Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz, by Maxim Biller

What would the inside of a writer’s mind look like? I’ve had this thought before, usually about mystery writers. But I’ve seen anyone write the answer to that question until I read Maxim Biller’s brief novella, Inside the Head of Bruno SchulzSchulz was an actual writer. He was killed by a Nazi outside of the Drohobycz ghetto in 1942. Only a few of his works were published before his death. (One of his stories, “Cinnamon Shops,” is reproduced in this volume.) Schulz’ work shows a strong streak of surrealism and, in the two stories included in this edition of Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz by Puskhin Press, feature characters are obsessed with something to the point of dissociation from what’s happening in the world around them.

It’s fitting, then, that Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz follows the same pattern. Schulz in the novella is writing a letter to Thomas Mann, to let the Nobel winning author know that an imposter-Mann has turned up in Drohobycz. This imposter is gauche, violent, and thoroughly spoiling Mann’s reputation. He’s not well, in any sense. Schulz’ loose grip on reality makes it hard to understand what’s really happening. As Schulz writes, he is occasionally distracted by his sister, birds at his skylight, and the voices of children—which appear to becoming from a pair of birds on the desk.

There isn’t much plot to Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz. What action there is comes from episodes Schulz (as character) puts in his letter to Thomas Mann. Again, it’s hard to know if the things Schulz saw really happened, or happened the way he said they did. I suppose this is fitting for a psychological exploration inside the mind of a surrealist.

I did read the two stories included in this volume, “Birds” and “Cinnamon Shops.” Only after I read these stories did I understand (a little better, anyway) what Biller was up to. In “Birds,” the father of the family keeps exotic birds in the family attic, obsessing over them while missing everything that’s going on around him. Eventually, his daughter retaliates by releasing all the birds. The old man is shattered. Reading this right after Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz, I pictured an author who wants to dream his dreams. The war and the Holocaust made it impossible for Schulz (the character, not the man himself) to either stay in his world or to stay in that world and keep his sanity.

This is a very unsettling collection of stories.

I received a free copy of this ebook from NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review. It will be released 13 October 2015.


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