A New York Review Books Original
In 1905 the young Swiss writer Robert Walser arrived in Berlin to join his older brother Karl, already an important stage-set designer, and immediately threw himself into the vibrant social and cultural life of the city. Berlin Stories collects his alternately celebratory, droll, and satirical observations on every aspect of the bustling German capital, from its theaters, cabarets, painters’ galleries, and literary salons, to the metropolitan street, markets, the Tiergarten, rapid-service restaurants, and the electric tram. Originally appearing in literary magazines as well as the feuilleton sections of newspapers, the early stories are characterized by a joyous urgency and the generosity of an unconventional guide. Later pieces take the form of more personal reflections on the writing process, memories, and character studies. All are full of counter-intuitive images and vignettes of startling clarity, showcasing a unique talent for whom no detail was trivial, at grips with a city diving headlong into modernity.
James Schuyler's utterly original What's for Dinner? features a cast of characters who appear to have escaped from a Norman Rockwell painting to run amok. In tones that are variously droll, deadpan, and lyrical, Schuyler tells a story that revolves around three small-town American households. The Delehanteys are an old-fashioned Catholic family whose twin teenage boys are getting completely out of hand, no matter that their father is hardly one to spare the rod. Childless Norris and Lottie Taylor have been happily married for years, even as Lottie has been slowly drinking herself to death. Mag, a recent widow, is on the prowl for love. Retreating to an institution to dry out, Lottie finds herself caught up in a curious comedy of group therapy manners. At the same time, however, she begins an ascent from the depths of despair--illuminated with the odd grace and humor that readers of Schuyler's masterful poetry know so well--to a new understanding, that will turn her into an improbable redeemer within an unlikely world.
What's for Dinner? is among the most delightful and unusual works of American literature. Charming and dark, off-kilter but pedestrian, mercurial yet matter-of-fact, Schuyler's novel is an alluring invention that captures both the fragility and the tenacity of ordinary life.
A New York Review Books Original
Élisabeth Gille was only five when the Gestapo arrested her mother, and she grew up remembering next to nothing of her. Her mother was a figure, a name, Irène Némirovsky, a once popular novelist, a Russian émigré from an immensely rich family, a Jew who didn’t consider herself one and who even contributed to collaborationist periodicals, and a woman who died in Auschwitz because she was a Jew. To her daughter she was a tragic enigma and a stranger.
It was to come to terms with that stranger that Gille wrote, in The Mirador, her mother’s memoirs. The first part of the book, dated 1929, the year David Golder made Némirovsky famous, takes us back to her difficult childhood in Kiev and St. Petersburg. Her father is doting, her mother a beautiful monster, while Irene herself is bookish and self-absorbed. There are pogroms and riots, parties and excursions, then revolution, from which the family flees to France, a country of “moderation, freedom, and generosity,” where at last she is happy.
Some thirteen years later Irène picks up her pen again. Everything has changed. Abandoned by friends and colleagues, she lives in the countryside and waits for the knock on the door. Written a decade before the publication of Suite Française made Irène Némirovsky famous once more (something Gille did not live to see), The Mirador is a haunted and a haunting book, an unflinching reckoning with the tragic past, and a triumph not only of the imagination but of love.
A New York Review Books Original
An uncompromising contrarian, a passionate polemicist, a man of quick wit and wide learning, an anarchist, a pacifist, and a virtuoso of the slashing phrase, Dwight Macdonald was an indefatigable and indomitable critic of America’s susceptibility to well-meaning cultural fakery: all those estimable, eminent, prizewinning works of art that are said to be good and good for you and are not. He dubbed this phenomenon “Midcult” and he attacked it not only on aesthetic but on political grounds. Midcult rendered people complacent and compliant, secure in their common stupidity but neither happy nor free.
This new selection of Macdonald’s finest essays, assembled by John Summers, the editor of The Baffler, reintroduces a remarkable American critic and writer. In the era of smart, sexy, and everything indie, Macdonald remains as pertinent and challenging as ever.
Henry David Thoreau’s Journal was his life’s work: the daily practice of writing that accompanied his daily walks, the workshop where he developed his books and essays, and a project in its own right--one of the most intensive explorations ever made of the everyday environment, the revolving seasons, and the changing self. It is a treasure trove of some of the finest prose in English and, for those acquainted with it, its prismatic pages exercise a hypnotic fascination. Yet at roughly seven thousand pages, or two million words, it remains Thoreau’s least-known work.
This reader’s edition, the largest one-volume edition of Thoreau’s Journal ever published, is the first to capture the scope, rhythms, and variety of the work as a whole. Ranging freely over the world at large, the Journal is no less devoted to the life within. As Thoreau says, “It is in vain to write on the seasons unless you have the seasons in you.”
“What you have loved remains yours.” Thus speaks the irresistible rogue Sindbad, ironic hero of these fantastic tales, who has seduced and abandoned countless women over the course of centuries but never lost one, for he returns to visit them all--ladies, actresses, housemaids--in his memories and dreams. From the bustling streets of Budapest to small provincial towns where nothing ever seems to change, this ghostly Lothario encounters his old flames wherever he goes: along the banks of the Danube; under windows where they once courted; in churches and in graveyards, where Eros and Thanatos tryst. Lies, bad behavior, and fickleness of all kinds are forgiven, and love is reaffirmed as the only thing worth persevering for, weeping for, and living for.
The Adventures of Sindbad is the Hungarian master Gyula Krúdy’s most famous book, an uncanny evocation of the autumn of the Hapsburg Empire that is enormously popular not only in Hungary but throughout Eastern Europe.
The Jameses are perhaps the most extraordinary and distinguished family in American intellectual life. Henry’s novels, celebrated as among the finest in the language, and William’s groundbreaking philosophical and psychological works, have won these brothers a permanent place at the center of the nation’s cultural firmament. Less well known is their enigmatic younger sister, Alice. As Jean Stouse’s generous, probing, and deeply imaginative biography shows, however, Alice James was a fascinating and exceptional figure in her own right. Tortured throughout her short life by an array of nervous disorders, constrained by social convention from achieving the worldly success she so desired, Alice nevertheless emerges from this remarkable book as a personality every bit as peculiar and engaging as her two famous brothers. “The moral and philosophical questions that Henry wrote up as fiction and William as science,” writes Strouse, “Alice simply lived.” With a psychological penetration and high eloquence that are altogether Jamesian, Strouse traces the formation of a unique identity, from Alice’s unconventional peripatetic childhood in continental Europe through her years of spinsterhood in the United Sates and later England. It was there that she began to keep her celebrated diary, full of fitting social observation and unblinking self-analysis. “I consider myself one of the most potent creations of my time,” she wrote to William, with characteristic tartness, towards the end of her life, “and though I may not have a group of Harvard students sitting at my feet drinking in psychic truth, I shall not tremble, I assure you, at
the last trump.”
The distinguished British man of letters J. R. Ackerley hardly thought of himself as a dog lover when, well into middle age, he came into possession of a German shepherd. To his surprise, she turned out to be the love of his life, the “ideal friend” he had been searching for in vain for years. My Dog Tulip is a bittersweet retrospective account of their sixteen-year companionship, as well as a profound and subtle meditation on the strangeness that lies at the heart of all relationships. In vivid and sometimes startling detail, Ackerley tells of Tulip’s often erratic behavior and very canine tastes, and of his own fumbling but determined efforts to ensure for her an existence of perfect happiness.
/> Paul and Sandra Fierlinger’s animated feature film of My Dog Tulip, starring Christopher Plummer, Lynn Redgrave, and Isabella Rossellini, was released in 2010.
The elusive narrator of this beautifully written, complex, and powerfully disconcerting novel is the scion of a decayed aristocratic family from the farther reaches of the defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire. In five psychologically fraught episodes, he revisits his past, from adolescence to middle age, a period that coincides with the twentieth century’s ugliest years. Central to each episode is what might be called the narrator’s Jewish Question. He is no Nazi. To the contrary, he is apolitical, accommodating, cosmopolitan. He has Jewish friends and Jewish lovers, and their Jewishness is a matter of abiding fascination to him. His deepest and most defining relationship may even be the strange dance of attraction and repulsion that throughout his life he has conducted with this forbidden, desired, inescapable, imaginary Jewish other. And yet it is just this relationship that has blinded him to--and makes him complicit in--the terrible realities of his era.
Lyrical, witty, satirical, and unblinking, Gregor von Rezzori’s most controversial work is an intimate foray into the emotional underworld of modern European history.
Paul Goodman’s Growing Up Absurd was a runaway best seller when it was first published in 1960, and it became one of the defining texts of the New Left. Goodman was a writer and thinker who broke every mold and did it brilliantly--he was a novelist, poet, and a social theorist, among a host of other things--and the book’s surprise success established him as one of America’s most unusual and trenchant critics, combining vast learning, an astute mind, utopian sympathies, and a wonderfully hands-on way with words.
For Goodman, the unhappiness of young people was a concentrated form of the unhappiness of American society as a whole, run by corporations that provide employment (if and when they do) but not the kind of meaningful work that engages body and soul. Goodman saw the young as the first casualties of a humanly repressive social and economic system and, as such, the front line of potential resistance.
Noam Chomsky has said, “Paul Goodman’s impact is all about us,” and certainly it can be felt in the powerful localism of today’s renascent left. A classic of anarchist thought, Growing Up Absurd not only offers a penetrating indictment of the human costs of corporate capitalism but points the way forward. It is a tale of yesterday’s youth that speaks directly to our common future.
The natural world in all its richness, glimpsed variously in the house, the barnyard, and the garden, in ponds and streams, and at large in the woods and the fields, including old friends like the dog, the cat, the cow, and the pig, along with more unusual and sometimes alarming characters such as the weasel, the dragonfly, snakes of several sorts, and even a whale, not to mention ants in their seeming infinitude and a single humble potato--all these and more are the subjects of what may well be the most deft and delightful book of literary miniatures ever written. In Jules Renard’s world, plants and animals not only feel but speak (one species, the swallow, appears to write Hebrew), and yet, for all the anthropomorphic wit and whimsy the author indulges in, they guard their mystery too. Sly, funny, and touching, Nature Stories, here beautifully rendered into English by Douglas Parmée and accompanied by the wonderful ink-brush images of Pierre Bonnard with which the book was originally published, is a literary classic of inexhaustible freshness.
Miss Bianca is a white mouse of great beauty and supreme self-confidence, who, courtesy of her excellent young friend, the ambassador’s son, resides luxuriously in a porcelain pagoda painted with violets, primroses, and lilies of the valley. Miss Bianca would seem to be a pampered creature, and not, you would suppose, the mouse to dispatch on an especially challenging and extraordinarily perilous mission. However, it is precisely Miss Bianca that the Prisoners’ Aid Society picks for the job of rescuing a Norwegian poet imprisoned in the legendarily dreadful Black Castle (we all know, don’t we, that mice are the friends of prisoners, tending to their needs in dungeons and oubliettes everywhere). Miss Bianca, after all, is a poet too, and in any case she is due to travel any day now by diplomatic pouch to Norway. There Miss Bianca will be able to enlist one Nils, known to be the bravest mouse in the land, in a desperate and daring endeavor that will take them, along with their trusty companion Bernard, across turbulent seas and over the paws and under the maws of cats into one of the darkest places known to man or mouse. It will take everything they’ve got and a good deal more to escape with their own lives, not to mention the poet.
Margery Sharp’s classic tale of pluck, luck, and derring-do is amply and beautifully illustrated by the great Garth Williams.
When Bruce Duffy’s The World As I Found It was first published more than twenty years ago, critics and readers were bowled over by its daring reimagining of the lives of three very different men, the philosophers Bertrand Russell,G. E. Moore, and Ludwig Wittgenstein. A brilliant group portrait with the vertiginous displacements of twentieth-century life looming large in the background, Duffy’s novel depicts times and places as various as Vienna 1900, the trenches of World War I, Bloomsbury, and the colleges of Cambridge, while the complicated main characters appear not only in thought and dispute but in love and despair. Wittgenstein, a strange, troubled, and troubling man of gnawing contradictions, is at the center of a novel that reminds us that the apparently abstract and formal questions that animate philosophy are nothing less than the intractable matters of life and death.
An NYRB Classics Original
Set just after World War I, An Ermine in Czernopol centers on the tragicomic fate of Tildy, an erstwhile officer in the army of the now-defunct Austro-Hungarian Empire, determined to defend the virtue of his cheating sister-in-law at any cost. Rezzori surrounds Tildy with a host of fantastic characters, engaging us in a kaleidoscopic experience of a city where nothing is as it appears--a city of discordant voices, of wild ugliness and heartbreaking disappointment, in which, however, “laughter was everywhere, part of the air we breathed, a crackling tension in the atmosphere, always ready to erupt in showers of sparks or discharge itself in thunderous peals.”
Rachel Waring is deliriously happy. Out of nowhere, a great-aunt leaves her a Georgian mansion in another city--and she sheds her old life without delay. Gone is her dull administrative job, her mousy wardrobe, her downer of a roommate. She will live as a woman of leisure, devoted to beauty, creativity, expression, and love. Once installed in her new quarters, Rachel plants a garden, takes up writing, and impresses everyone she meets with her extraordinary optimism. But as Rachel sings and jokes the days away, her new neighbors begin to wonder if she might be taking her transformation just a bit too far.
In Wish Her Safe at Home, Stephen Benatar finds humor and horror in the shifting region between elation and mania. His heroine could be the next-door neighbor of the Beales of Grey Gardens or a sister to Jane Gardam's oddball protagonists, but she has an ebullient charm all her own.
Don Carpenter’s Hard Rain Falling is a tough-as-nails account of being down and out, but never down for good--a Dostoyevskian tale of crime, punishment, and the pursuit of an ever-elusive redemption. The novel follows the adventures of Jack Levitt, an orphaned teenager living off his wits in the fleabag hotels and seedy pool halls of Portland, Oregon. Jack befriends Billy Lancing, a young black runaway and pool hustler extraordinaire. A heist gone wrong gets Jack sent to reform school, from which he emerges embittered by abuse and solitary conﬁnement. In the meantime Billy has joined the middle class--married, fathered a son, acquired a business and a mistress. But neither Jack nor Billy can escape their troubled pasts, and they will meet again in San Quentin before their strange double drama comes to a violent and revelatory end.
Call it “Zen and the Art of Farming” or a “Little Green Book,” Masanobu Fukuoka’s manifesto about farming, eating, and the limits of human knowledge presents a radical challenge to the global systems we rely on for our food. At the same time, it is a spiritual memoir of a man whose innovative system of cultivating the earth reflects a deep faith in the wholeness and balance of the natural world. As Wendell Berry writes in his preface, the book “is valuable to us because it is at once practical and philosophical. It is an inspiring, necessary book about agriculture because it is not just about agriculture.”
Trained as a scientist, Fukuoka rejected both modern agribusiness and centuries of agricultural practice, deciding instead that the best forms of cultivation mirror nature’s own laws. Over the next three decades he perfected his so-called “do-nothing” technique: commonsense, sustainable practices that all but eliminate the use of pesticides, fertilizer, tillage, and perhaps most significantly, wasteful effort.
Whether you’re a guerrilla gardener or a kitchen gardener, dedicated to slow food or simply looking to live a healthier life, you will find something here--you may even be moved to start a revolution of your own.
L.J. Davis's 1971 novel, A Meaningful Life, is a blistering black comedy about the American quest for redemption through real estate and a gritty picture of New York City in collapse. Just out of college, Lowell Lake, the Western-born hero of Davis's novel, heads to New York, where he plans to make it big as a writer. Instead he finds a job as a technical editor, at which he toils away while passion leaks out of his marriage to a nice Jewish girl. Then Lowell discovers a beautiful crumbling mansion in a crime-ridden section of Brooklyn, and against all advice, not to mention his wife's will, sinks his every penny into buying it. He quits his job, moves in, and spends day and night on demolition and construction. At last he has a mission: he will dig up the lost history of his house; he will restore it to its past grandeur. He will make good on everything that's gone wrong with his life, and he will even murder to do it.
From the Trade Paperback edition.
BY THE AUTHOR OF
The Big Orange Splot, The Neddiad, and
Adventures of a Cat-Whiskered Girl
Things Victor loves: pizza with anchovies, grape soda, B movies aired at midnight, the evening news. And with his parents off at a resort and his older sister shirking her babysitting duties, Victor has plenty of time to indulge himself and to try a few things he’s been curious about. Exploring the nearby city of Hogboro, he runs into a curious character known as the Chicken Man (a reference to his companion, an intelligent hen named Claudia who lives under his hat). The Chicken Man speaks brilliant nonsense, but he seems to be hip to the lizard musicians (real lizards, not men in lizard suits) who’ve begun appearing on Victor’s television after the broadcast of the late-late movie. Are the lizards from outer space? From “other space”? Together Victor and the Chicken Man, guided by the able Claudia, journey to the lizards’ floating island, a strange and fantastic place that operates with an inspired logic of its own.
Boleslaw Prus is often compared to Chekhov, and Prus’s masterpiece might be described as an intimate epic, a beautifully detailed, utterly absorbing exploration of life in late-nineteenth-century Warsaw, which is also a prophetic reckoning with some of the social forces--imperialism, nationalism, anti-Semitism among them--that would soon convulse Europe as never before. But The Doll is above all a brilliant novel of character, dramatizing conflicting ideas through the various convictions, ambitions, confusions, and frustrations of an extensive and varied cast. At the center of the book are three men from three different generations. Prus’s fatally flawed hero is Wokulski, a successful businessman who yearns for recognition from Poland’s decadent aristocracy and falls desperately in love with the highborn, glacially beautiful Izabela. Wokulski’s story is intertwined with those of the incorrigibly romantic old clerk Rzecki, nostalgic for the revolutions of 1848, and of the bright young scientist Ochocki, who dreams of a future full of flying machines and other marvels, making for a book of great scope and richness that is, as Stanisław Barańczak writes in his introduction, at once “an old-fashioned yet still fascinating love story . . . , a still topical diagnosis of society’s ills, and a forceful yet subtle portrayal of a tragically doomed man.
On July 1, 1959, at Ypsilanti State Hospital in Michigan, the social psychologist Milton Rokeach brought together three paranoid schizophrenics: Clyde Benson, an elderly farmer and alcoholic; Joseph Cassel, a failed writer who was institutionalized after increasingly violent behavior toward his family; and Leon Gabor, a college dropout and veteran of World War II.
The men had one thing in common: each believed himself to be Jesus Christ. Their extraordinary meeting and the two years they spent in one another’s company serves as the basis for an investigation into the nature of human identity, belief, and delusion that is poignant, amusing, and at times disturbing. Displaying the sympathy and subtlety of a gifted novelist, Rokeach draws us into the lives of three troubled and profoundly different men who find themselves “confronted with the ultimate contradiction conceivable for human beings: more than one person claiming the same identity.”
A New York Review Books Original
Transcending divisions of creed, challenging social distinctions of all sorts, and celebrating individual unity with the divine, the poetry of Kabir is one of passion and paradox, of mind-bending riddles and exultant riffs. These new translations by Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, one of India’s finest contemporary poets, bring out the richness, wit, and power of a literary and spiritual master.
The Pumpkin Eater is a surreal black comedy about the wages of adulthood and the pitfalls of parenthood. A nameless woman speaks, at first from the precarious perch of a therapist’s couch, and her smart, wry, confiding, immensely sympathetic voice immediately captures and holds our attention. She is the mother of a vast, swelling brood of children, also nameless, and the wife of a successful screenwriter, Jake Armitage. The Armitages live in the city, but they are building a great glass tower in the country in which to settle down and live happily ever after. But could that dream be nothing more than a sentimental delusion? At the edges of vision the spectral children come and go, while our heroine, alert to the countless gradations of depression and the innumerable forms of betrayal, tries to make sense of it all: doctors, husbands, movie stars, bodies, grocery lists, nursery rhymes, messes, aging parents, memories, dreams, and breakdowns. How to pull it all together? Perhaps you start by falling apart.