Welcome to German Literature Month


Finally it’s November. Those of you who follow my blog might have noticed I was a bit quiet in the last weeks. With good reason. I was busy reading German, Austrian, and Swiss literature.

As you know, Lizzy and I have decided to do a “Read as you please month” with only two themed weeks.

A crime week during week two, hosted by Lizzy.

All For Nothing

The Literature and War Readalong on November 25, in which we read and discuss Walter Kempowski’s WWII novel All For Nothing – Alles umsonst.

For those who are still looking for titles, here are the books I have already read and those I’m still planning to read.

Weit über das Land

Peter Stamm’s latest novel. I must admit, I might not review it. It’s the worst book I’ve read this year. I can still not believe he wrote something like this.


Judith Hermann’s new short story collection Lettipark. I’ve not finished this yet but I can already see that it’s a mixed bag.


Karen Köhler’s short story collection Wir haben Raketen geangelt.

I bought this collection a while ago but haven’t read it yet. When I was looking for reviews of Judith Hermann’s book I saw it mentioned a few times. Most critics came to the conclusion that readers would do better to read Köhler instead of Hermann. I’ll let you know what I think.


I’ve only heard great things about Uwe Timm’s memoir In My Brother’s ShadowAm Beispiel meines Bruders. As far as I can tell, (I read the beginning), it’s amazing.


Almost Like SpringFast ein bisschen Frühling, is my first Alex Capus and if the rest is as good as the beginning, it won’t be my last.


Last year I read Ursula Poznanski’s Erebos and was pretty much blown away. While I liked Five – Fünf a bit less, it’s still a really gripping book. You may have noticed that her adult crime novels are published under another name, Ursula P. Archer, in English. If you’re still looking for a page turner for crime week and are not too squeamish, you’ll enjoy this.


These are my plans so far. I might add some Walter Benjamin and one of the fantasy novels by Nina Blazon Der Winter der schwarzen Rosen (not translated yet).


I hope you’re all busy making plans and wish you all a great month. I hope you’ll discover a lot of great books. Happy Reading!



There will be a few giveaways.

Here’s a sneak peek.




Please add your reviews to this site German Literature Month.

Hansjörg Schertenleib: A Happy Man – Der Glückliche (2005)

Hansjörg Schertenleib is a Swiss author who received a lot of praise for his novels. Das Zimmer der Signora (The Room of the Signora) which has not been translated is one of the most famous. I’ve read Das Regenorchester (The Rain Orchestra), which has equally not been translated and which I liked a lot. He has written many more.

This Studer, the main protagonist in  Schertenleib’s airy novella A Happy ManDer Glückliche, is a jazz trumpeter and known for his somewhat enigmatic smile which puzzles and annoys those who meet him equally. Why does this man smile constantly? Is it possible to be this happy all the time?

This Studer is indeed happy most of the time. He loves his wife of twenty years just like he did when he met her, he loves jazz and his career as trumpeter and all the  joys this offers, like the trip to Amsterdam of which the novella tells us. Since This is not only of a sunny disposition but quite chatty and likable, he has many friends, one of them lives in Amsterdam and has invited him for a couple of concerts.

In the evening the friends play at a club, during the day This wanders the streets of Amsterdam, explores the city and has an uncanny encounter with a homeless man and his dog, an encounter which reminds him of something that happened in  his childhood and which shows that even this sunny man has some hidden darkness to hide.

What makes A Happy Man special is the narrative technique which reminded me of much older novels. There is a narrator who guides us into and out of the story, like a camera man, telling us to look at This now, to watch him and to leave him alone again in the end. I was afraid at first this would make for heavy reading but in the central part of the story, the narrator is in the background, just makes some comments occasionally.

I deliberately called this novella ‘airy’. ‘Breezy’ would have been apt as well. It’s like the dessert île flottante (floating island), which consists of floating egg white. If you have ever had that dessert, you will know what I mean. Fluffy, but not too sweet. And so is this novella; charming but not too cute. No literary heavyweight, that’s for sure, just a pleasant read. And if you like jazz, you might enjoy this even more.

Peter Stamm: On a Day Like This – An einem Tag wie diesem (2006)

Swiss author Peter Stamm was one of the discoveries of German Literature Month last November. I read and reviewed one of his short story collections In Strange Gardens and was very much looking forward to read one of his novels. I have finally managed to read On a Day Like This – An einem Tag wie diesem.

On a Day Like This tells the story of Andreas, a Swiss teacher who has been living in Paris for twenty years. He goes through the city and his own life like a visitor, never really belonging there nor to anyone. He changes his lovers, sometimes sees more than one woman at the same time. Whenever one of them wants more, he leaves them. He is like a spectator of his own life, someone who doesn’t fully participate. But “on a day like this” things change. He feels even more detached than he used to. His work as a teacher doesn’t make sense anymore. He doesn’t feel at home in Paris, doesn’t like his friends and he is filled by an incredible yearning for his home country and a woman he was once in love with, when he was barely twenty.

The fragile construction that his life has become finally falls apart completely when he goes to see a doctor because of a persistent cough. The doctor sees a shadow on his lung that could be anything, a scar or cancer. Too scared to wait for the result of some tests, Andreas, resigns from his job, sells his apartment and returns to Switzerland to find the woman he once loved.

I thought I knew how this was going to end but luckily I was wrong. It’s not a predictable story and the laconic tone doesn’t leave a lot of room for sentimentality. Like in his short stories, Stamm captures minute details of every day life. The struggle of someone who avoids relationships at any price but is filled with a deep longing to belong somewhere, to find meaning, resonates with us.

You can read this novel without being aware of the intertextuality, without knowing how much references and allusions to other works it contains but it’s still interesting to know them. The title is a reference to Georges Perec’s Un Home qui dort – A Man Asleep. The story of a young man, a bit like Bartleby who withdraws from life and only slowly finds his way back. One could say that Andreas has lived a life like that but has now woken up. Another reference is François Ozon’s movie Le temps qui reste.

But Andreas’ detachment is also reminiscent of Camus’ L’étrangerThe Outsider. Just like Meursault, Andreas doesn’t belong anywhere or to anyone, he is even an outsider in his own life, has never been capable of taking root but unlike Meursault, he wakes up and his life takes a turn.

Reading this novel had something uncanny. Andreas’ coldness is painful and it’s not easy to like him at first, but slowly, Stamm peels off layer after layer and we get a better feeling for his protagonist and why he became the way he was. There is pain and hurt and deep-rooted suspicion of anything “normal”, like families, love, career. Deep down, without knowing it, he was protesting and looking for something out of the ordinary, something more.

Stamm is a great observer, it’s the way he captures brief moments, tiny details, minutiae that make his books so special. There is the beauty of the fleeting moment, right next to the banality of everyday routine. I don’t think that this is his best novel and I preferred his short stories but there were so many wonderful scenes in this book that I still want to read his other novels too.

German Literature Month Week III Wrap-up and The Winners of the Friedrich Glauser Giveaway

When I did the wrap up for the first week I was amazed about the contributions and thought that the enthusiasm might die down further into the month. I’m glad I was wrong with this assumption. The number of reviews and the variety of authors and books that have been chosen is as great as during week I and II. I would really like to thank all of you who contributed and help making this event a huge success.

The complete links and participants list can be found HERE.

Lizzy contributed two posts, one in which Publisher’s and Authors recommend their favourite German books and the other is a review of Julya Rabinowich’s Splithead which sounds like a most unusual book.

The Magic Mountain of German Literature 3 (Publisher and Author Recommendations)

Splithead by Julya Rabinowich

I reviewed a short story collection by Peter Stamm that I liked a lot and also reviewed Vicki Baum’s classic bestseller Grand Hôtel. While it isn’t as refined as Joseph Roth’s Hotel Savoy it is still a surprisingly interesting and character driven book.

In Strange Gardens and Other Stories by Peter Stamm

Grand Hôtel – Menschen im Hotel by Vicki Baum

Danielle (A Work in Progress) reviewed The Murder Farm by Andrea Maria Schenkel which she found a fascinating and unusual crime story in the vein of Capote’s In Cold Blood.

Emma (Book Around the Corner) read Short Stories by Stefan Zweig. The stories had all a historical theme. She did enjoy it but maybe not as much as his non-historical stories.

Ted (BookeyWookey) read The Artificial Silk Girl by Irmgard Keun and liked it a lot. The review captures the frothy playful tone that covers a dark undercurrent very well. The many quotes included in the review give a good impression of the novel (a favourite of mine).

Grace (Books Without Any Pictures)  re-read The Trial by Kafka which she thinks a most unusual and absolute must-read book. She likes it better than most of his short stories.

Richard (Caravana de Recuerdos) read Doctor Faustus by Thomas Mann after having been urged by a few people. He appreciated it a lot but liked it more for its ideas than its style. His review gives an excellent impression of the many interwoven themes of this complex book.

Jackie (Farm Lane Books) came to the conclusion that neither Jelinek’s Piano Teacher nor Grass’ The Tin Drum are to her liking. On Jelinek’s the Piano Teacher and Grass’ The Tin Drum. Judging from the comments, she is far from alone.

Guy (His Futile Preoccupations) read and reviewed Where Do We Go From Here? by Doris Dörrie which seems to have been a very good read, in typical Dörrie style “With piercing wit and a generous view of human nature.” Guy also read and reviewed  The Snowman by Jörg Fauser. A cult classic of gritty German crime which – to quote Guy – “is strongest in its depiction of the seedy underbelly of life –the cheap hotels, the filthy toilets (…).  There’s an intense authenticity to these scenes, and a sour truth to Fred’s realization that he’s small-time for a reason.”

Rise (in lieu of a field guide ) underlined in his review of Rock Crystal by Adalbert Stifter how crystal clear Stifter’s prose is. A captivating story written in a flawless style, concrete and precise like poetry, as he writes.

Fay (Read, Ramble) read Poems by Rilke which impressed her or in her own words “One reading of selected poems gives a sense of striking imagery and intense artistic purpose but not enough mastery of Rilke’s art to make further commentary worthwhile. Rilke is a poet who deserves several careful readings. All I know is that the more I came to know Rilke’s voice, the better I liked him, after a hesitant start. It is a voice to listen to again.”

Rikki (Rikki’s Teleidoscope) read Maybe This Time by Alois Hotschnig in German. She writes “I read this is German and I don’t think I have ever come across a writer who writes in such a precise way and who conjured such a clear picture of what is going on.”

Scott W. (seraillon) reviewed  Beautiful Days – Schöne Tage by Franz Innerhofer. In his in-depth review he writes about the unusual combination of a seemingly cheerful title with the topic of child abuse. The book seems to be well worth reading, complex and arresting.

Priya (Tabula Rasa) liked Hotel Savoy by Joseph Roth a lot and recommends it highly.

Alex (The Children’s War) rediscovered and reviewed an old children’s classic Emil and the Detectives by Erich Kästner and reviewed A Song For Summer by Eva Ibbotson. Ibbotson’s book offers a wide variety of unusual, typical Ibbotoson characters and despite a WWII topic stays light and hopeful.

Parrish (The Parrish Lantern)  introduced a great book on German poetry, including authors like Else Lasker-Schüler as well as Jan Wagner. The Faber Book of 20th Century German Poems. He included the whole list of poets, a poem by Elke Erb and a lot of other information.

Anthony (Time’s Flow Stemmed) calls Old Masters by Thomas Bernhard a flawless book. It seems also a very interesting book and one that was echoed by two other reviews (in lieu of a filed guide and seraillon). Bernard’s character criticizes Austrian art and artists, among them Stifter. The book could be called a rant but Anthony chooses to call it a tirade.

Tony (Tony’s Reading List) What happens when someone reads Kafka’s The Castle and participates in German Literature Month? Given he is an imaginative person it might look a little bit like this Das Schloss – The Play Act One  – Das Schloss – The Play Act Two  – Das Schloss – The Play Act Three Das Schloss – The Play (Director’s Cut). Tony writes his own “Castle Play ” and adds a review of Kafka’s book.

Liz (Tortoisebook) liked the sad but beautiful  The Sorrows of Young Werther by Goethe. She says “This book is a lovely read, beautifully told and achingly heartbreaking.”

Vishy (Vishy’s Blog) reviewed the original sheep crime novel Three Bags Full by Leonie Swann which read as if “Agatha Christie had rewritten The Wind in the Willows“.

Poor Daryl (Who Killed Lemmy Caution?) was ill but is recovering. Soon we will read her review of Klausen by Andreas Meier. Review on Its Way

Week three gives us a slightly puzzled Tom (Wuthering Expectations ) who after having read Wedekind’s Spring Awakening during week II thought he had seen the height of Austrian treatment of  sexuality in plays but no – he hadn’t read the La Ronde/Der Reigen by Arthur Schnitzler yet. He was quite amused by the use of … to cover up the ongoing activities and wonders how they handled this during the play.

Effi Briest Readalong

Week III










And here are the winners of the Friedrich Glauser giveaway courtesy of Bitter Lemon Press.

One copy each of In Matto’s Realm goes to

Neer from A Hot Cup of Pleasure and

Richard from Caravana de Recuerdos

Happy reading Neer and Richard!

Please send me your address via beautyisasleepingcat at gmail dot com.

The giveaway is part of German Literature Month.

The next giveaway will take place on Wednesday 23 November 2011.

Wednesdays are wunderbar – It’s Swiss Crime Time – Friedrich Glauser Giveaway

It’s Wednesday again, time for our weekly giveaway. Today’s books by Swiss author Friedrich Glauser have been kindly offered by Bitter Lemon Press.

We can give away 2 copies of his classic crime novel In Matto’s Realm. I know it’s somewhat shameful but I haven’t read Glauser yet that’s why I included the description of the Bitter Lemon Press Glauser Page for you.

Finalist for the 2005 CWA Gold Dagger Award.

A child murderer escapes from an insane asylum in Bern. The stakes get higher when Sergeant Studer discovers the director’s body, neck broken, in the boiler room of the madhouse. The intuitive Studer is drawn into the workings of an institution that darkly mirrors the world outside. Even he cannot escape the pull of the no-man’s-land between reason and madness where Matto, the spirit of insanity, reigns.

Translated into four languages, In Matto’s Realm was originally published in 1936. This European crime classic, now available for the first time in English, is the second in the Sergeant Studer series from Bitter Lemon Press.

Author Information
Friedrich Glauser was born in Vienna in 1896. Often referred to as the Swiss Simenon, he died aged forty-two a few days before he was due to be married. Diagnosed a schizophrenic, addicted to morphine…

The Translator
Mike Mitchell has translated some thirty books, including ‘Simplicissimus’ by Grimmelshausen and all the novels of Gustav Meyrink. He won the 1998 Schlegel-Tieck German translation prize.

If you would like to win one of the books, please leave a comment. The only condition is that you have been participating in German Literature Month, either with comments, posts or reading along. No need to have your own blog.

The giveaway is open internationally, the books will be shipped by the editor. The winner will be announced on Sunday November 20 at 18.00 – European – (Zürich) time.

Peter Stamm: In Strange Gardens and Other Stories – Blitzeis und In fremden Gärten (1999/2003)

In Strange Gardens: And Other Stories by Peter Stamm

In these stories, Stamm’s clean style expresses despair without flash, through softness and small gestures, with disarming retorts full of derision and infinite tenderness. There, where life hesitates, ready to tip over—with nothing yet played out—is where these people and their stories exist. For us, they all become exceptional.  “Sensitive and unnerving. . . . An uncommonly intimate work, one that will remind the reader of his or her own lived experience with a greater intensity than many of the books that are published right here at home.”

I had a hard time picking a Swiss author for German Literature Month as there are so many good ones to pick from. I chose Peter Stamm because the reviews in Swiss and German newspapers tend to be full of praise but I have never read anything by him. Most of what Stamm has written is translated into English, his novels as well as his short stories. I got Agnes (Agnes German), his first novel but from the English and German reviews I know, it’s his only controversial book, one that you either love or hate. I was much more in the mood to read something that critics called one of “the most beautiful and important books” or “one of the most remarkable achievements of contemporary literature written in German”. And so I chose to read his short story collection Blitzeis. You can find it in the English collection In Strange Gardens and Other Stories that combines two German collections, Blitzeis and In fremden Gärten.

Since I have finished the book I tiptoe around this review. The stories are saturated with a fleeting beauty that is hard to capture. What exactly was it that made me love those stories so much? So much that for the first time, I regretted reading short stories and not a novel. I would have loved to go on reading each and every single one of those stories. Nothing much happens in these pages. People dream and float and meet others. They live some moments of intensity, of joy, of disappointment, of regret. The stories take place in different countries, one is set in Switzerland, some in New York, one in Sweden, another one in Italy, one in the Netherlands. The characters are often from Switzerland, they meet people abroad, are fascinated by the cities and the landscapes they don’t know, some are happy to return to Switzerland, some will stay abroad. They enjoy moments in which nothing much happens.

These stories are, as I said, not so much about plot or even atmosphere but about mood. They achieve to convey a wide range of moods. Sadness, melancholy, joy, apathy… each and every story captures either one or more of these emotional states. At times I was reminded of some Japanese stories and their celebration of fleetingness, at times they reminded me of Anna Gavalda’s first short story collection Je voudrais que quelq’un m’attende quelque partI Wish Someone Were Waiting For Me Somewhere.

To give you a better impression I will pick two stories.

In the Outer Suburbs (In den Aussenbezirken) is the story of a chance encounter. A young Swiss man is walking the streets of New York on an early Christmas morning. He is hung over from the night before in which he had a party with friends. Too much alcohol and too many cigarettes were involved. He walks aimlessly through the streets and feels as if he sees them for the first time. He finally enters a bar and is drawn into a conversation with a drunk whom everyone seems to avoid. Without prejudice or preconceived ideas he listens to the man and they drink together. The drunk is full of wisdom, talks about poetry, and the difference of love poems written by men or women. After a long while they leave the bar together. The afternoon is still bright, although they expected that the night had already fallen. When they part, the drunk thanks him for a beautiful afternoon.

Passion (Passion) is the story of a love in its final hours. The beauty of the Italian summer, the happiness of the narrator who lies awake in the hot night listening to his friends talk below the open window of his sleeping room, contrast with the feeling of an imminent ending. He wants to break up with his girlfriend but when she finally leaves him, he is disappointed.

Peter Stamm’s stories may very well be the greatest discovery of German Literature Month for me. I loved each and every one of them and wanted to go on reading. I can’t wait to read one of his novels. I already got An einem Tag wie diesem – On a Day Like This and it’s likely that I will review it during the last week of German Literature Month.

The review is part of German Literature Month – Week 3 Switzerland and Austria

German Literature Month – November 2011

Finally I am allowed to let you know what Lizzy and I have been planning in the background for quite a while now.

I’m happy to announce that Lizzy Siddal from Lizzy’s Literary Life and I are co-hosting a German Literature Month in November.  Ever since Iris from Iris on Books hosted her Month of Dutch Literature it’s been on our minds to do something similar for the literature of the German-speaking countries. We both share a passion for the literature of Austria, Germany and Switzerland and hope to find many like-minded and interested people to join us.

We have prepared a programme, including two readalongs and a lot of giveaways that generous publishers like Melville House, Bitter Lemon Press, Pereine Press, And Other Stories, Portobello Books and One World Classics have kindly contributed. The giveaways are international with the exception of a few which are UK only.

The official kick off will be on November first,  from then on we will post on alternating days. Lizzy will post on Tuesdays and Fridays, I will post on Mondays and Thursdays. Wednesdays, starting already in October, are reserved for giveaways. The readalongs will take place on Saturdays. Sunday will be weekly wrap up day and the time for announcing the winners of the giveaways.

The first readalong is dedicated to  Effi Briest. It will run for three weeks. Details and exact dates are given below.

The second readalong is my monthly Literature and War Readalong that I will shift to Saturday and I have also changed the previoulsy announced title. We will read Heinrich Böll’s The Silent Angel. This book is unique for reasons that I will reveal in a later post. On a more personal note it is important to me as Böll is my favourite German author.

The programme will look as follows

Week 1 German Literature

Maybe you like Thomas Mann or you are a fan of Genazino. Now’s the time to share this.

Week 2 Crime Fiction

There are a lot of crime novels written in German out there. Whether you like it gritty or rather go for psychological suspense, you are sure to find something.

Week 3 Austria and Switzerland 

You could either read some of the 19th century Swiss classics like Gotthelf, Keller or Meyer or finally read the Roths and Zweigs you have had on your TBR pile for years.

Week 4 Kleist and Other German Classics

Kleist died 200 years ago. We are going to read some of his novellas and give away some of his books but we will also read other classics.

Week 5 Read As You Please and Wrap Up

Wrap up week is a chance to read and review whatever you like. I’ll go for something that hasn’t been translated yet.

Three Week Readalong on Saturdays  (5th chapters 1-15, 12th chapters 16 – 24 and 19th chapters 25 – 36, 280 pages)

Literature and War Readalong 2011 on Saturday 26th November

The Silent Angel (184 pages)


These are some of the possible titles for the giveaways. The exact titles will be announced on the giveaway days.

We will post a few times in the upcoming weeks sharing reading suggestions, as we hope that many of you will read and review with us.

The idea is that you link your posts in the comment sections of our posts. The Sunday will be wrap up day in which we will give an overview of everything that has happened through the week.

Get your copies out, enter the giveaways, or buy a few books and join us.

Feel free to use the button and spread the word.

I’m looking forward to November.

Visit the German Literature Month Page for regular updates.