Berlin Alexanderplatz – Alfred Döblin
The great novel of 1920s Berlin life, in a superb new translation by Michael Hofmann
Franz Biberkopf is back on the streets of Berlin. Determined to go straight after a stint in prison, he finds himself thwarted by an unpredictable external agency that looks an awful lot like fate. Cheated, humiliated, thrown from a moving car; embroiled in an underworld of pimps, thugs, drunks and prostitutes, Franz picks himself up over and over again – until one day he is struck a monstrous blow which might just prove his final downfall.
A dazzling collage of newspaper reports, Biblical stories, drinking songs and urban slang, Berlin Alexanderplatz is the great novel of Berlin life: inventing, styling and recreating the city as reality and dream; mimicking its movements and rhythms; immortalizing its pubs, abattoirs, apartments and chaotic streets. From the gutter to the stars, this is the whole picture of the city.
Berlin Alexanderplatz brought fame in 1929 to its author Alfred Döblin, until then an impecunious writer and doctor in a working-class neighbourhood in the east of Berlin. Success at home was short-lived, however; Doblin, a Jew, left Germany the day after the Reichstag Fire in 1933, and did not return until 1945. This landmark translation by Michael Hofmann is the first to do justice to Berlin Alexanderplatz in English, brilliantly capturing the energy, prodigality and inventiveness of Döblin’s masterpiece.