To recognize what is absurd and to accept it need not dim the eye for the tragic side of existence, quite on the contrary, in the end it may perhaps help in gaining a more tolerant view of the world.
—Gregor von Rezzori, The Snows of Yesteryear

The prolific Swiss writer Urs Widmer is a prominent figure in German literature, yet he is all but unknown to English readers. He has written more than two dozen works of fiction, almost thirty radio plays, a dozen theater plays, and a half dozen collections of essays, including those he delivered in the prestigious Frankfurt Poetics Lectures series in 2006.

His writing, though serious and finely crafted, is full of tomfoolery, wry deadpan humor, and implausible plot twists. One of his novels, for example, is narrated by a two-inch plastic dwarf. Still, a powerful current of pathos flows beneath Widmer’s antic surfa ...