History, Homeland, Work Worlds
Contemporary literature written in German has grown remarkably heterogeneous, diverse and broad in its range of topics. Nonetheless, it is possible to identify a few areas authors are choosing to focus on.
“Worldliness”, “contemporaneity”, “urgency” - these are the slogan-like demands that are continually imposed on literature and authors. Such expectations are dogmatic to the core and serve only to curb creative freedom. If literature intends to address contemporary concerns in all their complex forms, compulsions, neuroses, pathologies and causes, it must do so on its own terms. One has a free[ZA1] choice. And yet, one can recognize trends and tendencies that have intensified in recent years, even at the expense of omitting some exceptional works of literature from groundbreaking authors’ in the process.
Coming to Terms with Germany’s History
Dealing with Germany’s past in literature, whether with Nazism or the GDR, continues to be a central concern of many authors, regardless what generation they belong to. In her bestselling novel, “The Blindness of the Heart,” which also won the prestigious German Book Prize, Julia Franck (b. 1970) tells the story of a woman that spans the early 20th century, from the ravages of war to the post-war era. In his novel, “Flut und Boden” [Flood and soil] the historian Per Leo (p.1972) explores his own family history, focusing on his grandfather, who was an SS-Sturmbannführer at the Race and Settlement Main Office.
The authors Monika Maron, Angelika Klüssendorf, and Judith Schalansky deal with their experiences with the former East Germany in very different ways: While Monika Maron in “Zwischenspiel” [Interlude] examines what it means to act morally in a dictatorship, Angelika Klüssendorf describes the oppressive feeling of growing up in a dark land called GDR. In “Der Hals der Giraffe” [The Giraffe’s Neck] Judith Schalansky presents us with an aging East German teacher whose outer life has fallen apart as a result of the fall of the Wall. She desperately tries to maintain an inner order by searching for structures to give her life meaning. Lutz Seiler, who won the German Book Prize in 2014, has written a lyrically textured novel that takes place at the end of the GDR. Action takes place on the small Baltic Sea island of Hiddensee, which for many East Germans was the starting point of an often fatal attempt to escape to the West. Ricarda Junge and Jochen Schimmang also contemplate their country from another perspective, namely the West German: In novels such as, “Die letzten warmen Tage” [The last warm days’] or „Das Beste, was wir hatten“ [The best thing we had] they draw our attention to an entire generation of West Germans who believe they also had lost their spiritual home with the end of the old Federal Republic.
Homeland and Multiculturalism
The concept of homeland also plays a role in the works of authors with so-called immigrant backgrounds in many ways. Writers whose roots are not in Germany, yet write in German and can claim their experiences have broadened their perspective on German everyday life: Ilija Trojanow's novel, “The Collector of Worlds” is such an example; Feridun Zaimoglu, who has written numerous novels, has grown to be one of the most recognized and decorated writers in Germany. Recently, he published „Siebentürmeviertel“ [Seven towers district], a novel that resurrects the cultural confusion in Istanbul of the 30s. And the novels of Sherko Fatah, who was born in East Germany to an Iraqi father and German mother, talk about the relationship between Islamic jihadists and Europe.
New Working Structures / Utopias and Dystopias
While politics is making the world an increasingly confusing place to live in, the microstructures of work and private life have also dramatically changed as a result of globalization. Authors such as: Thomas von Steinaecker’s “Das Jahr, in dem ich aufhörte, mir Sorgen zu machen, und anfing zu träumen“ [The year in which I stopped worrying and started dreaming], Thomas Melle’s “Sickster,” and Terézia Mora’s „Der einzige Mann auf dem Kontinent” [The only man on the continent] and her subsequent novel “Das Ungeheuer” [The Beast] are focusing on individuals getting lost in a ruthless working environment, where language deliberately distorts the truth of a merciless free market. Young authors also describe a possible way out of this stark reality by attempting to create social utopias that nonetheless are on the brink of quickly turning into dystopias. Typical of this trend is: Leif Randt’s “Shimmering Haze over Coby County” or Franz Frederick “Die Meisen von Uusimaa singen nicht mehr” [The Meisen of Uusimaa don’t sing anymore].
These few examples are illustrative: Contemporary German language literature is alive and well and is dealing with urgent themes, while creating original forms for depicting these issues and they are doing so on their own terms.