Tergit’s novel deserves a place alongside Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz, Canetti’s Auto-da-Fé, and other key works of the...


A star is born, Weimar-style, in this German novel originally published in 1931.

Käsebier—his name combining the German words for beer and cheese—is a, well, cheesy sort of lounge singer in beery little clubs along the Kurfürstendamm. He sings a few lieder, makes a few marks that are worth less and less in the spiraling inflation of Berlin at the dawn of the Depression era. All that changes when a columnist writes an approving piece in a local paper, which sets wheels in motion: Soon other papers are noticing him, with one left-wing journal hailing Käsebier as a “fundamentally German talent…a sort of combined court minstrel and popular poet, an extraordinary union of natural musicality and popular humor,” while a right-wing tabloid thunders, “Repugnant foreign Jews, plagued with hundreds of oversophisticated strands of thought, abuse the German language to praise a socialist who is debasing our people’s greatest treasure, the folk song, and misusing it for its own vain ambitions.” Tergit (1894-1982), herself a German Jew and journalist specializing in courtroom cases, turns an unsparingly satirical eye on the press and culture of the Weimar era, and especially on the machinery that surrounds popular culture, from adoring writers and cynical publishers to the mucky-muck capitalists who combine to erect a would-be empire around Käsebier—at first trifles like rubber dolls, shoes, and cigarettes (“Käsebier melior for 5 pennies, Käsebier bonus for 3, Käsebier optimus 8 pennies”) but then an opera house surrounded by a fashionable housing and shopping complex. It’s not long before the fad passes and fortunes fail, and in the end the blameless Käsebier finds himself singing for his supper out near the Polish frontier even as Berliners are starting to work words like "Sieg” into everyday speech and to realize that, as one character shrewdly observes, “if the election results in a minority for the grand coalition, our only option will be dictatorship.”

Tergit’s novel deserves a place alongside Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz, Canetti’s Auto-da-Fé, and other key works of the period.

Pub Date: Jan. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-68137-272-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet


While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

Did you like this book?

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015

  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize

  • National Book Award Finalist


Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet