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Books Titles

Im Krebsgang by Gunter Grass
Herta Műller, Nobel Prize Winner
Kalt ist der Abendhauch By Ingrid Noll
Die verschwundene Miniatur by Erich Kästner
Der Richter und sein Henker, Der Verdacht, and The Inspector Barlach Mysteries: The Judge and His Hangman by Dürrenmatt, Friedrich
Das Paradies liegt in Amerika: Eine Auswanderergeschichte by Karin Gündisch
Im Land der Schokolade und Bananen by Gündisch, Karin
Bis aufs Blut (Until the end) by Bernd Schröder
Der Mauerspringer (The Wall Jumper) by Peter Schneider
Der Medikus (The Physician) by Noah Gordon
Die Taube (The Pigeon) by Patrick Süskind
Der Verschlossene Garten (The Reserved Garden) by Undine Gruenter
Der Voleser by Barnhardt Schlink
Herr der Diebe (The Thief Lord) by Cornelia Funke
Nachtzug nach Lissabon (Nighttrain to Lisbon) by Pascal Mercier
Reise in die Angst by Günter Ohnemus
Russendisko by Wladimir Kaminer
Schachnovelle (Chess Novel) by Stefan Zweig

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Book Reviews

Im Krebsgang
Grass, Gunter
Crabwalk, 2003, trans. Krishna Winston
Harvest Book, Harcourt, Inc.
234 pages; three-page “Reading Group Guide” pp. 235-7

    In January, 1945, a Soviet submarine sank the “Wilhelm Gustloff,” a German cruise ship carrying 9,000 refugees. Only a few survived the disaster in the freezing Baltic Sea.  It was the worst maritime disaster in history, never revealed in the years since it occurred.
    From this terrifying event, Gunter Grass, Nobel Prize novelist, has fashioned Crabwalk, a short novel that portrays three generations of Germans whose lives were affected: a young woman rescued from the ship who gave birth as it sank, the son who was born in that terrifying hour, and his son, now grown up into a contemporary Nazi.    
    The novel’s action takes place in the present. The mother is now a Communist grandmother who lived her life happily in Eastern Germany.  Her son, a journalist in Western Germany, does his “best to remain noncommittal... presents himself as neutral.”  His son reinvents Nazi anti-semitism for far-flung followers of his web page.  
    Alternately comic and horrifying, Crabwalk dramatizes forbidden subjects. It shows how the Germans suffered in the war and afterwards.  It explores how dramatically German ideology has contorted in the past 65 years.  It begs for new thought, new energy, to keep Germany moving away from its past.
    Best known for his powerful novel The Tin Drum, Grass works here in a shorter form, sometimes appearing as a character himself to urge honesty and courage. As in all his work, he creates in Crabwalk an original and compelling novel.
Recommended by Susan Willens, Free Lance Book Reviewer

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Herta Műller, German Author Wins 2009 Nobel Prize for Literature

The Nobel Prize for Literature for 2009 was awarded to German author Herta Műller. The Swedish Academy declared that Müller, “with the concentration of poetry and the frankness of prose, depicts the landscape of the dispossessed.” Born in a German-speaking town in Romania in 1953, she left her country in 1987 because she was not allowed to publish her books there as she was highly critical of the Ceausescu regime. Germany became the adopted country of Müller and her husband.

The following books by Műller have been translated into English.

Everything I own I carry With Me (Working English Title for Atemschaukel). Hanser Verlag, Munich: 2009

The Appointment, translated by Michael Hulse and Phillip Boehm. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2001

Traveling on One Leg, translated by Valentina Glajar and Andre LeFevere. Evanston, Hydra Books/Northwestern University Press, 1998

Nadirs, translated by Sieglinde Lug. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1999

The Land of Green Plums, translated by Michael Hofmann. New York: Metropolitan Books, 1996

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Kalt ist der Abendhauch
Ingrid Noll

KaltTold as a first-person narrative and containing a mixture of flashbacks and contemporary events, Kalt ist der Abendhauch (= Cold Is the Evening Breeze) tells the story of Charlotte and Hugo, two lovers who first meet in the late 1920s but never manage to live together permanently. As the novel opens, eighty-three-year-old Charlotte is expecting a visit from eighty-eight-year-old Hugo, whom she has not seen for several years. As she awaits his arrival, she recalls her life as a young woman living in Darmstadt during the early days of the Nazi regime, remembering the events that led up to her falling in love with Hugo (who marries her sister Ida) and her various experiences in post-war Germany. Since Ida is now no longer living, Charlotte and Hugo have the chance to surrender themselves unconditionally to their love for each other. Will they be able to rekindle their passion? Or have Charlotte and Hugo missed their chance at happiness? Will the problems of old age turn their dream into a ridiculous farce? And what gruesome incident in their past comes back to haunt them? How do family members react to Charlotte and Hugo’s on-again, off-again love affair?

Since 1991, Ingrid Noll has penned several works of crime fiction—each successfully blending suspense, historical detail, quirky characters, and an understanding of human emotions and weaknesses. As a sign of Noll’s widespread appeal, her novels have been translated into all major languages.
-Recommended by David Witkosky, German Language Book Review Editor

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Die verschwundene Miniatur
Erich Kästner
Munich: Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, 1935, 1988

For the most part, previous reviews in the German Library Collection have talked about serious novels. These books feature themes such as honor, guilt, and atonement, and they tackle topics ranging from unrequited love to immigration and acculturation. Since visitors to the Culture Club might wonder whether German novels can ever be lighthearted, I have decided to introduce a group of humorous novels over the next few months. These texts have enjoyed years of popularity, yet they remain fresh, timeless, and engaging— while also raising important issues.

Author of Das doppelte Lottchen (1949)—the inspiration for Disney’s The Parent Trap (1961, 1998)—and other books for children, Erich Kästner (1899-1974) also penned novels for adults. One of his most famous texts is Die verschwundene Miniatur, a madcap parody of the detective story. Originally published in 1935, it chronicles the adventures of Oskar Külz, a roly-poly, grandfatherly butcher from Berlin, who secretly travels to Copenhagen to escape, if only briefly, from the demands of his family and business. While enjoying the sites of Denmark’s capital, Oskar makes the acquaintance of Irene Trübner, a wealthy art collector’s private secretary, and becomes involved in helping her safeguard a recent purchase by her employer: a priceless portrait miniature of Anne Boleyn by Hans Holbein the Younger. Over the next few days while traveling with Irene through Denmark and Germany to bring the work of art to its new home in Berlin, Oskar matches wits with professional criminals; eats, drinks, and dances to excess; and . . . rediscovers his love for his wife, children, and profession. The end of the novel illustrates a well-known German proverb: "Ende gut, alles gut" (all’s well that ends well). But not a word more about the plot! Discover for yourself the world of Oskar, Irene, and a cast of memorable characters.

Like many of Kästner’s novels, Die verschwundene Miniatur has been successfully filmed in Germany (1954, 1989), and copies of the two adaptations are readily available. In addition, a variety of paperback and hardcover editions of the text have been prepared by publishers such as DTV, Atrium-Verlag, or Dressler Verlag and can be ordered through international bookstores and online merchants.
- Recommended by David Witkosky, German Language Book Review Editor

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Der Richter und sein Henker
Dürrenmatt, Friedrich
Reinbek bei Hamburg: Rowohlt
2003 - (originally published by Benziger Verlag, Einsiedeln, Zürich, in 1952)

Der Verdacht
Dürrenmatt, Friedrich
Zürich: Diogenes
2002 - (originally published by Benziger Verlag, Einsiedeln, Zürich, in 1953)

The Inspector Barlach Mysteries: The Judge and His Hangman and Suspicion
Dürrenmatt, Friedrich
Translated by Joel Agee Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Just about everyone loves a good mystery. Readers of all ages are drawn to the puzzle, suspense, and characterizations; mysteries also offer important commentary on society and human nature. It should be no surprise that crime fiction can be used to motivate junior and senior high school students to read more and with greater pleasure. In addition, mysteries work well in foreign language instruction. Already familiar with the structure of texts such as a private-eye novel or police procedural, students are unconsciously aware of necessary reading strategies for successful comprehension, and issues of unfamiliar vocabulary and grammar appear to be less vexing.

Popular mysteries in German include novels by Friedrich Dürrenmatt (1921-1990), a Swiss author who is well known as a playwright and as a writer of four works of crime fiction. Best known among his mysteries are Der Richter und sein Henker (The Judge and His Hangman) and Der Verdacht (Suspicion). In the first novel, Dürrenmatt introduces Inspector Hans Barlach, an old-school police officer who distrusts technology and prefers to rely on his understanding of human nature to catch criminals. His instinct, abilities, and faith in human beings are put to the test when he attempts to solve the case of a murdered policeman, Ulrich Schmied, who, as it turns out, was working undercover to spy on Barlach’s archenemy.

The second novel also features Barlach, who is recovering from cancer surgery in a hospital in Bern as the story opens. Deathly ill yet as sharp mentally as ever, Barlach looks for an answer to the question of whether Dr. Emmenberger, who runs an expensive private hospital in Zürich, is the secretive Dr. Nehle, who performed operations without anesthesia in Concentration Camp Stutthof during World War II. To investigate this case, Barlach allows himself to be checked into Emmberger’s hospital for post-surgery treatment.

Entertaining and suspenseful, Dürrenmatt’s texts challenge the readers to reevaluate their understanding of concepts such as crime, victim, criminal, justice, and punishment. In addition, the author evokes images of rural Switzerland and the metropolitan areas of Bern and Zürich, while supplying valuable cultural information about Swiss politics, history, and customs.
- Recommended by David Witkosky, German Language Book Review Editor

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Das Paradies liegt in Amerika: Eine Auswanderergeschichte.
Gündisch, Karin 2000
Weinheim: Beltz & Gelberg

In one of her most popular books to date, Karin Gündisch challenges readers to re-think their understanding of acculturation. Focusing attention on the experiences of early-twentieth-century immigrants to the United States, she relates the adventures of the Bonfert family, German-speakers from Heimburg, a small village in Siebenbürgen (today part of Romania), who make their way to Youngstown, Ohio. Encouraged to write down his thoughts and experiences, the 11-year-old narrator John, whose real name is Johann, describes his family’s preparations for their journey to the New World and chronicles the train ride through central Europe, the boat trip across the Atlantic Ocean, and the difficulties of adjusting to a new language and culture. Through the simple, yet perceptive language of her narrator, Gündisch depicts the spiritual and psychological transformation in Bonfert family members as they gradually trade their impractical dreams for a realistic plan of action. Although the parents and children suffer illnesses, alienation, and financial hardship, they never give up their spirit of independence, their hope for happiness, and their search for prosperity. At the end of the book, the narrator states that he and the rest of his family have become Americans. To his way of thinking, becoming an American does not mean eating certain foods, wearing certain types of clothing, or following certain social customs; instead, he equates becoming an American with adopting a particular outlook on life—one in which an individual is willing to break free from the past, face circumstances as they are, and work to improve whatever needs changing. As with Im Land der Schokolade und Bananen, an earlier book by Gündisch, the American Association of Teachers of German has put together a CD with extensive teaching and learning tools, an invaluable resource that can be ordered at
- Recommended by David Witkosky, German Language Book Review Co-Editor

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Im Land der Schokolade und Bananen
Gündisch, Karin
Weinheim: Beltz & Gelberg, 1987, 1990

What and where is paradise? In the minds of the Romanian-German family in Karin Gündisch’s novel, Germany represents a type of heaven on earth. Germany is the land of opportunity for education and employment, a supermarket stocked with delicacies, and a department store filled with toys, clothing, and furniture. Unhappy in Romania and filled with dreams of a new life, Ingrid, Uwe, and their parents decide to make the long journey to Germany. Once they arrive and are settled into temporary housing, they discover that reality does not always live up to expectations. German schools are different from those in Romania: new teachers, unfamiliar teaching methods, and less inhibited children require adjustment. Jobs must be found; they are not handed out like candy. Merchandise admired in catalogues is available, yet everything has a price. Random acts of kindness occur, but not all Germans go out of their way to help new arrivals. In a series of episodes taken from the family’s first year in Germany, Gündisch acquaints readers with the hardships that immigrants face as they adjust to their new home; at the same time, she writes a prose filled with hope, optimism, and a sense of adventure. Unlike the fairy tales of the past, Im Land der Schokolade und Bananen does not, however, present readers with a happy ending. Instead, the fate of Ingrid, Uwe, and their parents remains undecided at the close of the novel. As a result, Gündisch appears to be posing a question to the book’s readers: how can we help immigrants to our country and ensure that their stories have happy endings? Timely in topic and popular with readers in and outside of Germany, Im Land der Schokolade und Bananen is marketed in central Europe as a novel for readers eight years of age or older, but it can be used profitably by teachers of high school and college foreign language courses in North America. The American Association of Teachers of German has prepared a series of lesson plans, activities, and exercises organized by level of instruction and available at
- Recommended by David Witkosky, German Language Book Review Co-Editor

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Herr der Diebe (The Thief Lord)
Funke, Cornelia
This Harry Potter-esque adventure story is sure to entertain readers both young and old. The exciting tale centers on two runaway orphans in Venice who take up company with a gang of boy thieves. The adventures that ensue become even more thrilling when the group is hired to steal a part to a magical merry-go-round that has mysterious and incredible powers. The cast of colorful characters is captivating and the many unexpected twists in the book make it a real page-turner.
-Recommended by Vanessa Rakaczky

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Der Medikus (The Physician)
Gordon, Noah
The parents of 9 yr- old Rob die and in his desperation, the young orphan goes off with a doctor of sorts to escape the squalid poverty of 11th century London. Together, they journey through England and Europe making money where they can and there, Rob learns (amongst other things) the basics of medicine. He also discovers that he has a special, almost mystical, talent for healing. When the doctor dies, he realizes that he wants to know more about medicine and learns about a very good university in Persia. "Der Medikus" is a highly interesting, emotive story, which effectively outlines the religious and cultural situation of the Middle Ages across countries, and will entertain you to the end.
-Recommended by Imad Goryeb

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Der Verschlossene Garten (The Reserved Garden) - 2004
Gruenter, Undine
The reserved garden is a symbol for the self-absorbed love between a man in his sixties and a young woman. As long as their love lasts, the garden is a paradise and a sign of their affection, their way of excluding the world around them from their relationship. But when a young man enters theirs lives, he destroys the exclusiveness and loneliness of the garden and with that the love of the couple. The Reserved Garden is Gruenter's last novel; she died shortly after finishing it. With her, Germany loses one of its best authors. We will probably have to wait quite a while for a book so beautiful and powerful to be written again.
- Recommended by Barbara Haas

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Russendisko - 2002
Kaminer, Wladimir.
What happens when a Russian Jew comes to Berlin after the fall of the wall? Incredibly funny and strange things that show us why the author had to leave his country but also point out the difficulties that the united Germany/ Berlin has. It is a very entertaining book that could be great, if the language were a little more elaborated and less sober.
- Recommended by Barbara Haas

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Nachtzug nach Lissabon (Nighttrain to Lisbon) - 2004
Mercier, Pascal
"If it is true that we only live a small part of what is within us - what happens to the rest of it?" The Latin teacher Gregorius finds this question in the book of the Portuguese doctor and poet Amadeu de Prado. This question and his mysterious encounter with a Portuguese woman who is apparently trying to commit suicide make him give up his rather boring life in the sleepy little town of Bern, the capital of Switzerland. After arriving in Lisbon, Gregorius starts a thrilling search for Amadeu and for a new meaning of life. Mercier reminds one very much of Umberto Eco, the great Italian author of The Name of the Rose. Both fascinate the reader in a very special way. Nachtzug nach Lissabon captures the reader, leads him into a stunning new world, locks him there in a magical way and will not release him anymore - even days after finishing the book.
- Recommended by Barbara Haas

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Reise in die Angst - 2002
Ohnemus Günter
Günter Ohnemus has created a novel of mystery and suspense that will please even the most demanding fans of crime fiction while holding the interest of readers in search of fine literature. The novel's protagonist, Harry Willemer, once a well-known author, gave up on love and writing years ago after the death of his daughter and the failure of his marriage, and since then, he has lived alone, driving a taxi in Munich to support himself. One day, one of his passengers, a Russian woman, reveals a shocking story: She, the wife of a Mafia boss, is running away from her husband-and taking four million dollars with her. On the spur of the moment, Harry decides to join her, and they begin a fast-paced journey through Europe and the United States. As the novel progresses, Harry embraces life again, and he even rediscovers his interest in writing, capturing his experiences with Sonja and his thoughts about the relationship between Germany and Russia during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In its understatement and open-endedness, G�nter Ohnemus's conclusion will have a greater impact on readers than the most vividly portrayed act of violence or retribution common to crime fiction. This book is available in English translation: The Russian Passenger (2004), translated by John Brownjohn and published by Bitter Lemon Press, London, 2004.
- Recommended by David Witkosky

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Der Voleser - 1999
Schlink, Barnhardt
Also available in English as The Reader, this novel by Barnhardt Schlink is an emotionally challenging narrative of post war Germany. Schlink weaves a poignant tale; drawing you in with a love story, and then tearing you up with guilt and conflict over the dark past of one of the characters. A fascinating read.
- Recommended by Margaret Gonglewski.

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Der Mauerspringer (The Wall Jumper)
Schneider, Peter
Der Mauerspringer takes place in a time when Germany is still a divided country. The narrator, a writer who finds himself caught on both sides of the Wall, collects stories of various "wall-jumpers," people much like himself who have experiences on both sides of the Berlin Wall. In his book, Schneider provides insight into the psyche on both sides of the Wall and the prejudice that exists towards West-Berliners and East-Berliners alike.
-Recommended by Erin Webreck

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Bis aufs Blut (Until the end)
Schröder, Bernd
A man is destroyed: His girlfriend just left him, his company wants to transfer him to Brazil, and in the mirror he sees the reflection of someone who has grey hair and far too many wrinkles. Just then, his mother calls. As always. As if she knew just when he was miserable. As if she knew when would be the best time to show him how much he needed her and always would. A wonderful story about a dysfunctional mother-son relationship that is sure to make you smile.
- Recommended by Barbara Haas

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Die Taube (The Pigeon)
Süskind, Patrick
Jonathan Noel is a middle-aged man who lives a very mundane and boring life. And he likes it that way. One day, however, the unexpected happens: a pigeon appears on his doorstep and this "surprising" event throws his previously predictable life into complete chaos. Süskind cleverly shows Noel's decline as he struggles to regain the calm composure of his previous existence.
-Recommended by Christine Meloni

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Schachnovelle (Chess Novel)
Zweig, Stefan
An Austrian attorney, Dr. B, forced to remain in solitary confinement by the Nazis, teaches himself to play chess in order to avoid becoming crazy. Years later, on a ship, he is challenged by the acting chess world champion and plays, in the beginning reluctantly, against him. But his past comes back to him and he breaks down under the psychological pressure of his memories. The author, Stefan Zweig, born in 1881 in Vienna, wrote Chess Novel shortly before he and his second wife committed suicide. With him, Germany lost one of its most important authors.

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