cover image The Storyteller

The Storyteller

Walter Benjamin, trans. from the German by Sam Dolbear, Esther Leslie, and Sebastian Truskolaski. Verso (PRH, dist.), $19.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-78478-304-4

Dreams, diaries, reviews, fragments, and short fiction make up The Storyteller, but there’s no denying that this potpourri by the German critic and philosopher Benjamin is an essential addition to the corpus of one of the 20th century’s preeminent figures. As the translators note in an elegant introduction, these pieces explore both the European oral storytelling tradition and a curious mysticism under the aegis of modernist literature. There are charming glimpses of an unrecoverable childhood in bits such as “A Christmas Song” and “Self-Portraits of a Dreamer,” in both of which Benjamin sees himself refracted as seer, lover, and knower. Flights of fancy such as “Sketched into Mobile Dust” and “The Pan of the Evening” take the form of fairy tales, whereas “The Lucky Hand” is one of several stories that deals with gambling as a form of divination, and “The Voyage of the Mascot” is a short wartime fable. And of course, there are critical discourses on subjects as diverse as detective stories, calendars, and children’s riddles. The portrait that emerges of Benjamin is of one who writes “not as someone who wishes to be read,” but for whom writing is the only means of facing history. Often gnomic but thoroughly illuminating, The Storyteller completes our idea of Benjamin and captures the dream life of a Europe at the peak of its unrest. (July)