Nominated by:

Zentral- und Landesbibliothek Berlin, Germany

Publisher of nominated edition:

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, USA

To Die in Spring

Ralf Rothman    

Translated from the German by Shaun Whiteside

The lunacy of the final months of World War II, as experienced by a young German soldier. Distant, silent, often drunk, Walter Urban is a difficult man to have as a father. But his son—the narrator of this slim, harrowing novel—is curious about Walter’s experiences during World War II, and so makes him a present of a blank notebook in which to write down his memories. Walter dies, however, leaving nothing but the barest skeleton of a story on those pages, leading his son to fill in the gaps himself, rightly or wrongly, with what he can piece together of his father’s early life.

This, then, is the story of Walter and his dangerously outspoken friend Friedrich Caroli, seventeen-year-old trainee milkers on a dairy farm in northern Germany who are tricked into volunteering for the army during the spring of 1945: the last, and in many ways the worst, months of the war. The men are driven to the point of madness by what they experience, and when Friedrich finally deserts his post, Walter is forced to do the unthinkable.Told in a remarkable impressionistic voice, focusing on the tiny details and moments of grotesque beauty that flower even in the most desperate situations, Ralf Rothmann’s To Die in Spring ‘ushers in the post–[Günter] Grass era with enormous power’. (Die Zeit)

About the author

Ralf Rothman was born in 1953 in Schleswig and grew up in the Ruhr valley. He has received numerous awards for his fiction and poetry, including the Friedrich Hölderlin Prize in 2013, the Hans Fallada Prize in 2008, and the Max Frisch Prize in 2006. He lives in Berlin.

(from publisher)

Librarian’s comments:

This is the story of Walter Urban and Friedrich Caroli, two 17 year-old friends from northern Germany, who were forced into military service in the last weeks of World Ward II. This short novel is written from the point of view of Walter’s son, reconstructing the shattering experiences of his father by means of scarce diary entries. In a simple but masterly prose the author describes the horror of war, in which even the innocents become guilty. The heartbreaking and intense pictures are often hard to bear and will continue to affect the reader for a long time.

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