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the Complete Review
the complete review - diary

From the Berlin Journal

Max Frisch

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To purchase From the Berlin Journal

Title: From the Berlin Journal
Author: Max Frisch
Genre: Diary
Written: (1973-4) (Eng. 2017)
Length: 218 pages
Original in: German
Availability: From the Berlin Journal - US
From the Berlin Journal - UK
From the Berlin Journal - Canada
Journal berlinois 1973-1974 - France
Aus dem Berliner Journal - Deutschland
Dal Diario berlinese - Italia
  • First published posthumously, in 2014
  • German title: Aus dem Berliner Journal
  • Translated by Wieland Hoban
  • Edited by Thomas Strässle, with Margit Unser
  • With several photographs

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Our Assessment:

B : interesting small slice of Frisch's, and German-writing-, life, 1973-4

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 11/1/2014 Volker Weidermann
NZZ . 18/1/2014 Martin Meyer
TLS . 24/10/2017 Osman Durrani

  From the Reviews:
  • "Die Porträts, die Frisch von seinen Kollegen zeichnet, sind phantastisch. Uwe Johnson, Jurek Becker, Christa Wolf, Günter Kunert, die strahlende, völlig sorglose, unbefangene Meinungswechselei Hans Magnus Enzensbergers, das könnte alles heute noch genau so geschrieben werden. Und vor allem natürlich er: der Nachbar, der Gegen-Frisch. Günter Grass." - Volker Weidermann, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

  • "Wer philosophische Themen sucht oder die schildernde Kraft für Landschaft und Natur oder bloss Atmosphäre im Getriebe der Metropole, blättert vergeblich. Die meisten Notate weisen nach innen; wo – nach dem Vorbild von Brechts «Arbeitsjournal» – das Schreiben zur Sprache kommt oder die häusliche Gemeinschaft zu Analysen drängt. Oder sie gelten den Verhältnissen sozialen Austauschs, dort mit passioniertem Prüfen und Rechnen." - Martin Meyer, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

  • "The Berlin journal is distinguished by a Kafkaesque combination of real-life events, musings, dreams, distant memories and preliminary sketches, some of which were later incorporated into a volume of fictionalized reminiscences entitled Montauk. It is left to the reader to unpick the threads." - Osman Durrani, Times Literary Supplement

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:

       In 1973 Max Frisch moved from his native Switzerland to Berlin; he can't quite get away from being recognized -- one of the reasons for leaving Zurich -- but it does put him in a different world. His health is an increasing concern -- he thinks he's only got "three or four years" when he can really get something done left in him (quite an underestimate, as it turned out) and, settling in, writes:

I am now living without resolutions.
       Frisch kept a journal from 1973 to 1980, five notebooks that, however, he had sealed for twenty years upon his death, "because of those involved". The Max Frisch Foundation opened the vault and retrieved them in 2011; the less polished and more personal last three notebooks were deemed unpublishable "for reasons concerning personality rights", so the editors (they deal mainly with his relationship with his second wife, Marianne Oellers; they were divorced in 1979) -- but the first two, covering 1973 and 1974, were more carefully prepared works: this is not so much a diary but, as Frisch explained in a letter:
not a rough book, but a fully written book; even the private things are written in fair copy, fully formulated, not simply notes. The compulsion to formulate is important, otherwise it becomes pure self-pity.
       (There are photographs of several of the manuscript-pages included, and they are indeed neatly typed.)
       From the Berlin Journal consists of these first two notebooks, covering 1973 and 1974. Regrettably, the editors have chosen to edit out what appears to be a considerable amount of text -- ellipses abound --, presumably again for reasons of 'personality rights'.
       Frisch chronicles his time in Berlin, but it's not a detailed record of everything he does. He includes occasional random thoughts or conclusions, as well as more carefully worked-out character portraits of friends and colleagues and general impressions of specific meetings, events, and readings.
       Frisch moved in interesting literary circles in Berlin -- and not many outside of these, it would appear from this record. Close friends included Uwe Johnson and Günter Grass, and while the West Berlin he lives in doesn't seem to engage him too much, he frequently visits East Berlin and describes his encounters with the local literary notables, including Christa Wolf, Wolf Biermann (before his expatriation), Günter Kunert, and Jurek Becker. A neutral Swiss, he could remain uninvolved in the German political debates, but was clearly fascinated by them, including the East German defenses of their socialism (which he was unimpressed by).
       Some of the observations and encounters offer interesting insights into German literary history and personalities. A get-together with Uwe Johnson and Jurek Becker is particularly awkward, while Frisch reports -- in 1973 -- that Grass: "now considers his political activity a phase, meaning that he hopes it is over" (that didn't work out). The portraits of Johnson, Alfred Andersch, and Hans Magnus Enzensberger are particularly interesting -- the latter described as:
A cheerful intellect. From phase to phase. He doesn't get stuck to his errors; they let him go. A pleasant person who doesn't hold anything against himself.
       Frisch struggles with his writing, but not in a tortured way; he simply keeps at it -- and notes:
I now know that I do not write because I have anything to say to other people. [...] I write in order to work. I write in order to be at home.
       He struggles some with his alcoholism, while his wife appears only relatively peripherally. The writings don't really go very much in depth about day-to-day life -- two years in less than 200 pages, after all.
       Thorough endnotes helpfully connect some of the mentions and events with Frisch's own later writings, notably Man in the Holocene and Montauk, while also providing information about many of the people and events mentioned. Some additional background might have been helpful for non-German readers; one of Frisch's nicer personal summing-ups is the one-sentence:
Wieland Herzfelde, whom I already met in Ticino: director of Malik Verlag, a long time ago, author of weak verse, honorary president of the GDR Pen, brother of a great brother, aside from that, lively and opaque.
       Here, it might have been nice to note a bit about the Malik Verlag -- and to reveal that the 'great brother' was the indeed great John Heartfield.
       From the Berlin Journal is only of limited biographical interest, at least for the general reader; covering only a sliver of Frisch's life, it's not much of an introduction to Frisch for the uninitiated (though there are many interesting titbits for those closely familiar with his life and work). It does, however, offer an interesting glimpse of a hub of German literary life in the early 1970s, and some of its most significant authors -- including a particularly interesting perspective and insights into the (then very significant) East German literary scene of the time.
       A fine little specialist volume -- though frustratingly edited down (without adequate explanation ...).

- M.A.Orthofer, 11 August 2017

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From the Berlin Journal: Reviews: Max Frisch: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Swiss author Max Frisch lived 1911 to 1991.

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© 2017-2021 the complete review

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