A quick biography of Borchert.He died when he was twenty-six and a half years old.When he was nineteen he was arrested by the gestapo and shortly afterwards released.He became a bookseller, and then tried to become an actor but his acting career was sidelined when he got drafted into the German army in 1941.He was sent to the Russian Front where he contracted hepatitis from a cut and was then arrested when his superior officers thought he was trying to evade military service.It didn't help that he was also writing very honest letters home about the horrors of the war. Something the German Army didn't like being advertised to the home front. For the letters and the cut he was placed in solitary confinement for a couple of months and then sent back to the front to prove himself a good German.After getting frostbite a few times and having more trouble with hepatitis he was released from the army.Soon afterwards he was arrested by the Nazi's again, this time for parodying Goebbels.He was sentenced to another nine months in solitary confinement and upon his release he was sent to the Western front.His company surrendered to the French when the war was over and Borchert managed to escape from the French while being transported to a POW camp.He made it home to find out a year later that the hepatitis had severely damaged his liver and that he would probably die within a year.He lived for almost another two years, spending the last year of his life in a sanatorium.During the time after his medical death sentence was given to him and his death he focused on writing.
This book is selection of the work he produced in the last two years of his brief life.
I don't need to think long to come up with things that suck and really I don't need to add any more to my mental list, but now I have another one.Borchert dying at the age of 26.
This book is so good.And the guy was basically just a high school graduate who lived a pretty bleak and shitty life with little time to 'hone' the craft of writing.I can imagine that his mature work would have been absolutely devastating to read.Of course it is also possible that if he hadn't been told he had only a year to live he might never have become a writer, he might have focused on acting, he might have let the experiences of the war drift into the haziness of memory and gone on to live a full life without any literary output.
Everytime I think that the person writing the stories and one play in this book was between twenty four and twenty six I'm amazed.And jealous.
Predictably the stories (and play, I'm going to stop saying and play, just remember that the play is the title of the book, but the majority of the book are short stories, but saying stories and play is cumbersome, just like this aside) are about the war, either during on the Russian front, in prison, or in the cities after the war.They are from a perspective I don't think I've read before.A German soldier immediately following the war.
His stories generally are populated in a world similar to the one found in Fassbinder's post-war movies, I'm thinking the Ali, Fear Eats the Soul type Fassbinder.A bleak post-war world of broken men and women struggling to get by amidst shortages and the mental trauma of living through first the Nazi's and then having their cities blown to pieces by Allied bombers.It's a world where a small child guards the rubble of his house with a stick to chase away the rats so they don't eat his dead brother whose body is still trapped inside.And where women sleep with men for their cigarettes because it helps keep the hunger at bay.
A story follows a veteran who is haunted by the fifty seven men of his company who all died, with him being the only survivor. Along with the fifty seven Germans haunting his waking life there are also the eighty six Russians he helped kill one night with a single machine gun.His stories have many haunted characters in them, people trying to come to terms with the guilt they feel for surviving the war.The stories are filled with characters engulfed in sorrow and despair who want to end it all but also want to embrace living.It's almost like the famous Beckett line, "I can't go on, I must go on", or the Camus quote "In the midst of the darkest winter I found within myself an invincible summer".
You can hear the author screaming under the words he's putting down for posterity about the horrors of what he has experienced that through it all he wants to live.
He tells the reader that dying is the easy way out.It's only through living that the world can be made possibly into a better place.
As the stories move on chronologically the tone shifts and his sentiments about the war become clearer and anger begins to be noticeable.His last 'story', written shortly before he died is a polemic against future wars.In it he exhorts all of the everyday people to say no and not offer their support to the next wars.He points to the people who would be soldiers, who would build tanks, sew uniforms, teach the young the honor of fighting for the Fatherland, who would willing let their sons go off to war to say no, not just to save individual lives but to save all of humanity.This piece is the most emotional in the collection, and it's in a way the most immature, or at least angry, it's sort of like a 1940's Crass song but it's a stirring conclusion to the collection of this very brief literary life.
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