The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum

This book, by Heinrich Boll, was a quick read (103 pages) but left me feeling kind of strange.

It opens with Katharina Blum turning herself in for the murder of a reporter. Then it backtracks to tell the events that led up to that murder. Katharina, a timid housekeeper, met a man at a party and had him spend the night at her apartment. The next morning, she was arrested. It turns out the man she danced with all night was a wanted robber and criminal, and she is now under investigation for helping him escape.

From there, the book launches into full description of the police investigation. It gives the point-of-view of the family Katharina worked for, some of her friends’ opinions, and shows how the media twisted all these interviews to incriminate Katharina in the News, the local paper that everyone reads. We get a pretty clear picture of who Katharina is and that it’s ridiculous that she knowingly helped a criminal escape from the police. The investigation seems to be clearing up when Katharina’s mom, who just underwent major surgery for cancer, died the day after a visit from the reporter, who snuck into her room to get a quote. This seems to be Katharina’s breaking point, and she very calmly invites him over for an exclusive interview and shoots him. The book returns to the scene of Katharina turning herself in for murder but then goes a little beyond, stating that she and the man she ‘helped’ will be getting out of prison at the same time and can start a life together (apparently they found true love in each other that one night). It also tells a little about how the lives of others involved (like the family she worked for) fell apart after this investigation.

The structure of the book is interesting. There are a bunch of short chapters that give small pictures of the investigation. The story is told journalistic-style, which reminded me a little of In Cold Blood, although without Capote’s imaginative descriptions. The book gave an interesting perspective on how the media can ruin a person’s life, but for me it was altogether too short and too choppy. This book is for my Lit & Film class, so we’ll be watching the movie soon, and I really wonder how they’ll tell the backstory of Katharina that, in the book, was a few short paragraphs as she explained her life to the police. This isn’t a story I would have picked up and read on my own, but I would recommend it to people who like ‘real-life’ fiction and stories about police investigations.

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