The convenient working distinction between cultural texts that are social and political and those that are not becomes something worse than error…. There is nothing that is not social and historical-indeed…everything is "in the last analysis" political. 1
But then the question is, of course, are we dealing with the past or with its memory? 2
Born in Stuttgart in 1913, Hermann Lenz was twenty years old when Hitler came to power, and he was in the preferred age group for enlistment when preparations for World War II started. In 1938, he went through military training. He was called to active duty in the spring of 1940 and participated in the invasion and occupation of France. In late October of 1941, in the wake of the German invasion of Russia, he was shipped to the Eastern front. Here, he was part of the military units laying siege to Leningrad and served in the trench warfare in the Volchov swamps. Retreating with the German army along the Baltic coast, he spent the last few months of the war fighting the American invasion in the Mosel region, where he was taken prisoner and sent to a POW camp in the United States. In the winter of 1946, he returned to Stuttgart, his native city.
The novel in which he writes about his participation in the war he called, with a tinge of irony and much critical acumen, New Times (Neue Zeit). Apart from flashbacks, the novel spans roughly the decade from 1937 to 1946, covering the last two years before the outbreak of the war, when the protagonist, a student at the University of Munich, meets