Critical Evaluation

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Fate plays a major role in Max Frisch’s Homo Faber, as do sudden and often unexplained jumps in time and location for the narrator and protagonist, Walter Faber. Although the book is presented in diary form, its plot is nonlinear, and the reader learns almost everything in bursts of often-foreshadowed narrative.

Homo Faber has remained Frisch’s most widely read novel, in contrast to his more modern novels Stiller (1954; I’m Not Stiller, 1958), Mein Name sei Gantenbein (1964; A Wilderness of Mirrors, 1965), and Der Mensch erscheint im Holozän (1979; Man in the Holocene, 1980). Though far from being equal to the German-language original, Michael Bullock’s English translation has remained in print since its publication two years after the original. The book retains its appeal in English most likely because of the conceit of the novel, Faber’s tragic blindness and refusal to accept that a force beyond his sense of reason may be in play, and the tragic price he pays for his hubris. Finally, Frisch artfully reveals by dabs and droplets the compelling, suspenseful content by means of Faber’s “report,” another reason the novel has retained its appeal.

A pessimist about modern existence, Frisch has written a story—rife with mythological overtones and a mixture of confession, sublimation, avoidance of responsibility, mental and physical disease, and unwitting breaking of taboos—that is timeless. The story has enduring relevance as a tale of the mental and moral conditions of humankind. Deservedly, Frisch stands in the front rank of post-World War II European writers.

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Critical Context