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The Casualty

By (author) Heinrich Boll
Translated by L. Vennewitz
Format: Hardback
Publisher: Vintage Publishing, London, United Kingdom
Imprint: Chatto & Windus
Published: 16th Oct 1986
Dimensions: w 130mm h 190mm
Weight: 325g
ISBN-10: 070112928X
ISBN-13: 9780701129286
Barcode No: 9780701129286

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Kirkus US
Not published in Germany until 1983, these 22 sketches and stories were written by the Nobel laureate (who died in 1985) between 1946 and 1952 - and they reflect his experiences as an infantry corporal during WW II, along with almost equally grim perceptions of everyday life in postwar Germany. Four vivid war pieces evoke terror and wretchedness on the Eastern front: a foot soldier longing to be put out of his misery by a Russian bullet; a panicky new recruit, recalling his past as a benign pimp to distract himself from the imminent Russian assault; soldiers utterly doomed, waiting for death, driven to murdering their commanding officers. Another wartime vignette captures the stupefying tedium of sentry duty in a French town. In "Cause of Death: Hooked Nose," an officer in Eastern Europe, sickened by the genocidal slaughter of Jews (the well-known horror is made freshly dreadful), goes mad - while trying to save the life of the one non-Jew who is being exterminated by mistake. And the collection's title story follows two wounded soldiers - one a genuine hand-grenade victim, the other a cynic who paid to be wounded by an obliging gunman - as they drink, smoke, meet Hungarians and revel in relative freedom, moving away from the front. ("It was warm and summery, and we'd been wounded, and they couldn't touch us, we were in a proper hospital train - oh God, how wonderful it all was.") The postwar slices-of-life are, inevitably, somewhat less riveting. One ex-soldier feels the loss of camaraderie; another can't bear to visit the widow of a dead comrade. There are some sad little postwar comforts: the reassuring familiarity of a broken rain gutter; the "blissful solitude" (impossible to find as a soldier) of a noisy train station. But Boll focuses primarily on the deprivations: a young man, having lost his family's ration cards, attempts suicide - only to be saved from drowning by an uncomprehending G.I.; clothing is traded for bread, liquor, cigarettes. And a couple of stories foreshadow the Boll who would expose the hollowness of Germany's postwar "economic miracle": here he sardonically lampoons the latest approaches to civil-service advancement and social-climbing (including the cultivation of a "government pedicurist"). Small, undeveloped close-ups, without the edge and shapeliness of Boll's later stories - but strong glimpses of the tough, terse writer-to-come, and real fierceness in those memorable Eastern front tableaux. (Kirkus Reviews)