- Series: New York Review Books Classics
- Paperback: 480 pages
- Publisher: NYRB Classics; Translation edition (March 6, 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 9781681371993
- ISBN-13: 978-1681371993
- ASIN: 1681371995
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 13 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #44,884 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Berlin Alexanderplatz (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – March 6, 2018
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“A raging cataract of a novel, one that threatens to engulf the reader in a tumult of sensation. It has long been considered the behemoth of German literary modernism, the counterpart to Ulysses." —Alex Ross, The New Yorker
"Because of its use of collage, stream of consciousness, and colloquial speech, Berlin Alexanderplatz has frequently been compared to Joyce’s Ulysses and John Dos Passos’s Manhattan Transfer...Beneath the book’s innovative style, the reader can hear the gears of ancient narrative elements grinding: evocations of folk songs, myths and Old Testament stories, and themes of tragedy and fate.” —Amanda DeMarco, The Wall Street Journal
"It was long branded untranslatable…Yet a fluent, pacy new translation by Michael Hofmann gainsays that assumption, opening up the book for English-speakers….Something of the psychology of Weimar, the desire to touch the electric fence just to see what happens, lives on in modern societies and makes them, in their own ways, vulnerable to extremism and demagoguery...One lesson of Berlin Alexanderplatz is that darkness can take many forms." —The Economist
“[A] major writer who grappled with the roots of darkness in our time....” —Ernst Pawel, The New York Times
"In this new translation, the dissonant voices ring out boldly; we can tell when someone is being mimicked and wickedly sent up, enjoy the black Berlin humor...Döblin is never sentimental, or hysterical. He just gets us to listen to the drumbeat of violence throbbing in this city of the mind. Berlin Alexanderplatz is one of the great anti-war novels of our time." —Joachim Redner, Australian Book Review
“His was an extraordinary mind.” —Philip Ardagh, The Guardian
“Without the futurist elements of Döblin’s work from Wang Lun to Berlin Alexanderplatz, my prose is inconceivable.... He’ll discomfort you, give you bad dreams. If you’re satisfied with yourself, beware of Döblin.” —Günter Grass
“I learned more about the essence of the epic from Döblin than from anyone else. His epic writing and even his theory about the epic strongly influenced my own dramatic art.” —Bertolt Brecht
“As we look back over the rich literary output of this great writer, as we look back over the long and fruitful life of this fighter and this friend of man, this perennial spring of spiritual life, we venture to ask: When will the gentlemen [sic] of the Nobel Prize jury discover him?” —Ludwig Marcuse, Books Abroad
About the Author
Alfred Döblin (1878–1957) was born in German Stettin (now the Polish city of Szczecin) to Jewish parents. When he was ten his father, a master tailor, eloped with a seamstress, abandoning the family. Subsequently his mother relocated the rest of the family to Berlin. Döblin studied medicine at Friedrich Wilhelm University, specializing in neurology and psychiatry. While working at a psychiatric clinic in Berlin, he became romantically entangled with two women: Friede Kunke, with whom he had a son, Bodo, in 1911, and Erna Reiss, to whom he had become engaged before learning of Kunke’s pregnancy. He married Erna the next year, and they remained together for the rest of his life. His novel The Three Leaps of Wang Lun was published in 1915 while Döblin was serving as a military doctor; it went on to win the Fontane Prize. In 1920 he published Wallenstein, a novel set during the Thirty Years’ War, which was an oblique comment on the First World War. He became president of the Association of German Writers in 1924, and published his best-known novel, Berlin Alexanderplatz, in 1929, achieving modest mainstream fame while solidifying his position at the center of an intellectual group that included Bertolt Brecht, Robert Musil, and Joseph Roth, among others. He fled Germany with his family soon after Hitler’s rise, moving first to Zurich, then to Paris, and, after the Nazi invasion of France, to Los Angeles, where he converted to Catholicism and briefly worked as a screenwriter for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. After the war he returned to Germany and worked as an editor with the aim of rehabilitating literature that had been banned under Hitler, but he found himself at odds with conservative postwar cultural trends. He suffered from Parkinson’s disease in later years and died in Emmendingen in 1957. Erna committed suicide two months after his death and was interred along with him.
Michael Hofmann is a German-born, British-educated poet and translator. Among his translations are works by Franz Kafka; Peter Stamm; his father, Gert Hofmann; Herta Müller; and fourteen books by Joseph Roth. A recipient of both the PEN Translation Prize and the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize, Hofmann’s Selected Poems were published in 2009 and Where Have You Been?: Selected Essays in 2014. In addition to Berlin Alexanderplatz, New York Review Books publishes his selection from the work of Malcolm Lowry, The Voyage That Never Ends, and his translations of Jakob Wassermann’s My Marriage and Gert Ledig’s Stalin Front. He teaches in the English department at the University of Florida.
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Franz Biberkopf has just been released from Tegel Prison, where he has served four years for killing his girlfriend Ida. No hint from the text as to why the sentence was so short, but the indications are that it was a crime of passion, and so manslaughter must have been his sentence. The overly emotional Biberkopf is determined to go straight, but he is not psychically equipped to stay on that course. The picture of him is a sympathetic one, even as we see him falling in with thieves, becoming a pimp and getting himself implicated (wrongly, I must add) in the death of yet another woman, the good hearted prostitute Mitzi, f/k/a Sonia, nee Emilie. Identity is not a sure thing in this world. While we see Franz's decline and fall, to the distress of his friends in the demimonde in which he is enmeshed, he also seems to grow in some sort of moral stature. He is a man for all that and tries to do the right thing even as he inevitably fails.
His love for Mitzi and attraction to his friends is used cynically against him by the Pum gang, Luders, the evil Reinhold and others also fighting for a toehold on life in the Babylon Berlin of the doomed times. Doblin was a doctor, with expertise in psychiatry, and his understanding of his characters has a decided psychiatric bent, much more observational than clinical, but it adds to the richness of the portrait of Franz and the entire canvas of characters.
While I would not put this on my list of the Great 100 books as The Guardian did, it is good indeed, and there are echoes and correspondences with the work of many other writers whom Doblin matches in ability, at least in this his masterpiece. We have echoes of the newsreel technique of Dos Passos in USA; the urban walkabout of Joyce in Ulysses; the emotional farrago of giants tilting against each other for the sheer hell of it that we see in Brecht's In the Jungle of Cities. Mixed in with this is reliance on the Bible; folk songs; popular music; marches; and the noises, sounds and melodic harmonies of nature wild and tamed in this jungle of a city.
It is not a totally easy read, and the psychological shifts that Franz and other characters undergo are not completely explicable, or to be understood as such. Doblin does not tidy up the messy picture of human behavior that he serves up to us. But it feels authentic, and while ultimately depressingly sad, it's well worth the reading.