The Swiss writer Friedrich Durrenmatt (1921-90) was one of the most important literary figures of the second half of the twentieth century. During the years of the cold war, arguably only Beckett, Camus, Sartre, and Brecht rivaled him as a presence in European letters. Yet outside Europe, this prolific author is primarily known for only one work, "The Visit." With these long-awaited translations of his plays, fictions, and essays, Durrenmatt becomes available again in all his brilliance to the English-speaking world. This second volume of "Selected Writings" reveals a writer who may stand as Kafka's greatest heir. Durrenmatt's novellas and short stories are searing, tragicomic explorations of the ironies of justice and the corruptibility of institutions. Apart from "The Pledge," a requiem to the detective story that was made into a film starring Jack Nicholson, none of the works in this volume are available elsewhere in English. Among the most evocative fictions included here are two novellas: "The Assignment" and "Traps." "The Assignment" tells the story of a woman filmmaker investigating a mysterious murder in an unnamed Arab country and has been hailed by Sven Birkerts as "a parable of hell for an age consumed by images." "Traps," meanwhile, is a chilling comic novella about a traveling salesman who agrees to play the role of the defendant in a mock trial among dinner companions--and then pays the ultimate penalty. Durrenmatt has long been considered a great writer--but one unfairly neglected in the modern world of letters. With these elegantly conceived and expertly translated volumes, a new generation of readers will rediscover his greatest works.
Friedrich Durrenmatt was born in 1921 in the village of Konolfingen, near Berne, Switzerland, and was the son of a Protestant minister. During World War II he studied philosophy and literature at the Universities of Berne and Zurich. He wrote prolifically and traveled widely in the 1950s, '60s, and '70s, taking particular interest in human rights and the preservation of Israel. Joel Agee has translated numerous German authors into English, including Heinrich von Kleist, Rainer Maria Rilke and Elias Canetti. He is also the author of two memoirs: "Twelve Years: An American Boyhood in East Germany" and "In the House of My Fear." In 2005 he received the Modern Language Association's Lois Roth Award for his translation of Hans Erich Nossack's "The End: ""Hamburg"" 1943." Kenneth J. Northcott is professor emeritus of German at the University of Chicago. He has translated a number of books for the University of Chicago Press. Theodore Ziolkowski is the Class of 1900 Professor Emeritus of German and Comparative Literature at Princeton University. He is the author of many books, including "The Mirror of Justice: Literary Reflections of Legal Crises." Brian Evenson is the author of numerous works of fiction, including "Altmann's Tongue," "Dark Property," "Father of Lies," and "The Wavering Knife." He is also director of the Literary Arts Program at Brown University.