The Silent Angel, by Heinrich Böll

I bought this based on W.G. Sebald’s recommendation, and it did not disappoint.

Set in Germany, in the weeks after the war has ended, the story follows one soldier as he wanders the wreckage, looking for food, shelter and love.

The writing is continuously subtle and deft, and the imagery almost always seems to be double sided or metaphorical.

Right from the opening scene, the soldier encounters what he perceives to be a stone angel and he notes how strong and solid it looks, like a beacon of hope among the other wreckage, but as he draws closer he finds that it is not stone at all, but cheap, tawdry plastic covered in ash. This hints (to me anyway) that the strength of the fascist army was only empty posturing hiding behind the destruction it caused.

The writing is great, and the story is sad and bittersweet. The small scraps of hope seem so far between each other, but that makes them all the more powerful.

Sebald said that this book was the best one to describe the post WW2 destruction, however it was not published until ’92, 50 years after it was written. Perhaps this is because it described things too well…

Looking forward to further books by this author!


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