The Assistant

The Assistant

By Robert Walser; Susan Bernofsky (Translator)

New Directions Publishing Corporation, Paperback, 9780811215909, 301pp.

Publication Date: July 1, 2007

Description
The Assistant is his breathtaking 1908 novel, translated by award-winning translator Susan Bernofsky. Joseph, hired to become an inventor's new assistant, arrives one rainy Monday morning at Technical Engineer Karl Tobler's splendid hilltop villa: he is at once pleased and terribly worried, a state soon followed by even stickier psychological complexities. He enjoys the beautiful view over Lake Zurich, in the company of the proud wife, Frau Tobler, and the delicious savory meals. But does he deserve any of these pleasures? The Assistant chronicles Joseph's inner life of cascading emotions as he attempts, both frantically and light-heartedly, to help the Tobler household, even as it slides toward financial ruin. Tobler demands of Joseph, "Do you have your wits about you? " And Joseph's wits are in fact all around him, trembling like leaves in the breeze he is full of exuberance and despair, all the raptures and panics of a person "drowning in obedience."


About the Author
Born 1878 in Switzerland, Robert Walser was at various times in his life a bank teller, office clerk, scribe, house servant, machinist's assistant, and archivist. Although he wrote four novels and some poetry, his production consisted mainly of hundreds of small prose pieces. Being small was a key concern. His writing got smaller and smaller until, before he ceased writing altogether, he wrote a tiny script with letters about one millimeter high. By this time he had committed himself to a sanitarium where he remained for 27 years, mostly not writing. Always an avid taker of walks, Walser died in a snowdrift while out for a walk in 1956.

Susan Bernofsky is the acclaimed translator of Hermann Hesse, Robert Walser, and Jenny Erpenbeck, and the recipient of many awards, including the Helen and Kurt Wolff Prize and the Hermann Hesse Translation Prize. She teaches literary translation at Columbia University and lives in New York.