(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum examines, as Heinrich Böll’s subtitle suggests, “how violence develops and where it can lead.” The novel, narrated in what purports to be responsible journalistic prose, begins by “objectively” describing Katharina Blum’s murder of Werner Totges, a reporter for the irresponsible News, and then attempting to account for that murder by exploring the four days between Katharina’s meeting with Ludwig Gotten, a suspected terrorist, and Totges’ murder. As a responsible journalist, the narrator carefully identifies the sources of his “report”: “doctored” transcripts of police interrogations and the testimony of Hubert Blorna, an attorney, and Peter Hach, the public prosecutor. In the course of his narrative, he also quotes extensively from stories in the News, which bears a strong resemblance to the Bild-Zeitung, a German mass-circulation tabloid with which Böll had feuded about journalistic practices.

After listing his sources and explaining his narrative method, the narrator presents the brutal “facts”: Four days after meeting Ludwig Gotten, Katharina killed Totges in her apartment and turned herself in to Walter Moeding, the crime commissioner. The balance of the novel concerns not the murder, the “lowest of all levels,” but the “higher planes” of motivation and meaning that transform a so-called political murder into an act of integrity.

The story begins with Katharina’s attendance at a carnival party at the home of her friend Else Woltersheim; there she meets Ludwig, the subject of police surveillance and, after dancing exclusively with him, takes him to her condominium, where they spend the night.

The next morning, the police storm her apartment and when they cannot find Ludwig, they interrogate her, search the apartment, and take her to the police station for further questioning. As she leaves with the police, a photographer from the News takes several pictures of her (the least flattering and most suggestive of her “criminality” is the one subsequently printed in the News), and the narrator uses the occasion to introduce the recurrent theme of collaboration between the press and the police.

After making her statement and being interrogated by the police, Katharina is escorted to her apartment by a sympathetic Moeding, who cautions her not to use the telephone (it has obviously been...

(The entire section is 1007 words.)