cover image Pigeons on the Grass

Pigeons on the Grass

Wolfgang Koeppen, trans. from the German by Michael Hofmann. New Directions, $15.95 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2918-0

Set in Munich in 1948, German writer Koeppen’s wrenching novel, first published in 1951, portrays a society coping with the aftermath of WWII. The panoramic narrative cuts back and forth across the intersecting lives and experiences of characters struggling to navigate “a lost world” with dignity and decorum, among them a failed writer and his heiress wife, who has been reduced to pawning her family heirlooms; a Black sergeant in America’s occupying force and his German lover, who is carrying their child; a tour bus full of American schoolteachers; a psychiatrist who sells his blood for money; and a Black traveler from America and his elderly German porter. Koeppen (1906–1996) alternates between humor and tense drama in poetic passages and run-on sentences, and he endows his characters with classical attributes—a character named Odysseus Cotton, a prostitute who sees herself as a Circe figure—that conjure a sense of a shabby reality touched incongruously by myth. Hofmann’s brilliant translation, meanwhile, finds pathos in the characters’ quest for meaning and significance in a world of randomness and chance. Koeppen’s masterwork soars. (Oct.)