The shadow of war hangs over the opening pages as people near the Russian frontier, people in Finland, in Poland, in East Germany, in Czechoslovakia, wait for the blow to fall. Richter has chosen to tell his story in terms of these people, a motley crowd, from an Estonian officer to the small and frightened son of a Jewish cobbler, and as the time machine advances, one gets the same characters in successive situations. One senses the altering emotional climate; the changed attitudes. In some cases the maw of the war swallows youth; in others they escape into guerrilla activities; in still others they seek escape. Life and death are given equal value, and one feels that the emotional element is more alive in the civilian front than the military, in the internment and concentration camps, in facing defeat rather than victory. There's some extraordinary writing here and the translation from the German is excellent (by Geoffrey Sainsbury). This introduces a new and gifted writer, but the book is not likely to appeal to a wide general market. The broken sequences, the episodic handling of the material makes for difficult reading.