German author, journalist and playwright, b. Dresden 1899-02-23, d. Munich 1974-07-29. Most famous for his many books for young readers.
Kästner studied German, history, philosphy and theatre history in Leipzig, Rostock and Berlin after returning from his military service in World War I. While in Leipzig, he got his first job at a newspaper, starting a career that few writers of his time would equal. In 1925, he got his Ph.D. and two years later was fired from the newspaper for publishing a rather explicit, by the standards of the times, erotic poem which partly spoofed Beethoven in the centennial year of his death.
After this dismissal he moved to Berlin to take a highly underpaid job as a film critic and started working on his first books. Already the next year, his first Emil book was an instant hit. For the next five years he enjoyed much success but had his second run-in with censorship when he was forced to strike three chapters from Fabian, a
commentary on Berlin society.
In 1933, Fabian was classified as "smut" and Kästner became one of the first authors to see his books burned by the Nazis in the distinguished company of the works of
Hemingway, Joyce and many others. He ignored all advice to flee Berlin but stayed on to be a "witness to injustice." Being a critical spirit and pacifist, he was forbidden to publish in Germany but was permitted to sell his work abroad.
The remainder of the Nazi era saw him more or less on the run. Through a combination of good luck and wisely avoiding mass arrests by not being at the wrong place at the wrong time, he survived until 1944, even managing to write the script for the film Münchhausen under an assumed name in 1942. Hitler himself is reported to have been outraged when he found out and Kästner was altogether forbidden from practicing his profession. 1944 saw a friend rescue him and his partner from a spate of mass
arrests which cost several of his friends their lives. He spent the rest of the war in Tirol posing as a member of a bogus film crew pretending to shoot a film with empty
After the war he moved to Munich and remained there. He was asked by the American occupation forces to resume writing for local publications, started a new theatre and
founded an organisation to bring families back together after the war. He started writing books, poetry and plays again which were no less popular after the war than
they had been before. He published Notabene 45, a sort of diary he kept which he was forbidden to write and his comedy Die Schule der Diktatoren (The Dictators' School)
premiered in 1957. Always an enemy of reactionaries, his works were being symbolically burned by radical conservative organisations as late as 1965.
His work, for having been written fifty and seventy years ago is still remarkably current. Many of his novels included autobiographical elements and the things he mentions still happen to people. The relationships between people and between people and the government have really not changed much. When he says "when I was a little boy," he is in many ways providing a true record of life before World War I. When he examines the faults of society, they're pretty much still there. He may not have the recognition of giants like Hermann Hesse and Heinrich Böll outside
his homeland but is one of the most important literary figures of pre and postwar Germany.
For the most part, I've kept the German names of the books
- Drei Männer im Schnee (1928)
- Emil und die Detektive (1928)
Published in English as Emil and the Detectives
- Pünktchen und Anton (1931)
- Fabian (1931)
- Der 35.Mai (1931)
- Das fliegende Klassenzimmer (1933)
- Emil und die drei Zwillinge (1934)
- Die verschwundene Miniatur (1935)
- Der kleine Grenzverkehr (1938)
- Konferenz der Tiere (1949)
- Das doppelte Lottchen (1949)
Translated and filmed as The Parent Trap
- Der kleine Mann (1963)
- Herz auf Taille (1928)
- Lärm in Spiegel (1929)
- Ein Mann gibt Auskunft (1930)
- Gesang zwischen den Stuhlen (1932)
- Bei Durchsicht meiner Bücher (1946)
Classics rewritten by Kästner:
Too many to mention individually, mostly bits of information I translated myself
Original text for E2