Tsum | Review: Alexander Lernet-Holenia – The Blue Hour

spoiled the war

When war breaks out, many privileges also end. This is what the Austrian reserve officer Count Woolmoden is going through blue hourAlexander Lernt Holnia’s novel, based on his own experiences, was written in early 1939/1940. The work first appeared in bookshops in 1947 and has now been translated into Dutch in the context of schwob.nl.

The cover of the book shows that the arrival of this extraordinary war novel to readers is in itself a small miracle. Joseph Goebbels’s Ministry of Propaganda banned the first printing in 1941 in an edition of 15,000 copies, after which a raid on Leipzig two years later destroyed all copies stored in the publisher’s warehouse. The only evidence, which Lernt Holnia still possessed, made it possible to move forward with publication after the war.

The fact that the Nazis did not care about this novel is undoubtedly because it leaves no room for misunderstanding what war does to human lives. Even those wealthy officers, hardly realizing what they would encounter, when their lives until then had been an endless series of pleasures.

To the battlefield, Rossturn claimed, he was already fully prepared and kept his comrades. To which battlefield, Wallmoden asked, not believing it. Where was that then? Rossturn didn’t know either. He was full of things and wandered like that for hours. It seemed there was no going back for him. And if there is no battlefield now, surely there will be a battlefield for the foreseeable future.

The main character is the Austrian Lieutenant Count Woolmoden, who decided to embark on a mandatory military maneuver, suspecting that it would soon end. But what begins with casual philosophical conversations with fellow officers about ghosts and spirits, and life and death, soon turns into the harsh reality of World War II. On one of those turbulent evenings, described surprisingly, Wallmoden also encounters an interesting woman, who says her name is Baroness Cuba Pistolcurs, whom he promised to return soon. His longing for her runs like a red thread through the book to come to an abrupt conclusion.

However, it was no longer possible to return, since his military unit belonged to the squadrons involved in the German attack on Poland. From that moment on, the quiet existence of the senior military would turn into a nightmare. The German fighters have no idea where they are and what their tasks are, while they are supposedly still in “peace mode”. Wallmoden, for example, thinks of an interesting Cuba more than he does of his officer duties, with the bombing intensified and the first people killed and wounded.

The so-called blue hour, between day and night, light and darkness, as well as the agreed time when Cuba and the Count meet again, slowly deteriorates into a moment of death and destruction. Lernet-Holenia shows how Wallmoden’s state of mind changes. At first preoccupied with everyday questions about, for example, the need to order a new pair of shoes, he soon realized that such trifles did not matter.

In surreal and sometimes tragic parts, Wallmoden’s view of his fellow humans changes and he begins to doubt what he sees. Were there really girls bathing in his room, were there really crabs on the road and was the body of one of his fellow officers moved?

When Wallmoden was alone, he quickly walked to the stove. The wooden bathtub in which the girls bathed was behind the stove again, the interior facing the wall. The screen collapsed next to her. Wallmoden hasn’t had a chance to find out if it was used. Although he might not find any trace of the two buckets or any drops of candles, he discovered something that surprised him. He saw the wet trail of a pair of bare feet running from where the basin stood to the hall door. […] But what was even more surprising was that it was a trace of only one person.

Fighting on the battlefield is horrific, but it doesn’t just hurt those affected. Even men who are supposedly unharmed lose their innocence and dignity. However, the dream and imagination, which illustrate Wallmoden’s confusion, also formed a foothold for him when the grenades fell. Blue Hour is an exceptional war novel in many ways. Lernet-Holena manages to present even the most slightly terrifying thought, using sarcasm and a slight smile when appropriate, but without this detracting from his critical message.

Andre Kix

Alexander Lernett Holenia – blue hour† Translated by Gerrit Bosink. World Library, Amsterdam. 208 pages .22.99€.

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