Deborah Eisenberg is the author of four collections of short stories and a play, Pastorale. (April 2016)

IN THE REVIEW

A Blinding Need for Each Other

The Door

by Magda Szabó, translated from the Hungarian by Len Rix, with an introduction by Ali Smith
Magda Szabó’s The Door is unmistakably a work of fiction, with fiction’s allusive and ambiguous purposes and effects, but it is narrated in the first person by a writer and composed—perhaps almost entirely—of frankly autobiographical recollections.

A Wonderful Novel and an Impossible Challenge

Jenny Erpenbeck, Berlin, 2014

The End of Days

by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky
Jenny Erpenbeck’s wonderful The End of Days opens with the death of an infant in 1902 near the eastern border of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and ends with the death, nine decades later, of a woman in an old people’s home in Berlin, but the book, bracketed as it is by death, is so alive that one closes it gently.

Cross Off and Move On

A young girl in Soviet Georgia, 1947; photograph by Robert Capa
Adela, Bernice, and Charna, the youngest—all gone for a long time now, blurred into a flock sailing through memory, their long, thin legs streaming out beneath the fluffy domes of their mangy fur coats, their great beaky noses pointing the way.

Recalculating

Detail from ‘The Seventh Thousanth and Eighth Hundredth and Sixty Third Performance at the Diving Board L.G.H., 1911,’ an album of snapshots by the photographer F. Holland Day. This photograph and the one on page 58 are from Verna Posever Curtis’s Photographic Memory: The Album in the Age of Photography, which has just been published by Aperture
“Who is that?” Adam asked, pointing at a boy on a swing set. Adam was helping, pasting photographs into an album at the kitchen table. His mother, rolling out a piecrust at the counter, paused to look.

“That’s Uncle Tommy,” she said. “Don’t you get flour on that.” Next there were some grown-ups sitting on Gramma and Grampa’s couch. Next a lot of people in front of extra-tall corn, kids in front. “Is this Aunt Rosalie?” “That’s Rosalie all right—look at the hair.”

Quiet, Shattering, Perfect

Child backlit on steps, 1920s, by the Hungarian photographer Martin Munkacsi

Skylark

by Dezso Kosztolányi, translated from the Hungarian by Richard Aczel, with an introduction by Péter Esterházy
This short, perfect novel seems to encapsulate all the world’s pain in a soap bubble. Its surface is as smooth as a fable, its setting and characters are unremarkable, its tone is blithe, and its effect is shattering. Any story about people is implicitly concerned with fate: How has it …

The World We Live In

Wells Tower, Brooklyn, February 2009; photograph by Hatnim Lee

Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned

by Wells Tower
The phrase “well-crafted” suggests an unfortunate analogy between a piece of fiction and a piece of furniture. And there is a surprising amount of fiction around that is reasonably accomplished and graceful, or strikingly ornamented, or that skillfully reproduces previous successes in structure or tone and yet feels synthetic and …

Becoming Susan Sontag

Reborn: Journals and Notebooks, 1947–1963

by Susan Sontag, edited by David Rieff
Susan Sontag’s presence, in essays, interviews, fiction, film, and theater, wove itself so firmly into our culture that when it vanished upon her death in late 2004, one became abruptly aware of the delicacy of the fabric. She was for many a focal point—someone whom readers and commentators enjoyed revering, …

The Genius of Péter Nádas

Fire and Knowledge: Fiction and Essays

by Péter Nádas, translated from the Hungarian by Imre Goldstein
In countries where a state apparatus, by means of continuous and perceptible monitoring, threats, and reprisals, accords due respect to the power of language, it is hardly surprising that both readers and writers would take words and their uses seriously. And although it’s certain, insofar as anything can be, that …