Features » Literature

The German newspapers have long and (for us) tedious names, so we use abbreviations. Here a key to them


Books this Season: Nonfiction

Spring 2006

Fiction / Nonfiction

Political books

You can say what you want about Necla Kelek, one thing remains true: her books are among the most talked about in the feuilletons. After "Die fremde Braut" (The foreign bride, more here), now she turns to discuss the other half of Turkish Muslim society: the patriarchal fathers who rule over family life, the sons whose mothers decide who they will marry, and the brothers who control, and even punish, their sisters. The FAZ calls "Die verlorenen Söhne" (The lost sons) long overdue, while Die Zeit is somewhat put off by the rapid succession of generalisations that Kelek drops like other people do cashier's receipts. The taz applauds Kelek for switching the focus of her "worst of Islam" from the daughters to the sons, while the FR would have liked her to feature not only Turkish-born, but also German-born young men.
See our feature "Happier without father," an interview with Necla Kelek.

Other books this season deal with the integration of migrants, primarily Turkish, in Germany. Also recommended are "Das Kreuz mit den Werten" (Crossed values) in which Dilek Zaptcioglu and Jürgen Gottschlich compare and contrast German and Turkish "defining cultures", as well as Hilal Sezgin's "Typisch Türkin?" (Typically Turkish?), with portraits of successful and self-confident Turkish-German women.

"Anyone wanting to improve their understanding of Iran should read this book", writes the taz about Christopher de Bellaigue's "In the Rose Garden of the Martyrs", and the other critics agree. The former Iran correspondent for The Economist writes about embittered intellectuals, cynical war profiteers, critical Ayatollahs, sobered revolutionaries and army regiments that broke out in tears at Khomeini's radio announcements. The taz credits Bellaigue with an immense knowledge of his domain. Die Zeit discovers a country whose embittered population is ever more harshly oppressed by a band of corrupt theocrats. And the FR is astonished at the country's high culture of ceremonial hypocrisy.

Another book that's kicked up a lot of dust this season is Frank Schirrmacher's "Minimum". In it the FAZ publisher warns how a childless society can bring about the loss of close social ties. Paul Berman's "Idealisten an der Macht" (Idealists in power) has also received much critical attention, albeit ambivalent. The book portrays the generation of European Leftist who set out in 1968 to teach the world about morals and human rights.


Lars Brandt's very personal "Andenken" (Remembrance) of his father, former German chancellor Willy Brandt, has touched all critics. In it he tells of distinct moments, childhood memories of the Berlin governed by his father the mayor, fishing together, the atmosphere in the chancellor's villa in Bonn. The book is full of "good human feelings" and understanding for a complicated man, writes Gustav Seibt in the SZ. Martin Krumbholz is astonished in the NZZ how "cautiously, even indulgently" the author describes his father's aloofness. The FR believes it can detect a "deeply sorrowful core" to the book, while the FAZ is very impressed by the author's writing skills, stating that such a loving work ultimately says much for the person portrayed.

Die Zeit is shocked and fascinated by the career of Silvio Berlusconi, whose rise from construction speculator to media magnate and head of the Italian government is described by Alexander Stille in "Citizen Berlusconi". The paper is amazed at how little it knew about Berlusconi, particularly in relation to his Mafia contacts. The SZ and the taz also recommend Paul Ginsborg's pointed essay "Berlusconi". In it, the Florence-based historian warns against taking the politician too lightly. Because Berlusconi, Ginsborg writes, works unflinchingly on consolidating his personal power.

American founding father Benjamin Franklin was born 300 years ago. Two biographies have appeared simultaneously to mark the occasion, and both are well-received by the critics. The NZZ calls Jürgen Overhoff's "Benjamin Franklin" a successful, "spirited" biography which does much to bring this spearhead of freedom closer to German readers. Die Zeit finds the book gripping, welcoming it as a much needed antidote to all the books currently giving a distinctly negative image of the USA. Much praise also goes to "Benjamin Franklin" by Yale historian Edmund Morgan, who the paper calls a "highly gifted narrator", even if he puts Franklin in too rosy a light. The NZZ marvels at the elegance with which Morgan links the development of the American Revolution with Franklin's biography. The SZ, for its part, sees in Franklin the true American.

Erik Tawaststjerna's major biography of the Finnish composer Jean Sibelius is finally available in German, writes the FAZ. Sibelius, one of the most important Scandinavian composers, was born in 1865, and is famed above all for his national epic Kalewala and his violin concerto and seven symphonies that derive from it. Tawaststjerna, who died in 1993, is referred to reverentially by the FAZ as "Mr. Sibelius". The book is the result of his decades of research into Sibelius' life and work.


Edgar Wolfrum has written "Geglückte Demokratie" (Fortunate democracy), a modern history of the Federal Republic of Germany. The FR is only a little put off with Wolfrum's unconcealed identification with the Federal Republic, because his portrayal of history is just too good. Die Zeit finds the division into three major phases of stabilisation, pluralisation and internationalisation entirely plausible. Both the narrative and the theoretical passages are agreeably challenging, and the discussion of social questions stimulating, the paper writes.

Cultural history

Peter von Matt has critics raving with his book "Die Intrige" (The intrigue), dedicated to the major schemers of literary history from the Biblical rogues and scoundrels through Homer, Dante and Shakespeare right up to Thomas Mann and Patricia Highsmith. Roman Bucheli writes in the NZZ that the book is nothing less than a "key event in the history of civilisation." It tells how the "schemers" mark reason's appearance in literature, when the understanding began to flout blind fate. In Die Zeit, Fritz J. Raddatz cheers at this "roller-coaster of intellectual pleasure." In the FAZ, Alexander Honold rejoices at a "first-class piece of work", while in the SZ, Jens Bisky tells how disappointed he was when he got to the end.

A history of psychoanalysis has appeared on Sigmund Freud's one hundred fiftieth birthday, the likes of which Die Zeit had previously only dared to dream. Eli Zaretsky's "Freuds Jahrhundert" (Freud's century) is rich in material and portrays in a wonderfully readable way the ins and outs of psychoanalysis. And at the same time Zaretsky manages to keep a distance to his subject, whose basic problems are also given a tongue-in-cheek analysis. Die Zeit is entirely satisfied with the work, and hopes Zaretsky will continue his performance with a book on how psychoanalysis was received worldwide.


Art restorer Antonio Forcellino treats "Michelangelo" as delicately as the artworks he rejuvenates. "It has been a long time since someone gave such a good explanation for what comprises genius", writes Die Zeit, particularly happy that Michelangelo's artworks, and not his purported homosexuality, are the focus of attention. Forcellino presents each work over several pages, outlining Michelangelo's pioneering methods, ethereal glazing techniques and unique ability to turn the flaccid human body into "ciphers of pain, love, and willpower."

Two other large glossy works dedicated to Renaissance and Baroque giants have critics breathing hard. The FAZ is happy that Frank Zöllner's monumental monograph "Botticelli" steers clear of intellectual acrobatics. Die Zeit agrees, though it would have preferred a somewhat less pompous presentation. The FAZ is also very taken by Arne Karsten's "Bernini", especially by how well the author situates the architect and sculptor in the social and political turbulence of his time.

Fiction / Nonfiction - let's talk european