cover image Brenner


Hermann Burger, trans. from the German by Adrian Nathan West. Archipelago, $22 (424p) ISBN 978-1-953861-30-6

Swiss writer Burger (1942–1989) makes his posthumous English-language debut with the revelatory if sputtering story of a fallen tobacco empire and its despairing heir, Hermann Arbogast Brenner. Brenner, estranged from his wife, children, and siblings and fighting a yearslong battle with depression, buys a sports car, believing his life will end within a few years. As Brenner continually hints at his soon-to-come suicide, he drives around Switzerland, visits friends, and discursively muses on his intellectual interests, all while smoking cigars. He recalls his brief stay at a children’s home where he was viciously bullied: in Brenner’s recollection, his bully made him crouch for hours, attacking him when he tried to move, but the nuns who ran the home refused to believe that their star pupil could be so ferocious. However, when Brenner revisits the home, he also remembers people showing him great kindness, and now questions the veracity of his own memories. Taken in total, and thanks to West’s lucid translation along with a series of evocative photos, the chronicle offers a cogent view of a rambling man desperate to shape his life into meaning. It’s a bit of a slog, but fans of a certain style of discursive Euro fiction will find this pleasantly diverting. (July)