It would not be difficult to arrange a rhetorical battle—or at least a series of skirmishes—among certain of those reviewers of Heinrich Böll’s novels who have taken positions since the appearance in America of Acquainted with the Night in 1954. W. J. Schwartz, reviewing Children are Civilians Too for the Saturday Review, could field his opinion that Böll is essentially a writer of short stories against D. J. Enright’s in The New York Review of Books that both that volume and 18 Stories suggest a writer who needs “more elbow room than the genre affords him.” Or those who find the symbolism of The Train was on Time “unobtrusive” might be set against those who find that the author has unwisely submitted to the temptation of allegory. And so on. It would all be somewhat like Swift’s Big-Endians and Little-Endians, though such is the tolerance of the Land of Reviews that it is unlikely that any would be finally exiled. Or there might simply be a parley of comparisons developing the published, and perhaps passing, impressions that although Böll has worked with recollections he is unlike Proust, but in specific ways and in particular works like the early Hamsun, de Maupassant, Bellow, Kafka, John Horne Burns, Dostoievsky, Remarque, Heinrich Mann, Thomas Mann, Henry Fielding, Robert Musil and Charles Dickens, and relatively often like Hemingway (whom he is occasionally unlike), Faulkner, and J. D. Salinger. He has also been commended (here one must admit surprise) as the “Rabelais of postwar Germany” and as an impressionist whose works should be viewed like those of Monet and Pissaro. Such comparisons have bulked especially large in earlier reviews when the unknown was being identified by the possibly known; they may suggest ultimately a dozen M.A. theses, several of which would very likely be unacceptable.
"The American Reviews of Heinrich Böll: A Note on the Problems of the Compassionate Novelist,"
University of Dayton Review: Vol. 11:
2, Article 3.
Available at: https://ecommons.udayton.edu/udr/vol11/iss2/3