On Bended Knees

By Martin Goodman

Category: Fiction

Formats available: Paperback, Ebook

Pages: 230

Publication date: 12/05/22

ISBN-13: 9781909954502

A 30th anniversary edition of a Whitbread shortlisted novel.

Though Tomas is half-German, he is taught by English war veterans. He walks the ruins of Coventry with his English Gran, still crumbling from the blitz.  Later, when Tomas nears adulthood, he goes to Germany to stay with his enigmatic uncle, Herr Poppel. The blind, elderly man was once a German soldier.  Tomas has more family out in Dresden, a city still maimed by Allied firebombs.

What does a young man make of all this atrocity, guilt and his own disgust at the past? What might we inherit from the wars of our elders, and how might we move on?


‘The emotional tact of Martin Goodman’s ON BENDED KNEES slips down like a milky cuppa. Yet Goodman’s plot unfolds against a backcloth of even deeper red. Tomas grows up with his German mother in the postwar Midlands, a place of oozing war-wounds where a gung-ho film or a World Cup tie can split his heart in two. “We carry old deaths within us,” warns his dying teacher and Tomas must turn pilgrim in Dresden to make peace with his family’s past. This quiet and subtle study of reconciliation tends to stick with English understatement and eschew German grandeur. No matter, Britain has squads of youngish writers trained to squeeze the last drop of moral juice out of the Second World War and its aftermath. It takes a braver soul, like Goodman, to hint that postwar babes should try instead to lay these ghosts to rest.’ ~ The Observer

‘A perceptive, moving novel. Martin Goodman takes fierce delight in cutting through the easy cliches about the “new” Europe.’ ~ Christopher Hope


ON BENDED KNEES is a professional combination of rite-of-passage novel and cultural quest. The troubled half-German adolescent hero, Tomas, goes to stay with relatives in Berlin, following the disturbing death of his father. That city is brilliantly seen through the hero’s eyes, as is the character who effectively steals the novel, the blind and autocratic Herr Poppel. The novel comes most to life when Tomas and Poppel are taking their walks around the divided city’s streets and parks, the older man dispensing the secrets of longevity, the younger man hesitantly challenging him on the implications of his cast-iron pronouncements and their relation to Germany’s guilty past. A very impressive debut.

- The Scotsman

ON BENDED KNEES is puzzling at first, because Tomas, who wants to tell his own story with proper attention – ‘on bended knees’ – seems to have very little personality, or even particular preference. But you come to see that he is conserving himself deliberately against the old suffering, the tired old guilt of the adults. He is biding his time. DJ Taylor has called ON BENDED KNEES “deceptively simple”, but I can’t see what’s deceptive about it. Simplicity is a great virtue, in novels as elsewhere. After all, it can only be produced from sincerity.

- Penelope Fitzgerald, The Evening Standard

This excellent first novel's central character is so completely realised he could have walked out of one of those enigmatic Bruce Chatwin pieces about old mysterious European types.

- Time Out

Heralds a new dawn for British writing.

- The Daily Post

The novel's blunt, no-frills economy is part of its charm. Goodman writes with flare and panache, and the narrative fizzes along. Goodman's novel soars.

- The Times

Welcome to Barbican Press

Martin Goodman

Martin Goodman was born in Leicester and grew up in Loughborough, attending the grammar school there, before spinning off into the world. Early career thoughts were of being a chef or a lawyer, and indeed when studying English at Leeds University he almost switched to Law. A comparison of the reading lists held him back. Later he took a teaching degree in English as a Second Language, and early years saw him teaching English overseas to earn money and experience, and then spending it all on time to write before …