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Harry Mulisch: Het stenen bruidsbed (The Stone Bridal Bed)

Mulisch’s theme is the effect of war on people and how it makes them behave in a strange way. The war incident in this novel is the bombing of Dresden, also covered, albeit from a very different perspective, in Kurt Vonnegut‘s Slaughterhouse Five. This novel revolves around a dental congress in Dresden in 1956, i.e. just over ten years after the bombing of Dresden, which, in 1956, was under Communist control.

The interestingly named Norman Corinth, a Baltimore dentist, was one of the crew in the bombers that bombed Dresden. (As Corinth reminds us, the British were responsible for the first wave of bombers and the Americans for the second.) As we later learn, his plane was shot down and, though he escaped, he was injured and his face scarred. He is invited out of the blue to the Dresden Congress and finds out that he is the only American invited, or at least, the only American to attend. We only get to know one of the other participants well, a West German called Schneiderhahn, who also might have connections to Dresden beyond dentistry. Indeed, it seems he may well have been a concentration camp guard nearby but then, again, he may not have been.

Much of this relatively short novel concerns the relationship between Norman, his East German minder, Hella Viebahn (with whom he sleeps, though she hates herself in the morning for sleeping with an American) and Schneiderhahn, with the other Congress participants and the East German driver, Günther, on the side. But the key theme remains the War, particularly in this case the Dresden bombing. It clearly affected Norman, Hella, Günther and Schneiderhahn (even though, at the end, it seems he might have been a spy in the Soviet Union for much of the War) in different ways. Questions of guilt and the relation between the past and present and how to move on abound. In the end, Corinth realizes the enormity of what he has done, part of a senseless and brutal act.

Publishing history

First published in 1964 by De Bezige Bij
First published in English in 1962 by Abelard-Schuman