German Stories and Tales: Ed. by Robert Pick (Part I)

As part of my 2017 TBR project, I committed to read 48 books that I’d bought any time prior to January 1st. One of the books that made the cut is German Stories and Tales edited by Robert Pick. This paperback was given to me in 1987, but it was published more than 20 years prior to that: 1966. I mention the date of the publication as a couple of the authors whose stories appear in the collection were still alive in 1966. It was eerie reading about Alexander Lernet-Holenia in the present tense, living in “Vienna and Sankt Wolfgang, Upper Austria,” and Hermann Kesten living in NYC.

German stories and tales

So here I am thirty years after being given this book, finally reading it. This is such a modest looking little paperback but what treasures it contains:

Youth, Beautiful Youth by Hermann Hesse
Kannitverstan by Johann Peter Hebel
An Episode in the Life of the Marshal de Bassompierre by Hugo von Hofmannsthal
Lukardis by Jakob Wassermann
Krambambuli by Marie von Ebner-Eschenbach
Cardiac Suture by Ernst Weiss
The Message that Failed by Moritz Heimann
Rock Crystal by Adalbert Stifter
The Bachelor’s Death by Arthur Schnitzler
Unexpected Reunion by Johann Peter Hebel
Mona Lisa by Alexander Lernet-Holenia
The Picnic of Mores the Cat by Clemens Brentano
Zerline, the Old Servant Girl by Hermann Broch
The Friend in the Closet by Hermann Kesten
The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka
A Little Legend of the Dance by Gottfried Keller
Death in Venice by Thomas Mann
The Hussar by Johann Peter Hebel

I’ve never read Herman Hesse although I’ve looked at, and passed on, his books many times. Youth, Beautiful Youth is a wonderful bitter-sweet short story that captures the feeling of lost youth. The story is told in retrospect, by Hermann, a man who recalls his visit home. He’s been away for a few years and has employment lined up for the autumn. This then is his last summer before settling down, possibly permanently, so this is an auspicious visit home:

With creeping caution the train descended the hill in great winding curves, and with each turn the houses, streets, river, and gardens of the town below came closer and grew more distinct. Soon I could distinguish the roofs and pick out the familiar ones; soon, too, I could count the windows and recognize the stork nests. And while childhood and boyhood and a thousand precious memories of home were wafted toward me out of the valley, my sense of arrogant triumph at the homecoming slowly melted away. My desire to make a big impression upon all the people down there yielded to a feeling of grateful astonishment. Homesickness, which in the course of the years had ceased to trouble me, assailed me powerfully in this last quarter-hour. Every clump of broom near the station platform and every familiar garden fence became strangely precious to me, and I asked each to forgive me  for having to be able to forget it and get along without it for so long. 

It’s a wonderful carefree summer with the narrator taking long walks, reading, setting off fireworks with his brother Fritz, and falling in love. The summer stretches out far ahead, and yet it ends all too soon.

And as all loveliness and sweetness is mortal and has its destined end, day after day of this summer, too, slipped through my fingers-this summer which in memory seems to have brought my youth to a close.

This summer is a moment in time–a moment that will never be repeated. Hermann presses memories and scenes into his mind where they remain even though the world Hermann knew passed away. There’s the sense that something happened after the narrator left–was it WWI? And here is how the story ends.

As the train approached our garden, I caught sight of a powerful blood-red flare. There stood my brother, Fritz, holding a Bengal light in each hand. At the very moment that I waved to him and rode by, he sent a skyrocket shooting straight up into the air. Leaning out, I saw it mount and pause, describe a gentle arc, and vanish in a rain of red sparks.

Translated by Richard and Clara Winston.

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20 Comments

Filed under Fiction, Hesse Hermann, Wasserman Jakob

20 responses to “German Stories and Tales: Ed. by Robert Pick (Part I)

  1. Poor Hermann Kesten. He ended up in a Jewish home for old people, here in Basel. Alone in a stuffy room. I was a kid and a family friend who was a journalist visited him for an interview and for reasons I can’t remember took me with him. I still got a book he gave me.

  2. It sounds like a great collection. I like Hesse’s stories a lot. And most of his novels. All these authors were still read in 1966. Most if them aren’t even read anymore in German.

  3. What a wonderful collection of writers! Mona Lisa is a delight – I read it about a year ago in a little standalone edition from Pushkin, a beautiful little thing with added illustrations. I look forward to hearing more about these stories in due course.

  4. Very impressive list of names. I’m looking forward to hearing about Mores the Cat.

  5. It is very interesting that you owned this book for such a long time before reading it. I have a few books like that.

    I love Hermann Hesse and I have read many of his novels but have not read this story. Since you liked it you might like his longer works. My favorite is Siddhartha but in my opinion many are worthwhile.

  6. 30 years! That has to be a record. I have a couple that have been sitting on the shelf for 12,13 years. I suppose at some point it’s reasonable to ask if you’re ever going to actually read the damn thing.

    The contents list reads like a who’s who. Some great stuff in there – look forward to hearing more.

    • But like Caroline says, how can you throw them away if you think you may read them? This was given to me by a former professor who was cleaning out shelves. I didn’t ask for it or even look at it at the time and it was one of many. I was caught up in studies for years and then when I had more time for my own reading, this book was shoved in a box.
      Now I am going through boxes.

  7. Jonathan

    The contents are impressive. ‘Rock Crystal’ is one of my favourite books. Many of the stories look more like novellas – what is the page count?

    I’ve read a few of Hesse’s short stories and quite liked them.

    • 399 pages. Yes it is a very impressive collection-since so many of these writers (esp. their short stories) aren’t easy to find. The pages are typical paperback size. This has been a gem for me because we don’t normally go searching for short story collections. These sorts of books are very anonymous online. I also have an Italian collection (and possibly a French–will have to dig)

  8. 30 years on the shelf! I might have one or two like this too. I moved them around. It’s hard to through away books.
    I’ve never read Hesse either although I’ve picked his books several times in bookshops.
    I’ll have to try one of his novel.

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