New York Review of Books, $14.00, 145 pages
With the new translations by Susan Bernofsky, Robert Walser is finally able to join the canon of beloved and eccentric European writers like Fernando Pessoa, Bruno Schulz, and Franz Kafka. Americans should take to Walser, not like a classic writer but like a talkative friend.
His Berlin Stories are not so much stories at all. The book is for the most part devoid of the traditional elements. His stories are more like sketches of the city he loves. Berlin then is the main character, and in that sense, the book is an in-depth character study. The interesting thing is, no one knew Berlin quite like Walser did, and so the Berlin that emerges isn’t Berlin as it is today, nor is it the city of the past. It’s the city as it presented itself to Walser. In effect, the imagery of the city is Walser’s autobiography. The stories are each 2-3 pages. It’s not a book to read cover to cover, but it’s one you will like to have on your shelf or on your nightstand to pore over in the dull moments of the day. For Walser, there was no such thing as dullness.
Reviewed by Corey Pung