I’ve been reading this book for a long time – there is no Audible available for it so I have the Kindle version and I went to bed each night meaning to get a bit more read. And yes, almost every night for weeks I would curl up with it, become enchanted and promptly fallen asleep.
Ahhhh… it is so good I wanted to crawl into it and curl up to live there – and stop time. It’s amazing what a good author can do – because the setting is 1945 in northern East Prussia just as the Russians are about to march through en route to Berlin. We, the readers of the 21st century, know what’s going to happen but the characters don’t although they certainly suspect that’s in the works.
All For Nothing
by Walter Kempowski
(translated by Althea Bell)
2003 / 352 pages
rating – 9.5 – historical fiction
Various people come past on the roads in front of the Georgenhoff, an old and now rundown family estate not too far from Koenigsberg which was then in East Prussia, Germany, or Prussia and then Poland, but is now a part of Russia. They pass by alone or in groups, walking or with some sort of vehicle. A few stop in to see if they can get a bite of food.
The family who lives there, Katherina von Globig and her husband Eberhard their son Peter and Auntie who had come from Silesia and never left. They have two Ukrainian housekeepers and a Polish hired man. Their home is a collection of buildings as well as the manor and it is full of old things – art and furniture including a statue called “Crouching Woman” (Georg Kolbe? Thank you WBG!) which is mentioned several times. Behind what remains of the estate is a settlement of newer units for people of the town of Mitkau. A Nazi named Drygalski is in charge and keeps it ship-shape. Several other characters live in Mitkau – the priest, Peter’s tutor, the mayor – these are all friends of a sort with the Globigs.
While Everhart is on business in Italy, Katherina is asked by the village priest to make room for a strange man who needs a place to stay for the night. And I won’t go further with the plot except to say that it gets very interesting with plenty of tension building and danger. “Nothing was easy…”
The themes are brilliant – there’s love and family and others – but there’s a huge almost over-arching theme of denial. And so the way the book is structured and written, much of the whole tone of it, fits beautifully –
The writing is perfect – it creates a place of semi-solitude in which denial and fear are easy, in which the characters are at ease. It’s like a retreat. But the reader knows there are bad times coming so there is a small undertone of tension.