cover image On the Marble Cliffs

On the Marble Cliffs

Ernst Jünger, trans. from the German by Tess Lewis. NYRB Classics, $14.95 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-1-68137-625-7

A man lives on top of marble cliffs where he distracts himself with collecting plants in this elliptical allegory of tyranny from Jünger (Storm of Steel). The unnamed narrator moved to the safe haven with his brother, Otho; his son, Elio; and his mother-in-law, Lampusa. The men, veterans of an earlier war, now live peacefully as botanists, hunting for plants in the forests and registering their findings in their catalog. But not even this idyllic lifestyle can protect them from the Head Forester, a malicious figure with a taste for brutality and a disdain for art, whose fame precedes and empowers him (“Just as in the mountains thick fog heralds the storm, a cloud of fear preceded the Head Forester”). Some kind of war is brewing, and after a man arrives with a young prince, the narrator reluctantly joins their fight against the Head Forester in what turns out to be a complex, multisided conflict. An appealing introduction from Jessi Jezewska Stevens offers two credible and conflicting interpretations (either it’s an anti-fascist anthem or a “retreat into aesthetics”), but while Jünger (1895–1998) beautifully portrays the narrator’s nostalgia for a simpler life, readers will likely feel unmoored by the hazy details of what’s going on. Fans of European classics will want to take a look at this curiosity. (Jan.)