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by Heinrich Boll,Breon Mitchell

Published for the first time in English, this post-World War II masterpiece by the author of Billiards at Half-Past Nine presents a haunting love story set in the bombed-out ruins of Cologne.
Download The Silent Angel epub
ISBN: 0312110642
ISBN13: 978-0312110642
Category: Literature
Subcategory: Genre Fiction
Author: Heinrich Boll,Breon Mitchell
Language: English
Publisher: St Martins Pr; 1st edition (June 1, 1994)
Pages: 182 pages
ePUB size: 1614 kb
FB2 size: 1666 kb
Rating: 4.3
Votes: 157
Other Formats: lrf txt rtf azw

I found The Silent Angel from Sebald's reference to it in his non fiction "On The Natural History of Destruction". The first three chapters of which are lectures about the post war literary silence in Germany about the Allied terror bombing. Sebald's lectures are compelling in their own account. He claims that Boll's "The Silent Angel" and Nossack's "The End: Hamburg 1943" are the only significant literary efforts to capture something of this aftermath. This was Boll's first work and not published for decades afterwards. I'd not heard of it and it is easy to miss in standar bibliographies. Its significance certainly is. - The striking thing about this work is its tone. What seems like simple and direct narrative, carries a huge psychological weight. The substance of the work is transmitted through images and motifs. The direct gaze of the narrative is accompanied by the feeling of an indirect, almost corner of the eye glance and then looking away. The low key, almost hollowed out, calm and objective narration is suffused with a feeling of exhaustion and numbness. But...
This is a short book 182 pages, but every word counts.
"The angle remained silent; he allowed himself to be pressed downward by the weight of both men. His luxurious locks were enveloped by gurgling mud, and the stumps of his arms seemed to strain more and more deeply into the earth."
This short novel covers many themes and has beautiful moving passages about the human condition. Some of the themes include the struggle for survival against terrible conditions, the emergence of human relationships from the ruins of personal tragedy, the emergence of a social infrastructure lead by the compassion of the church, and the re-emergence of evil - born again just as love and compassion are born again.

The descriptions of mass destruction and abject poverty of resources in Cologne Germany immediately after the war are bleak and yet show the outstanding descriptive abilities of Boll. Young Hans Schnitzler has experienced eight years of warfare, including running on the lam because of his desertion from the Germany army. He has assumed many identities in the last months to avoid execution as a deserter from the army. Even as the American troops approach, the German hierarchy insists on the execution of deserters. He is now in his hometown, a city in starvation, where everyday requires new resources and energy just to get a slice of bread to stay alive.

In a devastated land, with no government and a defeated scattered army, it is the church that begins to fill in the void of infrastructure. He is a younger widower, having lost his young wife in the war. He meets a young widow whose baby was killed by random machine gun fire in the final days of conflict. He also is tangentially involved in a struggle for a grand fortune.

The role of the Catholic Church is very interestingly represented. We see compassionate nuns struggle to feed the hungry and administer to the sick. We see a neighborhood priest begin to build a congregation in the crypt of a bombed out church. We also see evil re-emerge in the person of Professor Fisher, a Nazi party member and consultant to the Catholic Church who publishes a Catholic newsletter and collects priceless artifacts from bombed out churches.

So we have a short novel about the struggle for survival, the need for human relationship, the need for some societal structures, the role of spirituality in meeting human needs for comfort, and the re-emergence of corruption before the blind eyes of the silent angels that now litter the streets and populate the graveyards.
The overwhelming feeling you get when reading this book is the desperate struggle for short term survival. The background is a German city (possibly Cologne) in the first
Days and weeks after the capitulation of the German army in 1945. Every conversation is focused on bread - not even full meals, just slices of bread. The city is bleak and devastated, the characters are transient figures struggling, dazed and nauseous, into whatever the future may hold. Their pasts are briefly mentioned, but the conditions in which they find themselves allow for almost total dislocation from their past lives.
The language of the book is austere, the characters are not clearly distinguishable, the colours mentioned - apart from grey destruction - are greenish and yellowish hazes. These tune in with the bilious, nausea of the characters as they continuously search for food and shelter. Throughout the story each character is portrayed as exhausted, struggling, nauseous.
The novels main character has deserted the German Army in the final days of the war, and under a certain sentence of death for desertion, has assumed numerous identities as he flees. He has, however, promised a dead comrade that he will return a coat to his comrade's widow. A will is discovered in the lining of the coat and this yields an subplot of intrigue and corruption. The main character meanwhile meets and briefly lives with a dazed, tragic woman who has been psychologically damaged by the war.
The novel's main impression is the exhaustion of emotion, the breakdown of society brings about a breakdown of morality and order. Stealing and dishonesty of all kinds are part of daily life, as are small gestures of generosity. In the broken cityscape, there is neither trust nor complete anarchy, just a meandering from one slice of bread to the next. Towards the end of the book , the main character has established a certain routine which allows him to steal coal from trains, which gives him some power to barter.
Boll's austere tale, gives us a view of the amoral aftermath of a societal dislocation. While neither describing nor moralizing, he shows us a set of normal characters and the lives they adopt to survive in the much reduced circumstances.