Time Without Bells

Horst Bienek, Author Atheneum Books $0 (338p) ISBN 978-0-689-11930-9
On Good Friday, 1943, in Gleiwitz, Upper Silesia, the Catholic villagers put on their shabbiest clothes, eat sparingly and take their accustomed paths to church. They arrive as the bells are being removed for the sacred sake of the Wehrmacht: ""When the bells go, faith goes too,'' says Anna Ossadnik, whose son Andy had risen that morning from a dream of Christ on the cross. Throughout this Good Friday, a wide swath is cut through the Gleiwitz population. The movements of two families, the Ossadniks and the Pionteks, unroll like a film strip, and those of many not altogether peripheral others come into focus. Thus we watch a train driven by Anna's husband pick up a herd of Gleiwitz Jews and dump them at Birkenau. We glimpse the hidden passion of a respectable lawyer for a younger man, the imprisonment of a servant after she consorts with a laborer conscripted from the East, the torment of a woman about to give birth and of her brother, still a schoolboy, with a draft notice in his pocket. Bells, Bienek is saying, ring out both in joy and sadness. As this splendid, rich, unforgettable book amply demonstrates, happinessonly relative anywaydwells alongside pain in humdrum daily life. This is the third novel (after The First Polka and September Light) in the prize-winning German author's tetralogy. Thanks to his subtle understanding and also to a sensitive translation, the mystery that informs the ordinary is here both deepened and revealed. (January 18)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1988
Release date: 01/01/1988
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