Berlin Alexanderplatz, the great novel of Berlin and the doomed Weimar Republic, is one of the great books of the 20th century, gruesome, farcical, and appalling, word drunk, pitchdark. In Michael Hofmann’s extraordinary new translation, Alfred Döblin’s masterpiece lives in English for the first time.
As Döblin writes:
The subject of this book is the life of the former cement worker and haulier Franz Biberkopf in Berlin. As our story begins, he has just been released from prison, where he did time for some stupid stuff; now he is back in Berlin, determined to go straight.
To begin with, he succeeds. But then, though doing all right for himself financially, he gets involved in a set-to with an unpredictable external agency that looks an awful lot like fate.
Three times the force attacks him and disrupts his scheme. The first time it comes at him with dishonesty and deception. Our man is able to get to his feet, he is still good to stand.
Then it strikes him a low blow. He has trouble getting up from that, he is almost counted out. And finally it hits him with monstrous and extreme violence.