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Rock Crystal

3.83  ·  Rating details ·  1,339 ratings  ·  156 reviews
Seemingly the simplest of stories—a passing anecdote of village life— Rock Crystal opens up into a tale of almost unendurable suspense. This jewel-like novella by the writer that Thomas Mann praised as "one of the most extraordinary, the most enigmatic, the most secretly daring and the most strangely gripping narrators in world literature" is among the most unusual, moving ...more
Paperback, 76 pages
Published September 16th 2008 by New York Review of Books (first published 1853)
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Average rating 3.83  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,339 ratings  ·  156 reviews

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Feb 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I've read Rock Crystal three times in the past three years before the last three Christmases, and though I'm not a Christian and I'm only religious in the sense that I believe certain things to be sacred, there is within my being an almost overwhelming feeling of nostalgia associated with that time period between the end of November and the New Year, and I solemnize, if nothing else, that feeling and my family and I try to understand and be grateful for what they have tried to provide me with in ...more
Feb 16, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: nyrb
Who am I kidding? I'm not going to finish this thing. I'll get more enjoyment by just staring at the cover lovingly, stroking it with the tippy tip-tops of my fingers, and saying aloud, 'Pretty!' in the voice of an idiot manchild. This isn't the case of a book deserving a good cover; this is the case of a cover deserving a good book... and this just ain't it.

I should have taken the author's name as sufficient warning. I mean, what the hell does an Adalbert Stifter have to tell me? He sounds like
Dec 17, 2018 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Hilary by: Booklady and Susan
This short story is set in a mountain village high in the Alps. Poetic descriptions of the breathtaking beauty and extreme harshness of the area. The story is quiet and reads like a fairy tale or folk tale. It is a simple story and one best read without knowing much about it. This is the sort of story you expect to read is based on real events, but if it is, it doesn't say.

Why introductions are included that give away the whole plot and ending, I don't know. I never read them first anyway but th
Diane S ☔
Feb 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Beautifully descriptive, simple but wonderful, this short novella tells the story of two children lost in the mountains. The care that Conner takes of his little sister is so incredibly poignant as is the way she listen to absolutely everything he says, the amazing trust she show in her brother. Loved the way all the villagers pulled together to search for the missing children. Much can be read into this story, interpretations of a Christian nature, acceptance into village life and a survival st ...more
In this very unusual story, two children travel a familiar route from their home in an alpine valley to visit their maternal grandparents who live in a neighbouring valley. It is Christmas Eve, and they are bundled off early for the return trip, with pockets and knapsack stuffed with gifts, edible and otherwise, for their siblings and parents.

An unexpected snowfall disorients them and they become completely lost, following the wrong serpentine road up the mountain. They are unable to find the r
Feb 22, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: holidays
Due to the reissue's cover image and the general taste of the selection of friends who had read this, I got the mistaken expectation that this 1)postmodern and 2)actually about rock crystal in at least a metaphorical way. Both of those are not the case.

This book is not like this:

It is like this:

...things beyond anything imagined, things they dare not touch but which, after they have received them as gifts, they will carry about...

This a nice, subtle religious metaphor.

Stifter's prose is quite a
Dhanaraj Rajan
Feb 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A Confession:

I read this book in a wrong season (just before the commencement of Lent). It is a book for Christmas. And it is a wonderful book for Christmas. I will read it again and again mostly during the Christmas season.

What is it about?

It is about love and Christmas.

Two kids (a brother and a sister) living in one of the Alpine villages go missing on the Christmas eve. As they return from the village of their grandparents, there occurs a heavy snow and they lose the track. They are lost and
M. Sarki
Feb 27, 2014 rated it really liked it

Adalbert Stifter suffered from anxiety and depression his entire life. Like so many writers, he depended on the approval of others and despaired over the public indifference to his novels. Obviously, his own character was one that could not overcome this perception regarding his own inadequacies. He took this public refusal of his life’s work so personally that his last act on earth was to unfortunately cut his own throat.

This is a fiction, but all of us
Dec 19, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Christmas lovers
A dear friend gave me Rock Crystal as a Christmas gift this year and I can highly recommend it as a great Christmas read! Originally published in 1845 it has the sort of timeless feel of a Dickensian classic (albeit without all the characters) and deserves to be better known—why it isn’t truly puzzles me. Perhaps it is because of the author’s unfortunate lack of success and premature demise, but that aside, this little novella is a delight and is going to be stored among my other Christmas treas ...more
Dec 02, 2011 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: NYRB December Pick
Shelves: novellas, nyrb, austria
Having finished the book a few days ago, I'm still perplexed by all of the glowing reviews (not just from readers but critics and revered authors). I kept thinking, "maybe it's me… what am I missing?"

Nothing. It's a folktale that tells the story of two villages and one family separated by miles of high mountains and years of living in their enclosed separate worlds.

they cling to what is traditional and to the ancient ways of their forefathers…love their own valley ardently, and could scarcely ex
J.M. Hushour
Oct 11, 2019 rated it really liked it
A charming little Christmas story you can probably read in about fifteen minutes. Stifter's charm comes from his quiet, tender description of the slight and brief world he creates. The mountain village of Gschaid and the town of Millsdorf on the other side of the ridge are the setting. Conrad and Sanna, the shoemaker's children, get lost in a snowstorm while walking home from visiting their grandmother in Millsdorf. Luckily, it's Christmas Eve so all kinds of humble, happy things happen as they ...more
Jim Elkins
Oct 09, 2012 added it
Shelves: german, austrian
Slow Pace and Harmony: Two Qualities Missing from Contemporary Fiction

Beautifully translated, perfectly formed novella. Stifter is the "landscape painter" of German realist novelists, and this little novel begins with a leisurely tour of a mountain range, so that as readers we know our way around. Then two little children get lost in the mountains. It's not meant to be melodramatic: it's the opposite: a potentially maudlin story told with absolute calm and with fastidious and accurate attention
Jan 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: short-fiction
A simple tale of two children who cross a mountain rane to visit their grandparents for Christmas Eve and return during a fierce blizzard that wipes out all their landmarks. They get lost, wind up in the mountains and crossing a glacier, finally finding a houselike structure of rocks and ice that provides some protection from the cold. There is something mythical about their predicament;
Even though Conrad kept before his mind's eye the fate of the frozen woodsman -- even though the children had
Apr 29, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my favorite books. I read it each winter and it so perfectly captures the atmosphere of the Alps, the descriptions of snow and survival and has a glorious ending. It always reminds me how beautiful writing can capture the most simple story, and yet also how difficult it is to render the beauty of nature in words when one tries it themselves. The book is set around Christmas Eve, and if I had children it would be one I read aloud to them in short chapters for 3 nights before Xmas. ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
For scenery description, I'd give this 5 stars, unfortunately there is also a story. A brother and sister visit their grandparents through the woods (and around a glacier, I mean, this is the Alps) and get stranded in the ice on the way back home.

The sister, Sanna, only says "Yes" to her brother, which drove me bonkers. The parents should have known better, the grandparents should have known better, after all they all have lived there for generations. At least they had a speedy rescue method.
Feb 27, 2015 rated it really liked it
I initially listen to this on Librivox, and thought it was a very nice listen. Then I realised that there was a project Gutenberg read that went along with the audio. I read the book and also very much enjoyed that.

My favourite section was the description of the mountains and the ice. I could really imagine what this was like. I also liked how the relationship between the boy and the girl developed, and how the boy looked after the girl and how she trusted him and looked up to him so much.

Apr 12, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A great story, simple (even banal) at first glance but full of myth, allegory, and quiet mystery just under the surface. Two kids, "the right road lost" (in Dante's words), wander out onto a glacier in the Austrian Alps on Heilige Nacht (Christmas Eve). Taking refuge in a stone cave or hut, Conrad and Susanna are kept awake - and from freezing to death - by a vial of coffee extract given as a gift by their grandmother, then by a stirring and inexplicable light show over a vast ice field at midni ...more
Dec 12, 2008 rated it really liked it
A strange little book. Stifter's descriptions of ice are remarkable. He finds, like the best of painters, unexpected colors in ordinary things. Stifter's ice is not just clear and pure but also green and blue and black. It does not surprise that Stifter also made landscape paintings.

This is chiefly a novella about what divides people of apparent similarity, and what brings them together. In this case, the same things divides and unites. A mountain with "dazzling horn-shaped peaks" forms the bar
Dec 10, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Upgrading my rating. This has become an annual tradition for me, and I love it more every year.
Dec 31, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 18tbr, fiction
A seemingly simple story of two children walking home from a visit to their grandmother grows in scope and meaning as one thinks about it. Great descriptive writing from observations of landscapes and weather to human quirks and a touch of humor. Warning: The introduction by W.H. Auden (and even the back cover) have spoilers.
Aug 13, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Fans of Eichendorff, Sherwood Anderson, Kafka, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight
Recommended to Jonathan by: Rough Guide to Cult Fiction
Oh, this book must be so unfashionable these days. The most unfashionable element is probably the detachment; the prose is clear, unemotional, controlled. In an age where everyone wants to express their emotions to everyone all the time then this sort of prose must seem unbearable. However, I imagine that fans of the equally unfashionable Eichendorff and Sherwood Anderson and possibly the more fashionable Kafka would be interested in giving this book a read.

The next unfashionable element is prob
[3.5] Set at Christmas, but have you heard this weather?

I can see why some people find Rock Crystal sweet, others cloying - I'm midway. A piece somewhere between a short story and a novella, it's very Victorian (actually Austrian, pub.1845, this translation made 100 years later) and the mental gear-shift it required was the same as the first such I remember making when, as a kid, I read one of Andrew Lang's Fairy Books found at my grandmother's.

The two children, Conrad and Sanna, are impossibly
Ben Loory
Feb 20, 2009 rated it really liked it
with an introduction by w.h. auden, you imagine you're going to be in for a certain clarity of prose... and you're right. this is a short and very simple novella about two kids lost in the mountains during a storm on christmas eve. you can read it in about an hour and it will be an hour well spent. the translation is musical and very, very fluid.

don't read the intro til afterward, though, AS IT GIVES EVERYTHING AWAY.
Karen Witzler
Dec 26, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: german, christmas, nyrb
This Christmas story reminded me of Hans Christian Andersen's longer tales , such as The Snow Queen and The Little Mermaid, except that the supernatural is the natural world of Alpine peaks and glaciers, snow and stars. A pleasant Christmas read. ...more
Nov 29, 2014 rated it really liked it
Loved, loved, loved it!
Brian Reynolds
Jun 03, 2020 rated it really liked it
A pleasant, if slight, folk tale about 3 children and their travel between parents and grandparents in villages on different sides of the mountains on Christmas Eve. Most prominent are the descriptions of the places, the extensive preliminary family background - extensive enough to warrant a story line longer than 76 pages, and the exploration of what it means to be part of a village community.
While some comments indicate a lack of enjoyment of the fable-like tone, I enjoyed it, as it was what I
Josh Friedlander
I've been lost in the Alps once, though this short, lapidary novella (praised by Auden and Thomas Mann, translated by Marianne Moore) is less about the experience than about the descriptions of toy-like villages with red church steeples, expanses of glittering snow, the biting wind, the warmth of coffee and Christian faith, the traditional way of life in small unpopulated places. ...more
Dec 31, 2018 rated it really liked it
Transcendental shimmering gem of a story. Deceptively simple, but immersively engrossing/beautiful and with a joltingly emotional ending. Written in 1845 and set over Christmas Eve into Christmas Day, but a completely timeless message of shared humanity.
Dec 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019-sublime
Gorgeous, hypnotizing. If I’m to have my own children someday, I hope to read this to them by the fire on Christmas Eve. Amidst the chaos of adult life and the leaping and buzzing of children’s minds, perhaps such a peaceful and minutely mystical tradition could be carved out.
Mar 31, 2020 rated it really liked it
A fairy tale like novella about a village in the Alps and what happens one night when a brother and sister travel to see their grandmother in a neighboring village. The descriptions of the snow and the northern lights are lovely and the story has a sweetness to it that was perfect for stressful times.
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Adalbert Stifter was an Austrian writer, poet, painter, and pedagogue. He was especially notable for the vivid natural landscapes depicted in his writing, and has long been popular in the German-speaking world, while almost entirely unknown to English readers.

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