Thursday, May 1, 2008

Lost Honor of Katharina Blum

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum, or How Violence Can Develop and Where It Can Lead by Heinrich Boll is a short novel that I was able to finish within two days. It starts out with a murder: Katharina Blum shows up at a police officer's home and asks him to arrest her because she has killed Totges, a newspaper reporter, and asks if he would also remove the body from her apartment. The rest of the story tells us of the events that led up to the murder. A few days prior, Katharina had met a man named Ludwig, who we are initially told is wanted for bank robbery and possibly murder. They danced at a party, and he went home with her. The police, who have been shadowing Ludwig, have surrounded the building, and Katharina tells him how to escape unnoticed. The police, realizing they have been tricked, bring Katharina in for questioning. Due to her connection with Ludwig, she (and her friends, family, and employers) is hounded by the press, with sensational articles being written, questioning her every doing and misquoting everyone, essentially painting her as a Communist agitator, a whore, and just downright cold-hearted. Katharina, who in reality is a pillar of honesty, integrity, trustworthiness, and all around moral goodness is deeply hurt by the articles. She arranges for an interview with Totges, the offending reporter. When he comes on to her, she shoots him.

The structure is slightly unconventional: it is written as a report. We are not given a narrative in which we see Ludwig and Katharina at the apartment, in which she instructs him for the daring escape. Instead, it is presented as if it is part of an official police report. We are told how Katharina knows of the duct system by which Ludwig can escape (thanks to "Trude the Red" - see below), we are told that witnesses saw the two of them leave the party, at which they danced with each other exclusively. They were followed by the police, so it is known that they went to her apartment...the place is surrounded, but Ludwig never comes out, and when Katharina's apartment is raided in the morning, he isn't there. She must have helped him escape. Because of this technique the narrative is distant, and in some cases speculative. When she is telling the police about some of the people she has danced with, and that they frequently made advances towards her (which she did not appreciate), it is mentioned that she also danced with case's chief prosecutor. But the narrative then states, "she was not asked whether Hach had been among those who made advances to her." So, was he or wasn't he? There is a lot that.

The way that they construed real facts to represent their version of the story abounds. Katharina's employer's wife is known as Red Trude, for her red hair, but this is changed to Trude the Red and implies Communist symapthies. Though I mentioned earlier, we are told initially that Ludwig is a bank robber, but it turns out he deserted the army and emptied a safe.

The story isn’t really about why or how Katharina killed the reporter. It reflects a lot of Boll's thoughts on the right-wingers in Germay at the time and how the fear of communism led to this type of renegade sensational journalism that took Boll unfairly to task a few times personally. The tale of parasitic, irresponsible tabloid reporters destroying innocent lives to get a story, however, should ring true even today. Anyone who is at all slightly familiar with pop culture (even if that familiarity only comes from flipping past TMZ on television, or walking past the celebrity magazine rack on their way to the check-out line) will recognize Katharina Blum’s relevance to what passes as journalism today…deliberate misquotes, leaked sources, seeking out anyone who ever might have known the subject, exclusive interviews, stakeouts, etc. Maybe the victims of this predatory behavior should take a page from Katharina and start shooting people. (Can you see the headlines? "Jennifer Aniston shoots paparazzi" - Britney Spears was too obvious). Maybe then we would have real journalism. Is the fact that a 15-year old posed semi-nude in Vanity Fair really more of an issue than the war in Iraq? No, it isn't...but you would think that it is.

Overall, I wasn't really into this book. It was very well written, but I really didn't feel invested in it. I would give it a 3 out of 5. It's probably not a book I would read again.

1 comment:

Nikki said...

Thank you so much for this summary!I have read the book for university and was confused about what had happened in the story and your post really helped! :)