To the literary chronicles of thoroughly disgusting families--the Snopeses, the Golovlyovs--we can now add that of the Powenzes, a clan of louts in the North German town of Moessel. . . and perhaps a cautionary example of a neanderthal Germany on the 1930s rise. (The novel first appeared in Berlin in 1939; Penzoldt died in 1955.) Sired by Baltus Powenz, the seven Powenz sons and one witchy daughter go each other one better in bullying, concupiscence, mischief, laziness, and general anti-social behavior. Meanwhile, through town ostracism, World War I, and economic chaos, old Baltus nurtures a single dream: to build a house in town out of the bricks he's been finding for years on the street. (He numbers them and then stores them in his apartment.) The Powenz doctrine is: life is more important than living, get away with whatever you can. Day-to-day ethics have no place. And these ur-barbarians become superb soldiers because of their complete selfishness. A sort of anti-Buddenbrooks, then--a zesty curiosity translated with tongue-in-cheek verve.