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Berlin Stories (New York Review Books Classics) Paperback – 8 Mar 2012

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Product details

  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: NYRB Classics (8 Mar. 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590174542
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590174548
  • Product Dimensions: 12.7 x 1.2 x 20.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 137,210 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

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Product Description


His light humour and charisma shine through wherever he turns his levelling gaze.


Paperback of the week: In this unbelievably delightful and timeless collection of short pieces, we can recover the delight of ordinary, uncondescending appreciation, places where the vacant-minded stroller can take 'peculiar pleasure'.


About the Author

Robert Walser (1878-1956) left school at fourteen and led a wandering, precarious existence while producing poems, essays, stories, and novels. In 1933 he abandoned writing and entered a sanatorium-where he remained for the rest of his life. "I am not here to write," Walser said, "but to be mad." His Selected Stories and novel Jakob von Guten, are available as NYRB Classics.

SUSAN BERNOFSKY is the translator of six books by Robert Walser as well as works by Jenny Erpenbeck, Yoko Tawada, Hermann Hesse, Gregor von Rezzori, and others. The current chair of the PEN Translation Committee, she teaches at the Writing Program at Columbia University, where she is director of the Graduate Translation Program, and is at work on a biography of Walser.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By M. Dowden HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 13 Feb. 2015
Format: Kindle Edition
Robert Walser it has to be admitted won't be to everyone's taste. Although he was admired by critics and his fellow writers he was never a big hit with the reading public, and let's be honest, that is where it counts for fame and fortune. Forgotten by most for a number of years he has gradually come back into the mainstream as people are starting to realise that there is something good here.

This book contains a selection of short pieces by Walser, I hesitate to say short stories, as although some are, others are much more like sketches as such, which do bring to life Berlin, at the time Walser was writing. Indeed it is probably these sketches that will appeal to more people than the short stories as such, as they create a vivid portrait of Berlin before the First World War, and are also relevant to us today, as city life hasn't really changed; we are all still bustling about, fighting through crowds to reach our destinations. Pieces here will make you think, such as the ride on a tram, which you could easily transpose to a train or a bus, and the thought that you don't really know anyone sitting around you. For instance the woman sitting behind you could be a prostitute; the man sitting across from you could be planning a bank robbery. He also makes us think about taking a step back and do some people watching, as we look at everyone else rushing past around us.

Along with that there are some good little stories in here, such as the thoughts of a little girl whose parents are estranged. As such there is a good eye for detail here, an understanding of things in a greater depth than we usually take to look at them. Walser is also quite comical at times, and some of these pieces will make you laugh.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Zaroff on 11 Jun. 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Unlike other Walser novels or collections, the effect of a completely Berlin orientated prose collection could easily have felt like an historical series of newspaper articles, worthy in their factual detail. But lets's not forget this is Robert Walser. And in no way could it be simply said 'this was Berlin at the time', or perhaps 'Walser was at these times precisely like this'. Walser has, as a part or as a whole, stepped outside of history with his style. As ever he has effusive commentary, detached, almost Sherlock Holmes attention to details, waylaid with absolutely no ambition whatsoever to come across as superior to his material.

There is a journalistic feel to the pieces of work, at varying periods, some reflective & from a distance. Taken piecemeal, the pieces may register as glimpses of the times, but of course Walser's rendering is both expressionist and impressionist. The resulting overview from this Berlin state of being, if i may be so bold, reflects and renders clearer his swiss and very personal flavour, even going so far as putting him in sharper relief.

And why read Walser at all, even if German bourgeois critique is not your bag?...This is not the best place to start for Walserianness, but any appreciation of his style, his sheer enthusiasm & enjoyment in the minutae of everything, his mood sways (more dance than swing), all accumulate to form an honest & pleasant human whose efforvescent expression could scarce be limited by paper borders or history itself. A keen observer & incisive outsider, should appeal to same.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Kernowdog on 28 Jan. 2013
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Most of these pieces started life as 'feuilleton' essays in Berlin papers, and are impressionistic sketches of various aspects of life in the city early in the twentieth century, As such they often contain insights into the corners of life in urban Germany seen form the perspective of a sensitive and witty provincial lad from Switzerland, in awe perhaps of the bright lights and artistic celebrities he came into contact with, but also paradoxically unimpressed by the posers and braggarts. There are also some fascinating short pieces of fiction, told from a range of points of view: delicate, poised and slightly strange.
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1 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Christopher Aloysius John on 9 Jun. 2014
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Fascinating but strangely unemotional until you get to near the end when he forms attachments with old ladies. No hint of upcoming war, more the gay life of Berlin in the early 20th century...
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 5 reviews
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Any new Walser is welcome 11 Mar. 2012
By Ivar Zeile - Published on
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Fans of Robert Walser can rejoice in another translation that brings more of his work to light. Berlin Stories has numerous terrific moments, the unique context of his time spent in Berlin is fascinating and like all of his writing, it resonates fully across the generations. My favorite quote from the first essay sums up Walser's beautiful insight into humanity: "What has become of us as a people that we can possess the beautiful only in dreams." It's a book worth reading over and over and worth sharing amongst friends.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Story selection a disservice to Walser 6 Dec. 2012
By King Size Homer - Published on
Format: Paperback
Most of these "stories" are actually very short newspaper columns written by Walser. Unfortunately, the book doesn't make clear where or in what form each piece was originally published. Many of the pieces here do not translate well to a modern reader; Kafka may have laughed his head off reading "Mountain Halls" but without any context it's impossible for me to see why.

There are gems hidden within this collection: "Fire," "Frau Wilke," and "Frau Scheer" are all well worth your time. Sadly, there are many more stories that should have remained in the scholarly archive, and offer nothing to a casual reader, including most of the "Theater" section. Bizarrely, right after "Frau Scheer" we are given "The Millionairess" which is simply a short outline (rough draft?) of the preceding story.

It is fascinating to watch the almost comically hyperbolic optimism of the early newspaper pieces collapse into the black hole of the two late stories, "Frau Wilke" and "Frau Scheer," which are both excellent and unrelentingly bleak. However, despite some worthwhile stories, this is definitely not the best introduction to Walser.
1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Vignettes not stories, and bland ones at that 23 Jun. 2014
By Victoria G. - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition
I feel like I stumbled across a journal someone’s accidentally dropped on Friedrichstrasse, and rather than leave it on the sidewalk to be tripped over and stomped on, I picked it up, thought, why not? could be amusing, and took it home.
The thing is, a journal in its natural state is a rambling, self involved, unedited, scraggly little creature that more often than not would do better to stay latent in the boxy confines of one’s top night table drawer than parade about in the open, flailing its arms and declaring insistently, “Lookee here! Aren’t I clever?”

Berlin Stories is predominantly short observations of Walser’s surroundings. It’s reflective and doesn’t so much tell a story as park itself on a bench and gaze off eager and misty-eyed into the world, hoping to capture a place and people’s essence in a brisk vignette. Calling this a collection of “stories” seems like a glaring misnomer.

Many of these 1-2 page “stories” are bland and trivial, in spite of the author’s exuberance. Yet again, the comparison stands: Journal writing begins with the fantasy that every string of thought that passes through the writer’s mind in the course of a day is not only interesting but deserving of inscription (I’ll attest: It takes the sobering experience of reading one’s own journal perhaps 3 or 4 years gone to realize this is emphatically not the case...).

I had never heard of Walser before reading this, but I suspect I am not reading his best here. A better, more sensitive and eloquent writer showed up to pen the last 4 stories, and I was equal parts annoyed and impressed. “Frau Wilke” is moving; “Frau Scheer” is a perceptive and intimate portrait of a lonely woman; and the last, “A Homecoming in the Snow” seemed like the only truly personal and sincere account of the writer himself. If those stories are an indication of Walser’s other work, I’d be happy to read more. I mean, this is beautiful:

“There I saw on the bed the things which the poor lady had till recently worn, her dress, her hat, her sunshade, and her umbrella, and, on the floor, her small delicate boots. The strange sight of them made me unspeakably sad, and my peculiar state of mind made it seem to me almost that I had died myself, and life in all its fullness, which had often appeared so huge and beautiful, was thin and poor to the point of breaking. All things past, all things vanishing away, were more close to me than ever. For a long time I looked at Frau Wilke’s possessions, which now had lost their mistress and lost all purpose, and at the golden room, glorified by the smile of the evening sun, while I stood there motionless, not understanding anything anymore.”
Five Stars 31 Jan. 2015
By Jaeyoung Park - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
4 of 9 people found the following review helpful
Not as good as Jakob von Gunten 9 Nov. 2012
By David McAllister - Published on
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I expected to be hypnotized by this book, as I was by Jakob von Gunten, but alas it did not happen. The stories are disappointingly conventional, compared to the vast imagination found in the novel.
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