In 1928, Hans Herbert Grimm published his first and only novel, Schlump. It is the latest offering from the NYRB Classics Book Club. Schlump describes the violence, chaos, and absurdity of World War I, experienced firsthand by its author. The book was critical of the German government and military and presents graphic depictions of the high cost of human sacrifice in war; Grimm published it anonymously. The novel’s witness is Emil Schultz, nicknamed Schlump, a wandering tailor who, despite experiencing the horrors of battle up close, remains an optimist, eager to get back to the job of living: “he was determined to make something of his life, because surely there would be peace again now, soon, peace! Peace and decency—how lovely life would be! What a golden era was beginning now!” Schlump’s hopefulness would have been short-lived: Five years after the book’s publication, the Nazi party came to power in Germany. A decade after its publication, Germany was again at war, and Grimm was sent to the Western Front.
A pale wall in the living room of a gray house with a pointed roof in the thousand-year-old Thuringian town of Altenburg. The sun is shining through the large windows. Against one wall is a blue sofa, at the other end of the room a grand piano, while a colourful Bauhaus carpet adorns the floor. Cups and small porcelain plates sit on a round coffee table. A closer look at the pale wall reveals a fine crack in the plaster. Here, on this wall, in this house, a strange German fairy tale began. Or is this where it ended?
The house, with its large fir trees in the garden and white bench beside the front door, was built at the beginning of the 1930s by doctor of philosophy and schoolmaster Hans Herbert Grimm. Some of the money to finance the house came from a book he’d written, although nobody here in Altenburg nor anyone anywhere else was to know he was its author. Schlump—Tales and adventures from the life of the anonymous soldier Emil Schulz, known as ‘Schlump’. Narrated by himself: the book of his life. Grimm was worried that he wouldn’t be able to go on living normally if it became known that he’d written the novel. It would spell the end of his career as a teacher, and of his peaceful existence in his beloved Altenburg, if word got out that he was the author of a book that described the German soldiers of the Great War as less than heroic, German military strategy as misguided, senseless and foolish, the Kaiser as a coward, and the entire war as a cruel, bad joke. Read More