author‘To Die in Spring’ by Ralf Rothmann (translated by...

‘To Die in Spring’ by Ralf Rothmann (translated by Shaun Whiteside) – Reading Matters

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Fiction – hardcover; Picdor; 208 pages; 2017. Translated from German by Sean Whiteside.

Of Ralph Rotman Die in the spring Tells the story of two 17-year-old boys who enlisted to fight for Germany at the end of World War II.

Reminiscent of Erich Maria Remark’s classic Great War novel Everything is quiet on the west side (First published in 1929), this is a story that emphasizes the futility of war – from a German point of view.

Irrational bloodshed

Walter ‘Ata’ Urban and Friedrich ‘Peita’ Crowley are dairy hands who are forced to “volunteer” in the Waffen-SS, the military branch of the Nazi party Protective staple Organization (SS). It is 1945 and the war is entering its final stages. Both are not happy to join. Pieta knows that everything is haunting:

They did not drag us across the entire Reich just so we could peel potatoes behind the front. We are fresh fodder, and we feed on the enemy.

After minimal training, the two split up quite early: Pieta goes to the front, where he is injured almost immediately, while Walter becomes the driver of a supply unit.

The story is told in the third person but mostly from Walter’s point of view. While his job does not involve direct combat, what he witnesses on the road is no less shocking or confrontational – from the field hospital tents, where he could “hear moans and screams behind the tarp” to see partisans tortured by his superiors. Laugh while they do it.

Somewhere along the line, he hears that his father, a camp guard in Dachau, was put to the front as a form of punishment because “he gave some slag to the inmates in the camp.” Later, he finds out he’s dead, and while the father and son were not close – “well, he was not exactly a role model. He drank and beat me and felt my sister” – Walter feels compelled to find his grave to pay homage.

He gets a few days vacation and the loan of a motorcycle to carry out his searches, which pinches him more and more to the front and there, with a stroke of luck, he encounters his friend Pita again. But the reunion is tragic.

Beautiful and powerful reading

Die in the spring Is a fascinating read about innocent farm boys who are forced to grow up very quickly in a war that is not theirs. Or as Pieta tells Walter:

God, what am I doing here? I mean, if I were voting for Hitler, like most of them … but I did not want anything to do with this mess, more than you. I have no enemies, at least no one wants to kill me. This is a war for cynics, who do not believe in anything but maybe do it … when in fact they are only mediocre and weak, I discovered it on the ground. Kick down, bow and scratch up, and slaughter women and children.

It is poignant and heartbreaking, full of vivid descriptions, whether it be serene winter landscapes or silly pubs and ballrooms, but its true power lies in the way it describes a generation raised by men – harmed by a previous war – who are forced to repeat history.

To the contemporary reader, aware of the many atrocities perpetrated by the Nazis, Die in the spring Does not ignore the barbarism of those men, and does not wallow in self-pity or guilt. It simply offers a haunting, stinging – and compassionate story, and one I will not soon forget.

I read it for German Literature Month Sponsored Lizzie and Caroline. The book is short enough to also qualify for Novels in November (#NovNov), directed by Cathy M. 746 books And Rebecca of Beck Books. This is what you call killing two birds with one stone!

Posted by Kimbopu

I am a book lover who has been reviewing online books as a hobby since 2001. This blog, Reading Matters, was founded in 2004 and has undergone various costumes over the past 17 years. I like to read extensively but there is a special place in my heart for literary literature from Ireland and Australia.
View all posts by kimbofo

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