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This review is taken from PN Review 59, Volume 14 Number 3, January - February 1988.

THE OFFSPRING OF WAR Gert Hofmann, Our Conquest, translated by Christopher Middleton (Carcanet) £9.95

For non-combatants, war in the active sense only begins when the generals have signed their articles of surrender. As silence falls above, the Imbach children emerge from their wartime cellar to begin the conquest of a post-war world. Christopher Middleton's translation - brilliant throughout -retains the ambiguities of Gert Hofmann's title. The town has only been liberated in the loosest possible sense (as Vietnamese villages were once delivered up to the democracy of charcoal and the freedom of ash). Its conquerors - be they Russian or American - are never seen; their 'Occupation' is a kind of absence.

Possession is nine-tenths of the law of war and this was a war that began in certain confusion about possession: 'our Sudetens', 'our Rhineland', 'our Polish Corridor'. The children, with a missing father and a suffering mother, are very literally the war's offspring, delivered up out of their cellar at the climax of the pangs. Their primal instinct is conquest. To begin with, they take hold of the world verbally. With them is 'our Edgar', orphaned in the bombing and become a kind of elective brother.

Hofmann smuggles in his history and polemic; with the chief exception of 'Adolf-Hitler-Strasse', there are few overt references to the historical war. Our Conquest works at a lower and more subtle threshold of meaning, allegorical, archetypal and psychological.

We're never permitted to know how many Imbach children 'we' and 'are' is supposed to represent. Singular and plural exist in ...

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