An autobiographical novel of youth spent on the German home front during World War I
First published in German in 1928 as Jahrgang 1902, Ernst Glaeser's autobiographical novel centers on the experiences of the narrator, E., and his friends. Born in 1902, E. and his generation come of age during the Great War, but they never know combat because the war ends before they can be drafted. Through their perspectives Glaeser provides glimpses into traumatic times on the German home front.
Over the four years covered by the novel, E. witnesses the buildup and deployment of combat troops, the return of the wounded, deaths, hunger, and air raids. All around him, he sees what he comes to think of as the adults' war, tragic events in which he never wishes to participate. His own actions follow a quest for sexual experience and, moreover, the understanding of life he believes will come from such experience. As E. simultaneously spurns the onset of adulthood and yearns for the physical pleasures that might accompany such a transition, his life repeatedly intersects with the war, moving him in and out of dangers and eventually taking his girlfriend Anna from him before they can consummate their relationship. Through the vibrantly detailed episodes that make up the work, Glaeser gives a street-level vantage point on the sufferings of the German civilian population and shows the high cost of war even for those with no direct involvement in its outcome.
Deemed "a damned good book" by Ernest Hemingway, Glaeser's work warrants reading today both for its value as a historical document and as a novel of antiwar sentiments from a German perspective. In the new introduction to this edition, Horst Kruse details the reception of the work against the historical backdrop of German novels of the era and the international rise of the antiwar genre in which the work participates.
Ernst Glaeser (1902–1963) began his writing career as a newspaper journalist in Frankfurt. Though he wrote numerous books, none of his subsequent works achieved the same international acclaim as this, his first novel.
Horst Kruse is a professor emeritus of English and American literature at the University of Münster.
"An almost indispensable piece of raw material for the history of the time."—Manchester Guardian
"A study in mass psychology and a plea for pacifism, this novel is the story of a German boy growing up before and during the Great War. The narrator, who is only 12 when the story begins, is a keen observer of life in his small town and the various social levels and political tendencies (from socialist to monarchist) represented there. Though he misunderstands much of what he sees, he is nonetheless a perceptive and often insightful observer of the times.
Glaeser's novel is obviously intended as a cautionary tale and as an analysis of German society before the overthrow of the Wilhelmine Empire, destroyed by the Great War and by its own hubris. As such, it deserves a place in WWI literature."—St. Mihiel Trip-Wire
"…using ironic innuendo and subtle symbolism to depict the ebb and flow of life on the home front. An antiwar novel, Class 1902 cleverly recreates the false hopes and ambitions of different segments of the German population. No one is spared criticism, from the petty civil servants with their incendiary hypernationalism or the Social Democrats and their grand illusions…. Class 1902 truly stands apart from the bulk of war fiction that became so popular in Weimar Germany. As Kruse notes, it is both an excellent work of literature and a valuable historical document. Depictions of the home front are rarely so layered and authentic."—H-Net Reviews