The plot of The Case of Sergeant Grischa, an absorbing account of the last months of World War I, appeared first as a play in 1921. Its great and deserved popularity led Arnold Zweig to recast his characters in the larger framework of a novel. A brilliant novel, it is one of the best in any language to emerge from World War I. Zweig has a strong narrative sense, an excellent grasp of physical detail, and a fine ability to portray characters. Additionally, the novel relates the particular setting of the German Eastern Front in World War I to the historical and social forces, in the army and outside it, that bring Sergeant Grischa to his fate.
The story itself begins in a primitive setting, where Grischa is impelled to escape imprisonment by the most basic human feelings: the need for wife, child, and home. The story moves forward into progressively more richly textured social and political settings, where human emotions became more disguised and elaborate through their contact with the institutions of society and of war. Throughout this movement, the story itself remains prominent. Sergeant Grischa’s career remains of interest because he is so appealing as a character and because he encounters such a broadly representative spectrum of forces and circumstances in his life.
The physical details of the labor camp, forests, towns, offices, trenches, battlefields, and prisons are especially rich and provocative. Zweig is compelling in his...
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