I encountered one masterpiece this year—Walter Kempowski’s epic novel All for Nothing. . . . What an amazing book this is: it was excitedly put into my hands by a writer friend, and I’ve been handing it on, in turn, to anyone who’ll listen to me. . . . What’s remarkable is that Kempowski recounts this grave story almost in a spirit of lightness, with a slightly ironic distance and a quiet, steady humor . . . the result is a book at once searing and utterly unsentimental, a historical epic that doesn’t attempt to hide the fact that it is being written in the twenty-first century, decades after the events.
—James Wood, The New Yorker
A crystalline translation by Anthea Bell . . . All for Nothing isn’t easily appropriated by any ideology. Kempowski’s sympathy for the suffering of his characters and his acknowledgment of the attendant destruction of their civilization are diffused by a fine-grained ambivalence. . . . As a literary response to a long-buried collective trauma, All for Nothing is well worth reading.
—Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim, The New York Times
All for Nothing is a beautiful, forgiving and compassionate book that looks beyond the futile divisions people make between themselves. It reaches its last devastating line with poetic sensibility and the grace of a classical tragedy, confirming Kempowski as a truly great writer.
—Carol Birch, The Guardian
Beneath its apparently affectless façade, All for Nothing seethes with human drama, contradiction and complexity. No one is blameless; no one wholly unsympathetic. The result is an astonishing literary achievement.
—Toby Lichtig, The Telegraph
Kempowski’s novel represents one of the culminating achievements of that postwar German self-reckoning, that political and literary renegotiation of the past that has produced important work by Heinrich Böll, Günter Grass, W. G. Sebald, and, lately, Erpenbeck herself. We know that such reckoning required a delicate calculus, “beyond all political affiliation.” Sebald, in the lectures on the Allied bombing of German cities that he delivered in 1997 (later published under the title “On the Natural History of Destruction”), argued that the “national humiliation felt by millions in the last years of the war” was the reason that “no one, to the present day, has written the great German epic of the wartime and postwar periods.” A little less than a decade later, but too late for poor Sebald, Walter Kempowski beautifully proved him wrong.
—James Wood, The New Yorker
Memorable and monumental: a book to read alongside rival and compatriot Günter Grass’s Tin Drum as a portrait of decline and fall.
—Kirkus Reviews, starred review
Kempowski’s idiosyncratic genius lies in his ability to weave this accumulation of human fallibility into something greater. His perspective on a grim slice of history steadily broadens out to become visionary, lending his novel the irresistible pull of great tragedy.
Far more than a great German novel; Kempowski’s late masterwork is a universal tract which suggests that history can only present the facts; it is crafted stories such as this which enable us to grasp a sense of the vicious reality of war.
—Eileen Battersby, The Irish Times