Earth and Fire

Horst Bienek, Author Atheneum Books $0 (257p) ISBN 978-0-689-11992-7
In Manheim's fluent translation, Bienek concludes the Gleiwitz Suite, his acclaimed account of WW II, from the perspective of the inhabitants of the German-Polish border region of Upper Silesia during the months prior to Germany's capitulation in 1945. The wide and briskly differentiated spectrum of characters is initially difficult to follow, but two families emerge to form the axis on which the action turns: the middle-class Piorteks, who decide to flee the advancing Russians in the direction of the less-feared Americans; and the Ossadniks, who resolve to remain. Bienek masterfully evokes the ominous lull before a storm by means of the mundanity and ostensible calm of the townspeople as they sustain a painfully naive optimism. When the Nazi Party bosses flee, however, leaving the small fry to the Russians' vengeance, civic restraints evaporate, revealing the poverty of spirit of some, the generosity of others. The violence of occupation draws the book together with subtle, emotional power, resulting in a resonant chronicle of an era whose painful heritage still lingers. (October)
Reviewed on: 01/01/1988
Release date: 01/01/1988
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