(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

I’m Not Stiller is the story of a man’s fight to deny his past and to create a new identity for himself. At every juncture he is forced to confront the image of the man he once was and does not want to be. Anatol Stiller’s story is told in two parts: in the accounts recorded in seven notebooks written by Stiller/ White in prison, and in a postscript written by Rolf, Stiller’s public prosecutor and friend.

On one level, the prison notebooks reveal the story of Anatol Stiller, a failure trying to be a hero. After proving himself a coward in the Spanish Civil War, the mediocre sculptor Stiller, insecure about his masculinity, marries a ballerina, Julika, a beautiful but frigid woman. Unsuccessful in his attempts to bring out the “woman” in his wife, the restless and moody Stiller embarks on an affair with Sybelle. Meanwhile, his tubercular wife is confined to a sanatorium in Davos. Haunted by guilt and abused by his mistress, Stiller jumps a ship to the United States. After several years of drifting through the American wasteland, Stiller tries to put a bullet through his head, narrowly escaping suicide. Confronted by an inexpressible presence, which he calls his angel, Stiller considers himself reborn and returns home to Switzerland, where he is arrested and put on trial to prove to him his identity.

On another level, Stiller’s notebooks document his struggle to maintain his fabricated identity as James White, a smuggler,...

(The entire section is 444 words.)