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Gruppenbild mit Dame by Heinrich Böll
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Gruppenbild mit Dame (original 1971; edition 2007)

by Heinrich Böll

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915129,598 (3.91)34
Member:Daigto
Title:Gruppenbild mit Dame
Authors:Heinrich Böll
Info:Kiepenheuer & Witsch GmbH (2007), Hardcover
Collections:Your library
Rating:*****
Tags:German literature

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Group Portrait With Lady by Heinrich Böll (1971)

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English (6)  Dutch (3)  German (1)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  All (12)
Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
Another review here gives a good outline of Group Portrait. All I can add to it is that the story is pieced together a bit as a documentary would be rather than being a straightforward narrative, and that virtually all the book is what an unnamed author has learned in interviews with people who have known Leni.

If I said that Group Portrait is an author's account of his attempt to learn all he could about a woman, telling us of the course of that quest and of what he learned along the way, giving vivid accounts of the various characters he encountered whilst doing so, it could well sound like a book club selection. It's far from it: this is unmistakably a literary novel with ambiguities and authorial games, and not only do we not get a strong sense of Leni but she seems (as I read it) nearly a cipher. Where the writer of a lesser book would have made her into saint or goddess, as could easily have been done, Boll shows us little more of her personality than suggestions that she's a free spirit and--again, by my reading--a bit simple. (And in the same way, episodes that a less subtle author would have striven to make heart-wrenching, e.g., are handled not coldly but nonetheless without any attempt to manipulate the reader's emotions.) This treatment of the main character is refreshing and one not many authors would dare, I think.

I'd read a couple of other novels by Boll and hadn't gathered from them that he has a good sense of humour, but he does. Indeed, his 'happy endings' take on the flavour of those in farces, though the one truly touching moment occurs amidst those endings. I don't know whether this is something I'd ever re-read but in the short term I'll be intently thinking over the novel and in the long term I doubt I'll ever forget it.

And by the way, a reading of Group Portrait would no doubt be enriched by some knowledge of political and everyday life in Germany in the first three quarters of the last century but my having none at all didn't detract from my enjoyment of it.
  bluepiano | Dec 29, 2016 |
This book looks at life in perhaps the most terrible periods of human history -- Germany in the 1930's and 1940's -- and finds that, pretty much, life went on. Life under increasingly restricted, surreal, and irrational circumstances, life in the midst of death (our central characters actually end up living beneath a cemetery) and life that seemed to go on only because of an animal will to live, but still -- life. Boll's 1971 novel centers on an unnamed author's effort to find out about one Leni Pfieffer, a war widow at the center of an oddly assorted (and often very odd) group of people -- parents, employers, lovers, friends, and so on. . The author may be nameless, but he is definitely identified (as Au) and his personality and interest interweave with the rest of the story. He traces Leni's story from her bourgeoise childhood and youth, through her adventures and misadventures at school (including a close relationship with a Jewish nun who is concealed -- and starved -- in her convent), through her early doomed love for a young man who is shot, up to her apotheosis as the lover of a Russian prisoner of war. He dies, but she survives, as does her son, very much reduced in circumstances by the machinations of those who should have treated her better. There is, however -- oh, I won't spoil it by discussing the ending.
What I found so fascinating about this book was the way the characters simply try to go about their lives, Nazis or no nazis, bombs or no bombs. It gets more and more difficult, until the last days of the war when chaos reigns -- they don't know whether or not the war is over nor do they much care, they just don't want to get shot. Boll's style is not linear, which can be irksome in the earlier parts of the book, but which is entirely appropriate as the novel unfolds. This is a terrific book. ( )
  annbury | Feb 28, 2015 |
This is a fascinating book on many levels. It's a book about 20th century German history, human nature amidst chaos, an intriguing cast of characters, and political commentary presented with sarcastic humor within a complex but effective format. ( )
  snash | Jul 13, 2012 |
I liked it, especially the occasionally sarcastic commentary, but for some reason, it just felt like it took forever to finish it. ( )
  KatrinkaV | Jul 19, 2011 |
I read an article that the novels of this Nobel Prize winning author were due to be re-issued by Melville House because his depictions of life under fascism were still too relevant to be out of print, so I read the first title I could find of his ahead of the availability of the new editions. This had the added benefit of furthering my ambition to read something from most, if not all, of the winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature. I didn’t really know anything about Böll before I read the article and this book.
I’ve read my share of literature on World War II. As a kid, I read about the battles and the heroes and villains and the (cool?) weapons. As an adult, I realized that war was far from cool and that it came at an enormous cost of human suffering, not just to the people directly participating in the war but even more so to the innocent civilians, the men, women, and children that are caught in the conflict. The “war” stories I read usually glossed over these collateral victims or gave them the short shrift of a statistic like a casualty number in the bombing of a city.
Böll’s writing is not like that in Group Portrait with a Lady. His novel brings to life how some of the citizens of Germany had to live under fascism and war. The profiteering, the concentration and forced labour camps, the conscription, the scarcity of basic needs, the fear of being denounced by others as a traitor or spy or un-German, and the gradually increasing bombing by the allies. One of the most striking discoveries in his writing for me was the ambiguous reality of the “end” of a war for those who were in it’s direct path. There seemed to be no V-E Day where they went from war to peace. During the weeks/months that transpired between knowing the war was lost (but not officially) and the cessation of hostilities and some semblance of safety nobody was quite sure what to do. You could be picked up by the retreating German patrols and shot as a deserter; you could be picked up by the Soviets and shot or sent east to a POW camp you probably would not survive; you could be picked up by the Americans, British, or French and be shot or sent to a POW camp with not much better assurance of your safety, you could be harmed by other desperate people trying to survive. Many people just disappeared, especially if their “papers” were not in order; even with your papers it might take a while for them to be “sorted out” while you waited in a camp. Years later, the characters in the novel are still dealing with the consequences of their experiences and wondering where their friends and relatives might have disappeared too. Böll captures this effect of war very well in this novel. I will definitely be checking out some of his other novels in the future.
  jveezer | Jan 1, 2011 |
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» Add other authors (17 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Böll, Heinrichprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dinaux, C.J.E.Forewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ferguson, MargarethaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vennewitz, LeilaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Modern classic by Nobel Prize Winner, perhaps his best regarded novel.

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