Home > 1920, 20th Century, Classics, Döblin Alfred, German Literature > Berlin Alexanderplatz Readalong : Sorry, but I quit

Berlin Alexanderplatz Readalong : Sorry, but I quit

November 16, 2019 Leave a comment Go to comments

Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin (1929) French title: Berlin ALexanderplatz. Translated by Olivier Le Lay

This is my second attempt at reading Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin. Lizzy and Caroline host it this year for German Lit Month and I thought I’d try again. I stretched my fingers to hold the chunkster, put the sticky notes in the book to mark the weeks of the readalong and started to spend time with Franz Biberkopf, the hero of this 613 pages long novel. (At least in French and in my Folio edition. Don’t forget that, due to the language, books are about 10% longer in French than in English)

Despite my motivation, I abandoned Berlin Alexanderplatz again. I don’t care to know what’s going to happen to Franz Biberkopf. I was reading and pages were gliding over my brain like water on trout’s skin. (Yeah, no more fly-fishing reads for me, I have scars) In other words, I was reading and not imprinting anything.

I tried to force myself and after a few painful reading sessions, I started to wonder why I was inflicting this to myself. For the bragging rights? To tick a box on the 1001-books-you-must-read-before-you-die list? (I’m closeted 1001-books lister) I had to stop and remind myself that nobody cares whether I finish it or not, that reading is my hobby, not my duty. And reading must remain a pleasure, and nothing else. Goodbye to Berlin!

So, I hope that the other participants to the readalong have a great time with Döblin. My thoughts haven’t changed in five years and what I wrote in my previous billet is still valid.


  1. November 16, 2019 at 5:34 pm

    Reading absolutely must be a pleasure so unless you have to read a book for an academic course, it you’re not enjoying the experience then there is no point in continuing. Sounds like you came to the right decision…..


    • November 16, 2019 at 5:37 pm

      I think so too, even if I don’t like quitting after I committed to do something. But the book is too long and I couldn’t foresee any pleasure in it. What stopped me is the certainty that I would not even remember it.


  2. lizzysiddal
    November 16, 2019 at 5:57 pm

    That’s OK, Emma. It is a bit of an endurance course, but as I am reading it for a bigger reading project, and I would like to tick off a few more titles from the Deutsche Welle top 100, I gritted my teeth and continued. And then a funny thing happened in chapter 6 …. but that’s a story for next week 😉


    • November 16, 2019 at 6:07 pm

      I think that Caroline is enjoyed herself more than you.
      As for me, it’s not the fact that it was difficult to read because of the experimental writing that made me stop. I stopped because I was reading but not remembering anything. I couldn’t enter into Franz’s world.


  3. November 16, 2019 at 7:02 pm

    I nearly gave up a few times when I read it some years ago, but persevered, and was largely glad I did – it’s powerful and shocking to the end, and a fascinating foretaste of the horrors to come in Nazi Germany and Europe. Not my favourite read, though.


    • November 17, 2019 at 9:57 am

      Now you make me regret abandoning it because I am curious about Berlin during the Weimar Republic.

      Maybe the third attempt will be the right one?


  4. Jonathan
    November 16, 2019 at 7:34 pm

    It’s the judgement call we readers have to make at some point. I have continued with books that I initially disliked: sometimes I’ve been glad I continued and other times felt it was a complete waste of time. I read BA earlier this year and grew to like it, but I wouldn’t consider it a favourite book.

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 17, 2019 at 10:00 am

      My reading time is limited, so I’m picky.

      What did you like about it? I have trouble with the style and the constant leap from one thing to the other.


  5. November 16, 2019 at 8:40 pm

    I understand completely. I’m at a similar point myself at the moment, although I think the balance is slightly in favour of continuing. We’ll see how I feel about it after a weekend break from it…

    Liked by 1 person

    • November 17, 2019 at 10:01 am

      Thanks, I’m glad to know I’m not the only one. I’ll see what you do.

      Sometimes I abandon books and I have no qualms about it but in this case, it feels like I’m missing out on something big because I’m not able to read it. Oh well, that’ll pass.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. November 16, 2019 at 11:51 pm

    I also DNFed that one!!


    • November 17, 2019 at 10:02 am

      Did you read it in French or in English? The French translation by Olivier Le Lay is good, he used vernacular from Alsace-Lorraine and it rings true.


  7. November 17, 2019 at 11:36 am

    It takes a LOT of patience, as I seem to remember. If I hadn’t read it in my youth, would I have the patience to read it now? I’m not sure.


    • November 17, 2019 at 11:58 am

      Thanks. That makes me feel better. 🙂


  8. November 17, 2019 at 11:41 am

    I borrowed it from the library and made a start, but I put it aside for the same reason as you, I just wasn’t getting anywhere with it. If I can keep it long enough, I might try again after I’ve finished another book that has to go back to the library too soon.


    • November 17, 2019 at 11:59 am

      I really had the feeling I was reading words, having impressions of the city but not keeping anything about it.
      I’m glad to see I’m not the only one struggling with it.


      • November 17, 2019 at 12:53 pm

        It’s not like James Joyce’s Ulysses. That does get more complicated as the book goes on, but the early chapters aren’t difficult to read at all.

        Liked by 1 person

        • November 17, 2019 at 2:35 pm

          I’ve come to think of it as some kind of modernist Candide. More philosophical than literary. I just wish it was as short as Candide. It has its moments though, especially after book five but if it wasn’t our readalong title I might have abandoned it as well. It’s not the kind of book that speaks to me right now. Intellectually maybe, but not emotionally. I give a rat‘s ass about Franz.


          • November 17, 2019 at 2:41 pm

            OK so far nobody’s saying that reading this is a walk in the park, not even you who has the chance to read it in the original.
            I would have kept reading of I had cared about Franz. But not at all.
            Like you say, I wasn’t invested emotionally. I can see what a great piece of literature it is but it’s not enough.


            • November 17, 2019 at 3:57 pm

              I agree. I find the comparison with Dos Passos gives the wrong impression. I was so much more invested in Manhattan Transfer although I didn’t finish but only because of bad time management.


              • November 18, 2019 at 2:49 pm

                I was totally invested in Manhattan Transfer, which I found brilliant.
                I thought I was the only one struggling with Franz but I can see that I’m not.


              • November 18, 2019 at 5:53 pm

                I think Dos Passos‘ and Döblin‘s world view are very different. I didn’t find Manhattan Transfer that pessimistic.


              • November 18, 2019 at 8:59 pm

                I haven’t finished BA but I agree with you, Manathan Transfer is more positive.

                Liked by 1 person

        • November 17, 2019 at 2:37 pm

          Sorry – the reply was meant for Emma. I liked Ulysses so much more btw. There’s zero emotion in this book.


  9. November 17, 2019 at 2:36 pm

    I might have replied to Lisa accidentally. Sorry.


    • November 17, 2019 at 2:37 pm

      No worries, as Lisa might say.

      Liked by 1 person

    • November 17, 2019 at 2:42 pm

      PS: you might like Five Bells and The Essence of the Thing that I reviewed recently.


      • November 17, 2019 at 3:55 pm

        I mentioned reading Five Bells on Twitter some time ago 🙂 I did like it but I’m not finished yet. I’ll have to look up the other one though. Thanks.


        • November 18, 2019 at 2:50 pm

          Sorry I missed this or forgot it, I have the memory of a goldfish sometimes.


          • November 18, 2019 at 5:54 pm

            Goldfish it is 🙂 We discussed it.


            • November 18, 2019 at 8:59 pm

              😳 Old age doesn’t agree with me.


  10. November 18, 2019 at 6:40 am

    To anyone who would like to read about Weimar Berlin in an entirely different style, I want to recommend a novel that is an exact contemporary of BA, Vladimir Nabokov’s Roi, dame, valet (1928). This novel’s Berlin is not Döblin’s. The novel is a comic polar. No one ever calls it a polar, but it is, I swear. And it is full of extraordinary Berlin detail.

    There is also a lot of great Berlin stuff in many of Nabokov’s short stories of the 1920s and 1930s.


    • November 18, 2019 at 2:48 pm

      Thanks for the recommandation, Tom. I’ve never read anything by Nabokov, except Lolita. (which is the reason why I never tried anything else by him)


  11. November 18, 2019 at 11:52 am

    When I was younger I’d always persevere with books but now I’m older I feel time is too short! I’ve not read it but I’m sure you’ve made the right decision Emma, as you say, reading is a hobby – there’s no point torturing yourself!


    • November 18, 2019 at 2:47 pm

      It’s not an easy decision to make, in the end. Probably because we are taught to persevere in what we do.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. November 21, 2019 at 3:12 pm

    Giving it two trys feels more than fair. I wouldn’t personally go for a third.

    What I would recommend is Isherwood’s Mr Norris Changes Trains and his Goodbye to Berlin, both of which capture Weimar Berlin really well and both of which are really well written. I thought you’d read them to be honest but I didn’t find them on a quick search of the blog.


    • November 21, 2019 at 8:00 pm

      I think two tries is enough too.
      I have Goodbye to Berlin on the TBR, I should get to it.


      • November 21, 2019 at 8:31 pm

        I’m afraid I didn’t much like Isherwood’s take on Weimar Berlin, having expected to find it inspiring. Sally Bowles, I thought, was a brat. but that maybe says more about me…


        • November 22, 2019 at 11:35 pm

          Fortunately all readers don’t have the same response to a particular book. Now I’m intrigued by this Sally character. I have problems with brats too.
          I should really read Goodbye to Berlin soon.


  1. December 1, 2019 at 11:24 am
  2. December 15, 2019 at 10:01 am
  3. January 2, 2020 at 4:58 am

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