Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Good vs. EviL from a German Master

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Good vs. EviL from a German Master

Article excerpt

HEINRICH BOLL'S first novel, "The Silent Angel," completed in 1951, was never published in his lifetime. The reasons for this, as outlined in translator Breon Mitchell's introduction, are not quite as dramatic as might have been expected in the case of a writer noted for taking principled stands against authority.

Initially, publishers rejected the struggling young writer's portrait of postwar Germany as too depressing.

Later, by the time that Boll (1917-1985) had emerged as one of the most famous and honored German writers of his generation, eventually winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1972, he had already reworked some of the themes and passages from this early, unpublished novel into subsequent books, notably "And Never Said a Word" (1953) and "The Clown" (1963).

"The Silent Angel," nonetheless, is a novel worthy of being read in its own right, and its publication is a significant addition to the author's body of work. A vividly realistic, and at the same time strongly symbolic, account of a soldier's return to his bombed-out native city, it is a stark portrayal of material hardship that slowly reveals itself to be a story about the never-ending war between good and evil.

Hans Schnitzler, a soldier of uncertain status, returns to a cathedral city clearly modeled on Cologne. A deserter who escaped from military prison, he needs food, clothing, and papers to provide him with a new identity. He is also looking for the widow of a comrade who made possible his escape. The dead man's jacket contains his last will and testament, leaving everything to her. The woman, Elisabeth Gompertz, is gravely ill when he finds her, but still intent on using what resources she has to help the city's needy.

In the ruined city, Hans meets a second angelic woman, Regina Unger, also a war widow, who has just lost her baby. …

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