13 February 2011
Book Review: End of a Mission by Heinrich Boll
So what is this book about? The whole of the narrative follows the trial of a father and son who have been arrested for setting fire to an army vehicle. I think part of my disappointment in the book is that I was expecting a different kind of book. I thought that there was going to be some great reason for their action and expected more of a plot. Instead End of a Mission is like a tableau of personalities. Taking place in a small village every character is truly a character. All of the quirkiness of village life and relationships are played out in the descriptions and actions of everyone from judge to bailiff, to lawyers, police, witnesses, innkeepers, observers, the press and of course the accused father and son. It also took me a while to realize that much of the book is meant to be humorous. Throughout the book Boll shows the somewhat absurd juxtaposition of a society that likes rules at the same time that it seems to be rebelling against them. Perhaps it is in the wake of World War II and the role of law and order in the Holocaust that prompts these small town Germans to want to thumb their noses at authority. But even then there is an almost orderly quality to their small acts of rebellion. Being at least one quarter German and one quarter control freak, I often feel an affinity for the stereotype of German precision and linear thinking. I had a history professor in college who abhorred any attempts to define a national character, either for individuals or for the collective society. But darn if it isn't satisfying to trade in generalities sometimes.
There were moments that I enjoyed, and there are many aspects that would make End of a Mission a good book for discussion. But not a book club discussion. I think it would do much better in a more academic setting, and one that was focused more on German post-WWII history rather than one specifically about literature. For these reasons I am wavering between giving this book a 5 (ambivalent) on the My Porch Scale or a 6 (almost liked it).