Saturday, January 7, 2017

Schlump: Tales and Adventures from the Life of the Anonymous Soldier Emil Schulz, Known as "Schlump," Narrated by Himself. / Hans Herbert Grimm, trans. Jamie Bulloch, 279 pp.

A book worth burning is a book worth reading, and a book burned by Hitler (and with a one-word title) is a hot commodity.  Schlump, who received his unfortunate nickname as a child, volunteers for Kaiser and country as a seventeen-year-old.  This first-person account from an author who served in the Great War is a gem. Schlump's war begins as a sort of town supervisor in France, thanks to his marginal skills speaking the language.  The cannons boom but they are far away, and there are loads of pretty girls attracted to Schlump's sweet good-humor and genuine affection.  Things change when he's sent to the trenches, but later stints in hospital and in a military currency exchange afford more opportunities for love and graft.

Schlump is at once an everyman and a wholly unique character.  He is almost more easily described by what he is not: not a genius, not a revolutionary, not a pacifist, and not a paragon of morality.  He is a decent, essentially cheerful young man who loves women, his mother, and his homeland.  Through his eyes the war seems messy, foolish, and often very funny, but hideous violence is always around the corner.  In the midst of gruesome carnage, Schlump makes Love (capital L intended) all over Europe, and the reader is relieved that he does.  This is an oddly charming novel; I am glad it was rescued from the fire.

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