cover image Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz

Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz

Maxim Biller, trans. from German by Anthea Bell. Pushkin Collection, $16 trade paper (96p) ISBN 978-1-78227-100-0

Biller, recipient of the Theodor Wolff Prize for journalism in German, plunges into the mind of a fictionalized Bruno Schulz, the celebrated Jewish author killed by the Gestapo in 1942, in the opening novella of this slim compilation. After an imposter claiming to be Thomas Mann arrives in Schultz's sleepy Polish town, the frenetic writer declares it his duty to address the real Mann, his idol, and warn him of this "false stranger" causing a ruckus. Through Schultz's stop-and-start letter writing, fear and anxiety become personified%E2%80%94he speaks of them as if they were old friends. Meanwhile, horrific allusions to the Nazi regime pass by almost naturally in Schultz's telling. Biller's prose is ominous and lively%E2%80%94"living black leaves" fly above, and horse-drawn carriages linger like "crippling dozing crabs." Inhabiting the author described by J.M. Coetzee as "incomparably gifted as an explorer of his own inner life" is an ambitious mission, but Biller does it with grace, respecting the protagonist's deranged and childish sensitivity with his bizarre imagery and menacing language. Fans of Schulz's work will be particularly interested, but anyone can appreciate the way that Biller's voice eases seamlessly into the mind of Schulz, making for a superb read. As captivating as the novella is, however, stories from the flesh-and-blood Schultz that accompany the book%E2%80%94"Birds" and "Cinnamon Shops," both originally published in 1934%E2%80%94stand out as concise gems: shockingly catastrophic, somber, and eager to reveal the beauty and vulnerability of imagination. (Oct.)