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the Complete Review
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The Stone Bridal Bed

Harry Mulisch

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Title: The Stone Bridal Bed
Author: Harry Mulisch
Genre: Novel
Written: 1958 (Eng. 1962)
Length: 183 pages
Original in: Dutch
Availability: The Stone Bridal Bed - US
The Stone Bridal Bed - UK
The Stone Bridal Bed - Canada
Das steinerne Brautbett - Deutschland
  • Dutch title: Het stenen bruidsbed, first published 1959
  • Translated by Adrienne Dixon
  • The translation of The Stone Bridal Bed is currently out of print
  • Please note that this review refers to the original version and not the translation

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Our Assessment:

B+ : solid, small novel of the lingering horror of World War II

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The Stone Bridal Bed is set in Dresden, in the late fall of 1956. Even then it is still a city of ruins, the devastation of World War II and the fiery raids still visible at every turn in the disfigured city.
       The central character is Norman Corinth, a dentist from Baltimore who is invited to attend a convention in East Germany. It is an invitation he can not refuse -- not for professional reasons (the convention does not interest him in the least) but because it brings back memories of his own actions just over a decade earlier. He can honestly tell his hosts that he has never set foot in Germany, but Dresden is more familiar than he would like to admit.
       The tensions in the novel are not just between past and present, guilt and innocence -- indeed, initially it is the contrast between this very foreign communist world and Corinth's America that appears to be the focus of the novel. Corinth's presence is a propaganda coup for the organizers, albeit a double-edged one: Corinth's actions -- whether he leaves the opening ceremonies early, or how actively he participates in events -- are all blown far out of proportion, ascribed special significance because of what he represents (as the visitor from capitalist America). Corinth himself is concerned with the possible consequences back home of this ill-advised trip. Joe McCarthy may have been defeated by then, but anti-Red sentiment was still wide-spread in the United States of the time (though perhaps not in quite the way Mulisch imagines). Certainly, venturing across the Iron Curtain makes him a suspect figure.
       The present -- 1956 -- and the split world-order of the day are inescapable, but in Dresden the scars of the past are even more dominant. No one can forget what happened here, whether in the nearby concentration camps or with the Allied bombing that practically wiped out the city. Each character has some connection to these horrors. More significantly, culpability and innocence prove not to be clearly black and white.
       One German character was drafted to fight in the closing days of the war, along with other thirteen and fourteen year olds -- and even met Hitler. Others also live with shady pasts, some more easily than others. Corinth, too, must come to terms with his actions from that time, and he dredges up the old memories on his stay, trying to make sense of them.
       Mulisch handles all this quite well, from Corinth's aimless exploration of the city (a ruin in which one inevitably gets lost) to his final acceptance of his actions. The Germans are sympathetically -- or at least humanly -- portrayed, without excusing their actions, either during the war or in that communist time.
       Mulisch visited Dresden in 1956, and so writes from some personal experience. It is an interesting contrast to some of the works written immediately after the fall of Germany (by Stig Dagerman, Peter Weiss, Wolfgang Borchert, and others), and Mulisch uses the eery scene of still-devastated Dresden very effectively.
       Stylistically the book is also interesting, with Mulisch employing a variety of approaches. Corinth's struggle with himself and his memory is particularly effectively presented. Corinth has a theory of history -- that there are two types of it, the canonical and the apocryphal, an example being that the war against Hitler was canonical, while Hitler's war was apocryphal. Mulisch presents both sides of history here, making for a story that considers difficult questions of morality without resorting to overly-simplified solutions. Corinth ventures into the heart of enemy territory, but he understands his contribution to the world that has been divided in these ways.
       The Stone Bridal Bed is an ambitious five-act drama, and largely a very effective one. Mulisch does not display quite the narrative command he will in later works, but it is still a self-assured and worthwhile effort.

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The Stone Bridal Bed: Reviews: Harry Mulisch: Other books by Harry Mulisch under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Dutch literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Dutch author Harry Mulisch was born in 1927. One of the foremost post-war European authors he has written numerous international bestsellers. Ridiculously few of his works are available in English.

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