A beguiling fable about a summer holiday in the Swedish countryside that transforms into a provocative parable about oppression and the evil awaiting Europe as the Nazis came to power.
Castle Gripsholm, the best and most beloved work by Kurt Tucholsky, is a short novel about an enchanted summer holiday. It begins with an assignment: Tucholsky’s publisher wants him to write something light and funny, otherwise about whatever Tucholsky wants. A deal is struck and the story is off: about Peter, a writer; his girlfriend, known as the Princess; and a summer vacation far from the hurly-burly of Berlin. Peter and the Princess have rented a small house attached to a historic castle in Sweden, and they have five weeks of long days and white nights at their disposal; five weeks for swimming and walking and sex and talking and visits with Peter’s buddy Karlchen and with Billie, the Princess’s best friend. It is perfect, until they meet a weeping girl fleeing the cruel headmistress of a home for children. The vacationers decide they must free the girl and send her back to her mother in Switzerland, which brings about an encounter with authority that casts a worrying shadow over their radiant summer idyll. Soon they must return to Germany. What kind of fairy tale are they living in?
About the Author
Kurt Tucholsky (1890–1935) was born in Berlin to a middle-class Jewish family. He received a law degree from the University of Jena in 1915 and was conscripted to fight in World War I not long after. A notably poor soldier, his aphorism likening soldiers to murderers became a pacifist rallying cry. Tucholsky began his journalism career while still a student, and he found success writing in a range of forms, including the feuilleton, criticism, satire, poetry, and lyrics for cabarets. Under both his name and various pseudonyms, his work frequently appeared in the leftist intellectual organ Die Weltbühne (the World Stage), to which he would contribute on and off for the rest of his life. Tucholsky’s collected writings amount to thousands of pages and include a play, Christopher Columbus (1932); an illustrated book, Deutschland, Deutschland über alles (1929); and two works of fiction, Rheinsberg (1912) and Castle Gripsholm (1931). He was married twice, to Else Weil from 1920 to 1924 and to Mary Gerold in 1924. In 1933, his last piece for Die Weltbühne appeared in January; by August his German citizenship had been annulled and his books burned en masse. The Nazis had denounced him as “one of the most wicked of literary pornographers.” He divorced Mary to distance her from Nazi persecution and lived in exile in Sweden on short-term visas under threat of deportation, where he died from an overdose of sleeping pills. There are two annual literary awards given in his name: the Swedish PEN Tucholsky Prize and Germany’s Kurt Tucholsky Prize.
Michael Hofmann is a German-born, British-educated poet and translator. Among his translations are works by Franz Kafka; Peter Stamm; his father, Gert Hofmann; Herta Müller; and fourteen books by Joseph Roth. A recipient of both the PEN Translation Prize and the Helen and Kurt Wolff Prize, Hofmann’s Selected Poems was published in 2009 and One Lark, One Horse in 2019. In addition to Castle Gripsholm, which was the first book he translated, New York Review Books publishes his selection from the work of Malcolm Lowry, The Voyage That Never Ends, and his translations of Jakob Wassermann’s My Marriage, Gert Ledig’s Stalin Front, and Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz. He teaches in the English department at the University of Florida.
“The author, a polemical journalist during the last days of the Weimar Republic, chose in this, his only novel, to write about the pleasures of wine and women and the gratifications of friendship, and to do so in prose so luminous and exuberant that the bitterness of real life seems...an intrusion.” —Publishers Weekly
“Kurt Tucholsky wrote songs for Berlin revues, ridiculed the Nazis . . . and found refuge in Sweden only to take his own life. . . . There is scarcely any figure in English literature with quite the same degree of acid corrosiveness. One has the sense that all our little disappointments—in love, in business, in politics—are but manifestations of the collective disappointment that is life itself.” —Michael J. Lewis, Commentary