3 Feb 2009

"Storm of Steel" and "The Stalin Organ"

Michael Hofmann, the translator of the second English translation of In Stahlgewittern, Storm of Steel (Penguin Classics, 2003), has translated also another classic German war book, but from the Second World War: Gert Ledig, The Stalin Organ, Granta Books (London, 2004). This book, although with a slightly different title, is published in USA by New York Review Books (New York, 2005): Gert Ledig, The Stalin Front: A Novel of World War II.

The Stalin Organ is a great war novel and is in its sometime absurd style quite like Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 or Joseph Heller's Catch 22, with a story and storytelling not much unlike James Jones' The thin red line.

The publishing company of the prestigious New York Review of Books, New York Review Books, labels it "classic". However, more interesting is that of all war books ever the publisher chooses to compare it with one of the most known books in the world, All Quiet on the Western Front, and one other, namely Jünger's Storm of Steel:
"Comparable to such masterpieces of war literature as Ernst Jünger's Storm of Steel and Erich Remarque's All Quiet on the Western Front, The Stalin Front is a harrowing, almost photographic, description of violence and devastation, one that brings home the unforgiving reality of total war."

Interesting is also Michal Hofmann's introduction to his translation of The Stalin Organ, in which Ernst Jünger's Storm of Steel takes much place:
"The Stalin Organ is, among other things, a sort of riposte to Ernst Jünger, whose 1920 book, Storm of Steel, glorified the violence of World War One, and asserted both the value of war and the triumph of the human spirit. The trench fighting (unexpected in the Second World War) and the military landscape both seem to me to hark back to World War One; the syllable 'stal' appears in both titles; there is one explicit reference to Jünger's book on page 82 ('A black steel storm hung menacingly over the Front.'). Having, quite fortuitously, translated both books in the space of little over a year, it wasn't just my fault that I sometimes didn't know where I was! While Ledig's account of warfare - most unlike Jünger's - sticks rigorously and programmatically to its 'low', discreditable aspects, such things as suicide, murder, self-mutilation, desertion and dementia - it also, very occasionally, offers strikingly aestheticizing touches, much as Jünger does. 'thin strokes of a barbed wire fence' (page 59) is a phrase of Japanese pen-and-ink delicatesse with black and white; and one bizarre phrase on page 149, about 'red and green pansy-coloured pearls' (penseefarben) - it's quite as odd as that in German - must be a take-off of Jünger's celebrated or notorious sense of colour. Ledig described The Stalin Organ as 'eine Kampfschrift', which is the German word for pamphlet or polemic; he might have written it specifically against Jünger, who might have called his own book exactly the same thing - only in the sense of 'fighting writing'."
Gert Ledig (1921–1999) volunteered for the German army at the age of eighteen and was wounded at the battle of Leningrad in 1942. Die Stalinorgel was first published in Germany 1955 (after having been rejected by fifty publishers) and is now published by Suhrkamp.