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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz

Maxim Biller

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To purchase Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz

Title: Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz
Author: Maxim Biller
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 90 pages
Original in: German/Polish
Availability: Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz - US
Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz - UK
Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz - Canada
Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz - India
Une requête de Bruno Schulz - France
Im Kopf von Bruno Schulz - Deutschland
En la cabeza de Bruno Schulz - España
  • German title: Im Kopf von Bruno Schulz
  • Translated by Anthea Bell
  • Includes two stories by Bruno Schulz, 'Birds' and 'Cinnamon Shop' (1934), translated by Celina Wieniewska (1967)

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Our Assessment:

B : fine small piece, but not much more

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 8/11/2013 Michael Krüger
The National A+ 19/4/2015 Malcolm Forbes
NZZ . 2/5/2014 B. Eichmann-Leutenegger
New Statesman . 1/5/2015 Chris Power
TLS . 27/5/2015 Bernhard Malkmus
Die Zeit . 7/11/2013 Ijoma Mangold

  From the Reviews:
  • "Man muss die Werke von Bruno Schulz kennen, um die vielen Anspielungen und Echos zu verstehen, die in dem Text von Maxim Biller versteckt sind und ihm seinen Ton geben. Vielleicht war das ja der geheime Antrieb des Autors: Lest Schulz !" - Michael Krüger, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "This novella is a stunning blend of biography and fiction. (...) Despite depicting and channelling Schulz, Biller clearly isnít Schulz. He effortlessly conveys "the joys of unreality" but his prose is deliberately no-nonsense and lacks Schulzís 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." - Malcolm Forbes, The National

  • "Formal betrachtet, gleicht die Novelle einer geschickten Anverwandlung der Phantasien und Impulse eines überragenden Vorbilds. Aber man weiss, wie Bild und Abbild sich zueinander verhalten: Das Original wirkt stärker." - Beatrice Eichmann-Leutenegger, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "Billerís novella, like Schulzís work, operates on multiple levels." - Chris Power, New Statesman

  • "It is a virtuoso piece of literary irony that this Schulz turns his letter into that most German genre, of which Mann was one of the last masters: the novella, with its formal requirements of thematic unity, a single turning point and a central symbol. The experiment works so well because Biller maintains a single focus: the allegorical omnipresence of fear, filling Schulzís head during the act of writing (.....) Some will finish this book with a sense that Billerís formally brilliant parable is too allegorical to do justice to Bruno Schulzís fate; others will regard it as a lasting Kaddish to this unique writer and his lost world." - Bernhard Malkmus, Times Literary Supplement

  • "Das Fantastische und das Wirkliche, das Manierierte und das Verzweifelte, das Biografische und das Fiktive sind alles gleich lebendige Elemente, um die mythische Essenz einer furchtbaren Apokalypse zu beschwören. (...) Dieser hochpoetische Text inszeniert eine intertextuelle Schicksalsgemeinschaft, die im Schreiben als überzeitliche jüdische Erzähltradition greifbar wird, die Maxim Biller machtvoll, verzweifelt-verspielt und grimmig-melancholisch fortschreibt. (...) Maxim Billers kleine Novelle ist ein großes Kaddisch." - Ijoma Mangold, Die Zeit

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       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, 3 December 2015

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Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz: Reviews: Bruno Schulz: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       German author Maxim Biller was born in Prague in 1960.

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