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In 1867 Germany, young Boniface Schroll is taken away from his aunt, who has been deemed incompetent to raise a boy, and sent to live with his uncle, a well-to-do mayor in the far off village of Graab. At first, Boniface's uncle seems to be a cold and orderly man of the law, and Boniface isn't sure he belongs under his care. He chronicles his adjustment to his uncle and the village community through an amiable, perceptive narrative. Boniface experiences some of the pitfalls of the provincial life through his secret friendship with an outsider, Christian Knapp, the son of a notorious robber; the Robber Knapp is a wrongfully persecuted man, and Boniface holds the key to his innocence. When Boniface shows his brave and upstanding character, his uncle makes a believable turn as a father figure. This is a sophisticated read, for those who like to escape to times past and lands far away, with a translator's note to provide context.
I must have frozen to death last night in the terrible forest.
How else could I be lying in this heavenly bed, with a thick, fat cumulus cloud piled on top of me.
Heaven wasn't blue, but it was beautifully warm and comfortable. Just like a house, there was a window, and when I looked up, I could see the sky covered with roofing panels. Well, why not? Sunbeams streamed in through cracks. Thanks be to God that there was sun in heaven. How dumb! Heaven was where it lived.
Strange! There was hunger, too. Something growled under my shirt. That must be my soul. In heaven you didn't have anything except your soul. Somewhere there was the smell of malt coffee. And I had to pee. Aha! You had to do that, too. It was almost like being on earth.
I crept out of my cloud. I had on my shirt but not my pants. In heaven you were only supposed to be naked when you were an infant, a little angel. Otherwise not at all. This didn't fit!
My cloud looked like a big featherbed.
I went to the window. It was beautiful in heaven. Like the country. The sun was shining on a village street. There were big and small houses, with barns and sheds. The smell of dung heaps rose up to the window. It was very reassuring to find that it stank a little in heaven, too.
Somewhere in the neighborhood a powerful male voice was cursing with frightful profanity.
I was horrified. I wasn't...?
Anxious and disappointed, I crept under my cloud again. I stubbed my big toe on the bedpost. The pain throbbed under my toenail.
Then it dawned on me. I was in the attic of a farmhouse.
So I hadn't frozen the night before, and I considered for a while whether that was a good thing. My uncle had found me and brought me into the village.
The garret was small. There was only a giant bed in it, with a cover that was stuffed with half a goose pen.
Curiosity drove me to the window again.
I looked out over several roofs. All the chimneys were smoking. Dung heaps steamed gently, and along the edges of the street there were shimmering brown puddles of liquid manure.
The new day was clear and clean. There was nothing fantastic or confusing anymore. The sun shone on the darkest corners and banished the secrets of the night.
Hurried steps clattered up the stairs.
A large, sturdy woman came into the room.
"Are you Boniface?" she asked. "Yes or no?"
Her voice was brassy and loud, and she reminded me of the butter woman in the Cannstatt Saturday market. I was afraid of this powerful woman. Quickly I leapt back into bed. But I wasn't safe there either. The warm, thick cover was simply snatched away.
"Are you Boniface or aren't you?" the energetic voice repeated. "Come with me, and hurry. The mayor is waiting for you!"
I quickly slipped into my pants, which were hanging on the bedpost, and sprang after the woman.
Three men and two girls were sitting around a big table. They were just having their morning meal. The room was large and everything in it was large. It had to be the kitchen, because in addition to the table there was a gigantic cookstove built into the wall. Pots and pans hung over it on a pole. The whole kitchen smelled wonderfully of malt coffee.
Everyone was looking at me curiously.
The man at the head of the table examined me thoroughly, as if he wanted to take me apart piece by piece. I then knew that this stern face belonged to my uncle. He reminded me a little of Father.
"So you are my nephew Boniface?"
"Yes!" I risked a glance. No doubt about it. My father had the same mouth, same eyes, same eyebrows.
My uncle stared at me, too, and our eyes met for a moment.
I couldn't figure out whether or not he liked me. His face said nothing at all. Perhaps it was his official face, his mayor's face. I hoped he had another one, too.
"Why do you look like a girl?"
"I don't know!" I was ashamed. Everyone always mistook me for a girl.
From a pot on the stove came the seductive smell of malt coffee.
"How is it that you arrived past midnight? I was supposed to fetch you in Sulzbach this evening."
My uncle's voice was stern but not cold.
I overcame my fears and shyness and recounted the entire story: of the journey, how the driver had set me down in the middle of the forest, and how I had tried to walk on to Graab alone, which, unfortunately, I had not succeeded in doing. And I did not conceal that I had gotten woefully lost. Somehow I must have fallen asleep.
"God be praised you found me and brought me to the village," I concluded.
It was as quiet as a mouse in the kitchen. Why didn't anyone say anything? I looked anxiously around the table. Did I do something wrong or say something unseemly?
"No. I did not find you in the forest," my uncle said, almost meanly, and anger drew his eyebrows together frighteningly.
I was afraid, but I soon saw that it wasn't me he was angry with.
After a while my uncle spoke, and anyone could see and hear he was furious at the callous driver: "He is going to get something he wasn't looking for! Leaving a small, ignorant city boy in the middle of the forest at night! That's more than carelessness or thoughtlessness -- that's gross negligence or malice aforethought."
With a critical glance at me he added, "In the cold, you could have ended badly. You have to know your way around in our forests."
After a while he asked, "Can you remember who found you in the forest and brought you here?"
"No. I think I must have been asleep. I probably only dreamed about the big black hat."
My uncle looked around the table. "Which of you heard anything, and more important, who saw anything?"
The old man sitting next to my uncle swallowed hard twice.
"Mayor!" he began, and to me he said in an aside, "I'm the chief farmhand, Daniel.... Mayor!" he repeated. "I don't sleep so well anymore, so I hear almost everything that goes on at night. If a cow is sick, or if the hens are nervous because a fox is lurking about in the farmyard, or when my young farmhand climbs out of his window, or when the village lads stand under the maids' bedroom window..."
The two girls at the table blushed. So they were the farm maids.
"Daniel!" my uncle broke in. "I don't want to know everything you hear when you can't sleep. I only want to know what you saw or heard last night -- and, above all, who brought this skinny little bag of bones, this half-pint, to the front door."
My uncle didn't like me! What names he called me!
"That's just what I'm trying to tell you, Mayor. I heard something, but I didn't see anything."
"Yes, of course, Daniel. I heard something too. You couldn't not hear it. Half the village must have heard it. What's important is whether anyone saw anything!"
The woman who'd been in my bedroom before pulled at her earlobe.
The mayor asked her, "Well, Frederika, did you see something?"
Aha, the woman's name was Frederika!
It took her a while to get the first words out. "After the bang on the front door I ran to the window and looked out, and then I thought I saw someone going up the street."
"Yes, and...? Keep talking! Who was it?"
"That I don't know. I only saw the man from behind, and besides, it was pitch-dark."
"How do you know it was a man if it was pitch-dark?"
"Because a woman doesn't wear a hat, and besides, no decent woman is ever running around at night when it's time to be asleep. Maybe the midwife, but she's much smaller. And besides, no child was being born last night. It was probably a poacher. He wouldn't want to be asked what he was doing in the forest in the middle of the night."
"Anything is possible.... Did you see anything?" my uncle asked in the direction of the maids and the young farmhand.
All three shook their heads. They probably slept too well. They heard and saw nothing.
The interrogation was at an end. My uncle went into a room next door. The others also stood up and left the kitchen. Only the powerful woman, Frederika, stayed behind. She fussed with pots and added wood to the fire in the stove. The embers were very weak and so she blew on them.
I was still standing beside the table. Nobody had bothered to say anything more to me, and the smell of malt coffee coming from the pot on the stove was still so wonderful.
There was no room here for me! Why couldn't I be in heaven and stay there. No one liked me! My uncle and this woman were even worse than Aunt Wilhelmine. There was a pot of malt coffee on the stove and they were letting me die of hunger right next to it! I had simply been abandoned by God and the whole world. As far as I was concerned, everyone -- including this uncle of mine -- could go jump in the lake! No one wanted an orphan boy!
As I was wallowing in self-pity, the big cookstove with the pot of malt coffee suddenly began to waver. They turned around by themselves, swung up the wall, slid along the ceiling, and came down on the other side again. Window, door, table, and everything else in the kitchen, even this Frederika, began to swirl as well. I was standing in the middle. The entire kitchen was spinning. Faster and faster it all tumbled together until it was just a big knot. And then it disappeared.
Translation copyright © 1997 by Elizabeth D. Crawford. All rights reserved.
Reading level: Ages 10 and up
Posted December 15, 2001
The book The Robber And Me is a beautiful story of an orphan boy named Boniface, who goes to live with his uncle in Graab.On the way to his uncles Boniface is abandon in the forest.He searches for a way to Graab until he collapses of exoustion.He is rescued by a man he could only discribe as wearing a big black hat.In Graab Boniface is suroundid by new people.He hears stories of a robber who lives in the forest and wonders if that same man was the one who had saved his life.Boniface makes a friend, Christian, who is the robbers son.Even though his uncle forbid him to associate with Cristian they became close friends. Boniface strugles with the truth of the robber and goes through great adventures with his new found friend.This is hardly a taste of the book.Once you start you can't stop.The story is really meaning full, but I will let you find for yourself the meaning.The ending brout me to tears.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.