Michael Hofmann is a poet and translator from the German. His latest translation is of Berlin Alexanderplatz 
by Alfred Döblin, and his new book of poems, One Lark, One Horse, was published in the US in July. He teaches at the ­University of Florida. (October 2019)


Art for Film’s Sake

Sebastian Koch as Professor Carl Seeband in Never Look Away

Never Look Away

a film written and directed by Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck
Never Look Away (Werk ohne Autor in the original, “work without an author”) is the third film by the German director Florian Henckel von Donnersmarck, following the much-admired Stasi drama The Lives of Others (which won the 2006 Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film) and the much-reviled The Tourist …

‘A Born Contrarian’

Bertolt Brecht, Berlin, 1927

The Collected Poems of Bertolt Brecht

translated from the German and edited by Tom Kuhn and David Constantine
If this collection of Bertolt Brecht’s poems in English were half its length, it would be great; if a third, spectacular; if a quarter, indispensable. The book it replaces, the 1976 Methuen Poems 1913–1956, edited by Ralph Manheim and John Willett (and mostly translated by Willett and by Michael Hamburger, …


“but you would see faces that were worth a second look” —Gottfried Benn It was another world, the world of turned collars and polished shoes, Hairbrushes once a week laid face-down in what I thought was a specific But was only a weak solution of shampoo in lukewarm …

The Lion in Winter

Günter Grass, Berlin, 1993

Of All That Ends

by Günter Grass, translated from the German by Breon Mitchell
Not long ago, I translated “Aging as a Problem for Artists” by the German expressionist poet and essayist Gottfried Benn, written a couple of years before he died, in 1956, at age seventy. There is not much literature on the subject, Benn says, apologizing for his magpie methods, before, with …

‘An Adorable Bookling’

Robert Walser

Looking at Pictures

by Robert Walser, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky, with additional translations by Lydia Davis and Christopher Middleton
If only the word “bibelot” had been a diminutive of “biblio-,” book, instead of a cognate of “bauble,” then I could have described Looking at Pictures as an ideal bibelot, a robust little hardback to slip into the pocket and take out to read in the elevator, say, without spoiling …

A Puzzling Heroine of German Literature

Regina Ullmann; painting by Lou Albert-Lasard, 1915

The Country Road: Stories

by Regina Ullmann, translated from the German by Kurt Beals
It’s tempting to adapt Tolstoy’s famous sentence about families and say that good books or good writers tend to be good in the same ways. Certainly, if you encounter something that is radically different you are liable to suspect, and perhaps to go on suspecting for a long time, that …

Torch Song in Vienna

Karl Kraus; portrait by Alfred Hegel

The Kraus Project: Essays by Karl Kraus

translated from the German and annotated by Jonathan Franzen, with assistance and additional notes from Paul Reitter and Daniel Kehlmann
Karl Kraus reminds me of those indomitable little toy automobiles exhibited on trays by their vendors, which strike the parapet, roll over, right themselves, and carry on regardless, as long as their batteries will drive them. And presumably with an unwavering sense of mission and purpose. Not to mention direction. Kraus wrote: “When I don’t make any progress, it is because I have bumped into the wall of language. Then I draw back with a bloody head. And would like to go on.” It would seem he had the same idea.