This new collection of more than seventy stories by the iconic modern writer Robert Walser includes stories that have appeared in Harper’s Magazine, n+1 online, Vice, and elsewhere. Also included is the complete “Fritz Kocher’s Essays,” the “collected works,” so to speak, of a boy who died young, consisting entirely of classroom writing assignments on themes such as “Music,” “Christmas,” and “The Fatherland.” As the opening title sequence of Walser’s first book, this was a brilliant way to frame and introduce his unique voice, oscillating wildly as it does between naïveté (the ludicrous teacher wearing “high boots, as though just returning from the Battle of Austerlitz”), faux-naïveté, and faux-faux-naïveté (“Factories and the areas around them do not look nice. I don’t understand how anyone can be around such unclean things. All the poor people work in the factories, maybe to punish them for being so poor”).
A Schoolboy’s Diary and Other Stories is centered around schoolboy life—the subject of his greatest novel, Jakob von Gunten—and dispatches from the edge of the writer’s life, as Walser’s modest, extravagant, careening narrators lash out at uncomprehending editors, overly solicitous publishers, and disdainers of Odol mouthwash. There are vignettes that swoon over the innocent beauties of the Swiss landscape, but from sexual adventures on a train, to dissecting an adulterous love triangle by “wading knee-deep into what is generally called the Danish or psychological novel,” to three stories about Walser’s service in the Swiss military during World War I, the collection has an unexpected range of subject matter.
The moral core of Walser’s art is the refusal of power; of domination…. Walser’s virtues are those of the most mature, most civilized art. He is a truly wonderful, heartbreaking writer.
If he had a hundred thousand readers, the world would be a better place.
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 Magazine
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
A clairvoyant of the small.
—W. G. Sebald
The incredible shrinking writer is a major twentieth-century prose artist who, for all that the modern world seems to have passed him by, fulfills the modern criterion: he sounds like nobody else.
—Benjamin Kunkel, The New Yorker