By LITTLE, BROWNRemarque
THERE may come a time to measure Flotsam, should it survive, against All Quiet on the Western Front as a work of pure design and representation; but hardly anyone, even among ‘the ineffable company of pure æsthetes,’ will find much heart to undertake the comparison just now. This book, as much as any dive bomber or eighty-ton tank, is an engine of war. It is, in fact, one of the deadliest instruments of precision ever devised for the waging of humanity’s unending battle against inhumanity. In it an early and illustrious expatriate of National Socialism presents to the world, by the method of crucial instances, the case of his fellow expatriates of the years 1933-1938 — the Germans who, in their thousands and tens of thousands, were stripped of rights, resources, and citizenship and thrust across the nearest frontier with no future but to eke out a living death by the arts of the beggar and the petty criminal, to collect vermin in the jails of one illegally entered country after another, to starve, or to kill themselves. They are all here, from the university professor and the lawyer driven out because they are Jews to the Nordic refugee from a concentration camp; from the wife who dies in childbirth among strangers to the political idealist who bargains shrewdly for a forged passport with the proceeds of tricks learned from a card sharp. The minor characters are portrayed with the distinctness and also the vivacity of Dickens, the major ones with the terrible intensity of Dostoevski. Singly, their stories scald the heart; together and cumulatively, they steel it anew against the monstrous concepts of racialism and nationalism that can maintain themselves only by the mass infliction of cruelties and horrors. It is to the solidarity of implacably steeled hearts that, in the end, Hitlerism will have to answer. Such a book as Flotsam can but speed the day of reckoning. In its pages all the disinterested compassion in the world is manufactured into a high explosive. W. F.