The Swiss-German author Ludwig Hohl (1904-1980) wrote the unusual short stories in this collection in the 1930's and published them in 1943. When Adolf Muschg convinced Siegfried Unseld, the head of the great German literary publishing house Suhrkamp Verlag, in the early 1970's to read some of Hohl's work, Unseld was impressed and started publishing Hohl's texts, most for the first time. Among these was a new edition of Nächtlicher Weg (Nocturnal Way/Path), for which Hohl revised the stories in the first edition, dropping some of them entirely. There is a French translation with the title Chemin de nuit , but there does not appear to be an English translation at this point.
How can one describe the strange little stories in this book? They are parables, allegories, meditations, anything except stories with characters and plots. The shortest are like parables, written to make a point by poetic means. In "Der Igel" ("The Porcupine") a sad little couple, living in a wasteland at the outskirts of a city and feeling as if the masses of air and cloud above will crush them, find a porcupine in their garden. This sign from fate/heaven signals that they may have something to hope for. But the porcupine grows and grows and slowly tranforms itself into an enormous elefant, which destroys their house and lives, leaving them with nothing. This story is told with a curious mix of irony and straight narrative with little or no compassion for the luckless couple. Though surreal, the language used is hard and direct.(*)
Somewhere Hohl wrote
Die Erwägung, ob etwas kompliziert und neu aussehe und dichterisch genug für gewisse Leute, hat mich nie leiten können. Es kam mir auf etwas ganz anderes an: vielleicht den Hitzegrad; oder den Härtegrad.
(The consideration whether something appears complicated and new and sufficiently poetic for certain people was never able to guide me. I was concerned with something quite different: perhaps the degree of heat; or the degree of hardness.) Unlike many such pronouncements from authors, I find this one quite apt. Hohl forged a characteristic, hard language; he looked hard and close at what interested him. Occasionally he looks so closely that time seems to stop, and one enters a dreamlike state of super-realism.
Themes and phrases echo from story to story, are re-examined, change their nature. In "Der Suchende" ("The Seeker") phrases from the previous story "Landschaften" ("Landscapes") reappear and, as in "Der Igel", the object of the narration's interest is a person who desperately needs a little sign of grace from fate. But here the outcome is quite different, and not in the expected manner.
The title story, at 30 pages the longest in the book, is, at least partially, about the necessity and extreme difficulty of compassion, of direct human contact, and transforms itself into a meditation about how one can morally deal with both the necessity and the difficulty. I reluctantly leave that remark standing only as orientation, for what I wrote is abstract, and the text is not, at all.
Hohl was an untrained, nonacademic philosopher; his major texts (like Die Notizen ) are idiosyncratic musings located somewhere between Montaigne's Essais and Lichtenberg's Aphorismen . This is reflected in his fictions, but, at least for my taste, these are not just clumsy vessels for his thoughts, for Hohl thought very concretely, not abstractly.
Friedrich Dürrenmatt wrote, referring to contemporary authors, "Hohl ist notwendig, wir sind zufällig. Wir dokumentieren das Menschliche, Hohl legt es fest." (Hohl is necessary, we are incidental. We document that which is human, Hohl determines/fixes/defines it.) I wouldn't go quite that far in dismissing all other contemporary authors, but I agree that there is something essential about Hohl's writings. Hohl's work is certainly not for everyone, but I really like his hard-nosed poetics and his concrete philosophy. Perhaps you will, too.
(*) But that Hohl is quite capable of empathy is made amply clear in the lovely final story, "Drei alte Weiber in einem Bergdorf" ("Three Old Women in a Mountain Village"), in which he sensitively profiles three such women.