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Heinrich Böll's taut and haunting first novel tells the story of twenty-four-year-old Private Andreas as he journeys on a troop train across the German countryside to the battle on the Eastern front. Trapped, he knows that Hitler has already lost the war ... yet he is suddenly galvanised by the thought that he is on the way to his death. As the train hurtles on, he riffs th Heinrich Böll's taut and haunting first novel tells the story of twenty-four-year-old Private Andreas as he journeys on a troop train across the German countryside to the battle on the Eastern front. Trapped, he knows that Hitler has already lost the war ... yet he is suddenly galvanised by the thought that he is on the way to his death. As the train hurtles on, he riffs through prayers and memories, talks with other soldiers about what they've been through, and gazes desperately out the window at his country racing away. With mounting suspense, Andreas is gripped by one thought over all: Is there a way to defy his fate?


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Heinrich Böll's taut and haunting first novel tells the story of twenty-four-year-old Private Andreas as he journeys on a troop train across the German countryside to the battle on the Eastern front. Trapped, he knows that Hitler has already lost the war ... yet he is suddenly galvanised by the thought that he is on the way to his death. As the train hurtles on, he riffs th Heinrich Böll's taut and haunting first novel tells the story of twenty-four-year-old Private Andreas as he journeys on a troop train across the German countryside to the battle on the Eastern front. Trapped, he knows that Hitler has already lost the war ... yet he is suddenly galvanised by the thought that he is on the way to his death. As the train hurtles on, he riffs through prayers and memories, talks with other soldiers about what they've been through, and gazes desperately out the window at his country racing away. With mounting suspense, Andreas is gripped by one thought over all: Is there a way to defy his fate?

30 review for The Train Was on Time

  1. 4 out of 5

    BlackOxford

    Deathly Ironies Impending death certainly concentrates the mind. In 1943 a German soldier returning to his unit on the collapsing Eastern front, has good reason to anticipate death. His thoughts are not about the past or of loved ones or a life he has left. Rather, he thinks about his war experiences and the present as it streaks by outside his railway carriage. He believes that what he sees and smells is the last time he will see and smell these things - the cities, the girl-volunteers serving c Deathly Ironies Impending death certainly concentrates the mind. In 1943 a German soldier returning to his unit on the collapsing Eastern front, has good reason to anticipate death. His thoughts are not about the past or of loved ones or a life he has left. Rather, he thinks about his war experiences and the present as it streaks by outside his railway carriage. He believes that what he sees and smells is the last time he will see and smell these things - the cities, the girl-volunteers serving coffee at the stations, the autumnal German sky, the trees, the air of the countryside. The soldier knows his destination is in Poland, a place called Przemysl, and then onward past Lviv in a heavily Polish part of the Ukraine. This is the area of the former Austrian-Hungarian province of Galicia which bordered the 19th century Jewish Pale of the Russian Empire. About 10% of Galicia, 1 million people, was Jewish in 1940. By 1943 almost all had been murdered, many by the Einsatzgruppen, and others were victims of the death camp at Janowska which had been established in 1941 by the SS in a northeastern suburb of Lviv. What the soldier does not know, and the reader is not informed about directly, is that the railway journey that he is on is, although in relatively much more comfortable conditions, exactly the same as that for the millions of Jews who had already been deported from Germany and the rest of Nazi-occupied Europe on their way to Janowska and the other camps in Eastern Poland and Western Ukraine. He, like those Jews, is being sent to his death. The principal difference is that he is aware of his likely fate; the Jews were not. Boll’s intentional irony is signalled, I think, very early on when he notes that “Now and again what appears to be a casually spoken word will suddenly acquire a cabalistic significance.” The soldier becomes obsessive about the word ‘soon’ in relation to his death, and conducts a sort of existential analysis to determine when and where ‘soon’ could be. Consulting a map given him by a fellow-soldier, he intuitively estimates that his death will occur in about four days time just past Lviv, that is, in the region of the Janowska camp. The soldier is a Catholic. He finds himself praying. Remarkably “he said a special prayer for the Jews of Cernauti and for the Jews of Lvov, and no doubt there were Jews in Stanislav too, and in Kolomyya …” And, although he has several opportunities to desert, he stays on the train. Whatever his country has become, it is no longer his: “I don’t want to go back, I never want to go back.…” he says. After a sumptuous ‘last meal’ and other after-dinner entertainments in an up-market brothel in Lviv, the soldier’s intuition becomes even more precise about his death: “Just this side of Stryy I shall die.…” he says to a Polish prostitute who is also a partisan spy. Stryy had been a largely Jewish city an hour’s train journey from Lviv. Certainly the Jews had been eliminated from the place by 1943, and he includes them in his prayers as well. He is meant to board the train, which will undoubtedly be running on time with German efficiency, early in the morning. The soldier does not make the train to Stryy. It leaves without him.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Ahmad Sharabiani

    Der zug war punktlich‬ = The Train Was on Time, Heinrich Böll The Train Was on Time (German: Der Zug war pünktlich) is the first published novel by German author Heinrich Böll. It dates from 1949. The book centres on the story of a German soldier, Andreas, taking a train from Paris (France) to Przemyśl (Poland). The story focuses on the experience of German soldiers during the Second World War on the Eastern Front where fighting was particularly vicious and unforgiving; Böll had earlier explored Der zug war punktlich‬ = The Train Was on Time, Heinrich Böll The Train Was on Time (German: Der Zug war pünktlich) is the first published novel by German author Heinrich Böll. It dates from 1949. The book centres on the story of a German soldier, Andreas, taking a train from Paris (France) to Przemyśl (Poland). The story focuses on the experience of German soldiers during the Second World War on the Eastern Front where fighting was particularly vicious and unforgiving; Böll had earlier explored the same experience in A Soldier's Legacy which was written in 1948 but published later. On his way to the war front, he meets two other Germans with whom he starts a dialogue and a short-term friendship; he also meets Olina, a Polish prostitute, who has been working for the anti-fascist partisans but who has become disillusioned with such activity, seeing it as begetting yet further cycles of violence and aggression rather than leading to a proper way out of the bellicosity of the situation. During their trip we learn much about horrors soldiers endure in the war, and the effect it leaves on a person. Andreas has a particularly passive (some might say stoic) attitude to his involvement in the conflict, and the inevitability of death (and the question of fate) hangs over the narrative in a tragic fashion. It is arguable that the only real choices in the novel, presented in its opening gambits, involve the place and manner of Andreas's death in the war, rather than the possibility of its evasion. This tragic fate seems to be circumvented to some extent when Andreas meets Olina and they plan an escape to the Carpathian mountains, but the eventual fate cannot (it appears) be overlooked. In this sense, connections can be made between the work and the structure of ancient Greek tragedies such as the story of Oedipus. تاریخ نخستین خوانش: پانزدهم ماه اکتبر سال 1994 میلادی عنوان: قطار به موقع رسید؛ هاینریش بل؛ مترجم: کیکاووس جهانداری؛ تهران، چشمه، 1372؛ در 165 ص؛ شابک: 9646194672؛ موضوع: داستانهای نویسندگان آلمانی قرن 20 م نخستین رمان کوتاه «هاینریش بل» در اعتراض به جنگ و خشونت علیه بشریت است. «آندره‌آس» سربازی‌ ست که راهی جبهه می‌شود و هنگام سوار شدن به قطار احساس می‌کند که به زودی خواهد مرد. در طول راه به روز مردن خود که آن را یک شنبه هفته بعد احساس کرده فکر می کند. میل به زندگی، صلح، و نفرت بشر از جنگ؛ در این رمان به زیبایی تصویر شده است. بشری که: «نمی‌خواهد بمیرد، اما می‌داند به زودی خواهد مرد». ا. شربیانی

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ray

    This is a re-read of a book I first read 30 years ago. It is 1943. The war is lost but Germany fights on. A soldier travels to the Eastern Front, knowing somehow that he travels to his death. This is not the painful realisation that he is unlikely to survive, but a knowledge of the exact time and place of his demise. He is resigned to his fate and in a strange way almost welcomes it. A study of the futility of war and the way that soldiers cope, written by a man that had experienced what he has de This is a re-read of a book I first read 30 years ago. It is 1943. The war is lost but Germany fights on. A soldier travels to the Eastern Front, knowing somehow that he travels to his death. This is not the painful realisation that he is unlikely to survive, but a knowledge of the exact time and place of his demise. He is resigned to his fate and in a strange way almost welcomes it. A study of the futility of war and the way that soldiers cope, written by a man that had experienced what he has described. The ennui of an endless journey into danger in aid of a lost cause, punctuated by bouts of drinking, sleeping, whoring and interminable card games. I found this a powerful and moving book. Odd in a sense in that we know the ending very early on. Worth a read.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Hugh

    Having now read all of the Booker longlisted books I can get my hands on, I am back to reading some that have been patiently sitting on the to read shelf for a few months. Böll has been a writer I felt I should have read for a while, and this early novella was my first experience. The whole book is a test of the premise "what if I knew exactly when I was going to die". The book is mostly set on a German troop train in 1943, which is travelling from the Rheinland towards the front in eastern Polan Having now read all of the Booker longlisted books I can get my hands on, I am back to reading some that have been patiently sitting on the to read shelf for a few months. Böll has been a writer I felt I should have read for a while, and this early novella was my first experience. The whole book is a test of the premise "what if I knew exactly when I was going to die". The book is mostly set on a German troop train in 1943, which is travelling from the Rheinland towards the front in eastern Poland over a few days. The narrator Andreas has a premonition, which he believes unshakably, that he will die somewhere between two Polish villages, at a time no more than four days away, and the book follows his thoughts and actions over those four days. He spends most of the journey in the company of two other soldiers, one of whom is determined to throw his money away after his wife has left him, mostly on food, alcohol and women. The journey involves two changes of train in Poland, allowing the last night to be spent in the Galician capital Lvov, (view spoiler)[ where his last night is spent with a former aspiring musician who is working as a prostitute, and where, on the last page, the premonition appears to be realised. (hide spoiler)] . The whole vision is a rather impressive but bleak one, and I will definitely consider reading more.

  5. 4 out of 5

    [P]

    I have spent much of my life, from around ten or eleven years old, looking for the answer, for something that would provide relief and allow me to, not exactly reconcile myself with The Fear, but at least be able to cope with those times when it sits on my chest and holds me down and pummels me in the face. Which is most days really. For years my relationship with The Fear – which for other people may mean a number of things but which for me is a fear of dying – has involved extreme panic attack I have spent much of my life, from around ten or eleven years old, looking for the answer, for something that would provide relief and allow me to, not exactly reconcile myself with The Fear, but at least be able to cope with those times when it sits on my chest and holds me down and pummels me in the face. Which is most days really. For years my relationship with The Fear – which for other people may mean a number of things but which for me is a fear of dying – has involved extreme panic attacks. During these attacks, which I would describe as being motivated by The Genuine Belief That One Day I Will Definitely Die, I will howl inhumanly, and tear at my hair, literally grab great chunks of hair and yank at them like an overzealous, inexperienced fisherman yanks at his rod when he sees his float disappear under the surface of the pond’s water. And I will scream, actually scream into the palms of my hands, and writhe and kick and squirm. When The Fear really takes hold, when I truly believed that at some point I am going to cease to exist – because it is a different thing to say it or know it than it is to truly believe it – it is like my head, my body, my Self, is going to suffer a kind of irrevocable breakdown, a Twin Towers-like collapse, and the writhing, the screaming, the kicking, etc is a sort of existential battle for survival, is my Self trading blows with The Fear. If anyone was ever to see me in this state, which they wouldn’t of course because The Fear is a canny bastard who will only ever step to a guy when he is at his most alone and vulnerable, they’d think, understandably, that I was possessed. All of which should go some way to explaining why Heinrich Böll’s The Train Was on Time, which is, on the most basic level, the story of a young man who is absolutely certain that the train he is on is taking him to his death, has been an uncomfortable, and yet at times strangely comforting, reading experience for me. The novel is set in 1943, and features a German infantryman, Andreas, who is bound for the Eastern front [specifically Poland]. In these circumstances, having a premonition of one’s death is not exactly a flight of fancy. Indeed, Andreas had already come close to the ultimate departure once before, in Amiens, France. Unfortunately for him, the situation, for the Germans, has significantly worsened since then, so that losing the war seems likely. One must bear in mind that one’s chances of survival when on the winning side are, at best, in the balance, but when on the losing side? Well… [German soldiers during WW2, waiting to board a train] To be a soldier during wartime is to be in an extraordinary predicament, because, regardless of how that war is justified, whether it be in the name of freedom or democracy or whatever, for the people who are actively involved in it, it is literally a fight for life, a battle to stay alive; it is a state of affairs whereby death isn’t simply keeping an eye on you, it is aggressively stalking your heels. To spend weeks, months, years in such a situation must be horribly taxing. Therefore, it is no surprise that soldiers are often mentally damaged by the experience; and there is certainly evidence of that where Andreas is concerned. He is obsessively focussed on certain incidents, replaying them in his mind; he worries that he isn’t praying enough, and when he does pray it is often for the Jews; he frequently wants to cry but cannot; and, as already noted, he is convinced that his death is coming, yet not at some unspecified point in time, but on a specific day, in a specific place. “He could no longer say, no longer even think: “I don’t want to die.” As often as he tried to form the sentence he thought: I’m going to die…soon.” For me, Böll handles all this with great sensitivity, intelligence and skill. On the surface, the book is written in the third person, but large parts of it are actually given over to Andreas’ internal monologues. In the beginning, he is terribly afraid, he panics…it is an animal reaction, a feeling that goes beyond reason. He is tormented by the word ‘soon.’ Soon. Soon. Soon. Soon. “What a terrible word,” he thinks to himself. When is soon? Soon is uncertain, it is imprecise, it is a black hole, a nothing. Like death itself. And so, almost in order to comfort himself, to be able to get a handle on death, to make it concrete, to give himself something to hold onto, he convinces himself that his death will take place on a Sunday, between Lvov and Cernauti. He makes the uncertain certain. There is something, I think, in the unknown, in nothingness, that we simply cannot bear, because, I guess, we cannot comprehend it. I have been spending time with terminally ill people recently, and there is, in my limited experience, a kind of calmness that descends when death stops being this thing that might grab you unawares, and instead comes to sit beside you. Once death is certain, and no longer soon, Andreas’ panic subsides somewhat [which is not, by the way, the same as saying that he becomes entirely reconciled to the fate that he believes is his] and he becomes wistful and melancholy, thinking about the places he has been unable to visit, about how he will never again see the girl who serves him coffee. In this way, The Train Was on Time, as with all worthwhile literature, is universal, because we all experience the transitory nature of existence, even if we do not always link that experience to death. Whenever I am on a train I will spend some time looking out of the window, and I am always struck by a painful feeling, an understanding that I will never again see what I am seeing, that even if I take the same train, at the same time, travelling the same route, the sights will not be exactly the same. No single second of your life can ever be repeated; to all intents and purposes, you die thousands of times a day. “That’s something no one would ever be able to understand, why I don’t take the next train back to her… why don’t I? No one would ever be able to understand that. But I’m scared of that innocence… and I love her very much, and I’m going to die, and all she’ll ever get from me now will be an official letter saying: Fallen for Greater Germany…” For a novel so preoccupied with death it is not surprising that there is a sense of wanting to escape running through it. In addition to Andreas, there are two other major characters, Willi and a blonde officer. The three men come together when Andreas is asked if he wants to play a game of cards. Of course, for the young infantryman the game, and the company, is not about avoiding boredom, as it might be for us, but about keeping busy, taking his minds off things, off, specifically, the fact that he is likely hurtling towards his final resting place. However, death itself is also a kind of escape, or it could be viewed in that way, especially if one’s life is intolerable. In the case of Willi and the blonde officer, they could be said to be running towards war, towards death, rather than away from it, as one struggles with the break up of his marriage and the other with having once been sexually abused. In fact, Willi drinks large quantities of alcohol, which, of course, also provides an escape from reality, albeit only in the short-term. In conclusion, I seem to recall the translator and critic Michael Hofmann once writing disparagingly of Heinrich Böll, and I seldom see his work [Böll’s] in lists of great German novels. On this basis, he probably qualifies as underrated. I do not think he ever hit the heights of someone like, say, Thomas Mann or the Austrian Robert Musil, but I have yet to be disappointed with any of his books. However, I ought to point out that, in the early stages, the transitions between third person narrative and the internal monologue are a little clunky to say the least, and that I wasn’t won over by the opening scene in which Andreas speaks to a clergyman on the platform about his desire to avoid death, but these are minor quibbles overall. The Train Was on Time, which was Böll’s first published work, written when in his early thirties, is fascinating, and often beautiful and moving. Indeed, there is a passage about how the searchlights in the night air resemble fingers seeking out someone that will stay with me for a long time.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ben Loory

    my first heinrich boll; good stuff! reminded me some of anna kavan's Ice, though much more realistic. also it was strange that i read it after The Driver's Seat, as the two had very similar storylines... person travels in a straight line toward death, unwilling and/or unable to turn aside. not scathing like the driver's seat, however... sadder, haunted, beautiful. there's a quality about post-war european books i really love; they have this air of profundity which i guess is a product of exhausti my first heinrich boll; good stuff! reminded me some of anna kavan's Ice, though much more realistic. also it was strange that i read it after The Driver's Seat, as the two had very similar storylines... person travels in a straight line toward death, unwilling and/or unable to turn aside. not scathing like the driver's seat, however... sadder, haunted, beautiful. there's a quality about post-war european books i really love; they have this air of profundity which i guess is a product of exhaustion and disillusionment; they make modern books seem histrionic. (picked up The Clown at the same time. these melville house re-releases are beautiful. i was halfway through before i suddenly realized those shapes on the cover were a train.)

  7. 4 out of 5

    Cooper Cooper

    This is the first novel, written in 1947, by Nobelist Heinrich Böll, who had served in the German army for six years during WWII. The story takes place in 1944 during the five-day train ride of a young soldier from leave in Germany to the Russian front and certain death. The trip is spent inside the protagonist’s mind as he tries to figure out exactly where and when he will be killed, and as he flashes back on his brief life, especially on his one “love”—a pair of beautiful eyes (“the Eyes”) he This is the first novel, written in 1947, by Nobelist Heinrich Böll, who had served in the German army for six years during WWII. The story takes place in 1944 during the five-day train ride of a young soldier from leave in Germany to the Russian front and certain death. The trip is spent inside the protagonist’s mind as he tries to figure out exactly where and when he will be killed, and as he flashes back on his brief life, especially on his one “love”—a pair of beautiful eyes (“the Eyes”) he glimpsed in France just before he was wounded for the first time and which have haunted him ever since. His ruminations and rollercoaster emotions interplay with the sights and sounds and smells of the troop train, and with his relationship with two train-met companions, fellow soldiers who also know they are doomed. Finally he figures out that he will be killed early Sunday morning in Poland between Lvov and Cherovtsky. He is right; but it happens in a somewhat improbable way. This is a horrors-of-war book, in which a young man with artistic aspirations (he wanted to be a pianist) who knows that Hitler is a madman and the war is lost, is drawn inexorably and sometimes even passionately to a meaningless death. It is a good but gloomy read. Samples of the writing: Our eyes met and mingled for a tenth of a second, perhaps it was even less than that, and I can’t forget her eyes. For three-and-a-half years I could not help thinking of her—and I’ve not been able to forget her. Only a tenth of a second or less and I don’t know her name or anything else about her. All I know is her eyes, her soft, sad eyes, the color of sand after rain. Unhappy eyes, with much of animal and everything of woman in them. Eyes that I have never, never forgotten, not for a single day in three and a half years. Life is good, he thought. At least it was good. Twelve hours before I die I realize that life is good. That is too late. I have been ungrateful to Providence. I have denied the existence of human happiness. And now I know that life was good…. I have suffered every second I have worn this ghastly uniform. They have destroyed me with their deadly army chatter and they have made me literally shed my blood on their battlefields…. And I’ve seen nothing but filth and blood and excrement and smelled nothing but dirt, and heard nothing but groans of misery and bawdy talk. Only for a fraction of a second have I known real human love, the love of man and woman, which must be something beautiful—only for a tenth of a second. And now twelve hours, or eleven hours, before I die, I have to realize that life is good.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Dannii Elle

    Actual rating 2.5/5 stars. Before picking this book up I had never heard of Heinrich Boll before. Upon reading the introduction I discovered that he was an extraordinary man who also won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970. He lived through the turbulence of WWII, losing one child during it, and originally refused to join the Hitler Youth. He was later conscripted to the infantry before deserting after receiving four bullet wounds. Many aspects of this book, especially the thoughts and actions Actual rating 2.5/5 stars. Before picking this book up I had never heard of Heinrich Boll before. Upon reading the introduction I discovered that he was an extraordinary man who also won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970. He lived through the turbulence of WWII, losing one child during it, and originally refused to join the Hitler Youth. He was later conscripted to the infantry before deserting after receiving four bullet wounds. Many aspects of this book, especially the thoughts and actions of young soldiers during wartime, could conceivably be autobiographical. Almost the entire narrative takes place inside the mind of protagonist, twenty four-year-old German solider Andreas. He confronts the probable imminence of his own death as he travels, largely via troop train, to the Eastern front. The word ‘soon’ reverberates throughout the entire length of the novella and tinges every actions with the certainty of the future, or lack of it, that he faces. I begun this poignant short story absolutely enraptured. Boll’s creation provides the reader with the human face of war. Andreas stands for all soldiers, who are forced to fight for the glory of death and of serving the Fuhrer, yet are guiltily stricken by the thoughts of their imminent demise. Despite worshipful of the premise, enjoying the narrative style, and acknowledging the importance of a story such as this, I failed to continue on with my early adoration. Thoughts and motions were very repetitive, which I believe may have been a deliberate decision, but it failed to continue to incite my interest. For me, this would have been a stellar read, if only made at half the length.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lede

    Andreas is a 24 year old German soldier in WW2, he has been in the army for four years, it's the end of the war now. He is on a train that is taking him and his fellow soldiers to what is a sure death. Andreas hasn't been kissed, he hasn't had sex, he has never been in love(except perhaps for a strangers dark eyes) something that could be an obsession or love, he and we will never know. During the train ride we experience his mental and emotional disintegration, you could say it's an accelerated p Andreas is a 24 year old German soldier in WW2, he has been in the army for four years, it's the end of the war now. He is on a train that is taking him and his fellow soldiers to what is a sure death. Andreas hasn't been kissed, he hasn't had sex, he has never been in love(except perhaps for a strangers dark eyes) something that could be an obsession or love, he and we will never know. During the train ride we experience his mental and emotional disintegration, you could say it's an accelerated preparation for death. The elderly in some cultures remove themselves from the rest of society to cleanse their souls and slowly let go of all earthly ties( the good stuff like greed, hate, love etc). No such luck for Andreas. He goes through a rapid input of life experienced and an equally rapid output of what was and was not learnt(appreciated). A slow, horrible, "my life flashed before my eyes", train ride. And yes...the bloody train was on time.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Holly

    I'm not sure how I could have written the below review. I forgot entirely that I'd ever read this book, and I think "how blind you were...I see you recognized the ugly black thread, but you missed everything else?" Boll's novella is a haunting assemblage of something that appears to be that end of life flashback playing on a dream reel, superimposed with the word Stryy. It is time in the context of the last moment; it is the last moment stamped on all the minutes of his life. It is life without I'm not sure how I could have written the below review. I forgot entirely that I'd ever read this book, and I think "how blind you were...I see you recognized the ugly black thread, but you missed everything else?" Boll's novella is a haunting assemblage of something that appears to be that end of life flashback playing on a dream reel, superimposed with the word Stryy. It is time in the context of the last moment; it is the last moment stamped on all the minutes of his life. It is life without the constraint of time; life as only God must know it, or perhaps we, at that last moment, when we bridge life and death at once. This book reminded me, as I've long suspected, that we don't own our lives; life owns our lives and we are left, just like Andreas, realizing (inevitably) that we have wasted it all when the end is staring us in the face. How strange the moments are when Andreas gazes into the eyes of fellow men knowing he already dead. The Train is On Time. He follows its course with a map, like we all do, looking ahead. In this case, this man-made idea of punctuality allows him to pinpoint the place, Stryy. Stryy , this name is peppered throughout the novella in a way that makes me think that at the moment the conductor replies that they are headed to Stryy, Andreas superimposes the word onto his memory perhaps and re-lives moments with this knowledge that the end in fact had always been there, even at the beginning. This novella asks an important question. The most important question I think: what is the meaning of life? Yes, that question that swoops down to ask all of us at one time or another. Some of us more responsive than others perhaps. Andreas only realizes it once his life is reduced to hours. The train is on time. The train is always on time. There is no averting this though Andreas does not meet the end as he expects, or even as we would expect. There is always an end and we live as if we own our futures. Even now As I write this review to the invisible ear, to myself more than to any one probably. Yet it reflects how troubling it is to move in the world relatively aware that my own train moves along its tracks and I reassure myself with maps and plans. I'm troubled by the fact that I had to live this long to understand this book although that is not to say I wasn't formerly amazed by its power. How strange, life. This book has forced me to ask myself a question, and while waiting at the local Jiffy Lube for an oil change on my car, gazing out the window at the rain on the city, drops haphazardly sliding down the window thinking only of Andreas and Boll and life. I had to attach some definition to this disturbing question of life's meaning and the inevitability of its end. I think my answer is certainly informed by my own long interest in truth and God: to be of courage, to suffer well, to love those who cross my path, and to make even small decisions that will show that I respect all forms of life, and above all, the miracle of every second of my own. This I think would create a collection of moments I would not be afraid to own. ***** following is a review I wrote a few years ago. "Happiness washes away many things, just as suffering washes away many things." A line from the novel I suspect I will not shake for a long time. Like a terrible confession...a bit desperate and despairing. Poignant and disturbing streamofconcious that allows the reader to inhabit the mind of Andreas while he processes his experience/s. One gets the impression that Boll (no umlaut capability) deflects some of his own experience onto his descriptively named characters, or that he develops in one character another figure he observed but never knew. It seems he does this to prevent the novel from being to autobiographical, allowing him to shine light on some occurrence without the vulnerability of being too exposed to the gaping reader...or allowing the situation a degree of objectivity for both us and Boll. One also recognizes the particular moments that haunt him as they emerge again and again as if they belong to memory that cannot be processed. The collective impression of this unusual novel is that it displays unusual juxtaposition like an ugly black thread burrowing and winding through an otherwise beautiful and balanced composition...like vandalism, the way one feels that ones life is hijacked and mutilated in some way that is beyond control. This however is the point of a book like this that refuses to hide the nightmare in the closet. Delicate and brutal.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Farhan Khalid

    I don’t want to die, but the terrible thing is that I'm going to die The somber outlines of the city moved past the window When would this Soon be? [The blood] flowed back into his heart ,circling, circling, life was circling And all the pulse beat said was: Soon! What a terrible word: Soon Soon can mean in one second, soon can mean in one year Soon is terrible word This soon compresses the future, shrinks it, offers no certainty, no certainty, whatever It stands for absolute uncertainty Soon is nothing a I don’t want to die, but the terrible thing is that I'm going to die The somber outlines of the city moved past the window When would this Soon be? [The blood] flowed back into his heart ,circling, circling, life was circling And all the pulse beat said was: Soon! What a terrible word: Soon Soon can mean in one second, soon can mean in one year Soon is terrible word This soon compresses the future, shrinks it, offers no certainty, no certainty, whatever It stands for absolute uncertainty Soon is nothing and soon is a lot. Soon is everything, soon is death… There'll be no more of anything no music - no flowers - no poetry - no more human joys Soon I'm going to die I'll try and picture the future, he thought. May be it's an illusion The place where the wall rose up couldn’t grasped in terms of time Time was irrelevant. Time had ceased to exist And yet hope still remained These things the train's racing past, I'll never see any of them again… Theoretically life is beautiful, theoretically life is glorious God is with those who are unhappy Unhappiness is life, pain is life Now I saw that the sky was the ground, I was lying on the gray-blue pitilessly hot surface of the sky Only memory, hope, and dream. "We live on hope" Life is beautiful, he thought, it was beautiful Twelve hours before my death I have to find out that life is beautiful For a mere tenth of a second I was allowed to know true human life I thought I had forgotten nothing, I had forgotten everything The hourglass is nearly full, and death has only a few more grains of sand to add He was still dreaming, his face was all dreams Happiness washes away many things, just as suffering washes away many things It's always good idea to start with yes. You can always say no later If you say no right off, your chances of doing business are nil Everything's being managed, everything's being managed A woman can only be won in the dark. Funny, he thought I am dancing with you into heaven, the seventh heaven of love… All Poland is a resistance movement The terrible part is that it's all so senseless Everywhere it's only the innocent who are murdered. Everywhere The soundlessness of that crying was terrible The ones you love are the ones you're bound to hurt the most That's the law of love I believed I loved only her soul. Only her soul! And I would have sold all those thousands of prayers for one single kiss from her lips It was her only her soul that I loves. But what is a soul without a body? No matter where I take you, it will be life. Trust me!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Edita

    Now and again what appears to be a casually spoken word will suddenly acquire a cabalistic significance. It becomes charged and strangely swift, races ahead of the speaker, is destined to throw open a chamber in the uncertain confines of the future and to return to him with the deadly accuracy of a boomerang. Out of the smalltalk of unreflecting speech, usually from among those halting, colorless goodbyes exchanged beside trains on their way to death, it falls back on the speaker like a leaden w Now and again what appears to be a casually spoken word will suddenly acquire a cabalistic significance. It becomes charged and strangely swift, races ahead of the speaker, is destined to throw open a chamber in the uncertain confines of the future and to return to him with the deadly accuracy of a boomerang. Out of the smalltalk of unreflecting speech, usually from among those halting, colorless goodbyes exchanged beside trains on their way to death, it falls back on the speaker like a leaden wave, and he becomes aware of the force, both frightening and intoxicating, of the workings of fate. To lovers and soldiers, to men marked for death and to those filled with the cosmic force of life, this power is sometimes given, without warning; a sudden revelation is conferred on them, a bounty and a burden … and the word sinks, sinks down inside them. * Soon. Soon. Soon. Soon. When is Soon? What a terrible word: Soon. Soon can mean in one second, Soon can mean in one year. Soon is a terrible word. This Soon compresses the future, shrinks it, offers no certainty, no certainty whatever, it stands for absolute uncertainty. Soon is nothing and Soon is a lot. Soon is everything. Soon is death.… * I long for that horizon as intensely, as fiercely and ardently, as only a lover can long for his beloved.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sam Tornio

    Reminds me of an art house film. Breaks reality by diving right into the knotty guts of it.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lobstergirl

    It's 1943 and 23-year old German soldier Andreas is returning from Paris to his military unit in eastern Poland (an area that is now Ukraine), via several trains. He is convinced the war is already lost, and even more convinced that in the next few days, somewhere at the end of his journey, he will die. This thought obsesses him. He seems to be having memory lapses; he needs to look at a map to recognize the names of towns he will pass through, and it isn't until near the end of the book that he It's 1943 and 23-year old German soldier Andreas is returning from Paris to his military unit in eastern Poland (an area that is now Ukraine), via several trains. He is convinced the war is already lost, and even more convinced that in the next few days, somewhere at the end of his journey, he will die. This thought obsesses him. He seems to be having memory lapses; he needs to look at a map to recognize the names of towns he will pass through, and it isn't until near the end of the book that he remembers what his destination is, and he fixates on that city as the place his life will end. Before then, though, he and two other soldiers disembark at the Polish town of Lvov, where one of them knows a good brothel. In the brothel he meets the prostitute Olina, who might have a way out for him. Böll incorporates both realistic and dreamlike elements, but it isn't until the last page that the novella takes a seemingly surreal, perhaps allegorical, turn.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Larry

    Published in 1949, The Train Was on Time was Heinrich Boll's first book about a German soldier returning from leave and going to the eastern front. He believes he is going to die on the eastern front and as the train moves nearer to the east, he maps out his place of death, the hours he has left and places and things he'll never see again. He'll die 'soon', and how long or short is 'soon'? It can be a long time, a short time and how ambiguous 'soon' is in time. Published in 1949, The Train Was on Time was Heinrich Boll's first book about a German soldier returning from leave and going to the eastern front. He believes he is going to die on the eastern front and as the train moves nearer to the east, he maps out his place of death, the hours he has left and places and things he'll never see again. He'll die 'soon', and how long or short is 'soon'? It can be a long time, a short time and how ambiguous 'soon' is in time.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Chad Post

    Heinrich Boll, where have your books been all my life? This tight, haunting novel is god damn awesome. Period. And thank you, Melville House for reisssuing these in such attractive editions. I've got The Safety Net atop my "to read" pile . . . . Heinrich Boll, where have your books been all my life? This tight, haunting novel is god damn awesome. Period. And thank you, Melville House for reisssuing these in such attractive editions. I've got The Safety Net atop my "to read" pile . . . .

  17. 5 out of 5

    Bora Arbak

    “..twelve hours before my death i have to find out that life is beautiful ..”

  18. 5 out of 5

    Zuberino

    September 1943. A young German soldier boards a troop train bound for the Eastern front which is collapsing under the heavy onslaught of the Russians. Andreas must be the most reluctant soldier in the whole of Hitler's Wehrmacht. Above all else, he is convinced that he will meet his death at the end of the line. Over the next three days, Heinrich Boll recreates the soldier's train journey in faithful, dreary detail. His companions are Willi, quick on his feet and in perpetual need of a shave, an September 1943. A young German soldier boards a troop train bound for the Eastern front which is collapsing under the heavy onslaught of the Russians. Andreas must be the most reluctant soldier in the whole of Hitler's Wehrmacht. Above all else, he is convinced that he will meet his death at the end of the line. Over the next three days, Heinrich Boll recreates the soldier's train journey in faithful, dreary detail. His companions are Willi, quick on his feet and in perpetual need of a shave, and the nameless blond soldier with rheumy eyes, stained by venereal disease, the result of forcible rape by a senior officer while on duty in the Sivash marshes in the Crimea. In Andreas' mind, there is yet another companion - the disembodied pair of eyes he saw for a fraction of a second one hot day three and a half years ago, while his unit was marching through the outskirts of Amiens in northern France. In all that time, he has not been able to forget her. The train passes through war-torn Central Europe like Dante descending through the nine circles of hell. Dortmund, Leipzig, Dresden, Breslau, Krakow, Przemysl. Will Andreas die between Lvov and Cernauti, or will it be between Lvov and Kolomyya? When exactly on Sunday morning, where exactly in the bloodlands of Galicia has the Reaper fixed his appointment? In the final third of the book, Andreas and his friends land in Lvov where after a lavish meal they end up in a brothel and Andreas spends a platonic night with Olina, the Polish pianist turned prostitute. In this, his last evening on earth, Andreas finally finds something approaching love and redemption in his otherwise pointless existence. * Many years ago in Dhaka, I read Boll's famous book The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum. So long ago in fact that I no longer remember the precise details, except that it dealt with the harrowing persecution of the titular Ms Blum. The Train Was on Time was Boll's first novel, yet you can already see much evidence of the writer's maturity and control. You can't help but wonder how much of the story is autobiographical. I suspect not a little - after all, Boll too was conscripted and served through the duration of the war. Two decades after this book was published, Boll won the Nobel Prize. The expert translation is by Leila Vennewitz, who brings out all the pathos inherent in the prose. For some reason, it reminded me of Life With a Star, Jiri Weil's account of the Holocaust in Prague which I read a few months ago. Roubicek's nightmare is of course on a different level, but Andreas is a reminder that there was plenty of suffering on the other side too. No one wins in war. Two final words of thanks: one to the open-air book stalls under Waterloo Bridge where I came across this gem which I had never of heard before; and one to Candy Amsden whose stunning cover design for the 1979 Penguin edition was an irresistible factor in my impulse purchase.

  19. 4 out of 5

    M.

    The Train Was on Time was down to a tee. Heinrich Boll won the Nobel Prize for his writing which through its combination of a broad perspective on his time and a sensitive skill in characterization has contributed to a renewal of German literature... Ditto. What I found very interesting is that, as well as in The Clown there is that guy- an unheroic hero who seems powerless to resist to his own fate... Although, the novella seldom loses its tension, I did find myself reminiscing Hans, displaced p The Train Was on Time was down to a tee. Heinrich Boll won the Nobel Prize for his writing which through its combination of a broad perspective on his time and a sensitive skill in characterization has contributed to a renewal of German literature... Ditto. What I found very interesting is that, as well as in The Clown there is that guy- an unheroic hero who seems powerless to resist to his own fate... Although, the novella seldom loses its tension, I did find myself reminiscing Hans, displaced person who has seen too much and hopes for too little... While digging about Boll himself, I have come upon this interesting piece... “The Story of the Mexican Fisherman” by Heinrich Böll An American businessman was standing at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked. Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna. The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish. “How long it took you to catch them?” The American asked. “Only a little while.” The Mexican replied. “Why don’t you stay out longer and catch more fish?” The American then asked. “I have enough to support my family’s immediate needs.” The Mexican said. “But,” The American then asked, “What do you do with the rest of your time?” The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take a siesta with my wife, Maria, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine and play guitar with my amigos, I have a full and busy life, senor.” The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds you buy a bigger boat, and with the proceeds from the bigger boat you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats.” “Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the consumers, eventually opening your own can factory. You would control the product, processing and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually NYC where you will run your expanding enterprise.” The Mexican fisherman asked, “But senor, how long will this all take?” To which the American replied, “15-20 years.” “But what then, senor?” The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part. When the time is right you would announce an IPO (Initial Public Offering) and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions.” “Millions, senor? Then what?” The American said slowly, “Then you would retire. Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take a siesta with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos…”

  20. 4 out of 5

    Azaghedi

    The first half or so of this short novel is very slow, so slow and a bit repetitive that one may wonder if it's even worth continuing. But in the second half it becomes clear that what I originally mistook for repetitiveness was actually a reoccurring leitmotiv, what was slow was the planting and germination of ideas and images. By the time the protagonist, Wehrmacht soldier Andreas, spends the night with a Polish prostitute, Olina, in the second act, the story has blossomed into something haunt The first half or so of this short novel is very slow, so slow and a bit repetitive that one may wonder if it's even worth continuing. But in the second half it becomes clear that what I originally mistook for repetitiveness was actually a reoccurring leitmotiv, what was slow was the planting and germination of ideas and images. By the time the protagonist, Wehrmacht soldier Andreas, spends the night with a Polish prostitute, Olina, in the second act, the story has blossomed into something hauntingly beautiful, heart-rending, and captivating. A deceptively short novel that is not divided by chapters, it should not be charged through in one rushed sitting--at least not by me. Its density requires rumination. I'll certainly be revisiting this one in the future in hopes of digesting more of it.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Michael Armijo

    Enter the twilight zone... This is a remarkable book that is only about 100 pages long. The author, Heinrich Boll, won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1972. It's clear as to why he won the Prize after reading this book. It's a well-written European Classic. I forget how I discovered it. I think I saw it listed as required reading for a Literature class somewhere in New York. It's about a German Soldier and his adventure on a train as he envisions and wonders how he will die. The 'Twilight Zone' Enter the twilight zone... This is a remarkable book that is only about 100 pages long. The author, Heinrich Boll, won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1972. It's clear as to why he won the Prize after reading this book. It's a well-written European Classic. I forget how I discovered it. I think I saw it listed as required reading for a Literature class somewhere in New York. It's about a German Soldier and his adventure on a train as he envisions and wonders how he will die. The 'Twilight Zone' ending comes only too SOON. Great book with some great lines...like the one that reminded me that life is beautiful and that cheese, white wine, bread and cookies make for a glorious meal. It's true. I tried the simplicity of this glorious meal, today, on this summer afternoon of June 23,2001.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Ruth

    I liked Boll's book journalistic book about being imbedded with a platoon of soldiers. But The Train is fiction, and I'm not crazy about it. The book hangs on a structure of this soldier who is on a train anticipating when, in time and place, he will die. "Soon" is a word repeated over and over. There are some interesting character descriptions, but this "soon" thing got old. And he winds up the story with some pretty corny, cutesy, stuff involving a woman just as young and naïve as the narrator I liked Boll's book journalistic book about being imbedded with a platoon of soldiers. But The Train is fiction, and I'm not crazy about it. The book hangs on a structure of this soldier who is on a train anticipating when, in time and place, he will die. "Soon" is a word repeated over and over. There are some interesting character descriptions, but this "soon" thing got old. And he winds up the story with some pretty corny, cutesy, stuff involving a woman just as young and naïve as the narrator. I tried another fiction of his, "Group Portrait With Lady", which I had to give up on. Still like the non-fiction, though.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Margaret

    Beautiful, elegaic prose about the guilt and suffering of a young German soldier on his way to the Polish front in 1944. He believes that he is a doomed man, and this colors his every experience in a way that somehow makes each moment of the life that remains him simultaneously beautiful and absurd.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Vladimir Boronenko

    I changed my view of the book (up from 4 to 5), because when you read, after this piece of art, something that I read immediately thereafter, you really do understand that it is a piece of LITERATURE, as opposed to SHIT that sometimes likes to be called that.

  25. 4 out of 5

    The Literary Chick

    Powerful, Boll excercises remarkable restraint in what could be an overwrought story and instead renders it exquisitely.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    Look - look. The thing is. The thing is. CAN you - by which I mean me, a non-professional critic, a non-academic reader - say that a man who defied the Hitler Youth, fought in WW2, and won a Nobel Prize for Literature wrote a ... no good, very bad, terrible book? Is it permissable for me to confer that diagnosis upon this painful 100-page screed to the power of insta-love and whores with hearts of gold? I don't think I have the qualifications to do so. It's a layman's diagnosis - fine. But that Look - look. The thing is. The thing is. CAN you - by which I mean me, a non-professional critic, a non-academic reader - say that a man who defied the Hitler Youth, fought in WW2, and won a Nobel Prize for Literature wrote a ... no good, very bad, terrible book? Is it permissable for me to confer that diagnosis upon this painful 100-page screed to the power of insta-love and whores with hearts of gold? I don't think I have the qualifications to do so. It's a layman's diagnosis - fine. But that is what I felt. The time I spent reading this book felt like my soul was being squashed by a millstone and ground into tiny pieces, each one of which was bored out of its tiny mind. WHY does Andreas have sudden skills of prognostication such that he can predict his own death? (Aside from the fact that if you handwave this sudden talent you can write a Moving Piece about the Futility of Life and the Inevitability of Death, I mean.) WHY does he, a soldier travelling to the front, leave his gun behind? WHY do he and Willi and the other one get away with just walking off and having a nice dinner and a night in a brothel? Aren't there, like, RULES in the army? (Also, where are the Poles getting all this fancy food in 1943?) WHY does Olina, a Polish partisan, decide to run away with a German soldier she's known for (checks notes) ... four hours? Yes, I know, insta-love from the whore with a heart of gold, but JESUS CHRIST. I get that this was written in 1949, when women weren't people yet, but let us just say it has not aged well. There are parts where the story breaks free from the affected stream-of-consciousness style and becomes just a straightforward narrative, like when they do BREAK CAMP FOR THE LOLS or when Olina reveals her background. Why Boll felt the need to ape that style, which is immensely annoying and stylistically void anyway, when he was able to do the other, is - like everything else about this book - beyond me. "There's sex in every fibre of that pretty face, and she's not an innocent shepherdess, she's a very wanton shepherdess. It gave him a pang to find that she was a tart after all." Honestly? FUCK YOU, BOLL. A tart 'after all'? Like she wasn't a 'tart' when you paid money to have sex with her earlier? Like being a 'tart' surgically removes her humanity? Like the opinion of you, A NAZI SOLDIER, is the only thing that confers humanity upon her, only for you to take it away again when it seems she might know something about sex? When she ... has sex ... for a living ... I cannot. I CANNOT. That's even before we interrogate that this might not have been a meaningful choice she made in this context. I have to go lie down, the hate is giving me a headache.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Kirsten

    [1949. Translated from German. Böll, winner of Nobel Prize for Literature] Short but intense. Andreas, a 24 year old private in the German army. This literal hero-takes-a-journey story takes place on a train trip across Germany to the eastern front, which provides the perfect backdrop for the journey to, what he believes will be, his death in a short few days. It was easy to feel for Andreas and the friends he makes along the way, the “unshaven soldier” and the “blond fellow,” as well as Olina, [1949. Translated from German. Böll, winner of Nobel Prize for Literature] Short but intense. Andreas, a 24 year old private in the German army. This literal hero-takes-a-journey story takes place on a train trip across Germany to the eastern front, which provides the perfect backdrop for the journey to, what he believes will be, his death in a short few days. It was easy to feel for Andreas and the friends he makes along the way, the “unshaven soldier” and the “blond fellow,” as well as Olina, the prostitute he bonds with towards the end of his journey. There were no main character villains, which was good, as it was intense enough just being in Andreas’ head. The writing is perfect for this story with a rhythm repetition that often reminded me of the train they traveled on.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Stephen

    I think my brain must be differently wired to the lots of positive reviews for this. I hated it. Tedious, unbelievable stream of consciousness nonsense. How does wartime Poland have feasts of food available? Prostitute spies into classical music? Maybe the whole tale is a life allegory in which you travel a defined path involving various degrees of culture, drink & love followed by death. If you know when the latter is it affects your experience of the others. This is a guess as I was virtually I think my brain must be differently wired to the lots of positive reviews for this. I hated it. Tedious, unbelievable stream of consciousness nonsense. How does wartime Poland have feasts of food available? Prostitute spies into classical music? Maybe the whole tale is a life allegory in which you travel a defined path involving various degrees of culture, drink & love followed by death. If you know when the latter is it affects your experience of the others. This is a guess as I was virtually in a trance by the time I finished this short book.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Simon Howarth

    Not unlike Camus’ Outsider in an unusual inner realm; a man’s mind but one who cares about life, unlike Camus. Poetic and great.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Steven Carroll

    Short and haunting.

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