Book Review: Der Korporal

Der Korporal

Dobozy, Imre

Verlag der Nation, Berlin, 1971

An interesting war comedy in East German translation from the Hungarian original.  The setting is the autumn of 1944 as the Soviet troops are about to take Budapest.

A corporal in the Hungarian army is assigned as the orderly of an officer.  He is based just a few miles from his home, but the officer is jealous of him and will not let him have a leave, as others soldiers have been given, to go home for a few days.  The corporal hatches an inspired plan to rid himself of the officer’s presence and desert, and partially succeeds.  Unfortunately, he unwittingly finds himself between the fronts.  He meets a young apprentice trying to get home himself, who leads him down an unmarked lane in an attempt to avoid the roadblocks being set up and they run smack into another unit of the Hungarian army encamped in a country manor.  The corporal manages to avoid being taken as a deserter when, in the midst of being pulled into the new unit, the orders come for the unit to move out. The corporal then manages to find his way out of the new unit and heads back to the manor house.

At the manor he and the apprentice soon find themselves in the middle of a motley group of depressed deserters and the old butler.  Seeing that they need to have a proper reason for being there should someone come, the corporal turns the group into a fictitious unit.  In a foray for food and supplies they manage to chase a group of German soldiers away from a hut where a wounded Russian solider was hiding, and he ends up joining their band.  The front comes closer, and they alternate guessing which side is going to arrive first – if it’s the Germans they want to be soldiers securing the house with the Russian soldier as a servant; the opposite if it’s the Russians. The butler guides them to the storage closet in the house, and they all pick out suitable clothes for their conditions, but after several hurried changes with the candles blown out the clothes are a bit of a mismatch, and when one of the warring sides find them their great plan has some added complications.

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