Rediscover: Berlin Alexanderplatz

Novelist and essayist Alfred Döblin (1878-1957) was a major figure in German literary modernism whose work spans multiple genres and historical periods. Despite his influence on later German writers like Günter Grass and W.G. Sebald, Döblin remains far less well known than contemporaries Bertolt Brecht and Thomas Mann. Döblin's tumultuous early life was defined by an absent father and poor mother. He became a doctor and volunteered for World War I to avoid conscription, all while working toward a literary career. His breakthrough came in 1916 with the publication of The Three Leaps of Wang Lun, a historical epic about revolution in 18th-century China. Despite that success, Döblin struggled in the chaos of the Wiemar Republic. He wrote Wallenstein, set during the Thirty Years War, in 1920 and Mountains Seas and Giants, a ground-breaking science-fiction epic, in 1924.

His most famous work is Berlin Alexanderplatz (1929), published prior to Döblin's flight from Nazi Germany. The novel follows convicted killer Franz Biberkopf upon his release from prison into the working-class neighborhoods around Berlin's Alexanderplatz. Döblin uses montages, point-of-view shifts and other modernist literary techniques to depict Biberkopf's various violent calamities amid the rise of National Socialism. Berlin Alexanderplatz is considered an iconic work of Wiemar literature. On March 6, New York Review Books published a new English translation of Berlin Alexanderplatz by Michael Hofmann ($18.95, 9781681371993). --Tobias Mutter

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