EARTH AND FIRE by Horst Bienek


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The conclusion of Bienek's tetralogy of novels set in the Silesian town of Gleiwitz before, during, and now at the ibtter end of WW II. Here, the Germans have retreated west, and the Russians are at the gate; the key Gleiwitz families in the novels--the Pionteks and the Ossadniks--choose different methods to try to survive. Matriarch Valeska Piontek packs her family up and trudges west--a horrible, futile escape through a landscape of death. The Ossadniks dig in, inside the shelters, and wait until the Russians come (who immediately conscript all the men into forced labor). But the internecine looting and betrayals and denunciations are even more painful for the townspeople. Bienek ends the book with scenes of the bombing of Dresden, witnessed by ailing poet Gerhart Hauptmann as he lies ill in a nearby sanitorium--but how the author puts this all in is not structurally convincing. The least powerful--if only for being the most expected--section of Beinek's otherwise quite starkly effective Gleiwitz Suite.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1988
Publisher: Atheneum