Heinrich Boll

Billiards at Half-Past Nine

I am not reconciled to a world in which a gesture or a word misunderstood can cost a life. 209

It's wrong to get formulas free, put secrets into words, transpose memories into feeling. Feelings can even kill such good hard things as love and hate. 211

Her craziness is a lie, grief behind thick walls, I know it, I get drunk on it sometimes myself and swim away to a lie. 213

What's a human being without grief? 230

The Clown

...in a child's life there is a greatness in the banal, it is strange, random, always tragic. 96

Her entire contribution to the conversation consisted of two expressions: "Oh, how sweet" and "Oh, how awful." I found her boring at first, but then became fascinated and told her all sorts of things, the way one throws coins into an automat--just to see how she would react. 181

What upset me about these At Homes of my mother's was the innocence of the returned emigrants. They were so moved by all the remorse and loud protestations of democracy that they were forever embracing and radiating good fellowship. They failed to grasp that the secret of the terror lay in the little things. To regret big things is child's play: political errors, adultery, murder, anti-Semitism--but who forgives, who understands the little things?...I remember too many moments, too many details, tiny little things--and Herbert's eyes haven't changed. 184

These people understand nothing. They all know, of course, that a clown has to be melancholy in order for him to be a good clown, but the fact that melancholy is for him a deadly serious business, that they don't grasp. 186

You can't repeat moments or communicate them. 203

There are some strange unrecognized forms of prostitution compared with which prostitution itself is an honest trade: at least you get something for your money. 216

Everyone carries around the decorations of his heroic moments around his neck and on his chest. To cling to the past is hypocrisy, because no one knows those moments: how Henrietta in her blue hat had sat in the streetcar and gone off to defend the sacred German soil against the Jewish Yankees near Leverkusen. 222

Silvery voices gaily pretend unconcern, mouths strained by slimming diets, tired throats with tense muscles, give out gaiety, where only a good row with sharp words flying would relieve the situation. Everything swallowed covered up with false neighborly gaiety, till sometime later on quiet summer evenings behind closed doors and drawn blinds fine china is thrown at embryo ghosts. "I wanted to have it--it was you who didn't." Fine china does not sound fine when it is thrown against the kitchen wall. Ambulance sirens scream up the hill. Snapped-off crocus, damaged moss, a child's hand rolls a child's ball into the rock garden, screaming sirens announce the undeclared war. Oh if only we had chosen a garden sloping up. 202