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The Swiss writer Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921–90) was one of the most important literary figures of the second half of the twentieth century. During the years of the cold war, arguably only Beckett, Camus, Sartre, and Brecht rivaled him as a presence in European letters. Yet outside Europe, this prolific author is primarily known for only one work, The Visit. With these long-awaited translations of his plays, fictions, and essays, Dürrenmatt becomes available again in all his brilliance to the English-speaking world.
This second volume of Selected Writings reveals a writer who may stand as Kafka’s greatest heir. Dürrenmatt’s novellas and short stories are searing, tragicomic explorations of the ironies of justice and the corruptibility of institutions. Apart from The Pledge, a requiem to the detective story that was made into a film starring Jack Nicholson, none of the works in this volume are available elsewhere in English. Among the most evocative fictions included here are two novellas: The Assignment and Traps. The Assignment tells the story of a woman filmmaker investigating a mysterious murder in an unnamed Arab country and has been hailed by Sven Birkerts as “a parable of hell for an age consumed by images.” Traps, meanwhile, is a chilling comic novella about a traveling salesman who agrees to play the role of the defendant in a mock trial among dinner companions—and then pays the ultimate penalty.
Dürrenmatt has long been considered a great writer—but one unfairly neglected in the modern world of letters. With these elegantly conceived and expertly translated volumes, a new generation of readers will rediscover his greatest works.