Heinrich B ll s taut and haunting first novel tells the story of twenty four year old Private Andreas as he journeys on a troop train across the German countryside to the Eastern front Trapped, he knows that Hitler has already lost the war yet he is suddenly galvanized by the thought that he is on the way to his deathAs the train hurtles on, he riffs through prayers and memories, talks with other soldiers about what they ve been through, and gazes desperately out the window at his country racing away With mounting suspense, Andreas is gripped by one thought over all Is there a way to defy his fate


10 thoughts on “The Train Was on Time

  1. BlackOxford BlackOxford says:

    Deathly IroniesImpending death certainly concentrates the mind In 1943 a German soldier returning to his unit on the collapsing Eastern front, has good reason to anticipate death His thoughts are not about the past or of loved ones or a life he has left Rather, he thinks about his war experiences and the present as it streaks by outside his railway carriage He believes that what he sees and smells is the last time he will see and smell these things the cities, the girl volunteers serving c Deathly IroniesImpending death certainly concentrates the mind In 1943 a German soldier returning to his unit on the collapsing Eastern front, has good reason to anticipate death His thoughts are not about the past or of loved ones or a life he has left Rather, he thinks about his war experiences and the present as it streaks by outside his railway carriage He believes that what he sees and smells is the last time he will see and smell these things the cities, the girl volunteers serving coffee at the stations, the autumnal German sky, the trees, the air of the countryside The soldier knows his destination is in Poland, a place called Przemysl, and then onward past Lviv in a heavily Polish part of the Ukraine This is the area of the former Austrian Hungarian province of Galicia which bordered the 19th century Jewish Pale of the Russian Empire About 10% of Galicia, 1 million people, was Jewish in 1940 By 1943 almost all had been murdered, many by the Einsatzgruppen, and others were victims of the death camp at Janowska which had been established in 1941 by the SS in a northeastern suburb of Lviv.What the soldier does not know, and the reader is not informed about directly, is that the railway journey that he is on is, although in relatively muchcomfortable conditions, exactly the same as that for the millions of Jews who had already been deported from Germany and the rest of Nazi occupied Europe on their way to Janowska and the other camps in Eastern Poland and Western Ukraine He, like those Jews, is being sent to his death The principal difference is that he is aware of his likely fate the Jews were not.Boll s intentional irony is signalled, I think, very early on when he notes thatNow and again what appears to be a casually spoken word will suddenly acquire a cabalistic significanceThe soldier becomes obsessive about the word soon in relation to his death, and conducts a sort of existential analysis to determine when and where soon could be Consulting a map given him by a fellow soldier, he intuitively estimates that his death will occur in about four days time just past Lviv, that is, in the region of the Janowska camp.The soldier is a Catholic He finds himself praying Remarkablyhe said a special prayer for the Jews of Cernauti and for the Jews of Lvov, and no doubt there were Jews in Stanislav too, and in KolomyyaAnd, although he has several opportunities to desert, he stays on the train Whatever his country has become, it is no longer hisI don t want to go back, I never want to go backhe says.After a sumptuous last meal and other after dinner entertainments in an up market brothel in Lviv, the soldier s intuition becomes evenprecise about his deathJust this side of Stryy I shall diehe says to a Polish prostitute who is also a partisan spy Stryy had been a largely Jewish city an hour s train journey from Lviv Certainly the Jews had been eliminated from the place by 1943, and he includes them in his prayers as well He is meant to board the train, which will undoubtedly be running on time with German efficiency, early in the morning.The soldier does not make the train to Stryy It leaves without him


  2. Ahmad Sharabiani Ahmad Sharabiani says:

    Der zug war punktlich The Train Was on Time, Heinrich B llThe Train Was on Time German Der Zug war p nktlich is the first published novel by German author Heinrich B ll It dates from 1949 The book centres on the story of a German soldier, Andreas, taking a train from Paris France to Przemy l Poland The story focuses on the experience of German soldiers during the Second World War on the Eastern Front where fighting was particularly vicious and unforgiving B ll had earlier explored Der zug war punktlich The Train Was on Time, Heinrich B llThe Train Was on Time German Der Zug war p nktlich is the first published novel by German author Heinrich B ll It dates from 1949 The book centres on the story of a German soldier, Andreas, taking a train from Paris France to Przemy l Poland The story focuses on the experience of German soldiers during the Second World War on the Eastern Front where fighting was particularly vicious and unforgiving B ll had earlier explored the same experience in A Soldier s Legacy which was written in 1948 but published later On his way to the war front, he meets two other Germans with whom he starts a dialogue and a short term friendship he also meets Olina, a Polish prostitute, who has been working for the anti fascist partisans but who has become disillusioned with such activity, seeing it as begetting yet further cycles of violence and aggression rather than leading to a proper way out of the bellicosity of the situation During their trip we learn much about horrors soldiers endure in the war, and the effect it leaves on a person Andreas has a particularly passive some might say stoic attitude to his involvement in the conflict, and the inevitability of death and the question of fate hangs over the narrative in a tragic fashion It is arguable that the only real choices in the novel, presented in its opening gambits, involve the place and manner of Andreas s death in the war, rather than the possibility of its evasion This tragic fate seems to be circumvented to some extent when Andreas meets Olina and they plan an escape to the Carpathian mountains, but the eventual fate cannot it appears be overlooked In this sense, connections can be made between the work and the structure of ancient Greek tragedies such as the story of Oedipus 1994 1372 165 9646194672 20


  3. Ray Ray says:

    This is a re read of a book I first read 30 years ago.It is 1943 The war is lost but Germany fights on A soldier travels to the Eastern Front, knowing somehow that he travels to his death This is not the painful realisation that he is unlikely to survive, but a knowledge of the exact time and place of his demise He is resigned to his fate and in a strange way almost welcomes it.A study of the futility of war and the way that soldiers cope, written by a man that had experienced what he has de This is a re read of a book I first read 30 years ago.It is 1943 The war is lost but Germany fights on A soldier travels to the Eastern Front, knowing somehow that he travels to his death This is not the painful realisation that he is unlikely to survive, but a knowledge of the exact time and place of his demise He is resigned to his fate and in a strange way almost welcomes it.A study of the futility of war and the way that soldiers cope, written by a man that had experienced what he has described The ennui of an endless journey into danger in aid of a lost cause, punctuated by bouts of drinking, sleeping, whoring and interminable card games I found this a powerful and moving book Odd in a sense in that we know the ending very early on Worth a read


  4. Hugh Hugh says:

    Having now read all of the Booker longlisted books I can get my hands on, I am back to reading some that have been patiently sitting on the to read shelf for a few months B ll has been a writer I felt I should have read for a while, and this early novella was my first experience.The whole book is a test of the premise what if I knew exactly when I was going to die The book is mostly set on a German troop train in 1943, which is travelling from the Rheinland towards the front in eastern Polan Having now read all of the Booker longlisted books I can get my hands on, I am back to reading some that have been patiently sitting on the to read shelf for a few months B ll has been a writer I felt I should have read for a while, and this early novella was my first experience.The whole book is a test of the premise what if I knew exactly when I was going to die The book is mostly set on a German troop train in 1943, which is travelling from the Rheinland towards the front in eastern Poland over a few days The narrator Andreas has a premonition, which he believes unshakably, that he will die somewhere between two Polish villages, at a time nothan four days away, and the book follows his thoughts and actions over those four days He spends most of the journey in the company of two other soldiers, one of whom is determined to throw his money away after his wife has left him, mostly on food, alcohol and women.The journey involves two changes of train in Poland, allowing the last night to be spent in the Galician capital Lvov, view spoiler where his last night is spent with a former aspiring musician who is working as a prostitute, and where, on the last page, the premonition appears to be realised hide spoiler.The whole vision is a rather impressive but bleak one, and I will definitely consider reading


  5. [P] [P] says:

    I have spent much of my life, from around ten or eleven years old, looking for the answer, for something that would provide relief and allow me to, not exactly reconcile myself with The Fear, but at least be able to cope with those times when it sits on my chest and holds me down and pummels me in the face Which is most days really For years my relationship with The Fear which for other people may mean a number of things but which for me is a fear of dying has involved extreme panic attack I have spent much of my life, from around ten or eleven years old, looking for the answer, for something that would provide relief and allow me to, not exactly reconcile myself with The Fear, but at least be able to cope with those times when it sits on my chest and holds me down and pummels me in the face Which is most days really For years my relationship with The Fear which for other people may mean a number of things but which for me is a fear of dying has involved extreme panic attacks During these attacks, which I would describe as being motivated by The Genuine Belief That One Day I Will Definitely Die, I will howl inhumanly, and tear at my hair, literally grab great chunks of hair and yank at them like an overzealous, inexperienced fisherman yanks at his rod when he sees his float disappear under the surface of the pond s water And I will scream, actually scream into the palms of my hands, and writhe and kick and squirm When The Fear really takes hold, when I truly believed that at some point I am going to cease to exist because it is a different thing to say it or know it than it is to truly believe it it is like my head, my body, my Self, is going to suffer a kind of irrevocable breakdown, a Twin Towers like collapse, and the writhing, the screaming, the kicking, etc is a sort of existential battle for survival, is my Self trading blows with The Fear If anyone was ever to see me in this state, which they wouldn t of course because The Fear is a canny bastard who will only ever step to a guy when he is at his most alone and vulnerable, they d think, understandably, that I was possessed.All of which should go some way to explaining why Heinrich B ll s The Train Was on Time, which is, on the most basic level, the story of a young man who is absolutely certain that the train he is on is taking him to his death, has been an uncomfortable, and yet at times strangely comforting, reading experience for me The novel is set in 1943, and features a German infantryman, Andreas, who is bound for the Eastern front specifically Poland In these circumstances, having a premonition of one s death is not exactly a flight of fancy Indeed, Andreas had already come close to the ultimate departure once before, in Amiens, France Unfortunately for him, the situation, for the Germans, has significantly worsened since then, so that losing the war seems likely One must bear in mind that one s chances of survival when on the winning side are, at best, in the balance, but when on the losing side Well German soldiers during WW2, waiting to board a train To be a soldier during wartime is to be in an extraordinary predicament, because, regardless of how that war is justified, whether it be in the name of freedom or democracy or whatever, for the people who are actively involved in it, it is literally a fight for life, a battle to stay alive it is a state of affairs whereby death isn t simply keeping an eye on you, it is aggressively stalking your heels To spend weeks, months, years in such a situation must be horribly taxing Therefore, it is no surprise that soldiers are often mentally damaged by the experience and there is certainly evidence of that where Andreas is concerned He is obsessively focussed on certain incidents, replaying them in his mind he worries that he isn t praying enough, and when he does pray it is often for the Jews he frequently wants to cry but cannot and, as already noted, he is convinced that his death is coming, yet not at some unspecified point in time, but on a specific day, in a specific place He could no longer say, no longer even think I don t want to die As often as he tried to form the sentence he thought I m going to die soon For me, B ll handles all this with great sensitivity, intelligence and skill On the surface, the book is written in the third person, but large parts of it are actually given over to Andreas internal monologues In the beginning, he is terribly afraid, he panics it is an animal reaction, a feeling that goes beyond reason He is tormented by the word soon Soon Soon Soon Soon What a terrible word, he thinks to himself When is soon Soon is uncertain, it is imprecise, it is a black hole, a nothing Like death itself And so, almost in order to comfort himself, to be able to get a handle on death, to make it concrete, to give himself something to hold onto, he convinces himself that his death will take place on a Sunday, between Lvov and Cernauti He makes the uncertain certain There is something, I think, in the unknown, in nothingness, that we simply cannot bear, because, I guess, we cannot comprehend it I have been spending time with terminally ill people recently, and there is, in my limited experience, a kind of calmness that descends when death stops being this thing that might grab you unawares, and instead comes to sit beside you.Once death is certain, and no longer soon, Andreas panic subsides somewhat which is not, by the way, the same as saying that he becomes entirely reconciled to the fate that he believes is his and he becomes wistful and melancholy, thinking about the places he has been unable to visit, about how he will never again see the girl who serves him coffee In this way, The Train Was on Time, as with all worthwhile literature, is universal, because we all experience the transitory nature of existence, even if we do not always link that experience to death Whenever I am on a train I will spend some time looking out of the window, and I am always struck by a painful feeling, an understanding that I will never again see what I am seeing, that even if I take the same train, at the same time, travelling the same route, the sights will not be exactly the same No single second of your life can ever be repeated to all intents and purposes, you die thousands of times a day That s something no one would ever be able to understand, why I don t take the next train back to her why don t I No one would ever be able to understand that But I m scared of that innocence and I love her very much, and I m going to die, and all she ll ever get from me now will be an official letter saying Fallen for Greater Germany For a novel so preoccupied with death it is not surprising that there is a sense of wanting to escape running through it In addition to Andreas, there are two other major characters, Willi and a blonde officer The three men come together when Andreas is asked if he wants to play a game of cards Of course, for the young infantryman the game, and the company, is not about avoiding boredom, as it might be for us, but about keeping busy, taking his minds off things, off, specifically, the fact that he is likely hurtling towards his final resting place However, death itself is also a kind of escape, or it could be viewed in that way, especially if one s life is intolerable In the case of Willi and the blonde officer, they could be said to be running towards war, towards death, rather than away from it, as one struggles with the break up of his marriage and the other with having once been sexually abused In fact, Willi drinks large quantities of alcohol, which, of course, also provides an escape from reality, albeit only in the short term.In conclusion, I seem to recall the translator and critic Michael Hofmann once writing disparagingly of Heinrich B ll, and I seldom see his work B ll s in lists of great German novels On this basis, he probably qualifies as underrated I do not think he ever hit the heights of someone like, say, Thomas Mann or the Austrian Robert Musil, but I have yet to be disappointed with any of his books However, I ought to point out that, in the early stages, the transitions between third person narrative and the internal monologue are a little clunky to say the least, and that I wasn t won over by the opening scene in which Andreas speaks to a clergyman on the platform about his desire to avoid death, but these are minor quibbles overall The Train Was on Time, which was B ll s first published work, written when in his early thirties, is fascinating, and often beautiful and moving Indeed, there is a passage about how the searchlights in the night air resemble fingers seeking out someone that will stay with me for a long time


  6. Ben Loory Ben Loory says:

    my first heinrich boll good stuff reminded me some of anna kavan s Ice, though muchrealistic also it was strange that i read it after


  7. Cooper Cooper Cooper Cooper says:

    This is the first novel, written in 1947, by Nobelist Heinrich B ll, who had served in the German army for six years during WWII The story takes place in 1944 during the five day train ride of a young soldier from leave in Germany to the Russian front and certain death The trip is spent inside the protagonist s mind as he tries to figure out exactly where and when he will be killed, and as he flashes back on his brief life, especially on his one love a pair of beautiful eyes the Eyes he This is the first novel, written in 1947, by Nobelist Heinrich B ll, who had served in the German army for six years during WWII The story takes place in 1944 during the five day train ride of a young soldier from leave in Germany to the Russian front and certain death The trip is spent inside the protagonist s mind as he tries to figure out exactly where and when he will be killed, and as he flashes back on his brief life, especially on his one love a pair of beautiful eyes the Eyes he glimpsed in France just before he was wounded for the first time and which have haunted him ever since His ruminations and rollercoaster emotions interplay with the sights and sounds and smells of the troop train, and with his relationship with two train met companions, fellow soldiers who also know they are doomed Finally he figures out that he will be killed early Sunday morning in Poland between Lvov and Cherovtsky He is right but it happens in a somewhat improbable way This is a horrors of war book, in which a young man with artistic aspirations he wanted to be a pianist who knows that Hitler is a madman and the war is lost, is drawn inexorably and sometimes even passionately to a meaningless death It is a good but gloomy read Samples of the writing Our eyes met and mingled for a tenth of a second, perhaps it was even less than that, and I can t forget her eyes For three and a half years I could not help thinking of her and I ve not been able to forget her Only a tenth of a second or less and I don t know her name or anything else about her All I know is her eyes, her soft, sad eyes, the color of sand after rain Unhappy eyes, with much of animal and everything of woman in them Eyes that I have never, never forgotten, not for a single day in three and a half years Life is good, he thought At least it was good Twelve hours before I die I realize that life is good That is too late I have been ungrateful to Providence I have denied the existence of human happiness And now I know that life was good I have suffered every second I have worn this ghastly uniform They have destroyed me with their deadly army chatter and they have made me literally shed my blood on their battlefields And I ve seen nothing but filth and blood and excrement and smelled nothing but dirt, and heard nothing but groans of misery and bawdy talk Only for a fraction of a second have I known real human love, the love of man and woman, which must be something beautiful only for a tenth of a second And now twelve hours, or eleven hours, before I die, I have to realize that life is good


  8. Dannii Elle Dannii Elle says:

    Actual rating 2.5 5 stars.Before picking this book up I had never heard of Heinrich Boll before Upon reading the introduction I discovered that he was an extraordinary man who also won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970 He lived through the turbulence of WWII, losing one child during it, and originally refused to join the Hitler Youth He was later conscripted to the infantry before deserting after receiving four bullet wounds Many aspects of this book, especially the thoughts and actions Actual rating 2.5 5 stars.Before picking this book up I had never heard of Heinrich Boll before Upon reading the introduction I discovered that he was an extraordinary man who also won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970 He lived through the turbulence of WWII, losing one child during it, and originally refused to join the Hitler Youth He was later conscripted to the infantry before deserting after receiving four bullet wounds Many aspects of this book, especially the thoughts and actions of young soldiers during wartime, could conceivably be autobiographical.Almost the entire narrative takes place inside the mind of protagonist, twenty four year old German solider Andreas He confronts the probable imminence of his own death as he travels, largely via troop train, to the Eastern front The word soon reverberates throughout the entire length of the novella and tinges every actions with the certainty of the future, or lack of it, that he faces.I begun this poignant short story absolutely enraptured Boll s creation provides the reader with the human face of war Andreas stands for all soldiers, who are forced to fight for the glory of death and of serving the Fuhrer, yet are guiltily stricken by the thoughts of their imminent demise.Despite worshipful of the premise, enjoying the narrative style, and acknowledging the importance of a story such as this, I failed to continue on with my early adoration Thoughts and motions were very repetitive, which I believe may have been a deliberate decision, but it failed to continue to incite my interest For me, this would have been a stellar read, if only made at half the length


  9. Lede Lede says:

    Andreas is a 24 year old German soldier in WW2, he has been in the army for four years, it s the end of the war now He is on a train that is taking him and his fellow soldiers to what is a sure death.Andreas hasn t been kissed, he hasn t had sex, he has never been in love except perhaps for a strangers dark eyes something that could be an obsession or love, he and we will never know.During the train ride we experience his mental and emotional disintegration, you could say it s an accelerated p Andreas is a 24 year old German soldier in WW2, he has been in the army for four years, it s the end of the war now He is on a train that is taking him and his fellow soldiers to what is a sure death.Andreas hasn t been kissed, he hasn t had sex, he has never been in love except perhaps for a strangers dark eyes something that could be an obsession or love, he and we will never know.During the train ride we experience his mental and emotional disintegration, you could say it s an accelerated preparation for death.The elderly in some cultures remove themselves from the rest of society to cleanse their souls and slowly let go of all earthly ties the good stuff like greed, hate, love etc No such luck for Andreas.He goes through a rapid input of life experienced and an equally rapid output of what was and was not learnt appreciated A slow, horrible, my life flashed before my eyes , train ride And yesthe bloody train was on time


  10. Holly Holly says:

    I m not sure how I could have written the below review I forgot entirely that I d ever read this book, and I think how blind you wereI see you recognized the ugly black thread, but you missed everything else Boll s novella is a haunting assemblage of something that appears to be that end of life flashback playing on a dream reel, superimposed with the word Stryy It is time in the context of the last moment it is the last moment stamped on all the minutes of his life It is life without I m not sure how I could have written the below review I forgot entirely that I d ever read this book, and I think how blind you wereI see you recognized the ugly black thread, but you missed everything else Boll s novella is a haunting assemblage of something that appears to be that end of life flashback playing on a dream reel, superimposed with the word Stryy It is time in the context of the last moment it is the last moment stamped on all the minutes of his life It is life without the constraint of time life as only God must know it, or perhaps we, at that last moment, when we bridge life and death at once.This book reminded me, as I ve long suspected, that we don t own our lives life owns our lives and we are left, just like Andreas, realizing inevitably that we have wasted it all when the end is staring us in the face How strange the moments are when Andreas gazes into the eyes of fellow men knowing he already dead The Train is On Time He follows its course with a map, like we all do, looking ahead In this case, this man made idea of punctuality allows him to pinpoint the place, Stryy Stryy , this name is peppered throughout the novella in a way that makes me think that at the moment the conductor replies that they are headed to Stryy, Andreas superimposes the word onto his memory perhaps and re lives moments with this knowledge that the end in fact had always been there, even at the beginning.This novella asks an important question The most important question I think what is the meaning of life Yes, that question that swoops down to ask all of us at one time or another Some of usresponsive than others perhaps Andreas only realizes it once his life is reduced to hours The train is on time The train is always on time There is no averting this though Andreas does not meet the end as he expects, or even as we would expect There is always an end and we live as if we own our futures Even now As I write this review to the invisible ear, to myselfthan to any one probably Yet it reflects how troubling it is to move in the world relatively aware that my own train moves along its tracks and I reassure myself with maps and plans.I m troubled by the fact that I had to live this long to understand this book although that is not to say I wasn t formerly amazed by its power How strange, life.This book has forced me to ask myself a question, and while waiting at the local Jiffy Lube for an oil change on my car, gazing out the window at the rain on the city, drops haphazardly sliding down the window thinking only of Andreas and Boll and life I had to attach some definition to this disturbing question of life s meaning and the inevitability of its end I think my answer is certainly informed by my own long interest in truth and God to be of courage, to suffer well, to love those who cross my path, and to make even small decisions that will show that I respect all forms of life, and above all, the miracle of every second of my own This I think would create a collection of moments I would not be afraid to own following is a review I wrote a few years ago Happiness washes away many things, just as suffering washes away many things A line from the novel I suspect I will not shake for a long time Like a terrible confessiona bit desperate and despairing Poignant and disturbing streamofconcious that allows the reader to inhabit the mind of Andreas while he processes his experience s One gets the impression that Boll no umlaut capability deflects some of his own experience onto his descriptively named characters, or that he develops in one character another figure he observed but never knew It seems he does this to prevent the novel from being to autobiographical, allowing him to shine light on some occurrence without the vulnerability of being too exposed to the gaping readeror allowing the situation a degree of objectivity for both us and Boll One also recognizes the particular moments that haunt him as they emerge again and again as if they belong to memory that cannot be processed The collective impression of this unusual novel is that it displays unusual juxtaposition like an ugly black thread burrowing and winding through an otherwise beautiful and balanced compositionlike vandalism, the way one feels that ones life is hijacked and mutilated in some way that is beyond control This however is the point of a book like this that refuses to hide the nightmare in the closet.Delicate and brutal