When 55-year-old Stephen Pasceri walked into a Boston hospital last January and fatally shot Michael Davidson, a 44-year-old heart surgeon who had taken care of Pasceri’s late mother, his futile rage deprived others of a superb physician and changed in an instant the lives of Dr. Davidson’s three young children. They are fortunate to be growing up with their mother in upper-middle-class America, where their trauma will gradually heal.Read more
Since 1945, the top echelon of German literature has been dominated by a cadre of writers and critics who were children when Hitler came to power and on the brink of adulthood when the war was over. After two years in limbo, it fell to them, as members of the fabled literary Group 47, to restore the moral credibility of Germany’s high culture. And they executed this task in a tense pas de deux with the man who had been appointed Germany’s literary pope: Marcel Reich-Ranicki, a Polish Jew born in 1920 who had survived the Warsaw ghetto.Read more
If you need a break from the noxious violence in the daily news and find yourself searching for a recuperative nighttime read about the loony haplessness that is the byproduct of a free and prosperous culture—well, you can do no better than to curl up with this ingeniously conceived, wickedly funny, and ultimately very moving epistolary novel.Read more
For digital natives, studying classic English and American literature in college is about as attractive as mowing the lawn. When authorities require it, digital natives will do it as a chore: They find a command of humanistic knowledge irrelevant to their sense of self. They see no compelling reason to know the difference between George Eliot and T. S. Eliot.Read more
The best novel of the 20th century was written as an argument against the ruling French literary critic, Charles Augustin Sainte-Beuve. He held that a writer’s life was the key to his or her literary work and that the life and letters must be parsed along with the work. Marcel Proust disagreed: “Sainte-Beuve’s work adds nothing to our understanding of a writer,” he famously declared in 1909.Read more
"The first second of 1913. A gunshot rings out through the dark night. There’s a brief click, fingers tense on the trigger, then comes a second, dull report. The alarm is raised, the police dash to the scene and arrest the gunman straight away. His name is Louis Armstrong.” Armstrong is 12 years old. At the Colored Waifs’ Home for Boys, where he is later dumped, he is so unruly that the home’s director thrusts a cornet into his hands to help the boy blow off steam. He never puts it down. A star is born.Read more
Nothing has been left unsaid about Franz Kafka (1883-1924), the Jewish insurance lawyer from Prague who conducted his work life in Czech, his personal life in German, and his nocturnal writer’s life in a highly condensed metaphoric language whose striking images reveal the absurd core in the human struggle for justice or happiness.Read more
In 1935, Ernst Gombrich, scion of a bourgeois Viennese Jewish family, and newly minted Ph.D. in art history, found himself out of work. Walter Neurath, a friend and publisher, asked him to look over an English history book for children and, if it was any good, to translate it into German. Neurath wanted to publish it in his new series “Knowledge for Children.”Read more
The great tragedy of Yiddish literature is that, at the very moment when it was blossoming into modernity in all genres, its writers, audience, and cultural matrix were completely destroyed by the double knockout punch of German and Soviet anti-Semitism.Read more
The way I got to Martin Walser, Germany’s most German writer and, at age 84, one of its national treasures, was to scrawl three lines on an envelope: Martin Walser, writer, Nussdorf am Bodensee.Read more
Eons ago, in 1989, when Germany was in the midst of its most intense phase of coming to grips with the murder of the European Jews by largely ordinary Germans, Times Books was planning a collection of essays subtitled “Contemporary Writers Make the Holocaust Personal.” The American writers’ task was to bring the Holocaust unnervingly close to home.Read more
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