IoS paperback review: Tales of the German Imagination, Selected and translated by Peter Wortsman


As Wortsman notes in his introduction, "a streak of melancholy and depression bordering on madness runs through the authors and tales in this book." Which begs the question, are these writers running away from their demons or facing them?

The familiar Grimms' tales here – "Hansel and Gretel", "The Children of Hameln" – play into children's fears of being abandoned and adults' fears of harm coming to their offspring, but Rainer Maria Rilke's "The Seamstress", about a young man who cannot resist making love to a filthy old hag and thereby ruining his future prospects forever, speaks more about sexual fears and adult weakness. Or it's the state controlling us in absurd ways, as in Kafka's familiar nightmare. Heinrich Heine speculates on the particularly rural German identity behind so many tales, and the depths of meaning attached to simple objects.