Features » Literature

Here we introduce the most talked about books of the spring season 2006. The German newspapers have long and (for us) tedious names, so we use abbreviations. Here a key to them.


Books this Season: Fiction

Spring 2006

Fiction / Nonfiction

German-language writers

It's time to come out of hibernation and go out into the world again. There's many a budding traveller in German literature this spring. The most cosmopolitan is certainly Ilija Trojanow's roguish "Der Weltensammler" (The collector of worlds), about the 19th century British colonial officer Richard F. Burton, who spent his time travelling around and spying on Asia and Africa. Burton forged links with foreign cultures by fitting in, learning their languages, learning how the locals dressed, ate and, if necessary, worshipped. He was the first European to visit Mecca and Medina. A life led to the full, which the critics found well told. They were particularly taken by Trojanow's addition of local voices, from servants to bureaucrats, to complement the views and thoughts of the intrepid Briton. It is this polyphony that lifts the story above level of the exotic novel, writes Die Zeit, and makes it a "highly up-to-date dialogue about otherness and the other." And the SZ found the book which won the Leipzig Book Fair Prize "so enthralling and intelligent" that it was at a loss for comparisons. See our feature "The collector of worlds" for a full review.

Sibylle Levitcharoff's school teacher hero travels further still - in "Consummatus" - into the land of the dead to retrieve his loved one. There he meets Bob Dylan, Jesus, Nico, Andy Warhol and Jim Morrison. Die Zeit is awestruck by the copious amounts of "divine perception which could not be less religious" steering resolutely clear of the esoteric. The FR attests to its wit and buoyancy and the FAZ is impressed by the writer's "shimmering linguistic clout."

Katharina Hacker's "Habenichtse" or "have-nots" are a stylish couple from Berlin with stylish jobs in the stylish metropole of London. The critics agree that the title does not refer to their poor neighbours but to the hollow Germans. These can only watch with confusion as their life goes off the rails, taking as its victim the neighbour's child. The taz applauds Hacker's laconic telling of a gruesome tale. Die Zeit sees a clever critique of the times. But the taz reviewer Jörg Magenau declares that his appetite for eternal life had been spoiled.

Feridun Zaimoglu's heroine "Leyla" goes – right at the end of the book – to Germany, to join her husband. Most of this much-lauded novel, though, takes place in Leyla's Anatolian village, where she grows up in the 50s with her mother, brothers, sisters, and their fiery-tempered and violent father. The reviewers hungrily devoured the opportunity to get to know some first generation Turkish immigrants. Die Zeit learned that obedience to one's father is more important than religious belief. The FR was amazed to report that it was the women in the novel who were the "more interesting, psychologically sophisticated protagonists." The FAZ admired Zaimoglu's "art of empathising with his characters."
See our feature "From Turkish boy to German writer" by Feridun Zaimoglu.

Clemens Meyer's heroes are gripping tightly onto their schnapps glasses, in steely determination not to step even one millimetre outside their Leipzig suburb – with the only exception of going to prison. This 524-page debut novel "Als wir träumten" (While we were dreaming) was well received by the critics. The FAZ declares it "an important novel" about East German youth post reunification. For Die Zeit, "the small mean daily struggle to survive" is portrayed as greater than any historical upheavals. And the FR is reminded of Jean Genet. Only Sigrid Löffler in Literaturen felt completely alienated: "Everything centres round one torpid key sentence: My god, this is so shit.' And sadly this is true."

More rave reviews went to Norbert Zähringer's "Als ich schlief" (As I was sleeping). The people in the novel are an impressive collection: an African refugee, a security guard from Berlin, an Iranian doctor, and a first-person narrator in a waking coma – all linked together in a daredevil construction. A warm welcome also went out to the boarding school book set in the 70s: "Warum du mich verlassen hast" (Why you left me) by the FAZ correspondent Paul Ingendaay. Ingendaay delivers a brilliant description of boarding school life with its horrifying underbelly and secret desires, Die Zeit concludes. The SZ found it "uplifting".

Eastern European writers

Vladimir Sorokin's previous book "Lyod" (Ice) was about about a mystical and murderous brotherhood which worshipped a meteorite that landed in the Siberian Taiga in 1908. "Bro", the prequel, tells the story of the man who founded the sect. Wolfgang Schneider in the FAZ confesses to being a dyed-in-the-wool Sorokin fan. He admires the author's "evilly gnostic view" of the atrociousness of life which is worthy of Romanian philosopher Emil Cioran. The SZ was impressed by the "deadly seriousness" of the book, in which Sorokin the "provocateur and rabble rouser" reveals himself only at the end. Readers are recommended to switch off the rational side off their brains.

Dzevad Karahasan's "Der nächtliche Rat" (Nightly advice) tells the story of Simon, a Bosnian who after living in exile in Berlin for 25 years moves back to his home town of Foca in 1991, on the eve of the civil war in an atmosphere thick with fear and fanaticism. The novel is deeply submerged in mythology, telling how Simon is suspected of the brutal murder of his childhood sweetheart as well as three other killings. The NZZ is astounded by Karahasan's elegant and powerful description of people's rising aggressions in a novel it describes as gripping, historical, precise, witty and rich in ideas.

Fiction / Nonfiction - let's talk european