I would like to have become someone else, wouldn’t you? But we should have started earlier; now, it is too late. Indeed, it would not be so bad never to have been born in the first place, but that happens more and more seldom, I could scarcely list any cases, except right off the bat; but you certainly would not care for that, and you are right not to, I do not like that either. We have been given our lives—I do find that expression highly euphemistic, but be that as it may: gifts from parents or from people who become parents only by the act of giving can be neither rejected nor passed on, for one would never find the right taker. Besides, at the time of the giving, one does not yet possess the right vocabulary to make the thing palatable to others. Oh well, it would not be possible to return the gift anyway. But I am amazed that the recipient’s screams of protest right after the act of giving do not give the givers food for thought.
Excerpts from the dust jacket, The Collected Stories of Wolfgang Hildesheimer:
The funny and bittersweet stories of Wolfgang Hildesheimer are peopled with delightful eccentrics: an insomniac who makes a midnight visit to his bird dealer to purchase an owl (not gift-wrapped) that he might carry it to Athens; a world-famous pianist whose lifelong dream is to be an insurance agent; a retired magician who with his last conjure turns himself into a nightingale.
Here also are accounts of unlikely historical figures such as Theodor Pilz, a man whose “contribution to the history of Western civilization was expressed in the nonexistence of works which never came into being thanks to his courageous, self-sacrificing interference”[.]
The book concludes with the masterful “Missives to Max”, an epistolary meditation on age and the modern age, on quotidian and universal existence. In a serendipitous ramble the correspondent allows a pun or double entendre to lead him from one topic to the next. In such multilayered prose the translator’s art is at its highest, and the nuance and whimsy of the original are preserved with faithfulness and elegance.
Wolfgang Hildesheimer’s writings are, in one word, cerebral. If you enjoyed the footnotes about De Selby in Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman, if (Stephen Fry’s) wordplay tickles you pink, and if you think you can appreciate humour delivered in the form of expertly placed parenthetical phrases, then this collection of shorts is worth a read.
Hildesheimer also authored a brilliant biography of Mozart.