Really Good Reading Out of Germany
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Because if there’s a country that is arguably holding the EU together, we’ll read what it’s reading.
By Nick Van Osdol
In the wake of their recent World Cup victory, Germans can now shift their attention back to something else they’re really good at: books. It’s a nation that boasts a whopping 13 Nobel-winning authors, where poetry slams are popular and literary greats the likes of Günter Grass continue to further the canon of Goethe, Mann and Brecht.
Here’s what has people talking in a country that publishes 90,000 titles a year.
1. “1913” — Florian Illies
Ukraine. Gaza. One hundred years after World War I, the summer seems ready to boil over. And Germans are picking up on the parallels between now and then more readily than anyone. 1913, by journalist and author Florian Illies, explores the scenes and atmosphere of Europe the year before war’s outbreak. Some might say that Europe’s initial underestimation of the war is extremely similar to the position we find ourselves in now, as intense religious and political conflicts broil throughout the world. Which might make this a good guide for the rest of us.
2. “Ostende 1936” — Volker Weidermann
While the First World War is temporally newsworthy, the German zeitgeist remains attuned to the memory of both world wars. A long-subdued nationalism is making its comeback — thanks in part to international soccer success — and Germans keep an ever watchful eye on history. Ostende 1936 offers a distinct perspective on the Second World War. It focuses on the friendship and experiences of German ex-pats escaping Nazism in Ostend, Belgium, a coastal resort town. But what could have taken shape as an idyllic vacation’s tale on Belgium’s coast becomes riddled with foreboding.
3. “Das Hohe Haus: Ein Jahr im Parlament” — Roger Willemsen
While parts of Europe still grapple with insolvency and unemployment, Germany stands strong. So what’s behind the stoicism of Angela Merkel and the German government? Roger Willemsen spent a year as a fly on the wall in Berlin’s Bundestag and processed his experiences into his book Das Hohe Haus: Ein Jahr im Parlament, published in March. Willemsen took advantage of the fact that the parliament allows for a “Besuchertribüne” (visitor’s bench). There are insights to glean from Germany’s politically diverse democracy — insights that may even help ease the gridlock in Washington.
4. “Arbeit und Struktur” — Wolfgang Herrndorf
Wolfgang Herrndorf, the author who gave young German adults the much-celebrated Tschick in 2010, took his life in August 2013 after living with an inoperable brain tumor. What’s left in his wake is the blog he kept during his last months. These posts, thoughts and musings have been gathered into a collection, Arbeit und Struktur (Work and Structure). The content surpasses a mere summary of Herrndorf’s struggle with his tumor; it takes us through a bevy of intimate details from his entire life — a life whose end came as a national shock.
- Nick Van Osdol