The first English-language biography of one of the great literary talents of the twentieth century, written by his award-winning translator
Finalist for the 2021 NBCC Award for Biography
“[An] authoritative, moving biography. . . . Walser made of his own multiform solitudes a gift to the outside world, offering readers an existential sympathy of a kind for which only he could find the appropriate literary expression.”—Paul Binding, Times Literary Supplement
The great Swiss-German modernist author Robert Walser lived eccentrically on the fringes of European society—his pronounced interest in everything inconspicuous and modest prompted W. G. Sebald to dub him “a clairvoyant of the small.” His revolutionary use of short prose forms won him the admiration of Franz Kafka, Walter Benjamin, Robert Musil, and many others. In this immaculately researched and beautifully written biography Susan Bernofsky sets Walser in the context of early twentieth century European history, establishing him as one of the most important modernist writers.
Susan Bernofsky is professor of writing at Columbia University School of the Arts and director of the literary translation program in Columbia’s MFA Writing Program. She has translated more than twenty books.
“An accurate, independent, and well-researched English life . . . There is a delicacy in [Bernofsky’s] approach, a will-to-kindness, an openness to other, previously rejected possibilities.”—Michael Hofmann, New York Review of Books
“A diligent biography . . . [Walser’s] miniatures account for some of the most sublimely joyful writing of the past century . . . Ms. Bernofsky wants to peer behind the smiling naïf to better glimpse the lonely, erratic artist.”—Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal
“As Susan Bernofsky's authoritative, moving biography demonstrates, Walser made of his own multiform solitudes a gift to the outside world, offering readers an existential sympathy of a kind for which only he could find the appropriate literary expression.”—Paul Binding, Times Literary Supplement
“Elegant [and] perceptive . . . A surprising, brilliant look at a man who never stopped looking inward.”—Michael Schaub, National Book Critics Circle
Finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award in Biography
“In this nuanced, astute, and revelatory biography, Susan Bernofsky gives us Walser the man—mysterious, intellectually adventuresome, humble, an artist of the first order. So, too, is Bernofsky's exceptional book: of the first order.”—Hilton Als
“Susan Bernofsky's deep and decades-long involvement with Robert Walser's work has resulted in a meticulously researched, lively narrative and astute critical study of this complex and appealing writer. Clairvoyant of the Small is one of the best biographies I've read in a long time.”—Lydia Davis
“Robert Walser is the perfect pathetic poet: pithy, awkward, drinks too much, sibling rivalrous, ambitious, broke, and mentally ill. Was he proto queer or trans, this red headed writer who next to Gertrude Stein might be the most influential writer of our moment? Riveting and heart-breaking, this biography kept me drunk for days.”—Eileen Myles
"Written with true love, Susan Bernofsky’s meticulously investigated book is a sensitive and subtle analysis of Robert Walser’s radical life and work, casting a blazing light on this giant of literature."—Thomas Hirschhorn
“A magnificent work of scholarship and among the finest literary biographies I’ve ever read—gorgeously written, immensely well researched, and addictively readable.”—Samuel Frederick, The Pennsylvania State University
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