by Alfred Döblin, translated from the German and with an introduction by Michael Hofmann
An NYRB Classics Original
Berlin Alexanderplatz, the great novel of Berlin and the doomed Weimar Republic, is one of the great books of the twentieth century, gruesome, farcical, and appalling, word drunk, pitchdark. In Michael Hofmann’s extraordinary new translation, Alfred Döblin’s masterpiece lives in English for the first time.
As Döblin writes in the opening pages:
The subject of this book is the life of the former cement worker and haulier Franz Biberkopf in Berlin. As our story begins, he has just been released from prison, where he did time for some stupid stuff; now he is back in Berlin, determined to go straight.
To begin with, he succeeds. But then, though doing all right for himself financially, he gets involved in a set-to with an unpredictable external agency that looks an awful lot like fate.
Three times the force attacks him and disrupts his scheme. The first time it comes at him with dishonesty and deception. Our man is able to get to his feet, he is still good to stand.
Then it strikes him a low blow. He has trouble getting up from that, he is almost counted out.
And finally it hits him with monstrous and extreme violence.by alfred döblin, translated by michael hofmann doblin
A raging cataract of a novel, one that threatens to engulf the reader in a tumult of sensation. It has long been considered the behemoth of German literary modernism, the counterpart to Ulysses.
—Alex Ross, The New Yorker
Because of its use of collage, stream of consciousness, and colloquial speech, Berlin Alexanderplatz has frequently been compared to Joyce’s Ulysses and John Dos Passos’s Manhattan Transfer...Beneath the book’s innovative style, the reader can hear the gears of ancient narrative elements grinding: evocations of folk songs, myths and Old Testament stories, and themes of tragedy and fate.
—Amanda DeMarco, The Wall Street Journal
It was long branded untranslatable…Yet a fluent, pacy new translation by Michael Hofmann gainsays that assumption, opening up the book for English-speakers….Something of the psychology of Weimar, the desire to touch the electric fence just to see what happens, lives on in modern societies and makes them, in their own ways, vulnerable to extremism and demagoguery...One lesson of Berlin Alexanderplatz is that darkness can take many forms.
The story of Franz Biberkopf is the Éducation sentimentale of the petty thief. The most extreme, dizzying, last, and most advanced embodiment of the old bourgeois bildungsroman.
I found myself reading Berlin Alexanderplatz in a way that you could hardly call reading—more like devouring, gobbling, gulping down. And these expressions still don't do justice to that way of reading, which dangerously often wasn't reading at all, but more life, suffering, despair, and fear.
—Rainer Werner Fassbinder
A classic German novel of the criminal demimonde of the Weimar era...Hofmann's version is vigorous and fresh, bringing Döblin to a new generation of readers. A welcome refurbishing of a masterpiece of literary modernism, one of the most significant German novels of the 20th century.
—Kirkus starred review
[A] major writer who grappled with the roots of darkness in our time....
—Ernst Pawel, The New York Times
His was an extraordinary mind.
—Philip Ardagh, The Guardian
Without the futurist elements of Döblin’s work from Wang Lun to Berlin Alexanderplatz, my prose is inconceivable.... He’ll discomfort you, give you bad dreams. If you’re satisfied with yourself, beware of Döblin.
I learned more about the essence of the epic from Döblin than from anyone else. His epic writing and even his theory about the epic strongly influenced my own dramatic art.
As we look back over the rich literary output of this great writer, as we look back over the long and fruitful life of this fighter and this friend of man, this perennial spring of spiritual life, we venture to ask: When will the gentlemen of the Nobel Prize jury discover him?
—Ludwig Marcuse, Books Abroad