Friedrich Torberg’s Young Gerber (Der Schüler Gerber) is an almost unbearably moving classic novel, which tells of a schoolboy driven to madness, and ultimately tragedy, by his bullying form teacher.
Kurt Gerber is an 18-year-old Austrian boy starting is last year at school, and preparing for the final exam which will determine his entire future career. However, his initial enthusiasm quickly turns into despair as he allows himself to be drawn into a war of wills and personalities with his sadistic, almost psychopathic, form teacher ‘Lord God’ Kupfer. Soon the formerly ordered classroom turns into their battlefield, and as Kurt’s once-promising future begins to dissolve before his eyes, it seems that there is ultimately only one way out for him.
Written in 1930 and prompted by a recent wave of schoolboy suicides, Friedrich Torberg’s Young Gerber is a classic of Austrian literature. This is a deeply-felt, unforgettable novel about teenage conflict and classroom angst, taking in the timeless subjects of pupil-teacher confrontation, the pain of unrequited love, the struggle with parental love and authority, psychological disintegration and suicide. More than a schoolboy novel, Torberg’s Young Gerber stands as an allegory of life itself.
Translated from the German by Anthea Bell, Young Gerber is published by Pushkin Press.
‘A perceptive…visionary insight into the panorama of our existence’
— Max Brod
‘[Kupfer] is magnificently conceived, with a sizzling hate that burns through the pages … For many years I have not held a book in my hands which expresses that … “school-feeling” as memorably as here … It is a living book.’
Friedrich Torberg (1908-1979) was a novelist, poet, essayist, sports journalist, critic, translator and, briefly, a Hollywood screenwriter.
Born, like Franz Kafka, into a German-speaking Jewish family, Torberg began his career in Vienna and Prague (where he also became a champion water polo player). In 1938, facing Nazi persecution, he emigrated to France and eventually to the US. Following a spell in Hollywood with Bertold Brecht and Thomas Mann, Friedrich Torberg worked as a journalist, theatre critic and translator in New York before returning to Vienna in 1951.
Having passed his final-year school exam only at the second attempt, Torberg wrote his debut novel Young Gerber (Der Schüler Gerber) at the startling age of 22; it marked his fiction debut, and was championed by Max Brod and published by Paul Zsolnay in 1930.
From 1951 until his death in 1979, he lived as a celebrated novelist, editor of the anti-communist magazine FORVM and translator (of Ephraim Kishon amongst others). Later works by Torberg include the novels Aunt Jolesch (Tante Jolesch), The Team (Die Mannschaft), Vienna Was that, Too (Auch das War Wien, filmed by Wolfgang Glück in 1986 and nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film), as well as poetry and non-fiction. When he died, he was buried alongside Arthur Schnitzler in Vienna’s Central Cemetery.