In 1943 Wenk, a German soldier guarding the Normandy coast, finds himself in a war where the main enemies are loneliness and misery. Corruption is rampant in the High Command: supplies are being siphoned off, and the starving, exhausted soldiers must cross their own minefields to steal potatoes from nearby farms.

Against all army rank and protocol, Wenk becomes friends with Lieutenant Schelling, whose protests on behalf of his men have incurred the wrath of another officer. When the company is transferred to the Russian front, heightened fear, suspicion, and mistrust explore the soldiers' barely maintained order into a chaos of desperation.

"The great strength of this short novel is its steadfast refusal to glamorize. . . . The clear-eyed wisdom that emerges from it makes it a remarkable achievement." --William Boyd, New Republic

"BÖll is a master storyteller." --New York Times