Ferdinand von Schirach: Crime – Verbrechen (2009)

Are they true? Are they not? The discussion of Ferdinand von Schirach ‘s stories circled to a large extent around these questions  in Germany  and what the respective answers might mean. For the book. For life. And human nature in general. In English speaking countries there is no emphasis on whether they are based on true cases or not. People admire the crisp, precise, unadorned prose, the philosophical background, the look into human depravity, into guilt, gruesome crime and its possible punishment. They are seen as literature and not as true crime accounts. I find this interesting. In this faz interview von Schirach says that all the cases happened and are true. A lot has been changed to guarantee anonymity of the people involved but other than that, this is what happened. Does it matter? Maybe not.

Von Schirach is a famous German defence lawyer. His grandfather Baldur von Schirach was even more famous. He was one of the Nazi criminals convicted in Nuremberg.

The stories in Crime – Verbrechen are astonishing. Some are shocking, some made me laugh, some are puzzling, others thought-provoking, even very touching at times. Often the person who sets out to commit a crime isn’t the person the lawyer in the story will have to defend. Somewhere along the line, the roles are reversed. The initial victim can become the perpetrator. This happens especially in those cases in which silly small-time-crooks inadvertently attack a “big fish”. Some of those stories are hilarious.

But there are stories in which a lot of pain and cruelty pushes a person over the edge. As von Schirach writes in the introduction, this is what the stories are about; the tipping point. We are all, as he says, walking on thin ice, but not all of us make it to the other side. The moment when the ice crashes, is the moment he is interested in.

Punishment is one of the key themes of all of those stories and surprisingly, for various reasons, not many of the delinquents get sentenced. The book, being written by a defence lawyer, gives a lot of insight into the German criminal system, comparing it to other systems, showing how it has changed over time, how it has become more just but much more complicated as well.

I cannot write all that much about the individual stories as that would spoil the fun of discovering what happened. I’m glad I discovered the review of the book on Lizzy’s blog last year.

Some of the stories are gruesome but the majority is just absolutely fascinating and thought-provoking. Many give insight into the German society, it’s problems and challenges; many illustrate that some people are just born unlucky.

Crime was von Schirach’s first book. It was an immense success in Germany and translated into 30 languages. One of the stories of the collection have been made into a movie Glück – Bliss by none other than Dorries Dörrie. It’s in the cinemas in Germany right now.

Another short story collection Guilt – Schuld and a novel Der Fall Collini have followed. Guilt just came out in English.

Der Fall Collini which Die Welt calls a”cristal clear story of disconcerting amorality” will certainly be translated very soon. I want to read both, Schuld and Der Fall Collini. And watch the movie.

Have you read von Schirach or heard about him?