German World’s Book List
Read What Germany is Reading - Selection and reviews by Eva-Maria Manz
German journalist Eva-Maria Manz is the author of this new column on www.german-world.com and will introduce and review recent releases of German literature on a regular basis. Eva-Maria Manz writes as a literary critic for several German newspapers, studied literary and cultural theory at the University of Tuebingen, and is currently working on her PhD thesis at the University of Marburg.
Here are some reading suggestions for long winter nights:
# 1 Clemens J. Setz “Die Liebe zur Zeit des Mahlstädter Kindes” (Suhrkamp Verlag)
Clemens J. Setz is being touted as the new prodigy of German literature. Born in 1982, the German scholar and mathematician won this year’s Leipzig Book Fair Prize with his novel “Die Liebe zur Zeit des Mahlstädter Kindes“ (Love in the Times of the Mahlstädter Child). Setz’s intellectualism, which has “the charm of everyday mental gymnastics,” and the uncommon portrayal of uncanny subjects, according to literary critic Ingeborg Harms, were what so impressed the jury. The eighteen short stories in the volume deal with child abuse, suicide or sadomasochism. The transition between reality and the absurd dream-like scenarios is often blurred. A lonely woman suddenly grows wings, for instance, “dirty rosy-colored, vulnerable looking skin formations.” Noteworthy is also the story for which the volume is named. In a village an artist sets up a clay sculpture of a sitting child. He is convinced that “no artist has ever dared claim a monopoly on the completion of his artwork” and thus invites the village inhabitants to “complete” the figure “with blows, kicks, tools, or, if necessary, even with weapons.” After a period of embarrassment the inhabitants start beating the sculpture to make it “become a better person.””"
The dark stories are permeated with an unusual black humor, create hope through the ever recurring element of music, and know how to evoke empathy in the reader for the droll characters.
# 2 Arno Geiger: Der alte König in seinem Exil (Hanser)
Arno Geiger’s “Der alte König in seinem Exil” (The Old King in his Exile) is not the first German-language novel in which an author grapples with his father’s Alzheimer’s in literary form, but this spring Arno Geiger received great acclaim from the media for his novel and was promptly nominated for the Leipzig Book Fair shortlist. In a poetically convincing manner he portrays how his father gradually declines mentally, yet continually surprises his family anew with his wit, wisdom, and remarkable ideas. In what merely appears to be meaningless and often quite poetic sentences the narrator discovers that his father can still shine with charm, dignity and self-awareness. Arno Geiger’s novel is animated and often very comical. Deeply moving, it recounts a life that is still worth living.
# 3 Susanne Heinrich: Amerikanische Gefühle (DuMont)
Born in 1985, Berlin author Susanne Heinrich spent last year on a fellowship at the Villa Aurora in Pacific Palisades, CA. There the young author worked on her recently published volume of short stories “Amerikanische Gefühle” (American Sensibilities) “Amerikanische Gefühle” raises the question of what actually can be written, told and felt that never existed before. The unpretentious subtitle of the volume is “stories of men and women.”
The protagonists are in their mid-twenties and are experimenting with new forms of intimacy, beginning open relationships and at times stumbling over the chasm between their desires and those of others. These young people run up against the question of how much security they seek and how much freedom they can take. The sexuality never loses its inquiring manner and represents the innumerable incomprehensibilities of love relationships. Heinrich’s protagonists ask the question: “Why should I not be able to live a dozen lives on a dozen planets?”
Introduced as a tabula rasa – without a word about their childhood, fortunately not an attempt to explain a behavior this way – the protagonists are nevertheless not blank pages. That they act as if they were, and dare to do anything, is the hallmark of being young. Whether the protagonists will eventually arrive somewhere is not clear. All they know is “I was hell-bent on doing something, but had no idea what.”
Hans Fallada: Jeder stirbt für sich allein (Aufbau)
This novel, first published in 1947 in East Germany in a stripped-down version, is now available as an unabridged edition on the German book market for the first time and is already a success in Germany. Fallada created this novel around an actual case of private resistance to the Nazi regime and constructs a dark atmosphere of mistrust, observation and fear.
Ulla Hahn: Aufbruch (dtv)
Her life seems predestined: children, kitchen, church. But Hilla dreams of a different life than what is possible in her small German town. Nothing can make this child of poor working-class parents stop thinking about the freedom of the mind. Almost unexpectedly the chance to begin a new life appears: high school, graduation, university; Hilla’s self-chosen future lies before her.
Zsuzsa Bank: Die hellen Tage (S. Fischer)
This story evolves around the childhood of Seri, Karl and Aja in a small village in Southern Germany in the 1960s. Their families could not be more different, and the tragic loss of fathers and brothers brings them even closer together. Zsusa Bank’s novel narrates the story through half of their lives. When the three friends take off for studies in Rome, this marks the turning point in their lives and friendship.
David Albahari: Die Kuh ist ein einsames Tier (Eichborn)
Serbia was the guest country at the Leipzig Book Fair and this Serbian book was among the most popular presented at the book fair. David Albahari expresses himself in stories as concisely and poignantly as possible, demonstrating his linguistic talent, wit, sense of humor and melancholy. These are stories that can be read in just a few minutes, but contain long-lasting truth about love, sadness and everything else. Translated by Klaus Wittmann and Mirjana Wittmann.
Rita Falk: Dampfnudelblues (dtv)
In Niederkaltenkirchen, a very small German town, crime scene investigations are in progress. In this thriller Rita Falk does not focus primarily on the crime that has happened, but more on the humorous elements that come with the odd and down-to-earth small town characters in Bavaria.
Klaus Modick: Sunset (Eichborn)
Lion Feuchtwanger, Bertolt Brecht and the California exile – these are the main topics of this new novel by Klaus Modick.
The Jewish-German writer Lion Feuchtwanger and his wife Marta lived in Pacific Palisades, California, internationally famous and well-to-do residing in the Villa Aurora that overlooks the bay of Santa Monica. But their lives are overshadowed by the McCarthy collaborators in 1956. Feuchtwanger was the last one of many German artists living in exile in California. When he receives the news about Bertolt Brecht’s death one morning he is deeply shocked. He had discovered Brecht’s talent, supported him for many years, and had become close friends with him. Through a silent dialogue between the dead Brecht and Feuchtwanger the connections in the lives of Feuchtwanger and Brecht are narrated. A must-read for everybody who has visited the Villa Aurora or who lives in L.A.
Kerstin Decker: Lou-Andreas Salome. Der bittersüsse Funke Ich. (Propyläen)
Was she a muse or a monster? For some influential men including Friedrich Nietzsche, Rainer Maria Rilke and Sigmund Freud she was both. She only accepted the marriage offer from the Orientalist Friedrich Carl Andreas on the condition that she never had to share a bed with him, and she wrote impressive books about Ibsen, Nietzsche, Rilke, about Jesus and God, about femininity, erotics and psycho-sexuality.
Thomas Welskopp: Amerikas große Ernüchterung. Eine Kulturgeschichte der Prohibition (Ferdinand Schöningh)
University history professor Thomas Welskopp writes about the American prohibition in the 1920s. The author analyzes the dramatic correlations between this new law at the time and a changing American society.
Jörg Scheller: No Sports! Zur Aesthetik des Bodybuildings (Franz Steiner)
We often secretly laugh at bodybuilders, but the truth is that they reveal much about our body-obsessed society and about aesthetics and perfectionism. Jörg Scheller sees bodybuilders as postmodern sculptors working with the idea of the human who can form or even create himself.
Eckart von Hirschhausen: Glück kommt selten allein (Rowohlt)
In this hilarious novel Eckart von Hirschhausen writes about the possibility of finding one’s own way of becoming happy and content. Positive psychology proves, says Hirschhausen, that self-fulfillment and satisfaction are not determined by destiny, but are the product of the thoughts and actions of everyday life. Happiness is doable.
Herta Müller: Immer derselbe Schnee und immer derselbe Onkel (Carl Hanser)
Herta Müller became famous with her novels and even won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2009. The Romanian-born German novelist writes about her special mode of writing in this new book. This book could also be seen as an approach to her very special language and writings.