Three German Books You Have to Read

Max Frisch – Stiller (I’m Not Stiller)

Stiller by the Swiss author Max Frisch was published in 1954 and was the author’s breakthrough as a writer. Hence he was able to give up his former profession as an architect and follow his true vocation as a novelist. The protagonist, a citizen with an American passport identifying him as James Larkin White, is arrested on arrival in Switzerland. Everyone assumes that he is in fact the Swiss sculptor Anatol Ludwig Stiller. He himself doggedly denies this identity. His alleged wife, the frail dancer Julika Stiller-Tschudy, travels to Switzerland from Paris, even she recognizing him as Stiller. It occurs that White, like the real Stiller, is drawn to her. This intriguing story about identity is a definite must-read. If you’re able to read it in German, you will also experience Frisch’s unique style of writing. Once you have finished it, you might feel the urge to pick up his other antigrav-works. One just cannot put them down.

 

Heinrich Böll – Die verlorene Ehre der Katharina Blum (The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum)

This narrative about tabloid journalism shows us how an irreproachable woman becomes the victim of the yellow press. It was published in 1974 and is written by German author Heinrich Böll who won the nobel prize for literature two years prior. It is in a way autobiographic since Böll himself felt prosecuted by the media that – in his opinion – misinterpreted some of his earlier works construing them as writings supporting the terrorism of the RAF (Rote Armee Fraktion). In the novel, Katharina Blum is blamed for her friendship to a supposed murderer and bank robber, Ludwig Götten. An infamous newspaper takes up the story…

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Thomas Mann – Der Zauberberg (The Magic Mountain)

Released in 1924, this Bildungsroman by Thomas Mann depicts the events going on in a sanatorium in the Swiss Alps, this institution being the microcosm for this book. The 24-year-old hero Hans Castorp travels there to visit his ill cousin, intending to stay for three weeks. Somehow he is mesmerized by the atmosphere in the sanatorium. By meeting so many sickly people who, withdrawn from earthly concerns, confront him with questions of philosophy, love and death, he gets the impression that disease can contribute to the refinement and the purification of one’s soul. This monumental work was abhorred by the Nazis as a ‘eulogy of decadence’.

 

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