Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Döblin, Alfred "Berlin Alexanderplatz"

Döblin, Alfred "Berlin Alexanderplatz: The Story of Franz Biberkopf" (German: Berlin Alexanderplatz: Die Geschichte vom Franz Biberkopf) - 1929

An urban story, the first German book to use the stream-of-consciousness style, often compared to "Ulysses". None of those descriptions sound extremely inviting to a lot fo people. After having read "Ulysses" earlier this year and since I was always interested in this book, even if just for the title, I started reading it a while ago. I usually read more than one book at a time so I won't finish them too soon but that wouldn't have been a problem here.

If I have said about "Ulysses" that it was the most difficult book I have ever read, I probably have to put this as number two. I found it slightly easier, not because of the language it was written in but because of the way it was written. There was more of a story to follow in "Berlin Alexanderplatz", there was more reality to get into. Maybe also, because I have read more about this topic. Germany in the anti-war time, the prophetic vision of the apocalypse. What were people thinking, how did they live, where did it all lead? Having said that, that way I probably missed parts of the non-realistic bits.

The novel is the story of Franz Biberkopf and starts with his release from prison. Throughout the book, we see how he cannot find  a way back into normal life, just as the Weimarer Republik couldn't get back to a normal state after World War I. There are a lot of allusions to the political time as well as to biblical stories, there are so many layers in this book. I need to reread it one day.

Apparently, it belongs to the 100 most meaningful books of all times. I can understand how it got on that list. It's tough to read but definitely worth it.

From the back cover:

"Berlin Alexanderplatz is one of the masterpieces of modern European literature and the first German novel to adopt the technique of James Joyce. It tells the story of Franz Biberkopf, who, on being released from prison, is confronted with the poverty, unemployment, crime and burgeoning Nazism of 1920s Germany. As Franz struggles to survive in this world, fate teases him with a little pleasure before cruelly turning on him.

Alfred Döblin (1878-1957) studied medicine in Berlin and specialized in the treatment of nervous diseases. Along with his experiences as a psychiatrist in the workers' quarter of Berlin, his writing was inspired by the work of Hölderlin, Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and was first published in the literary magazine, Der Sturm. Associated with the Expressionist literary movement in Germany, he is now recognized as one of the most important modern European novelists."

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