Critical Mass

NBCC Finalist Eliot Weinberger on What to Read This Summer

By Eliot Weinberger

The month of June kicks off Reading the World. As part of this project, the NBCC has asked writers from around the globe to recommend a book from beyond these shores. We asked former NBCC finalist Eliot Weinberger, author of “What Happened Here,”translator of Jorge Luis Borges' “Selected Non-Fictions,” winner of the 1999 NBCC award in criticism, and author, most recently, of “An Elemental Thing,” what he had to recommend. Weinberger came back with this recommendation for Robert Walser's “The Assistant.”

“For sheer delight on every page, you can’t do better than Robert Walser’s 1908 novel, The Assistant, just published for the first time in English in an extraordinary translation by Susan Bernofsky. Walser, a German Swiss who died in 1956 at age 78, after 27 years in an asylum, is barely known here, though among the ardent fans of his funny-sad, bitter-whimsical, naive-insightful eccentricities are Kafka, Musil, Benjamin, Canetti, Sebald, Gass, Davenport, Sontag, Coetzee. The Assistant is the story of a luckless young man hired– as Walser briefly was– to help a pompous inventor of useless things who is quickly running through the family fortune, and Bernofsky has done an awe-inspiring job of bringing its famously slightly-off-kilter sentences into English. Hermann Hesse said that if Walser had a 100,000 readers the world would be a better place. Maybe not, but when you’re reading Walser, you’re happy to be reading.”

Eliot Weinberger