In Conversation With The Rosenbach: Damion Searls

Damion Searls' translation of Uwe Johnson’s "Anniversaries: From a Year in the Life of Gesine Cresspahl"

Date / Time

  • October 30, 2018
    6:00 pm - 7:00 pm


2008-2010 Delancey Place, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 19103, United States


Award winning author and former Guggenheim fellow, Damion Searls,  has translated Uwe Johnson’s Anniversaries: From a Year in the Life of Gesine Cresspahl. Anniversaries is a New York Review of Books Classics Original.

Late in 1967, Uwe Johnson, already one of the most celebrated German novelists of his generation, set out to write a book that would take the form of an entry for every day of the year that lay ahead. The first entry is August 21, 1967, and every subsequent entry is dated the following day, through August 20, 1968. Of course, Johnson had no idea what the year would bring — that was part of the challenge — but he did have his main character: Gesine Cresspahl, a German émigré living on the Upper West Side of New York City and working as a translator for a bank, who is the single mother of a ten-year-old daughter, Marie.

The book tells the story of a year in the life of this little family in relation to the unfolding stories of the year, as winnowed from the pages of The New York Times, of which Gesine is a devoted if wary reader. These stories in turn are overlayed by another: Gesine, born just as Hitler was coming to power, has decided to tell Marie the story of her grandparents’ lives and of her own rural childhood in Nazi Germany.

Anniversaries courts comparison to Joyce’s Ulysses, the book of a day, and to Proust’s In Search of Lost Time, the book of a lifetime, but it stands apart in its dense polyphonic interplay of voices and stories. It is a novel of private life, a political novel, and a new kind of historical novel, reckoning not only with past history but with history in the making.

About the Author

Uwe Johnson (1934-1984) grew up in the small town of Anklam in the German state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. A member of the legendary Gruppe 47, Johnson lived from 1966 until 1968 with his wife and daughter in New York, compiling a high-school anthology of postwar German literature. Anniversaries was published in four installments—in 1970, 1971, 1973, and 1983—and was quickly recognized in Germany as one of the great novels of the century. He died shortly after it was published, at age forty-nine.

About the Speaker

Damion Searls has translated books by Rilke, Proust, Hermann Hesse, Christa Wolf, and others. For NYRB he has edited Henry David Thoreau’s The Journal: 1837–1861 and translated Nescio, Robert Walser, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Patrick Modiano.

Join the Conversation

A series of informal, intimate talks given by literary and cultural luminaries, In Conversation With The Rosenbach delves into fascinating histories, intellectual curiosities, and inspiring ideas. Each program offers audience members a chance to join the conversation after the talk and share their own thoughts and questions. In Conversation With The Rosenbach is supported by a grant from the Christian R. & Mary F. Lindback Foundation.

Seating is limited; advance registration is strongly recommended.