WHAT TO BECOME OF THE BOY? by Heinrich Boll

WHAT TO BECOME OF THE BOY?

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Meditative, circling, sardonic reminiscences of high-school years in Nazi Germany, 1933-1937--from the Nobel Prize-winning novelist. ""The man of sixty-three smiles down on the boy of fifteen, but the boy of fifteen does not smile up at the man of sixty-three."" Thus, Boll must scour his memory (and the public record) to get a reasonably accurate sense of how he, his family, and other Cologne residents really responded to the spread and deepening of Nazi power. ""Yes, also school"" is the repeating refrain--suggesting the more important goings-on elsewhere. At home Boll's father saw his small business collapsing, a key event for young rebel Heinrich, newly afire with socialist ideas. (""Had our financial plight lowered our social status or made us classless? . . . We were neither true lower middle class nor conscious proletarians, and we had a strong streak of the Bohemian""--and, ""in spite of everything, Catholic, Catholic, Catholic."") To get desperately needed government contracts, at least one Boll family-member had to join a Nazi group: Boll's brother, ""the worst suited for that mimicry,"" became a wretched Storm Trooper. But it was the 1934 execution of seven young Communists that shocked Cologne into a chilly quiet: ""I no longer made flippant remarks about Hitler, except at home,"" though he continued to avoid (along with two others) participation in the weekly National Youth Day. So: was Boll an anti-Nazi hero? Not at all. ""Whatever happened, I didn't want to jeopardize my graduation, didn't want to risk too much""--with war and compulsory service looming. But the most eloquent vignettes here recall those who truly succumbed to ""that Hindenburg blindness""; the glamorization of war by ""unquestionably decent"" high-school teachers ""led to Stalingrad and made Auschwitz possible."" An edgy, very brief, faintly didactic book, its quirky locutions sometimes defeating even veteran translator Vennewitz--but often bitterly vivid, with glimmers of Boll's political persona in the making.

Pub Date: Sept. 28th, 1984
Publisher: Knopf