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1001 Book Review: The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum by Heinrich Böll

kATHERINAThe Lost Honour of Katherina Blum by Heinrich Böll
First Published in: 1974
Original language: German
Find it/Buy it here: The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (Penguin Classics)

Synopsis (from Amazon): In an era in which journalists will stop at nothing to break a story, Henrich Böll’s The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum has taken on heightened relevance. A young woman’s association with a hunted man makes her the target of a journalist determined to grab headlines by portraying her as an evil woman. As the attacks on her escalate and she becomes the victim of anonymous threats, Katharina sees only one way out of her nightmare. Turning the mystery genre on its head, the novel begins with the confession of a crime, drawing the reader into a web of sensationalism, character assassination, and the unavoidable eruption of violence.

Jen’s Review:
Rating: ★★★★
Katharina Blum is an upstanding young woman who seems to be the model citizen but she just happens to have murdered a man. Don’t worry, this is not a spoiler! The book begins with the disclosure of the murder and works back and forth in time to uncover the events that led up to the murder. Böll poses the question of how ordinary people may be driven into acting in violent ways. The novel is a short, quick, and engaging read that probes into the responsibility of the media in creating stories that impact the lives of people in a harmful way.

I really enjoyed the book. The narrative style was unique and engaging and it resembled an investigative journalism piece with seemingly objective reporting. The story was pieced together with flashbacks, written statements and transcripts, lists, and commentary from the narrator, some of which was humorous. The book raises interesting questions about a) what the role of the media is and should be, b) which sorts of information should be private/public, and c) how media and social opinion can impact the lives of individuals. Very relevant to today’s society and in an interesting perspective on journalistic ethics and sensationalism.

I find Böll to be an extremely skilled author who is remarkably adept at capturing social issues in a believable way. His ability to craft complex characters and to understand the human psyche is impressive. He won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1972 and in my opinion is a must-read author.

Book Worm’s Review:
Opening with the confession of Katharina to the murder of a journalist in her flat,  this novel presents the events that lead to the murder and asks the reader to decided who committed the biggest crime:  Katharina or the people whose actions drove her to it?

This novel, told by a detached narrator, contains a warning about believing everything you read or hear in the news. It illustrates how lives can be destroyed by the manipulative actions of both the media and those with a vested interest in keeping the real story hidden.

Katharina is an ordinary woman, a house keeper by profession whose life is destroyed by being misrepresented in the media, her only crime falling in love with the wrong man.

This is a powerful read and is still relevant today. This morning I was watching a news article about Jeremy Clarkson. The report claimed he had said that being fired from Top Gear was “worse than losing a child.” What he actually said was “Top Gear was my baby, I am lost without it” or words to that effect. I find that kind of manipulation and misrepresenting reprehensible and entirely unnecessary.

Have you read this book? What did you think? Have you read others by Boll? Share your thoughts with us.

Want to try it for yourself? You can find a copy here: The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum (Penguin Classics)