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Andrew Donaldson on Heinrich Gerlach’s “lost” fictional account of the Battle of Stalingrad, Sue Grafton’s passing, and Michael Wolff’s inside look at the sentient naartjie’s presidency

BACKSTORY’S MAKE FOR THE BEST STORIES

Breakout at StalingradSOMETIMES the story behind the publication of a novel can be even more extraordinary than the novel itself. This is certainly the case with Heinrich Gerlach’s Breakout at Stalingrad (Apollo), which is now published in English for the first time after being “lost” for 70 years. This is the original version of Gerlach’s 1957 classic of post-war literature, The Forsaken Army, an epic, fictionalised account of the battle of Stalingrad from the invading Germans’ point of view.

The 30-year-old Gerlach, an academic, was drafted as a reservist into the Wehrmacht in 1939, and in November 1942 was one of the 300 000 troops trapped by the Red Army outside Stalingrad. When the Germans surrendered in February 1943, only 91 000 remained. Gerlach, severely wounded, was one of them.

As a Soviet prisoner, he worked on an anti-Nazi newspaper, Free Germany. For this he was tried in absentia by the Nazis who sentenced him to death. He also worked on his novel, convinced the Soviets would allow its publication. They confiscated it instead. In 1950, the Soviets offered Gerlach his freedom – if he spied for them. He refused, but then changed his mind when he realised that failing to cooperate would result in a 25-year prison sentence. He was put on a train to Berlin where he was to meet his East German spymasters.

Fortunately, his train arrived hours early. The platform was empty. Gerlich hopped off and caught a local train to the western sector. In West Germany, he returned to teaching – and started afresh with his novel, taking a course in hypnosis to recall the contents of his confiscated manuscript. That 600-page manuscript, untouched for decades, was found in a Moscow archive in 2012 by Carsten Gansel, a researcher working on an unrelated project.

According to the London Sunday Times the differences between the two versions are instructive. “Where The Forsaken Army is almost thematically analytical, emphasising the deliberate betrayal of the army by Hitler and the Nazi leadership, the original Breakout at Stalingrad is more obviously built of viscerally immediate experiences.”

CRIMES & MISDEMEANOURS

Farewell, then, to Sue Grafton, author of the alphabetically titled detective series that began in 1982 with A Is for Alibi who passed away last month at 77.

The series’ female protagonist was introduced thus: “My name is Kinsey Millhone. I’m a private investigator, licensed by the state of California. I’m thirty-two years old, twice divorced, no kids. The day before yesterday I killed someone and the fact weighs heavily on my mind.”

The latest in the series, Y Is For Yesterday (Mantle) was published in August last year. At the time of her death, Grafton had been battling with a final, Z Is for Zero.

Grafton’s daughter, Jamie Clark, has said that it would not be completed. Her mother, she wrote on the author’s website, “would never allow a ghost writer to write in her name. Because of all of those things, and out of the deep abiding love and respect for our dear sweet Sue, as far as we in the family are concerned, the alphabet now ends at Y.”

EVEN IN WESTERN EUROPE? YES, EVEN IN WESTERN EUROPE. . .

Fire and FuryDid you know Donald Trump pronounced Xi Jinping’s name as “Ex-ee”, and had to be reprogrammed to think of the Chinese president as a woman so that he would be able to pronounce “She” when they met? True story, apparently.

By now, most of us are familiar with the contents of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House (Little, Brown); its revelations about the childlike nonentity now sometimes resident at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue that made pre-publication headlines are now old news.

Reviews have been mixed. Most of his detractors have accused Wolff of unethical journalism. All those off-the-record comments from Steve Bannon, the most indiscreet of the author’s informants, now on-the-record? As critic Peter Conrad put it in The Observer, Wolff’s observation that Trump is “a symbol of the media’s self-loathing” is an indictment that applies to Wolff in particular.

Conrad does have a particularly elegant turn of phrase. “Fire and Fury,” he writes, “also gives the lowdown on the lacquered trompe-l’oeil that is Trump’s hairdo, with those tinted tendrils combed over a cranium that is totally bald and resonantly empty. But beyond such acts of exposure, what makes the book significant is its sly, hilarious portrait of a hollow man, into the black hole of whose needy, greedy ego the whole world has virtually vanished…”

Fire and the Fury has however found favour in North Korea. According to the country’s Rodong Sinmun newspaper, run by the ruling Workers’ Party, “The anti-Trump book is sweeping all over the world so Trump is being massively humiliated world-wide… Voices calling for the impeachment of Trump are on the rise not only in the United States but also abroad. Since the book was published, it has triggered a debate on whether Trump is qualified to be president, even in Western Europe.”


THE BOTTOM LINE

“Factory manufacture robs us of a special something: contemplation.” – Craeft: An Inquiry Into the Origins and True Meaning of Traditional Crafts by Alexander Langlands (WW Norton & Company)

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