German Literature Month in November: my selection

September 28, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

After a moment of hesitation, I decided to participate to the German Reading Month hosted by Caroline (Beauty Is A Sleeping Cat) and Lizzy (Lizzy’s Literary Life). It will take place in November and will overlap my EU Book Tour project. After Dutch literature in June, German-speaking literature in November.

I’m not well read in German literature. When I think of the German books I’ve read and loved, most of them are by Austrian or Czech writers (Zweig, Kafka, Schnitzler, Rilke). Honestly, I wasn’t thrilled by the few books from Germany I’ve read so far. The Sorrows of the Young Werther by Goethe? Romanticism isn’t my cup of tea. Mademoiselle de Scudéry by E.T.A. Hoffmann? Not a remarkable landmark in my reading history. The Left Handed Woman by Peter Handke? Brr, terrible experience. Death in Venice by Thomas Man? I can’t recall a single thing from the plot. And I didn’t even remember I had read The Lost Honor of Katarina Blum until I started investigating Heinrich Böll for this event.

I think this was all bad luck and I’m sure there must be German books I will enjoy. I never picked up the right ones, that’s all. Anyway, I looked for the German books on my shelves and on my wish lists. I’m terribly lazy, so I eliminated big books and here is the dream list.

Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane (1895)

Caroline and Lizzy organize a readalong. I’ll probably read it at my own pace. Sorry Caroline and Lizzy, but reading determined chapters each week sounds like school and I’m not up for it. But I’m really interested in discovering Effi Briest.



Un mariage à Lyon by Stefan Zweig, a French collection of short stories including:

German Title

French Title

English Title

Die Hochzeit von Lyon (1927) Un mariage à Lyon A Wedding in Lyon (*)
Im Schnee (1901) Dans la neige In the Snow (*)
Das Kreuz (1906) La Croix The Cross (*)
Geschichte eines Untergangs (1910) Histoire d’une déchéance Twilight
Die Legende der dritten Taube (1916) La légende de la troisième colombe The Legend of the third Dove (*)
Episode am Genfer See (1919) Au bord du lac Léman By Lake Léman (*)
Der Zwang (1916) La Contrainte Constraint (*)

(*) I have no idea of the English title used by publishers, so I added the literal translation of the German title. I’ll never thank enough French publishers for sticking to literal translations of book titles most of the time. For a review of Twilight, read Guy’s post here.

Lettres à Lou Andreas-Salome by Rainer Maria Rilke

This small book is a collection of letters Rilke wrote to his beloved Lou Andreas-Salome. I love Rilke. There’s nothing else to say. I’m looking forward to this bath in his soothing and wise prose. I also enjoy that collection of tiny books by Mille et Une Nuits. I have other titles from it and they’re always enchanting. I owe them a great translation of Ovide.


Hotel Savoy by Josef Roth (1924)

I’ve had in mind to read a book by Josef Roth for a while and this one seems just great.

Beton by Thomas Bernhard (1982)

The English title is Concrete and the French one Béton. I added it to my TBR after Guy’s review. You can read it here.




Der Mensch ist ein grosser Fasan auf der Welt by Herta Müller (1994).

The French title is the translation of the German, L’homme est un grand faisan sur la terre. The English title, The Passport, is totally invented by the publisher. Indeed, the original title means Man is a great pheasant on the earth, which is much more intriguing in my opinion. I was intrigued by the title and interested in reading a book by the Nobel Prize Winner of 2009. 


Ruhm: Ein Roman in neun Geschichten by Daniel Kehlmann (2009)

The English title is Fame: A Novel in Nine Episodes. The French title is Gloire. I expect a lot of fun with this collection of short stories by an Austrian writer. Another reading idea I owe to Guy. Here is the link to his review.



I wanted to try another Heinrich Böll but I wasn’t tempted the blurbs of the books available in paperback. Ooops.Now that I look at my list again, I realize I’m not going to discover a lot of books from Germany. Tant pis. Of course, I’m not sure I’ll be able to read all this in time but I’ll try. Most of the books are short.

If anyone has read one of these, I’m interested in your take.

  1. September 28, 2011 at 9:37 am

    Thank you so much for the post and the link.
    I hope you will like your choices. I did review Hotel Savoy recently. I’m sure you will like it.
    Zweig is a good choice anyway and so are Lou Andreas-Salomés letters. She is a fascinating woman. I have her autobiography. I read two books by Kehlmann. One I hated, one I loved. I still need to read Ruhm.
    There would be a lot more I’m sure you would like, I guess it was bad luck. I’m sure you would also like Goethe’s Wahlverwandtschaften which is one of the greatest books I’ve ever read. And absolutely everything by Fontane. And all the great women. Bachmann, Wolf, Rinser, Kaschnitz, Aichinger. Keun…


    • September 28, 2011 at 9:50 am

      I haven’t heard of any of the women writers you mention. I hope I will discover authors through other people’s reviews. And if possible writers who are still alive and don’t write about WWII.


  2. September 28, 2011 at 10:03 am

    Most of the women are still alive and do not write about WWII. I like many of the ex-DDR writers, like Wolf or Monika Maron. Many are not translated into English, you will find more in French. I used to read at least 40% German writers before I started the blog but some of the best are not translated. There is a risk that many will review the same books due to limited choices. Terezia Mora is another newer one you might like. Karen Duve and Julia Franck, Judith Hermann, all quite young, early thirties or younger and no WWII (Franck yes, in her latest novel that’s why the critics didn’t like it). I suppose either French or German books are what I have read the most in my life and out of the German books I have read there were only five-ten that dealt with WWII.
    You would like Thomas Mann, I would even say he could become one of your favourites. He is so witty and complex. You picked the wrong one in this case although I like Tod in Venedig.
    If you would like something modern Sven Regener is fantastic. Very funny and no WWII.


    • September 28, 2011 at 10:17 am

      Thanks for the ideas. That’s what I’m looking for. I’ll check them out.
      So far, “bof” would be the general comment on the few German books I’ve read. I think that’s why I never really investigated further. And also I never had someone who could make valuable recommendations 🙂


      • September 29, 2011 at 9:26 am

        OK, I’ve been investigating, and here are the results:

        Ingeborg Bachmann : Trois sentiers vers le Sud
        Luise Rinser: OOP
        Christa Wolf: several possibilities.
        Marie-Luise Kaschnitz: OOP
        Ilse Aichinger : Un plus grand espoir (no paperback)
        Irmgard Keun : OOP
        Monika Maron : Animal triste (no paperback or OOP)
        Terezia Mora: Etrange matière (OOP)
        Karen Duve: Déluge (Rivage)
        Julia Franck: La femme de midi
        Judith Hermann: Alice / Rien que des fantômes / Maison d’été, plus tard. (No paperback)
        Sven Regener: Herr Lehmann (no paperback)
        Sophie von La Roche: not found
        Möricke : not found
        Jorg Fauser : Le bonhomme de neige / Matière première (no paperback)
        Walter Serner : La tigresse- une singulière histoire d’amour / Au singe blue – 33 histoires criminelles (no paperback)

        You’re right, most of them have been translated into French but most books are OOP or don’t have a paperback edition. My library is poorly stocked for such books. Not sure German literature is such successful here.


    • September 28, 2011 at 4:42 pm

      Hang on, isn’t there a film called Herr Lehmann based on the book….


      • September 28, 2011 at 4:55 pm

        I have no idea but maybe Caroline knows.


  3. September 28, 2011 at 4:07 pm

    I’m probably going to join in, I just haven’t been able to devote any thought to it yet as I’m working on a big project I’m trying to pull together.

    I’ll hazard a guess that you’ll like the Kehlmann. I really liked Concrete, and in the time since I closed the last page, the novel has realy grown in my mind.


    • September 28, 2011 at 4:27 pm

      I had thought you were really busy these days. I hope things will cool down and I’ll be curious to read about your choices.
      I’ve had these books on my wish list since your reviews. Usually our literary tastes are rather alike, I think I’m safe with those two.


      • September 28, 2011 at 4:43 pm

        Things should improve in a couple of weeks. Time wise that is.


        • September 28, 2011 at 4:55 pm

          Good for you, then.


  4. September 28, 2011 at 5:31 pm

    Yes, there is a movie called Herr Lehmann. I think the book is called Berlin Blues or something like that and it is much, much better than the movie that was just okish.
    I got a book today one of you might consider reading. The author is called Sophie von La Roche and what is really exciting it’s 18th century. It seems very good. I’m not sure I will be able to read it as the two readalongs will take up too much time. I started Mörike yesterday. I think One World Classics published him. Biedermeier. A style that doesn’t exist outside of Germany. (Yes they are both dead but not WWII).
    I still think the book for you is Fauser’s Snowman. It should be gritty. And this Snowman refers to cocaine. I would know many more if only they had been translated. Walter Serner for example.


    • September 28, 2011 at 9:13 pm

      Thanks Caroline. I’ll have a look at those. I need to go to a bookstore, that kind of searching isn’t as good online as in a bookshop.
      Okish? now I know how to say bof.


  5. October 1, 2011 at 8:56 pm

    Those are all new to me, Emma. I’m looking forward to the challenge, but haven’t planned any books yet. Maybe I’ll steal some of your ideas if that’s alright! I just read a couple of short-story books which I’d recommend – All the Lights by Clemens Meyer and Maybe This Time by Alois Hotschnig. Seems as if you have plenty of ideas of your own, though!


    • October 1, 2011 at 9:20 pm

      Of course it’s alright if you read one of my selection. I’d be delighted to read another review! It’s really interesting to have someone who has just read the same book: we can discuss details.
      I’ve seen your review of Alois Hotschnig and Caroline’s too. It sounded good.


  6. October 1, 2011 at 10:29 pm

    I’m looking forward to this challenge, and wondering whether I can make it through Musil’s The Man Without Qualities over the course of November. It’s still my most tempting choice. I enjoyed Effi Briest when I read it (though that was years ago), and I imagine Rilke’s letters will be a joy. The other authors are not so known to me. I did try Herta Muller but didn’t get on with her. It could have been a poor choice of book, so hopefully you will do much better.


    • October 1, 2011 at 10:40 pm

      The Man Without Qualities sounds very tempting indeed but too long for me. I tend to shy away from long books now. (well, except for Proust)
      I’m not sure about Herta Müller but the book is short, the misery won’t last long if I don’t like it 🙂


  7. October 6, 2011 at 8:23 am

    I read the man without qualities in the days when I had a long commute – perfect for a series of hour long train journeys. Following your recommendation I read (and reviewed) Effie Briest and really enjoyed it. I musts read Joseph Roth sometime – an author I have yet to discover for myself.


    • October 6, 2011 at 9:00 am

      I’ll read your review of Effi Briest later after I have read it.
      I’m looking forward to discovering Joseph Roth too.


  8. October 7, 2011 at 6:22 pm

    Great looking list.

    Hotel Savoy was the Roth I started with, and he’s since gone on to be one of my favourite authors. It’s a very good choice to start on. The one I’d recommend actually. I must check out Caroline’s review.

    I have a different Bernhard, which I hope to read soon. I’ve actually been reading some Musil fueilletons. He’s a brilliant writer, no doubt about it, but A Man without Qualities is vast and reading it is a challenge on its own.


    • October 7, 2011 at 8:33 pm

      I’m happy with my list, I’ll start right after the Lermontov. I’ve added Urs Widmer, a Swiss writer. (Caroline reviewed one of his books)

      After reading your last post, I guess it’s not a perfect time for you to read A Man Without Qualities. I think each moment in life has its particularities. When children are little, you can’t really travel. There’s no need complaining about it, there are other joys that don’t last. Now you’re probably too busy to read such a long book but I’m sure someday will be the right time.


  1. October 2, 2011 at 5:16 pm

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