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What's to Become of the Boy? Or, Something to Do with Books

3.37  ·  Rating details ·  385 ratings  ·  53 reviews
In 1981, Heinrich Böll returned to the streets of his childhood in this remarkable collection of nonfiction. This volume captures the musings of a mature Böll as he looks back with fondness and with anger on his formative years: as a student who avoided school but lived for his education on the street; and as a young man forced to grapple with the moral horror that was Hit ...more
Paperback, 82 pages
Published April 8th 1996 by Northwestern University Press (first published 1981)
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Ahmad Sharabiani
Was soll aus dem Jungen bloß werden? Oder: Irgendwas mit Büchern = What's to Become of the Boy? Or, Something to Do with Books, Heinrich Böll

Heinrich Böll is considered one of the founders of the literature of ruins; Which took place in literature after the end of World War II, but in this book, Böll recounts only a few years of his life, that is, from 1933 to 1937.

Which is the period of his adolescence, that is, from the age of fifteen to nineteen. The era of the Nazis and Hitler. His purpose i
Steven Godin
I'm a big fan of Böll's fiction, with two novels in particular showcasing his brilliance as a writer, so it pains me to say it, but this memoir was somewhat disappointing, with one big reason being that it's just too short. Looking back mostly on his school days and Catholicism Böll was a youngster living something of a carefree lifestyle in Cologne as he watched the Nazis march to power, and extend their fearful control over every aspect of society. As an anti-fascist, he found refuge through h ...more
Lee Klein
I probably haven't found the right book/translation yet but from what I've read (13 Stories, Billiards at Half-Past Nine, and this) I'm not the biggest Böll fan. This reads like the first draft of distant personal history recollected in tranquility. It's worth an hour's reading to get a sense of an apparently parallel time, but it doesn't really offer a guide or insight into navigating daily life as storm clouds gather. If you're not oppressed as an oppressive totalitarian government gains power ...more
Interesting, thankfully sometimes humorous, writer giving us a glimpse at his life in 1936-37 during Hitler's reign. Interesting time he chose to focus on. I liked what he did share about the people and few events covered in his life at this time, though I never felt I got a full sense of this author. I wanted more. I also didn't get a real sense of his family—his explanations didn't always fit my impressions from previous pages, so it was confusing to get a hold on them. Other characters, like ...more
This book is so short that you don't even have time to mark it as 'Currently Reading'. In fact, this is probably the only bad thing about the book: it's just too darn short. Almost wonder why Böll bothered to write it at all.

A candid memoir, a look at the author's high school years, a glimpse of his family life (parents, brothers & sisters), a peek into his ways of 'escaping' the Nazi madness around him, and... sadly not much more.

Interesting? Yes. Recommended? Of course, but bring something e
Nov 02, 2019 rated it liked it
One of my colleagues let me raid his collection earlier this year, and this one struck me as short and manageable this weekend.

It started strong, steeped in one of the most pivotal points in history. But soon the historical backdrop became a bit of an afterthought, and it became a story about the author just trying to get through school and make a little extra money. At that point it became pretty anti-climactic.

I did like the insight that the nazi takeover of Germany was characterized not by
Jul 30, 2016 rated it liked it
An excellent little mini-memoir is sad and frightening.

One of the two major parties in the country of my birth and citizenship recently nominated a fascist for president.

This book recounts the author's high school years as the Nazis rise to power.

His family were anti-Nazi but not resistance fighters. They didn't imagine leaving Germany- they imagined putting their children through school, finding a trade for each child, getting contracts for the family business in order to keep food on the ta
Daniel Gaddy
Sep 17, 2016 rated it did not like it
I didn't care for this book at all. To me, it was just this collection of random memories from a guy who came of age during the rise of the Nazis. No real engine to the story. ...more
Another book I bought for myself on Mother's Day, from a little shop in Ann Arbor specializing in well-preserved first editions. I picked this up hoping for hints on how to live in a time when all around you seem consumed by power and hate and scapegoating. What I got was a somewhat disjointed memoir of a man looking back at his teen years from many years distant. It was as much of a memoir of the ways memory deceives and disorders and lumps impossible things together as it was a memoir of comin ...more
Aug 26, 2017 rated it liked it
"It is only now that I can appreciate, comprehend, how utterly horrified my family must have been when, between quitting my bookseller's apprenticeship and starting my stint in the Labor Service, between February and November 1938, when I was not yet twenty-one - and in the very midst of firmly entrenched Nazi terror - I actually set out to be a free-lance writer."

A third star almost solely because of the historical facts and atmosphere (the biking holidays, abundant parenthetical asides, and in
Olga Zilberbourg
Oct 14, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A short memoir by Heinrich Böll, born in Cologne in 1927, whose proletarian, Catholic, and staunch anti-Nazi family went through all the trials of Nazism and WWII. The memoir covers his four years in high school after Hitler came to power in 1933, through the burning of Reichstag, and Prussian occupation of Rheinland, events leading up to the war. Böll himself, coming of age at that time, in severely limited circumstances, faced with the choice of career and a future in the environment where, it ...more
Karla Huebner
A brief account, in the author's inimitable dry style, of his school years under the Nazis. Not perhaps one of his great works, but a small treasure all the same, despite the inclusion of details about people the reader may know nothing about and the lack of details about those the reader may want more about. As always Böll presents a view of civic, family, political, and religious life in which the combination of head and heart is quite unlike anyone else's. ...more
Cooper Renner
Jun 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I haven't read Boll's fiction--partly I'm sure because of my innate suspicion of writers who get much acclaim and big awards--so I thought this short memoir would be a painless way to get a taste. And it is! It's a very fine work, sly, funny, honest, pulling no punches about the Nazis. So maybe now I'll be able to make myself read one of his novels. ...more
Tracy WB
Mar 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018
A curious little book. A keeper and a re-reader.
May 26, 2016 rated it liked it
Known for his more famous titles Billiards at Half-Past Nine, The Clown, and Group Portrait with Lady, among others, Heinrich Böll details his high school years set against the impending backdrop of Nazism in this short memoir. Böll came from a family that though not Jewish, was a feverishly anti-Nazi one living on the cusp of the party’s full power. Living in poverty as a consequence of rejecting the political enthusiasm sweeping Germany, Böll’s family lived dangerously on the edge, splurging o ...more
Andres Eguiguren
In the introduction to this memoir of life in Cologne, Germany, during 1933-1937, Anne Applebaum writes that the book "makes an ideal short introduction to Boll, the writer, as well as to Boll, the person." Having not yet read any of the fiction from this Nobel Prize winner, I cannot attest to the veracity of this claim. I do agree with her that it offers an unusual perspective on Hitler's rise to power, though she says that is "as seen through the eyes of a teenage boy" when in fact he wrote th ...more
Max Tkach
Sep 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Everyone interested in World War 2
This book offered a unique perspective into Nazi Germany but from a perspective I haven't read from before- a German boy whose family is against Hitler. There are some humorous bits of this book such as when the narrator's mother described Hitler as a Rovekopp which is German for turnip head. Heinrich Boll is able to provide rare insight from the perspective of a little boy into practices the Nazis did such as burning books, calling it an "embarrassing" and "pathetic" exercise. I enjoyed particu ...more
Max Tkach
Sep 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Anyone Interested in World War 2
This book offered a unique perspective into Nazi Germany but from a perspective I haven't read from before- a German boy whose family is against Hitler. There are some humorous bits of this book such as when the narrator's mother described Hitler as a Rovekopp which is German for turnip head. Heinrich Boll is able to provide rare insight from the perspective of a little boy into practices the Nazis did such as burning books, calling it an "embarrassing" and "pathetic" exercise. I enjoyed particu ...more
Chad Felix
A short, heavily punctuated autobiography of the schoolboy Heinrich Böll within which the author describes the rise of Nazism and its impact on his daily life, family, friends, and mentors. Despite the Böll's brevity here (the book is just 80 pages), he manages a handful of moments of pure bliss. For example, of his family's demeanor in the face of poverty, he writes:

"I can't say it was a good time. We were both depressed and reckless, not the slightest bit sensible. At the very moment when we
Amy Brack
I read this book for the 2016 Reading Challenge "A Book Under 150 Pages" category.

I was interested in reading this because I've heard good things about the author, but also that because it was a different perspective during WWII than I've ever read. You have a glimpse into the life of a Catholic family that was very Anti-Nazi, but in low key way. They had to fly the flag, but made sure to have the smallest possible. I got a kick out of the fact that the school children studied Mien Kampf for the
Kohei Otsuka
Jun 07, 2015 rated it liked it
I enjoyed Heinrich Boll's memoir style writing on his perspective of the Nazi rise during his teen years of the 1930s and I found everything very interesting. The author, however, tends to list lots of street name and names of people without much explanation, so I would have liked a little more depth. It was a good quick read but I would not necessarily recommend people to read this book, because I did not get much valuable lessons out of it. ...more
Aug 07, 2009 rated it it was ok
Böll used to be one of my favorite authors, but I'd never read this memoir. An interesting story about growing up after the Nazi takeover in Germany in the 1930s, but clearly from his later years, when his literary skills were somewhat fading (although perhaps it was the translation, which somehow didn't work for me). Nothing one could never live without here, but a worthy quick little read. ...more
This is an excellent short memoir about schools, Catholics, and the early days of the Nazi power in Germany. Has a few quotable quotes and quite a few poignant observations about teachers, poverty, and gaining experience while being at/outside of school.
Ville Verkkapuro
Jul 06, 2017 rated it liked it
Fun little book. Böll reminds me of Vonnegut with his warm, satiric yet humane touch. It was cut a little short, though. Could've been easily 10 times longer. ...more
Jack Rousseau
Jan 21, 2022 rated it really liked it
The title What's to Become of the Boy? should arouse neither false hopes nor false fears. Not every boy whose family and friends have reason to ask themselves and him this externally apprehensive question does, after various delays and roundabout approaches, eventually become a writer; and I would also like to stress that, at the time it was put, this question was both serious and warranted. In fact, I am not sure whether my mother, were she still alive, wouldn't still be asking he same question ...more
Jacob Inosencio
Nov 18, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I appreciated the normalcy of this book. I did not understand it as much until a friend and I discussed it. I think it offers a unique glimpse into how life happened, and just kept happening. Another aspect I appreciated was that it was not full of horrors or heroics, which we often get or get from this time period, and understandably so. This offered a different perspective from a lesser-known voice from the time.
Narinder  Bhatia
Dec 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
My first Heinrich Böll read and i had no idea beforehand about what to expect. But let me confess that i found it an interesting read, a memoir with a flavour of history. The only regret i have is the shortness of the book. It could have been more interesting if it was a little longer. There were traces of "Diary of a Young Girl" (not literally). I loved the way Böll provided a bit of insight into Nazi and Hitler though i would have loved a lot more of that. But in the end, another interesting r ...more
Jan 04, 2020 rated it liked it
Boll (1917-1985) won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1972. This book was originally published in 1981. It's its brevity that called to me and the fact that the author won 2 Nobel Prizes. If the world found him worthy of such recognition then a book which captures his childhood , family and transitional stories is one that one should read to satisfy one's curiosity more than seek to be impressed or held spellbound. ...more
Roz Milner
A short, breezy memoir of being a teen during the rise of the Nazis in Germany, Böll reminisces about skipping class, playing cards for cigarettes and watching his country slowly drift into totalitarianism. His parents struggle to get by; his teachers change and become monstrous. It’s brief (under 100 pages), but spirited, and interesting.
A quick read (only 82 pages), this memoir by the Nobel Prize-winning author describes his high school days, 1933-1937, which coincided with the rise to power of Hitler and the Nazis.
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