(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Frank Friedmaier is a young man who lives on the third floor of a tenement in an unnamed city under foreign occupation. Frank shares his apartment with his mother, Lotte, who runs a brothel, and various prostitutes in her employ. Frank is a pimp, and he is the antihero of The Snow Was Black, a novel often critically acclaimed as Simenon’s greatest work.

Almost all of Simenon’s novels are studies of a single character. Simenon explores the world through Frank’s sociopathic perception. Early in the novel, Frank kills a man he does not like but hardly knows in order to impress other men he hardly knows who do not like Frank. Law has been replaced by a perverted state of nature, dividing citizens into two camps: those who quietly endure or secretly resist the occupation, or those, like Frank and his mother, who cater to the occupiers.

Frank’s great obsession is his neighbor, Gerhardt Holst, and Holst’s virgin daughter, Sissy. Sissy is infatuated with Frank, and Frank abuses Sissy’s affection in order to capture her father’s attention. Holst represents dignity and decency and paternal discipline, qualities Frank has never experienced but seeks to understand.

One of the key events in the novel is when Frank leads Sissy to what she believes will be her first sexual experience, but Frank substitutes his friend, Fred Kromer, for himself, and Kromer rapes Sissy while Frank listens at the door. Frank wants to be recognized, to get attention for...

(The entire section is 610 words.)


(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

The Snow Was Black begins in a cafe during winter, in a city occupied by unidentified troops, probably Nazis. Frank Friedmaier, nineteen years old, having borrowed a knife from a friend, Fred Kromer, decides to kill a noncommissioned police officer sitting at a nearby table with two women. Frank does not know the officer’s name; he has no apparent reason to kill, as he is not a member of the Resistance. Frank waits outside in an alley, his back against the wall of an unoccupied building, in the darkness, for his unwary prey to pass. He hears footsteps; he sees his neighbor, Gerhardt Holst. He realizes that Holst has recognized him and will know that he is responsible for the murder, but Frank is not deterred.

At home in his mother’s apartment, where she keeps a small brothel for the use of the officers of the occupying army, there is the warmth of four working fireplaces and a cornucopia of food donated by the patrons. In a city of scarcity, in a building where their neighbors, including Holst and his sixteen-year-old daughter, Sissy, have little heat and food, Frank and Lotte, his mother, live in relative luxury served by two “employees,” Bertha and Minna, who live with them. Frank occupies Bertha and Minna’s beds, but he has no feeling for the women who satisfy his sexual appetites. He has no pity for the young violinist upstairs who is arrested for the murder of the police officer, or for the mother who mourns her only son and who will sicken and die from heartbreak. Frank is a pimp, a procurer for his mother; he deals in the black market; he associates with louts and miscreants. Even Sissy, who is infatuated with him, cannot long retain his interest. Frank takes Sissy to the cinema and to the cafe, where Fred Kromer sees her for the first time. Later, in the cafe, Frank tells Kromer about Sissy, tantalizing his lecherous business partner, whom he despises, with the prospect of an introduction. In turn, Kromer talks about a general of the occupying army who is a collector with a lust for old watches and who will pay a good price for any that the dealer can obtain. Fifty-fifty, says Frank; fifty-fifty, responds Kromer.

Provided with a car and two accomplices by Kromer, Frank goes to a nearby village, where he had lived as a child, to...

(The entire section is 932 words.)