

Benjamin Markovits: Jenny Erpenbeck

30 June 2011
Visitation 
by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated by Susan Bernofsky.
Portobello, 176 pp., £7.99, July 2011, 978 1 84627 190 8
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... a few of my classmates in Berlin had to do with a short story we had just finished reading, by Heinrich Böll maybe, about a man who was persecuted for the colour of his hair, which was red. He lost his job; the waitresses in the cafés refused to serve him etc. The whole thing was supposed to be an allegory for the Third Reich. I don’t ...

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