The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum by Heinrich Böll

Let's read The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum: Or How Violence Develops and Where It Can Lead by Heinrich Böll. It is a relatively short work (128 pages).

The story deals with the sensationalism of tabloid news and the political climate of panic over Red Army Faction terrorism in the 1970s Federal Republic of Germany. The main character, Katharina Blum, is an innocent housekeeper whose life is ruined by an invasive tabloid reporter and a police investigation when the man with whom she has just fallen in love turns out to be wanted by the police. Turning the mystery genre on its head, the novel begins with the confession of a crime, drawing the reader into a web of sensationalism, character assassination, and the unavoidable eruption of violence.

The story is written from a first-person plural perspective. That is, the narrator is, as it were, presenting a confidential report to the reader on the basis of sources. The technique is documentary. The reader is sometimes left to infer who the sources are for many of the reports, and even to wonder whether the narrator may not be one of the characters in the novel. The narrator becomes a researcher and critic of his source material, and in this novel is implicitly contrasted with the journalists who irresponsibly distort their sources.

Heinrich Böll (12/21/1917 – 07/16/1985) was one of Germany's most prominent post-World War II writers. Böll was awarded the Georg Büchner Prize in 1967 and the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1972.

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  • Tania

    I mentioned the research that was done on Milgram experiments that Jason mentioned. Here is the link to the NPR story about it: http://www.npr.org/2013/08/28/209559002/taking-a-closer-look-at-milgrams-shocking-obedience-study I obviously do not know how well the research of prior research was conducted.

    October 23, 2013

  • Rory P.

    A really good, wide-ranging, thought-provoking discussion of an excellent book. Tania did an excellent job of moderating. And I still say Katharina is a (secular) saint! Ich hab' sie lieb!

    October 22, 2013

    • Tania

      Thank you, Rory. We had an impressive group of people and an interesting discussion.

      October 23, 2013

  • A former member
    A former member

    It was great to meet all of you last night! Here is the author I mentioned last night: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Elfriede_Jelinek
    She is Austrian and won the Nobel Prize in 2004. I think her most well-known work is "The Piano Teacher" and this was also made into a great film. I also really enjoyed and would recommend "Greed" but this one seems to be much more divisive!

    October 23, 2013

    • Rory P.

      Thanks, Lizzie, it was great meeting you too! This reminds me that I was also supposed to "footnote" some of the texts I mentioned in last night's great discussion, which really stimulated my own thinking about this book. First, there is the classic short story "Michael Kohlhaas" by Heinrich von Kleist. More apropos perhaps is another historical figure, a strong-willed young woman who was driven to murder and then became a secular saint: Beatrice Cenci, who was revered centuries later by Romantics like Shelley and Stendhal. I highly recommended a couple novels by Böll, THE CLOWN and BILLIARDS AT HALF PAST NINE. Finally, there is a gem of a novella by Gabriel García Márquez entitled CHRONICLE OF A DEATH FORETOLD. It's a "post-modern mystery" that opens with a murder and then attempts to trace its roots through an entire community, only to end up finally with an even greater fog of mystery than at the start.

      October 23, 2013

  • Alice s.

    Interesting, educational

    October 22, 2013

  • justine

    I wish I could attend tonight's meetup but just joined and can't possibly be ready by tonight! The story looks very interesting - something I haven't seen before. I look forward to next month's meetup!

    October 22, 2013

    • Tania

      Glad you joined us, Justine. We'll see you next time.

      October 22, 2013

  • Tania

    You probably read that in 1972 (2 years before the novella) Böll criticized the tendency of the German gutter press to publish distortions / assumptions as fact. As an example he mentioned the alleged actions of the Red Army Faction. He thought that its leaders (U. Meinhof) was deprived of a fair trial as a result. Furor ensued; he was branded a terrorist sympathizer. In[masked] his home or that of his family was raided four times by police in search of weapons or wanted criminals. I mention it because I saw his interview in Paris Review in 1974 after he received the Nobel Prize. I thought you might appreciate this quote (will have to post it in 3 parts):
    Q.: With your political and socio-critical stances—I am thinking of such militant radicals as Ulrike Meinhof and the criticism you have expressed about the press—you have sometimes made yourself unpopular among your colleagues and . . .everywhere. Why have you done that?

    October 18, 2013

    • Tania

      "I don't regret it, don't regret it: well, some things I said, in my rage, and also because I felt alone, were stupid things, too, fine, but the process was necessary."

      http://www.theparisre...­

      October 18, 2013

    • Erica L.

      Thank you, Tania, for posting this. Lots of interesting insights here.

      October 20, 2013

  • R. Shoshana N. M.

    Do you know if I may borrow this book from a Montgomery County Library? This will be my first meeting with book club. I am positively looking forward to it.

    October 11, 2013

    • Tania

      October 11, 2013

    • R. Shoshana N. M.

      How about the path of least resistance where I'm a proud Barnes & Noble annually renewing book club member and get 10% off minimum on everything?

      October 11, 2013

  • Faith R.

    I just realized that this group meetings on Tuesday and I already have a commitment on that day. If it is always Tuesday I will have to bow out. Otherwise I would love to participate

    October 11, 2013

    • Tania

      I am really sorry, Faith. I got confused who can't make which day. If you mentioned that right away I would have rescheduled - but now with a few people signed up it might be too late to do. I will try to do better next time.

      October 11, 2013

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