Without even considering the contents of the book itself, Blood Brothers is a novel with a backstory intriguing enough to pique the interest of anybody with even the slightest concern for literature or history. Banned by the Nazis a year after its publication in 1932, this unflinching tale of Berlin in the days just before Hitler’s reign becomes even more fascinating when you learn that its author, Ernst Haffner, disappeared in mysterious circumstances during the Second World War. This remains his only known piece of work. But what of the work itself? Does it live up to its backstory, or is it overshadowed by it?
In fact, Blood Brothers is more than good enough to warrant a reading on its own merits. A stark style reminiscent of Hemingway is a perfect backdrop to a story of the eponymous gang of the novel’s title, a barely organised bunch of Berlin youths who scrape a survival by picking pockets and stealing cars. The novel focuses, in particular, on a pair of gang members who join when they find that no other way of living is available to them, only to try and leave when the crimes begin to weigh too heavily on their minds.
Throughout the novel, the characters are brought to life so convincingly that you can almost feel yourself sitting beside them on the cold German streets. Haffner’s writing is so evocative, so raw, that you feel an affinity which each and every person as they struggle and strive just to find a place to eat and sleep. That this what written by someone who experienced the Nazi’s rise to power lends it an extra gravitas, as you can’t help but think of what was to come for its characters in just a few years’ time.
Any Cop?: With or without the dramatic circumstances that surround the book, this would be a good read. With those elements added, though, it becomes not only a good read, but an important piece of literature. We might never know what happened to Haffner, but thanks to him we know a little bit more about a period of our history that should never be forgotten.