cover image The Last Wolf and Herman

The Last Wolf and Herman

László Krasznahorkai, trans. from the Hungarian by George Szirtes and John Batki. New Directions, $16.95 (128p) ISBN 978-0-8112-2608-0

"The Last Wolf” and “Herman,” two thematically linked novellas from the Man Booker International Prize–winning Hungarian writer Krasznahorkai, may be far shorter than his past masterworks Sátántangó and The Melancholy of Resistance, but they provide a showcase for the density and lucidity that made those works great. “The Last Wolf” is the weightier of the two, concerning a washed-up professor who recounts, in one long sentence addressed to a barman, the story of how, in a case of mistaken identity, he was invited to the Spanish region of Extramadura and offered his choice of subjects to write about by the foundation paying for the trip. He chooses to report on the story of the area’s last wolf pack and unearths a saga of extinction, told by a succession of hunters and wardens, that is by turns comic, absurd, tragic, and harrowingly beautiful. “Herman” is a two-part story beginning with the game warden of the title who, despairing of the bureaucracy and disregard of the human world, abruptly switches sides and begins laying his traps for men instead. And in the bizarre second part, a group of hedonists come to town for a little saturnalia and to contemplate “the dreadful beauty” of existence, only to be swept up in the manhunt for Herman. On their own, both volumes are slender storytelling jewels, but together they are an existential inquiry into the human animal by a unique and ingenious writer. (Sept.)