Criticism & Features

NBCC Reads

NBCC Featured Review: Karen Vanuska on Jakov Lind

By Eric Banks

Beginning today, Critical Mass will regularly feature an exemplary review by a National Book Critics Circle member critic. Here, from Open Letters: A Monthly Arts and Letters Review, NBCC member Karen Vanuska reviews Jakov Lind’s Landscape in Concrete.

The bigger the war, the greater the number of books about it. No matter how you define big – lives lost, cost, population displacement, devastation to infrastructure – World War II tops the list. Nonfiction tomes aside, over the last sixty years World War II has inspired a plenitude of fiction. From Gunter Grass’ The Tin Drum to the works of Nobel Prize winner Heinrich Böll, from the relatively recent discovery and publication of the works of Irène Némirovsky to a post-War generation of works such as Ursula Hegi’s Stones from the River and William T. Vollmann’s National Book Award winner Europe Central, the stories keep coming. And now, there’s another class of World War II fiction – novels that were published, praised, and forgotten primarily because they happened to be works in translation and failed to receive much attention on this side of the Atlantic. Thanks to the University of Rochester’s (euphoniously named) press Open Letter, Landscape in Concrete by Jakov Lind has returned to the dim light of center stage.  

In the 1970s, Jakov Lind switched from writing in German to English, which, oddly enough, seems to account for his dip into obscurity. Lind was prominent enough to have his travelogue The Trip to Jerusalem quoted by Saul Bellow in a 1976 New Yorker essay; but his English-language books never received that sort of attention. His first book, published in German in 1962, was a surprise hit of a story collection, Soul of Wood, and will be reissued later this year by NYRB Classics. Landscape in Concrete, his second book, was published in German in 1963, subsequently translated into English by Ralph Mannheim for release here in 1966. Later this year Open Letter will reissue another of Lind’s acclaimed German novels, Ergo. Somehow, as Open Letter publisher Chad Post jokes in the publicity letter that accompanies copies of Landscape in Concrete, 2009 has become “The Year of Jakov Lind.” Continue here…