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1913 by Florian Illies Kirkus Star

1913

The Year Before the Storm

By Florian Illies

Pub Date: Oct. 29th, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-61219-351-9
Publisher: Melville House

In his first English-language translation, German author Illies scours the landscape of the year 1913, making a leap into a fascinating new structure of writing.

The author uses excerpts from journals of now-famous people in the capitals of modernism, including Vienna, Munich, Paris and Berlin. He explains their ideas and snatches quotes and tosses them apparently willy-nilly into chronological chapters. However, due to the author’s creative talent, the structure of the narrative works like a charm. Among the many events that occurred during that year: Franz Kafka wrote bizarre letters to his love, Felice Bauer; the Die Brücke group of expressionist artists stumbled toward collapse; Hitler sold a few watercolors; Stalin remained in exile; the Mona Lisa was still missing; James Joyce was teaching English in Trieste, Italy; and Gustav Mahler’s widow, Alma, was refusing to marry Oskar Kokoschka unless he painted her in a masterpiece. Though the narrative may seem disjointed at first, readers will continue to turn the pages to see what becomes of Thomas Mann and his brother or to see Carl Jung daring to challenge Freud’s theories. Illies happily neglects all the political stirrings that would lead to war the following year. Instead, he follows members of the modernist arts, with Marcel Proust touching a nerve of the avant-garde and Mann exploring tormented passions in Death in Venice. Also included: Ezra Pound contacts Joyce, Kafka broods, Albert Camus is born in Algeria, and 15-year-old Bertolt Brecht has a cold.

With exceptional wit and understanding, Illies shows the societal and cultural changes propelling man toward modern art, new thought processes and war. An excellent companion to Keith Jackson’s equally illuminating Constellation of Genius (2013), which gives similar treatment to the year 1922.