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Book Discussions (general) > Berlin Alexanderplatz, by Alfred Doblin

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message 1: by Trevor (last edited Dec 06, 2018 12:17PM) (new)

Trevor (mookse) | 1425 comments Mod
Berlin Alexanderplatz

Berlin Alexanderplatz

Publication Date: March 6, 2018
Pages: 502
Introduction by Michael Hofmann
Translated from the German by Michael Hofmann
Originally published in 1929

Franz Biberkopf, pimp and petty thief, has just finished serving a term in prison for murdering his girlfriend. He's on his own in Weimar Berlin with its lousy economy and frontier morality, but Franz is determined to turn over new leaf, get ahead, make an honest man of himself, and so on and so forth. He hawks papers, chases girls, needs and bleeds money, gets mixed up in spite of himself in various criminal and political schemes, and when he tries to back out of them, it's at the cost of an arm. This is only the beginning of our modern everyman's multiplying misfortunes, but though Franz is more dupe than hustler, in the end, well, persistence is rewarded and things might be said to work out. Just like in a novel. Lucky Franz.

Berlin, Alexanderplatz is one of great twentieth-century novels. Taking off from the work of Dos Passos and Joyce, Doblin depicts modern life in all its shocking violence, corruption, splendor, and horror. Michael Hofmann, celebrated for his translations of Joseph Roth and Franz Kafka, has prepared a new version, the first in over 75 years, in which Doblin's sublime and scurrilous masterpiece comes alive in English as never before.


message 2: by Trevor (new)

Trevor (mookse) | 1425 comments Mod
For posterity, here was the original posted cover for Berlin Alexanderplatz.

Berlin Alexanderplatz


message 3: by Trevor (new)

Trevor (mookse) | 1425 comments Mod
This is the big book we selected to read for the next group read!

I'm moving this thread to the Book Club Discussion thread, where it will remain until the next book. Afterwards it will move back to the General Discussion thread for future reference and future discussion.

You don't have to wait until the readalong officially starts to post here. If you have preliminary thoughts -- excited, nervous, etc. -- please feel free to share.

If you like film, the great Rainer Werner Fassbinder made this into a long (15 hour) television series. The DVD is available from The Criterion Collection in the U.S., and they announced not long ago that they will be releasing it on Blu-ray on February 12 (see here).


Bryan "They call me the Doge" (theindefatigablebertmcguinn) | 52 comments Unfortunately my library system does not have a copy of the Hoffman translation. I'm hoping to get it (it's not available at the moment) and read along anyway, but if that translation is 75 years old, I hope it isn't too self-censored.


message 5: by Trevor (new)

Trevor (mookse) | 1425 comments Mod
Hoffman's translation is new, so no worries there! He's a great translator as well, so I'm quite looking forward to it.


message 6: by Christopher (new)

Christopher (Donut) | 45 comments I am going to cheat and read the old translation:

Berlin Alexanderplatz The Story of Franz Biberkopf by Alfred Döblin

(IF I even attempt such a whale. But it IS on my TBR pile).


message 7: by Louise (new)

Louise | 490 comments Mod
We can talk about the book, and the author, all we want, but WITHOUT any spoilers please as most of us will still be reading it through the month of January. But on February 1st we will begin the discussion of the whole book, spoilers and all.


message 8: by Louise (new)

Louise | 490 comments Mod
Has anyone seen the 15 hour television series?


message 9: by Trevor (new)

Trevor (mookse) | 1425 comments Mod
I have had it for years and even watched several hours of it before stopping. It was very dour. I love Fassbinder, but this adaptation is probably my least favorite -- at least, a few hours in -- but I'd like to retry it once I have the book under my belt.


message 10: by Doug (new)

Doug | 5 comments Christopher wrote: "I am going to cheat and read the old translation:

Berlin Alexanderplatz The Story of Franz Biberkopf by Alfred Döblin

(IF I even attempt such a whale. But it IS on my TBR pile)."


I've also had a copy of the 'old' translation by Eugene Jolas for quite some while, but haven't gotten to it yet and did a cursory two page comparison with the new Hoffman translation ... and must say I preferred the Jolas (hope that isn't sacrilegious!).


message 11: by Christopher (new)

Christopher (Donut) | 45 comments Doug wrote: "did a cursory two page comparison with the new Hoffman translation ... and must say I preferred the Jolas (hope that isn't sacrilegious!). ..."

The older I get, the less 'snowable' I am on the wonderfulness of new translations.


message 12: by Mark (new)

Mark Harris (rattle_bag) | 12 comments I shamefully bought the Second Sight dvd of the series 6 years ago but haven't watched it yet. I bought the book 6 months ago so at least that is an improvement!


message 13: by Louise (new)

Louise | 490 comments Mod
I read somewhere that for a long time this book was considered "impossible" to translate because of the period slang and local dialect. I couldn't find where I read that though and while looking for it I came upon this:

The novel was translated into English in 1931 by Eugene Jolas, a friend of James Joyce. The translation was not well received; in particular it was criticized for the way in which it rendered everyday working-class speech. A 2018 English translation by Michael Hofmann, published by New York Review Books, was given a starred review from Kirkus Reviews, which called it "vigorous and fresh" and a "welcome refurbishing of a masterpiece of literary modernism". According to Oliver Kamm, "Dialogue is the most difficult thing to get right in translation" which Hofmann has rendered "in cockney dialect". It reads fluently, even at the risk of being possibly obscure to a non-British audience".


message 14: by sisilia (new)

sisilia (sisilia9) | 53 comments I’m so excited for this. I ordered mine from Book Depository; fingers crossed it doesn’t take too long to reach me.

I didn’t know about the television series, but will definitely check it out :)


message 15: by WndyJW (last edited Dec 17, 2018 05:21PM) (new)

WndyJW | 282 comments It takes at least two weeks for Book Depo books to make it to Ohio. You have 6 week, sisilia, hopefully that is enough time.

I ordered the book with idea what it was, I’m excited to read it now that I’ve read the summary,


message 16: by Louise (new)

Louise | 490 comments Mod
Ha, I found where I read that Berlin Alexanderplatz was untranslatable and it is actually The New York Review of Books that said it when reviewing the DVD collection back in 2008.

https://www.nybooks.com/articles/2008...


message 17: by Pillsonista (new)

Pillsonista | 17 comments It has had that reputation for decades, ever since the Jolas translation was published.


message 18: by Louise (new)

Louise | 490 comments Mod
Do we have any German speaking members here? It would be interesting to hear their opinion on the translation. I speak/read in French so I like to compare French translations to the real thing when I can. Although my last name is German I don't speak a single word of it :-(


message 19: by Mirko (new)

Mirko | 77 comments I grew up in Germany and speak German. I'll see what I can find online from the original text and try to compare it to this translation. :)

Funny enough, Berlin Alexanderplatz is one of my German friend's favourite reads.


message 20: by Emma (new)

Emma (wordsandpeace) | 13 comments I have the Jolas translation as well, but I'm French and could compare with the French text from time to time, for difficult passages. I actually read German, but if it's a very difficult text, I may not be very useful..
This is actually my very first time here for a read-along with you. So, how does it work? Are we assigned a certain number of chapters every week?


message 21: by Louise (new)

Louise | 490 comments Mod
Welcome Emma. When the book discussion starts on Feb. 1st, we will talk about the entire book. I will try to post some questions to encourage participation. For this time only, since we are only just getting re-started with the book club we are giving ourselves the month of January to read the book. We can still talk about it in January but only in general terms. No spoilers.

After that we will most likely nominate and vote for a new book each month, that book will be announced 6 weeks ahead of time to give everyone a chance to get the book and read it and when discussion starts on the 1st of the month we can talk about anything in the book.


message 22: by Louise (new)

Louise | 490 comments Mod
I received my copy today and can't wait to get started (I sneak peeked the first couple of pages) but I have to finish the book I'm reading now first. Thankfully I have the next 5 days off work.


message 23: by WndyJW (new)

WndyJW | 282 comments I got my copy the other day! I have a couple to finish then I’ll start it.


message 24: by George (new)

George | 1 comments Hello all, and happy holidays. I just ordered my copy and look forward to receiving this beautiful edition, and sharing in the journey through Berlin.


message 25: by Trevor (new)

Trevor (mookse) | 1425 comments Mod
I started this on Christmas Eve and was shocked (why, I'm not sure) at how much I enjoyed those first thirty pages. I found it compelling for both its contents and its style.


message 26: by Louise (new)

Louise | 490 comments Mod
That bodes well. I want to read Le Petit Prince tonight (I have yet to read it and it seems like the kind of book I need right now). Then I plan on starting Berlin Alexanderplatz on Friday when I should finally be done with my year-long project of reading the entire 7-volume Proust a la Recherche Du Temps Perdu.


message 27: by WndyJW (new)

WndyJW | 282 comments Good fork you, Louise! All 7 volumes, that’s an accomplishment. Did you enjoy them?

I’m reading A Far Cry from Kensington the next few days for Mookse Madness (and it’s a quick read to bring my book total to 54 for the year,) then I’m eager to start Berlin Alexanderplatz. This afternoon I heard Eileen Battersby praise it as an outstanding book in an interview from last year.


message 28: by Louise (new)

Louise | 490 comments Mod
WndyJW wrote: "Good fork you, Louise! All 7 volumes, that’s an accomplishment. Did you enjoy them?..."

Yes but I'll be glad to be done. 20 pages left!


message 29: by WndyJW (new)

WndyJW | 282 comments Go! Go read!


message 30: by Louise (new)

Louise | 490 comments Mod
Saving it for tomorrow. I already read 20 pages today. Proust is not someone you can read for any length of time. 10-20 pages is all I can handle at a time.


message 31: by PaulDalton (last edited Dec 28, 2018 10:39AM) (new)

PaulDalton | 3 comments WndyJW wrote: "Good fork you, Louise! All 7 volumes, that’s an accomplishment. Did you enjoy them?

I’m reading A Far Cry from Kensington the next few days for Mookse Madness (and it’s a quick read t..."


Tragically Eileen Battersby died in a car crash a few days ago. She was a fine reviewer and a great advocate for literature in translation.


message 32: by WndyJW (new)

WndyJW | 282 comments That is sad, it was because of that tragedy that I was listening to the interview.

Today Amos Oz died, too.


message 33: by Randolph (new)

Randolph (us227381) I started this. You can read the afterword without ruining anything, in fact it’s helpful. I sort of get the Joyce analogies but this is much more accessible than Ulysses.


message 34: by Louise (new)

Louise | 490 comments Mod
Today we start our "general" discussion of Berlin Alexanderplatz and Alfred Doblin. Most of us are still reading (or haven't started yet) so no spoilers please, not in January. For now it's just in general terms. In February we'll get to the nitty gritty.

For now, here is a little bit about the author:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alfred_...


message 35: by Louise (new)

Louise | 490 comments Mod
If you want to see a picture of Berlin's Alexanderplatz in 1919, one is included in this 100 German Must-Reads article:

https://www.dw.com/en/alfred-d%C3%B6b...

Here is also an article on the real place:

https://www.tripsavvy.com/berlin-alex...


message 36: by WndyJW (new)

WndyJW | 282 comments Now I feel foolish, I did not know Alexanderplatz was a place! I didn’t know what it meant. Now I’m more excited to read this book and I want to find the other 9 German books that guy talked about. I bet The Tin Drum is one of them and The Magic Mountain.


message 37: by sisilia (new)

sisilia (sisilia9) | 53 comments WndyJW wrote: "Now I feel foolish, I did not know Alexanderplatz was a place! I didn’t know what it meant. Now I’m more excited to read this book and I want to find the other 9 German books that guy talked about...."

You are not alone :)


message 38: by Lucille (new)

Lucille Maybe because my ancestry is German, I've read a fair amount from this list. Jenny Erpenbeck's Visitation is on the list but her Go, Went, Gone is Berlin-centric and most contemporary. It's about a retired professor who finds himself becoming involved with recent immigrants in the new (since the fall of the wall) Berlin. Alexanderplatz is a story location.


message 39: by Christopher (new)

Christopher (Donut) | 45 comments Is Alexanderplatz where the East Germans built a Fernsehturn (TV tower) which, quite embarrassingly for them, reflected a huge cross when the sun shone?

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fernseh...




message 40: by Lucille (new)

Lucille Yes. It, and some history of the square, is covered in the early pages of the book I suggested.


message 41: by WndyJW (new)

WndyJW | 282 comments No spoilers, but it has taken me 3 days to read 23 pages. I just haven’t found a door into this book yet. I will stick with it because every review says it is brilliant. I have to get use to the style I think.
I love the setting-Berlin in the interregnum between the wars is a fascinating time to me; how did cosmopolitan countries, proud of their modernity descend into the hell of the Holocaust? I love character driven books, so I should like this book. I’m sure I’ll get in a groove with it soon.


message 42: by Lucille (new)

Lucille At page 48, I'm struggling too. I've read several books set in Germany, pre-, during, and post-wars. This is not like any of them.


message 43: by Emma (new)

Emma (wordsandpeace) | 13 comments I'm reading a few pages a day. I enjoy the style very much. I was a bit concerned when I saw it compared to Ulysses. It does indeed feel a bit like it at the beginning, though much easier to follow than James Joyce. Nice surprise for the style. I enjoy books that are "different"


message 44: by Randolph (new)

Randolph (us227381) WndyJW wrote: "No spoilers, but it has taken me 3 days to read 23 pages. I just haven’t found a door into this book yet. I will stick with it because every review says it is brilliant. I have to get use to the st..."

If you don’t know how the holocaust came about, just look around you if you live in the US, Britain, Brazil, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Myanmar, Syria, Gaza, Israel. It’s unfolding everyday in the so-called modern world. This is not an all inclusive list by any means.


message 45: by Randolph (new)

Randolph (us227381) If anyone has read The Man Without Qualities by Robert Musil or anything by Franz Kafka, Bruno Schulz, or The Golem by Gustav Meyrink you might get close to the style. Joyce’s more accessible works come to mind. As an American the fact that the translator has chosen to use cockney slang, sometimes rhyming slang, to get the gist and temperament across, can be a bit of a challenge.


message 46: by Christopher (new)

Christopher (Donut) | 45 comments I don't want to call comparisons to Ulysses a 'false flag,' but wasn't Manhattan Transfer a much more direct inspiration?


message 47: by WndyJW (new)

WndyJW | 282 comments Randolph, I didn’t want to bring politics to our book world, but I heartily agree with you, I live in the US.

I like experimental fiction, but I haven’t read enough of this yet to get a feel for it. I am no where near ready to give up.


message 48: by Lia (new)

Lia I thought the first few pages were the easiest to read, and then it gets very messy and kind of difficult to engage — not incomprehensible, just not particularly engaging either.

I love Joyce, so that’s an encouraging comparison for me; though it seems the translator also disagrees with that comparison and finds it unhelpful (I’ve read the Afterword by Hofmann.)

The one common trait I’ve noticed is in making the city itself sort of like a character — by depicting all the sounds and sights and noises and artifacts and actions and songs and mini side stories and movements and diverse set of characters in it. Which is more modernist / collage than uniquely Joyce, I think.


message 49: by WndyJW (new)

WndyJW | 282 comments I had no trouble following the conversations, I just don’t know why the Jewish man brought our protagonist to another man’s house and engaged with him like he did.

Even if this book turns out not to be my cup of tea, I’ll hang around and wait for March. I’m still excited about this group.


message 50: by Randolph (new)

Randolph (us227381) Okay, maybe I’m getting too deep here but it seems to me like the Alexanderplatz is the character and Franz Biberkopf is actually the setting. Does anyone else see it like this or am I just nuts? Doblin seems to be playing with this kind of thing. Overturning literary conventions in a modernist way. The writing is very visual, like montage in film, but then it becomes overheard conversation, then it’s the omniscient narrator, now the drunk unreliable first person narrator.

Then again, I often overthink things and may be completely wrong.


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