He speaks too loud

David Blackbourn

  • BuyBertolt Brecht: A Literary Life by Stephen Parker
    Bloomsbury, 704 pp, £30.00, February 2014, ISBN 978 1 4081 5562 2

In his Svendborg Poems, written in exile in Denmark in the 1930s, Brecht wrote: ‘In the dark times/Will there also be singing? Yes, there will also be singing/About the dark times.’ His life was shaped by these dark times. He came of age during the First World War, became a successful writer in the years before Hitler’s rise to power, spent 16 years as an émigré, and returned to Berlin only to clash with the East German apparatchiks. Stephen Parker’s superb biography of a great iconoclastic writer is impressively sourced, rich in detail, well-paced, highly readable yet serious. His Brecht was chastened by the dark times, but remained what his friend and stage designer Caspar Neher called him in his youth, Hydratopyranthropos, the Water-Fire Man, made up of contrary elements.

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