Thought-provoking essays that offer more than mere opinion, as the author plumbs the writers’ philosophical and...

Nobel and Booker Prize winner Coetzee (The Schooldays of Jesus, 2017, etc.) offers another collection of reflective and erudite essays on a variety of poets and novelists.

Originally published as introductions to foreign translations or in the New York Review of Books, some of the author’s favorites recur: Daniel Defoe, Robert Walser, Zbigniew Herbert, Philip Roth, and Samuel Beckett, the “philosophical satirist,” whom Coetzee covers in four of the essays. While discussing Beckett’s letters and two novels—Watt, a “fable cum treatise that for long stretches manages to be hypnotically fascinating,” and Molloy, a “mysterious work, inviting interpretation and resisting it at the same time”—the author focuses on Beckett’s language, a “self-enclosed system, a labyrinth without issue, in which human beings are trapped.” An acclaimed translator himself, Coetzee is particularly interested in the translations of some authors’ works. He laments that any translation of Goethe’s The Sorrows of Young Werther that would be “true” for readers of the 1770s as well as for today’s is “an unattainable ideal.” He quibbles that Michael Hamburger’s translations of Friedrich Hölderlin’s poetry are “only intermittently…touched with divine fire.” But the “achievement is nevertheless considerable.” The essay on Patrick White, the “greatest writer Australia has produced,” confronts the dilemma faced by literary executors. Coetzee praises White’s agent Barbara Mobbs as well as Kafka’s friend Max Brod for refusing to carry out their authors’ wishes to have their writings destroyed. As Coetzee writes, “the world is a richer place now that we have [White’s] The Hanging Garden.” As a longtime advocate for animal rights, his short piece on Juan Ramón Jiménez’s tale of a donkey, Platero and I, is especially poignant. Other subjects of Coetzee’s probing eye include Flaubert, Tolstoy, Hawthorne, Heinrich Von Kleist, Antonio Di Benedetto, Les Murray, Gerald Murnane, Irène Némirovsky, Ford Madox Ford, and Hendrik Witbooi.

Thought-provoking essays that offer more than mere opinion, as the author plumbs the writers’ philosophical and psychological depths.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-2391-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 16, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017



This is not the Nutcracker sweet, as passed on by Tchaikovsky and Marius Petipa. No, this is the original Hoffmann tale of 1816, in which the froth of Christmas revelry occasionally parts to let the dark underside of childhood fantasies and fears peek through. The boundaries between dream and reality fade, just as Godfather Drosselmeier, the Nutcracker's creator, is seen as alternately sinister and jolly. And Italian artist Roberto Innocenti gives an errily realistic air to Marie's dreams, in richly detailed illustrations touched by a mysterious light. A beautiful version of this classic tale, which will captivate adults and children alike. (Nutcracker; $35.00; Oct. 28, 1996; 136 pp.; 0-15-100227-4)

Pub Date: Oct. 28, 1996

ISBN: 0-15-100227-4

Page Count: 136

Publisher: Harcourt

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 1996




An extravaganza in Bemelmans' inimitable vein, but written almost dead pan, with sly, amusing, sometimes biting undertones, breaking through. For Bemelmans was "the man who came to cocktails". And his hostess was Lady Mendl (Elsie de Wolfe), arbiter of American decorating taste over a generation. Lady Mendl was an incredible person,- self-made in proper American tradition on the one hand, for she had been haunted by the poverty of her childhood, and the years of struggle up from its ugliness,- until she became synonymous with the exotic, exquisite, worshipper at beauty's whrine. Bemelmans draws a portrait in extremes, through apt descriptions, through hilarious anecdote, through surprisingly sympathetic and understanding bits of appreciation. The scene shifts from Hollywood to the home she loved the best in Versailles. One meets in passing a vast roster of famous figures of the international and artistic set. And always one feels Bemelmans, slightly offstage, observing, recording, commenting, illustrated.

Pub Date: Feb. 23, 1955

ISBN: 0670717797

Page Count: -

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 25, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1955

Close Quickview