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The Safety Net

3.61  ·  Rating Details  ·  151 Ratings  ·  24 Reviews
Fritz Tolm has risen to the most powerful position in Germany. With fame comes fear and vulnerability. Threats to his life are met with the all-pervasive “safety-net” of police protection and surveillance. Trapped in a house they dare not leave, where every visitor is suspect and every object a potential bomb, Tolm and his family wait to discover when and how terrorism wil ...more
313 pages
Published September 1983 by Abacus (first published 1979)
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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas AdamsSophie's Choice by William StyronThe Dead Zone by Stephen KingThe Executioner's Song by Norman MailerA Bend in the River by V.S. Naipaul
Best Books of 1979
73rd out of 83 books — 37 voters
The Stranger by Albert CamusOne Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcí­a MárquezThe Old Man and the Sea by Ernest HemingwayLord of the Flies by William GoldingSiddhartha by Hermann Hesse
Nobel Laureates
310th out of 432 books — 391 voters

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Community Reviews

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Not the easiest book to get into, with frequent consultations to the (thankfully) included 'Cast of Characters' list - at least at the beginning. Oddly enough, I found the individual characters' personal backstories much more interesting than the whole plot of 'security risk/assassination threat'. A second read-through might increase my appreciation of the book (no garantees there, though), however I don't see that happening for at least a while.

Oh, and I might as well throw in a spoiler gratis!
Joan Winnek
Jan 14, 2012 Joan Winnek rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Joan by: Mimi Abers
Finished today. An engrossing novel that I'd like to reread. Unfortunately I had to interrupt my reading to read another book for my book club. So much has surprised me, and I know my reading has not been the best. It is a challenging book, and I had to refer many times to the (incomplete) list of characters at the beginning, as well as to Wikipedia for background/historical information. The beginning is slow, with long chapters; the ending is quick, with very short chapters. In between is a lot ...more
Dec 13, 2013 Danielle rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dystopian
First published in 1979, The Safety Net addresses the concept of security versus privacy, namely the individual disclosure of privacy in the name of public security, as causing as much harm (via isolation, social stratification, scrutiny, rumours etc) as it is supposedly supposed to prevent. This is an idea that has become a reality for many of us in the post-9/11 world, yet was quite ahead of its time when Boll put pen to paper.

I enjoyed how Boll explored this theme, and the scenarios that he
Jan 20, 2016 Kristel rated it really liked it
The story is about security. There are many characters in this book, some are family, some our business people, some are political, some are law enforcement. This is Germany from the time period following WWII to the seventies. Security would seem to be a good thing but security robs you of your freedom. You no longer can move about freely or enjoy things like birds flying. Only one person enjoys the security system and that is the one who sees it as a measure of her importance. The rest struggl ...more
Chad Post
Not my favorite Boll. I like the set-up, the topic, structure, and overall narrative techniques, but there are way too many instances (Helga in relation to her husband's infidelity, Rolf about the "bucket") in which characters much too easily deduce important plot points. Makes the whole book feel too plotted, too crafted, instead of developing in an organic way. Pretty lazy moves from such an exceptionally talented author.

I do like the way the chapters go from these long, digressive, circular,
Feb 18, 2016 Pip rated it it was amazing
I really loved this book. I have lived in Germany twice in the last eight years and never once did I think about the Baader-Meinhoff gang, which this book is clearly based on. I kept thinking about the Second World War, and not the terrorism of the seventies. I remembered, while reading this book, about my first trip to Europe in 1986 when security at every branch of a bank was still so tight. (I am thinking of Italy, rather than Germany, but it was the same everywhere then). What Boll does so s ...more
Jan 05, 2015 Amir rated it liked it
“…You can’t use the death of others to demonstrate for life.”

Feeling safe and secure is one of the most important needs of everyone and many of our efforts and ambitions directly or indirectly are to achieve this. We study, work, compete or even fight in order to provide a condition in which ourselves, our family, friends and relatives could feel safe and secure. But what is the relationship between power, fame and feeling safe? And although political leaders looks secure in between their guards
Oct 18, 2013 Barry rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, german
Great 1979 book about security, economics, and why smart young leftists might "drop out" of a parliamentary political system. It's hard going occasionally, due to the large number of characters (there is a chart of names in my edition of the book from Melville House). If you're not a Germanophile, with some knowledge of post-WWII German politics, it may not be the Böll book to start with, but I loved it, and found it quite moving and relevant for today's discussions of the 99%.
Jan 15, 2016 Shari rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
It's 1974. The Germans are still struggling to recreate an economically sound Germany. There are political tensions between the ruthless capitalists and the renegade Communists and Socialists. The media has been taken over by capitalist puppets who have watered down the news so that it is only the inane 'popular culture' news that is printed and fed to the public in order to keep the real news privy to the 'powers-that-be.' These would be the corporate/capitalistic money-mongers whose greed play ...more
Kris McCracken
May 07, 2014 Kris McCracken rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A densely packed exploration of the consequences of fame and power in post-war West Germany, the rise of reaction and political violence and its impact on one family. As ever with Böll, this is not a polemic against the like of Baader-Meinhoff and co., and actually seeks to explore rationale and motivation. That is, the line between 'good guys' and 'bad guys' is altogether grey.

Interestingly, although in many ways this is a dated work (the collapse of Communism and re-unification of Germany have
Patrick Robitaille

*** 1/2

Over the years, I kept a habit of discarding any old electronics cables, cords and wires in a dedicated bag, just in case I might suddenly need one on a new piece of hardware where one such cable, cord or wire was required or missing. Every time I need to visit this bag, I am confronted by an inextricable mess of intertwined cables, where many ends are seen without discerning exactly where the rest of a cable might lie or which end belongs to which other end.

After I read the first two cha

Philip Lane
Oct 20, 2014 Philip Lane rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I found this to be a really interesting book to read. The safety net of the title is 24 hour police surveillance for an extended family of a newspaper tycoon as they are beset by a terrorist threat. The novel explores the effect this has on the family and the community. It has a complex cast of characters and I found the list of names and relationships at the beginning of the book an essential reference point for keeping it clear who was talking about who. Each chapter is told by a different cha ...more
David Cain
Dec 30, 2012 David Cain rated it it was amazing
The Safety Net by Heinrich Boll is a pseudo political, pseudo social commentary novel about the trials and tribulations of security, as visited upon the super-powerful and the ordinary folk who surround them. While no Group Portrait or Billiards, the novel is engaging, playful, fun and strange. For my taste, it was far too short. Given the wide range of characters and stories, this novel could easily be longer. Boll is a master.
Jun 11, 2014 Julián rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Después de leer Opiniones de un payaso quedé fascinado por este autor. En ese contexto, este libro me supuso un jarro de agua helada. Muchas, demasiadas páginas para contar lo mal que lo pasa un empresario (¿o es un político?) amenazado por un grupo terrorista en los años de plomo en Alemania. Me resultó muy pesado, me costó muchísimo terminarlo y el recuerdo que dejó fue escasísimo.
Andrew Doran
Mar 29, 2014 Andrew Doran rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
So glad to have finished this, felt like an almighty slog. This book made me feel stupid (and perhaps I am); I had little grasp of what the hell was going on for the first third of the book and it didnt get a lot better after that. So many characters, oblique references to size 38 shoes and milk errands and chapters that gave you no idea who was narrating until some way in. Pah. ...more
Oct 25, 2011 Mimi rated it really liked it
A very intelligent wonderful read, started out slow, but just got better and better. The book is set in the 70's in Germany, the time of Baader-Meinhof and much of the book shows how extra police security in the face of terrorism affects a community. This is my first Boll, who won the Noble prize in Literature in 1972, before this book was written. I will be reading more of his books.
Tolm's life is in danger, a side effect of his position. The lives of his family are also at risk and as a result security is provided. This security however affects not just the lives of the people it protects, but those of their friends and neighbours. The safety net of the title seems to protect but also smother those underneath it.
Feb 21, 2010 Riley rated it really liked it
This is the third or fourth book I've read by Heinrich Boll and the first I've really enjoyed. Though it was written in 1979, some of its themes -- terrorism, surveillance and the lack of privacy in the modern world -- age very well indeed.
May 09, 2012 Ian rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
A ponderous story of a wealthy and famous family under seige by terrorist threats to their well being. The characters and situations are diverting, but the story could have been rendered more dramatically.
Apr 22, 2012 Lysergius rated it really liked it
Boll is one of the few German writers to actually try to explain why the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon happended. Clearly some form of socialism must happen.
Dec 30, 2012 Diana rated it liked it
meh. I really like Boll. this one seems a bit convoluted. He obviously thought he had something going here, but to me it didn't pan out like his others.
Aug 11, 2012 Mette rated it liked it
Half-way through the book I didn't really know what it was about - but still I liked it. And later on actually found out what it was about.
Jul 17, 2013 علی rated it it was ok
سرپناه امن با ترجمه ی هما احمدی در 1371 به فارسی منتشر شده است
Nathan Danilczuk
Mar 20, 2010 Nathan Danilczuk rated it it was amazing
My favorite book.
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Heinrich Böll became a full-time writer at the age of 30. His first novel, Der Zug war pünktlich (The Train Was on Time), was published in 1949. Many other novels, short stories, radio plays and essay collections followed, and in 1972 he received the Nobel Prize for Literature "for his writing which through its combination of a broad perspective on his time and a sensitive skill in characterizatio ...more
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