The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum has its immediate origins in Böll’s own battles with the Bild-Zeitung, which he had censured for its irresponsible reporting on the Baader-Meinhof Group, the object in Germany of a national manhunt in 1971. Böll was attacked for his defense of the Group—he had really only defended justice—and harassed by the police. Another victim of the Bild-Zeitung was Professor Peter Bruckner, who was falsely accused of aiding the Group and was subsequently subjected to Katharina-like treatment by the media. Because Böll wrote the novel in response to governmental attacks on individual civil liberties, it is regarded as the most overtly political of his novels, and when it was successfully adapted to film by Volker Schlondorff and Margaretha von Trotta in 1975, it became his most controversial work.
Despite its topicality, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum does resemble Böll’s other work; his criticism of governmental exercise of power has continued throughout his career. Having experienced National Socialism at first hand as a soldier in Adolf Hitler’s army, Böll, in writing about the present, is affected by the past, which he sees reflected in what he regards as contemporary Fascism, with its totalitarian emphasis on the rights of the state over the rights of the individual. Of Böll’s other novels, many concern the Fascist legacy in German life: Haus ohne Huter (1954; The Unguarded House, 1957; also as Tomorrow and Yesterday), Ansichten eines Clowns (1963; The Clown, 1965), and, most notably, Gruppenbild mit Dame (1971; Group Portrait with Lady, 1973), which traces, through its protagonist, events in Germany beginning in 1922. The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, however, has come to be regarded as his most successful novel.