History: This book was published in 1971 as Gruppenbild mit Dame. A sweeping portrayal of German life from World War I until the early 1970s, the novel was cited by the Nobel Prize committee when it awarded Boll the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1972.. Group Portrait with Lady was an instant success in Germany, holding the top spot on the bestseller list for several months. It was singled out in the laudation accompanying the Nobel Prize. However, it almost goes without saying that Boll would certainly not have received the award on the strength of this novel alone.
Plot: The story's anonymous narrator gradually reveals the life--past and present--of Leni Pfeiffer, a war widow who, with her neighbors, is fighting the demolition of the Cologne apartment building in which they reside. Leni and her illegitimate son Lev become the nexus of Cologne's counterculture; they spurn the prevailing work ethic and assail the dehumanization of life under capitalism. In a larger sense, the work attempts both a reconciliation with the past and a condemnation of the pursuit of affluence in present-day Germany.
Review: Similar in context to most of his mature fiction, the novel reiterates Boll's major thematic concerns and reaffirms his moral chastisement of modern Germany. Written in the mode of documentary, Group Portrait with Lady is elaborately devised as an investigative study undertaken by an ostensibly objective narrator, referred to in the novel as the author or "The Au." The subject for examination is Leni Pfeiffer, nee Gruyten, the celebrated "Lady" of the novel's title. Developed through a series of interviews with numerous individuals having some familiarity, connection, or past association with the narrator's subject, the novel is at once an in-depth character portrayal as well as a social history of Germany.
This is a piece of music composed by Heinrich Boll which at the beginning sounds non-harmonic and confusing and as the story continues it turns into a magnificant symphony of rhythms and melodies; in fact a death march for the Third Reich era. Heinrich Boll takes us to the Nazi Germany era and lets us see the world through the life of an interesting woman, a very normal human being who is actually too normal for those abnormal days of war and savage.
Opening Line: “The female protagonist in the first section is a woman of forty eight, German: she is five foot six inches tall, weighs 133 pounds (in indoor clothing), i.e., only twelve to fourteen ounces below standard weight; her eyes are iridescent dark blue and black, her slightly graying hair, very thick and blond, hangs loosely to her shoulders, sheathing her head like a helmet.”
Closing Line: “Well, there remain the “still unexplained reflections,” there also remain some dark thunderclouds of foreboding in the background: Mehmets’s jealousy, and his recently announced aversion to ballroom dancing.”
Quotes: “I’m an old maid and I’ve never had nay direct experience with men, but I’ve observed them pretty closely, you know, and I ask you, what must it be like when a man turns up with his return ticket in his pocket and is always thinking of the timetable and the barracks gate he has to go through before a certain hour, or the remustering depot?”