cover image Gaslight: Lantern Slides from the Nineteenth Century

Gaslight: Lantern Slides from the Nineteenth Century

Joachim Kalka, trans. from the German by Isabel Fargo Cole. New York Review Books, $15.95 trade paper (172p) ISBN 978-1-68137-118-4

Essayist, critic, and translator Kalka’s first work translated into English is an original, learned, and occasionally bewildering collection of essays on the 19th century. Rooted in academic criticism, Kalka’s essays are buoyant and snappily written, bringing an endlessly revealing lens to train on Wagner’s opera The Valkyrie; Balzac’s novel A Woman of Thirty; Wolfgang Menzel, a reactionary German critic of Goethe’s (whose judgments, one author said, were “so reliably wrong that each and every book he branded as heretical can be read with pleasure to this day”); and, in the title essay, the relationship between artificial illumination and Jack the Ripper. One needn’t be conversant with the works of Balzac, Goethe, or Menzel to appreciate Kalka’s essays, but a keen interest in European culture and literature of the 19th century is rewarded. Kalka contextualizes even the most potentially arcane subjects with lucidity and good humor, though sometimes it will take a few pages for readers to find their footing. This accomplished work introduces a strong, if strange, voice to English-speaking readers. [em](Apr.) [/em]