1942, at the Eastern Front. Soldiers crouch in horrible holes in the ground, mingling with corpses. Tunneled beneath a radio mast, German soldiers await the order to blow themselves up. Russian tanks, struggling to break through enemy lines, bog down in a swamp, while a German runner, bearing messages from headquarters to the front, scrambles desperately from shelter to shelter as he tries to avoid getting caught in the action. Through it all, Russian artillery—the crude but devastatingly effective multiple ...
1942, at the Eastern Front. Soldiers crouch in horrible holes in the ground, mingling with corpses. Tunneled beneath a radio mast, German soldiers await the order to blow themselves up. Russian tanks, struggling to break through enemy lines, bog down in a swamp, while a German runner, bearing messages from headquarters to the front, scrambles desperately from shelter to shelter as he tries to avoid getting caught in the action. Through it all, Russian artillery—the crude but devastatingly effective multiple rocket launcher known to the Germans as the Stalin Organ and to the Russians as Katyusha—rains death upon the struggling troops.
Comparable to such masterpieces of war literature as Ernst Jünger's Storm of Steel and Erich Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, The Stalin Front is a harrowing, almost photographic, description of violence and devastation, one that brings home the unforgiving reality of total war.
This slender but powerful account of the brutal fighting outside Leningrad in the summer of 1942 was originally published in 1955 as Die Stalinorgel-literally, the Stalin Organ. This first English translation, from the well-respected London poet and translator Hofmann (Approximately Nowhere), joins his 2003 translation of its 1956 companion, Payback. The plot involves a Red Army advance against German trenches surrounding a barren hill near Podrova, and it gets the details right, but is mostly beside the point. In Ledig's hands, modern warfare reveals its horrific banality in prosaic bursts: the battlefield becomes a hellscape littered with corpses in rigor mortis, body parts and broken machinery; the soldiers, virtually indistinguishable from one another except by the color of their uniforms, descend gradually into desperation and despair, finally turning to "suicide, murder, self-mutilation, desertion, and dementia," but all the while clinging to bureaucratic order, artificial hierarchies and formal protocols that seem surreal and absurd amid the chaos. The point of view shifts between the sides, with no hint of ideology, political position or patriotic nobility-duty pertains solely to the moment at hand. Ledig's style is straightforward and unremarkable, but his shockingly modern view of war is anything but. (Nov.) Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
The brutality and mindlessness of battle could hardly be more trenchantly depicted than in this account of the most ferocious warfare of all time: the German-Soviet front of World War II. From the opening scene of a "bruise-black" sky to the final act of so-called military justice between two soldiers, Ledig (wounded at the battle of Leningrad in 1942, he published this fictional account in 1955) draws us into the melee of frightened troops and spattered body parts with prose both unstinting yet monochromatic. Plot hardly figures amid such carnage where the goal is to survive for another day, or hour, and the author identifies his characters not by name but by rank only. Ledig died in 1999. Hofmann provides a sterling translation as well as an insightful overview that puts the work in context. This book belongs on every shelf that hosts Erich Maria Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front.-Edward Cone, New York Copyright 2005 Reed Business Information.
Gert Ledig (1921–1999) was born in Leipzig and grew up in Vienna. At the age of eighteen he volunteered for the army and was wounded at the battle of Leningrad in 1942. He reworked his experiences during the war in this novel Die Stalinorgel (1955). Sent back home, he trained as a naval engineer and was caught in several air raids. The experience never left him and led to the writing of Vergeltung (Payback) (1956). The novel’s reissue in Germany in 1999 heralded a much publicized rediscovery of the author’s work there.
Michael Hofmann is a poet. He is the translator of nine books by Joseph Roth and was awarded the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Prize for translating The String of Pearls. He is also the translator of Wolfgang Koeppen’s two novels The Hothouse and A Sad Affair.