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Book details:
Boys & Murderers

[ excerpt ]

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also by the author:
The Maimed
The Class

  boys & murderers
Collected Short Fiction

by Hermann Ungar

translated from the German by Isabel Fargo Cole

preface by Thomas Mann
cover art and frontispiece by Otto Gutfreund

Boys & Murderers is the first collection of novellas and stories in English translation from Hermann Ungar, author of the highly-acclaimed novel The Maimed. A writer of unique talent whose life was prematurely ended by illness, he was much admired by Thomas Mann, who prefaces this volume, and known as the "Moravian Dostoevsky" for his analysis of the human psyche. In fiction that is often grotesque and comical, Ungar explores the depravities of the heart and delusions of the mind. Taking Prague as well as his hometown of Boskovice for his settings, he can be located in that illustrious tradition of both Prague German writers (he was associated with Max Brod in the Prague Circle) and Jewish writers of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, such as Joseph Roth.

Forgotten for decades, Ungar's work has experienced a renaissance over the past years with translations appearing in a number of languages and new editions appearing in German, which has allowed him to take his place among the greats of 20th-century European literature.


Every horror is a social critique for Ungar. Through his fiction, he coyly argues that everything would be easier if preordained—if every step forward did not have the potential of being a misstep. That would be freedom. Then life would be pleasant, even enjoyable — granted, that is, you are bourgeois, which sadly none of his protagonists are. The world is a grand theatre and some actors have been given more appealing roles.

— Mieke Chew, Music & Literature

In the two novellas "Boys & Murderers" [Ungar] demonstrates an almost disconcerting mastery. Here, in utterly sharp, utterly clear, almost violently naked language, the author relates two fates with an intensity equaled by few of today's luminaries. Unyielding, steely as a screw, a cruel psychology bores its way into people, down to the innermost core of their being: you falter, you shudder to read on, but with the relentless grip of a man on fire he thrusts you inexorably into his narrative will, not releasing you until the final page. I rank this little book among the most powerful to have emerged from Austria or Germany in recent years. From now on the greatest hopes, the highest expectations, will be pinned to this new name.

— Stefan Zweig

Ungar's tone is sinister, even disturbing, and when we embark on reading one we never know what strange people we are going to encounter there.

A Common Reader

As with his notorious first novel, the stories in Boys & Murderers plumb the depths of desperation and depravity, suggesting both Robert Walser's sense of the abject and Franz Kafka's brutal irony.

Rain Taxi Review of Books

[T]aken as a whole, there is much to be admired in this volume, and much in keeping with Ungar's novels. Boys & Murderers strengthens the case for Ungar being an unjustly neglected writer.

— Brian Evenson, Review of Contemporary Fiction

Ungar's use of language in this remarkable translation paints the reader a portrait of the grim realities of the lives of those who often pass us by in the streets as invisible, tortured beings. This collection represents the work of a man whose literary talent has remained unknown to most of the world until now. It is a spectacular example of literature that had its own limited time on Earth, the German-Jewish literature of the Czech lands.

Slavic and East European Journal

Kafka is often suggested as a reference point to Ungar's work, but that is not right: the crazed Old Testament morality to some of the writing reminds one more of Flannery O'Connor. Ungar is convinced of our fated lives. We struggle to maintain order and propriety but, for his characters, the struggle is inevitably doomed.

— Mark Thwaite, Times Literary Supplement

The perpetual humiliation machine in Ungar's fiction never winds down; it blocks both pleasure and resolution, ratcheting ever further into horror ... In [the] minor arena of sexual horror, Ungar is unsurpassable.

— Diana George, Chicago Review

Its title less Freudian than factual, a bald statement of theme, Boys & Murderers is obsessional literature, harrowing and pitiless. In its first story, "A Man and a Maid," a boy leaves his orphanage for America, where he endeavors to make a fortune, only to return to his Moravian town (based on Ungar's native Boskovice) to enslave the orphanage's charwoman, whose sexuality so preoccupied his childhood. Other stories similarly confront a world in adolescent decay, a modernity beset with the basest desires: Ungar's people are almost invariably nymphomaniacs and killers, soldier-drunkards humored by the occasional barbering hunchback. In these pages, there's little history to parse, and hardly any psychology. Topos matters little; the names may change, but we stay the same — our demons follow us everywhere.


[A] masterpiece, with such a wealth of psychological relationships, symbolism, harrowing experience, comedy and misery, bold moral statements and artfully evoked mystery that one has this feeling: this comes from a fullness; here is a talent that musters its forces for deeds that will make a stir . . . extraordinary artistic courage and inspiration, a vision that has left its mark on me forever.

— Thomas Mann

For all its psychological horror, Ungar's writing nevertheless unearths certain truths about the human condition that manage to seriously affect the reader's waking dreams. Boys & Murderers is a book for people who dream while they're awake, who aren't afraid to name their most personal fears.

Think *again


ISBN 9788086264257
251 pp.
135 x 195 mm
softcover with flaps
1 b/w illustration
novellas • stories

release date:
August 2006

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