KÄSEBIER TAKES BERLIN

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. 27, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

Categories:

Awards & Accolades

Likes

  • Readers Vote
  • 29


Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015


  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner


  • National Book Award Finalist

A LITTLE LIFE

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

Awards & Accolades

Likes

  • Readers Vote
  • 29


Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT


  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2015


  • Kirkus Prize
  • Kirkus Prize
    winner


  • 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. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

Categories:

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

Categories:
Close Quickview