These two tales, here translated into English for the first time, reveal a little-known aspect of the celebrated German poet, who was born and educated in Prague and profoundly influenced by his years there. The stories depict the ethnic struggle between the Germans and the Czechs that riveted that city during the 1890s. ``King Bohush,'' inspired by an actual murder, examines Czech intellectual life of the period. Bohush is a simple-minded hunchback who naively meets with a group of artists and writers at the local cafe to espouse a radical form of Czech nationalism. He confides an innocent secret to a brooding revolutionary named Rezek, who, when other members of the group are arrested, murders Bohush for supposedly betraying their cause. ``The Siblings,'' a more disturbing but less cohesive tale, explores Rezek's subsequent malign effects on an unsophisticated brother and sister, symbols of the two sides of Bohemian culture. (Apr.)
One of the 20th century's most exquisite poets, noted especially for the Duino Elegies and Sonnets to Orpheus , Rilke also experimented with prose. The two stories included here are set in Prague, where Rilke was born and raised, and reflect the tensions between the German nationals living there and the Czech-speaking majority. ``King Bohush'' is the poignant tale of a hunchback ultimately murdered because he is suspected of betraying the incipient nationalist cause; ``The Siblings'' concerns a young Czech girl who loses her brother and then her mother when the family moves to Prague and yet manages to survive and even flourish. These stories are not altogether interesting in themselves--Rilke's forte is clearly lyric description, not narrative, and in any case these slightly wooden tales are a young man's work--but they are important for their insight into the development of Rilke's writing. For students of German literature, Esterhammer's excellent introduction is worth the price of the book. Primarily for academic libraries.-- Barbara Hoffert, ``Library Journal''
In these stories, which are quite unlike Rilke's mature work and which he later disowned, the great German poet is a beginning writer coming to terms with himself and his birthplace. Each story is an extended treatment of Czech subjects and perhaps measures the unease Rilke felt growing up in a Czech city as a member of an alien ruling class and yet being--unusually--involved with Prague's Czech-speaking intelligentsia. In each, the main Czech characters are portrayed as fairly simple people whose best hope for salvation lies in remaining true to that simplicity. The protagonist of "King Bohush" is a hunchback who works at menial jobs but has something of the poet in him. Rilke details Bohush's dealings with various Czech nationalists, one of whom strangles him after Bohush betrays the movement. In "The Siblings," a teenage Czech serving girl becomes mature and independent after her father's death. Although clearly juvenilia, the stories, well translated and informatively prefaced, are yet accomplished enough to be of interest, especially in light of Rilke's overall importance.