To Die in Spring by Ralf Rothmann (Translated by Shaun Whiteside) - review by Paul Bailey

Paul Bailey

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To Die in Spring


Picador 211pp £12.99 order from our bookshop

To Die in Spring begins and ends with a first-person narrative, written by the unnamed son of Walter Urban, who was involved in the Waffen-SS in the last months of the Second World War. He was seventeen when he was persuaded to ‘volunteer’ for service along with his friend Friedrich Caroli, known as Fiete. We meet him in the opening pages as he is dying of cancer. He has always been a man of very few words, saying virtually nothing about his wartime experience as a driver in a supply unit in Germany and Hungary. His only child buys him a notebook in which to write down his memories, but Walter has neither the energy nor the inclination to do so. The reluctant soldier scribbles the names of foreign-sounding towns or the occasional isolated word into the book and that’s all. At his death, which he hastens with the aid of alcohol and cigarettes, his bequest to his son is the obstinate silence he has maintained for as long as the boy has been alive.

Seven pages in, there is a sudden shift to the third person, with Walter’s son absenting himself for the bulk of the novel. The story of Walter and Fiete begins on a dairy farm in north Germany, where both are employed as qualified milkers, tending to the cows they

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