Book Review: Sven Hassel ~ The Legion of the Dead (Translator: Maurice Michael) (1957)

Erich Maria Remarque’s All Quiet On The Western Front (1929)was the greatest anti-war book to emerge from the trenches of the first world war. Hassel’s book is in the same class.* It’s compelling style is deeply suggestive of fictionalised autobiography, just like Remarque’s. Hassel appears to be a very talented chancer who exploited the immediate post-war period by talking to Danish ex-Nazis who ‘d served on the Eastern Front. He then synthesised the stories into fourteen novels using historic incidents as a framework.

Even worse Hassel is possibly not only an exploitative author but also a criminal. There’s a suggestion that he was a traitor working for the Gestapo. This caused huge controversy in Denmark and all of his books were removed from Danish libraries even though he’s their best selling author. However, if you like a blood and guts war novel with lots of action then this is a must-read

So what if its a deceptive work of fiction. That’s what fiction actually means, ‘made up’. As a work of fiction does it matter that he adopts an autobiographical style? The genius of the writing and its intense plausibility demands respect. Ignore the fact that he’s a sleazy flawed author** and read a wonderful book.

* https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sven_Hassel see especially ‘Controversy’

** There’s even a suggestion that his wife wrote the 14 books in the series.

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