A wealthy family tries--and fails--to seal themselves off from the chaos of post-World War II life surrounding them in this stunning novel by one of Germany's most important post-war writers.
In East Prussia, January 1945, the German forces are in retreat and the Red Army is approaching. The von Globig family's manor house, the Georgenhof, is falling into disrepair. Auntie runs the estate as best she can since Eberhard von Globig, a special officer in the German army, went to war, leaving behind his beautiful but vague wife, Katharina, and her bookish twelve-year-old son, Peter. As the road fills with Germans fleeing the occupied territories, the Georgenhof begins to receive strange visitors--a Nazi violinist, a dissident painter, a Baltic baron, even a Jewish refugee. Yet in the main, life continues as banal, wondrous, and complicit as ever for the family, until their caution, their hedged bets, and their denial are answered by the wholly expected events they haven't allowed themselves to imagine.
All for Nothing, published in 2006, was the last novel by Walter Kempowski, one of postwar Germany's most acclaimed and popular writers.
Kempowski's atmospheric novel opens on the decaying Georgenhof estate, which lies on the East Prussian border, in 1945, as the Red Army approaches. The vestiges of a family whose paterfamilias and uniting figure is serving in Italy bide their time and try to go about life in the mansion, where Hitler's likeness still adorns paintings, stamps, and banknotes, not fully aware of the danger of the approaching Red Army. At the story's center is young Peter, sincere and bookish, who studies his microscope in a bedroom adjacent to that of his dead sister, Elfie, and is taught by the foppish schoolmaster Dr. Wagner. Peter's father, Eberhard von Globig, has gone to the Italian Front; Peter's mother, the "languorous beauty" Katharina, perhaps already a widow, waits in vain for news of Eberhard's fate. "Auntie, a sinewy old spinster," keeps a lookout for the influx of refugees that originally confined to the surrounding buildings soon mobs the courtyard. A change is coming to their way of life, heralded by a series of guests a disabled "political economist," an unreconstructed Nazi violinist, a painter, a debauched Baltic baron, and, fatefully, a Jewish fugitive. Gothic and haunting, the novel asks what things will be like "if things turn out bad," knowing the answer will come too soon.