German Literature - a personal survey

(actualisé le ) by Ray

You will find in this compilation of works a reasonably comprehensive, albeit necessarily incomplete, sampling of the outstanding German-language short stories, novelettes, novellas, novels and plays that have been written by German, Austrian and Swiss authors over the past several hundred years.

No. Date Author German Title
 [1]
English
Title
Genre
 [2]
Synopsis/Commentary____________________________
1 1668 Hans Jakob Christoffel von Grimmel-schausen Der Abenteuer-liche Simpliciss-imus Teutsch Simpliciss-imus novel the devastating Thirty Years War seen by the first giant of German literature, a baroque monument.
2 1774 J.M.R. Lenz Der Hofmeister
*
The Tutor theatre a sometimes hard-to-follow but interesting and most important drama about social relationships, teachers and students in the late 18th century, with much frank talk about sex, marriage, family attachments, the meaning of life and so on, with very many outstanding passages.
3 1775 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Die Leiden des jungen Werthers* The Sufferings of Young Werther novel The original "Bildungsroman" (novel of learning) about a young man’s initiation to life - the book that put Goethe on the map and whose sensitive, soulful, searching and suicidal hero Werther was a founding figure for the Romantic movement throughout Europe.
4 1779 Gottfried Lessing Nathan der Weise* Nathan the Wise theatre Lessing’s magnificent verse drama is set in Jerusalem during the Crusades, and portrays in an extraordinarily favourable light the central character Nathan, a rich and cultivated Jewish merchant, who strives to defend both his adopted daughter and his ancestral faith in dramatic confrontations with a hostile Christian knight from Germany and with the Muslim ruler Saladin. Lessing’s earlier play The Jew had aroused great hostility and criticism for its favourable presentation of a Jew - unheard of at the time - so it was in all connaissance de cause that Lessing made this profoundly moving, premonitory and courageous statement that came to embody the very spirit of the Enlightenment throughout Europe. An eternal lesson of courage and humanism of the very highest literary quality.
5 1781 Friedrich von Schiller Die Räuber* The Brigands theatre This intense drama about the lust for liberty in late-18th Century Germany, considered there and elsewhere to be an all-time classic, is dramatic and powerful and one can easily understand why its hero, the rebel-turned-brigand Moor, has made such an impact on the minds of enlightened Europe ever since its initial performance in 1781.
6 1808 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Faust. Eine Tragödie* Faust. A Tragedy theatre the summum of the great master’s art, an enormous monument.
7 1808 Heinrich von Kleist Die Marquise von O...* The Marquise of O... novella On page 1 of this stark investigation of the feminine condition in a rigid society ruled by pitiless moral strictures, the young widow M. of O. finds herself in an unexpected condition with no idea of how or why this situation came to be, and courageously puts an ad in the local paper proposing marriage to the (unknown) person responsible for this state of affairs. We then flash back to, in rapid succession, a violent military assault on the fortified town of which her father was the governor, an equally violent assault on her own person by marauding soldiers, a rescue by a heroic young officer who spends the rest of the story pursuing her with all his considerable means, and the ups and downs of her relationships with him and with her loving but very obdurate family. Bold and intense in content and innovative in form, this remarkable story seems as up-to-date today as it must have appeared avant-garde in its own time.
8 1809 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Die Wahl-verwandt-schaften The Elective Affinities novel Goethe’s classic novel set new standards for straightforward adult attitudes towards moral issues such as extramarital relations, adultery and even incest, but its main interest as far as I am concerned is the remarkable quality of the prose and dialogues. Not a particularly easy read, but I found myself increasingly impressed and enthused by the calm but Olympian overall tone that permeates the text, and finished the book with the sensation of having shared some very privileged moments with a writer of truly unusual breath and scope.
9 1811 Heinrich von Kleist Die Verlobung in St. Domingo* The Engagement in St. Domingo novella In the midst of the campaign of extermination of the thousands of white-skinned people left on Haiti (then called St. Domingo) after the successful uprising of slaves there in 1804, a young officer desperately seeks shelter and food for his small company of civilians in a wayside house, where he is lured into a very false sense of security by the family of the local killer-in-chief whose abode it is and who is absent for the moment. We follow the ups and downs of the attempts of the officer to survive in the face of apparently-hopeless odds with the help of the very seductive daughter of the house - but in the context of apocalyptic ultra-violence that permeates this dramatic story, we know that there will not be a happy end and there isn’t [3]. What a story! Breath-taking and timeless!
10 1811 Heinrich von Kleist Der Findling* The Foundling novella A wealthy Roman merchant on a trip to plague-ridden Raguse loses his son and gains a young foundling (who was probably the cause of his son’s deadly infection!) whom he rapidly adopts. Naturally, this being a Kleist story, the bright and handsome foundling grows up to be a less than perfect scion of the family, perfectly ungrateful for all the love and education and riches that have always been piled on him. The bad deeds and disasters and violence – a constant Kleist theme – build up until the really violent end.
11 1811 Heinrich von Kleist Der Zweikampf
*
The Duel novella A stark account of an honour duel in the late middle ages to establish - by death of the guilty party, necessarily conform to the will of divine justice according to the strictures of the time - the innocence or guilt of a noblewoman whose honour has been publicly besmirched. Couched in a complex, almost heraldic prose which most effectively recreates the mental and moral atmosphere of those far-away times, this striking tale is a kind of early (Romantic-era) murder mystery, with continual twists and turns of plot, a good dose of suspense, much intense emotion, remarkable protagonists and a most satisfying concern with old-fashioned notions of honour and moral rectitude.
12 1811 Heinrich von Kleist Prinz Friedrich von Homburg* The Prince of Homburg theatre Written shortly before his early (self-inflicted) death at the age of 34, this powerful war drama set in 1635 during the Thirty Years War is Kleist’s crowning achievement. A patriotic plea for national resistance to foreign aggression (Swedish in the play, French at its time of writing) it is also a discourse on the upsides and downsides of wartime army discipline via a passionate and poetically-charged exploration of the theme of the death penalty. Strong stuff indeed!
13 ca. 1812 Jakob u. Wilhelm Grimm Das blaue Licht und andere Märchen* The Blue Light and Other Stories fairy tales The classic Grimm Brothers tales, including Hänsel and Gretel and Rapunzel, with all their sharpness and cruelty - no punches pulled for the kiddies in those days! The title story, The Blue Light, about the revenge a soldier wreaks on the king who had dismissed him without a cent, thanks to a magic light which he stole from a wicked witch (before getting her killed!), is typical of the pitiless methods applied by one and all, children included, on their enemies. The most striking feature of these stories - extremely well known in German-speaking countries - apart from their fairy-tale and magical elements, their princesses and kings and witches and strange gnomes, is their almost breathless pace, the way they zoom along and tell their story in a rush that leaves no time for the reader, young or old, to worry too much about the morality of what is going on. And they get right to the often-gory point without beating around the bush - no doubt one of the main reasons for their long-lasting success with the younger generations since they were first published in the 1810s.
14 1814 Gottfried Bürger Wunderbare Reisen des Freiherrn von Münch-hausen
*
The Marvellous Voyages of the Baron of Münch-hausen novella the Baron of Münchhausen is the biggest, but most entertaining, liar of them all, and his account of his adventures has to be read to be (not) believed.
15 1814 Adelbert von Chamisso Peter Schlemihls wundersame Geschichte
*
The Marvellous Story of Peter Schlemihl novella This is a classic story in the fantastic vein with an expansive, the-sky’s-the-limit flavour to it, from the great period of Romantic ferment in Germany in the early 19th Century, that is nowhere nearly as well known outside of its native land as it deserves to be.
16 1814-1821 E.T.A. Hoffmann Fantasie-stücke Fantastic tales short stories Hoffmann is a master of the short story in the fantastic vein, an inspired writer whose taste for extravagance and the bizarre combined with his gift for imaginative writing and a way of whisking his story along with never a pause or a dull moment make him in my eyes one of the great writers of his romantic-era times.
17 ca. 1815 Ludwig Tieck Der Pokal und andere Märchen* Fairy Tales fairy tales captivating and entrancing tales, notably perhaps his best-known story The Golden Cup, from one of the key figures of the German Romantic movement.
18 ca. 1815 Jakob u. Wilhelm Grimm Märchen* Fairy Tales fairy tales The original versions of these famous tales are a good deal bloodier and tougher than their modern edulcorated versions - they tell stories with hard-hitting morals, with no punches pulled and with no vagueness about the horrible dangers lurking out there in the big wide world for people in general and for children in particular. Nor about what parents are sometimes capable of doing to their children (like leaving them to starve in the forest when food runs short) or about what kids can do when they really get going (like pushing nasty old ladies into burning ovens). Fascinating.
19 1816 E.T.A. Hoffmann Die Elixieren des Teufels The Devil’s Elixirs novel This novel, Hoffmann’s first, about the doings of a strange monk who guards a mysterious elixir of the devil’s own making, is as wild and extravagant and complex as anything he ever wrote, which is saying a lot. In Hoffmann’s inimitable manner he adroitly introduces supernatural elements, or rather the possibility or suspicion of supernatural elements, into the ordinary everyday world, intermingled with fraternal admonitions to the reader to be wary of false appearances, that combine with the verve of the prose to elevate this story above the more straightforward Gothic novel in the vein of M.G. Lewis’s The Monk, which had caused a literary sensation throughout Europe at the end of the previous century and on which this book is in a way modelled. As seems to usually be the case with Hoffmann, a number of separate strains and themes run in parallel and criss and cross, and one is constantly subjugated by the vigour and originality of the prose that surges along like an unstoppable tidal force throughout the story - one can just sense the words flowing out from his pen as he frenetically writes to get them down on paper fast enough.
20 1816 E.T.A. Hoffmann Nussknacker und Mausekönig
*
Nutcracker and the Mouse King novella Marie’s godfather is a very talented watchmaker who gives to his grandchildren one Christmas Eve a castle with a marvellous set of animated figures – and a strangely realistic little figure with a large head that can crack nuts with its teeth. These presents are carefully put away by the parents for safekeeping out of reach of the children in a large showcase in the front hall, and Marie lingers there at midnight after the party to admire them, when she hears rustling and bustling and sees a big group of mice led by their strange king with seven horrible heads that come along with aggressive intentions on the showcase. So the toy soldiers of Marie’s brother, led by the nutcracker, come to life, climb down and engage in tremendous battle with the vicious invaders. That is the beginning of a series of dramatic and amazing adventures involving the nutcracker, the mice and their fearful king and queen, Marie’s dolls, the marzipan figurines Marie has lovingly salvaged from the Christmas feast, the enigmatic godfather and his even more enigmatic nephew, and especially Marie herself.
A charming and even moving fable overflowing with a spirit of love and affection for small children, a brilliant foray into the realm of fantasy that Hoffmann was so gifted at evoking. A masterpiece of almost-realistic fantasy that is far more complex than the simplified version that Alexander Dumas translated-transformed which was used as the basis for the libretto for Tchaikovsky’s celebrated ballet.
21 1817 E.T.A. Hoffmann Erzählungen: Das öde Haus, Das Sanctus, Das steinerne Herz* Stories: The Deserted House; The Sanctuary; The Stone Heart short stories Tales with a supernatural tinge, but set in a charming most attractive and realistic environment such that the possibility of ghostly apparitions and influences is there without being all that obvious – stories for believers in the occult and unbelievers alike, written by a master of language.
22 1817 Clemens Brentano Geschichte vom braven Kasperl und dem schönen Annerl The Good Gaspard and the Pretty Annette novella charming, a classic of the German Romantic movement.
23 1820 E.T.A. Hoffmann Prinzessin Brambilla Princess Brambilla novella impossible not to be quite subjugated by the charm, the fantasy, and the brio of this splendid fable.
24 ca. 1820 E.T.A. Hoffmann Spielerglück
*
Gambler’s Luck novella A fascinating account of gambling, loving and losing in the Paris of the 18th century with, of course, mystical overtones.
25 ca. 1820 E.T.A. Hoffmann Das Fraulein von Scuderi
*
Madem-oiselle de Scuderi novella brillant, Hoffmann is a champion, light and amusing and somehow mysterious at the same time - I can’t get enough of him ...
26 ca. 1820 E.T.A. Hoffmann Der goldene Topf The Golden Vase novella A really terrific fable with a touch of the fantastic - you are just swept along, caught up by the author’s enthusiasm and irresistible charm and the way the words just flow along with brio and poetry. What a writer !
27 ca. 1820 E.T.A. Hoffmann Der Sandmann
*
The Sand Merchant novella quite inspired - another Romantic milestone.
28 1821 E.T.A. Hoffmann Lebens-ansichten des Katers Murr The Tomcat Murr novel I just loved this story about - in part, but what a part ! - a particularly gifted cat who is not only smart enough to learn the language of humans but who is lucky enough to have a superior kind of master who reads aloud to him so that he learns how the letters in the book he is staring at correspond to the sounds that he is hearing, and thus learns to read as well. After that, writing is a piece of cake for this super-cat, and this book is his auto-biography, recounting not only his intellectual attitudes to life but the conversations of his master with his erudite friends as well as his own thoughts and escapades and involved love-life. To help stir things up, the manuscript is presented as having been mixed up in the printer’s shop with the biography of a strange and inspired musician and writer-intellectual named Kreisler, also the theme figure in Hoffmann’s Tales in the Manner of Calot (the basis of Offenbach’s celebrated operetta Tales of Hoffmann), who has his own scrapes and escapades and expansive semi-mystical meditations, so the Murr chapters alternate with the Kreisler ones in a bizarre and unsettling but totally original and intriguing way that leaves the reader quite overawed at the vigour and scope of this work like none other.
The overall result is a funny, brilliant and profound parody of a Bildungsroman (a novel of a young man’s learning-about-life process) that just explodes with the individualism and the fascination with the mysteries of life and with the world of fantasy that characterised the romantic spirit of the time, of which Hoffmann was a leading figure.
29 1826 Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts
*
From the Life of a Good-for-Nothing novella In the first sentence the youthful and very carefree narrator rubs the sleep out of his eyes, listens to the twittering of the starlings and the murmurings of his father’s mill and sits on the doorstep to bask in the warm spring sunshine, only to hear his father’s outraged admonition "you Taugenichts (Good-For-Nothing)! getting up at noon while we have all been slaving away since daybreak! Take your things and get out of my house forever !" So our young hero takes off down the road in front of his father’s mill with his beloved violin and a few pennies to visit the wide world.
Taugenichts, who is just about always either singing or playing his violin or listening to birds trilling away or admiring the glories of nature or the charms of the many females who pass his way, in no time at all is - because of his singing and musical ability and perhaps also because of his quite irresistible easy-going charm - first taken on as a gardener and then as a gatekeeper at a splendid castle, where he can indulge to his heart’s content his inclinations for singing and listening to the sounds of nature and bringing flowers to lovely young ladies. But when his love for the lovely lady of the castle is unrequited, he unhesitatingly sets off without a penny down the road again, on the way to the Rome of his dreams - the Rome not only of saints but also of Venus-worshipping pagan rites - and rapidly becomes involved in a bewildering set of dramas and misunderstandings and rococo adventures which do lead him to the Rome of his ambition. Where he finds and loses again the mysterious lady of the castle back home, where he somehow manages to finally end up again amidst many imbroglios and much confusion.
Steeped in music and poetry and the love of nature, deceptively erudite and ambitious in spite of the bucolic simplicity of its wandering but quite unforgettable hero, brimming over with humour and vitality, this complex masterpiece both looks back to the baroque and rococo past while magnificently incarnating the exuberance of the Romantic spirit of its time.
30 1835 Georg Büchner Dantons Tod* Danton’s Death theatre 1An intense, passionately-felt and extremely brilliant portrayal of the dramatic last five days of the great revolutionary’s existence, meticulously faithful to the historic acts and declarations of all of the leading protagonists in that epic drama. A theatrical masterpiece.
31 1835 Georg Büchner Lenz* Lenz novella Jakob Lenz was one of the best-known members of the 18th-Century Sturm und Drang literary movement of social and intellectual protest, which fascinated Büchner and which preceded the more idealistic German Romantic movement. He had suffered a nervous breakdown during a twenty-day visit to a friend in Alsace in 1778, the Protestant minister Johann-Friedrich Oberlin, who maintained a detailed diary describing in detail Lenz’s state of mind during his visit. Closely based on Oberlin’s journal and on letters by Lenz during that period, this is an intensely-charged and lyrical narrative told in the third-person indirect-narrative style that puts the reader inside Lenz’s mind as he travels to the remote village and wanders through the mountains where he can communicate with his friend and with nature and seek the solitude and the relief from the anguish of existence which he so much needs and never fully finds. A powerful and very moving exploration of the process of mental illness.
32 1836 Georg Büchner Woyzeck* Woyzeck theatre A kaleidoscopic mosaic in 31 short and explosive scenes portraying the life and destiny of a common labourer whose murder of his common-law wife was a much-talked-about cause célèbre in Büchner’s time. The text is dramatic and forceful to a degree. Its deconstructionist structure, its highly-charged expressionist style and its anti-establishmentarian Weltanschauung (attitude) caused this uncompleted work, never published or performed even in part during the poet-dramatist’s tragically short existence, to be rediscovered and brought to the public’s attention only at the end of the century, since when it has been elevated to the rank of a major precursor of the experimental theatre of our own time. We note that the celebrated atonal operatic version by Alban Berg, first performed in 1925, was called Wozzeck as a result of a printer’s typo error that was discovered too late to be corrected!
33 1845 Heinrich Hoffmann Der Streuwelpeter
*
Shock-
Headed Peter
cartoon stories Written by a father for his 3-year-old son, this short series of moralistic tales about the (really) awful things that happen to children who step out of line is full of the give-it-to-them-straight approach to the brutal side of life, aimed at scaring kiddies into staying on the straight and narrow path, that was so very prevalent (in Germany at least) in those days. Kids loved it then and still do - it is a classic in the German-speaking cultural sphere (and was translated into English by Mark Twain). With an absolutely wonderful series of drawings by the author.
34 1849 Theodor Storm Immensee
*
Immensee novel-ette a very poetic, melancholy and moving German classic.
35 1851 Arthur Schopenhauer Nachträge zur Lehre vom Leiden der Welt On the Sufferings of the World philo-sophy particularly brilliant, astonishingly pessimistic, packed out with stunning aphorisms and comments on man’s (dismal) lot in life.
36 1853 Adalbert Stifter Granit* Granite novel-ette An account of life and nature in the high alps in upper Austria long ago before disease and fire and modern life changed the ancient ways in those remote parts, recounted with strong poetic overtones by the narrator as he remembers a number of striking incidents from his youth in that magnificent, very special alpine region.
37 1857 Edouard Mörike Mozart auf der Reise nach Prag* Mozart on the way to Prague novella A particularly charming and renowned (in German-speaking countries) fictional account, by one of the major poets of the 19th century, of the encounters and adventures and (brilliant) conversations of the great composer on the way from Vienna to Prague in the autumn of 1787 where his new opera Don Giovanni was about to be premiered.
38 1864 Adalbert Stifter Nach-kommen-schaft Descendants novel-ette A quite enchanting account of a painter (the author was an extremely gifted painter himself) determined to recreate a rather unattractive swamp perfectly on canvas before the rich owner of a nearby castle – with whom he has long and very in-depth conversations daily about art and life and its purpose – can finish draining it off and filling it in. The painter has independent means and a fierce drive to concentrate full-time on his objective, and will not let anyone watch him working or even look at his finished works, which he systematically always destroys anyway through dissatisfaction with the result. He has in fact become quite a hermit cut off from social life – but the rich neighbour has a daughter . . .
39 1874 Gottfried Keller Kleider machen Leute* Clothes Make People novel-ette vivid, gay, sparkling with wit and insight, a justly famous (in German-speaking countries only though, alas) tale about a poor young tailor who is given a ride on a nobleman’s coach and who is mistaken for its owner because of his nice clothes (all our hero has in the world) by the owner of a local inn, by the town’s notables, by the mayor and especially by the mayor’s lovely young daughter – just wonderful!
40 1888 Theodor Storm Der Schimmel-reiter* The Rider of a Pale Horse novella an interesting, realistic and dramatic evocation of life in the flatlands of Friesland – a part of Holland today that used to belong to the German Reich - centred on the ever-present menace of the sea and on the critical role of those responsible for maintaining the dikes.
41 1894 Theodor Fontaine Effi Briest Effi Briest novel Fontaine was an extremely prolific writer of novels, short stories, poetry, articles, travel diaries, letters and just about everything else (he wrote almost non-stop every day) who however only wrote his first novel at the ripe old age of fifty-nine, in 1878. Like all the rest of his oeuvre (notably his celebrated five-volume travel journal Wanderings in Brandenburg), this novel, Fontaine’s last and most famous, analyses the mores and the mindset of the traditional aristocratically-minded Prussian society struggling, ultimately unsuccessfully, to maintain its status and moral standards in the face of the rise to pre-eminence of the more commercially-minded and dynamic (and – oh horror – sometimes Jewish) middle class. In an elegant but straightforward way we follow the title heroine as she gets involved in an almost-inevitable adulterous relationship with a brilliant and attractive officer friend of the family and has to face the terrible consequences of her flouting of the rules of the established society in the essentially agriculture-oriented, traditional Prussia of her day. Sensitive, beautifully written, Fontaine’s fine intellect and penetrating insights into human nature implicate us in the tensions of this intense social drama in as subtle and artful way as could be desired.
42 1900 Hugo von Hofmannsthal Andreas* Andreas novella baroque and modern at the same time, captivating.
43 1900 Arthur Schnitzler Leutnant Gustl* Lieutenant Gustl novella terrific, you are plunged into the (fascinating) mindset of those pre-WW1 days as if you were there.
44 1901 Thomas Mann Budden-
brooks
Budden-
brooks
novel a family saga in the Hanseatic coastal town of Lübeck, written when Mann was only 25 - an enormous best-seller at the time and afterwards. Justly famous, a modern classic.
45 1901-1922 Stefan Zweig Der Amokläufer
*
The Man Who Ran Amok short stories A terribly impressive and most moving collection of stories that turn around one of the central themes of Zweig’s work and life: despair and death by suicide. The 50-page title novella with its multiple ebbs and flows and its final rush of folly and overwhelming passion is the literary equivalent of one of Beethoven’s unclassifiable final sonatas: a masterpiece that stands out even taller than the others. But Geschichte eines Untergangs (Twilight), Das Kreuz (The Cross), Ein Verbummelter (A Loser), Die Mondscheingasse (Moonbeam Alley), Leporella and Episode am Genfer See (Episode on Lake Geneva) are all just about as original and moving and unforgettable as that tragic title story.
46 1901-1929 Stefan Zweig Die Hochzeit von Lyon u. a. * The Wedding in Lyon and other stories short stories Seven brilliant, varied, precisely-chiselled stories with an emotional and intellectual impact that confirmed for me once again the immense stature of this great writer formed in the golden age of pre-WW1 Vienna. The title story, The Wedding in Lyon should really be read after the others, its account of a night of a love match in the face of imminent death during the ferocious Stalinist-type repression of enemies of the state during the 1794 Terror period of the French Revolution so powerfully and vividly recreates the atmosphere of those tragic days that anything else must necessarily be anticlimactic. But no, in In the Snow there is a hair-raising account of the anguish that racks a Jewish ghetto on the Polish border in Germany in the late Middle Ages when news arrives of widespread and approaching pogroms by rampaging mobs blaming Jews for an outbreak of the plague; there is a particularly evocative and sensitive tale of a queen of high society in France who is unexpectedly banned overnight from the court and her desperate efforts to regain her lost social position; an account of the desperate struggle to survive of a French colonel cut off from his troops during Napoleon’s atrocious war in Spain in The Cross; a particularly subtle and moving story of a pacifist’s debate with his conscience on receiving his mobilisation papers during WW1, and more.
One of the great masters of the short story form, without a doubt.
47 1902-1942 Stefan Zweig Menschen und Schicksale People and Destinies essays 22 articles on the leading intellectuals and writers and artists of his time, most of whom he knew personally and all of whom he had met and empathised with: Verlaine, Romain Rolland, Joseph Roth, Rilke, Arthur Schnitzler, Tagore, Theodore Herzl, Jean Jaurès, Mahler and Freud amongst others, as well as essays on some of the outstanding intellectuals of the previous century, notably Chateaubriand, E.T.A. Hoffman, and Nietzsche. Full of tenderness and admiration for the brilliant spirits he is writing about en connaissance de cause, Zweig’s penetrating mind and incisive pen bring us new insights into the works and characters of every one of the objects of his scrutiny. Most appropriately and effectively, the opening essay is a powerful tribute to the genius of that prince of writers Marcel Proust, entitled The Tragic Destiny of Marcel Proust, that sent shivers of emotion down my spine. What a book! What a writer!
48 1903 Thomas Mann Tonio Krüger Tonio Krüger novella This shortish novel is a must for anyone who has ever enjoyed Buddenbrooks, with which there are distinct links, notably the young-man-growing-up-and-searching-for-aesthetic-and-moral-and-philosophical-frame-of-reference theme as well as the distinctly detached tone in which Tonio K’s mental and physical travels are related.
49 1904 Stefan Zweig Die Liebe der Erika Ewald* The Love of Erika Ewald novella an intense exploration of the emotional impulses of a young pianist who falls hopelessly in love with a seductive violinist who almost but not quite succeeds in seducing her. A remarkable achievement for the 24-year old author.
50 ca. 1905 Arthur Schnitzler Frau Berta Garlan* Mrs. Berta Garlan short stories warning: this is a masterpieces of short fiction!
51 1906 Robert Musil Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törleß The Bewilder-ment of the Pupil Törless novella This no-doubt autobiographical account by the author of the monumental The Man Without Qualities of the emotional and sexual growing pains of a young adolescent in a prestigious boarding school for the youth of the nation’s elite on the far-flung borders of the pre-1914 Austro-Hungarian empire has a premonitory tang to it as our central character gets progressively involved with a rather nasty set of domineering and bordering-on-sadistic fellow students who clearly prefigure the bad people doing very bad things that were to wreak such havoc in later years in that part of the world. An honest, lucid and sophisticated treatment of the theme of schoolboy homosexuality that was way ahead of its time that has larger, societal overtones, written in a smooth but meditative style that impressed the critics of the day and impressed me too.
52 1907, 1921 Franz Kafka Forschungen eines Hundes und
Beschreibung eines Kampfes*
The Investiga-tions of a Dog and
Description of a Struggle
novella I had to read these long, complex, really exceptionally bewildering stories twice over to start to come to grips with them. The second careful read-through considerably reinforced the initial impression of profound originality, with something mysterious or interesting or simply intensely-felt or intensely-described happening on every page.
53 1908-1918 Hermann Hesse In einer kleinen Stadt In a Little Town short stories A collection of impressive stories centred on the theme of the values and hidden tensions of life in comfortable "bourgeois" provincial Germany at the beginning of the 20th Century. Written at various times from 1908-1918 (i. e. - both before and after Hesse’s definitive emigration to Switzerland in 1912) these multi-layer stories both subtly and openly question the value system of our modern materialistic society.
54 ca. 1910 Arthur Schnitzler Ich* I short stories most impressive.
55 1911 Hugo von Hofmannsthal Jedermann* Everyman theatre A remarkable modern version in rhymed verse of a medieval Christian morality play, we here have on-stage (!) God (giving orders to “get” the too-worldly and too-rich Jedermann), Death (who goes to get him), the Devil (likewise), Jedermann, the lady he loves, his friends and hangers-on, Angels, a monk and others. With a very powerful and poetic text, this impressive work has been performed every year at the Strasburg Festival since 1920. Because of the rhyme and rhythm and poetry and medieval speech patterns, this work is practically untranslatable though, I would think.
56 1912 Thomas Mann Der Tod in Venedig* The Death in Venice novella Gustave Aschenbach (like the Gustave in Mahler and the Wolfram von Eschenbach in Tannhäuser), the central figure in this 120-page-long, erudite and very intense exploration of the values that an artist aspiring to greatness or possibly already having attained it should or could or perhaps cannot ever really have, is no doubt a mix between Mann’s idol Goethe and Mann himself, with touches of Mahler and Wagner thrown in. We follow the quite famous Gustave A. and his elevated thoughts (at the beginning – they tend to go steadily down as the narrative unfolds) from his native Munich to the Adriatic coast to Venice, where he is plunged into the thralls of physical desire for a very beautiful fourteen-year-old boy whose family is staying at the same hotel on the Lido, and who quite innocently (?) sets our man off on dithyrambic meditations on the lessons of Plato’s The Banquet and Phaedrus and down a long path to moral and physical perdition. The Death in Venice (why is it usually translated as Death in Venice? Mann wanted a singular definite article in there and who are we to take it out? And we are not talking about any old death – after all not only Gustave A. but Mahler and Wagner also finished their days there!) is a quite breath-taking literary feat, involving a number of seemingly bizarre but significant background figures, profound moral and artistic themes, myriad literary and philosophical references and a style involving a breathtakingly rich vocabulary and innumerable long, involved, and complex sentences which somehow never seem to have an excess word in them. All in all: very Germanic and very Mann and very worth while reading!
57 ca. 1913 Franz Kafka Der Heizer* The Stoker short story a most impressive story about a teenager cast adrift to fend for himself in a very strange and foreboding place indeed – a huge German ocean liner in the port of New York. Apparently an initial script for what became the posthumous novel Amerika, this vision of a boy-man trying to survive in a strange new German-American New World is of great interest. Strong stuff!
58 ca. 1913 Franz Kafka Die Werwandlung
*
The Meta-morphosis short story A young man — the since-famous Gregor Samsa — wakes up one morning to find himself transformed into an man-sized beetle and tries, increasingly unsuccessfully, to cope with his new ostracised status as an outcast from society and progressively but firmly also from his own family, even - ultimate moral blow - from his dearly-beloved and loving sister. A stunning parable of the modern man’s psychic and emotional isolation in an uncomprehending and uncaring world.
59 1917 Robert Walser Der Spaziergang
*
The Promenade novella a wonderful account of one seemingly-normal-but-inwardly-rather-zany man’s thoughts while walking around his neighbourhood in (peaceful and neutral) Switzerland, a masterpiece!
60 1918 Arthur Schnitzler Casanovas Heimfahrt* Casanova’s Journey Home novella Casanova was a very talented person and so was Schnitzler - when the two meet, sparks fly! Unforgettable!
61 1919 Franz Kafka Brief an den Vater* Letter to Father letter The long letter (80+ pages) that Kafka actually wrote (but never delivered) to his father to explain to him in great detail why he (Kafka junior) had always had so much difficulty communicating with him. An extraordinary document, told from the heart by a son who may not have been as good a talker as his domineering and self-assured father but who sure knew how to put words together in a flowing, expressive way. A prose masterpiece.
62 ca. 1920 Franz Kafka Das Urteil und a. Erzählungen
*
The Jugement and Other Stories short stories All of these stories are shockers in Kafka’s specially bleak, detached, almost otherworldly way, in particular the title story, The Judgement, where a man-to-man conversation between a father and son brings out long-suppressed thoughts and attitudes and hitherto-hidden facts, and quasi-instantaneously triggers off a final catastrophic conclusion to what had seemingly been a straightforward and even banal relationship. That comes as no surprise to readers familiar with Kafka’s long, real-life, never-delivered letter to his own father, published after his early death as Letter to the Father, but the build-up is so artful and the comedown so awful that the reader is nevertheless as aesthetically and emotionally shaken as is so often the case with prose by the author of Metamorphosis, another overwhelming reading experience to be found in this precious selection of his stories. Also included in this quite fabulous collection are the jaw-dropping In The Penal Colony about the weird goings-on in a tropical penal colony, A Country Doctor, recounting an everyday tragedy in the life of a country doctor, and A Report for an Academy, where a talking dog reports to an assembly of scientists in an officious, academic manner on the use or rather misuse that humanity had made of his talents: a moving account of insensitivity and stupidity in a second-degree and not at all funny way, quite the contrary.
63 1920 Ernst Jünger In Stahl-gewittern In Steel Storms war novel one of the most important works of literature to come out of WW1, by a major writer who was also one of the most decorated soldiers of the German Army in the First World War.
64 1920 Stefan Zweig Angst * Fear and Anguish short stories This excellent collection of stories starts off with the terrific title story that will I can guarantee impress you and shake you no end, as it did me. It finishes too with a small masterpiece, The Invisible Collection, that will not leave you unmoved either.
65 1920-1940 Hermann Hesse Der Dichter The Poet short stories HH is a master of the short-story genre.
66 1922 Hermann Hesse Siddharta. Eine indische Dichtung Siddharta, an Indian Poem novel The search for internal peace and spiritual understanding of Siddharta, told in a way that is halfway between a novel with dialogues and internal monologues and a sacred text recounting with awe the spiritual messages of Buddhism and Hinduism. Much easier to read and even assimilate than I had been expecting, this book’s awesome reputation is on the whole well justified, although I wasn’t as shaken by its eastern spirituality (that’s not what I’m looking for in a novel, anyway) as many of its reader-believers seem to have been.
67 1922 Stefan Zweig Brief einer Unbekannten
*
Letter from an Unknown Woman novella A well-known novelist returns home after a holiday in the mountains to find a long letter awaiting him there from a woman he had once known but quite forgotten. She on the other hand has never forgotten him, for good reasons as the letter explains. A very intense, very moving reading experience. A true masterpiece, perhaps Stefan Zweig’’s finest work.
68 1922 Stefan Zweig Phantas-
tische Nacht*
Fantastic Night novella We follow the events in one day of the life of a well-off and very blasé reserve officer in Vienna in June 1914 as he quite by hazard finds himself at the races in the Prater, the great Viennese public park, and watches with a detached eye the excited behaviour of the crowd during the races. His day and his whole existence are thrown head over heels when he starts paying attention to an alluring person next yo him and he rapidly goes through a life-changing experience that ends very late that night.
A memorable account of the glories of a summer pre-WW1 Viennese day, of the festive atmosphere on a Sunday at the immense Prater park, of the passion of a large crowd at a major horse race, of the interplay between the different strata of society, and of one man’s existential quest for meaning in his life. One of the master’s finest masterpieces.
69 1922 Franz Kafka Der Bau* The Burrow novel-ette a fascinating exploration of an animal’s psychosis as it wanders around its enormous underground complex worrying about how to protect the domain from being discovered and invaded by enemies and, towards the end, about strange sounds that it hears constantly and anguishing about what menacing creature must be making them. Brilliant and profound and disturbing, surely one of the best things that Kafka ever did.
70 1923 Leo Perrutz Der Meister des Jüngsten Tages The Master of the Day of Judgment novel A brilliant evocation of the social and literary atmosphere of Vienna circa 1909 in the form of an extremely original, fast-moving murder mystery with supernatural overtones. A writer who counted in the vibrant days of the could-have-been-great Weimar Republic.
71 1923 Joseph Roth Das Spinnennetz The Spider Web novel A political fantasy featuring an embittered nonentity who rises to power in a post-WW1 Germany riddled by political and social strife, by means of a totally unscrupulous, unprincipled, opportunistic and mindless — but nevertheless effective — manipulation of the wave of patriotism, xenophobia, antisemitism and anticommunism that had engulfed that unlucky land. By one of the finest writers produced by the glorious civilization of the pre-WW1 Austro-Hungarian Empire. A violent fantasy, only published posthumously 25 years after Roth’s death by suicide in 1939, written in a telegraphic fairy-tale style that, it must be said, fails to provide the depth and credibility so necessary for such a big subject, a style very different from the smooth, penetrating prose of Hotel Savoy and The Radetzky March.
72 1924 Joseph Roth Hotel Savoy Savoy Hotel novel ›Life in the provinces in the ultra-cosmopolitan atmosphere of eastern Europe after the Great War by a major Austrian writer.
73 1924 Thomas Mann Der Zauberberg
*
The Magic Mountain novel ›Reading this extraordinary book is an unforgettable experience. No one who has read this masterpiece can ever forget the young Hans Castorp’s visit to a sanatorium nestled high in the Swiss mountains, where he meets and becomes so intensely involved with its cosmopolitan patients from all over Europe, especially the tantalisingly mysterious Clawdia Chauchat, her explosive protector Mynheer Peeperkorn, and the impetuous philosopher M. Settembrini. Their encounters and discussions and intense relationships have an epic tonality that permeates the novel and creates an aura of significance that leaves the reader profoundly shaken and moved by the exceptional scope of this magnificently-written book with its vast themes of life and death and health and sexuality and passion and search for meaning.
Many of its scenes are particularly unforgettable: the day where Hans gets lost in a blinding snowstorm on a mountain top and has an almost mystical vision, the Walpurgis Night encounter with Clawdia when all constraints are lifted for one intensely-lived night, his confrontations with the extraordinary personality of Meinheer Peeperkorn and his intense conversations with M. Settembrini are some of the most remarkable scenes that I have ever read.
One is a different person after having read this magical book.
74 1925 Arthur Schnitzler Traum-novelle Dream Story novella a dream night that finishes badly, a story that has perfectly passed the test of time.
75 1925 Franz Kafka Der Prozess The Trial novel Kafka’s masterful account of the struggle of Mr. Average Citizen with the state apparatus, written in 1912 but never completed and published posthumously in 1925. But can a book like this about the difficulty if not the impossibility of communication in the modern world ever be finished? Kafka opened up the whole field of absurdity and incommunicability in modern literature with this theme and with the detached mock-realist style of this seminal work.
76 1926 Arthur Schnitzler Spiel im Morgen_
grauen
Early Morning Card Game novella another of S’s masterpieces, another wonderful evocation of the pre-war Austrian Empire mindset.
77 1927 Hermann Hesse Der Steppenwolf The Wolf of the Steppes novel Although I have always liked what I have read by this great German-Swiss writer I was not as interested by this famous book as I had thought I would be, finding it much calmer and more staid than I was expecting. I suppose that the spiritual and intellectual implications of his prose passed way over my down-to-earth positivist Anglo-Saxon head.
78 1927 Stefan Zweig Verwirrung der Gefühle
*
Confusion of Feelings novella This intense drama gets us into the mind and heart of a university professor of sciences (Zweig is not one of your aesthetes who ignores the very existence of the scientific dimension of mankind’s achievement) who progressively reveals and relates the key event in his life: his encounter and subsequent complex relationship with a particularly gifted student at the start of the professor’s distinguished - but essentially mundane and disappointing - academic career. As usual with Zweig one has the impression that every word is just perfect as you are carried along in a calm and classy but quite irresistible manner from start to finish that is somehow characteristic of the finest writers of that extraordinary concentration of European art and culture and civilization (and science!) that flourished in and around Vienna before the horrible catastrophe of The Great War.
79 1927 Stefan Zweig Vierund-zwanzig Stunden aus dem Leben einer Frau* 24 Hours in the Life of a Woman novella a very intense accoung of a woman’s desperate attempts to save a dissipated young man, addicted to playing roulette in Riviera casinos, from himself.
80 1927,
1940,
1943
Stefan Zweig Sternstunden der Menschheit Decisive Moments in History essays 14 essays (5 in the original 1927 publication, then 12 in German in 1943 – 10 of which had already appeared in a 1940 English translation published in New York – and all 14 in later editions) on key turning points in mankind’s history according to Zweig: for example, The Conquest of Constantinople in 1453 that almost didn’t happen, and the battle of Waterloo when Field Marshal Grouchy with his 30,000 crack French troops failed to appear on the battlefield for perfectly trivial reasons. Extremely engaging.
81 1927 Vicki Baum Frauensee The Ladies’ Lake novel as romantic as you could wish, very classy.
82 1928 Franz Werfel Der Abiturienten-tag The Class Reunion novel A finely-wrought short novel of quite theatrical intensity, describing the confrontation of a renowned judge with a man accused of murder, whose past turns out to have been intimately linked with the judge’s own past, and whose descent into the depths menaces to sweep the judge along with him. A psychological drama of great intensity and power, set in the Vienna of both the glorious pre-First World War and the more sedate twenties, in the great Viennese tradition of Schnitzler and Zweig and Musil for whom Werfel is a most worthy kindred spirit.
83 1928 Bertolt Brecht Die Drei-groschen-oper* The Threepenny Opera theatre Adapted from John Gay’s early-18th Century play The Beggar’s Opera] (1728), this musical drama was written by Brecht in collaboration with Elizabeth Hauptmann, the translator of Gay’s work into German who worked with him closely on its adaptation to the stage, and, to a lesser extent, with Kurt Weill, the composer of the play’s celebrated musical score. Not to mention John Gay, much of whose text was integrated into this account of the deeds and misdeeds of the elegant but too profligate gang leader Macheath, alias Mack the Knife, vaguely set in the London of the Victorian era. A huge and quite unexpected success at the time, this effervescent new kind of socially-oriented drama manages to epitomise with its verve, its cynicism and its anti-establishmentarianism both the dynamism and the burning social tensions of the (unfortunately) ill-fated Weimar Republic.
84 1929 Erich Maria Remarque Im Westen nichts Neues All Quiet on the Western Front novel probably the best novel to come out of the Great War: moving, fascinating, unforgettable.
85 1929 Stefan Zweig Die Reise in die Vergangen-heit
*
Voyage into the Past novella Separated unexpectedly by the First World War and having each gone their separate ways, a couple meet up again and explore to what extent time and the travails of life have affected their former passion. This delicate but intense exploration of the impossibility of reviving the past was only discovered many years after Zweig’s death in the archives of a London publishing house, fortunately for us.
86 1930 Hermann Hesse Schön ist die Jugend* Youth is Beautiful short stories difficult, but moving and even poetical.
87 1930 Carl Zuckmayer Der Hauptmann von Kopenick
*
The Captain from Kopenick theatre a rather famous satire of the germanic respect for authority, dated now (the writing, not the theme!) but still quite interesting.
88 1930 Ernst von Solomon Die Geächteten The Outcasts memoir the violence and chaos in immediate post-WW1 Germany and the Baltic States, recounted by one of the most important writers of his time
89 1930 Vicki Baum Menschen im Hotel* Grand Hotel novel I loved this even more the second time around: all the magic and glamour and excitement of the ultra-cosmopolitan Berlin of the Weimar Republic.
90 ca. 1930 Stefan Zweig Auf Reisen Travelling travel journal sparkling, as usual with SZ.
91 1931 Erik Kästner Der 35. Mai* The 35th of May novel for young people This is one of my very favourite stories for children, an utterly charming and joyful tale about a boy who meets a talking horse who accompanies him and his rather zany uncle through a secret passage to a marvellous Land of Plenty where tarts grow on trees among other wonders, by the very talented author of Emile and the Detective and The Conference of Animals, not to mention the early-thirties best-seller Fabian.
92 1932 Joseph Roth Radetzky-marsch The Radetzky March novel A large, sweeping saga of the social rise and fall of three generations of the newly-ennobled Trotta family in the Austro-Hungarian empire over the 80-odd years preceding the final catastrophe that ended the world as it was and really ushered in the new and terrible 20th century, the First World War. Set mostly in various outer reaches of that multinational, far-flung proto-European empire, in what are today Slovenia, the Czech Republic and the Ukraine, the sense of impending decline and doom assumes ever more tragic overtones as the novel approaches its end and the news from Sarajevo and elsewhere sets the wheels of war and ethnic-national conflicts in motion. With a touch more emotion and central characters easier to relate to than the feeble Trotta tribe, this would have been an absolute masterpiece; it remains a fascinating study of a bygone epoch that saw change of unprecedented proportions invade every sphere of industrial, cultural and social activity.
93 1932 Ödon von Horvath Geschichten aus dem Wiener Wald
*
Stories from the Viennese Forest theatre charged with the troubled atmosphere of the thirties.
94 ca. 1932 Hans Fallada Erzählungen
*
Short Stories short stories light and charming.
95 1933 Ernst von Solomon Die Kadetten The Cadets memoir to understand the patriotic-militarism that dominated German thought in the decade 1910-1920 there is nothing better (or better-written).
96 1934 Stefan Zweig Triumph und Tragik des Erasmus von Rotterdam Triumph and Tragedy of Erasmus of Rotterdam essay wonderfully enlightening.
97 ca. 1934 Joseph Roth Die Legende vom heiligen Trinker* Legend of the Holy Drinker novella a very moving account of a man’s very major problem (referred to in the title), one which proved to be the author’s own undoing only a few years later.
98 1935 Elias Canetti Die Blendung Auto Da Fe (The Burning) novel A book about books, and one man’s over-riding passion for books, and book collecting, that is itself a whirlwind of words that swirl around the reader to sweep him effortlessly along to the final paroxysm of an ending that leaves one quite breathless with admiration for the force and power of this exceptional book.
99 1936 Ernst Jünger Afrikanishe Spiele African Games memoir Jünger recounts his adventurous enrolment in the French Foreign Legion at the age of 17. You have here pre-1914 Paris, Marseilles, Algiers and the Algerian bled (backwoods) and especially and above all the colourful and oh-so-believable characters that the young and resourceful Ernst meets on the way. Everything I have read by Jünger is close to perfection, including this fascinating memoir. Decidedly one of my favourite writers.
100 ca. 1937 Stefan Zweig War er es?* Did He Do It? novella straightforward, clear, flowing and uncomplicated but tinged with a soupçon of doubt and even despair – pure Zweig.
101 1939 Ernst Jünger Auf den Marmor-klippen* On the Marble Cliffs novel Jünger’s great poetical novel, set in a mythical and deformed but recognisable Europe, about the desperate and probably-doomed struggle of the forces of enlightenment to defend civilization against the forces of destruction and inhumanity surging out of Europe’s dark forests that are led by a charismatic, utterly determined leader known as the Great Forester. In spite of Jünger’s immense prestige as one of Germany’s most decorated First World War veterans and celebrated author of the war novel In Steel Stoms, it required great courage on his part to publish this book in the Germany of 1939.
102 1939 Joseph Roth Die Geschichte von der 1002. Nacht* The Story of the 1002nd Night novel A remarkable evocation in a somewhat-light tone of the atmosphere in pre-WW1 Vienna, centred on the dilemma of the Viennese court when the visiting Shah of Persia sees a very lovely countess dancing at his reception and orders his Vizir to get her for him for the night. A seemingly-impossible-to-satisfy request, but then the very resourceful Baron Taittinger knows a certain Mitzi who is the splitting image of the countess in question and a lot easier to get into the Shah’s bed for the night. But the apparently-successful episode has an impact on the lives of all those involved in the adventure...
103 1940 Bertolt Brecht Mutter Courage und ihre Kinder* Mother Courage and Her Children theatre A musical-tragedy (!) portraying a widow’s determined struggle to survive, with her three grown children, by travelling around Europe with a waggon trading whatever goods she can obtain in the wake of armies on all sides during the terrible Thirty Years War that ravaged Germany in the 17th Century (and reduced its population by 50%). The musical element, many mostly bitter songs commenting on the common man’s poor lot, is clearly influenced by the enduring success of The Threepenny Opera - which was though a parody of mainstream opera, wherefore the songs – and surprises somewhat in the sombre context of extreme violence so predominant throughout the play. And the play’s subliminal pacifist message that war is a crime against humanity only fostered by those in power to for ignoble mercantile aims strikes me as being oddly out of tune with its time, as the play was written and published in 1940 when Hitler’s armies were on the march and threatening the very foundations of Western civilization and its humanist heritage (but then it is true that at that time the author’s beloved Soviet Union was at peace with Germany and had been rewarded with half of Poland for its services). Still, the central figure of Mother Courage, with her earthiness and her resourcefulness and her capacity for facing up to the worst disasters and to still be able to carry on, stands out as one of the most remarkable theatrical personalities of our time.
104 ca. 1940 Stefan Zweig Montaigne Montaigne essay one is filled with admiration after this for Montaigne and for Zweig.
105 1941 Franz Werfel Eine blaßblaue Frauenschrift Pale Blue Ink in a Lady’s Hand novella A very short novel with the feel of a long short story but the emotional impact of something much vaster, this account of a top civil servant’s unsuccessful struggle in the mid-thirties with his conscience when faced with a secret from his past that threatens his social position is a relentless (and ever-contemporary) condemnation of the moral turpitude of an Austrian society almost effortlessly integrating the brutal antisemitism of Hitlerian Germany in a vain attempt to preserve their comfort, tranquillity and independence.
106 1942 Stefan Zweig Die Welt von Gestern The World of Yesterday memoir A sober, penetrating and often moving evocation of an extraordinary period of world civilization, pre-World War I Vienna at its height.
107 1942 Stefan Zweig Schach-novelle
*
Chess Story novella his last novella and one of his best – and that is high praise indeed!
108 1944 Hans Fallada Fridolin der freche Dachs* Fridolin the Bold Badger novel for young people and the others too This starts off with a bang on p. 1 when Fridolin is out for a stroll with his family and one of the little ones slips and rolls downs a slope into the stream below, where it is snapped up by a waiting and very hungry pike. F’s mother senses that something has gone wrong and recounts her brood: one, two, many (that’s as high as badgers can go) and is reassured that all is well and so the story continues. This is the best animal story ever written (with Jack London’s) in my humble opinion.
109 1945-1947 Wolfgang Borchert ausgewählte Erzählungen
*
Chosen Stories short stories ultra-stark, stream-of-consciousness-style evocations of life in war-torn quasi-apocalyptic post-WWII urban Germany. Several of these highly original and mostly very bitter short tales scale great heights, notably Die Hundeblume (“The Dog Flower” - about a prisoner’s quasi-maniacal longing for a lone flower in the prison courtyard) and Schischyphusch (“Sisyphus” – where two stutterers clash in a restaurant) are particularly impressive and urgently need to be read by everyone.
110 1946 Albrecht Haushofer Moabiter Sonette* Sonnets from the Prison of Moabit poems An extremely rich, profound, intense, introspective, erudite, moving series of 80 sonatas written in the Moabit prison in Berlin by a 42-year-old professor of geography specialised in the Far East who had been condemned to death for having been associated with the attack on Hitler’s life in July 1944, and who was murdered without trial, covertly at night in a vacant lot, by an SS detachment at the end of April 1945, only two days before Russian tanks stormed the city.
111 1947 Wolfgang Borchert Draußen vor der Tür* Outside the Door theatre A young soldier just back from captivity in Siberia wanders around devastated post-war Hamburg after a first unsuccessful suicide attempt, searching in vain for warmth and shelter and a reason to live in spite of the loss of his wife (who is with another man) and his parents (who have “denazified” themselves with their gas stove). He and we experience intense encounters with emblematic figures of his past and present time – DIE ELBE (personifying the river Elbe, where he had tried to drown himself), DER ANDERE (The Other, a caring bystander), DIE FRAU (The Wife, whom he finds living with another man), DAS MÄDCHEN (The Young Woman, who finds him on the river bank and shelters him), DER OBERST (The Colonel, a former officer of his on the Eastern front), DER EINBEINIGE (The One-Legged Man, the young woman’s wounded husband, devastated to find her with our soldier), DER KABARETTDIREKTOR (The Theatre Director, a potential employer) and others – notably, for one extremely forceful scene, GOTT (God or The Old Man, in whom nobody believes any more). A singular cry from the heart, infused with moving, poetic language from start to (inevitably-dark) end. The very gifted 26-year-old author of this outstanding work, surely one of the most significant theatrical creations of that momentous period, died of tuberculosis one day before its opening night in Hamburg in 1947.
112 1949 Heinrich Böll Der Zug war pünktlich* The Train Was On Time novella a very powerful account of a German soldier’s fateful train odyssey towards the eastern front towards the end of WW2 – unforgettable!
113 1949 Ernst Jünger Heliopolis Heliopolis sci-fi novel the powerful prose of Jünger applied to some formidable themes (science and politics in a future ultra-sophisticated world) – most readable.
114 1949 Erik Kästner Die Konferenz der Tiere* The Conference of the Animals novel for young people Birds and animals of all kinds from all over the world congregate in Africa, in spite of the difficulties and dangers of the enterprise, for a mighty conference to decide how they can best act to prevent mankind from destroying the world in another cataclysmic world war. A timeless and premonitory metaphor from the late forties that carries about as much political punch as ever while remaining eminently readable for young and old alike.
115 1952 Heinrich Böll Das Brot der frühen Jahre* The Bread of the Early Years novella an interesting evocation of the immediate post-war period seen through the eyes of a young working-man who narrates his love-at-first-sight encounter with a young woman in harsh conditions indeed. HB is a modern reference and this is one of his best-known works.
116 1952 Friedrich Dürrenmatt Der Richter und sein Henker* The Judge and His Hangman novella hard-nosed, cruel and difficult, but well worth the trouble. Original and most striking.
117 1956 Friedrich Dürrenmatt Der Besuch der alten Dame The Visit of the Old Lady theatre most impressive, an important work.
118 1956 Ernst Jünger Gläserne Bienen Glass Bees sci-fi novel uneven but full of interesting and striking poetical meditations.
119 1956 Ernst Jünger Rivarol Rivarol and Other Essays literary essays the erudition of this great writer is a royal treat for the reader.
120 1962 Siegfried Lenz Stimmungen der See Sea Moods stories I like the short story genre in general and I really liked these two somewhat bizarre stories filled with atmosphere by one of the most prolific and respected German writers of the post-war period.
121 1967 Ernst Jünger Subtile Jagden Subtle Hunts memoir The author of On The Marble Cliffs was also an amateur etymologist who spent a great deal of time throughout his very long life (1895-1998) chasing after specimens of insects all over the world, and this well-titled memoir subtly but powerfully succeeds in transmitting to the reader his passion for the beauties to be discovered in the world of the butterfly (one species of which is named after Jünger, who discovered it) and the cicada and other 6-footed denizens of this earth of ours. A wonderful book.
122 1973 Michael Ende Momo* Momo novel for young people A modern-day classic for young people that is as well-known in Germany as Treasure Island. And rightly so - this is a terrific book with a great theme: the fight of a marginal young girl against the powerful but obscure forces that robotise adults by convincing them to constantly "save" time. A book that I would recommend to anyone of any age.
123 1976 Karl Popper Ausgangs-
punkte
Exit Points memoir extremely engrossing, surprisingly easy to follow too.
124 1979 Michael Ende Die unendliche Geschichte* The Never-ending Story novel for young people I loved this extremely original, imaginative, well-paced and well-told story - now a modern classic.
125 1981 Heinz Konsalik Bittersüßes siebtes Jahr Bitter-sweet Seventh Year novel gay, light and very funny.
126 1981 Heinz Konsalik Der pfeifende Mörder* The Whistling Murderer docu-fiction novel terrific atmosphere, nicely written, I am a fan of HK.
127 1981 Patrick Süskind Der Kontrabass* The Double Bass theatre A brilliant, intense, often funny but overall pretty sad, introspective monologue by a bass player in a regional state orchestra musing in everyday-speech steam-of-consciousness mode about music, his instrument, the unattainable soprano singer whom he loves in a very frustrated way, life in general and so on - this is theatre and this is literature at its very very best.
128 1985 Patrick Süskind Das Parfum The Perfume novel A stunning historical novel with a touch of fantasy about the search for the perfect perfume in 18th-Century France that was on the German best-seller lists for 9 years (!) and almost as long elsewhere.
129 1985 Heinz Konsalik Die Bank im Park* The Bench in the Park novella You’re not supposed to admit that you like Konsalik, as he was and probably still is an immensely popular writer with the general public in Germany and elsewhere, but I must confess that I just couldn’t help being impressed by this long and evocative story about literary success and failure set in the Latin Quarter of Paris in the 14th Century. I had had the idea that with a popular writer the vocabulary should be relatively basic and therefore quite essential for beginners like me, but this book turned out to be way above the literary standard you would expect in an Anglo-Saxon equivalent for the mass public.
130 1987 Patrick Süskind Die Taube* The Pigeon novella A very impressive long story about a very average bank employee with hermit-like tendencies in contemporary Paris, whose existence is seriously upset by the intrusion of a pigeon into his life.
131 1988 Bernhard Schlink Die gordische Schleife* The Gordian Knot spy-thriller novel An espionage thriller by one of Germany’s outstanding contemporary writers. Set first in southern France and then in Manhattan in the late 1980s, it lacks the pace of Anglo-Saxon thrillers but to a certain degree compensates that by its interesting central characters and its general class.
132 1990 W.G. Sebald Schwindel. Gefühle. Vertigo literary essay This is a literary essay on memory and the tricks it plays on us by a modern master of evocative, erudite, clear-sighted prose. Sebald takes us in the superb opening chapter with Stendhal through the Alps during Napoleon’s Italian campaign to meditate on the contrast between Stendhal’s vivid memories of the events he lived through and their objective, photographic realities, and continues to wander around Verona, Venice and Vienna in company with Casanova, Kafka and his own memories of places seen and people met, to finally confront his snatches of childhood memories in his birthplace in the mountains of southern Germany.
As in his other works the book is amply illustrated with photographs and images of the subjects under consideration to add an extra, visual layer of significance and poetry onto the penetrating power of the prose itself. A memorable reading experience!
133 1991 Heinz Konsalik Die Bucht der schwarzen Perlen The Black Pearl Bay novel Konsalik (1921-1999) was a hugely successful writer who was quite despised by the German intelligentsia, but I had been most impressed by The Whistling Murderer so I decided to give this one a try. It is a sort of romantic adventure story set in the South Seas, with I suppose a certain amount of appeal to sun-worshipping Northerners of the more sentimental sort. I now see what the intelligentsia were talking about.
134 1992 W.G. Sebald Die Aus-gewanderten The Emigrants literary essay In four separate, unrelated chapters Sebald explores the passage through time of four almost-average and almost-unassuming persons that had crossed his own life path at one time or another. In his uniquely penetrating way he digs ever further to explore the ever-widening implications of his findings to present us with a deeply moving, intense and profound portrait of the times through which these in fact exceptional people lived.
Sebald can make you see into the heart of things like no one else, thanks to his superb mastery of language and to the innate integrity and honesty of the way he approaches his subjects, going from the topmost, surface impressions through to the deepest layers of significance. The growing interest one feels as each of the people-stories unfolds is, as always with the author of The Rings of Saturn, considerably enhanced by the ubiquitous photos and images, which combine with the pregnant prose to heighten the ever-present sense of the wider implications of the life-stories of his four people-subjects.
This was the first of Sebald’s works to be translated into English, and it quite understandably immediately established his international reputation as one of Germany’s leading contemporary writers.
135 1995 W.G. Sebald Die Ringe des Saturn The Rings of Saturn literary essay Sebald goes wandering around rural England visiting places of interest to him and thinking about writers and painters and thinkers and cities and landscapes that these places bring to his erudite and fertile mind. Since everything he looks at and writes about assumes near-cosmic significance thanks to the magic of his bewitching prose and penetrating internal vision, the reader is in for a big treat indeed, boosted by the neat way images of the subject under scrutiny are systematically inserted throughout the text.
136 1995 Bernhard Schlink Der Vorleser* The Reader novel a modern classic, even though I found the author’s portrayal of the leading female figure, a former prison guard at Auschwitz(!!) a good bit too empathetic for my taste. Note - as everyone knows, the story starts off when the lady next door asks the student-hero to read good stuff to her in lieu of foreplay: well in the Hollywood film he reads Mark Twain and other Yankee authors, no doubt because the authors cited in the original text are almost all unknown to audiences outside of the German cultural sphere ...
137 1996 Patrick Süskind Geschichten Stories short stories what a golden touch this writer has!
138 1998 W.G. Sebald Logis in einem Landhaus A Place in the Country literary essay Penetrating analyses of various – mostly Swiss – authors of particular importance to Sebald (Johann Peter Hebel, J-J Rousseau, Eduard Mörike, Gottfried Keller, Robert Walser) and of the hyperrealist painter Jan Peter Tripp, written in Sebald’s own inimitably rich style so full of significance. Profound and moving.
139 1999 W.G. Sebald Luftkrieg und Literatur Air Warfare and Literature essay A series of lectures on the subject of the Allied terror bombings of German cities throughout the Second World War, avowedly aimed at destroying the morale of the German population by killing as many civilians as possible, that really began with the surprise levelling of the residential areas of Hamburg in the summer of 1942 and that was carried steadily onwards up to the apocalyptic 2000-bomber raid on Dresden and its masses of refugees in April 1945(!).
Sebald wonders aloud, in his clear, straightforward, implacably logical way, why this painful subject has been with one or two exceptions almost entirely swept under the carpet in post-war Germany, with the subject being avoided by almost all writers and intellectuals, with the many eyewitness accounts by survivors being quite unobtainable, so that the very subject itself has become a non-subject in the modern German consciousness. A striking plea for intellectual and moral honesty.
140 1999 Felicitas Hoppe Picknick der Friseure The Hair-dressers’ Picnic novel A recent German novel about life in the DDR, which turns out to have been just about as drab and discouraging as one had always imagined it to be. Sort of OK, one suspects it has lost a certain twangy Saxon touch in the translation process.
141 2000 Bernhard Schlink Liebes-fluchten Flights of Love short stories An absolutely first-rate collection of beautifully-written stories, all with considerable punch and emotional impact.
142 2000 Bernhard Schlink Zuckererbsen
*
Sweet peas novella Another brilliant, very striking tale by one of Germany’s most renowned contemporary writers.
143 2000 Bernhard Schlink Der Andere* The Other Man novella This is a terrific novella about a newly-widowed sixtyisher who finds in his letterbox a love letter to his late wife and undertakes a search through her past - and into his rival’s present - to understand just what kind of relationship he really had had with his wife and just what kind of person she really was. Told in a solid, straightforward way that even I could follow in the original text, with only a little help from the translation on each opposite page, the story becomes ever more gripping and ever more global in its questioning impact as our hero delves into his wife’s past and her lover’s present, until he eventually and almost unexpectedly ... you just must find out for yourself how this man’s quest for understanding evolves.
144 2001 W.G. Sebald Austerlitz Austerlitz literary essay Sebald does it again: he turns what starts out as a somewhat rambling series of personal reminiscences — centred not on the infamous death camp but on an extraordinarily erudite and engaging professor named Austerlitz, whose brilliant extempore exposé on architecture and time during a chance encounter in the Antwerp train station at the beginning of the book sets the tone for what we are in for – into a panoramic view of the state of contemporary culture and a literary work of art of the first order.
Sebald’s startlingly clear, precise prose flows on in a harmonious, captivating way that reminds me somehow of the effect of the one and only Marcel P’s very own style.
145 2008 Volker Kutscher Der nasse Fisch The Wet Fish crime fiction crime and detection during the Weimar Republic in the 20s, nicely done.
146 2010 Bernhard Schlink Sommer-lügen* Summer Lies stories A brilliant series of intense, almost disquieting stories about people trying to come to grips with what they and their lives are all about. The closing tale, Die Reise nach Süden (The Trip South), about an elderly woman who suddenly realises that she no longer loves anyone in her large family, is even more of a masterpiece than the others.

Footnotes

[1titles marked with an asterisk were read in German, the others in translation.

[2novelette: 7,500 to 17,499 words; novella: 17,500 to 40,000 words; novel: over 40,000 words.

[3in fact the hero ends up blowing his brains out in the same way Kleist himself did a few months after the story was written.