cover image Panorama


H.G. Adler, trans. from the German by Peter Filkins, Random, $26 (480p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6851-7

The first English-language translation of an opus by Adler (The Journey), Czech writer and Holocaust survivor, opens with the young Josef Kramer, at a "panorama," a rotating display of pictures of exotic places. The novel's structure imitates that of the panorama, each a snapshot of an epoch in Josef's life, from a neurotic childhood to a year in the countryside, then a period in a hellish boarding school. The most biting and amusing sections are Josef as a tutor in a wealthy and dysfunctional family and working at a frenetic "cultural center." Each episode ends with Josef drifting to sleep, trying to create internal order from chaos. War comes and two sections deal with Josef as a forced laborer and his time in concentration camps and his reflecting on his life from self-imposed exile in Britain. Adler's writing is stream-of-consciousness, heavily philosophical, and the style changes as Josef matures. Adler's portrayal of daily life and a young man's existential maturation in the region of Bohemia between the wars is full of satirical and loving detail that turns grim in the Holocaust sections. But the long, clause-heavy sentences feel clunky in translation and make this book more fascinating as a treasure of cultural and literary history than as a purely narrative read. (Jan.)