Fiction — print. Translated from German by Breon Mitchell. St. Martin’s Press, 1994. Originally published 1992. 182 pgs. Library copy.
Böll finished the manuscript that would later become this novel in August 1950. But publishers at the time were unsatisfied with the novel, concerned that the German public would have no taste of novels dealing with World War II and its aftermath. Published as Der Engel schwieg in Germany, this novel would not be published until 1992 in time for what would have been Böll’s seventy-fifth birthday.
I picked up this novel for the Literature and War Read-a-Long hosted by Caroline of Beauty is a Sleeping Cat; this book also counts for German Literature Month hosted by Caroline and Lizzie of Lizzie’s Literary Life. The novel follows Hans Schnitzler as he takes one identity after identity and navigates war-torn Germany after the day of the capitulation. Among the ruins of the city, Hans meets Regina Unger, yet another war widow and a woman who has just lost her baby, as he searches for the widow of a comrade.
Bread, the symbol of both physical and moral survival, is a key part of the novel. Hans and everyone else in Germany are concerned about finding food for physical sustenance. Yet the church that gives Hans bread ends up also becomes a source of moral sustenance in addition to physical sustenance. There is also Regina, a symbol of survival all to herself.
Unfortunately, I think I liked the idea of this novel than I liked the actual book. I just could not loose myself in the pages and I was incredibly aware of each passing minute. The novel did not pack the necessary punch it needs to be truly remarkable for such a short book.