Else Lasker-Schüler – Three Prose Works
Whether you’re travelling away or basking in the Berlin sun, this is a time for escape and fantasy. And that’s what you’ll find in the wildly imaginative work of the German Jewish poet Else Lasker-Schüler (1869-1945). This queen of Berlin’s early 20th-century Bohemia authored an impressive oeuvre of poetry and prose that was powered by a spiritual Fernweh and typified by the mixing of Jewish and Arab motifs into a rich expressionist dreamscape. (It was also, quite often, a way of talking about the present: her Berlin life, her friends, and her own metamorphosis from bourgeois normality to artistic independence.) Last month, Berlin’s own Rixdorf Editions released Three Prose Works, a trio of her lesser known pieces rendered into seductive, rhythmic English by local Australian translator (and Rixdorf founder) James J. Conway. A long-time champion of Lasker-Schüler in the anglosphere, Conway contributes an excellent analytic afterword to this portable edition, offering vital context to the alluringly strange work within.
Jessi Jezewska Stevens – The Visitors
an apocalyptic garden gnome starts repeatedly appearing inside her apartment
A different type of fabulous weird comes through in The Visitors (And Other Stories), the remarkable new novel by part-time Berlinerin Jessi Jezewska Stevens. Here the US-born author and critic, who won widespread acclaim for her 2020 debut The Exhibition of Persephone Q, tells the story of a divorced woman battling debt and frustration just as an apocalyptic garden gnome starts repeatedly appearing inside her apartment. In a proudly over-the-top novel, she brings her vigorous intelligence to bear on a wide array of topics – credit scores, art, eco-terrorism, lust, “the digital age” – while chronicling an individual and a society in collapse. That it never gets boring is a testimony to the energy of her prose and the vim of her ideas. And if this novel gives you a taste for both, then head to her website and subscribe to her very fine newsletter.
Karolina Ramqvist – The Bear Woman
If being alone on a desert island is more appealing than dystopian late capitalism, consider Karolina Ramqvist’s The Bear Woman (Coach House Books). This innovative work of autofiction – translated by Berlin’s Saskia Vogel – sees one of Sweden’s most influential feminist authors explore both women’s writing and the nature of obsession through a surprising lens: namely, the legend of Marguerite de La Roque, a 16th-century frenchwoman whose male guardian dumped her on a North Atlantic island as punishment for allegedly sleeping with a crew member. The narrator – like Ramqvist, a prominent writer and mother of three – becomes absolutely fascinated by “The Bear Woman”, who survived on “Île des Démons” by hunting until her eventual rescue by passing fishermen. Ramqvist skilfully weaves her (narrator’s) meditations on motherhood, patriarchy and authorship together with the story of Marguerite. Most memorable are Ramqvist’s wise, often self-scrutinising reflections about her own interest in the story. “Ever since I first heard about the island,” she writes, “the thought of it has enticed me.”