The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum, Heinrich Boll


What’s it about?

Four days after a Weiberfastnacht’s eve party (Wed. 20 February 1974), where Katharina Blum met a man named Ludwig Götten, she calls on Oberkommissar Moeding and confesses to killing a journalist for the newspaper Die Zeitung.

Katharina had met Götten at a friend’s party and spent the night with him before helping him to escape from the police. The next morning, the police break into her house, arrest her and question her. The story is sensationally covered by Die Zeitung, and in particular its journalist Tötges. Tötges investigates everything about her life, calling on Katharina’s friends and family, including her ex-husband and hospitalized mother, who dies the day after Tötges visits her. He paints a picture of Katharina as a fervent accomplice of Götten, and as a communist run amok in Germany.

Katharina arranges an interview with Tötges. According to Katharina, upon his arrival he suggests that they have sex, whereupon she shoots him dead. She then wanders the city for a few hours before driving to police headquarters and confessing to murder.

The book also details the effects of the case on Katharina’s employers and friends the Blornas; Mr Blorna is her lawyer, and Mrs Blorna one of the designers of the apartment block where Katharina resides. Their association with Katharina leads to their exclusion from society.


Excerpt, from page 19:

Meanwhile the occupants of the building had been questioned; most of them had little or nothing to tell about Katharina Blum. They had occasionally met in the elevator and passed the time of day, they knew that the red Volkswagen belonged to her, some had thought she was a private secretary, others that she was a buyer in a department store; she had always been smartly turned out, pleasant, although a bit on the reserved side. Among the occupants of the five other apartments on the eighth floor, where Katharina lived, there were only two who had more detailed information to give. One was the owner of a hairdressing salon, a Mrs. Schmill, the other a retired employee of the electricity works by the name of Ruhwiedel, and the startling thing was that both statements included the assertion that from time to time Katharina had received or brought home a gentleman visitor. Mrs. Schmill maintained that this visitor had come regularly, maybe every two or three weeks, an athletic-looking gentleman of about forty, from an “obviously superior” background, whereas Mr. Ruhwiedel described the visitor as a fairly young fellow who had sometimes entered Miss Blum’s apartment alone and sometimes accompanied by Miss Blum.

What did you think?
* It’s written like an investigative report.
* Much of the larger background/context is assumed.
* The timeline jumps around some.
If you can get into that, or get past it, you might enjoy it.

Part of the Desultory Notes International Book Club