cover image Bright Magic

Bright Magic

Alfred Döblin, trans. from the German by Damion Searls. New York Review Books, $15.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-59017-973-4

Searls is nearly as prolific a translator as Döblin (Berlin Alexanderplatz) was a writer, so it’s natural that he should give us the first English-language edition of Döblin’s short stories in Bright Magic. The first of the book’s two sections groups together early tales that run the gamut of German romanticism: there are secret societies (“Astralia”), tortured ballerinas (“The Ballerina and the Body”), an immortal witch (“She Who Helped”), medieval fairy tales (“Bluebeard the Knight”), and more than one intersection of love and suicide. Standouts such as “The Murder of a Buttercup,” in which a miser becomes tortured by guilt after decapitating a flower, and “A Blasé Man’s Memoirs,” in which a young intellectual attempts to be done with love, hint at the psychological depth and abiding strangeness to come in the book’s latter half. In the second section, we have a handful of gnomic fables and two genuine masterpieces: “Traffic with the Beyond,” in which a circle of spiritualists tries to solve a murder and wind up channeling much more than they bargained for, and “Materialism: A Fable,” in which all the world’s flora and fauna fall into a deep depression at the new primacy of mankind. When a tiger tells an assembly of animals, “We have to bring reason into the world,” or when we read, in “Max,” of the friendship of a girl and a hippopotamus, the reader is aware of the extent of Döblin’s imagination. Bright Magic is the work of a sorcerer, an indispensable translation welcome in any cabinet of wonders. (Aug.)