REVIEWS


The Inkblots: Hermann Rorschach,
His Iconic Test, and the Power of Seeing

"A marvelous book about how one man and his enigmatic test came to shape our collective imagination. The Rorschach test is a great subject and The Inkblots is worthy of it: beguiling, fascinating, and full of new discoveries every time you look." –David Grann

"A deft, surprising, and illuminating portrait of Hermann Rorschach, and a compelling case that his improbable inkblot experiment should earn him a place in the pantheon of psychology." –Joshua Wolf Shenk

"What an amazing book. The Rorschach inkblot is like the enigmatic corpse in a mystery novel, and Damion Searls is the passionate and encyclopedic detective who unpacks the intricate and twisted story of how it came to be. By the end, one feels that Rorschach and his test are the key to understanding the whole 20th century. Searls is a wonderful writer, funny, compassionate, and unfailingly attentive to all the magical coincidences (or are they?) and twists of human history." –Elif Batuman

"The life of this fascinating man is a much-needed contribution to the history of psychoanalysis. This is sure to become the standard reference for both Hermann Rorschach's life and times and the history of the inkblot test from his time to ours." –Deirdre Bair

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"The Inkblots is three books in one: an engaging biography of Hermann Rorschach; a vivid and meticulously researched history of his eponymous inkblots; and a fascinating exploration of the psychology of perception. This is a book that challenges us to consider the relationship between what we see and who we are."
–Peter Mendelsund

"Who knew? Most of the founding lions of psychoanalysis often seem as petty and infantile as they were (at times) brilliant and inspired. But to hear Damion Searls tell it in this absorbing new biography, Hermann Rorschach was a different sort altogether: humane, empathic, loving, deeply sane, and possessed of a true artist's soul. Searls's account of Rorschach's afterlife is no less fascinating, as every culture that encountered his test seemed to project its own values onto it. In the end, true to Rorschach, Searls locates the heart of being human at the endlessly unfurling intersection of vision and self-awareness." –Lawrence Weschler

"In this accessible biography of Rorschach, Damion Searls shows us the young psychologist, who died at a tragically early age, making his way among the feuding early 20th century thinkers in psychology, including Freud and Jung. Vividly sketched with many new sources, The Inkblots reveals Rorschach to be a fascinating character: part artist, part clinician. A marvelous portrait." –Peter Galison

"A richly detailed, sensitive biography of Rorschach's short life and long afterlife." –Kirkus Reviews



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What We Were Doing and Where We Were Going

"A bewitching snapshot of modern life." –Guardian (UK)

"Searls' writing is as sensual as it is sophisticated." L.A. Times

"[A] beautiful book.... Contemporary works of literature with an inner life are in short supply and one that so honorably serves and recognizes its lineage is pretty much beyond praise." Brooklyn Rail

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"[Searls's] recent story collection not only disproves all the horrible things I have said over the years about the contemporary short story, but also features a cameo appearance by a two-foot-tall wooden Pushkin who advises the narrator on important life issues.... Warmly recommended to all my dear readers." Elif Batuman, author of The Possessed

"[An] impressive collection.... Searls draws his characters sharply and humanely. His meticulous and beautiful descriptions come naturally; not a phrase or a moment in the collection seems forced. Searls [is] a great stylist as well as a talented storyteller." Howard County Times (Baltimore/Washington D.C.)

"Searls's slender but powerful new book of stories continually asks the question: Is a writer someone who creates from within, or a person who merely organizes and arranges external ideas in a new way?... What We Were Doing and Where We Were Going is a fresh, engrossing piece of writing." " –Drew Toal, Time Out New York

"Accomplished and erudite... [a] slender yet powerful book.... The writing is vivid and original." The Rumpus

"I've read books this pleasurable before, but most of them have been in my dreams. Searls is the kind of sharp, utterly confident writer who can cover Nabokov and Hawthorne the way the Pet Shop Boys joyously dismantle a U2 or Willie Nelson song and turn it into a blast of blissful clarity. He can conjure a word like neodisjunctivist and make you like it. He also knows a secret most writers don't: leave the reader wanting more. –Ed Park, author of Personal Days

"[These] five elegantly crafted stories [explore] the exquisite indignities suffered by those with rich inner lives..." –Publisher's Weekly

"These stories not only read beautifully and feel true; I don't think I've ever read anything that seems at once so off-hand and so formally exacting." –Benjamin Kunkel, author of Indecision

"Searls's work gives me an idea of how the short story can keep on going, what its future might be."

"A series of highly imaginative and original takes on the contemporary world, both sophisticated and quirky, elegant and unique." –Edith Grossman, translator of Don Quixote and Love in the Time of Cholera

"Funny, eclectic, and ultimately very contemporary. Literature is dead, everyone knows that, and also—another thing everyone knows—all the great literature has already been written. But if we were somehow to begin bringing literature into the present day, we'd do it by updating, reimagining, rewriting, and then finally once and for all forgetting the past masters. That is what, in these funny, eclectic, and ultimately very contemporary stories, Searls somehow manages to do." –Keith Gessen, editor of n+1

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Keilson, Life Goes On

"An important and heartbreaking novel.... The prose is a pleasure. Keilson has a lovely, easy style, a gentle tone and an analytic mind.... He was so young, and such a natural."
—Judith Shulevitz, NY Times Book Review

A 2012 Book You Missed But Shouldn't Have: "gloriously translated."
Newsweek/Daily Beast

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"Life Goes On puts a profoundly sympathetic human face on economic hardship.... [A] wise and humane novel... aided by another strong translation from Mr. Searls."
—Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal

"Stunningly accomplished and self-assured for such a young writer... a haunting portrait of Germany between the two world wars.... Both methodical and acutely sensitive, this book is a wonderful achievement."
—Publisher's Weekly (starred review)

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Keilson, Comedy in a Minor Key

"[Keilson's novels] are masterpieces, and Hans Keilson is a genius.... An eloquent translation by Damion Searls.... Read [Keilson's novels] and join me in adding him to the list...of the world's very greatest writers."
—Francine Prose, NY Times Book Review cover page

"His books [have] an uncanny, time-warp quality. Just as the Holocaust is slipping from living memory into history, he arrives bearing striking new testimony." —Adam Kirsch, Tablet

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"This first-ever English translation of Keilson's gripping 1947 novel... marks a welcome reintroduction to the author's unfortunately obscure oeuvre.... Beautifully nuanced and moving."
—Publishers Weekly

"This fast-paced book, translated by Damion Searls, is a jewel.... Eerie, intense... the book's strength lies in the artful way Keilson reveals the inner emotions of rescuer and fugitive."
Boston Globe

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Nescio, Amsterdam Stories

"Crushing beauty.... Many of you have been waiting for Amsterdam Stories; those of you who reread "For Esmé - with Love and Squalor," who had (or have) world changing dreams and no longer know what to do or believe or feel about them, who aren't sure what to think when sitting in coffee shops watching people walk by, who don't know what to say when you see an old friend for the first time in years and realize how much you have changed by how much your friend has changed.... Who want brave and beautiful stories. Who want fiction to remind us why this is important.... For me, reading Amsterdam Stories was like watching Casablanca."
The Millions

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"A wry humour is at work... [and] a powerful and profound sense of the ending of things.... The three main stories in this book deliver riches that defy their brevity. Nescio is revered in the Netherlands and Germany, and this generous little book shows why."
The Irish Times

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Thoreau, The Journal

"Searls's sensitive editing casts new light on Thoreau's abiding fascination[s].... This is a superb and uniquely accessible edition of an essential American masterpiece."Booklist

"'He is the richest,' Henry David Thoreau wrote, 'who has most use for nature as raw material of tropes and symbols with which to describe his life.' Clearly, Thoreau was the wealthiest man in Concord. And we are richer now that Damion Searls has unearthed new Thoreauvian treasures for the rest of us — a 10th of the two-million-word journal, far more than ever before available in a single volume. Here, in some of the most vigorous and original prose in English, we find the origins of Walden and the other books, but we also find that the journal was a work of art in itself."
—Michael Sims, Washington Post

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"Damion Searls, the editor of this volume, offers it as an abridgement. This makes good sense.... 'Good writing as well as good acting will be obedience to conscience,' Thoreau wrote on January 26, 1841. 'If we can listen, we shall hear. By reverently listening to the inner voice, we may reinstate ourselves on the pinnacle of humanity.' The intimacy in his voice resulted from his refusal to divorce aesthetic choices from moral ones. Thoreau wrote best when he wrote for himself. One reads him best when reading for oneself."
—John Summers, The New Republic

"Walden is surely one of the greatest American books. Yet the Journal that Thoreau kept from 1837 to 1861 may have a claim to be even greater.... More than any previous version, [this edition] allows a direct encounter with this great work and approximates the experience of reading the whole.... Searls has an extraordinary sensitivity to Thoreau's language and to his intentions for the Journal." —Geoff Wisner, Quarterly Conversation

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Rilke, The Inner Sky: Poems, Notes, Dreams

"Damion Searls wipes clean the often-foggy lens through which non-German readers of Rilke have hitherto experienced him, and the result feels like a dream in which you can understand perfectly a language you didn't think you knew. Rilke's thrilling precision and disorientations and purposefulness are all suddenly there, in English. This book is a great way to embark or re-embark on the adventure of reading him." —Jonathan Franzen

"[These] translations of Rilke are wonderfully fresh and concentrated, and catch superbly that intent, listening quality which is perhaps the essential characteristic of this great poet's work. Rilke continues to fascinate, and in Searls we have a fascinating new interpreter." —John Banville


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"Reading these pages is like pulling out your pockets expecting to find nothing but lining, and discovering instead a neglected roll of bills. Pieces of Rilke's oeuvre have been led out of the shadows by Damion Searls's original and revelatory translation to alter our understanding of the whole." —William Gass

"Translating Rilke means entering quite an established literary tradition, one that is not lost on translator Damion Searls. Searls dedicates The Inner Sky to poet Anne Carson and previous Rilke translators and well-known literati Stephen Mitchell and Edward Snow. Winner of PEN and Fulbright awards, Searls endeavors to translate with "vigor and mysterious simplicity"; his rendering is as unconventional as it is enjoyable. His English, as he describes it in the collection's thoughtful afterword, highlights its Germanic ties to Rilke's "tongue-twistingly assonant" original language, oftentimes with an unusual twist in the English. No matter their level of familiarity with Rilke, The Inner Sky belongs on the bookshelf of any literature lover, thanks largely to Searls' deft translation and grouping of Rilke's work. This nontraditional collection predates prose poetry and short-short fiction, yet speaks to these contemporary styles of new craft." —Rachel Mennies, ForeWord Magazine

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Melville, ;or The Whale

"Decidedly quixotic." (The Globe and Mail)

"Weird, atmospheric, and compelling.... Once you begin reading this, it's bizarrely difficult to stop." (The Rumpus)

 

Fosse, Melancholy

"A tenuous but profoundly moving work of art. The only question I have is why, since Fosse is as good as this, I haven't heard of him before now." (Brian Evenson)

One of the top ten books about boredom of all time (Guardian UK)

"A tour de force of writing.... [There are] frightening hallucinatory moments when past and present blend in remarkable verbal collages of stunning, quickly tumbling images." (Vertigo: Collecting and Reading W. G. Sebald)

 

Ugrešić, Thank You For Not Reading

"Effervescent prose" (Village Voice)

"A fast-moving, brilliant compendium of reflections and polemics about contemporary literary culture. . . . It also made me laugh out loud on at least a dozen occasions. . . . It is hard in a short space to do justice to the sparkling, Flaubertian satire and profound anthropological quality of these essays. . . . [Ugrešić] is a writer, and this is a book, to be treasured." (Guardian UK)

"Savage, quotable and perceptive. . . . I held my breath while I raced through this entertaining volume, hoping against hope that Ugresic would sustain Thank You For Not Reading to the last page. The good news is that she does, triumphantly. But you will have to buy it to find out how." (The Observer)

"Blessed with an ample supply of sly and self-deprecating wit... wickedly trenchant meditations" (Washington Post)

 

Johnson, A Trip to Klagenfurt

"Searls's [is a] new, more powerful, translation of Bachmann's story, 'Youth in an Austrian Town.'" (Review of Contemporary Fiction)

"A celebration of one author by another, a book of the same caliber as Charles Olson's Call Me Ishmael, Samuel Beckett's Proust, or Henry James's Hawthorne.... ['Youth in an Austrian Town'] in a new translation by Damion Searls [is] lyrical yet clinically precise...." (Thomas McGonigle, Bookforum)

 

Bachmann, Letters to Felician

This edition and selection is the basis for the French translation.

"The publication of a slender volume of Bachmann's letters to a fictional addressee, written when she was eighteen, encourages us to ask why an indisputably major writer should have remained so little known here"—mostly an essay on Bachmann's novel Malina and Bachmann in general (Robert Boyers, Harper's [subscription req'd])

 

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