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the Complete Review
the complete review - graphic / fiction

The City

Frans Masereel

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To purchase The City

Title: The City
Author: Frans Masereel
Genre: Novel
Written: 1925
Length: 112 pages
Original in: (German)
Availability: The City - US
The City - UK
The City - Canada
The City - India
La ville - France
Die Stadt - Deutschland
La città - Italia
La ciudad - España
  • A Vision in Woodcuts
  • Originally published in Germany as Die Stadt

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Our Assessment:

(--) : impressive, but more art-book/collection than literary work

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       The City is more album than narrative, offering both cityscapes and interiors as it presents snapshots of all facets of early twentieth century European urban life in a hundred woodcut prints, the only words those on a few signs, posters, and the like in the background. The City is all imagery, and an essentially wordless tale; there's arguably little sequence, here, either: it can be seen as a day-in-the-life (admittedly a very tumultuous one) of a (very) anonymous metropolis, but Masereel's black and white woodcuts could be presented in any order without changing the overall impression.
       Birth, death -- often violent --, sex, work, diversions and entertainment, traffic, politics, family life: The City covers a great deal. Many of the images are of dense crowds and teeming streets. Others show only a few characters, though only in a few -- a nearly empty café, for example -- is there a sense of desolation. Despair is more common: in several cases there are isolated impoverished figures among the well-to-do, or shown alone, in their own misery -- but there is also a better-off suicide, a man who hanged himself in well-heeled surroundings.
       Masereel presents a few stark contrasts -- the beggar near the rich -- but more often presents more complicated situations. Even as these are only snapshots of a specific moment -- a family at home, a riled-up crowd -- it's easy to read a larger story into each. Not, however, into the whole: The City remains impressionistic, defying being easily tied together by some common thread or character.
       It's a portrait of a place and time, and clearly depicts 1920s Europe, yet The City remains surprisingly universal and contemporary. Its crowd scenes, in so many places -- from a museum to a courtroom to restaurants and, especially, on the streets -- repeatedly depict a density of life that was then still relatively new (but has become the urban norm).
       The black and white woodcuts, and the lack of any real narrative also reinforce another new notion: the anonymity of the city, the individual lost in the crowd. Typical is a scene of a funeral, with masses lining the street -- and, most prominently, a man on a ladder capturing the event on film (another relatively new possibility, that has also become widespread) -- yet several of the figures in the foreground take no notice and, indeed, are turned the other way (and include a pickpocket).
       The City is dark but attractive little volume, which continues to hold appeal.

- M.A.Orthofer, 20 September 2011

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The City: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Flemish artist Frans Masereel lived 1889 to 1972.

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© 2011-2021 the complete review

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