Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

A People Betrayed and Karl and Rosa are Döblin’s most important works written during his exile from Nazi Germany from 1933 to 1945. The novels were written between 1937 and 1943 in Paris and Hollywood. Döblin returned to Germany in 1945 as a cultural officer of the French military government, only to leave Germany again for a second exile in France in 1953; he returned to a sanatorium in Germany to die in 1957. The original trilogy, as it is preserved in the English translation, grew into a tetralogy of four volumes which were not published in Germany until 1978. Only the shorter, three-volume version of 1950 was available until the final publication of the tetralogy in 1978.

The reasons for the abridged version were French censorship, which did not approve of the first part with its rather satirical view of the French in Alsace, and West German disinterest in exile literature, in general, and aversion to the November revolution of 1918, in particular. This intellectual climate of benevolent neglect was changed by the student movement of the 1970’s, which brought about a new interest in German exile literature. This new interest made possible the final publication of the unabridged version in 1978, more than thirty years after its completion in manuscript.