Poetry News

NPR Summer Reads: Adalbert Stifter's Rock Crystal

By Harriet Staff

Rock Crystal

Oh *man* this book is so *good!* We're so happy to see it in the spotlight at *NPR!* Susan Choi, author of the recently published book My Education, brings Adalbert Stifter's classic novella, Rock Crystal to the table at NPR's You Must Read This. New York Review of Books Classics published this most recent edition of Rock Crystal and it is translated into English by Marianne Moore and Elizabeth Mayer, with an introduction by W.H. Auden.

Long, long ago — maybe some time in the 17th century — and far, far away — but almost certainly somewhere in the Alps — two valleys lay next to each other, ringed by high mountains and linked by a sole, lonely path. One unusually warm Christmas Eve two children set out on the path from the northward valley, through pine forest and over the pass, to visit their grandmother in the valley to the south.

Conrad and little Sanna set out early, arrive in time for lunch, and are kissed and showered with gifts by their adoring grandmother. But she insists that they start for home early. The temperature is dropping. Ice is forming on the puddles in the road. As Conrad and Sanna climb the path back toward home, a snowfall begins. It's a snowfall the villagers later call once in a century: "unprecedented unwearying" and "voracious." The children climb and climb, but their path never descends as it should; they never find their familiar landmarks.

So begins the all-but-forgotten Austrian writer Adalbert Stifter's 1845 novella Rock Crystal, every re-reading of which is, for me, exactly like the first time I read it: in a single sitting, with my heart in my mouth and my breath as frozen in my lungs as the mammoth glacier in the heart of which Conrad and Sanna soon find themselves.

Writing about Rock Crystal on the occasion of its superlative English translation by Elizabeth Mayer and Marianne Moore — yes, that Marianne Moore — no less than W.H. Auden noted that "to bring off, as Stifter does, a story of this kind, with its breathtaking risks of appalling banalities, is a great feat. What might so easily have been a tear-jerking melodrama becomes in his hands a quiet and beautiful parable about the relation of people to places, of man to nature."

You must read this!! Read more of Choi's review at NPR.