Share

10 German books you have to read before you die

From Nobel Prize winners to a book burned by the Nazis, this list takes a whistlestop tour through Germany’s most influential books and authors.

1. Der Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum) by Günter Grass (1959)

AsA photo posted by Astrid (@astridmonet) on Jan 23, 2016 at 5:36am PST

In Der Blechtrommel, Oskar Matzerath narrates his life story from a mental hospital in the early 1950s.

Born in 1924, Matzerath decided at the age of three to stop growing, retaining the stature of a child whilst having an adult’s capacity for thought. Nobel Prize-winning author Günter Grass’ most famous novel is not the easiest of reads, but it is definitely worth the effort.

The book “most completely defines the [20th century] in all its glories and catastrophes – the moods, atmospheres, manias, streams, currents, histories and under-histories,” writes The Guardian

2. Der Tod in Venedig (Death in Venice) by Thomas Mann (1912)

A photo posted by aboyscloset (@aboyscloset) on May 26, 2014 at 9:00am PDT

Buddenbrooks and Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain) are probably Thomas Mann’s most renowned novels.

But to get a taste of Mann’s writing, Der Tod in Venedig is a good place to start.

Gustav von Aschenbach is a famous writer who takes a summer holiday in Venice. During one dinner, he notices an exceptionally beautiful adolescent boy.

He becomes obsessed from a distance, shutting out the ominous news of a danger spreading through the city.

3. Der Vorleser (The Reader) by Bernhard Schlink (1995)

A photo posted by Rachel (@booksandrachel) on Sep 10, 2016 at 11:46am PDT

In the late 1950s, 15-year-old West German Michael Berg finds himself in a passionate but secret love affair with a woman who is over 20 years his senior, leaving him confused yet enthralled.

As a law student several years later, he is observing a trial when he realizes that the woman in the dock is his former lover. But the woman on trial is a very different person to the one he thought he knew. 

Der Vorleser belongs to the genre of Vergangenheitsbewältigung – a term used to describe post-war attempts to come to terms with the Nazi past – and is one of the best known examples outside of Germany. In 1997, it became the first ever German book to top the New York Times bestseller list, and Kate Winslet won an Oscar for her performance in the 2008 film adaptation.

The book has however come in for staunch criticism, as critics claim it encourages identification with the perpetrators of the Holocaust.

4. Im Westen Nichts Neues (All Quiet on the Western Front) by Erich Maria Remarque (1929)

A photo posted by Sophie Anna (@dixie_melonworth) on Apr 30, 2016 at 4:03am PDT

One of the most well-known books about the First World War, Remarque’s novel tells the story of German soldier Paul Bäumer, giving a human perspective to the mass of fighting in Europe between 1914 and 1918. Remarque was himself a veteran of the war, and he wrote and published the book a decade after its conclusion.

The novel zooms in to the daily life of a private soldier, detailing both the violence of battle and the mundaneness of life on the front.

Published in 1929, it quickly received international acclaim, being translated into 22 different languages and selling 2.5 million copies in the first 18 months.

It was also one of the first books banned and burned by the Nazis for being “degenerate.”

5. Das Parfum (Perfume) by Patrick Süskind (1985)

A photo posted by Nia. (@niareadsbooks) on Oct 31, 2016 at 1:14am PDT

Whereas most good novels manage to conjure up images in your head, Das Parfum also conjures up scents and smells that waft up from the page.

Following the journey of a boy with an exquisite sense of smell which drives him to gruesome deeds, Süskind’s novel transports you back to 18th century France, and the sprawling, stinking city of Paris.

When it was published in 1985, Das Parfum shot to the top of the best-seller tables. It stayed in Der Spiegel’s bestseller list for eight consecutive years, also experiencing great success internationally.

You will not regret picking up this gripping yet grotesque read.

SEE ALSO: 10 German films you have to watch before you die

6. Austerlitz by W.G. Sebald (2001)

A photo posted by @athousandbooks on Jan 25, 2015 at 9:32am PST

W.G. Sebald’s fourth and final novel before his untimely death in a car crash in 2001 is a challenging but unquestionably rewarding book. He lived in southeast England for the majority of his life as a university professor, and the breadth and depth of his knowledge shared in the novel could only be that of an academic.

The novel traces the journey of Jacques Austerlitz, a man who arrived in Britain in 1939 as a young boy from Prague. Through a series of lengthy conversations with the narrator, Austerlitz slowly reveals his life story.

Sebald’s unusual style has been described as its own genre: dense and slightly old-fashioned, it still captivates the reader and leads them on a fascinating journey through the history of Europe.

7. Die Verwandlung (Metamorphosis) by Franz Kafka (1915)

A photo posted by Kaikoo Studio (@kaikoostudio) on Nov 3, 2016 at 1:05am PDT

Franz Kafka was born in Prague in 1883, now capital of the Czech Republic.

At the time, Prague was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Kafka wrote in German. He is now regarded as one of the most influential literary figures of the 20th century, and the adjective “Kafkaesque” – meaning nightmarishly complex and oppressive – is taken from the themes of his works.

Die Verwandlung is probably his most famous work, and many are familiar with the bizarre first line: “As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams, he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect-like creature.”

Don’t expect this novella to get any less nightmarish from thereon in.

8. Berlin Alexanderplatz by Alfred Döblin (1929)

A photo posted by L.-J. “Luchino” Panbello (@panbello) on Jul 30, 2014 at 1:43pm PDT

The year 1929 – when Berlin Alexanderplatz was published – was the highpoint of the Weimar Republic, before it all came tumbling down with the Wall Street Crash. Berlin was like no other city in the late 1920s: diverse, liberal, and often debauched. 

This iconic novel narrates the story of ex-convict Franz Biberkopf who, after being released from prison in Berlin, swears that he will live an upstanding and decent life. He is soon, however, plunged into the capital’s louche but exhilarating underworld. Döblin’s novel was voted one of “The top 100 books of all time”, a list compiled in 2002 by The Guardian.

9. Imperium (Imperium: A Fiction of the South Seas) by Christian Kracht (2012) 

A photo posted by Hanno Groth (@hannogroth) on Oct 24, 2016 at 12:37pm PDT

In Imperium, a vegetarian nudist from Nuremberg sets sail for a South Pacific island to set up a religion worshipping coconuts and the sun. Sounds like absurdist fiction? Kracht’s novel Imperium is actually based on a true story.

In this witty and ironic book, Kracht – one of modern German literature’s most elusive figures – tells more than just the surprising yet true story of this extreme figure. He also deals with extremist movements of the 20th century, as well as offering other interesting insights.

10. Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane (1896)

A photo posted by Flo | Tasteboykott (@tasteboykott) on Jun 12, 2016 at 3:42am PDT

Written at the end of the 19th century, Fontane’s novel tells the story of a way of life that was also on its way out, with the unification of Germany and its rapid modernisation.

Effi Briest is a young girl from traditional Prussian noblility, who is married off to a considerably older official. Although a devoted servant to the state, her husband is less loving towards his wife, which leads to great problems.

This poignant work is seen as one of the great German realist masterpieces, and a beautiful yet tragic story of two people caught up in the shackles of society.

By Alexander Johnstone

Article source: http://www.thelocal.de/20161114/10-german-best-books-list-kafka-mann-literature-grass