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Rheinsberg

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Kurt Tucholsky, Rheinsberg [Berlin; 1912]

More episode than novel, Rheinsberg barely contains enough incident to fill a musical montage in a modern movie, which is part of its charm. A novella covering a three-day holiday snatched from work and family between unmarried lovers in the sleepy titular Brandenburg town, it's a breath of fresh 1920s air wafting into starchy 1912. The two leads, about whom we know virtually nothing, are still so alive on the page, she volubly, he reflectively, that they feel not only modern, but a particular kind of futuristic for the era: she in particular feels like a Carole Lombard character twenty years early, amusing herself and showing affection by keeping him off balance linguistically and behaviorally.

The translation, of the novella itself, and of the scattered semi-related poems and short story included in this edition (which seems to have been produced by Berlin's tourism board), is mostly excellent, idiomatic and snappy. I gather that the witty socialist Tucholsky was to Weimar Germany roughly what the Algonquin set were to Coolidge-era New York, and the unsentimental, affectionately critical eye he casts over everything, his feints toward modernism in the laconic brevity of his style, and his enthusiastic admiration for his female lead (based on his real-life lover and, for a time, wife, a practicing doctor) so exactly matched my ideal reading that the biographical note in the back, revealing the fates of the real-life Tucholsky and Else Weil (they were both Jewish; you can guess) was devastating.

Although it was well-structured; putting an introduction first would have cast a shadow on the reading of the novella that (the first time through) it doesn't need: a perfectly-preserved idyll is more than most of us ever get out of life.

September 20, 2017