Doblin's 1948 A People Betrayed (p. 17) dramatized the first days of the failed German revolution (November/early-December...


KARL AND ROSA: November 1918: A German Revolution

Doblin's 1948 A People Betrayed (p. 17) dramatized the first days of the failed German revolution (November/early-December 1918)--in a massive, daunting mosaic of historical vignettes, fictional subplots, and philosophical dialogues. Here, then, is the first English translation of his 1950 sequel, following the revolution up through its January 1919 demise--again with a fragmented, multi-style mixture of fact, fiction, and lots that's somewhere in between. The real-life title characters figure in about half of the nearly 100 chapters: Rosa Luxemburg, a political prisoner and then a leader-in-hiding, is seen chiefly as a sympathetic madwoman (conversing at length with hallucinations of her war-dead lover Hannes), sometimes as an idealist of working-class democracy who tries to turn the Spartacist rebels away from rash action and internal dictatorship; her fellow-leader Karl Liebknecht, though more disposed toward armed-uprising, is also plagued by doubts and dissension--from his beloved wife, from a ruthless Lenin emissary, from a disintegrating rank-and-file, from his own troubled mind. Eventually, however, amid long political/philosophical debates, the Spartacists do commit themselves to armed resistance against the ""counterrevolutionary"" new Berlin government of slimy Friedrich Ebert (portrayed with heavyhanded sarcasm) and his evil lieutenant Noske--with mass demonstrations, street-fighting, and the rebel-occupation of Police Headquarters. And meanwhile, in alternating chunks, Doblin also follows angst-ridden schoolteacher/war-hero Becker, who (having found religion in A People Betrayed) returns to teaching--only to find himself immediately faced with a moral crisis: he befriends the school's woebegone director, caught in a homosexual affair with student Heinz (Becker even, with explicit echoes of Antigone, attends the soon-dead director's funeral); then, when the suicidal Heinz joins the Spartacists, Becker idealistically sets out to rescue him, winding up fighting in that Police Headquarters fracas. (""It had nothing to do with my political opinions. I saw the helpless situation these rebels were in."") So finally, after Noske's henchmen put down the revolution, murdering Karl and Rosa, Becker will wander around Germany--his faith shaken, conversing (as Rosa did) with Satan. Slightly more absorbing than A People Betrayed, especially in the Becker sections, but again: a talky, demanding, loosely inventive mini-epic, more impressive than involving--and primarily for those already familiar with this chapter of history.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 1983


Page Count: -

Publisher: Fromm International

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1983

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