• Books
  • What to read now: Witold Gombrowicz, Alexander Kluge and Donna Stonecipher


What to read now: Witold Gombrowicz, Alexander Kluge and Donna Stonecipher

Our Books Editor reviews the English translation of a campy Gothic classic, a literary-philosophical work by a German polymath and a book of prose examining the irony of homesickness.

Witold Gombrowicz – The Possessed

One of Central Europe’s most accomplished modern novelists, Polish author Witold Gombrowicz (1904-1969) has yet to get the recognition he deserves am1ong English speakers. Best known in Poland for novels like Ferdydurke and his provocative magazine contributions, Gombrowicz was blessed with a deep well of irreverence and a sense for the absurd. He was also phenomenally skilled in the art of narrative, as his 1939 The Possessed – out now in a fantastically readable translation by Antonia Lloyd-Jones – attests.

This campy Gothic novel begins with a young tennis coach arriving at a rural manor to train the family’s headstrong and talented daughter. The two quickly discover that they share not only an uncanny likeness but also a deep, destructive, infuriating bond. From there, Gombrowicz unveils a plethora of genre tropes – a spooky castle, a haunted chamber, a sickly old prince with a terrible secret – while also exploring class, modernity and youth. Highly recommended post-Halloween reading.

  • Published by Fitzcarraldo. Buy it online here.

Alexander Kluge – The Book of Commentary / Unquiet Garden of the Soul

In recent years, the US-born Wahlberliner Alexander Booth – himself a highly talented poet – has translated many of German-language literature’s more interesting names into English: Jürgen Becker, Lutz Seiler, Friederike Mayröcker, even Ludwig Wittgenstein. The latest instalment in Booth’s already impressive catalogue is The Book of Commentary / Unquiet Garden of the Soul, a fascinating literary-philosophical work by the nonagenarian German polymath Alexander Kluge.

Over the course of his long career, Kluge has explored the borderlands between fact and fiction – and between narrative and information. The book is partly autobiographical but also roams widely to discuss portraits of Thomas Aquinas, the nature of viruses, space travel to Jupiter’s moon, and the meaning of death. Kluge is erudite, insightful and an excellent prose stylist. And how can you resist someone who still writes sentences like: “My soul is inflamed by the pathos of the Parisian university crisis of 1229 to 1231”?

  • Published by Seagull. Buy it online here.

Donna Stonecipher – The Ruins of Nostalgia

“Nostalgia,” a wit once said, “just isn’t what it used to be.” Whether or not that’s true, it remains an exceedingly popular topic in contemporary literature – and, indeed, at Berlin house parties (‘Dude, remember White Trash Fast Food?’). It also provides the theme for a new book by Donna Stonecipher.

A celebrated American poet and translator who has lived in Berlin since 2004, Stonecipher is a master of the prose poem, a hybrid form that, in the words of literary scholar Jeremy Noel-Tod, “drives the reading mind beyond the city limits”. Melodious, sly and rich in essayistic wisdom, The Ruins of Nostalgia is a credit to the genre. Across 64 one-page prose poems, Stonecipher takes the idea of nostalgia, which originally meant a kind of homesickness, and examines it with irony and earnestness. Appropriately, much is set in Berlin, a rapidly changing place where memories can divide as much as they unite.

  • Published by University of Wesleyan Press. Buy it online here.