Book Review: H H Kirst The Revolt of Gunner Asch (Translator: Robert Kee) (1955)

Kirst is best known for Night of the Generals, which became a terrific film (1967) starring Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif. Kirst can be counted as an unlucky German. He was born in 1914 and was 19 when Hitler took power being 31 in 1945. The best years of his life were lost to the insanity that was Hitler’s Germany.

Before his masterpiece Kirst was already famous. His Gunner Asch series portrays an ordinary soldier trying to hang on to something remotely like decency. It portrays Prussian parade ground training for mindless obedience. Sadistic NCOs deliberately driving men to the point of suicide in their attempt to create soldiers who’d do literally anything provided it was supported by an order.

Gunner Asch’s Revolt has him transformed into a barrack room lawyer undermining the NCOs with a fervent knowledge of regulations: the Bible of the Wehrmacht, It’s a satire. Some of it is sledgehammer obvious but it’s a good read edging towards being a period piece. It should be remembered that in 1945 there were eight million Nazis in Germany many of whom were still alive in 1955. In that sense it was astonishing that Kirst was widely praised for his books.

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