The first English translation of selected entries from the introspective notebooks of Musil, one of Austria's greatest...


DIARIES: Robert Musil 1899-1942

The first English translation of selected entries from the introspective notebooks of Musil, one of Austria's greatest writers of modernist fiction. Musil was one of the more important German-language modernists to emerge from the Viennese cauldron of intellectual ferment between 1900 and 1945. He remains best known for two novels: The Confusions of Young Toerless (1902) and The Man Without Qualities (1933 and 1943). This latter effort is an enormous canvas in which Musil attempted to portray the totality of Austrian social, intellectual, and spiritual confusion that led up to the First World War and--ultimately--contributed much to the Nazi era. Musil, a compulsive perfectionist, never finished the book. The Nazis drove him into exile. He died in 1942, leaving behind massive amounts of notes, sketches, plans, and diaries. Four years ago a new, expanded translation of The Man Without Qualities appeared in the US, and interest in Musil seems to be growing. The present selection of entries (about two-fifths of the German edition) offers a glimpse into the novelist's personal life and into his workshop. What the diaries do not offer is a lively, gossipy portrait of his eventful times and its personalities. Musil was a difficult, somewhat withdrawn intellectual. His diaries reveal an immensely intense, sovereign, and introspective mind, immersed in the intellectual topics of the day. Consequently, these diaries are demanding to read and will be of interest mainly to those already conversant with his fiction. Musil enthusiasts will find the diaries a valuable resource; the unindoctrinated will likely be disoriented. The translator, a British professor of German literature, has done a respectable job of selecting passages from the excellent German edition and rendering them into English, but his explanatory notes, while often helpful, are a bit on the skimpy side. American novelist Mark Mirsky (English and Jewish Studies/City College of New York) contributes an infectiously enthusiastic introduction and is billed as the volume's editor, but it is not clear in what sense he has edited the diaries. A welcome companion to Musil's translated oeuvre, but not a stand-alone read.

Pub Date: Nov. 25, 1998


Page Count: 512

Publisher: Basic

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998

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