Book titles

edited August 2014 in Root
I am intrigued - like many other readers, I presume - by the titles PK and his editors chose. They often have a slightly mystical or literary flavour, and while I think many of them are very well chosen, I can't quite comprehend others. Care to enlighten me, readers?

"March Violets" was, according to PK, a contemporary term for those who jumped on the Nazi bandwagon with only minimal hesitation, once it became clear that there was no viable political opposition - i.e. in March 1933. While mysterious until you start reading the book, I think it is works well - it intrigues potential buyers and then satisfies their curiosity, and is apt.

"The Pale Criminal" evidently refers to the physical appearance of Reinhard Heydrich who enters the BG canon at this point and is a lead figure in the book. Interestingly PK says he originally wanted the title to be "The Man With A Heart of Iron" but couldn't because there was a prior publication with this title.

"A German Requiem" (too little connection is made, IMHO, to the otherworldly beautiful Brahms composition of this name) is a non-too-subtle riff on Carol Reed and Graham Greene's "The Third Man" (with Emil Becker standing in for Orson Welles) - but whose requiem is it exactly? BTW, although written 15 years before the next instalment in the BG canon, this title would have been equally suitable as an epitaph for Kirsten whose slow death (and its causation) is an important plot anchor in the Munich-set sequel, I think.

Nonetheless, "The One From The Other" is a brilliantly eccentric title, and makes sense both in the way Niebuhr uses it in his often-quoted prayer, and in the way the shadowy world of post-war secret services endeavours to utilise the misbegotten research conducted inside the Third Reich, and snooker each other, while clandestine zionist avengers pursue SS criminals with deadly force, with GB as usual playing piggy-in-the-middle.

"A Quiet Flame" I haven't read yet, so will hold commenting on.

"If The Dead Rise Not", and "Field Grey", likewise.

I'm currently a quarter through "Prague Fatale", which presumably refers to Heydrich's demise (interestingly it was almost certainly a pulmonary embolus from deep venous thrombosis caused by complete bed rest after the badly bungled assassination attempt that killed him - he enjoyed very competent surgical management even before the SS-doctors arrived on the scene). Presumably a riff on "femme fatale" - but who is the femme: the city of Prague?

"A Man Without Breath" is a slightly mysterious title - perhaps referring to the first Polish officer found at Katyn, or metaphorically to the prototype Junker of which there are several: The craven von Kluge, as well as von Tresckow, von Gerstorff, and von Schlabrendorff, all of whom seem prisoners of their arch-conservative and privileged upbringing; their stiff politesse prevents them from doing the necessary without scruples insofar as killing Hitler is concerned. Although one might argue that it could well refer to the dictator himself, who enjoyed breathtakingly good luck to survive so many assassination attempts ...


  • I would also be interested in hearing other readers' thoughts on the titles chosen by PK. Another related thread might consider the titles of the foreign-language translated editions where these differ from the English titles (or direct translations have a slightly different flavour). I should probably say at this point that there is a strong tradition in Germany of divising entirely new titles for translations or adaptations of foreign works (as long as these are not considered of "high artistic merit"), completely unrelated to the original title, as can be seen below.

    "March Violets" is "Fire in Berlin" in the German edition, "Summer of Crystal" in French, "A Berlin Question" in Dutch, and "False Play" in Swedish.

    "The Pale Criminal" is "The Pale Figure" in French, "The Pale Assassin" in Brazilian (although the Portuguese translation is more direct), and "A Criminal without a Shadow" in Romanian. Only the German (under the rather baroque title of "In the Undertow of Dark Powers") and Dutch ("The Executioner's Trade") versions diverge a little.

    This is again seen with "A German Requiem" where only the German version comes up with a variant, "Old Friends, New Enemies" - which to me doesn't make any more sense than the original ...

    "The One From The Other" is entitled "Project Janus" in German, and the Portuguese version mirrors this. The CIA-sponsored recruitment of Nazi scientists into American employment for continued research was actually called "Project Paper Clip", and I haven't been able to find a contemporaneous reference to Janus. The French version is called "Death, Among Others", which doesn't appear to be a literary reference.

    The "quiet" flame of the English original is "fresh" in French, "mysterious" in Spanish and "slow" in Italian. Once again, the German publisher has chosen a separate path with "The Last Experiment" - this time perhaps more to the point ...

    "If The Dead Rise Not" is entitled "The Conspiracy" in German and "Hotel Adlon" in French.

    "Field Grey" (the descriptive term for the Wehrmacht uniform colour) is called "Green-grey" in French; however this implicitly references "Mome Vert-deGris", the first (1953) French-made Lemmy Caution noir movie set amongst Gold smugglers in Casablanca. The German edition once again treads a separate path with "Valhalla Mission". God only knows ...

    "Prague Fatale" is "Prague Night" in Italian, "Bohemian Blood" in German, while the Danish version retains PK's original preference, "The Man With A Heart Of Iron" (presumably the earlier English work of that name never made it into Danish).

    "A Man Without Breath" has so far been translated only into Dutch and Danish, both of which adhere to the original title.

    TBC ... Looking forward to hearing comments. On a related note, could readers out there perhaps suggest BETTER titles for the BG novels? That should get you thinking ...
Sign In or Register to comment.