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Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Book review The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum by Heinrich Böll

For at least two years, Heinrich Bölls (who was awarded the nobel prize in literature in 1972) The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum was waiting on my to-read bookshelf. As far as I remember, I bought it due to a recommendation on Thomas Strobls However, as he winded down his page by September, I cannot find the exact source anymore.

Anyways, I guess you know the drill ... last week, I accidentally ran into this book again (actually not exactly the one referenced above, but the German original version) and read it within two days.

In one sentence, the book shows and criticizes the ubiquitous presence of media, and which consequences this might have on individuals who involuntarily become famous from one day to the other.

The short description given on is as follows:
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.

From my point of view, the bottom line of the book is to highlight the potentially destructive power of media. In that context, also the subtitle of the book is worth mentioning: "How Violence Develops and Where It Can Lead". Apparently, that was also explicitly intended by the author, as explained in the afterword, added in 1984, ten years after the initial publication of the book.

Even though the newspaper mainly focused on during the book is called "ZEITUNG" (newspaper), already in the foreword the author notes that "all connections which can be made from the ZEITUNG to the BILD are not intended, but in this context simply unavoidable". (Bild is Germany's biggest daily newspaper. Just visit and draw your own conclusions.) Consequently, the entire book can be understood as as criticism on journalism as it is done by BILD and the likes.

Take my words on that with a grain of salt, and keep in mind that I'm quite skeptic towards media in general. Since roughly a year, I try to avoid it altogether.

Yet, even if you believe that you gain something through following news, thinking about the persons that are victims of sensationalism cannot harm. If you are open on that topic, The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum reads fairly easy and definitely has a few interesting thoughts.

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