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Georg Letham

Cover of Georg Letham

Georg Letham

Physician and Murderer
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“Ernst Weiss is in fact one of the few writers who may justly be compared to Franz Kafka...The book belongs to the very most interesting that I have come across in
years. . . . One is filled with impressions, excited and gripped by striking existent but unforgettably cast images, characters, and events. By the way: it is all very Austrian.”—Thomas Mann

“I wonder why Weiss isn’t better known here. A doctor as well as a writer, he knew about the body as well as the heart, and you can trust him when he describes how each can act on the other.”—Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

Georg Letham: Physician and Murderer is a tragicomic and harrowing portrait of a morally defective mind. Written in a highly unreliable first person narrative, this unsung masterwork is an account of a crime and its aftermath: the scientist-hero (or scientist-villain) is tried, sentenced, and deported to a remote island where he is privileged to work as an epidemiologist. He seeks redemption in science, but in spite of himself he is a man of feeling. The book came out of the same fertile literary ground between the wars that produced The Man Without Qualities and The Sleepwalkers; like those modernist classics and the works of Ernst Weiss’ friend, Franz Kafka, Georg Letham: Physician and Murderer is a prescient depiction of a profoundly unsettled society.

Ernst Weiss (1882–1940), born in Brunn, Austria (now Brno, Czech Republic), spoke and wrote in German. He was a trained physician and surgeon and served as a ship’s doctor for many years. He met Kafka in Berlin in 1913, and was convinced to write full-time. Weiss, a Jew, committed suicide in Paris when the Nazis entered the city in 1940.

Joel Rotenberg translated Chess Story and The Post-Office Girl by Stefan Zweig and Hugo von Hofmannstahl’s The Lord Chandos Letter for the New York Review Books Classics series

“Ernst Weiss is in fact one of the few writers who may justly be compared to Franz Kafka...The book belongs to the very most interesting that I have come across in
years. . . . One is filled with impressions, excited and gripped by striking existent but unforgettably cast images, characters, and events. By the way: it is all very Austrian.”—Thomas Mann

“I wonder why Weiss isn’t better known here. A doctor as well as a writer, he knew about the body as well as the heart, and you can trust him when he describes how each can act on the other.”—Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

Georg Letham: Physician and Murderer is a tragicomic and harrowing portrait of a morally defective mind. Written in a highly unreliable first person narrative, this unsung masterwork is an account of a crime and its aftermath: the scientist-hero (or scientist-villain) is tried, sentenced, and deported to a remote island where he is privileged to work as an epidemiologist. He seeks redemption in science, but in spite of himself he is a man of feeling. The book came out of the same fertile literary ground between the wars that produced The Man Without Qualities and The Sleepwalkers; like those modernist classics and the works of Ernst Weiss’ friend, Franz Kafka, Georg Letham: Physician and Murderer is a prescient depiction of a profoundly unsettled society.

Ernst Weiss (1882–1940), born in Brunn, Austria (now Brno, Czech Republic), spoke and wrote in German. He was a trained physician and surgeon and served as a ship’s doctor for many years. He met Kafka in Berlin in 1913, and was convinced to write full-time. Weiss, a Jew, committed suicide in Paris when the Nazis entered the city in 1940.

Joel Rotenberg translated Chess Story and The Post-Office Girl by Stefan Zweig and Hugo von Hofmannstahl’s The Lord Chandos Letter for the New York Review Books Classics series

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About the Author-
  • Like Kafka, a friend of his, Ernst Weiss was a German-speaking Jew from Prague. He was a physician as well as a novelist. Joel Rotenberg has translated Stefan Zweig's "Chess Story" and Hugo von Hofmannsthal's "The Lord Chandos Letter," both for the New York Review of Books series.
Reviews-
  • Library Journal

    September 15, 2009
    Originally published in 1931, this is an account of a crime and its aftermath, interspersed with flashbacks that may illuminate the cause of the crime and the root of the perpetrator's moral defectiveness. The title character is the novel's unreliable narrator. Letham, who describes himself as "a physician, a man of scientific training of certain philosophical aspirations," is ever a medical researcher and taxonomist, categorizing his fellow men impassively as either frogs or rats. After murdering his wife, Letham is sent to the yellow fever-ridden penal colony C, where he is able to continue his epidemiological work and questionable experiments. The author, Jewish physician Weiss, is often compared to friend and contemporary Franz Kafka, but Weiss's work is more realistic, clearly influenced by his own life and work in the medical field. Rotenberg's translation is clean and attentive, but this is nevertheless a very slow read. VERDICT Essential reading for fans of German expressionism and of interest to readers of psychological novels but overlong for the casual reader.Karen Morse, Univ. of Buffalo Lib., NY

    Copyright 2009 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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    Archipelago Books
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  • Copyright Protection (DRM) required by the Publisher may be applied to this title to limit or prohibit printing or copying. File sharing or redistribution is prohibited. Your rights to access this material expire at the end of the lending period. Please see Important Notice about Copyrighted Materials for terms applicable to this content.

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Georg Letham
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Physician and Murderer
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