April 30, 1945, marked an end of sorts in the Third Reich. The last business day before a national holiday and then a series of transfers of power, April 30 was a day filled with contradictions and bewildering events that would forever define global history. It was on this day that while the Red Army occupied Berlin, Hitler committed suicide in his underground bunker, and, in San Francisco, the United Nations was being founded.
Alexander Kluge’s latest book, 30 April 1945, covers this single historic day and unravels its passing hours across the different theaters of the Second World War. Translated by Wieland Hoban, the book delves into the events happening around the world on one fateful day, including the life of a small German town occupied by American forces and the story of two SS officers stranded on the forsaken Kerguelen Islands in the South Indian Sea. Kluge is a master storyteller, and as he unfolds these disparate tales, one unavoidable question surfaces: What is the appropriate reaction to the total upheaval of the status quo?
Presented here with an afterword by Reinhard Jirgl, translated by Iain Galbraith, 30 April 1945 is a riveting collection of lives turned upside down by the deadliest war in history. The collective experiences Kluge paints here are jarring, poignant, and imbued with meaning. Seventy years later, we can still see our own reflections in the upheaval of a single day in 1945.
Praise for Kluge
“More than a few of Kluge’s many books are essential, brilliant achievements. None are without great interest.”—Susan Sontag
Max Weber famously described politics as “a strong, slow drilling through hard boards with both passion and judgment.” Taking this as his inspiration, Alexander Kluge brings readers yet another literary masterpiece. Drilling through Hard Boards is a kaleidoscopic meditation on the tools available to those who struggle for power. Weber’s metaphorical drill certainly embodies intelligent tenacity as a precondition for political change. But what is a hammer in the business of politics, Kluge wonders, and what is a subtle touch? Eventually, we learn that all questions of politics lead to a single one: what is political in the first place?
In the book, Kluge masterfully unspools more than one hundred vignettes, through which it becomes clear that the political is more often than not personal. Politics are everywhere in our everyday lives, so along with the stories of major political figures, we also find here the small, mostly unknown ones: Elfriede Eilers alongside Pericles, Chilean miners next to Napoleon, a three-month-old baby beside Alexander the Great. Drilling through Hard Boards is not just Kluge’s newest fiction, it is a masterpiece of political thought.
Reinhard Jirgl’s strikingly individual novel The Fire Above, the Mountain Below demonstrates that he is not only unorthodox in his approach to language, but also difficult to pin down in terms of any genre. Weaving together elements of crime story, Cold War espionage, family tragedy, and a dystopian future, he creates a tapestry of fragile humanity and menacing inhumanity. The investigation of a series of gruesome killings takes a detective inspector into explorations of a secret intelligence programme in former East Germany and the role of a family with a tragic history. The more is uncovered, the more disorienting it becomes, and the reader is drawn into a complex web of discovery and suppression.
Max Frisch (1911–91) was a giant of twentieth-century German literature. When Frisch moved into a new apartment in Berlin’s Sarrazinstrasse, he began keeping a journal, which he came to call the Berlin Journal. A few years later, he emphasized in an interview that this was by no means a “scribbling book,” but rather a book “fully composed.” The journal is one of the great treasures of Frisch’s literary estate, but the author imposed a retention period of twenty years from the date of his death because of the “private things” he noted in it. From the Berlin Journal now marks the first publication of excerpts from Frisch’s journal. Here, the unmistakable Frisch is back, full of doubt, with no illusions, and with a playfully sharp eye for the world.
From the Berlin Journal pulls from the years 1946–49 and 1966–71. Observations about the writer’s everyday life stand alongside narrative and essayistic texts, as well as finely-drawn portraits of colleagues like Günter Grass, Uwe Johnson, Wolf Biermann, and Christa Wolf, among others. Its foremost quality, though, is the extraordinary acuity with which Frisch observed political and social conditions in East Germany while living in West Berlin.
Any new book by poet, essayist, writer, and translator Hans Magnus Enzensberger, one of the most influential and internationally renowned German intellectuals, is cause for notice, and Mr. Zed’s Reflections is no exception. Every afternoon for almost a year, a plump man named Mr. Zed comes to the same spot in the city park and engages passersby with quick-witted repartee. Those who pass ask, who is this man? A wisecracker, a clown, a belligerent philosopher? Many shake their heads and move on; others listen to him, engage with him, and, again and again, end up at the same place. He doesn’t write anything down, but his listeners often take notes. With subversive energy and masterful brevity, Mr. Zed undermines arrogance, megalomania, and false authority. A determined speaker who doesn’t care for ambitions, he forces topics that others would rather keep to themselves. Reluctant to trust institutions and seeing absolutely nothing as “non-negotiable,” he admits mistakes and does away with judgment. He is no mere ventriloquist dummy for his creator—he is too stubborn for that. And at the end of the season, when it becomes too cold and uncomfortable in the park, he disappears, never to be seen again.
Collected in this thought-provoking and unique work are the considerations and provocations of this squat, park-bench philosopher, giving us a volume of truths and conversations that are clear-cut, skeptical, and fiercely illuminating.