German novels and novellas - a personal overview

(actualisé le ) by Ray

An overview of the German-language novels and novellas [1] by German, Austrian and Swiss authors that we can recommend to one and all, in chronological order of publication, with synopses and comments.

No. Author German Title English translation Genre Date Synopsis/Commentary__________________________
1 Hans von Grimmelschausen Der Abenteuerliche Simplicissimus Teutsch The Adventurous Simplicissimus novel 1668 the devastating Thirty Years War seen by the first giant of German literature, a baroque monument.
2 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Die Leiden des jungen Werthers The Sufferings of Young Werther novel 1775 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 was a founding figure for the Romantic movement throughout Europe.
3 Heinrich von Kleist Die Marquise von O... The Marquise of O... novella 1808 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.
4 Johann Wolfgang von Goethe Die Wahlverwandtschaften The Elective Affinities novel 1809 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.
5 Heinrich von Kleist Die Verlobung in St. Domingo The Engagement in St. Domingo novella 1811 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 (in fact the hero ends up blowing his brains out in the same way Kleist himself did a few months after the story was written). What a story! Breath-taking and timeless!
6 Heinrich von Kleist Der Findling The Foundling novella 1811 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.
7 Heinrich von Kleist Der Zweikampf The Duel novella 1811 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.
8 Gottfried Bürger Wunderbare Reisen des Freiherrn von Münchhausen The Marvelous Voyages of the Baron of Münchhausen novella 1814 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.
9 Adelbert von Chamisso Peter Schlemihls wundersame Geschichte The Marvelous Story of Peter Schlemihl novella 1814 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.
10 E.T.A. Hoffmann Die Elixieren des Teufels The Devil’s Elixirs novel 1816 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.
11 Clemens Brentano Geschichte vom braven Kasperl und dem schönen Annerl The Good Gaspard and the Pretty Annette novella 1817 charming, a classic of the German Romantic movement.
12 E.T.A. Hoffmann Das Fraulein von Scuderi Mademoiselle de Scuderi novella ca. 1820 brillant, Hoffmann is a champion, light and amusing and somehow mysterious at the same time - I can’t get enough of him ...
13 E.T.A. Hoffmann Der goldene Topf The Golden Vase novella ca. 1820 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 !
14 E.T.A. Hoffmann Der Sandmann The Sand Merchant novella ca. 1820 quite inspired - another Romantic milestone.
15 E.T.A. Hoffmann Prinzessin Brambilla Princess Brambilla novella 1820 impossible not to be quite subjugated by the charm, the fantasy, and the brio of this splendid fable.
16 E.T.A. Hoffmann Spielerglück Gambler’s Luck novella ca. 1820 fascinating.
17 E.T.A. Hoffmann Lebensansichten des Katers Murr The Tomcat Murr novel 1821 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.
18 Joseph Freiherr von Eichendorff Aus dem Leben eines Taugenichts From the Life of a Good-for-Nothing novella 1826 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.
19 Georg Büchner Lenz Lenz novella 1835 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.
20 Edouard Mörike Mozart auf der Reise nach Prag Mozart on the way to Prague novella 1857 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.
21 Theodor Storm Der Schimmelreiter The Rider of a Pale Horse novella 1888 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.
22 Theodor Fontaine Effi Briest Effi Briest novel 1894 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 preeminence 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.
23 Hugo von Hofmannsthal Andreas Andreas novella 1900 baroque and modern at the same time, captivating.
24 Thomas Mann Buddenbrooks Buddenbrooks novel 1901 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.
25 Arthur Schnitzler Leutnant Gustl Lieutenant Gustl novella 1901 terrific, you are plunged into the (fascinating) mindset of those pre-WW1 days as if you were there.
26 Thomas Mann Tonio Krüger Tonio Krüger novella 1903 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.
27 Stefan Zweig Die Liebe der Erika Ewald The Love of Erika Ewald novella 1904 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.
28 Robert Musil Die Verwirrungen des Zöglings Törleß The Bewilderment of the Pupil Törless novella 1906 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 and that has larger, societal overtones, written in a smooth but meditative style that impressed the critics of the day and me too.
29 Thomas Mann Der Tod in Venedig The Death in Venice novella 1912 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!
30 Robert Walser Der Spaziergang The Promenade novella 1915 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!
31 Arthur Schnitzler Casanovas Heimfahrt Casanova’s Journey Home novella 1918 Casanova was a very talented person and so was Schnitzler - when the two meet, sparks fly! unforgettable!
32 Ernst Jünger In Stahlgewittern In Steel Storms novel 1920 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.
33 Hermann Hesse Siddharta. Eine indische Dichtung Siddharta, an Indian Poem novel 1922 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.
34 Stefan Zweig Brief einer Unbekannten Letter from an Unknown Woman novella 1922 A well-known and successful man-about-town gets a long letter one day from a unknown woman who recounts their encounter in bygone days and tells him much about himself, what he was and what he has become, that he is a better man for knowing about. Very powerful and very moving, this will not leave you unshaken or dry-eyed, guaranteed!
35 Franz Kafka Forschungen eines Hundes Investigations of a Dog novella 1922 I had to read this long, complex, really quite bewildering story twice over to start to come to grips with It 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 just about every page.
36 Stefan Zweig Phantastische Nacht Fantastic Night novella 1922 a complex and powerful drama.
37 Leo Perrutz Der Meister des Jüngsten Tages The Master of the Day of Judgment novel 1923 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.
38 Joseph Roth Das Spinnennetz The Spider Web novel 1923 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.
39 Joseph Roth Hotel Savoy Savoy Hotel novel 1924 Life in the provinces in the ultra-cosmopolitan atmosphere of eastern Europe after the Great War by a major Austrian writer.
40 Thomas Mann Der Zauberberg The Magic Mountain novel 1924 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.
41 Franz Kafka Der Prozess The Trial novel 1925 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.
42 Arthur Schnitzler Traumnovelle Dream Story novella 1925 a dream night that finishes badly, a story that has perfectly passed the test of time.
43 Arthur Schnitzler Spiel im Morgengrauen Early Morning Card-Game novella 1926 another of S’s masterpieces, another wonderful evocation of the pre-war Austrian Empire mindset.
44 Vicki Baum Frauensee The Ladies’ Lake novel 1927 People meet on a lovely lake in the Alps. As romantic as you could wish, very classy.
45 Hermann Hesse Der Steppenwolf The Wolf of the Steppes novel 1927 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.
46 Stefan Zweig Verwirrung der Gefühle Confusion of Feelings novella 1927 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.
47 Stefan Zweig Vierundzwanzig Stunden aus dem Leben einer Frau 24 Hours in the Life of a Woman novella 1927 very intense indeed.
48 Franz Werfel Der Abituriententag The Class Reunion novel 1928 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.
49 Erich Maria Remarque Im Westen nichts Neues All Quiet on the Western Front novel 1929 probably the best novel to come out of the Great War: moving, fascinating, unforgettable.
50 Stefan Zweig Die Reise in die Vergangenheit Voyage into the Past novella 1929 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.
51 Vicki Baum Menschen im Hotel Grand Hotel novel 1930 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.
52 Ernst von Solomon Die Geächteten The Outcasts novel 1930 the violence and chaos in immediate post-WW1 Germany and the Baltic States, recounted by one of the most important writers of his time
53 Erik Kästner Der 35. Mai The 35th of May novel for young people 1931 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.
54 Joseph Roth Radetzkymarsch The Radetzky March novel 1932 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.
55 Ernst von Solomon Die Kadetten The Cadets novel 1933 to understand the patriotic-militarism that dominated German thought in the decade 1910-1920 there is nothing better (or better-written).
56 Joseph Roth Die Legende vom heiligen Trinker Legend of the Holy Drinker novella ca. 1934 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 (via suicide) only a few years later.
57 Elias Canetti Die Blendung Auto Da Fe (The Burning) novel 1935 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.
58 Stefan Zweig War er es? Was it Him? novella ca. 1937 straightforward, clear, flowing and uncomplicated but tinged with a soupçon of doubt and even despair - pure Zweig.
59 Ernst Jünger Auf den Marmorklippen On the Marble Cliffs novel 1939 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 Storms, it required great courage on his part to publish this book in the Germany of 1939.
60 Franz Werfel Eine blaßblaue Frauenschrift Pale Blue Ink in a Lady’s Hand novella 1941 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.
61 Stefan Zweig Schachnovelle Chess Story novella 1942 his last novella and one of his best - and that is high praise indeed!
62 Hans Fallada Fridolin der freche Dachs Fridolin the Bold Badger novel for young people and the others too 1944 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.
63 Heinrich Böll Der Zug war pünktlich The Train Was On Time novella] 1949 a very powerful account of a German soldier’s fateful train odyssey towards the eastern front towards the end of WW2 – unforgettable!
64 Ernst Jünger Heliopolis Heliopolis science-fiction novel 1949 the powerful prose of Jünger applied to some formidable themes (science and politics in a future ultra-sophisticated world) – most readable.
65 Erik Kästner Die Konferenz der Tiere The Conference of the Animals novel for young people 1949 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.
66 Heinrich Böll Das Brot der frühen Jahre The Bread of the Early Years novella 1952 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.
67 Friedrich Dürrenmatt Der Richter und sein Henker The Judge and His Hangman novella 1952 hard-nosed, cruel and difficult, but well worth the trouble. Original and most striking.
68 Ernst Jünger Gläserne Bienen Glass Bees science-fiction novel 1956 uneven but full of interesting and striking poetical meditations.
69 Michael Ende Momo Momo novel for young people 1973 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 which I would recommend to anyone of any age.
70 Michael Ende Die unendliche Geschichte The Neverending Story novel for young people 1979 I loved this extremely original, imaginative, well-paced and well-told story - now a modern classic.
71 Heinz Konsalik Bittersüßes siebtes Jahr Bitter-sweet Seventh Year novel 1981 gay, light and very funny.
72 Heinz Konsalik Der pfeifende Mörder The Whistling Murderer docu-fiction novel 1981 terrific atmosphere, nicely written, I am a fan of HK.
73 Heinz Konsalik Die Bank im Park The Bench in the Park historical novella 1985 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.
74 Patrick Süskind Das Parfum The Perfume novel 1985 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.
75 Patrick Süskind Die Taube The Pigeon novella 1987 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.
76 Bernhard Schlink Die gordische Schleife The Gordian Knot espionage-thriller novel 1988 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.
77 Heinz Konsalik Die Bucht der schwarzen Perlen The Black Pearl Bay novel 1991 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.
78 Bernhard Schlink Der Vorleser The Reader novel 1995 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 ...
79 Felicitas Hoppe Picknick der Friseure The Hairdressers’ Picnic novel 1999 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.
80 Bernhard Schlink Zuckererbsen Sweet peas novella 2000 Another brilliant, very striking tale by one of Germany’s most renowned contemporary writers.
81 Bernhard Schlink Der Andere The Other Man novella 2000 This is a terrific long story 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.
82 Volker Kutscher Der nasse Fisch The Wet Fish crime-fiction novel 2008 crime and detection during the Weimar Republic in the 20s, nicely done.

Footnotes

[1novella: 17,000 to 40,000 words; novel: over 40,000 words.