cover image Käsebier Takes Berlin

Käsebier Takes Berlin

Gabriele Tergit, trans. from the German by Sophie Duvernoy. New York Review Books, $16.95 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-68137-272-3

Originally published in 1931, Tergit’s arch satire is an amusing but bleak morality tale about cultural philistinism. The novel’s central theme is inflation: as the cost of goods meteorically rises in Weimar Berlin, so does the reputation of a schmaltzy singer named Käsebier. Unprepossessing and “unbelievably kitschy,” Käsebier nonetheless becomes a sensation with his earnest renditions of folk songs and fatuous comic numbers. Tergit documents Käsebier’s rise and fall into irrelevance through the lens of Berlin’s journalistic, high-society, and financial circles. Covering the performer are the urbane, old-school reporters at the Berliner Rundschau newspaper. When an obnoxious, energetic disrupter buys the paper, the staff is forced to lower their elevated style (and salaries) to please the new owner. Insouciant socialites sumptuously fete Käsebier, “a child of the people,” while the economy teeters on the brink of collapse. Bankers and developers team up on a poorly timed, poorly planned, and poorly executed construction project offering large apartments no one can afford and a new theater for Käsebier no one will attend. Portraying a society declining into fascism, the novel resounds with hollow laughter and is crisp throughout, but the journalistic sections feel most alive. These tableaus, which blend absurdism and poignancy, match the comic invention of classics like Michael Frayn’s Towards the End of the Morning and Evelyn Waugh’s Scoop. [em](Jan.) [/em]