Project Complete: The Essential Heinrich Böll
by Paul Oliver
There was an interesting story published a couple of days back in the the Sydney Morning Herald concerning a traveling art exhibit titled Handwritten. At the exhibit sheets from Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 5 in C Minor” are displayed alongside a battlefield letter by Napoleon Bonaparte. Hand-wrought illuminated bibles are on display, as are the scribblings of Michelangelo, Renes Descartes, Galileo Galilei, Dante Alighieri, and many others. It sounds like a remarkable collection of ephemera.
Despite all the famous pens that are on display, the reporter takes pause to report at length about a letter from one writer in particular:
One of the most remarkable items is a letter written by German author Heinrich Böll, who died in 1985. The letter is interesting but the story of its survival is more so. Part of a huge archive of Boll’s drafts, letters and unpublished works, it was deposited at Cologne’s Historical Archive in 2009 only weeks before a disaster. Set up in the Middle Ages, the archive (and the Boll collection) collapsed into an underground railway tunnel. Staff escaped with minutes to spare but the contents were left behind.
”Many great pieces of archive from the past 800 years were destroyed or severely damaged,” Williams says. ”Boll’s archives had to be frozen for conservation so that progressively they can try and defrost, conserve and retrieve what they can. It’s hard to believe that here are the Boll archives that lived through the Second World War, the Cold War, the reunification of Germany and then terminating in this messy, muddy hole in the ground.”
One year ago we launched a massive campaign to bring back into print the definitive works of the Nobel Prize-winning author. Eight books, including the just-released, definitive single-volume edition of the laureate’s short stories published in English. The act of bringing a writer of Böll’s stature back to the foreground is something truly satisfying. When you read these novels, stories and memoirs you are struck with a profound sense of just how powerful, and exciting, a writer Heinrich Böll was.
In his writing’s you can easily see the breadth of human life during what is possibly its darkest century. The simple joys of a good carousal. The anguish of unrequited love. The pervading stench of fear, and the insanity it engenders. That’s also what struck the SMT reporter. Böll, perhaps more than even Galileo or Napoleon, lived in a time where humanity was proven nearly as ephemeral as a letter left to molder amongst the ruins.
So here it is. One year later. All eight-volumes of Melville House’s The Essential Heinrich Böll. Let’s keep it around this time.
Paul Oliver is the marketing manager of Melville House. Previously he was co-owner of Wolfgang Books in Philadelphia.