Literature (2019 | Issue 2)

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Contemporary German literature is diverse. It encompasses all aspects of life and offers a wholesome fare. New and exciting authors are giving it a constant fillip. A number of them have even found their way into the English-language market with competent translations. What’s Up, Germany? examines the current literary scene in Germany and presents some of its movers and shakers.

The popular German authors of today have often been called out for being apolitical, especially when compared to politically engaged writers like Heinrich Böll, Siegfried Lenz and Günter Grass. The younger crop of German writers don’t necessarily carry the weight of the world on their shoulders nor the burden of the past. They tend to blur the lines between serious and light-hearted, frothy writing.

Memories of the Fall

However, as expected after the reunification of Germany in 1989, a new breed of writers emerged who asked questions and explored the fissures after the fall of the Berlin Wall. WG Sebald’s powerful novel Austerlitz (2001) and Thomas Brussig’s satirical novel Helden wie wir (Heroes Like Us, 1995) come to mind. German literature was further enriched by migrant writers like Ilija Trojanow, Herta Müller and Rafik Schami. A Bulgarian-German, Trojanow—who happens to have a close connection with India—is known for his novel Der Weltensammler (The Collector of Worlds, 2006) and An den inneren Ufern Indiens (Along the Ganges, 2003).

Let’s look at some popular contemporary German books and authors. They are all recommended reads and have been translated into English, so you can take your pick: Practise your German reading skills or grab an English copy! Either way, enjoy!

1. Das Parfum (Perfume: The Story of a Murderer, 1985) by Patrick Süskind

This thriller stayed on top of Der Spiegel’s bestseller list for a record nine years and was turned into a Hollywood blockbuster.

2. Der Vorleser (The Reader, 1995) by Bernhard Schlink

The first German novel to reach the number one position on The New York Times bestseller list, it has been translated into 39 languages. Kate Winslet won an Oscar for her performance in the 2008 film adaptation.

3. Tintenherz (Inkheart, 2003) by Cornelia Funke

Famous for her young adult fantasy novels, Funke is known as the German JK Rowling! The Inkheart trilogy is about a father and child who have the ability to bring characters from books to life.

4. Dorfpunks (Village Punks, 2004) by Rocko Schamoni

This autobiographical tale about growing up in a small village was a hit across Germany. Once you’re done reading this novel, you can watch the film based on it and practise your German listening skills.

5. Die Vermessung der Welt (Measuring the World, 2005) by Daniel Kehlmann

Kehlmann’s fourth novel about two German scientists turned him into a literary sensation. His books are actually on the school syllabus in Germany!

6. Axolotl Roadkill (2010) by Helene Hegemann

A hugely successful coming-of-age novel, Axolotl Roadkill was made into a movie in 2017 by the author herself!

7. Atemschaukel (The Hunger Angel, 2009) by Herta Müller

This prose poem by the Romanian-born German author Müller was nominated for the German Book Prize in 2009. She went on to win the Nobel Prize in Literature the same year.

8. Tschick (Why We Took the Car, 2010) by Wolfgang Herrndorf

This cult road-trip novel about friendship and wanderlust took Germany by storm. It has been compared to JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye.

9. Das andere Kind (The Other Child, 2010) by Charlotte Link

A psychological thriller packed with suspense, Das andere Kind has been written by one of Europe’s bestselling crime writers. In 2007, Link was awarded the Goldene Feder for her literary achievements.