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Wolfgang Koeppen: Tauben im Gras (Pigeons on the Grass)

Koeppen’s book is set in Munich in 1948 and is one of those day-in-the-life of a city books (of which, of course, Ulysses is the best-known example.) We follow the stories of several characters. There are two writers – the German writer, Philipp, unable to love (Koeppen uses the German word behindert, which means cripple) and the American writer, Edwin, who is gay when being gay was more risky than it is today (and he pays the price). There are two black American soldiers, who both feel very much out of place. Washington Price is having an affair with Carla, a German white prostitute. Both face problems with the interracial relationship, not least because of the abuse they both get. There is Henriette, a German Jew, who managed to escape to the USA before the Holocaust and married Christopher Gallagher, now here on business but who naturally remains uncomfortable in Europe and longs to be back in California. The other characters, like these, struggle with their place in the post-war world, some worrying that World War III may be imminent, others how they are to cope with the new realities. No-one is happy, no-one feels that his or her place in this world is secure. Koeppen tells a fine story and gives an excellent picture of post-war Germany.

Publishing history

First published 1951 by Scherz & Goverts Verlag
First English translation 1988 by Holmes and Meier