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Here we introduce the most talked about (for better or for worse) books of the winter season 2004/2005. The German newspapers have long and (for us) tedious names, so we use abbreviations. Here a key to them.

23/02/2005

Books this Season: Fiction

Winter 2004/2005

Now is the winter of the woman author. Among the favourite novelists of the season are Terezia Mora, Antje Ravic Strubel, Juli Zeh, Brigitte Kronauer and Irina Liebmann. Thank goodness they're not so young that we have to speak of a new girl-wonder phenomenon. In nonfiction, however, the men have the upper hand. Weighty biographies have been written about Friedrich Schiller, Hermann Josef Abs, Arthur Koestler and Frederick the Great. We present the most interesting releases in Books This Season.

Don't get caught with your books closed!


German fiction


Terezia Mora's debut novel "Alle Tage" (excerpt in German) is praised to the skies. Mora, born in Hungary in 1978, has lived in Berlin since 1990. Already known for her collection of short stories "Seltsame Materie" (Odd Material) and her translations - above all of Peter Esterhazy's 2001 "Harmonia Caelestis", Mora tells the story of a man named Abel Nema who arrives in a German city 'B' from what we assume to be the former Yugoslavia. Abel is unable to adjust. Mora tells the story of one person cut off from everyone around him - someone who can speak ten languages fluently but is unable to communicate. Language is just a way of filling the inner void. Nema speaks perfectly, free of any accent, but also free of personality. FR critic Michael Adrian calls the story a "sparklingly intelligent, well constructed big city novel, full of power and fruitless love." For Adrian it is "one of the most ambitious and original, the most complex and beautiful books to appear in German in recent times."

Reactions to Antje Ravic Strubel's novel "Tupolew 134" are every bit as jubilant. Based on a real event, the book tells the story of an East German couple who hijacked a plane to flee to the West in 1978. Hubert Spiegel celebrates the book in the FAZ as a "fascinating" novel on the "daredevil escapades of our memory". Spiegel is especially impressed by one of the major themes of the novel, the "impossibility of love without freedom". The hijackers forced the plane to land in West Berlin, and were later acquitted by a German jury and an American judge. But the author quickly departs from "the safe ground of historical facts", shifting to the unsafe ground of fiction. Strubel was not concerned with how things were, but how they might have been, which explains why she did not preserve the original constellation of characters. For Spiegel the result is a German-German love story against the background of the Cold War, a "wicked and wonderful fairytale about how the East Germans lost their faith in fairytales." Only Die Zeit is ambivalent, praising the book's subtleties but calling it "overly complex". Reviewer Ulrich Greiner prefers the "wit and understanding" of Juli Zeh's "Spieltrieb". Following her celebrated debut "Adler und Engel", Zeh's second novel has received widespread acclaim. Recounting the story of two schoolchildren who blackmail their sports teacher, the work is a "poetic reflection on philosophic questions of existence, ethics and identity."

New works by Brigitte Kronauer and Irina Liebmann are also popular with the critics. Kronauer's novel, with the Nietzsche-inspired title "Verlangen nach Musik und Gebirge", tells of love intrigues in the Belgian seaside resort of Ostende. SZ critic Lothar Müller is delighted by the malicious confusion of love", developed by the author. Müller is especially taken by the novel's narrator, Frau Fesch, who to his delight prefers a "mean look" and "sharp tongue" to the "guileless blinking" of the many narrators of the younger generation. Writing in Die Zeit, Iris Radisch calls Irina Liebmann's "Die freien Frauen" her best work to date. In it Liebmann follows a confused woman travelling through Berlin to Kattowitz in Poland. Radisch is particularly pleased that Liebmann's book is "one of the few German books" told from the perspective of an ageing woman. Radisch praises the book's "strong allegorical images", calling it a "contemporary ageing elegy with remarkable diagnostic power".


International fiction

For reviewer Felicitas von Lovenberg of the FAZ, it would be difficult to recommend a more "enlightening, multi-faceted book about Israel, families and what binds and separates people" than Amos Oz' "Eine Geschichte von Liebe und Finsternis" ("A Tale of Love and Darkness", review in the Guardian). For Karl-Markus Gauß of the SZ, it is "Oz at his most personal". The autobiographical novel will certainly be remembered as one of the best of the season and beyond. In it, Oz tells of life in Israel in the early postwar years, the beautiful yet traumatic experiences of East-European Jews who barely escaped the Holocaust and of his mother's suicide. Tragedy and wit, pleasure and learning come together in the book, which Gauß calls a thrill and "a lesson in Central European and Hebraic history". In the FR, Martina Meister calls the book an "autobiographical masterpiece".

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