A New York Review Books Original
In 1905 the young Swiss writer Robert Walser arrived in Berlin to join his older brother Karl, already an important stage-set designer, and immediately threw himself into the vibrant social and cultural life of the city. Berlin Stories collects his alternately celebratory, droll, and satirical observations on every aspect of the bustling German capital, from its theaters, cabarets, painters’ galleries, and literary salons, to the metropolitan street, markets, the Tiergarten, rapid-service restaurants, and the electric tram. Originally appearing in literary magazines as well as the feuilleton sections of newspapers, the early stories are characterized by a joyous urgency and the generosity of an unconventional guide. Later pieces take the form of more personal reflections on the writing process, memories, and character studies. All are full of counter-intuitive images and vignettes of startling clarity, showcasing a unique talent for whom no detail was trivial, at grips with a city diving headlong into modernity.
Read Susan Bernofsky’s letter about Robert Walser and Berlin Stories.
I think it was Herman Hesse who said that if you can stomach Robert Walser’s prose, you can’t help but fall in love with it, and I fell in love with it pretty quickly. He’s guileless but not stupid, an admiring observer of the inconsequential… He became a chronicler of the ordinary (interestingly, at around the same time Joyce, on the other side of Europe, was doing the same). And in this unbelievably delightful and timeless collection of short pieces, we can recover the delight of ordinary, uncondescending appreciation, places where the vacant-minded stroller can take ‘peculiar pleasure.’
—Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian
The magnificently humble. The enormously small. The meaningfully ridiculous. Robert Walser’s work often reads like a dazzling answer to the question, How immense can modesty be? If Emily Dickinson made cathedrals of em dashes and capital letters and the angle of winter light, Walser accomplishes the feat with, well, ladies’ feet and trousers, and little emotive words like joy, uncapitalized. —Rivka Galchen, Harper’s
Walser’s fictions are charged with compassion: awareness of the creatureliness of life, of the fellowship of sadness. He is a truly wonderful, heartbreaking writer. —Susan Sontag
A writer of considerable wit, talent and originality … recognized by such impressive contemporaries as Kafka, Brod, Hesse and Musil … [and] primarily known to German literary scholars and to English readers lucky enough to have discovered [his work] … [Walser’s tales] are to be read slowly and savored … [and] are filled with lovely and disturbing moments that will stay with the reader for some time to come.
—Ronald De Feo, The New York Times