J. W. McCormack at The Baffler:
LOOK, ANY HONEST ESTIMATION of the new translation, by Michael Hofmann, of Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz from NYRB Classics is bound to begin with duteous piety, lauding it, since it is a one-and-done masterpiece that’s basically impossible to oversell, as (why not) the single biggest event in publishing in a lifetime, a crucial refurbishment of something English-language readers have been missing out on for a century, and a long-missing piece of Modernism’s ponderous jigsaw. All of which is the case of course. But when we’re talking about a dense, all-but-untranslatable Weimar-era novel, whose only point of reference for Anglophone audiences until now has been Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s meticulous fifteen-hour adaptation from 1980 (one heck of a tease) it feels important to attempt a slight rescue from its own forbidding reputation, because Alexanderplatz is less a book than a living thing, and one that joyously resists the dust heap of bourgeois literary scholarship with its every line.
Berlin Alexanderplatz’s most famous feature is also the cause of the quandary that’s vexed translators all these years, as it is written in a highly site-specific argot—that of the low-rent and seedy districts surrounding 1920s Alexanderplatz—and the narrative is itself festooned with interludes from noisome modernity and ancient myth. An incomplete list of these includes transcriptions of newspapers, Bible passages, train schedules, travel supplements, radio broadcasts, scientific breakthroughs, references to Orestes, ominous political rumblings, advertisements, weather reports, popular melodies, screeds by revolutionary agitators, angelic interlocutors, and dreams.