cover image Berlin Stories

Berlin Stories

Robert Walser, trans. from the German by Susan Bernofsky. New York Review Books, $14 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-59017-454-8

In the first English translation of his stories, Walser (an early twentieth century Swiss writer and European modernist) portrays Berlin through vignettes organized in four sections: "The City Streets"; "The Theater"; "Berlin Life"; and "Looking Back." With journalistic, mostly first- and second-person accounts, and an eye toward middle-class domesticity, he considers topics ranging from a weekly market to gustatory pleasures at a local bar, and from the anticipation of theatrical novelties to conflict in the life of a millionairess. Set before the violence of the Weimar Republic, these selections feature characters who display affection toward the city and their countrymen rather than disenchantment, and with minimal departures, who reveal some of the author's own gratitude and optimism. Unswayed by "all this elegance and splendor," they are as attuned to pockets of nature as they are to public transport, such that the commonplace can inspire simple wonder and dream-like musings. Modern readers may consider the return to Berlin as a seat of culture, intellect, and civility to be nostalgic, but refreshing. (Oct.)