Friday, July 11, 2014

Prayer After the Slaughter: Poems From World War I

One hundred years ago the first shots were fired in what would become World War I. The Great War started when a Serbian nationalist assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife in Sarajevo. A month later, on July 28, 1914, Austria sent troops to Germany, setting a war machinery in motion that engulfed Russia, Germany, and France. On August 4, 1914, Great Britain declared war on Germany. The war would take 37 million lives; two million young German soldiers (and nearly a million German civilians, mostly children), died.

One of the young Germans sent to the battlefields of World War I was Kurt Tucholsky, an upcoming journalist in Berlin who had just published his first novel, Rheinsberg. A Storybook for Lovers. Tucholsky was sent to the Baltics and was later transferred to Romania. He was a poet, not a fighter; at one point, he left his gun behind so he did not have to shoot anybody. What he saw left him deeply scarred, and turned him into a committed anti-militarist and anti-fascist.

Tucholsky would become one of the most brilliant German writers of the 20th century, biting and satirical, much like Heinrich Heine. Berlinica has now published Prayer After the Slaughter, an ebook with a collection of ten poems about World War I — among them Two Clubbed to Death; about the murder of Karl Liebknecht and Rosa Luxemburg — and seven short stories, starting with The Cat Plays With the Mouse, the observation of a small killing in midst of the big.

The book has been translated by Peter Appelbaum, Emeritus Professor of Pathology at Pennsylvania State University who wrote Loyalty Betrayed: Jewish Chaplains in the German Army During the First World War; and James Scott, Emeritus Professor of German at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania, whose scholarly presentations have ranged from Rilke’s prose and Kafka’s short fiction to cabaret in East Germany and communicative testing. Additional translations have been done by Cindy Opitz, who translated Tucholsky's Berlin! Berlin! Dispatches From the Weimar Republic.

The short stories in this anthology are all in English translation, while the poems are bilingual. They all are representative of Tucholsky's style and passion. The book also contains links to two short videos with raw footage of 1918, and a few pictures. Prayer After the Slaughter is available with all ebook retailers, including Amazon and Barnes&Noble.

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