Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Bergner's Kafka

Apologies for the gap between posts: in my defence, I've been working behind the scenes lining up more interviews with book designers. Expect these to start popping up on the site soon.

In the meantime, here's a rather lovely cover I stumbled across, by an artist I didn't know.

It's a beautifully playful little sketch for Kafka's Metamorphosis, by now-Israeli artist Yosl Bergner. Bergner, born 1920, has had the sort of fascinating life that many Twentieth-Century Viennese-born Jews could probably have lived without. He and his father, Yiddish poet Melech Ravitch, moved to Warsaw, before wisely opting for Australia in 1937.

(In fact, a lot of European Jews came to Australia as refugees from Nazism, and for a while a bit of Australia was even considered as an alternative new Jewish homeland, a la Alaska in Michael Chabon's The Yiddish Policemen's Union. However, the plan faltered in part because, as Billy Connolly put it, it was feared the Jews would "wander into the nearby towns and frighten the locals".)

Bergner served in the Australian army, studied painting in Melbourne, and then moved to Israel in 1951.

Bergner's Still Life (1947), at the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne

Bergner has illustrated quite a few books, but most of them are incredibly rare. Aside from this cover for Clive Sinclair's Augustus Rex...

..all I've been able to find is this: from the Yossel Birstein Project at the Australian Centre for Jewish Civilisation, an archive of the Yiddish poems of another talented Polish-Australian-Israeli are some somewhat shaky scans of sketches Bergner did for a collection of Birstein's poetry (all available online at that site). (Click for bigger versions.)


Ian Koviak said...

I love penguin. They are one of these companies that just tries shit out and sees if it works...

These are great little finds....

JRSM said...

Thanks! I wish I could get hold of some of his other book work, but they're mostly tiny print-run, long OOP books of Hebrew folk tales and Yiddish poetry.

I agree re Penguin, too: sometimes I worry this blog is a bit too much of a Penguin fan site, but then they DO do a lot of great stuff (at least once you get away from the really populist Jeremy Clarkson-style rubbish).