Bright Magic: Stories (Paperback)
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Alfred Doblin's many imposing novels, above all Berlin Alexanderplatz, have established him as one of the titans of modern German literature. This collection of his stories --astonishingly, the first ever to appear in English--shows him to have been a master of short fiction too.
Bright Magic includes all of Doblin's first book, The Murder of a Buttercup, a work of savage brilliance and a landmark of literary expressionism, as well as two longer stories composed in the 1940s, when he lived in exile in Southern California. The early collection is full of mind-bending and sexually charged narratives, from the dizzying descent into madness that has made the title story one of the most anthologized of German stories to "She Who Helped," where mortality roams the streets of nineteenth--century Manhattan with a white borzoi and a quiet smile, and "The Ballerina and the Body," which describes a terrible duel to the death. Of the two later stories, "Materialism, A Fable," in which news of humanity's soulless doctrines reaches the animals, elements, and the molecules themselves, is especially delightful.
About the Author
Alfred Doblin (1878-1957) was born in German Stettin (now the Polish city of Szczecin), to Jewish parents. When he was ten his father, a master tailor, eloped with a seamstress, abandoning the family. Subsequently his mother relocated the rest of the family to Berlin. Doblin studied medicine at Friedrich Wilhelm University, specializing in neurology and psychiatry. While working at a psychiatric clinic in Berlin, he became romantically entangled with two women: Friede Kunke, with whom he had a son, Bodo, in 1911, and Erna Reiss, to whom he had become engaged before learning of Kunke's pregnancy. He married Erna the next year, and they remained together for the rest of his life. His novel The Three Leaps of Wang Lun was published in 1915 while Doblin was serving as a military doctor; it went on to win the Fontane Prize. In 1920 he published Wallenstein, a novel set during the Thirty Years' War that was an oblique comment on the First World War. He became president of the Association of German Writers in 1924, and published his best-known novel, Berlin -Alexanderplatz, in 1929, achieving modest mainstream fame while solidifying his position at the center of an intellectual group that included Bertolt Brecht, Robert Musil, and Joseph Roth, among others. He fled Germany with his family soon after Hitler's rise, moving first to Zurich, then to Paris, and, after the Nazi invasion of France, to Los Angeles, where he converted to Catholicism and briefly worked as a screenwriter for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. After the war he returned to Germany and worked as an editor with the aim of rehabilitating literature that had been banned under Hitler, but he found himself at odds with conservative postwar cultural trends. He suffered from Parkinson's disease in later years and died in Emmendingen in 1957. Erna committed suicide two months after his death and was interred along with him. Damion Searls has translated books by Rilke, Proust, Hermann Hesse, Christa Wolf, and others. For NYRB he has edited Henry David Thoreau's The Journal and translated Nescio, Robert Walser, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Patrick Modiano. Gunter Grass (1927-2015) was born in the Free City of Danzig, to a German father and a Kashubian Polish mother. He published The Tin Drum in 1959 and soon became one of Germany's most prominent postwar intellectuals. Throughout his life he was an outspoken Social Democrat and critic of German reunification. He went on to publish numerous novels, including Crabwalk and two sequels to The Tin Drum Cat and Mouse and Dog Years. In 1999, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. He died in Lubeck at the age of eighty-seven.