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Group Portrait With Lady (1971)

by Heinrich Böll

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1,3241814,439 (3.9)55
Billede af Tysklands historie gennem de sidste 50 år, centreret omkring den nu 48-årige kvinde, Leni, en krigsenke, hvis forhold til kærlighed, politik og religion belyses fra mange sider.
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» See also 55 mentions

English (9)  Spanish (2)  French (2)  Dutch (2)  Danish (1)  Bulgarian (1)  German (1)  All languages (18)
Showing 1-5 of 9 (next | show all)
Too much detail about people in Germany pre-WW2. Well-written, and surely Böll achieved his intentions with this novel when he wrote it, but I couldn't finish it. ( )
  KENNERLYDAN | Jul 11, 2021 |
Story told as an investigation of the person of Leni. The narrator (Au) interviews and researches the life of Leni for unknown reasons. It is an interesting way to tell the story of what the German people went through during and after the war. While I really liked it and think it is Nobel prize worthy, I found it hard to engage and it was quite easy to fall asleep. Still it is a 4 star read. ( )
  Kristelh | Jul 2, 2021 |
This is a novel for advanced users only. It reminded me at several points of Kubrick's Barry Lyndon in that I was aware I was engaged upon a great piece of art so serious its creator was prepared to make absolutely no allowances for pacing and had complete confidence in his audience to submit to this. I consider myself an advanced user and for much of the novel I struggled with the pace. Frankly, I could have done with a little more Blitzkrieg and a little less Cold War.

Still, there is much to enjoy here. There's something unusual going on. It took me a while to figure it out. My theory is as follows:

The novel is about construction and deconstruction. The chapter divisions make no sense. They are arbitrary divisions as blocks of text are moved into or out of place. The scaffolding is still up, so to speak, and it is not clear if the novel is in the process of construction or deconstruction. Böll writes at one point about the computer as big as Bavaria, a sort of astro-philosophical verberator that produces life stories. Is the novel under construction? Has Böll not finished novelising the information from his transcripts or has the verberator delivered the novel perfectly, only for Böll to deconstruct it into transcripts?

This motif is reflected again and again in other ways, perhaps most obviously in Leni and her father (who runs a construction company of course) but also more subtly in other characters. And also in the setting of Germany itself, where Nazism constructs the country from the ruins of the Treaty of Versailles but in the process destroys it.

This is a complex novel and having read it only once this must remain a theory but I see some confirmation in the opening passage where Böll describes Leni. At the same time as he constructs her in the reader's mind by giving information he is also deconstructing her from a person into a few pieces of information. ( )
1 vote Lukerik | Aug 28, 2017 |
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 film 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. ( )
1 vote annbury | Feb 28, 2015 |
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» Add other authors (16 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Böll, Heinrichprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Chiusano, I.A.Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Chiusano, Italo AlighieroTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dinaux, C.J.E.Forewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ferguson, MargarethaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Vennewitz, LeilaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Billede af Tysklands historie gennem de sidste 50 år, centreret omkring den nu 48-årige kvinde, Leni, en krigsenke, hvis forhold til kærlighed, politik og religion belyses fra mange sider.

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