The hour before execution, from Arrow to the Heart, by Albrecht Goes

Published in the U.S. as Unquiet Night. Recommended by Christopher Fry in Writer’s Choice.


It was a severe task that lay ahead of me–it was as though I had to perform a grave and spiritual saraband. There were words to be spoken, comprehensible human words, but clearly there was more than just this. Klaus, my frater catholicus, could give absolution, the host and the chrism; he had for his people a language of signs which at one and the same time may not be understood and yet which must be and is understood. But I, here, today? Up there, in my own district, I knew the men condemned to die in the prisons as well as, and frequently much better than, the other men condemned to another sort of death in the hospitals. We had a broad basis on which to build our last hour together, and there was never need to try to start at the last moment. Here I must begin from almost nothing. For, strictly speaking, I should not admit that I knew what I had read in the documents. Otherwise he might well say to himself that the pastor had been spying on him, and had come here with the intention of putting something across. I could imagine him saying: “No thanks. No rubbish for me from your piety junk shop.”

“We have one hour left to spend together. It is up to us, my friend, to make the most of it.”

Was that the right way to start? I had said it principally to myself.

Reviews and Comments

Book World, August 1951

We believe this to be one of the most moving novels to have come out of Germany (or indeed Europe) since the war. Its story is simple — a Lutheran padre’s visit to attend a deserter’s execution — but its underlying theme, of the survival among the jungle ethics of war … the fundamental virtues of goodness, courage and Christian charity make it a deeply impressive book.

Frederic Morton, New York Herald Tribune, 26 August 1951

In simple accents, with unadorned fidelity, Unquiet Night [U.S. title of ‘Arrow to the Heart’] records not only the corruption of evil men but also the corruptibility of the good. The very fact that the chaplain, an upright, high-minded believer, is also a little unctuous, a trifle complacent, just a shade selfish, addes to the poignance of the portrait.

Robert Pick, Saturday Review of Literature, 22 September 1951

This is a story of Christian love in a world hardly Christian any longer. It is very moving. It is religious writing of a kind that probably comes to life only where religion in its hope for survival has to go back to its sources in man.

Richard Plant, New York Times, 26 August 1951

The story is remarkable for its warmth, its simplicity and for the classical restraint with which the somber, swift moving events are related. Much of the credit should go to the excellent translation by the English writer Constantine Fitzgibbon, one of the top practitioners in this field.

  • Search for it at Arrow to the Heart or Unquiet Night

  • Search for it at Arrow to the Heart or Unquiet Night
  • Arrow to the Heart, by Albrecht Goes
    Translated by Constantine Fitzgibbon
    London: Michael Joseph, 1951

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