Payback | Granta

  • Published: 15/05/2003
  • ISBN: 9781862075658
  • 130x20mm
  • 256 pages


Gert Ledig

Translated by Shaun Whiteside

The effects of an Allied air raid, over seventy minutes, on an unnamed German city in July 1944 are recounted in horrifying detail. As American planes discharge their bombs over the city, far below, in the midst of the inferno, an elderly couple trapped in their apartment try to live out their last moments with dignity. Elsewhere, a man searches desperately for his son, only to run into a troop of drunken soldiers. And as hundreds of civilians wait in an air-raid shelter, an American pilot drifts gently down on his parachute, unaware that he is about to join them … Payback was one of the first German novels to describe the Allies’ bombardment of Germany during the Second World War. Based on Gert Ledig’s experiences of German air raids in 1944, and first published in 1956, it paints a savage and unflinching picture of the realities of warfare for ordinary men and women.

Gert Ledig has been unjustly forgotten ... Payback went beyond anything the Germans were willing to read about their recent past ... his deliberately intense, uncompromising style, designed to evoke disgust and revulsion, once again conjured up the ghost of anarchy at a time when the [German post-war] economic miracle was already on its way

W. G. Sebald

Gert Ledig found a way of writing which still endures more that fifty years after the Second World War ... his are perhaps the most realistic - and meaningful - German novels about the violence of the war

Neue Zercher Zeitung

In its relentlessness [Ledig's work] outdoes Erich Maria Remarque's All Quite on the Western Front, in the same way that the inhuman horror of the Second World War puts that of the First effortlessly in the shade

Passauer Neue Presse

The Author

Gert Ledig (1921-99) was born in Leipzig and grew up in Vienna. At the age of eighteen he volunteered for the army and was wounded at the battle of Leningrad in 1942. He drew on his experiences for his novel The Stalin Organ. Sent back home, he trained as a ship-building engineer and was caught in several air raids, which led him to write Payback. Its reissue in 1999 in Germany led to the author’s much publicized rediscovery there.

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The Translator

Shaun Whiteside is a translator from the German, French, Italian and Dutch. Most recently his translation of Aftermath by Harald Jähner was shortlisted for the 2021 Baillie Gifford Prize and the 2022 British Academy Book Prize for Global Cultural Understanding.

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