THE GERMAN LESSON by Siegfried Lenz


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This appears at first to be a political parable which, in spite of its sophisticated narrative procedures, rests on a banally simplified vision of German social psychology during the Third Reich. The dourly, uncritically dutiful Ole Jepsen, a rural constable, has been ordered to enforce a ban on painting against his childhood friend Max Ludwig Nansen, an expressionist whose works have been deemed subversive. Their confrontation is the stubborn, bitter stalemate of two philosophies, perhaps two obsessions, and young Siggi Jepsen, caught between them, develops a fixed idea of his own. He begins stealing Nansen's paintings in order to protect them from his father, a crime which alienates both men and lands him in the reformatory where we meet him years later -- entering solitary confinement for failing, understandably, to produce a routine classroom essay on ""The Joys of Duty."" Siggi confounds his keepers, however, by refusing to stop writing until the whole story is told, his many copybooks constituting the main body of the novel; officials and attending psychologists interpret his behavior according to their administrative and clinical preconceptions, as everything but a further variation on the assigned theme. The point seems more obscure in Lenz's landscaped, populous, dauntlessly unhurried telling; but it is after all a point worth a trip through the bush, and for all its regionalism the relevance is broad.

Pub Date: Jan. 17th, 1971
Publisher: Hill & Wang