Pigeons on the Grass is told over a single day in Munich in 1948. The first new cinemas and insurance offices are opening atop the ruins, Korea and Persia are keeping the world in panic, planes rumble in the sky (but no one looks up), newspaper headlines announce war over oil and atomic bomb tests. Koeppen spares no one and sees all in this novel that surveys those who remain, and those who have just arrived, in a damaged society.
Given a rousing translation by Michael Hofmann, Wolfgang Koeppen’s 1951 novel Pigeons on the Grass now appears in English. This modernist homage—the title draws on a line from Gertrude Stein—takes place in a single day in postwar Munich, stitching together the wanderings of various down-at-heel Germans, as well as their American occupiers ... In Heinrich Böll’s postwar German classic Billiards at Half-Past Nine, a guilt-plagued architect envisions 'a monument of dust and rubble.' Pigeons on the Grass is this kind of monument.
... Wolfgang Koeppen’s Pigeons on the Grass, first published in German in 1951, and newly translated by Michael Hofmann, is an exercise in outrunning the past. His novel, presented in bursts of action from shifting perspectives, is a modernist tour of Munich over the course of one eventful day in 1948 ... Koeppen’s narration is free-flowing, shifting at times, even over the course of a sentence, from a character’s inner thoughts to the verbal static—'Commie Onslaught, Children love Ludens Drops'—of the outside world. The novel’s roving consciousness deliberately blurs the boundaries between characters’ minds, turning Munich into one large, pulsing brain, throwing off brilliant mini-disquisitions on German versus American writers, or the Proustian disappointment one visitor feels in finding the city not quite as ruined as he’d imagined. For a contemporary American reader, there are a few jarring moments that bespeak the author’s ignorance, or worse, of black American life (not least of which is a black character named Odysseus Cotton). It is a dispiriting limitation in the work of a writer who is otherwise often exhilarating and original, and who should be better known in the English-speaking world.
A kaleidoscopic narrative that follows a disparate cast of characters whose lives accidentally intersect during a single day in Munich, Germany, in 1948. First published in 1951 and now available in an inspired new translation, this deeply sardonic, profoundly compassionate novel takes the reader onto the ruined postwar streets of Munich and inside the minds of the city’s inhabitants, their heads "still confused by hunger and explosions.' ... Stories and lives overlap at an accelerating pace yet each protagonist is clearly defined, just as each is at the mercy of fate ... This portrait of despair and endurance amid postwar ruin is nothing less than a miniature masterpiece.