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Book Column
Auserlesen! No.4

“What on Earth shall I read?” Whether you’re an articulate German teacher or a German student with an appetite for books: anyone looking for suitable reading material is faced with this question. The right book should be exciting, well-written and interesting. But how do you navigate the literary forest? Auserlesen! helps by providing a varied selection!

By Karen-Susan Fessel

Kids and fun

Katharina von der Gathen and Anke Kuhl: Klär mich auf! 101 echte Kinderfragen rund um ein aufregendes Thema 

Kinderfragen © Klett Kinderbuch Why do we kiss? Can a baby be born from your bottom? What do you do in a sex shop? Yes, these are the burning questions of our time. You will find 101 of them, which were posted in a letter-box anonymously by German primary school children, in this delightfully cheerily-pitched sex education book – it’s one of a kind, approaching every question seriously and providing a conscientious answer. The book’s author Katharina von der Gathen is well-teamed with illustrator Anke Kuhl, and their joint work is a huge success for young and old alike. Seems a shame just to leave it on the bookshelf! 

Young worlds

Keine halben Sachen © Beltz & Gelberg Antje Herden: Keine halben Sachen 

Typical 14 year-olds: everything’s boring, school’s stupid, Mum gets on your nerves for sure … so it’s really cool when Leo suddenly rocks up, laid-back Leo, who’s exactly how Robin would like to be. And who does indeed become his best friend. While he’s hanging out with Leo, Robin only experiences the tough stuff – drugs, adventure, his first sex … But then it all goes badly wrong … Antje Herden’s first teen novel about a very strange friendship between young people was immediately awarded the Peter Härtling Prize – and it’s probably the best teen book about drugs and self-discovery that I’ve read to date. The pace gathers rapidly, the tension building to turbulent heights and cascading towards a really surprising finish. We can only hope that Herden, who previously only wrote for kids, continues to lend a voice to this tricky age group – it’s essential in times like these when most teen book publishers dig deep in the cliché mine and invest in the love/crime formula. 

German (hi)stories

weiter leben © dtv Ruth Klüger: weiter leben. Eine Jugend. 

It’s not often that I’m captivated like this by a biographical work. Fortunately Ruth Klüger delivered her moving speech to commemorate the 71st anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in front of the German Bundestag, otherwise this book might have passed me by. Klüger uses clear language to portray the noticeably tightening restrictions of her childhood in Vienna, her deportation to Theresienstadt, Auschwitz and Groß-Rosen, and the consequences this period had on the rest of her life. This painfully direct work was penned during a guest professorship in Göttingen, and it elucidates the huge extent to which Germany haemorrhaged intellectual and creative minds even long after the war was over – through its own fault. To quote Robin Williams: “You killed all the funny people.” And later on, Germany simply did far too little to keep the rest of the clever folk. / Klüger, Ruth: weiter leben. Eine Jugend (2007). Munich: dtv.

Here and now – Germany today

Nichts, was uns passiert © Verbrecher Verlag Bettina Wilpert: Nichts, was uns passiert 

Anna feels she’s been raped; for Jonas it was consensual sex. One thing is undisputed: they’d both had far too much to drink. So what now? Would reporting the incident to the police achieve clarity? Bettina Wilpert’s multiple award-winning novel comes across as an ostensibly objective report, using a staccato narrative style to tell the story of a nocturnal encounter that leaves only losers. Wilpert lets every character have their say – even those quite far-removed from the central plot – which as an incidental effect paints a detailed picture of today’s student generation in Germany. One thing I really like about this book is that it throws up lots of questions – and barely answers any of them. Readers need to take responsibility for that themselves.

Life paths

Lauthals leben © Knaur Verlag Julia Latscha: Lauthals Leben. Von Lotte, dem Anderssein und meiner Suche nach einer gemeinsamen Welt

Lotte, a long-awaited and much-wanted baby, has a difficult start in life. Oxygen deprivation during her birth turns the hitherto healthy foetus into a severely disabled child who demands unbearable levels of support from her parents. They are repeatedly faced with the consideration as to whether they should put Lotte in a home. They decide against it every time, opting for a life together instead. But that life is and continues to be brutally hard work, in every sense, and it’s only successful to a point. Julia Latscha tells of her family life, which is by no means easy, in such an enthralling way that new perspectives on our own prejudices and the way our society handles disability are opened up endlessly as we read. A powerful woman – and a powerful book! / Latscha, Julia (2018): Lauthals Leben. Von Lotte, dem Anderssein und meiner Suche nach einer gemeinsamen Welt. Munich: Knaur. 

High tension alert!

Gefährdet © btb Verlag Meike Dannenberg: Gefährdet

Two children, kidnapped and imprisoned in a container – Nora Klerner of the Federal Bureau of Criminal Investigation – the BKA – is sent to support the Hamburg police force, who are tasked with solving the murder of a White Russian ex-pimp at the same time. How are the two cases linked? And could the wealthy shipping family with the two missing children have something to hide after all? Meike Dannenberg’s second book showcases her once more as an absolute gem in the German crime fiction genre. It isn’t just her way of using direct language to deliver a fast-paced narrative, it’s the incredible depth and clarity of the characters as well – and yet she doesn’t digress into psychobabble. This is the best thriller I’ve come across in recent years, and it’s gripping to the very last line. More please! 

Reading tip of the month

Ach, wär ich nur zu Hause geblieben © Bastei Lübbe Kerstin Gier: Ach, wär ich nur zu Hause geblieben
This reading tip comes from an Auserlesen! reader in Portugal.
Luisa’s from Póvoa de Santo Adrião near Lisbon, and she recommends the jolly holiday tales by Kerstin Gier – just in time for summer.
Luisa writes:
“What I liked about the book was the author’s cheerful mood.
These are short stories but they’re very funny, and highly recommendable for readers of German as a foreign language.”
I’m delighted to share this felicitous tip with readers, and of course Luisa will receive a book as her reward. Congratulations!
The book is also available through the Goethe-Institut Onleihe online loan service, along with many others by bestselling author Kerstin Gier.

Dear book column readers...

Lesetipp © adobe.stock ...your book tip could be published here in the next edition!
Have you read an interesting, exciting, informative or entertaining book in German that you’d like to recommend to others? If so, email us at:

Subject: Auserlesen!

Tell us the name of the author, title of the book and most importantly what you like about the book.
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  • Dannenberg, Meike: Gefährdet. Ein Fall für BKA-Spezialistin Nora Klerner (2019). München: btb Verlag.
  • Gier, Kerstin: Ach, wär ich nur zu Hause geblieben (2007), Köln: Bastei Lübbe. Diesen Titel finden Sie in der Onleihe
  • Herden, Antje: Keine halben Sachen. (2019). Weinheim: Beltz & Gelberg.
  • Klüger, Ruth: weiter leben. Eine Jugend (2007). München: dtv. Diesen Titel finden Sie in der Onleihe
  • Latscha, Julia: Lauthals Leben. Von Lotte, dem Anderssein und meiner Suche nach einer gemeinsamen Welt (2018). München: Knaur. 
  • Van der Gathen, Katharina u. Kuhl, Anke: Klär mich auf! 101 echte Kinderfragen rund um ein aufregendes Thema (2017). Leipzig: Klett Kinderbuch.
  • Wilpert, Bettina: nichts, was uns passiert (2018). Berlin: Verbrecher Verlag