All for Nothing

Walter Kempowski

Published: 7 July 2016
Paperback, B Format
129x198mm, 352 pages
ISBN: 9781847087218

Translated by Anthea Bell


In January 1945, the German army is retreating from the Russian advance. Germans are fleeing the occupied territories in their thousands, in cars and carts and on foot. But in a rural East Prussian manor house, the wealthy von Globig family seals itself off from the world.

Protected from the deprivation and chaos around them, they make no preparations to leave until a decision to harbour a stranger for the night begins their undoing. Finally joining the great trek west, the remaining members of the family face at last the catastrophic consequences of the war.

Profoundly evocative of the period, sympathetic yet painfully honest about the motivations of its characters, All for Nothing is a devastating portrait of the complicities and denials of the German people as the Third Reich comes to an end.

About the author

Image of Walter Kempowski

Walter Kempowski (1929-2007) was one of Germany's most important post-war writers. He settled after the war in Hamburg, but on returning to his home town of Rostock in the late 1940s he was sentenced to 25 years in prison for espionage by a Soviet military tribunal, of which he served eight years, in Bautzen. His first success as an author was the autobiographic novel Tadellöser & Wolff (1971) part of his acclaimed series of novels German Chronicles. In the 1980s he began work on an immense project, Echo Soundings, gathering together first hand accounts, diaries, letters and memoirs of the second world war, which he collated and curated into ten volumes published over 20 years, and which is considered a modern classic. Swansong 1945, published in Germany in 2005, and translated into English here for the first time, is the final volume of that work. More about the author


‘[A] narrative of profound depth and originality... Kempowski tells his story of individuals caught up in history's sweep with a dispassionate simplicity that adds to its power.’ Nick Rennison



‘[A] stunning final novel by German author Walter Kempowski... Beneath its apparently serene façade, the book seethes with human drama and complexity. The tone is wryly reductive; a fable that becomes a nightmare.’

‘A beautiful, forgiving and compassionate book... It reaches its last devastating line with poetic sensibility and the grace of a classical tragedy, confirming Kempowski as a truly great writer... Completely gripping’

‘A novel of profound depth and originality’

‘An epic of exodus, timely for our days’

‘Gripping and dark... I read [it] with huge admiration and yes, a bit of envy for the author's skill, imagination and daring’ Margaret McMillan, Best Books of 2016

‘I love this book. It is Kempowski's crowning achievement: his last, and lasting work of fiction’ Rachel Seiffert

‘It is brilliant, vivid, unsentimental, fast moving, cinematic and, for all its apparent ease of telling, scrupulously well-structured. The distinguished translator Anthea Bell has conveyed Kempowski's wry tone... Kempowski's late masterwork is a universal tract which suggests that history can only present the facts; it is crafted stories such as this which enable us to grasp a sense of the vicious reality of war’ Eileen Battersby

‘One of the best books I've ever read’ Jenny Erpenbeck, author

‘Seethes with human drama, contradiction and complexity... An astonishing literary achievement’

‘This is a brilliant, deceptively simple exploration of everyday complicity with evil’

‘Turns a clear-eyed, compassionate gaze on an aristocratic family in East Prussia’

‘With restraint and subtlety, Kempowski explores the ordinariness of complicity with evil... heartbreaking and illuminating’ Antonia Senior

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