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A Schoolboy's Diary: And Other Stories (New York Review Books Classics)by Robert Walser
Synopses & Reviews
This new collection of more than seventy stories by the iconic modern writer Robert Walser, includes stories that have appeared in Harper’s Magazine, n+1 online, Vice, and elsewhere. Also included is the complete “Fritz Kocher’s Essays,” the “collected works,” so to speak, of a boy who died young, consisting entirely of classroom writing assignments on themes such as “Music,” “Christmas,” and “The Fatherland.” As the opening title sequence of Walser’s first book, this was a brilliant way to frame and introduce his unique voice, oscillating wildly as it does between naïveté (the ludicrous teacher wearing “high boots, as though just returning from the Battle of Austerlitz”), faux-naïveté, and faux-faux-naïveté (“Factories and the areas around them do not look nice. I don’t understand how anyone can be around such unclean things. All the poor people work in the factories, maybe to punish them for being so poor”).
A Schoolboy's Diary and Other Stories is centered around schoolboy life—the subject of his greatest novel, Jakob von Gunten—and dispatches from the edge of the writer’s life, as Walser’s modest, extravagant, careening narrators lash out at uncomprehending editors, overly solicitous publishers, and disdainers of Odol mouthwash. There are vignettes that swoon over the innocent beauties of the Swiss landscape, but from sexual adventures on a train, to dissecting an adulterous love triangle by “wading knee-deep into what is generally called the Danish or psychological novel,” to three stories about Walser’s service in the Swiss military during World War I, the collection has an unexpected range of subject matter.
"The most striking aspect of Swiss author Walser's stories is how modern they seem, both in form and content, given that they were written nearly 100 years ago. Most are very short, fitting comfortably into the flash fiction genre, though distinct in their directness and lack of irony. The writer/narrator, who emerges as the main character in every story, even when he is writing about something else, feels very young; energy and the joys of discovery and sharing passionate views runs through every piece. The book is divided into three parts, each offering subtle structural differences (yet the three sections are similar in tone and content). As assembled by Searls, the first part, 'Fritz Kocher's Essays,' is from Walser's first published collection; it strings together short reflections on the natural world and intellectual riffs on subjects like 'Poverty,' 'Politeness,' and 'The Fatherland.' An introduction to this section from the fictional publisher explains that the author, young Fritz, died soon after leaving school. The second part includes dozens of stand-alone stories ('Greifen Lake,' from 1898, was Walser's first published work; 'A Model Student' was one of Walser's last), more wide-ranging but similarly buoyant, describing a mountain, an adventure on a train, a loutish local scoundrel, etc. 'Hans,' the single long story that comprises the third part, originally published in 1919 in Lake Country, reads like a looser version of the other sections. Hans's odyssey resembles a pleasant ramble, and Walser provides joie de vivre in small, ingenuous doses." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
Robert Walser (1878–1956) was born into a German speaking family in Biel, Switzerland. He left school at fourteen and led a wandering, precarious existence while writing his poems, novels, and vast numbers of the “prose pieces” that became his hallmark. In 1933 he was confined to a sanatorium, which marked the end of his writing career. Among Walser’s works available in English are Berlin Stories and Jakob von Gunten (both available as NYRB classics), Thirty Poems, The Walk, The Tanners, Microscripts, The Assistant, The Robber, Masquerade and Other Stories, and Speaking to the Rose: Writings, 1912–1932.
Damion Searls has translated many classic twentieth century writers, including Proust, Rilke, Elfriede Jelinek, Christa Wolf, Hans Keilson, and Hermann Hesse. For NYRB Classics, he edited Henry David Thoreau’s The Journal: 1837–1861, translated Nescio’s Amsterdam Stories, and will retranslate André Gide’s Marshlands. He has received Guggenheim, National Endowment for the Arts, and Cullman Center fellowships and is currently writing a book about Hermann Rorschach and the cultural history of the Rorschach test.
Ben Lerner is the author of three books of poetry and a novel, Leaving the Atocha Station. He has been a finalist for the National Book Award in poetry, a Fulbright Scholar in Spain, and a fellow of the Howard and Guggenheim Foundations.
About the Author
Robert Walser (1878–1956) was born into a German-speaking family in Biel, Switzerland. He left school at fourteen and led a wandering, precarious existence while writing his poems, novels, and vast numbers of the “prose pieces” that became his hallmark. In 1933 he was confined to a sanatorium, which marked the end of his writing career. Among Walser’s works available in English are Jakob von Gunten and Berlin Stories (available as NYRB Classics), The Tanners, Microscripts, The Assistant, The Robber, Masquerade and Other Stories, and Speaking to the Rose: Writings, 1912–1932.
Ben Lerner is the author of three books of poetry—The Lichtenberg Figures, Angle of Yaw, and Mean Free Path—and the novel Leaving the Atocha Station, which was named one of the best books of 2011 by The Wall Street Journal, The New Yorker, The Guardian, The Boston Globe, New York Magazine, and many others. He teaches in the writing program at Brooklyn College.
Damion Searls is a writer and a translator of many classic twentieth-century authors, including Proust, Rilke, Walser, Ingeborg Bachmann, and Thomas Bernhard. His translation of Hans Keilson’s Comedy in a Minor Key was a New York Times Notable Book of 2010 and a National Book Critics Circle Award finalist. He also edited Henry David Thoreau’s The Journal: 1837–1861 and translated Nescio’s Amsterdam Stories, both available as NYRB Classics.
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