The Silent Angel

by Heinrich Boll

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The Silent Angel

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 439

Heinrich Boll is one of the great German writers of the second half of the twentieth century. In 1972, Boll was presented with the Nobel Prize in Literature by the Swedish Academy. During his life, Boll was the social conscience of postwar Germany. He was determined to make Germany come to terms with its past and to build a future based on what was socially and politically humane for its citizens. Some of his most powerful works include WO WARST DU, ADAM? (1951; ADAM, WHERE ART THOU?, 1955), UND SAGTE KEIN EINZIGES WORT (1953; ACQUAINTED WITH THE NIGHT, 1954), ANSICHTEN EINES CLOWNS (1963; THE CLOWN, 1965), and GRUPPENBILD MIT DAME (1971; GROUP PORTRAIT WITH LADY, 1973). In 1949, Boll published his first work, the novella DER ZUG WAR PUNCTLICH (THE TRAIN WAS ON TIME, 1956). THE SILENT ANGEL, written in German as DER ENGEL SCHWIEG, was to be his first novel, but his publisher decided against publishing it because of the novel’s treatment of World War II and its aftermath. The publisher did not believe that the German people were as yet prepared to come to terms with their immediate past and precarious future.

The manuscript of THE SILENT ANGEL was sent back to Boll and would not be published in German until 1992. Over the years, Boll had used various themes and sections from the novel for some of his other works. The publication of this first novel in 1992 was still a great literary event, and Breon Mitchell is to be commended for his solid translation of THE SILENT ANGEL in 1994. The story revolves around Hans Schnitzler’s return to the devastated city of Cologne. He is in search of the wife of Willy Gompertz. Schnitzler had been targeted to be shot as a deserter, but Gompertz switched jackets with him and was killed in his place. Schnitzler feels obliged to locate Gompertz’s widow. He has no place to sleep and is very hungry so Schnitzler takes refuge in a hospital. He steals a woman’s coat, but soon he feels ashamed of his desperate act and wishes to return the coat. The coat’s owner is Regina Unger. Tragically, her baby had been killed recently. When Schnitzler and Unger finally meet, a bond between them is established. They each are in need of human comfort. Schnitzler also becomes entangled in the fight over Gompertz’s will between his widow and a greedy lawyer. THE SILENT ANGEL is a poignant novel in which love and commitment become the guiding forces out of the rubble and despair of war. The novel is a remarkable achievement and will hopefully take its rightful place in the canon of a literary giant.

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