Thursday, March 15, 2018

All for Nothing

All for Nothing / Walter Kempowski, trans. Anthea Bell, 343 p.

An elegant, intriguing chronicle of the flight of an aristocratic ethnic German family living in East Prussia in January 1945.  They live dreamily in the Georgenhof, the ancestral estate, meeting neighbors and hangers on, asking, "Do you think the Russians will really come?  What is to be done?"  Rapidly and yet subtly, their lazy upper-class idyll devolves into violence and terror, as hundreds of people begin to stream west in an attempt to make it back home to the Reich.  Kempowski in no way excuses these characters, who went along with the Nazi regime in an indifferent, almost dopey manner, but he humanizes them, a powerful and enlightening trick.  In its wide cast of eccentrics, thieves, and martyrs, portrayed in objective and frequently comical thumbnail sketches, the novel reminds me of the Canterbury Tales.  Lots of talking and very little progress.  Highly recommended.

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