Sunday, 4 December 2016

Schlump

Finished December 1
Schlump: Tales and adventures from the life of the anonymous soldier Emil Schulz, known as "Schlump". Narrated by himself by Hans Herbert Grimm, translated from the German by Jamie Bulloch, afterword by Volker Weidermann

This novel was originally published anonymously in 1928, based on Grimm's own World War One experiences. It is an anti-war novel, but didn't get a lot of attention at the time, partly due to it being published anonymously. Grimm worked as a schoolteacher between the wars and during World War II, speaking out as much as he dared against the state actions. To continue teaching, he had to join the NSDAP, and later in the war worked as an interpreter on the Western front. Because of his NSDAP membership, he was still prevented from teaching despite support from former pupils and even the mayor about his anti-fascist attitude throughout. HE worked in other jobs, but after meeting with East German authorities in 1950, he committed suicide.
The narrator Schlump is an innocent, a man with a sunny disposition, who tries to get along with everyone. The afterword describes this as an anti-coming of age novel, as despite everything Schlump goes through, he persists in believing that things will turn out okay. His first official position, as an administrator in a small French region is one that lends itself to this. He interacts with the local French populace in a friendly way, doing what he must do, but trying to do it in a way that isn't cruel. But when he makes an error of judgment and ends up at the front, he sees war for real, seeing friends die in terrible ways, and getting injured himself. Yet somehow he still retains his optimism and innocence. Even as he sees that he is on the losing side of the war, he still believes that things will work out, and as he sets off for home, he imagines the young woman waiting there for him.
I found this book engaging, and still relevant. An appreciated novel, recently released in a NYRB edition.

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