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Max Frisch: Stiller (I’m not Stiller)

This novel is primarily the journal of Stiller or, rather, as the English title implies, the man who is not Stiller. (The last part of the journal is the testimony of the state prosecutor.) Six years previously, the sculptor Anatol Stiller had disappeared. He was married to the dancer Julika Tschudy, who was very ill with tuberculosis at the time of his disappearance. An American is stopped at the Swiss border and arrested on suspicion of being a Soviet spy but then the Swiss authorities are determined that he is Stiller. At the state prosecutor’s suggestion, he keeps the journal while in prison. Throughout the journal, he maintains that he is not Stiller but the American Jim White, though the courts find otherwise. The journal is filled with his observations, his travels (which may or may not be true) and his meetings with Julika.

Of course, this book is concerned with many of the preoccupations of the twentieth century writer. Are we who we say we are or are we who someone else says we are? What is truth and who can claim to say what is truth? And, as a Swiss writer, he is concerned with the clockwork cleanliness of Switzerland. Is the Swiss way of life the way of life that we should be aiming for or should be have a few extralegal excitements in our life, such as murder? None of these is an original idea as they are littered around twentieth century literature but it is Frisch’s gift to pose these questions in a truly original way.

Publishing history

First published in German 1954 by Suhrkamp
First English translation in 1958 by Abelard-Schuman
Translated by Michael Bullock