The Swiss writer Friedrich Durrenmatt (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, Durrenmatt becomes available again in all his brilliance to the English-speaking world.
Durrenmatt's concerns are timeless, but they are also the product of his Swiss vantage during the cold war: his key plays, gathered in the first volume of "Selected Writings," explore such themes as guilt by passivity, the refusal of responsibility, greed and political decay, and the tension between justice and freedom. In "The Visit," for instance, an old lady who becomes the wealthiest person in the world returns to the village that cast her out as a young woman and offers riches to the town in exchange for the life of the man, now its mayor, who once disgraced her. Joel Agee's crystalline translation gives a fresh lease to this play, as well as four others: "The Physicists," "Romulus the Great," "Hercules and the Augean Stables," and "The Marriage of Mr. Mississippi."
Durrenmatt 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.
"[D rrenmatt] was one of the giants of this, or any, century. As more of his vast bodu of work . . . becomes available in more and better translations, the Anglo-American world will share in the grief of losing him--even while taking comfort in the joy of discovering him."--John Simon