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Dirty Snow (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – 1900

4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Paperback
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (1900)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590170431
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590170434
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 1.5 x 20.3 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 227 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #467,156 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description

Nineteen-year-old Frank Friedmaier lives in a country under occupation. Most people struggle to get by; Frank takes it easy in his mother's whorehouse, which caters to members of the occupying forces. But Frank is restless. He is a pimp, a thug, a petty thief, and, as Dirty Snow opens, he has just killed his first man. Through the unrelenting darkness and cold of an endless winter, Frank will pursue abjection until at last there is nowhere to go.Hans Koning has described Dirty Snow as "one of the very few novels to come out of German-occupied France that gets it exactly right." In a study of the criminal mind that is comparable to Jim Thompson's The Killer Inside Me, Simenon maps a no man's land of the spirit in which human nature is driven to destruction—and redemption, perhaps, as well—by forces beyond its control.

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Format: Paperback
This novel is set in an occupied European city (Paris? The names are Germanic) during WWII (it was first published in 1950). I can certainly see it as a powerful portrait of a people under surveillance, living in poverty, going through a numbing routine of survival with no sense of getting control of their lives. Then, Paris, Amsterdam, Prague; today, Kabul or Bagdad. Is this the only way to read the novel? I do not think so.
There is no political resistance, no underground. No one speaks for the city or nation which is occupied. There are some citizens whom Simenon shows knowing and offering love and mutuality. The authorities could be municipal police as easily as military secret police. The protagonist, Frank, a 17year old hoodlum, thief, thrill-killer, and accessory to murder, is the son of a madam who lives with her girls in an apartment house. Frank is determined to test himself and his inner resources, and the way he chooses, maybe the only way available, is to prove he has the power to remain unmoved by various cruelties and evils he perpetrates. He does what he does by free, rational choice, in cold blood and without remorse. He's hard boiled to the core. And yet, clearly at the end of the book he punishes, and has punished, himself. He is in search of a father (Mr Holst) and a lover (Holst's daughter Sissy), like every young man, but he deliberately puts himself beyond the reach of them, or of any kind of life. He wants to be tortured, and sees himself as wanting and deserving death. I'm not sure exactly what happens to Frank at the end, although he may be about to be executed. Somehow Frank had defined love and fatherly affection as weakness, or perhaps as experiences shut off to him by the very fact that he is the young man he is. Puzzling, noir, mysterious. And a powerful existential novel.
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By A Customer on Jan. 21 2004
Format: Paperback
I picked this up because the back copy compared it to Jim Thompson. The comparison is apt -- Simenon, like Thompson, writes seemingly simple prose laced with menace -- but it doesn't hold up. You can tell Simenon is writing on autopilot some of the time here. Still, when he's fully on, this book is as scary as they come.
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By A Customer on Jan. 14 2004
Format: Paperback
This book is pure noir. It is as disturbing as Thompson's The Killer Inside of Me, with perhaps more insight and thought. Simenon's descriptions of the "occupation" (is it by Germany or the US?) are vivid. Be warned that this is not a conventional mystery. But it is a masterpiece.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Disturbingly powerful, simple writing. Visceral.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: HASH(0xa6e1f750) out of 5 stars 35 reviews
32 of 33 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa6fac1b0) out of 5 stars Despair is an expression of the total personality Oct. 24 2006
By Lonya - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
doubt only of thought. Soren Kierkegaard

Frank Friedmaier, the protagonist of Georges Simenon's novel "Dirty Snow" seems to have no doubts about his life. In fact he seems to be more a creature of base animal instinct than of anything resembling thought. If he has doubts about anything they are not evident. But his words and deeds bespeak an unconscious despair so profound that the reader can feel it with every page.

Simenon was nothing if not prolific in both his literary and public life. Born in Belgium in 1903, Simenon turned out hundreds of novels. Simenon's obsession with writing caused him to break off an affair (he was prolific in this area of his life as well) with the celebrated Josephine Baker in Paris when he could only write twelve novels in the twelve month period in which they were involved. Although perhaps best known for his Inspector Maigret detective novels, Simenon also wrote over a hundred novels that he referred to as `romans durs' (literally "hard novels"). "Dirty Snow" is one of Simenon's hard novels and to call it noir is an understatement. "Dirty Snow" is darker than noir, devoid of any light or optimism. In the hands of Simenon it is an absorbing (entertaining seems an inapt word) look at the darker side of life.

Frank Friedmaier lives in his mother's brothel in a small apartment building. The brothel is in an unnamed city in occupied France during World War II. Frank divides his time between the brothel and a local bar inhabited by an assortment of shady characters that include low level criminals, women of `easy virtue', and the occasional German soldier. When he returns home at night he camps down with whichever one of his mother's employees suits his fancy. What follows may best be described as nasty, brutish, and short. There is no affection, not even feigned affection, just feral activity.

The book follows Frank's descent into increasingly lower levels of behavior. He decides the time has come to kill a man, lies in wait in some snow that had been dirtied by the day's activities, and then takes a knife to a German soldier and stabs him to death. He reveals his presence to a passing neighbor, the father of a young girl who Frank seems to like, just so that the neighbor will know that Frank has murdered the soldier. Frank is confident that the neighbor will keep the information to himself. Frank next plans a robbery. The robbery is successful but Frank soon finds himself in a German prison subject to repeated interrogations. By the end of the book Frank has completed a journey that has taken him on a journey through what Dante would have considered different layers of hel l.

The fascinating aspect of Dirty Snow for me lay in the narration. Simenon has pulled off a neat trick here. The narrator is Frank and we are privy to his innermost thoughts, such as they are. Yet it is the absence of thought and the inability to evince any feeling in a rational manner that grabs the reader. There are sections, particularly those involving the daughter of the neighbor who witnessed the killing, where you can almost sense that Frank would like to act on a normal level with normal emotions. He may come close but he always retreats. As Dirty Snow ends, in a courtyard in the prison, Simenon has Frank perform one simple act involving an article of clothing. It is an act that Frank has long observed of the other prisoners. His instinctive performance of that act brings Franks journey and the book to its inevitable end.

Dirty Snow is a fascinating, if dark, look at one small aspect of the human condition. I found it well worth reading. L. Fleisig
29 of 34 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa6fac204) out of 5 stars heroic self testing and self hatred Jan. 22 2004
By J. A. Gertzman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
This novel is set in an occupied European city (Paris? The names are Germanic) during WWII (it was first published in 1950). I can certainly see it as a powerful portrait of a people under surveillance, living in poverty, going through a numbing routine of survival with no sense of getting control of their lives. Then, Paris, Amsterdam, Prague; today, Kabul or Bagdad. Is this the only way to read the novel? I do not think so.
There is no political resistance, no underground. No one speaks for the city or nation which is occupied. There are some citizens whom Simenon shows knowing and offering love and mutuality. The authorities could be municipal police as easily as military secret police. The protagonist, Frank, a 17year old hoodlum, thief, thrill-killer, and accessory to murder, is the son of a madam who lives with her girls in an apartment house. Frank is determined to test himself and his inner resources, and the way he chooses, maybe the only way available, is to prove he has the power to remain unmoved by various cruelties and evils he perpetrates. He does what he does by free, rational choice, in cold blood and without remorse. He's hard boiled to the core. And yet, clearly at the end of the book he punishes, and has punished, himself. He is in search of a father (Mr Holst) and a lover (Holst's daughter Sissy), like every young man, but he deliberately puts himself beyond the reach of them, or of any kind of life. He wants to be tortured, and sees himself as wanting and deserving death. I'm not sure exactly what happens to Frank at the end, although he may be about to be executed. Somehow Frank had defined love and fatherly affection as weakness, or perhaps as experiences shut off to him by the very fact that he is the young man he is. Puzzling, noir, mysterious. And a powerful existential novel.
12 of 13 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa6fac63c) out of 5 stars "He wanted it. He had been afraid of it, but he wanted it." March 25 2005
By Steven Reynolds - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Eighteen-year-old Frank Friedermaier lives in an occupied, wartime city. But he lives in relative luxury with his mother, who operates a clandestine brothel from their top-floor apartment, while the neighbours suffer through the winter with tiny lumps of coal and watery soups. Since he was a child - when he was temporarily shipped off to rural foster parents - Frank has wrestled with the problem of powerlessness in the face of destiny. Confronted with fate, one might either deny it or embrace it. But Frank chooses to taunt it by running huge risks and daring the world to snap back at him. In this way he makes himself feel powerful. The occupied city gives him every opportunity for such a game, letting him follow abjection wherever it leads: murder, petty theft, procuring young girls for his mother's business, and subjecting the one girl who loves him to a quite depraved betrayal. It can only be a matter of time before destiny bites back... Simenon's project here seems to be the exploration of a particular type of personality. He has been praised for getting the sense of occupied France "just right", but it could just as easily be American-occupied Germany, or any situation in which an individual feels oppressed by social convention. The story is a simple one, but the real interest here is Frank's character. The more we observe him, the more we see that there is something driving him other than the apparent urge for annihilation. In the final pages, we see that his violent immoral quest has been, ironically, as much about striving for connection as self-destruction: he is reaching out for a father in Holst, a lover in Sissy and, in "the woman at the window", a vision of domestic bliss.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa6fac624) out of 5 stars What a Teenager Wants: Crime and Occupation WW2 March 11 2015
By Kathryn Pon - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Under Nazi occupation, children of the Depression, 18 year old Frank, his mother/brothel madam's 16-18 year old girl trainees and his 15 year old neighbor girl with a crush are on a fast track learning curve. The environment is harsh and survival hard. Newspapers and rags wrapped around the feet substitute for boots: the tannery was closed 15 years ago. Wealth has been expropriated by the occupiers, intellectuals work menial jobs. Daily life for the neighbors is standing in line for turnips, and crowded rooms freezing with little heat. Frank and his mother, through their criminal activities have ease, bedrooms, furniture, tons of coal, good food, money and influence/protection. Frank is spoiled, with prostitute/slaves kneeling at his feet and his mother intimidated by his "cold eyes", his murderous narcissism. Frank is awash with barely perceived, changeable urgings. Wanting to be seen by a fatherly witness. Hating innocence. Wanting to be feared, to affect, to test his own limits, to test the limits of those who matter to him. He is ambitious and descends quickly in immorality. His need for attention, his macho swagger eventually involves innocents, the Resistance, neighbors, intimates and criminal cohorts. Brought into the occupiers' murky bureaucracy of duplicity, arrest, torture and death. The sense is that the occupation is eating itself and that Liberation is not far away. Imprisoned, Frank remakes his idea of himself, a romance of tightlipped refusal and introjected paternal wisdom.
William Vollman's afterword provoked thought. I felt a great sense of specifics and place. The place of the first murder "Rue Verte", the Swedish knife, the older man Holst (common Danish name), a writer seeking anonymity. The snow deep, fresh girls from the country in the brothel, the mansion recently occupied, a rich brewer's daughter, a violinist accused of resistance, the torture and daily early morning firing squads without trials. From the beginning, the occupation, to me, not American but clearly Nazi and in Northern France or Alsace. In The Train Simenon wrote about Nazism in France and the ungenerous choice of an ordinary man in self preservation. Recent Nobel Prize winner Modiano writes of criminals in Vichy France in Suspended Sentences. This kind of fiction of characters under duress makes history live.
A conquered country is a dystopia where the invaders' laws are extractive. There civilian life is a nightmare of survival, underground resistance is moral and criminals can grow rich in corrupt complicity with the occupiers. From neuroscience, we know the teenage brain is still developing. Identity, personal morality, and sense of self still in formation. Frank in war occupied territory lives on a different edge from 19 year old Dorothea in Middlemarch. The punishment for unformed character, lack of discernment and bad choices is not the same.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
HASH(0xa6fac9e4) out of 5 stars Fascinating but dark search for redemption Aug. 8 2012
By Ethan Cooper - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In DIRTY SNOW, Frank Friedmaier, a reckless 18 year old punk, is drawn to both criminal behavior and the innocent but nubile Sissy, who lives across the hall. Early in DS, Frank, who has become part of a bad crowd, tests himself against the swaggering braggadocio of his older mates and commits two heinous crimes. Then, Frank, in a very strange scene, maneuvers the willing Sissy, who thinks she is in love, into a shocking and compromising situation. With this deed, the repellent Frank achieves a new level of cruelty that actually exceeds that animating his criminality. How Frank manages this cruelty and its subsequent feelings of guilt and self-loathing is the great subject of this noir novel.

In a terrific afterword, William T. Vollmann offers many keen insights about DIRTY SNOW. These include:

o "...noir's grittiest page-turners are sometimes inhabited by heroes who are strangely heroic."

o "[Raymond] Chandler's novels are noir shot through with wistful luminescence; Simenon has concentrated noir into a darkness as solid and heavy as the interior of a dwarf star."

o "One fundamental question that this book raises is: Does every human being seek to evolve, even if unknowingly?"

DIRTY SNOW is not unlike Danilo Kis's great story, "A Tomb for Boris Davidovich". Highly recommended.

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