Hanns-Josef Ortheil was born in Köln-Lindenthal in 1951. He belongs to the generation of German writers who were too young by about a decade to have participated in the student movements of the late 1960s and early 1970s. He became an adult during the Tendenzwende, the turn in the intellectual and social climate, as the wave of autobiographical novels gained momentum. Among this emerging group of Nachgeborene (the successor generation), Ortheil is without doubt one of the most prolific and versatile. He published his first novel, Fermer, in 1979 and has since produced novels, essays, and critical studies at an unremitting pace. The recurrent theme of the Nazi past in a number of his novels demonstrates that even the generation of those born after the war is burdened with that past. Ortheil’s writings attest to an undiminished need to arrive at a definition of self against the background of the Nazi regime. In his early novels, Fermer and Hecke (Hedges) (1983), he depicts with almost lyrical intensity the young protagonists’ search for identity and for values by which to guide their lives. In 1987, he published a major novel, Schwerenöter (Go-Getter), a wide social and historical panorama in a picaresque mood.2 In 1992, after the wave of autobiographical novels had subsided but possibly motivated by the death of his father, Ortheil published Abschied von den Kriegsteilnehmers (A Farewell to the War Veterans), which can also be considered a farewell to the “literature about fathers and mothers.”3 This novel is a sequel to Hedges, of almost a decade earlier, in which his mother and her life during the Nazi regime are his principal concern. Ortheil is unique among the writers of autobiographical novels in that he needed to explore the lives of both his parents. As in all his novels, the protagonist of Hedges and of A Farewell to the War Veterans struggles to comprehend the impact of the Hitler past on his own life, “a post-fascist life in which fascism nevertheless plays the formative and dominant role.” Perhaps
because Ortheil is younger than the turbulent 1968ers, he is more thoughtful than explosive in his reflections and tries to understand each of his parents on their own terms.