A new edition of the late author’s macabre stories set along the Eastern Front during World War II.
A desperate German SS officer stumbles naked from a frigid river, trying to flee the Russian tanks murdering his countrymen on the other side. A Ukrainian Jew claws her way through a pit of human corpses to escape a massacre doled out by Nazi machine guns. A war-weary German soldier has a strange vision of Christ while nearby his comrades are hacked to pieces by horse-mounted Cossacks. These are just a few of the grim scenes that make up Schneider’s (Madness Without End, 1994, etc.) second volume of short stories. Drawing from the epic clash between Nazism and Stalinism, the author masterfully weaves history and fiction to create a nightmarish vision of “cauldron” warfare—tiny pockets where encircled Germans hold out against the Red Army. In the midst of the blood, mud and terror, the book’s characters confront the chaos of war with only the slightest grip on their sanity. Broader themes of duty and vengeance seep to the surface. A German officer assigned the task of killing Jews finds the job distasteful, but reconciles it with cold professionalism—“To rid one’s self of one’s enemies was a responsibility that had to be borne.” A member of an all-female Russian tank crew witnesses the grisly retribution on Germans who committed atrocities when the war was going their way. Whether there is a real victor in these stories remains unclear as both sides emerge polluted from the conflict. The author’s use of simile to depict the horrors of battle is a stylistic achievement—dead Germans lie with “shoulders rising up from the ice like men caught turning over in their sleep,” while executed Russians dangle from long ropes “like the strings of a harp.” Some readers may be put off by the book’s violence and abrupt shifts in perspective. But the stories mirror their setting—the bewildering, terrible meat-grinder that was the Eastern Front.
Darkly entrancing tales whose pages bleed struggle, trauma and madness.