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Debut novels in German
The New Novelists Have Arrived

Book cover: Miroloi, Nicht wie ihr, Der große Garten, Immerjahn
© Hanser, Kremayr & Scheriau, Matthes & Seitz, Hoffmann und Campe

The longlist for the German Book Prize is out and the jury is surprised and delighted at the large number of debut novels. But first works tend to get mixed reviews in the press.

By Holger Moos

In addition to known quantities like Saša Stanišić, Nora Bossong, Ulrich Woelk and Marlene Streeruwitz, this year’s longlist for the German Book Prize features a number of novices. According to jury spokesman Jörg Magenau, that goes to show that “we don’t have to worry about the future of reading and writing”.
 
One such debut novel, Karen Köhler's Miroloi, got plenty of scrutiny in the media. It’s the story of a woman who musters the courage to break free from an archaic patriarchal society on a remote island. It got mixed reviews. Elke Schmitter of DER SPIEGEL called it an “unusual book”, NDR named it “book of the month”, and MDR hailed it as “a debut novel with Christa Wolf's potential”.
 
But other reviewers panned it. According to Jan Drees at Deutschlandfunk, the main character’s self-reflection is “stuck at primary school level”. And the book itself, which is Hanser's lead title this season, is “easy reading for the educated middle class” that owes its probable success to riding the “trending wave of feminism”. Burkhard Müller of DIE ZEIT lambastes Köhler's writing too: he finds the author lacking in imagination, her style unconvincing, her “characters and dialogues feeble” and her “arid self-satisfaction” annoying.

Vying for most exotic title

Kühmel: Kintsugi © S. Fischer It almost seems as though there were a parallel contest going on here for the most enigmatic or exotic title. Besides Miroloi, the jurors nominated Miku Sophie Kühmel's Kintsugi, another debut novel with an unusual moniker – which, by the way, has already won the Jürgen Ponto Foundation’s literary prize. This ensemble novel, which revolves around four variously interconnected characters, is about the success and failure of human relationships. The Ponto Foundation jury praised the supple and credible multi-perspectivism – and “the novel shows a deep knowledge of human nature and great powers of observation”. Plus, they say, it’s enjoyable reading.
 
Edelbauer: Das flüssige Land © Klett-Cotta Five other debut novels have been longlisted this year. Raphaela Edelbauer's firstling, Das flüssige Land (The Liquid Land), is about memory and repression. The main character, a physicist, travels to her native country and into the darkest recesses of her family history. The book is politically motivated, as the author stresses on her homepage: “Given the emergence of the Identitarian movement and the trend towards right-wing extremist political views in Europe, I felt I couldn’t get away from the issues raised in the book.”
 
Tonio Schachinger's Nicht wie ihr (Not Like You) is set literally in a different league. Ivo Trifunović is a football player from Austria who earns €100,000 a week. He now lives in London with his wife and children. On home leave in Vienna, he meets up again with his old flame Mirna, who knew him back when he was still a “suntanned prole with a Mohawk”. His life crisis comes to a head when his personal advisor wants to sell him off to China.

Novels about shrinks, living in the country and lust for life

Lehner: Vater unser © Hanser Berlin Angela Lehner’s Vater unser (Our Father) is a psychiatric novel whose protagonist is a “mentally deranged, extremely funny, and deeply manipulative know-it-all”, as the publishers describe her. The author has mastered the “art of the unreliable narrator”, says Elena Witzeck ( FAZ), in a way that always leaves us room to identify with that unreliable narrator.
 
Lola Randl has previously made a name for herself as a filmmaker and screenwriter. A few years ago, she bought a pretty big house in the middle of Gerswalde, a tiny place in the Uckermark region of northeast Germany. So her novel Der grosse Garten (The Big Garden) is about the urban exodus and the romanticization of rural life. “This is fine sardonic writing loosely sprinkled with expert knowledge about rural life, nature, vegetable gardening and, above all, about the neurotic compulsion of today’s psychologically unstable urbanites to ‘find themselves’,” says Verena Auffermann on Deutschlandfunk Kultur.
 
Maeß: Gelenke des Lichts © Wallstein Emanuel Maess’s Gelenke des Lichts (Links of Light) is touted by the publishers as a “magical mix of picaresque and coming-of-age campus novel”. The main character sees a girl on the beach in East Germany one summer and can’t stop thinking about her, especially as their paths cross again repeatedly in the years that follow. Fortunately, writes Gustav Seibt in the SZ, the novel isn’t “one of those aching foul-weather novelistic accounts of German reunification and post-reunification Germany”. On the contrary, it deftly carries on the tradition of romantic narration and tells a timeless love story.
 
We’ll find out soon enough whether any of these neophyte novelists have made the shortlist on 17 September.

Other noteworthy firstlings

This year saw the publication of some other remarkable debut novels besides the German Book Prize nominees. There’s Barbara Zeman’s Immerjahn, for example, about the heir to a cement manufacturer who sets out to change his life of luxury, but finds that change doesn’t come easy – not even for a millionaire. Melanie Weidemüller of Deutschlandfunk writes that the novel “raises aesthetic and social questions, but above all it’s worth reading for its powerful narrative voice and original details”. Paul Jandl of the NZZ even calls it a “feast for the eye, and if that sounds too pathetic to you, you can call it a party”.
 
Dinić: Die guten Tage © Zsolnay The first-person narrator of Marko Dinić's debut, Die guten Tage (The Good Days), takes the “Gastarbeiter Express” bus from Vienna to his native Belgrade for his first trip back in ten years. The death of his grandmother forces him to come to grips with his family and with the past, the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s and, in particular, the NATO bombing of Yugoslavia in 1999. “This book is gruelling,” says Christiane Irrgang of NDR. “One hardly reads a single page without flinching at the intensity of hatred, rage and longing. A book about being a stranger, even in one's own life, written with incredible virtuosity and verbal brilliance.”
 

Cherry Picker Kühmel, Miku Sophie: Kintsugi
Frankfurt a.M.: S. Fischer, 2019. 304 S.
ISBN: 978-3-10-397459-1

Köhler, Karen: Miroloi
Berlin: Hanser, 2019. 464 S.
ISBN: 978-3-446-26171-6
You can find this title in our eLibrary Onleihe

Edelbauer, Raphaela: Das flüssige Land
Stuttgart: Klett-Cotta, 2019. 350 S.
ISBN: 978-3-608-96436-3
You can find this title in our eLibrary Onleihe

Schachinger, Tonio: Nicht wie ihr
Wien: Kremayr & Scheriau, 2019. 304 S.
ISBN: 978-3-218-01153-2

Lehner, Angela: Vater unser
Berlin: Hanser Berlin, 2019. 284 S.
ISBN: 978-3-446-26259-1
You can find this title in our eLibrary Onleihe

Randl, Lola: Der Große Garten
Berlin: Matthes & Seitz, 2019. 320 S.
ISBN: 978-3-95757-709-2
You can find this title in our eLibrary Onleihe

Maeß, Emanuel: Gelenke des Lichts
Wallstein, 2019. 254 S.
ISBN: 978-3-8353-3439-7
You can find this title in our eLibrary Onleihe

Zeman, Barbara: Immerjahn
Hamburg: Hoffmann und Campe, 2019. 288 S.
ISBN: 978-3-455-00495-3
You can find this title in our eLibrary Onleihe

Dinić, Marko: Die guten Tage
Wien: Zsolnay, 2019. 40 S.
ISBN: 978-3-552-05911-5
You can find this title in our eLibrary Onleihe

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