Macmillan Childrens Publishing Group
To Die in Spring

To Die in Spring

A Novel

Ralf Rothmann; Translated from the German by Shaun Whiteside

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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The lunacy of the final months of World War II, as experienced by a young German soldier

Distant, silent, often drunk, Walter Urban is a difficult man to have as a father. But his son—the narrator of this slim, harrowing novel—is curious about Walter’s experiences during World War II, and so makes him a present of a blank notebook in which to write down his memories. Walter dies, however, leaving nothing but the barest skeleton of a story on those pages, leading his son to fill in the gaps himself, rightly or wrongly, with what he can piece together of his father’s early life.

This, then, is the story of Walter and his dangerously outspoken friend Friedrich Caroli, seventeen-year-old trainee milkers on a dairy farm in northern Germany who are tricked into volunteering for the army during the spring of 1945: the last, and in many ways the worst, months of the war. The men are driven to the point of madness by what they experience, and when Friedrich finally deserts his post, Walter is forced to do the unthinkable.

Told in a remarkable impressionistic voice, focusing on the tiny details and moments of grotesque beauty that flower even in the most desperate situations, Ralf Rothmann’s To Die in Spring “ushers in the post–[Günter] Grass era with enormous power” (Die Zeit).

EXCERPT

Silence, deep concealment, particularly about the dead, is ultimately a vacuum that fills with truth. When I used to ask my father why his hair was so thick, he would tell me it was because of the war. They had rubbed fresh birch sap into their...

Reviews

Praise for To Die in Spring

"The haunting portrayal of conflict and carnage in the final weeks of the second world war makes this German novel a modern classic." —Rachel Seiffert, The Guardian

"Pressed into military service in the final days of WWII, a young German farmhand finds himself in a nightmare world of cruelty and desperation . . . Rothmann’s (Young Light, 2010) prose lingers plaintively on images of suffering animals and devastated buildings but avoids sentimentality about all that is damaged . . . The result is a quietly unsettling triumph." —Brendan Driscoll, Booklist (starred review)

"[A] brilliant novel from German author Rothmann . . . Spare and elegant, [it] paints a quietly harrowing picture of the lasting effects of human violence and offers brief, poignant glimpses into the natural world . . . Directly confronting issues of responsibility, accountability, and legacy, this is an undeniably powerful work." Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"A Bosch-like vision of hell . . . The horror of war and the deep damage it does to people . . . is not always handled as well, or as powerfully, as this." —David Mills, The Sunday Times

"Rothmann's writing is spare and vivid, nearly cinematic. It is also crucial: German accounts of WWII have been relatively rare and slow in coming, especially when it comes to descriptions of their country's own suffering. Rothmann is unflinching in his accounts of both German atrocities and misery . . . A spectacular novel . . . Searing, haunting, incandescent: Rothmann’s new novel is a vital addition to the trove of wartime fiction." Kirkus Reviews

Reviews from Goodreads

About the author

Ralf Rothmann; Translated from the German by Shaun Whiteside

Ralf Rothmann was born in 1953 in Schleswig and grew up in the Ruhr valley. He has received numerous awards for his fiction and poetry, including the Friedrich Hölderlin Prize in 2013, the Hans Fallada Prize in 2008, and the Max Frisch Prize in 2006. He lives in Berlin.

Shaun Whiteside is a Northern Irish translator of French, Dutch, German, and Italian literature. He has translated many novels, including Manituana and Altai by Wu Ming, The Weekend by Bernhard Schlink, and Magdalene the Sinner by Lilian Faschinger, which won him the Schlegel-Tieck Prize for German Translation in 1997.

Ralf Rothmann

Heike Steinweg

From the Publisher

Farrar, Straus and Giroux

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