On the Death of Siegfried Lenz ? ?You have to justify your life?

Siegfried Lenz, one of the great writers of German post-war literature is dead. He died on 7 October 2014, surrounded by his family. He was 88 years old.... more more

GoetheInstitute

07/12/2006

Books this Season: Fiction

Autumn 2006

Fiction / Nonfiction & Political Books

India

As the guest country at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair, India dominated not only the business section of the papers but also the feuilleton pages. This window of opportunity was eagerly seized upon by a new generation of Indian authors who used it to present themselves confidently and copiously.

Kiran Desai won the Booker Prize for "The Inheritance of Loss" a parallel story about young Indians in the Himalayas and New York. The feuilletons approve. The book's colourful kaleidoscope of national history and personal destiny reminded the SZ of Uwe Johnson's "Anniversary". The FAZ found it a welcome antidote to nostalgic colonial literature, and remarkable for its shocking resignation, an opinion echoed by the taz. The NZZ is determined, despite all this, that Desai's generous, cosmopolitan and benevolent humour does not go unmentioned.

Kiran Nagarkar worked on "God's Little Warrior" for seven years. Zia, who tries out every religious and political fanaticism he can get his hands on, became too much of a handful at times. The SZ, left quite breathless by this whirlwind of extremes, believes the book has done an excellent job of capturing the chaos of Bombay and India. "Effervescent", "effusive" and "teeming" are the sort of words that spill from the pages of the FAZ and Die Zeit to describe Nagarkar's visually opulent narrative.

For a run-down on Suketu Mehta's "Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found", Vikram Chandra's giant novel "Sacred Games" and Altaf Tyrewala's "No God in Sight", see our feature "Hieronymous Bosch on acid" by Ilija Trojanow.


Poetry

Two weeks before he was to receive the Büchner Prize, and on the eve of his 80th birthday, the Rumanian-German poet Oskar Pastior passed away. The first part of his collected works "...sage, du habest es rauschen gehört" ("...say, thou hast heard the whirring") which was published just before his death, contains early poems and writings. For the SZ, it revealed a whole new side to Pastior, a "highly-talented Lied poet", wistful and romantic, whose ingenious feel for language was already making itself felt; only his ingratiating himself with Rumania's socialist regime was embarrassing. The FAZ, however, much prefers the later poems of the "high-spirited, formally stringent and gentle poet" Pastior. (See our feature on Pastior, "The spell of a tender eel".)


Eastern European writers

The taz enjoyed the good solid plot and the coarse emotions in Daniel Odija's novel "Das Sägewerk" (the saw mill) which tells the tale of an unscrupulous provincial businessman, who in the end falls victim to even more Machiavellian individuals. Added to the company are a handful of impoverished and brutalised post-communism casualties, who are scraping a living in the grimness of provincial North-East Poland. The taz reads the novel as a study of evil and current-day Poland rolled into one and found it reminiscent of Andrzej Stasiuk, minus the nostalgia. The NZZ encountered tristesse and darkness against "magically lit landscapes".

Sasa Stanisic's debut novel about his childhood during the civil war in Bosnia got a more mixed reception. "Wie der Soldat das Grammofon repariert" (how the soldier repaired the gramophone) brought on thunderous applause from the taz with its "wild, impetuous and poetic" story. And from the NZZ and the FR which was even reminded of Grimmelshausen. The FAZ vouches for Stanisic's talent, penchant for story-telling and "breath-taking scenes". Die Zeit was left cold by all the "smiling picaresque, Balkan quaintness and the touristy-twee image of Bosnia."


German-speaking writers


Great expectations lay in wait for Martin Walser's new book about betrayal between old friends, money, madness and love. The verdict barometer went from unadulterated pleasure – for the SZ, Walser's novel was wonderfully, shamelessly erotic and definitely better than Marx – to chilly disgust – the taz was appalled by the sweaty, drooling impression it left. The FAZ says the younger generation should take a leaf out of his book and the NZZ passes a Swiss-Solomon judgement that the 477-page "Angstblüte" (angst blossom) delivers at least 300 pages of undiluted reading pleasure.

Austrian author Christoph Ransmayr, alias the world's slowest writer, took a total of eleven years to pen "Der fliegende Berg" (the flying mountain). An epic free verse poem about two mountain-climbing brothers which drives the critics to the edge of transcendence. The NZZ is enchanted by the intensity of the narration and praises the stupendous qualities of Ransmayr the travel writer. While Die Zeit finds itself teetering along the safe side of kitsch and enjoying the deadly beauty of the black sky with unprecedented intensity, the SZ finds this rare and precious book uncanny. Is this a but a celebration of the sublime?

Botho Strauß met with unanimous approval for his short prose pieces in "Mikado", which is worth mentioning because his relationship to the culture industry was not always unstrained. The taz is pleased to see that Strauß has put his hatred of the present to one side, allowing him to write from the hip, with ease and versatility. The book deals with the growing timidity and pallor of the individual, the FR reveals, and is rather taken by the unselfconscious impression the stories make. Die Zeit is particularly partial to Strauß's love of incompatibility.

Annette Pehnt was also highly commended for her novel "Haus der Schildkröten" (house of the tortoises), a story of two people who cold-heartedly hand over their parents to the desolation of an old people's home only to get trapped in the tristesse of their own loneliness. The NZZ attests to the author's "fine eye for the abysses of love". The taz recommends this book as "a depressing novel of the quietest timbres".


Fiction / Nonfiction & Political Books

Get the signandsight newsletter for regular updates on feature articles.
signandsight.com - let's talk european.

 
More articles

No one is indestructible

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

TeaserPicA precision engineer of the emotions, Peter Nadas traces the European upheavals of the past century in his colossal and epic novel "Parallel Stories", which was published in English in December. The core and epicentre of the novel is the body, which bears the marks of history and trauma. In his seemingly chaotic intertwining of lives and stories, Nadas penetrates the depths of the human animal with unique insight. A review by Joachim Sartorius
read more

Road tripping across the ideological divide

Wednesday 1 February, 2012

TeaserPicThe USA and the USSR should not simply be thought of as arch enemies of the Cold War. Beyond ideology, the two nations were deeply interested in one another. Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov were thrilled by the American Way of Life in 1935/6, John Steinbeck and Robert Capa praised the sheer vitality of the Russian people in 1947. Historian Karl Schlögel reviews a perfect pair of travel journals. Photo by Ilf and Petrov.
read more

Language without a childhood

Monday 23 January 2012

TeaserPicTurkish-born author, actor and director Emine Sevgi Özdamar was recently awarded the Alice Salomon Prize for Poetics. Coming to West Berlin in 1965, Özdamar first learned German at the age of 19. After stage school she went on to become the directorial assistant to Benno Besson and Matthias Langhoff at the Volksbühne in East Berlin while still living in West Berlin. Harald Jähner warmly lauds the author's uniquely visual sense of her acquired language and her ability to overcome the seemingly insurmountable dividing line through the city.
read more

Friendship in the time of terror

Monday 9 January 2012

Nadezhda Mandelstam's personal memories of the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova, her intimate friend, offer a unique and moving testimony to friendship and resistance over decades of persecution. Published only after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1989, the text is still unavailable in English but has recently been translated into German. A unique historical document, celebrating an intellectual icon in an age of horror. Portrait of Akhmatova by Kuzma Petrov-Vodkin.
read more

Just one drop of forgetfulness

Thursday 8 December, 2011

TeaserPicThis year is the 200th anniversary of the death of German writer Heinrich von Kleist. The author Gertrud Leutenegger has a very Kleistian afternoon on Elba, when she encounters the Marquise von O in the waiting room of a very strange eye doctor.
read more

German Book Prize 2011 - the short list

Tuesday 4 October, 2011

TeaserPicEugen Ruge has won the German Book Prize with his novel "In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts" (In times of fading light), an autobiographical story of an East German family. The award is presented to the best German-language novel just before the start of the Frankfurt Book Fair. Here we present this year's six shortlisted authors and exclusive English translations of excerpts from their novels.

read more

Torment and blessing

Wednesday 28 September, 2011

Chinese dissident Liao Yiwu escaped into exile in Germany in July this year. His new book about his life in Chongqing prison has just been published in German as "Für Ein Lied und Hundert Lieder". Both book and author have a life-threatening odyssey behind them. I am overjoyed that Liao Yiwu is here with us and not at home in prison. By Herta Müller
read more

In the vortex of congealed time

Monday 12 September, 2011

No other European city suffered more in World War II than Leningrad under siege, when over a million people lost their lives. Russian literature delivers a rich testimony of the events which have been all but forgotten by the West. Only a few works, though, also do the disaster aesthetic justice. By Oleg Yuriev
read more

My unrelenting vice

Tuesday 6 September 2011

In this apology for the vice of reading, Bora Cosic describes the magnificent and fantastic discoveries of one of its practitioners – revealing how texts contain what we bring to them, how we sometimes read without reading and how books are not only found in books but many other places. 
read more

Potential market, no buyers

Monday 4 July, 2011

The most successful Croatian book of 2008 sold exactly 1,904 copies. Not what one could really call a market, although together the successor republics represent a single language community. A look at the situation of publishers and authors in the former Yugoslavia. By Norbert Mappes-Niediek.
read more

Head versus hand

Monday 27 June, 2011

TeaserPicThis year's German International Literature Award goes to "Venushaar", a Russian novel that starts out as a dialogue between an asylum seeker and an immigration officer, and opens into a vast choir of voices. A conversation with its author Mikhail Shishkin, a literary giant in his own country, and his German translator Andreas Tretner. By Ekkehard Knörer. (Image: Mikhail Shishkin © Yvonne Böhler)
read more

Cry for life

Monday 20 May, 2011

Algeria's youth: Frustrated, isolated and in the stranglehold of clandestine political structures. Young Algerians are rebelling against being locked in traditional political and social structures, but have no chance of a national uprising like that in Tunisia, says Algerian author Boualem Sansal. An interview with Reiner Wandler.
read more

Witness to intellectual suicide

Tuesday 3 May, 2011

TeaserPicOn what would have been Romanian philosopher E.M. Cioran's 100th birthday, Suhrkamp has published a volume of his essays from the 1930s, "Über Deutschland". Effervescing with enthusiasm for Hitler and fascist ideas, they cast a dark shadow over his later writing. Fritz Raddatz wishes he'd never had to read such abominations and bids a former companion a bitter farewell. Photo: E.M. Cioran © Surhrkamp Verlag
read more

RIP Andre Müller

Wednesday 13 April, 2011

TeaserPicAndre Müller Germany's most insightful and most feared interviewer is dead. Elfriede Jelinek said of him in her obituary: "Andre Müller goes all the way into people and then he makes them into language, and only then do they become themselves." Read his interviews with Ingmar Bergman and Hitler's sculptor Arno Breker in English. Photo courtesy Bibliothek der Provinz
read more

A country on the edge of time

Monday 4 April, 2011

TeaserPicSerbia was the country in focus at this year's Leipzig Book Fair – its extensive literature seems to be bound up in the straitjacket of politics. Serbia is having a hard time with Europe, and Europe is having a hard time with Serbia. Although there are signs of a softening stance, the country is still locked up in the self-imposed nationalist isolation into which it manoeuvred itself as the aggressor in the Yugoslavian war of secession. A visit there inspires mixed feelings. By Jörg Plath
Photo: Sreten Ugricic
read more