cover image Stimme und Atem/Out of Breath, Out of Mind

Stimme und Atem/Out of Breath, Out of Mind

Peter Wortsman. PalmArtPress, $30 (330p) ISBN 978-3-96258-034-6

Small, seemingly inconsequential moments resonate with dark significance and mischievous humor in Wortsman’s bilingual collection (after memoir Ghost Dance in Berlin). Writing first in German then translating into English, Wortsman explores how a second language brings access to the wonder and confusion of childhood (“The little child does not immediately fathom the meaning of what it blabbers”). In “The Landing Mirror,” the narrator recounts a childhood memory of imagining the space between a mirror, wishing he could disappear into it. The title story relates an unsettling bar mitzvah memory as proof that the narrator was a “strange child.” Other stories explore the realm of fables. “The Fairy Tale of the Blessed Meal,” set in a concentration camp, features a series of puckish twists, such as a prisoner cook who surreptitiously serves an SS officer goose droppings. “The Birdman” depicts a sweet, weird neighbor who “loves birds and calls them his children.” Entries subtitled “Foreword,” “Afterword,” and “Postscript” alternately dismiss Wortsman’s writing as trivial and exalt its importance. Both are true; his engaging stories find the tantalizing complexity and humor in life’s touchstone moments. Readers interested in the creative potential of writing in multiple languages will savor this. (Mar.)