Friday, February 19, 2016

What's to Become of the Boy? Or: Something to Do with Books, Heinrich Boll

I found this book looking at a list of books under 150 pages for the 2016 reading challenge, but decided to put it under "Book that's been translated into English" category because I felt it'd be easier to find another short book than another translated work that would pique my interest as much.

This book is a memoir of the author Heinrich Boll that he wrote himself. It's interesting because he admits that he's writing this all down in retrospect trying to remember what happened some 40 years ago (from the time of writing it-it was published in 1981). It has the distinct air of a gentleman getting on in years telling a story to make a point, to help the next generation understand a few things.

Heinrich grew up in a Catholic pacifist family who wanted nothing to do with the Nazi's. There were some things about Germany that I hadn't considered when wondering just how Hitler got into power. Part of it could have been the influenza epidemic weakening the society. Their were economic struggles, which gets people down for sure. I loved how he mentioned that there were plenty of people who DIDN'T support the Nazi movement, but were survivalists, so they put in the minimum, they did their fair share of bribes, of keeping quiet, of complying to only the degree necessary. For instance, there were days when it was compulsory to fly the Nazi flag, so his family purchased a flag for those occasions, "albeit a small one: on days when displaying the flag was compulsory, sentiments could also be deduced from the size of the flags." (page 37). So much of life was structured and I think the degree of risk one took to avoid that must have varied on location as well as how many friends you had in high places. He said that he never felt that he was better than the Nazi's or lifted himself up, there were 2 other boys who also didn't join the Hitler Youth program. His family felt compelled to put up a little bit of a show when in a family council it was voted that his brother would join the Storm Troopers (yet, he was absent most of the time, and the family bribed someone with cigarettes to mark him present). The permeating question, as the title implies, is what would Heinrich do after high school? What profession could he possibly go into? One of his relatives suggested "Something to do with books". It wasn't acceptable for him to declare "book trade" so on his official certificate of Maturation (equivalent of a high school diploma, I suppose) it says "publishing".

Anyhow, I give this book 3.5 stars because it was very interesting, but it was also a bit dry and even at only 82 pages it was a little hard to get through. Some parts were more compelling than others. I was lost in some places because I didn't recognize the names or places in several instances, but I don't think that detracted from the message of the book.

I feel the message was to get across another perspective of that time period. It's very easy, more than 50 years later to look back with all we know and make a judgement call, but we have to remember what it was like for them in the moment because if we are going to be honest, we can only make judgements in light of what was in the moment for them. Otherwise we are only kidding ourselves into being much smarter than we actually are.

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