Ross Benjamin

  • All His World’s a Stage

    At first glance, the Hungarian writer Sándor Márai could easily be accused of trafficking in stale plots: Of his four novels published posthumously in English translation, three hinge on the return of a long-lost lover or companion, and the other involves the appearance of a mysterious stranger. But Márai’s spellbinding prose restores strangeness and beauty to traditional motifs. The figurative language conjuring the standard castle-in-the-forest setting of his 1942 novel Embers illustrates this stylistic power:

    The castle was a closed world, like a great


    Writers have long used a child’s perspective to relate fictional accounts of historical catastrophe, notably Günter Grass in The Tin Drum and Imre Kertész in Fatelessness. Bosnian-born German author Sasa Stanisic offers the latest installment in this tradition with his 2006 debut novel, How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone, a sensation in Germany, now skillfully translated by Anthea Bell. Through the eyes of the fourteen-year-old narrator, Aleksandar Krsmanovi, we witness a massacre perpetrated by Bosnian Serbs against their Muslim neighbors in the town of Vi¨egrad in 1992. The outlines of

  • After Images

    The artistry of Peter Handke’s language may well be unsurpassed among contemporary writers in German. His prose is at once serpentine and spare, dreamlike and exacting. In his latest novel translated into English, Crossing the Sierra de Gredos, the Austrian author richly demonstrates his literary gifts, and the translator, Krishna Winston, sensitively renders the mesmerizing beauty of his style. In this book, as in much of Handke’s previous work, the most stirring passages disclose the inherent strangeness of the world. Take, for example, his description of a dragonfly hovering before the eyes

  • Comedy of Terrors

    In his essay “Das Hirn” (The Brain), Swiss writer Friedrich Dürrenmatt, an icon of postwar European literature, depicts the evolution of the universe as the thought process of a cosmic brain. At first, the brain contains nothing, its only sensation a feeling of utter emptiness. To fend off the dread of nothingness, it gradually begins to think. Little by little, it conceives of a reality external to itself. It envisions the origin of matter, the development of living organisms, the birth of humankind, and, ultimately, the whole unfolding of human history, up to the wrought-iron sign ARBEIT