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The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum by Heinrich Boll

The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum: How Violence Develops and Where It Can Lead - Heinrich Böll

When he wrote this novella in 1974, Heinrich Boll was furious with the yellow press; anger radiates from the very disclaimer (which states that the newspaper in this book is totally not the Bild-Zeitung, but hey, if the shoe fits….). Nevertheless, this is one of those books that manages to tell its story well and broadly enough that no knowledge of its source material is required to enjoy it.


Katharina Blum is a hard-working young woman who, after a rare evening of fun, takes a young man home with her. Turns out he is on the run from the law, and the next day Katharina is brought in for police questioning as a potential co-conspirator. To make matters worse, a popular newspaper with little concern for the truth picks up the story, and soon the details of her life are on display everywhere, while Katharina and everyone she knows is being harassed and their words twisted. We learn at the beginning of the story that Katharina has murdered the offending journalist, but there is suspense enough in the details that for me it still proved a page-turner.


This is a good book: an intriguing plot, interesting and believable characters, and strong writing. The translation is smooth and very readable. The book purports to be a third-party report of the events, based on research and interviews, and the detached POV works well, keeping readers guessing at what characters are thinking and tempering the potential for melodrama. My only gripe about the book is the end: without going into detail, I felt Katharina underreacted and Blorna overreacted to the way things turned out. Overall though, I enjoyed this novella very much and would recommend it.