Sunday, November 8, 2015

Schlump, by Hans Herbert Grimm

Staff review by Chris Saliba


This forgotten anti-war novel by Hans Herbert Grimm gets a new lease of life in this excellent translation by Jamie Bulloch. While Schlump is frank in its descriptions of the violence of war, it is also humane and comic.

In 1928 German schoolmaster Hans Herbert Grimm published his autobiographical novel about the First World War, given the rather comical title Schlump. By 1933, the Nazis had publicly burnt it. Given the anti-war nature of Schlump, Grimm had decided to publish anonymously. Fearful of being found out as the true author, he joined the Nazis and worked as an interpreter during the Second World War. In 1950, he was called to a meeting in Weimar with government officials. Two days later he committed suicide. No one knows what was discussed.

Schlump was not a big seller, a fact that wounded Grimm. What made things more frustrating was the fact that he couldn’t promote his book. It was Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front that overshadowed all other war novels. Now, a hundred years after the First World War started, Schlump has been given a well deserved new lease on life, with a superb English translation by Jamie Bulloch.

The novel’s protagonist is Emil Schulz, a 17-year-old German lad who is given the nickname “Schlump” by a police officer. Eager to volunteer for the war and full of romantic visions of heroism, he defies his parents and volunteers for the army. He soon finds himself in occupied France, working as a district supervisor covering three towns. He can’t believe his luck. He’s in a position of some power and there are plenty of pretty French girls for him to chase. His luck soon changes and he ends up at the front, where he witnesses all sorts of horrors. He is wounded, hospitalised, then sent back to the front. Along the way he manages to set himself up for a time as an operative on the black market.

In many ways Schlump is a unique achievement. Despite its frequent realism, it reads like a fairy tale. As a literary character, Schlump himself is somewhat like Shakespeare’s Bottom from A Midsummer Night's Dream. Or Voltaire's Candide from the novel of the same name. He walks through a landscape full of ogres and nightmarish happenings. He narrowly escapes all sorts of horrors. In one memorable episode Schlump witnesses a friend blow himself up with a grenade, then watches  as the head blows off and rolls through the mud, finally landing upright, like a bust. Yet through all of this Schlump retains his cheeriness and goodwill to others.

Hans Herbert Grimm suffuses his text with much warmth and tenderness. Schlump is a deeply humane book, in an almost Chaucerian way. It juxtaposes all the sweet things life has to offer against the horrors that man is capable of, highlighting how precious life is, how full of wonder it can be.

Schlump, by Hans Herbert Grimm. Published by Vintage Classics. ISBN: 9780099595786  RRP: $14.99

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