Book Review: Sven Hassel ~ The Commissar (Translator Tim Bowie)

Sven Hassell is very controversial in Denmark where his ‘fact based semi-autobiographical’ novels have been scrutinised and found to be (astonishingly!) fiction. The style Hassel writes in does lead the reader to believe that there is an underlying truth hard at work. Apparently Hassel was little more than a criminal chancer in the war but mingled with Danish SS soldiers immediately post-war garnering stories and colour. This problem illustrates the brilliance of Hassel’s novels. They appear true because of the vivid authenticity of the writing

Hassel’s stories are fiercely located in a Nazi Panzer unit. He has an enduring list of characters all of whom are well drawn and complementary. A Nazi fanatic in the same crew as a Hamburg gutter rat Tiny and Albert, a black German driver. They loot, use Soviet Kalaskinov’s in preference to German guns, commit war crimes and crimes against humanity without a second thought. They routinely denounce Hitler, disobey officers and are perpetually drunk. They’re lousy, have only filthy rags for clothes and are Darwinian man personified.

Chapter one Panzer Attack is 50+ pages of stunning writing about the actuality of warfare. It’s required reading for any war crazed politican (are listening Tony Blair et al?) and chapter four is a superb satire on the pomposity of the Nazi regime. Unrelentingly non-politically correct language pours over the reader and numbs liberal sensibility with sheer thrilling writing in this war novel.

Why you should read this novel: It’s a vivid and brilliant page turner

Why you shouldn’t read this novel: In many ways it’s hateful apparently glorying in carnage.

Buy it at


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