Peter Wortsman

Stimme und Atem

Out of Breath, Out of Mind

"To have reached at age 66, after years of considerable creative effort in English, the beginner's level in another language is in my view no small feat, something on the order of digging a hole so deep into New York granite that you come crawling back up in China, filthy but still breathing. If as an adult I stutter and stumble with the shaky spoon of my tongue back into the still fluid forecourt of consciousness that German constitutes for me, I do so in full consciousness as an English speaker reminded of other syllables that say more to me about the unspeakable than yes and no." So writes the New York-born author, son of Austrian-Jewish émigrés, in the foreword. "I harbor a stillborn scribe of the German tongue in me," he maintains. In this collection of stories, some quasi-autobiographical, some nightmarish, most of them originally written in German and thereafter translated, or rather, adapted by the author himself into English, Wortsman creates a compelling, albeit disturbing, portrait, not only of himself, but also of our shattered age. Despite all, with his writing, Wortsman harbors a hope: " Perhaps we Germans and Jews of the Post-War generation, as children of a shattered cultural union, can still achieve something productive together, perhaps we can pick a few rags of reason from the ruins of the past and therewith pitch a tent big enough to hold all our dreams."


"Born in the shadow of the flames of the World War II generation, Peter Wortsman is a master of short prose. Though a native New Yorker, he is essentially a European. His prose harkens back to that of such masters as Dino Buzzati, Clarice Lispector, Juan Rulfo, Tonino Guerra or Paul Bowles. Wortsman's short stories are breathtakingly astonishing: his take on the unbearable lightness of being reveals the inescapable banality of evil."

– Julia Kissina, author of Frühling auf dem Mond and Elephantinas Moskauer Jahre


Peter Wortsman has the voice of a symphony orchestra that starts out softly, but soon builds to a crescendo that leaves no reader unmoved.

– Deborah Feldman, author of Unorthodox and Überbitten


Text Excerpt:


Family members are not like other people. They are attached to each other by thin invisible wires at every moveable part. As distinct from marionettes, however, whose strings all stretch upwards to the fingers of the puppeteer surreptitiously directing their fate, the wires of domestic life are horizontally strung, binding spouses and their progeny like the members of a chain gang. One could well compare these domestic desperados to a wagon team, though the family drags nothing forward but itself. It advances rather like a jellyfish, teased by the tides, driven hither and thither by the currents of jealousy and love, never going anywhere, until, one by one, the members miraculously break free, each in his own way defining himself and dying in the process.