cover image The Country Road

The Country Road

Regina Ullmann, trans. from the German by Kurt Beals. New Directions, $15.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2005-7

German-language literature, from Rilke to Thomas Mann, has often merged psychological landscapes with the natural world, but women have been underrepresented—or undertranslated. Enter Swiss protomodernist Ullmann, whose unclassifiable and deeply original 1921 collection has undergone a triumphant translation (the first in English) by Beals. Some stories are sublime reveries that anticipate Claire Lispector or Nathalie Sarraute, while others read like painterly idylls of country life. “Strawberries” evokes a child’s experience of natural beauty, “The Old Tavern Sign” is a majestic fable featuring a youth’s dreamlike encounter with a stag, and both “The Mouse” and “The Old Man” meditate on death’s proximity to life. But the real focus is on language, whether the birdsong of “Retold...”, the overheard chatter of adults in “The Christmas Visit,” or the mental language that mingles with the harshness of a journey through the blooming hinterlands in the title story. Each of the pieces in this collection is “a stroll through unknown territories,” populated by mysterious hunchbacks, memories of rustic old houses, mirrors, and the high price nature asks for giving the gift of life. In the touching “The Girl,” Ullmann delivers a more traditional story about a pregnant girl seeking refuge with an old hermit. Ullmann’s purpose is to frame “those intangible things that you never receive” but are ours nonetheless. (Jan.)