cover image Ginster


Siegfried Kracauer, trans. from the German by Carl Skoggard. NYRB Classics, $18.95 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-68137-814-5

Translated into English for the first time by Skoggard, this brilliant WWI satire from German cultural critic Kraucauer (1889–1966; From Caligari to Hitler) was originally published in 1928. The novel begins in 1914, when, in an unnamed German city, the eponymous hero, 25, is told by his landlady, “You’ll have to get in the war, too, it can’t be helped.” But it turns out that Ginster, a self-avowed “coward,” can help it very much. As the war progresses, he mostly avoids the battlefield, first by being declared unfit by recruiters, and then, after he’s drafted and trained in the use of a cannon, by getting dismissed for being too weak. Kraucauer’s mordant satire has the caustic power of Celine but is less coarse and choleric. Sharp criticisms of patriotism, cronyism, and the war itself are tempered by the fanciful observations of a character who has the eye of a visual artist. Ginster’s obsession with lines, spirals, and shapes fills the novel with arresting imagery, such as the description of a love interest “whose face acquired the mobility of a lovely grotto formation when she spoke.” The result is a tour de force of language enriched by gallows humor. (Aug.)