Max Biller - Evoking Bulgakov and Singer, Biller takes us on an astounding, burlesque journey into Schulz's world, which vacillates between shining dreams and unbearable nightmares - a world which, like Schulz's own stories, prophesies the apocalyptic events to come.


Max Biller, Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz, Trans. by Anthea Bell Pushkin Press, 2015.

Bruno Schulz has foreseen catastrophe and is almost paralysed by fear. His last chance of survival is to leave the home town to which, despite being in his late forties, he clings as if to a comforting blanket. So he retreats into his cellar (and sometimes hides under his desk) to write a letter to Thomas Mann: appealing to the literary giant to help him find a foreign publisher, in order that the reasons to leave Drohobych will finally outweigh the reasons to stay.
Evoking Bulgakov and Singer, Biller takes us on an astounding, burlesque journey into Schulz's world, which vacillates between shining dreams and unbearable nightmares - a world which, like Schulz's own stories, prophesies the apocalyptic events to come.
Includes two stories by Bruno Schulz: 'Birds' and 'The Cinnamon Shops', from The Street of Crocodiles.

Maxim Biller’s novella Im Kopf von Bruno Schulz (Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz) gives a fictional account of an evening in the life of the Polish writer and artist Bruno Schulz. Sitting at the desk of his dismal basement room in the small city of Drohobycz, Schulz is busy writing a letter to his famous colleague Thomas Mann (letters that he actually wrote and have since been lost). The year is 1938 , Thomas Mann is now based in Switzerland and it is not long before the Nazis will invade Poland. Schulz, whose career could be turned around by a letter of recommendation from Mann to foreign publishers, begins to tell the story of the mysterious Mann Doppelgänger that has begun to haunt the city of Drohobycz for some time. Since this novella is not just an homage to Schulz’ unique style, but also to his form of realism, the reader is subsequently confronted with a vision of horror that not infrequently flirts with the surreal. The Doppelgänger that Schulz describes is an unpleasant, unbathed fellow who becomes increasingly aggressive towards the Jewish population of Drohobycz. Whilst they feel initially honoured to welcome such a famous guest in their midst, the atmosphere soon changes and people begin to suspect a fraud. In the final part of his letter, Schulz describes how the false Mann, who lives in the bathroom of the local hotel director, whips members of the Jewish community in shower room. Biller, who has quite literally found a way into Schulz’ head, has thus found a very powerful symbol to convey the horror Schulz must have experienced until his tragic death in 1942. By deploying the figure of a corrupted, violent and sadistic Thomas Mann, Biller has successfully created the image of a culture that Schulz was deeply in love with (he adds the manuscript of the first short story he wrote in German to the letter) yet that would bring death and destruction in return. Beautifully illustrated with some of Schulz’ drawings, this novella is a great achievement on many levels. Biller manages to capture the atmosphere known from Schulz’s own writing and combines it with an intriguing bit of historical fiction that invites readers to find out more about the exceptional artist that Schulz was. And finally, the novella rekindles the hope that some of Schulz’ writing, amongst it his legendary novel Messiah, might still be discovered one day. - -

Biller, recipient of the Theodor Wolff Prize for journalism in German, plunges into the mind of a fictionalized Bruno Schulz, the celebrated Jewish author killed by the Gestapo in 1942, in the opening novella of this slim compilation. After an imposter claiming to be Thomas Mann arrives in Schultz's sleepy Polish town, the frenetic writer declares it his duty to address the real Mann, his idol, and warn him of this "false stranger" causing a ruckus. Through Schultz's stop-and-start letter writing, fear and anxiety become personified—he speaks of them as if they were old friends. Meanwhile, horrific allusions to the Nazi regime pass by almost naturally in Schultz's telling. Biller's prose is ominous and lively—"living black leaves" fly above, and horse-drawn carriages linger like "crippling dozing crabs." Inhabiting the author described by J.M. Coetzee as "incomparably gifted as an explorer of his own inner life" is an ambitious mission, but Biller does it with grace, respecting the protagonist's deranged and childish sensitivity with his bizarre imagery and menacing language. Fans of Schulz's work will be particularly interested, but anyone can appreciate the way that Biller's voice eases seamlessly into the mind of Schulz, making for a superb read. As captivating as the novella is, however, stories from the flesh-and-blood Schultz that accompany the book—"Birds" and "Cinnamon Shops," both originally published in 1934—stand out as concise gems: shockingly catastrophic, somber, and eager to reveal the beauty and vulnerability of imagination. - Publishers Weekly

have written before about writer's writers. Bruno Schulz is a prime example of a writer's writer. He led a sad life and then had a spectacularly cruel death, shot in the street by a Nazi, allegedly quid pro quo for the killing of another Jew doing slave labour. He left behind little material but what we do have is remarkable and fascinating. There are rumours of lost work, dispatched in letters and possibly mouldering in attics in the former Austro-Hungarian province of West Galicia. His name is not very difficult to pronounce. What more can one ask? Certainly he's been written about by all manner of American and Israeli novelists. Then of course there is Schulz's contemporary Thomas Mann, a writer's writer with a huge body of work and an even huger reputation.
In his novella Im Kopf von Bruno Schulz, Maxim Biller puts the two of them together and one of them comes off badly. Last night the book was launched with a rather pompous event, more Thomas Mann-style than Bruno Schulz, with two publishers and the writer on stage at the fancy-schmancy Deutsches Theater. I had been putting off writing about the book because I wasn't quite sure what to make of it, but I knew I liked it a lot. Now I like it even more.
The plot is based around a factual incident: the Polish author Schulz wrote a short story in German, called "Heimkehr", which we know about from letters but which is lost. He could write in German because his family lived in Vienna for a while before returning home to their small town of Drohobycz. He sent the story to Thomas Mann. Nobody knows if it even arrived or what Mann thought of it, as it isn't mentioned in his diaries. Biller takes this as his starting point.
So we find Schulz in typical desperate novelist mode, writing his letter to Thomas Mann in his cellar study in November 1938. His remaining family is as crazy as the family in Schulz's Cinnamon Shops* and he's working as an art teacher and hating every minute of it, relieved only by visits to the red light district and the thought of being punished by a young lady teacher who adores his work rather too much. It's not pastiche, not at all; Biller's language is not nearly as florid as Schulz's prose. But there are a good few pointers thrown in almost as jokes: Bruno Schulz's pupils turning into birds and shitting all over his study, a Pierrot stuffed with sawdust as a sex toy, and lots and lots of Drohobycz. Biller told us he'd read Doreen Daume's new translation of Sklepy cynamonowe and had trouble with it until he came to the title story*, which he loved. And you can tell, because he's written an affectionate portrait of a very odd fellow and was obviously very interested in his frank attitude to sexuality and masochism.
And then there's the letter. The letter is the most surreal thing about the book. In it, Maxim Biller has Bruno Schulz invent a story, warning the eminent writer in his Swiss exile about someone posing as Thomas Mann in Drohobycz and getting up to all sorts of shenanigans with the local Jews. It begins harmlessly enough but soon escalates into a violent orgy, and finally the fake Thomas Mann turns into an out-and-out Nazi. There are dark hints and deliberate anachronisms, Holocaust symbolism in the wrong time and place. Biller wrote his thesis on antisemitism in Mann's early work and has never let him off the hook since (and indeed, why should he?). He's said he wants to destroy him and he hates the Germans for revering him above all others, despite his dubious attitude towards Judaism and Jews. There's plenty of literature on the subject, including a long and detailed Wikipedia article in German. So while Im Kopf von Bruno Schulz is friendly towards one writer's writer, at its heart it's actually a cutting take-down of another.
Because imagine what he's doing here - it's something fiction can do outstandingly well. Biller has given us a picture of an imaginary Thomas Mann, a double of Thomas Mann, who is actually a sadistic fascist. He hasn't said at any point that the real Thomas Mann was a sadistic fascist, but it's like one of those photos you can't un-see. Here we have a fictional version of the Germans' favourite writer as a ridiculously evil individual. It's quite astonishing. Ultimately, it leads us to two real-life questions: what if Thomas Mann had helped Bruno Schulz to get out of Poland before the Nazis invaded? And why didn't he? I think that may be one of the things the author was most interested in here.
Reading the novella, it's impossible not to side with the underdog Schulz. But Biller talked yesterday about his treatment after his death, the prudish reception of his work. He was rediscovered in the 1960s and translated into German, English and other languages, but his explicit illustrations accompanying the original Polish publication of his interlinking stories weren't reproduced. Five of Schulz's drawings of submissive men and dominant women are included in Biller's book, however.
I found this interesting because it was not an uncommon phenomenon for translations to "clean up" things considered smutty, from sanitized versions of Shakespeare and 1001 Nights to more recent publications, well into the twentieth century. I wondered whether that was one reason why Sklepy cynamonowe was recently re-translated into German. And then I noticed that Biller refers to one of Schulz's characters throughout his own book as Adele, whereas English translations and – I checked – the Polish original call her Adela. It seems that the first German translator domesticated the willful maid so hard he even gave her a German name – not something the character would have put up with, I suspect, had she stepped out of the pages. But then I read, in Adam Thirlwell's Miss Herbert, that Bruno Schulz and/or his fiancée Józefina Szelínska translated Kafka's Der Process into Polish (taking us straight back to Dorothea Tieck, who didn't get credit for her prudish Shakespeare translations either). Thirlwell writes:
In his Polish version of The Trial, Schulz transformed Joseph K** into a Polish counterpart, a double: Joseph became Jurek K. So that the Polish reader could not receive the consolation of the foreign.
And I thought that although Biller had read Doreen Daume's new translation, in which Adela gets her real name back, it was rather fitting that Biller's doubly fictionalized Adela is also her old translated double, Adele.
Im Kopf von Bruno Schulz is a slippery piece of writing in the very best way. As critics have remarked, of course, it takes place primarily in Maxim Biller's head rather than Bruno Schulz's. But that seems to be an interesting place to be.
*In English, interestingly, the title of the story collection was changed to The Street of Crocodiles, highlighting a rather racy piece. I don't know whether this suggests Anglophone readers and publishers are less prudish than their German equivalents or just because Cinnamon Shops sounds even odder than the book already is.
**Joseph K is in itself a more gently domesticated version of Kafka's Josef K. Which goes to show how firmly these domesticated names cling on inside our heads.  -

David Grossman, Roberto Bolaño, Danilo Kiš, Salman Rushdie, Cynthia Ozick, China Miéville, Jonathan Safran Foer, Philip Roth and Nicole Krauss... This is not a fantasy Hay Festival line-up but a roster of authors who have used either the fiction or the life of Bruno Schulz in their books. Now the German Maxim Biller has joined them and the title of his novella Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz (published alongside two of Schulz’s own stories) will provoke a response from anyone familiar with Schulz’s uniquely striking work: how do you presume to get inside a head that generated such profoundly strange ideas?
These were ideas as strange as years that, “like a sixth, smallest toe, grow a 13th freak month”; houses that spontaneously seal up unvisited bedrooms and passageways; a boy’s father transforming into a crab and his uncle into a length of tubing (“Can there be anything sadder than a human being changed into the rubber tube of an enema?”). Schulz’s fiction is a protest against reality, an extended attempt to return to “the age of genius”, which is partly his own childhood and partly something “on a level above chronology”: a mythic age. Yet, for all its fanciful metamorphoses, Schulz’s work, as V S Pritchett pointed out, has “not a touch of whimsy in it”. It is as often seedy as it is mystical and if it catalogues a series of escapes from reality into the exciting realm of myth, the fantasies we enter are usually an uneasy mixture of amazement and threat. Sooner or later, reality always returns to foreclose on every too-ambitious dream.
Biller’s novella, like Schulz’s work, operates on multiple levels. We join Bruno sitting in a dank basement in the provincial Polish town of Drohobycz, on a November day in 1938, writing a letter to Thomas Mann. He experiences hallucinations, including the transformation of boys tapping on the basement window into birds (of the many animals in Schulz’s fiction, birds are primary). Bruno is also writing an account of a recent arrival to Drohobycz who claims to be Thomas Mann; Biller thus embeds a literary impersonation within a literary impersonation. This strand appears to be a fiction that Bruno is creating, not least because the impostor interacts with his dead brother-in-law Jankel Hoffman, who killed himself in 1910 (although Biller, for unexplained reasons, moves his suicide to 1928).
Like the real Schulz, Biller’s version teaches art at a secondary school in Drohobycz. “Fate tied Bruno Schulz for his entire life to Drohobycz,” wrote his biographer Jerzy Ficowski. Biller’s Bruno is so acquainted with “Fear” that it appears as a proper noun and the real Schulz was also a nervous and self-effacing man: “Appearing too scared to dare exist, he was rejected by life and slouched along its peripheries,” Witold Gombrowicz, Schulz’s contemporary in the Polish avant-garde, later recalled. While Schulz made attempts to escape Drohobycz – to Lviv, Vienna and Warsaw – some form of lassitude, likely derived from fear, always defeated him.
If Drohobycz was Schulz’s prison, however, it was also the staging ground for his transformation of reality. All of the stories in his two collections, Cinnamon Shops (1934, published in English as The Street of Crocodiles) and Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass (1937, although portions of it pre-date his debut), both translated by Celina Wieniewska, take place there. Despite the enthusiastic reception that the books enjoyed, he remained in Drohobycz, unmarried, frustrated and unhappy, struggling to support his mother, his widowed and mentally disturbed sister and her depressive son. And it is there that he died in November 1942, shot in the street during a so-called wild action against the Jewish population. The story goes that he was the “house Jew”, or slave, of the Gestapo Hauptscharführer Felix Landau, ordered to paint fairy-tale scenes on the walls of the Nazi’s child’s nursery. When Landau killed another officer’s Jewish dentist, Schulz was murdered in reply. “You killed my Jew – I killed yours,” his murderer told Landau. (It should be noted that David Grossman, who made a slightly altered version of this story the centrepiece of his 1986 novel See Under: Love, now suspects that the story is false and that Schulz’s murder was random.)
Alongside Schulz’s extraordinary fiction and his horrendous death, there remains one more element of his legend: the lost work, comprising four stories, prints and drawings and the manuscript of his novel, The Messiah, which he had been writing intermittently since 1934. Schulz supposedly deposited these papers with non-Jewish friends a few months before he was killed. From the late 1980s, reports started to reach Ficowski about the manuscript; someone even claimed to have spotted it in a KGB archive. He was unable, however, to discover more before his death in 2006. Biller gives it glancing mention but does not attempt to imaginatively reconstruct its contents, as both Grossman (in See Under: Love) and Cynthia Ozick (in The Messiah of Stockholm) have done. - Chris Power

This is a novella about a Polish author who was hugely influential on magic realism and writers of magic realism, despite Schulz' small body of  work - The Street of Crocodiles and Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass. Magic realist authors Cynthia Ozick, David Grossman, Nicole Krauss, and Milan Kundera have all acknowledged his influence and some (Ozick and Grossman) have even referenced Schulz in their writing. Now German writer Maxim Biller can be added to that list.
In Biller's short novella Schulz is writing to Thomas Mann about a man who is pretending to be Mann. It is unclear to me whether the impostor is real or a figment of Schulz's fevered imagination. The novella is perhaps more surreal than magic realist with a nightmarish and scabrous quality. The sofa Schulz sits on walks out of a room when he pats it. Schulz's students (he was an art teacher in reality and in this novella) appear as talking birds.
Biller mixes fact and fiction in this insight into the writer's mind. The novella is set in 1938 in the small Polish town of Drohobych. He gives the Jewish Schulz a prescient fear of the holocaust to come. The false Thomas Mann holds court to members of the Jewish community in a bathroom the size of a large school hall. The room has no fixtures, just showers. Everyone is naked and smoke pours out of the shower heads. The imposter is seen giving a German dressed in a black leather coat a list  of Jewish names. "Dr Franck and I... are in no doubt, Dr Mann, of what is going on here: we are being spied on."  Schulz was to die, shot casually by a Gestapo officer, as he walked home to the ghetto with a loaf of bread.
The novella comes with two of Schulz's own short stories: Birds and Cinnamon Shops. And it is possible to see from these how Biller has incorporated themes in Schulz's works into Inside the Head. It is also possible to see that skilful though Biller is, he is not as gifted as his novella's subject.
I have to confess that I have yet to read Schulz's other works, although they have been on my to-read list for many years. In fact I first came across Schulz's work in the Quay Brothers' animated interpretation of The Street of Crocodiles in 1986, which I share with you below. Like Biller's novella it is a work of dark surrealism. - magic-realism-books.blogspot
In Shop Talk, Philip Roth’s collection of interviews with fellow authors, there is a literary exchange between Roth and Isaac Bashevis Singer on the Polish writer Bruno Schulz. Roth ­describes him as “a man of enormous artistic gifts and imaginative riches”. Singer offers even higher praise, revealing his first impressions of reading Schulz (“this man writes like Kafka”), followed by an opinion formed from deeper reading (“he’s better than Kafka”).
Schulz remains criminally ­under-read. This is due in part to his short output (only two collections of short fiction) and his short life (a senseless, arbitrary death at the hands of a Gestapo officer in 1942). An unfinished novel entitled The Messiah was lost, but his stories were published in his lifetime and have gone on to influence a range of writers from Roth to J M Coetzee.
Another writer spellbound by Schulz is the Prague-born ­Berlin-based novelist, short-story writer and journalist Maxim Biller. Something of an enfant terrible of German literature (his 2003 novel Esra was banned), Biller has changed direction and decided to evoke rather than provoke with a ­novella called Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz. This brief but mesmerising work is not only inspired by Schulz, but it also stars him, and shows us both a world about to be turned upside down and a feverish mind about to be pulled inside out by cataclysmic events.
Biller’s premise is bold and bizarre. It is 1938, and from his basement study in a provincial Polish town, “ruined, thin-skinned” Schulz writes a letter to Thomas Mann warning him that a shameless impostor of the German author is deceiving the inhabitants of Drohobycz and wreaking havoc on the streets.
When Mann’s sinister doppelgänger is overheard talking to a stranger and agreeing to compile a list of the names and addresses of all the Jews in town, Schulz suspects he is a Nazi spy and becomes consumed by debilitating fear and paranoia.
This novella is a stunning blend of biography and fiction. The real-life Schulz worked for many years as an art teacher in Drohobycz and so does Biller’s Schulz. His basement walls are covered with his drawings of “distorted, translucent and vulnerable” men, women and animals, all of which seem to be “simultaneously living and dead”. His pupils are not ­children who do their homework, but birds that perch on rooftops, fly around town and tauntingly scratch and peck on his skylight with their beaks. His ­persecution complex is ­exacerbated by a sadistic, hairy-faced sports mistress called Helena and an unshakeable belief that “large black lizards and squinting snakes, as green as kerosene and with evil grins, were about to slither out of the walls around him”.
It is easy to get carried away churning out this kind of ­fantastical prose, with one surreal conceit begetting another. But Biller, like Schulz, has method in his madness. Coetzee saw in Schulz’s stories “a mystical but coherent idealistic aesthetic” and Biller strives for something similar, giving us oddities with meaning and ramifications, strangeness that highlights a sick mind or palpable foreboding.
 That strangeness and foreboding are most keenly felt when Biller tips his tale from dreamscape into nightmare. The “false Thomas Mann” invites guests to his Drohobycz residence, which turns out to be a huge hall with showers fitted into the ceiling. Everyone strips naked, Mann begins whipping men, women and children, metallic blue smoke pours out of the shower jets and when it dissolves the room is full of lifeless bodies.
Biller’s novella amounts to barely 50 pages. To pad out the book, and to give readers an idea of where Biller is creatively coming from, publisher Pushkin Press has added two of Schulz’s stories from his collection The Street of Crocodiles. In Birds, a father turns his house into an aviary but becomes a broken man when his cleaner opens a window and frees them. And in Cinnamon Shops, a wonderstruck boy embarks on a nocturnal magical mystery tour of his town. Both Biller’s novella and Schulz’s stories are translated by the redoubtable Anthea Bell.Despite depicting and channelling Schulz, Biller clearly isn’t Schulz. He effortlessly conveys “the joys of unreality” but his prose is deliberately no-nonsense and lacks Schulz’s gorgeous and plangent lyricism. That said, his novella is likely to garner new readers for Schulz and for that we should be ­thankful.
But what this scintillating and disturbing novella will certainly do is raise the profile of ­Maxim Biller. Such is the nature of minor miracles: they leave you wanting more. - Malcolm Forbes

What's left of writers after their deaths (and sometimes long before) is often more an image of the (wo)man than much familiarity with their actual writing. Even authors who are still widely read often find their work completely overshadowed by their public-image-persona -- think: 'Kafka'. Yet few writers are more myth than Bruno Schulz, the Polish author and artist who lived 1892 to 1942, was killed under horrible-tragic circumstances (by the Nazis, of course), published very little (but mostly: appealingly phantasmagoric stories), and left a tantalizingly missing manuscript, his unfinished novel, The Messiah. It all lends itself to playful elaboration and further invention -- witness authors like Cynthia Ozick (in
The Messiah of Stockholm) or David Grossman, who have utilized the man-myth in their own work. Indeed, (sigh): "An aura of wonder and mystery hovers ceaselessly over his works and his biography" writes Grossman in his Schulz-hagiography in The New Yorker.
       Not to be outdone, Maxim Biller proposes -- announces ! in the very title -- to go Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz in his own work of fiction. The result is a very short novella -- a story of some fifty pages, padded out in the beautiful little Pushkin Press volume by two of Schulz's own stories. It's a clever premise: in November 1938 Schulz pens a letter to Thomas Mann (a man who is also very much a larger-than-life symbol, especially in those times), the ostensible reason being to inform Mann that an impostor claiming to be the German master and Nobel laureate has turned up in Drohobycz (Schulz's Polish (now Ukrainian) hometown). Clever indeed: Biller impersonates Schulz, in a story about someone impersonating Thomas Mann. Better yet: there's a factual basis to it, as Schulz did in fact turn to Mann -- he actually did write to him, though neither his own writings nor any response from Mann has been found to date.
       In Schulz-inspired surreal style -- with, for example, his students fluttering around as (speaking) doves -- the novella is full of allusions and references, foreshadowing (very clearly) Schulz's dark fate ahead and conjuring up the spirit of the times. Many of the references are familiar, others obscure:
in the silvery clouds of smoke the wavering contours of the sad, childish face of Lieutenant Alfred Dreyfus formed for a moment, then the French officer became the weeping, bleeding Jagienka Lomska, then I saw myself coming out of the smoke
       (Jagienka Lomska refers to the 1821 Odessa pogrom -- considered the first in modern Russia.)
       And, of course, Schulz's own myth is mined for all it's worth, too:
'Not you, you'll still be needed. You must write your novel. What is it to be called ? The Messiah, am I right ? To work, get down to work, and when you have finished those bandits will come from Berlin to your little town and burn you along with ypur wonderful manuscript. Too bad -- it's your own fault !' He laughed. 'Terrific, what a subject ! But who will write a novel about it when you are dead, Jew Schulz ?'
       Implicit -- and sometimes explicit -- is also the critique of master Mann, an author Biller has long had it in for;
Maxim Biller will Thomas Mann zerstören ("Maxim Biller wants to destroy Thomas Mann") is the headline of a review of his 2009 self-portrait volume in Die Welt and this novella is another piece in that apparently ongoing project. Biller certainly gets a few good licks in in trying to topple Mann from his pedestal, the fake alter ego not merely agent of the German regime but also Biller's part-projection of Mann himself.
       Biller's story is good in suggesting the Fear (capitalized, tangible) that already ominously haunts Drohobycz -- and haunts Schulz, especially. There's some fine imagery here, too, in imitation of Schulz's own surreal imaginings. For all that, Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz is still just a short novella, a minor piece not just because of its size that neither digs truly, fully, deeply into the Schulz-myth, nor compresses it sufficiently to take advantage of the punch a story-sized reworking can have. Biller's presumptuousness -- the promise to take the reader 'inside the head of Bruno Schulz' ! -- instead feels -- as too often this sort of work does -- that it's just piggy-backing on the residual aura of its famous protagonist(s). - M.A.Orthofer

Max Biller, Love Today: Stories, Trans. by Anthea Bell, Simon & Schuster, 2009.

A writer on the verge of international acclaim: maxim Biller's work received raves when it was published in The New Yorker in the summer of 2007, and he's already been published in Dutch, Danish, French, Greek, and Czech. German cultural institutions based in the u.S., such as the Goethe House, are enthusiastically helping to promote Biller's work in english. In addition, Love Today is translated by Anthea Bell, the award-winning German-language translator. Twenty-seven exquisite vignettes: Biller depicts the complexities of romantic relationships in the twenty-first century perfectly;the frustration, longing, and loneliness in these skillfully crafted stories, designed to build upon each other. It's as if the reader were standing in the courtyard of an apartment building, observing the lives of others, listening to their conversations, experiencing their intimacy.

For fans of Miranda July, Nathan Englander, and Jonathan Safran Foer: Biller's writing is sensitive, observant, and honest. The end result is both romantically voyeuristic and deeply moving;Biller is a writer poised for international stardom. 

The course of true love is bumpy indeed for the couples in Love Today (Simon & Schuster), Maxim Biller's first story collection to be translated into English. Set mainly in Germany and the Czech Republic, with side trips to Tel Aviv, France, and New York, these wry, elliptical narratives chart the passions and the discontents of men and women who vanish from each other's lives and reappear without notice, and whom Biller often catches at the moment of confronting the mystery of what keeps them together, or what has driven them apart. In "Seven Attempts at Loving," after a long separation childhood sweethearts meet by accident at a tram stop in Prague; in "Baghdad at Seven-Thirty," a man and his much younger girlfriend watch war news coverage in a bar, straining for a glimpse of the man's American soldier son, about to be deployed to Kuwait; and in "The Architect," an artist named Splash and his Lebanese lover distract themselves from their problems by spying on a neighbor. Deceptively transparent, Biller's brief, gossamer fictions may remind you of narrative poems in their ability to simultaneously elude and haunt you. - Francine Prose

 The FAZ features a great vitriolic piece by Maxim Biller on Thomas Bernhard, and why Biller thinks he was a bigoted, Catholic, maudlin, cowardly arsehole. The proof, Biller says, is in his posthumous book Meine Preise, in which he catalogues all the literary awards he won and explains what was shite about them all. But he accepted them anyway, for various reasons which Biller finds hypocritical and arbitrary. Bizarrely enough, Biller loves the book; maybe because it confirms all his dislikes.
Biller writes:
I think the mendacious hero of our mendacious chattering classes was never as honest in any of his books as in Meine Preise. But that's always part and parcel if you want to be a great writer. At last, he stopped hiding behind his almost columnist-like, unliterary, unjustifiable hate for others and behind his all-darkening, redundant abrading style that hypnotises and lulls the readers to sleep until they don't even know what they're reading, apart from that they're reading, and that's something German speaking and german not-thinking semi-thinkers always love doing: pretending – pretending to love literature, pretending to want to understand what they read, pretending they want to make the world more beautiful, truer, better. This lie has always been the basis of the whole anti-enlightenment Hölderlin, Thomas Mann and Rainald Goetz conspiracy, and I'll give anyone who can prove the opposite the Ilf and Petrov Prize and ten rubles.  -


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