Wolfgang Koeppen’s postwar masterpiece in a luminous new translation by the poet Michael Hofmann
Pigeons on the Grass is told over a single day in Munich in 1948. The first new cinemas and insurance offices are opening atop the ruins, Korea and Persia are keeping the world in panic, planes rumble in the sky (but no one looks up), newspaper headlines announce war over oil and atomic bomb tests. Odysseus Cotton, a black man, alights at the station and hires a porter; Frau Behrend disowns her daughter; with their interracial love affair, Carla Behrend and Washington Price scandalize their neighborswho still expect gifts of chocolate and coffee; a boy hustles to sell a stray dog; Mr. Edwin, a visiting poet, prepares for a reading; Philipp gives himself up to despair; Emilia sells the last of her jewelry; Alexander stars as the Archduke in a new German Super-production; and Susanne seeks out a night to remember. In Michael Hofmann’s words, “in their sum, they are the totality of existence.”
Koeppen spares no one and sees all in this penetrating and intense novel that surveys those who remain, and those who have just arrived, in a damaged society. As inventive as Joyce and as compulsively readable as Dickens, Pigeons on the Grass is a great lost classic.
Wolfgang Koeppen (1906-1996) was born in Greifswald and died in Munich. He worked as a commis chef, a dramaturge, and an editor. In 1951, 1953 and 1954 three novels were published to high acclaim for accurately capturing the atmosphere of the republic under Konrad Adenauer: Pigeons on the Grass, The Hothouse, and Death In Rome.
The poet Michael Hofmann has won numerous prizes for his German translations.