A PEOPLE BETRAYED: November 1918: A German Revolution by Alfred Doblin

A PEOPLE BETRAYED: November 1918: A German Revolution

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Age Range: 1918 - 19
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KIRKUS REVIEW

In this massive 1948 novel, German novelist Doblin (Berlin Alexanderplatz, 1929) heaped up over 70 short, varied chapters to evoke the German political/existential crisis of 1918-19: there are detailed reconstructions of historical developments, nuanced debates, brooding close-ups of representative individuals among the populace, sardonic commentaries from the author--but little to hold the steady attention of American readers, even those inclined to serious historical/political speculation. The war is lost, the Kaiser has abdicated, hunger is widespread, bitterness is rampant. A cabinet of Social Democrats is attempting to govern--but they're undermined or compromising on every side: the Socialists of Bavaria threaten to secede; Liebknecht is leading the ""Spartacists"" in the streets, aiming for a Soviet-style revolution; huge numbers of disillusioned soldiers are heading for Berlin; Social Democrat chancellor Ebert makes difficult day-to-day deals (""mutual cannibalism"") with the generals--who hope for an outbreak of violence, one that invites a military response. Meanwhile, Woodrow Wilson is heading for Versailles, idealistically hoping--in vain--for a just peace. And also meanwhile, Doblin studies an assortment of troubled postwar individuals: Lieutenant von Heiberg, eager to head for Poland to hunt down Bolsheviks; his pregnant wartime-love Hanna in Strasbourg, who must decide whether to follow the lieutenant or settle for another suitor; a murderer, a suicide, diehard revolutionaries; Lieutenant Maus, a somewhat self-serving supporter of the street-rebels; and, above all, Lieutenant Becker, a former schoolteacher who returns home wounded, shell-shocked, and spends the 1918-19 period in deep existential turmoil--living with his mother, attempting suicide, conversing with hallucinations (a rat, a lion, a Brazilian), resisting Lieut. Maus' calls to action, only half-responding to the love of nurse Hilda (who follows him to Berlin), and seemingly finding a Christian answer to his inner anguish. Unfortunately, readers who appreciate the minutely analyzed (if occasionally fanciful) history here are unlikely to welcome Becker's lugubrious, tortured musings. (""Explain to me once more, please, what my ego wins if it wins power and pleasure. Why does it do that? Who is served by it?"") Conversely, those partial to intense character-study will find that Becker's soul-journey is repeatedly, fatally fragmented by the day-by-day politics. And though intermittently provocative (""When is an uprising a revolution and when is it merely a putsch?""), this ungainly epic is perhaps more noteworthy for its place in German-fiction-history (Doblin is saluted as a major influence by Gunter Grass) than for its eclectic, sprawling view of 1918-19 Germany.

Pub Date: March 4th, 1983
Publisher: Fromm International (560 Lexington Ave., New York, NY 10022)