Billiards at Half-Past Nineby Heinrich Boll
Boll's well-known, vehement opposition to fascism and war informs this moving story of Robert Faehmel. After being drawn into the Second World War to command retreating German forces despite his anti-Nazi feelings, Faehmel struggles to re-establish a normal life at war's end. He adheres to a rigorous schedule, including a daily game of billiards. When his routine is breached by an old friend, now a power in German reconstruction, Faehmel is forced to confront both public and private memories.
"Daringly and hypnotically written... an extended soliloquy on memory, recrimination and tenuous hope."
—Sam Sacks, The Wall Street Journal
"Böll is an expert marksman: the arrows are sharp, the feathers smooth, the targets numerous."
—The New York Times
"His work reaches the highest level of creative originality and stylistic perfection."
—The Daily Telegraph
"The renewal of German literature, to which Heinrich Böll's achievements witness, and of which they are a significant part, is not an experiment with form. Instead it is a rebirth out of annihilation, a resurrection, a culture which, ravaged by icy nights and condemned to extinction, sends up new shoots, blossoms, and matures to the joy and benefit of us all."
—The Nobel Prize Committee
“The claim that Böll is the true successor to Thomas Mann can be defended by his novel Billiards at Half-Past Nine.”
“A work in the best tradition of the German novel, taking up the thread broken by the Third Reich, the thread spun by Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front and Fallada’s Little Man, What Now?”
—Christian Science Monitor
“A man of deep feeling and intelligence, speaking in a strongly contemporary voice, [Böll] recorded in his early stories the way it felt to come home to a destroyed country. The tone was neither angry, ironic nor surreal. On the contrary, these stories gave us the slow-moving thoughtfulness of a narrator in pain, walking about on a lunar landscape, knowing he must make sense of things more quickly than he is able to do.”
—Vivian Gornick, The New York Times
Meet the Author
In 1972, Heinrich Böll became the first German to win the Nobel Prize for literature since Thomas Mann in 1929. Born in Cologne, in 1917, Böll was reared in a liberal Catholic, pacifist family. Drafted into the Wehrmacht, he served on the Russian and French fronts and was wounded four times before he found himself in an American prison camp. After the war he enrolled at the University of Cologne, but dropped out to write about his shattering experiences as a soldier. His first novel, The Train Was on Time, was published in 1949, and he went on to become one of the most prolific and important of post-war German writers. His best-known novels include Billiards at Half-Past Nine (1959), The Clown (1963), Group Portrait with Lady (1971), and The Safety Net (1979). In 1981 he published a memoir, What’s to Become of the Boy? or: Something to Do with Books. Böll served for several years as the president of International P.E.N. and was a leading defender of the intellectual freedom of writers throughout the world. He died in June 1985.
Jessa Crispin is the editor and founder of Bookslut.com. She is also a reviewer for NPR’s “Books We Like,” and her writing has appeared in The Washington Post, The Chicago Sun-Times, The Guardian, and The Toronto Globe and Mail, among other publications. She lives in Berlin.
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“Billiards at Half-Past Nine” written by Heinrich Böll is a story about 3 generations of the Faehmel family after two world wars, Richard, Robert, and Joseph. They are a family of architects who are focused on the work on St. Anthony Abbey. Richard (the father of Robert) was the first to build St. Anthony Abbey before WWI. Robert (father of Joseph) was also in the family’s architect business but “destroyed more than he built”. Following war commands, Robert destroyed St. Anthony Abbey. Joseph, disgusted by his father’s destruction of St. Anthony Abbey, rebuilt it in 1958. Robert also, trying to find some order in his life, had a very precise schedule which included going to the billiards everyday from 9:30-11; which is where the title originated from. I did not enjoy this book. I found it to be a jumbled and confusing mess. Each chapter shifted in narration, not just between the Faehmel family but also their friends and collegues. It was never clear as to who was narrating, and if I thought I knew who was talking, something would come up half way through the chapter that shifted the narration again. I think it was a good story line. If the author made the narration less complex, it would have been enjoyable and more understandable. Biblical allusions were strongly used in this book. “Feed my Lambs”, “Lamb of God”, and “Host of the Beast” are all references to the Bible that are used repeatedly throughout this text. The gentle, kind characters were referred to as “The Lamb of God”. “Host of the Beast” referred to the Nazis and Hitler, who work through Satan. I would not recommend this book. Again, I found it confusing and very hard to follow. It focused on post war Germany and the Faehmel family but made it very unclear as to who was narrating and if we were in a flashback or the post war time. I wanted to stop reading this book half way through, but kept reading in hopes of making sense in the end. Sadly, that never happened. I gave this book 2 stars because the story line had potential but the way it was written made it a confusing mess.