Ernst Haffner translated from the German by Michael Hofmann

Blood Brothers

Publication Date: Mar 03, 2015

176 pp

Trade Paperback

List Price US $14.95
Trim Size (H x W): 5.5 x 8.25
ISBN: 9781590517048


List Price US $14.95
ISBN: 9781590517055

Originally published in 1932 and banned by the Nazis one year later, Blood Brothers follows a gang of young boys bound together by unwritten rules and mutual loyalty.

Blood Brothers is the only known novel by German social worker and journalist Ernst Haffner, of whom nearly all traces were lost during the course of World War II. Told in stark, unsparing detail, Haffner’s story delves into the illicit underworld of Berlin on the eve of Hitler’s rise to power, describing how these blood brothers move from one petty crime to the next, spending their nights in underground bars and makeshift hostels, struggling together to survive the harsh realities of gang life, and finding in one another the legitimacy denied them by society.

Excerpt from Blood Brothers

Jonny needs to dig up his eight fellows from various nooks and crannies to tell them he’s scoped out a cheap billet for the night. Two marks for the whole lot of them. It’s in a warehouse on Brunnenstrasse. For two marks the night-watchman will let them in at ten. But at six o’clock tomorrow morning they’ll have to be on their way again. Straw and large crates you can curl up inside are provided. At half past nine the gang set off.

At the stroke of ten, they’re all close to their billet. Three of them are at the gate. The others are waiting nearby in the passage, to nip in as soon as the watchman opens the door. Before they even hear the night-watchman, there’s a furious growling and yapping behind the door: the guard-dog. Then the door is unlocked, and one by one they sneak inside. The watchman locks the door after them. The bitch howls with rage and disappointment. She doesn’t understand her master. Normally she is under orders to go for anyone’s legs, and just now, with this collection of deeply suspicious individuals, she is kept on a short leash. The night-watchman slopes on ahead with the angrily glinting dog. The Blood Brothers bring up the rear after a respectful interval. The door of the low storehouse is unbolted, and Jonny has to put down his two marks. Then the old man goes through all their pockets. He’s looking for matches or lighters. In case one of the scapegraces should get it into his head to smoke in there… With all that straw and dry wood around. That would be a right old firework. The guard dog tried a parting snap at the boys. But the nailed collar reminds her that only non-paying guests were to be shredded. The boys are just finding their way around the dark windowless space when the old man locks them in. The freed dog sniffs crossly at the crack between the floor and the bottom of the door. Just let them try and get out.

“[Haffner] has the eye of a documentarian and a keen interest in particulars…” The New York Times

“Haffner’s project is journalistic, to portray destitution and criminality without the false sparkle of glamour—though Berlin is not half as boring as he (coyly) claims. The author was a social worker and a journalist, and his skill in portraiture and the depiction of a social milieu is evident… The characters are engaging, and multidimensional. You care what happens to them.” The Wall Street Journal

Blood Brothers is a remarkable portrait, a lively, heartbreaking close-up, of the scrappy desperate lives of Berlin’s homeless teenage boys in 1932.  It deserves to sit on the shelf next to Christopher Isherwood’s classic I Am A Camera which inspired the stage and film musical Cabaret…When you finish, you’ll be haunted.” —The Boston Herald Hollywood & Mine Blog

“[W]hat an accomplished book…Haffner’s novel would be compelling enough for the fact that it presents readers with unique insights into daily life during the final days of the Weimar Republic, but it’s his bold insistence on presenting his subject’s lives in such a matter-of-fact way that makes Blood Brothers truly standout as an interesting, valuable piece of unforgettable literature.” —Typographical Era

“[B]rilliantly translated into English by Michael Hofmann…Blood Brothers shocks because of its relevance to too much of the world we observe around us today.” —

Blood Brothers remains relevant to us today. [Haffner’s] novel remains, salvaged from the wreckage of history, insistent in its message that all our endless, merciless cities—and towns and suburbs and wherever else our desperate lives play out—are too much for anyone on their own.” —Words Without Borders

“[R]emarkable…Blood Brothers is an enthralling and significant novel, authentic in its gritty documentary detail, dispassionate yet empathic in its characterisation and starkly objective in its portrayal of Berlin’s pre-Nazi social underbelly.” Financial Times

“To the small library of classic novels about Berlin before Hitler by the likes of Erich Kästner, Alfred Döblin and Christopher Isherwood we now belatedly welcome Haffner’s. Blood Brothers delivers an unflinching yet deeply affecting portrait of life on Berlin’s darkest and most desperate streets. Hofmann’s translation beautifully captures Haffner’s muscular, hardboiled prose.”   Lawrence Douglas, Amherst College, author of The Memory of Judgment and The Vices

“The story reveals the illicit, dark and disturbing underworld of Berlin on the eve of Hitler’s rise to power…This is an important and unflinching classic in the making.” Susan Jaffe, Creative Director, Thurber House

“Theodor W. Adorno wrote what is perhaps the most powerful essay demystifying the legend of the “Golden Twenties.” Ernst Haffner has written the novel. Beautifully.” —Dr. Eric Jarosinski, founding editor, NeinQuarterly

“Haffner’s book stands out for its documentary detail. It opens with a description of the hours-long queues at the labor exchange, and paints a vivid picture of the gang’s initiation ceremonies, drinking rituals, and the glorious satisfaction of hot pea soup on an empty stomach. At the same time, Blood Brothers is plot-driven and told in a simple, straightforward, style.” —The Guardian

“Like a karate chop: hard and direct, but true.” Der Spiegel

“A real discovery.” Literarische Welt

“Despite the little we know about Ernst Haffner, it’s clear to me from reading Blood Brothers that he was a brave and compassionate man, as well as a talented author. His novel is a stark, realist masterpiece of 1930s Berlin street life that also contains nightmarish elements of German Expressionism and features bureaucracies as strange and labyrinthine as anything Kafka ever conceived. Yet, what always comes through the most is Haffner’s supreme empathy for these lost boys, his desire to point out their plight. Blood Brothers is literature of social importance. It is a clarion call on par with The Jungle—art meant to enact change for the greater good. Perhaps, in its time, it was too successful at this aim. Otherwise, why would the Nazis go to the trouble to burn it?” —Keaton Patterson, Brazos Bookstore (Houston, TX)

“Ernst Haffner’s Blood Brothers rips you apart, emotionally and intellectually. The tragic story of the Berlin street gang  known as the Blood Brothers in the waning days of Weimar Republic is devastating. Trapped in a cycle of poverty, violence and incarceration, these young men survive by any means necessary. Haffner doesn’t indict the brothers; his target is the outdated bureaucracy and societal inequality that allows six million people to be on the brink of starvation. The book’s power is only amplified when you consider what follows in Germany and the fate of the author and his book.” —Martin Schmutterer, Common Good Books (Minneapolis, MN)

“The story behind this story is the story. The author was a highly regarded journalist and social worker in Weimar Germany and the book was published in 1932 to wide acclaim. The Blood Brothers are the name of a fictional gang of petty criminals and hustlers in Berlin. The novel celebrates the resistance to authority represented by its characters, it ennobles the poor and downtrodden, and asks pointed questions of those who wield power for personal gain rather than the welfare of the people. This was a stance that did not bode well for the near future. With the rise to power of Hitler and the Nazis in 1933, the book was quickly banned and the author disappeared. He never reappeared. His masterwork has finally been translated into English and is being brought out for what we can only hope will be the wide audience it deserves.” —Conrad Silverberg, Boswell Book Company (Milwaukee, WI)

“Weegee-esque imagery form an unholy trinity of gritty perfection that sticks like skin to bone, and sheds flickering light on a vanished world: the merciless streets of 1930s Berlin and the kids who ran them. This is realism at its best—voyeurism with a conscience—and Haffner’s ability to lay bare the mechanisms of cyclical poverty and the state systems that reinforce and recreate conditions of violence and criminality is on par with Dickens. To paraphrase Dassin’s iconic closing words of that masterpiece of American neorealsm, Naked City, there may be a million stories of destitution and despair on the eve of war, but this is one is matchless.”—Alex Houston, Seminary Co-op Bookstores (Chicago, IL)

Blood Brothers is a hyper-realistic account of a gang of boys living on the streets of Berlin on the cusp of the Nazi takeover. Haffner’s prose is spare but has a depth of detail that gives the novel an immediacy that makes feel as if you are in the midst of it.” —Terry Cain, Prairie Lights (Iowa City, IA)