Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin new translation

Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin

German fiction

Original title – Berlin Alexanderplatz

Translator – Michael Hofmann

Source – review copy

This is the first time in the seven years I have been blogging I am reviewing a book for the second time. I reviewed Berlin Alexanderplatz. But that was the first translation by Eugene Jolas, which had cut some of the original out and was inspired by Jolas fondness for Joyce. So when I heard Hofmann a translator, I admire was doing a new translation I was looking forward to it so to get sent a review copy was a treat. Alfred Doblin studied medicine in the years before world war one which meant he got to avoid the war. But the war had an impact on his views he wrote from 1915, but this book was the one that raised him to a national and international standing when it came out and is considered a masterpiece of German modernism.

Our hero has been successfully brought to Berlin. He has sworn to mend his ways, ad we wonder wheter we shouldn’t simply stop here.An ending her would be optimistic and straightforward, an ending seems to be at hand, and the whole thing wouuld have the advantage of brevity.

But Franz Biberkopf is not just abyone, I have not summned him for my own amusment, but for his heavy, true and iluminating fate to be experienced.

Franz Biberkopf has been burnt, now he stands there in berlin, feet apart and merry, and when he says he wants to be respectable, we believe this to be the case.

You willsee how for several weeks he succeeds. But that’s just a period of respite

The opening of chater two captures well his life cycle of Franz Biberkopf

 

So the approach Hofmann took was to make the book seem more like its German version where it is a wonderful mix of the world around the main character in the book. Franz Biberkopf. We meet Biberkopf as he is released after surviving a sentence for manslaughter. He has determined to try and go on the straight and narrow. He initially is drawn into a story told by a Jewish man who takes him to a rabbis house. But he manages to get out of what is a strange situation and ends up selling things we see him going through a number of different trades. Alongside this, we see the city around him as each small chapter is made up of a what happens to Franz but also the city around him.As he meets woman after woman. He also has a scene in a slaughterhouse where he sees how the meats that are sold are made. He tries to stay on the straight and narrow but he is a man drawn to the darker side of the town, But when he meets a man called Rheinhold a friend at first but later attacks Franz he has to head down the path of crime and gangs.As he gets involved more with the Pums gang.Franz is a man drawn by fate and maybe a liking for the darker easier side of life as he sees it.

Since Christmas is icumen in, Franz makes a switch into seasonal products, for a few mornings and afternoons it is shoelaces, first on his own, then with one Otto Luders, luders been out of work for two years, his wife takes in washing. Fat lina brought him along one day, he’s her uncle. For a few eeks in summer he was the Rudersdorf peppermint man with swizzle sticj and uniform. He and Franz wandered through the strets together, go inside the houses, ring doorbells and meet up afterwards

Franz is slipping down and getting in with the wrong sorts as the book goes on .

This manages to capture the world of Doblin book so much clearer than the Jolas did. we see a world this is different to Joyce’s modernism of an internal voice. No this is the world without filters Doblin tries to capture every detail to give the reader a full picture of the Berlin of the time the smells sounds and feeling of the place jump of the page. Franz Bibeerkopf is the dark side of the Isherwood World of Berlin, this is a man that has been to prison and tries to go straight but is drawn in by the wrong people as he spends his nights in Bierkellers and with women of a certain type. If John Dos Passos, Tom Waits and Charles Bukowski had a bastard child it would be Doblin this is like Dos Passos modernism a way of capturing the wider world and the personal struggle at the same time. Franz is like a character from A Waits song or a Bukowski novel a loser but trying to be more than he wants to be. I still say watching the Fassbinder series is worth it I watch it after reading the book the first time and am midway through a rewatching of it. As my next review is the 800th on the blog I pleased to meet a new version of a book I loved first time around.

Have you read either translation of the Book?

 

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18 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Lisa Hill
    Feb 14, 2018 @ 21:54:40

    Thanks for this, Stu, I haven’t got a copy of this one, but it’s on my wishlist so I’ll make sure to get the new translation when I do.

    Reply

  2. Lisa Hill
    Feb 14, 2018 @ 21:56:03

    PS what’s the ISBN, please, I want to make a note of it…

    Reply

  3. James Morrison
    Feb 14, 2018 @ 22:01:19

    Nice review: I just started this book on the bus this morning–30p in and really enjoying it. Hofmann is a splendid translator.

    Reply

  4. TravellinPenguin
    Feb 14, 2018 @ 22:22:59

    No, had not heard of it. Sounds interesting. The cover is very quirky.

    Reply

  5. caronwest
    Feb 15, 2018 @ 06:46:18

    I’ve been waiting for a year for this to get published; only a couple of weeks now. I’m pleased to hear you think it’s a good translation.

    Reply

  6. Tony
    Feb 15, 2018 @ 08:57:01

    No, no I haven’t 😉

    Reply

  7. Tredynas Days
    Feb 15, 2018 @ 10:02:04

    I read the Secker Warburg 1974 Jolas translation (library copy). Just checked my post on it from 2015 – I too found the translation a bit clunky and disappointing.

    Reply

  8. Somali Bookaholic
    Feb 15, 2018 @ 15:06:32

    I have the earlier translation of the book but I can’t resist the books Hoffmann translates since i love his translation of Stefan Zweig and Joseph Roth works.

    Reply

  9. Romy Paris
    Feb 15, 2018 @ 15:53:20

    Just in case this is not known, Michael Hofmann, the brilliant translator, is the son of Gert Hofmann, the equally brilliant writer of Our Conquest, The Film Explainer and the ultimate Sicilian tourist guide, The Spectacle at the Tower, among many other brilliant novels.

    Reply

  10. The Reading Life
    Feb 16, 2018 @ 02:39:26

    I posted on the earlier translation of this book for German Literature Month, November. 2017. Through Edelweiss I was sent a review copy of Hoffman’s translation. I have read his many Joseph Roth translations and am very much looking forward to reading his translation

    Reply

  11. Max Cairnduff
    Feb 28, 2018 @ 17:35:29

    There’s a review of the Jolas translation at mine. Since you’ve read both Stu, how did you find the treatment of slang in this one?

    Reply

  12. Trackback: That was the month that was February 2018 | Winstonsdad's Blog

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