Books March 2004
The quiet German?
A review of A Sad Affair, translated by Michael Hoffman.
For all the pointed social criticism in his fiction, Wolfgang Koeppen's silences have spoken louder than his words. Silence is a freighted subject for any German who witnessed the rise and fall of the Third Reich without speaking out at the time, particularly so for an important German writer. Koeppen was certainly outspoken in the 1950s when his postwar trilogy—Pigeons on the Grass (1951), The Hothouse (1953), and Death in Rome (1954)—called his countrymen to task for a multitude of sins and weaknesses including their refusal to take responsibility for the rise of Nazism or to learn from their recent past, their rampant materialism, and their push toward rearmament. The critical reception of these novels ranged from grudging respect through indifference to outright hostility, surely contributing to Koeppen's inability to finish any of the several novels his publisher announced as forthcoming over the subsequent...
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