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NO HERO FOR THE KAISER by Rudolf Frank; translated by Patricia Crampton; illustrated by Klaus Steffens (Lothrop, Lee & Shepard: $13; 222 pp.; ages 12 up).

August 17, 1986|KRISTIANA GREGORY

On May 10, 1933, this book was burned on a public street by Hitler's strong-arms, who had arrested the author three months earlier. After he was released from prison, Rudolf Frank fled to Switzerland. Just before his death in 1979, he had the pleasure of seeing his first novel republished in Germany with instant success. "No Hero for the Kaiser" has since won numerous prizes.

Now Patricia Crampton has translated this anti-war drama into English so our youngsters can read about Jan Kubitzky, the intrepid Polish boy whose village, Kopchovka, was invaded by the Russians in 1914. After the battle only he and the poodle, Flox, were left alive, as were the German soldiers who forced them to join pursuit of the Russians. For two years Jan traveled in a scaled-down army uniform and learned more than most 14-year-olds will learn in a lifetime.

Foremost, he sees stupidity in war as soldiers become cruel drones, devastating fields and families. He is sickened when he sees the smoldering town of his shepherd friend, Vladimir, who lies dead in a street. "Bare walls reared up, black and charred. Behind the cavernous windows flames blew like curtains. The little market square was full of straw, and the straw was red and wet with blood." He grieves for enemy corpses, knowing that "they, too, had once been held in their mothers' arms." Jan's world is not pleasant or secure or hopeful.

The author said he wrote this to warn young people about the perils of war. He succeeds, though Jan's observations at times seem pedantic: "There are all kinds of guns, but all have the same purpose: to kill men and destroy human property."

Five charcoal drawings by Klaus Steffens depict the stark faces of war with dreary--but effective--scenery. If you're concerned about the influence Rambo-like films and toys are having on your children, Frank's book is a worthwhile antidote to the glorification of fighting and war.

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