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Franz Hessel’s 1913 novel Der Kramladen des Glücks, whose title might be translated as “The General Store of Happiness” or “The Curiosity Shop of Happiness,” is a gorgeous, light-flooded book. It tells in compellingly nostalgic tones of a childhood in Berlin and an adult’s attempts to recapture the magic of that city as once viewed through the lens of childhood. Hessel is best known as the author of flâneur stories that won him the admiration and later friendship of Walter Benjamin, with whom he collaborated on a translation of Proust, and his novel may have been an inspiration for Benjamin’s own memoir-in-essays A Berlin Childhood. Hessel’s early adult life inspired the novel by Henri-Pierre Roché Jules et Jim, which was later filmed by François Truffaut, but the later life of this Jewish author was far less sunny: after fleeing Nazi Germany he was interned in the Les Milles concentration camp outside Aix-en-Provence and died shortly after his release from illnesses sustained during his internment there.
Susan Bernofsky is the translator of numerous German-language authors, including Robert Walser, Yoko Tawada, and Herman Hesse.
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