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Kay Boyle: Generation without Farewell
It may have a short story feel to it, though it’s 300 hundred pages long, but this is nevertheless a very fine novel. It is set in the small German town of Fahrbach in 1948, which is under the control of the US forces under Colonel Roberts. One of the beauties of this book is that it can be read many ways but one way it certainly can be read is Germany and her history (good and bad) versus American materialism. Germany has two main representatives. The first is the boar that is hunted by Colonel Roberts and his friends. It symbolises Germany and her history but also, as we are told, it symbolises the German drive to overcome what is different from it, what is”other”. (Boyle was clearly much influenced by German dramatist Wolfgang Borchert, author of Draussen vor der Tür (Outside the Door) whose theme was”otherness”.) The second representative is Jaeger, who may or may not have a first name but I do not recall it being mentioned. His last name, of course, means hunter. He is currently working as a journalist and also as interpreter and assistant to Colonel Roberts and his family. Prior to that, he spent two years as a prisoner of war in Colorado. As a result, he feels torn between being German and being neither and, for most of the book, feels that he is neither. This is clearly meant to represent a condition of Germany (though not necessarily the Germans, who cling to their past) as they are to move beyond their past to an American future.
Boyle has never been interested in plot – that’s why I say that this novel smacks of a short story. While there is some sort of plot – the hunt for the boar, the love affair and increasing independence of Colonel Roberts’ daughter, Millie, the fate of Seth Honerkamp, director of the local America House, a US propaganda arm, the fate of Mike Dardanella who wishes to defect to Germany and the spread of the plague – most of these plot elements have a stronger symbolic than plot role. She adds a variety of interesting and, at times, poignant stories-within-the-novel, such as the currency reform and its effect on the ordinary people, the story of the blind philosopher, the inevitable horse story and the very sad story of the ironically named Polish children’s camp, called Hoffnung (Hope). But the impression you are left with is that Boyle has carefully thought out every word to create this telling story of Germany, where it has been and where it is going. There is little bitterness (though no attempt to hide what the Germans did and might do again given half a chance), only some irony. For Boyle, the important thing is to understand how Germany might go forward and she treats the complex issue in a brilliant way, making this novel one of the foremost of its generation. So why is it out of print?
First published 1960 by Knopf