German Literature Month – Some Plans and Suggestions

Screen Shot 2014-09-24 at 07.23.25

Although I don’t really stick to my plans these days, I was still tempted to make a list of possible choices for German Literature Month because in the past years my lists helped others find books. I’ll attempt to read a mix of translated and not yet translated books but all by authors known in the English-speaking world.

Walter Benjamin

I started to read Walter Benjamin’s essay collection Denkbilder. Many of the essays can be found in the collection Reflections. Benjamin was a philosopher, essayist, memoirist and modernist writer, who tragically took his own life in 1940, in France, when he knew he wouldn’t be able to escape the Nazis. He has written a lot of influential books like The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction

Tonio Kröger

Another classic, Thomas Mann’s novella of a young artist, Tonio Kröger.

The Tongue Set Free

Another modernist writer and memoirist, just like Walter Benjamin. Elias Canetti’s The Tongue Set Free is a childhood memoir, written in a dense poetic prose.

Aller Liebe Anfang

Judith Hermann has just published her fourth book. I loved her two short story collections and appreciated Alice and now I’m curious to find out how much I’ll like her novel which just came out in Germany.

The Giraffe's Neck

I bought Judith Schalansky’s The Giraffe’s Neck when it was published in Germany, two years ago. Now it has finally been  translated.

Here’s the blurb

Adaptation is everything, something Frau Lomark is well aware of as the biology teacher at the Charles Darwin High School in a country backwater of the former East Germany. It is the beginning of the new school year, but, as people look west in search of work and opportunities, its future begins to be in doubt.

Frau Lohmark has no sympathy for her pupils and scorns indulgent younger teachers who talk to their students as peers, play games with them, or (worse) even go so far as to have ‘favourites’. A strict devotee of the Darwinian principle of evolution, Frau Lohmark believes that only the best specimens of a species are fit to succeed. But now everything and everyone resists the old way of things and Inge Lohmark is forced to confront her most fundamental lesson: she must adapt or she cannot survive.

Written with cool elegance and humane irony, The Giraffe’s Neck is an exquisite revelation of a novel, and what the novel can do, that will resonate in the reader’s mind long after the last page has been turned.

The Glory of Life

Michael Kumpfmüller has already published a few novels to high acclaim. Some have been translated. The Glory of Life is his latest book and tells the story of Kafka’s last year, during which he fell in love with Dora Diamant. I started reading it and the writing is luminous and lyrical.


The translation of Ferdinand von Schirach’s latest novel Tabu – The Girl Who Wasn’t There will be published in January. He’s another author whose every book I tend to read.

Sebastian von Eschburg, scion of a wealthy, self-destructive family, survived his disastrous childhood to become a celebrated if controversial artist. He casts a provocative shadow over the Berlin scene; his disturbing photographs and installations show that truth and reality are two distinct things.

When Sebastian is accused of murdering a young woman and the police investigation takes a sinister turn, seasoned lawyer Konrad Biegler agrees to represent him – and hopes to help himself in the process. But Biegler soon learns that nothing about the case, or the suspect, is what it appears. The new thriller from the acclaimed author of The Collini CaseThe Girl Who Wasn’t There is dark, ingenious and irresistibly gripping.


I’ve almost finished this collection of Ferdinand von Schirach’s essays. Some are interesting, some, like the one of smoking, annoyed me quite a bit, but overall they are worth reading.

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 10.18.51

Since I’m hosting a Joseph Roth Week I’ll be reading at least two of his novels. One of them is our readalong title Flight Without End.

Flight Without End, written in Paris, in 1927, is perhaps the most personal of Joseph Roth’s novels. Introduced by the author as the true account of his friend Franz Tunda it tells the story of a young ex-office of the Austro-Hungarian Army in the 1914- 1918 war, who makes his way back from captivity in Siberia and service with the Bolshevik army, only to find out that the old order, which has shaped him has crumbled and that there is no place for him in the new “European” culture that has taken its place. Everywhere – in his dealings with society, family, women – he finds himself an outsider, both attracted and repelled by the values of the old world, yet unable to accept the new ideologies.

The Emperor's Tomb

The Emperor’s Tomb might be the second choice.

The Emperor’s Tomb is a magically evocative, haunting elegy to the vanished world of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and to the passing of time and the loss of youth and friends. Prophetic and regretful, intuitive and exact, Roth’s acclaimed novel is the tale of one man’s struggle to come to terms with the uncongenial society of post-First World War Vienna and the first intimations of Nazi barbarities.

The Winter of the Lions

Jan Costin Wagner is a German crime author whose books are set in Finland. A very unique mix. I’m reading the third in his Kimmo Joentaa series The Winter of the Lions and like it so much, I already got another one. I’m particularly fond of the writing. It’s so sparse and dry. Decidedly more literary than mainstream.

Every year since the tragic death of his wife, Detective Kimmo Joentaa has prepared for the isolation of Christmas with a glass of milk and a bottle of vodka to arm himself against the harsh Finnish winter. However, this year events take an unexpected turn when a young woman turns up on his doorstep.

Not long afterwards two men are found murdered, one of whom is Joentaa’s colleague, a forensic pathologist. When it becomes clear that both victims had recently been guests on Finland’s most famous talk show, Kimmo is called upon to use all his powers of intuition and instinct to solve the case. Meanwhile the killer is lying in wait, ready to strike again…

In Kimmo Joentaa, prizewinning author Jan Costin Wagner has created a lonely hero in the Philip Marlowe mould, who uses his unusual gifts for psychological insight to delve deep inside the minds of the criminals he pursues.


Silence is Wagner’s second Kimmo Joentaa novel.

A young girl disappears while cycling to volleyball practice. Her bike is found in exactly the same place that another girl was murdered, thirty-three years before. The original perpetrator was never brought to justice – could they have struck again? The eeriness of the crime unsettles not only the police and public, but also someone who has been carrying a burden of guilt for many years…

Detective Kimmo Joentaa calls upon the help of his older colleague Jetola, who worked on the original murder, in the hope that they can solve both cases. But as their investigation begins, Kimmo discovers that the truth is not always what you expect.

Ghost Knight

I’m also tempted by Cornelia Funke’s ghost story Ghost Knight, set in and around Salisbury Cathedral.

Eleven-year-old Jon Whitcroft never expected to enjoy boarding school. He never expected to be confronted by a pack of vengeful ghosts either. And then he meets Ella, a quirky new friend with a taste for adventure…

Together, Jon and Ella must work to uncover the secrets of a centuries-old murder, while being haunted by ghosts intent on revenge. So when Jon summons the ghost of the late knight Longspee for his protection, there’s just one question – can Longspee really be trusted? A thrilling tale of bravery, friendship – and ghosts!

Screen Shot 2014-10-19 at 09.59.49

These are the plans for the translated authors/books, but I might also read some of those that haven’t been translated yet, like Keto von Waberer.

Have you read any of these books? What are you’re plans?

52 thoughts on “German Literature Month – Some Plans and Suggestions

    • I would read both Mann novellas. Luckily all my choices are rather short, so it’s feasible to read most of them. I was going to read Der Zauberberg but that would block pretty much everything else.

  1. I hadn’t thought of including Benjamin, but I have his Illuminations floating around somewhere – thanks for the hint!

  2. Wow, that’s a lot of books (even if they’re short)! I’ve decided to try and revive my blog, so I’ve been thinking about joining but I’m not sure how realistic it all really is. There are a few German (language) books I’ve been wanting to read, so I might still sign up at the last minute.
    Also, I’m looking forward to your views on “The Giraffe’s Neck”. I’ve eyed it a few times in the bookshop but haven’t actually bought it yet.

  3. Wonderful reading plans, Caroline! ‘The Tongue Set Free’ is a very interesting title. Makes one want to find out what the book is about. I remember you recommending Judith Hermann during one of the early GLMs. I was hoping to explore her works sometime. Nice to know that her new novel is coming out. I love the blurb of ‘The Giraffe’s Neck’. I would love to read it. Ferdinand von Schirach’s ‘The Girl Who Wasn’t There’ looks quite fascinating – the story seems to be vintage Schirach 🙂 Can’t wait to read it. Hope you are able to read most of these beautiful books, Caroline. Happy reading!

    • Thanks, Vishy. Yes, I hope to read quite a lot of them. 🙂
      The Giraffe’s Neck was highly praised when it came out. I’ve also read a few reviews of von Schirach and it seems very good too.
      I hope you’ll read Judith Herman. I’m quite sure you will like her and would love to hear what you think.

  4. I started a Joseph Roth novel last night. I hadn’t heard of crime author Wagner, and I’m interested. The Von Schirach isn’t available here yet, but I’ll watch for that. Thanks.

    • I hope you’ll try Wagner. I love the way he writes. I didn’t read it in order because the first book is – among other things – about his wife’s illness and I didn’t want to read it now. Silence is the second and has garnered a lot of prizes. Which Roth are you reading?

  5. I robbed my German Lit TBR stack for yesterday’s read-a-thon and read Who Is Martha? (which I enjoyed). So I atoned for that this morning by going online and buying Shorter Days.

      • Yes, I liked it very much. A 96 year-old man with cancer decides to die in style in Vienna. Sounds grim, but it isn’t. It’s lively, droll, and full of memories.

        I’ve posted some of my ideas for German Lit Month on my blog. It’s all very tentative and there are way too many titles.

    • I am so glad I won this book as one of Lizzie’s Wednesdays are Wunderbar giveaways. Now I am waiting impatiently for the book to arrive since I heard so many good things about it. Glad you like it!

  6. Looking forward to reading your reviews, Caroline; you’ve got a great selection to choose from there. I’ve been searching my shelves for suitable books with three or four possibilities in mind. My book group is reading All Quiet on the Western Front at the mo, so that’s definitely on my list (along with Transit by Anna Seghers, which I didn’t get around to during #WITMonth).

  7. I see we might have some overlap despite not sticking to plans. I forgot to mention earlier that I’ll be joining you again, but I’m trying to decide whether I have time to read a big Broch or Mann (or maybe Faust at last?) or will limit myself to some shorter Bernhard, Kleist or Roth. The usual good dilemma for this event in other words.

  8. I have a copy of the book about Kafka – I hadn’t thought of it! I read the beginning a few days ago and thought it sounded very well-written, and I do hope to pick it up soon, so maybe it can be my November read.

    • Kehlmann is always a good choice. I wanted to do a must-read new authors list but finding out every time if something has been translated is making it very difficult.
      These are all authors who garnered prizes and have been translated. I’m curious to see what you will read.

  9. Wow, an impressive list. I’ve also got plans to read/re-read some Canetti – Auto da Fé was a favourite of mine years ago and I’m interested to see if it still holds up. I’ve read his autobiographies and The Tongue Set Free was the best one if I remember correctly.

    I want to read Roth’s One Hundred Days as I’ve been interested in the French Revolution and Napoleon quite recently…but my plans are quite flexible at the moment.

    • I think my list might change again but I’ll try to read as many as possible. I’m afraid the Canetti might not make it in the end because it’s not a book to rush through. I know it’s considered one of his best.
      In any case, I’ll be very interested to hear if he holds up on a re-read.

  10. I’ve glory of life read also Amok by Zweig ,safety net by Böll,A price to pay By Capus the mention of Walter Benjamin reminds me I’ve a ebook copy of his huge arcade book that I need to read at some point have three roth novels lined up as well

    • Oh – wow- you’ve got a lot planned as well. I’m very glad to hear it.
      I’ve started the Benjmain and love it. His childhood memoir is wonderful too. Anything really. It’s really creative non-fiction at its best.

  11. Lots of interesting books lined up. I have Roth’s Rebellion and Hotel Savoy and must try to read at least one of them. I also got some short books by Böll recently, and might try to fit in one of them. Although my reading is painfully slow at the moment.

  12. You have a great list assembled. I will be reading Shorter Days and They Called Him Necktie, but otherwise, I am still undecided. I will probably go with some German classics that have been sitting on my shelf for a long time.

  13. I’m so glad you shared your list of reading possibilities. It’s fun to think about potential reads even if you don’t end up reading most of them! I am quite tempted by the Kumpfmuller–it is not being published here until next spring but of course I can always get it from The Book Dep. I forgot that the Roth is a War & Lit book–I’ll have to grab the library copy of it. I have my own little pile of potential reads and may pick one out to start reading so I can have a little head start….if nothing else I will be reading along during the month, even if I don’t manage to finish things on time…. (I’ll be there in spirit anyway! 😉 ).

    • I love to make lists and share them. I’ve often found great reads on other people’s lists. it doesn’t always have to be a review.
      The Roth is a very short book, most of his books, with the exception of Radetzky March are short.
      Have you read Jan Costin Wagner? I think he’d be right up your street. I love how he captures winter – Finland. I hope you’ll share your list as well.

      • I broke down and ordered the Kumpfmuller–it looked too good to pass up. Luckily my library has the Roth so I have that as well and was happy to see it is fairly short–finally one I might just be able to read on time. I have not read JC Wagner but I do have the first of his mysteries. I forgot about him since the setting is Finland, but I will pull my copy of that out and look at it as well. I was planning on sharing a list of reading possibilities very soon!

        • I’m looking forward to that list.
          The Kumpfmüller must be very good. It’s high on my pile. And I’m glad as well the Roth is short. This month’s book is too long and I’m struggling.
          I have a feeling I’ll end up reading all of Wagner’s books. I really like the tone.

  14. That’s a very interesting and extremely ambitious list. Mine is more modest with five books (titles are on my blog) – but I secretly hope that I can manage one or two more, we’ll see. I read Benjamin’s Illuminations, The Work of Art…, and a collection of letters edited by him (“Deutsche Menschen”). I like his writing, contentwise and also his style. I read of course the Thomas Mann stories and Canetti’s autobiography (of which I like the first part, The Tongue…most). Judith Hermann’s first story collection (“Sommerhaus, spaeter”) left a lasting impression and it will be interesting to see her recent development. Looking forward to that review in particular. I have Rebellion by Joseph Roth on my reading list, an early novel. The Emperor’s tomb is related to Radetzkymarsch, but it is a stand-alone novel since the connection with the previous book is rather loose. I found both novels excellent. The other books I have mostly heard of but not yet read. Jan Costin Wagner fits especially this year, since Finland was the guest country of the Frankfurt Book Fair and his novels are set in Finland.

    • It’s a bit ambitious and I know I’ll not be able to read everything. Benjamin, Hermann, Roth, von Schirach and Wagner are those I’ll read and review, I’m pretty sure of it.
      I was highly impressed by Sommerhaus später and the following collection but Alice left me underwhelmed.
      I saw that The Emeror’s Tomb has a lot in common with Radetzky Marsch that’s why I chose it as my second book. But I might read another one. I have at least four unread novels.
      It’s a bit funny that many people think Wagner is Finnish. But I found his style very Germand and it reminded me of von Schirach. Or maybe von Schirach was influenced by Wagner? I didn’t think I’d like him this much but i do.

  15. Ah, that’s a nice coincidence, I was hunting for that Canetti just the other day. My local has the other 2 volumes of the trilogy, but not this one. Annoying! Anyway, I will take its appearance on your list as a sign that I can justify ordering it immediately.

    Interesting about the Von Shirach essays, and your mixed reaction. He has plenty of credit with me, so I’ll try anything that becomes available in English.

    • I might write about it because the essays he writes are thoughtprovoking in spite of my disagreeing with some of them.
      I’m not sure yet I’ll be able to finish the Canetti because it’s not exactly fluffy but what little I’ve read so far was extremely well written.
      I hope you’ll tell us what you thought of it. I think it might be worth to read the memoris in order.

  16. This is why I like your blog so much: you introduce writers from all over the world, most of whom I’ve never read. I look forward to the ones you choose and the ensuing discussions, Caroline.

  17. That looks like an interesting list. I’d like to read The Glory of Life but my library only has it in German so far. I have Hotel Savoy and hope to get it read in time, but I have The Legend of the Holy Drinker on standby, just in case. I just finished Forever Yours by Daniel Glattauer, and have read Tiger Milk by Stefanie De Velasco, Ludwig’s Room by Alois Hotschnig and Agnes by Peter Stamm. They’re all short books, which was what I wanted, because I’m very bad at getting sidetracked by other books! I don’t know what else I’ll read, but I hope to make time for another few.

    • I’ve got all the books you mention, with the exception of Tiger Milk. I’m looking forward to your reviews. I wasn’t aware they were translated. I read Hotschnig’s short story collection. Very different. I love Stamm’s work but I think Agnes, although it’s said to be good, is a bit different. I thought Hotel Savoy is marvellous. Kumpfmüller came out two years ago, that means it has only just been translated.
      Glattauer has just published another one that tempts me as well.

Thanks for commenting, I love to hear your thoughts

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.