One understands why Kafka acknowledged Walser’s influence. He’s one of the most underrated, and accomplished, of all the...


The mixed pleasures of introspection and tensions between solitude and society are wryly considered in the great, eccentric Swiss author’s previously untranslated 1908 novel.

Walser (1878–1956), best known for his autobiographical novel Jakob von Gunten and his virtually unclassifiable semi-fictional short stories, was a master of bemused self-deprecation whose directionless characters echo his own sad personal history of rootlessness and passivity (he spent the last 20 years of his life in an insane asylum). This novel’s feckless antihero Joseph Marti, whose early life has been “devoted” to entry-level jobs and oppressive compulsory military service, believes his fortunes have improved when he becomes an “assistant” to flamboyant inventor Carl Tobler, who lives with his wife and children in a comfortable villa overlooking Lake Zurich in the placid village of Bärenswil. A former machine factory worker, Tobler has received a generous inheritance that permits the indulgence of his engineering skills in the creation of such innovative wonders as an Advertising Clock, an Invalid Chair and a vending machine that dispenses live ammunition. But all is not perfect. Tobler has overspent unwisely, and Joseph’s primary tasks are attempts to keep the seemingly mad inventor’s numerous creditors at bay. The fetching Frau Tobler (to whom Joseph is helplessly attracted) is obliged to expend her beauty and dignity in fruitless appeals for further support from her imperious mother-in-law. And, as the Tobler children endure both abuse and neglect, Joseph—increasingly “tormented by the impossibility of thinking”—withdraws further from the collapsing world of his employers into gloomy memories of unrequited love and unfulfilled ambitions, and a bizarre friendship with his predecessor Wirsich, the drunken incompetent whose failed tenure with the Toblers has preceded, and prefigured, Joseph’s own.

One understands why Kafka acknowledged Walser’s influence. He’s one of the most underrated, and accomplished, of all the great European modernist writers.

Pub Date: July 27, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-8112-2590-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: New Directions

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2007

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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

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

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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

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