Ravenskirch, Bavaria, 1938-45... the many faces of cowardice, and victory in defeat. Against a town committed to the Nazi purpose, little troubled by persecution of the Jews, stands astor Eichorn, silent to preserve his parish, and for a long time alone. To his first son Kurt he is a fl; to his foster son Paul he walks on the edge of an abyss, and asthmatic, ineffectual Paul, the focal point and sensibility of the story, is a self-proclaimed coward. Even as regards best friend Noah Engle, hunted because he is half-Jewish, Paul is ambivalent, wanting to help and afraid of responsibility, afraid of compromising himself. He can't come to terms with his feelings about Germany, or about crude, bullying Kurt -- is Kurt a coward too underneath, as his life-affirming girl Astrid insists. The war worsens... Paul becomes the town rat catcher to avoid military service. Kurt, shattered at Stalingrad, is now drilling the children, Noah is hiding in the church, tied to Paul by mutual discomfiture, and then the SS arrives to destroy Ravenskitch as an obstacle to the advancing Americans. His identification with the town impels Pastor Eichorn to act; a like love, especially for the church tower that has been his refuge, and, once the desperate plot is underway, a feeling that there is no retreat, give Paul the courage to carry out his crucial part. They save Ravenskirch, and their souls. But there is no simple catharsis here; Mr. Forman has written another grave, unsettling peroration, another easement into substantial adult fiction.