House of the Nine Devils: Selected Bohemian Tales Fiction by Johannes Urzidil Twisted Spoon Press, November 2022
Collected here and translated into English for the first time are some of the most renowned Bohemian stories from Prague native Johannes Urzidil, a long-neglected writer whose short fiction herein spans centuries, from the bygone mythical Prague of alchemists to the late Habsburg metropolis where ethnic tensions seethed under a genteel veneer to the terror-filled days of Nazi occupation and a desperate flight to safety. Bearing his trademark wisdom, empathy, and wit, the writing often blurs the border between reportage, memoir, and fiction, such as an encounter with Gavrilo Princip, wasting away in the Terezín prison after his assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, or a WWI soldier trying to evade military police and thus disrupting a night at Café Arco, a favorite haunt of the Prague Circle that included Brod, Kafka, and Werfel, as well as Urzidil, the group’s youngest member and one of the last links to that symbiotic milieu of Prague German-Jewish artists. Translated from the German by David Burnett.
The Illuminated Burrow: A Sanatorium Journal Fiction by Max Belcher Twisted Spoon Press, November 2022
Max Blecher began writing The Illuminated Burrow in 1937 and continued working on it until his death the following spring, but its full version was only published posthumously in 1971. It was the final “novel” in what can be called a trilogy that includes Adventures in Immediate Irreality and Scarred Hearts, and like those, its imaginative distortion of real experiences is reminiscent of Bruno Schulz as well as the Surrealist autofiction of André Breton and Michel Leiris. Set in the sanatoria where Blecher received treatment for spinal tuberculosis, the ostensible narrator is forced to confront the power and limitations of memory as he attempts to capture the last moments of life as they pass “like ash … through a sieve,” one final effort to reclaim the beauty of days spent straddling the boundary between waking and dreaming, encountering the marvelous both inside and outside the sanatorium’s walls, inside and outside his very body. As his physical powers decline and he becomes permanently bedridden, the narrator’s life migrates to his inner consciousness, an “illuminated burrow” where reality is indistinguishable from fantasy, where the surreal and the mundane seamlessly fuse to enact the fears and fascinations elicited by the vibrant world that is gradually slipping away. Translated from the Romanian by Gabi Reigh with an afterword by Gabriela Glăvan.