All for Nothing by Walter Kempowski

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Kempowski’s idiosyncratic genius lies in his ability to weave this accumulation of human fallibility into something greater. His perspective on a grim slice of history steadily broadens out to become visionary, lending his novel the irresistible pull of great tragedy.
-The Economist

Synopsis

Winter, January 1945. It is cold and dark, and the German army is retreating from the Russian advance. Germans are fleeing the occupied territories in their thousands, in cars and carts and on foot. But in a rural East Prussian manor house, the wealthy von Globig family tries to seal itself off from the world.

Peter von Globig is twelve, and feigns a cough to get out of his Hitler Youth duties, preferring to sledge behind the house and look at snowflakes through his microscope. His father Eberhard is stationed in Italy - a desk job safe from the front - and his bookish and musical mother Katharina has withdrawn into herself. Instead the house is run by a conservative, frugal aunt, helped by two Ukrainian maids and an energetic Pole. Protected by their privileged lifestyle from the deprivation and chaos around them, and caught in the grip of indecision, they make no preparations to leave, until Katharina's decision to harbour a stranger for the night begins their undoing.

Brilliantly evocative and atmospheric of the period, sympathetic yet painfully honest about the motivations of its characters, All for Nothing is a devastating portrait of the self-delusions, complicities and denials of the German people as the Third Reich comes to an end. Like deer caught in headlights, they stare into a gaping maw they sense will soon close over them.
 

About Walter Kempowski

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WALTER KEMPOWSKI (1929 - 2007) was one of Germany's most important post-war writers. He is known for his acclaimed series of novels German Chronicles (Deutsche Chronik) and his immense, eight-volume collection of first-hand accounts of World War II, Echo Soundings (Das Echolot), the final volume of which, Swansong 1945, was published by Granta in English in 2014. His last novel All for Nothing (Alles Umsonst), a bestseller in Germany in 2006 and critically applauded, sealed his reputation. It is available here in translation for the first time.
 
Published November 5, 2015 by Granta Books. 352 pages
Genres: History, War, Literature & Fiction, Mystery, Thriller & Suspense. Fiction
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Critic reviews for All for Nothing
All: 3 | Positive: 2 | Negative: 1

Guardian

Good
Reviewed by Carol Birch on Nov 28 2015

All for Nothing is a beautiful, forgiving and compassionate book that looks beyond the futile divisions people make between themselves. It reaches its last devastating line with poetic sensibility and the grace of a classical tragedy, confirming Kempowski as a truly great writer.

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NY Times

Above average
Reviewed by Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim on May 25 2018

...not for the creation of characters with much depth. Still, as a literary response to a long-buried collective trauma, “All for Nothing” is well worth reading, especially now that the country’s parliament contains delegates from the far-right Alternative for Germany party with deep ties...

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The Economist

Good
on Nov 14 2015

Kempowski’s idiosyncratic genius lies in his ability to weave this accumulation of human fallibility into something greater. His perspective on a grim slice of history steadily broadens out to become visionary, lending his novel the irresistible pull of great tragedy.

Read Full Review of All for Nothing | See more reviews from The Economist

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87%

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