Category Archives: German author

Therapy – Sebastian Fitzek

Head down and totally engrossed, I missed my train stop this week. Getting off the train at the end of the day is a bit of a priority so that is a real endorsement for this book. Therapy (A slim, page turning crime mystery/psychological thriller – clever and entertaining.

It doesn’t seem that easy to get hold of but I was lucky enough to pick up a copy in the library after discovering it at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Lizzy’s Literary Life.

As well as being an excellent thriller, Therapy allows us to step into a mentally unwell mind – a combination that makes for a genuine page turner.

The story is about Viktor Larenz, a world renowned psychiatrist who suffers a breakdown after the mysterious disappearance of his 12 year old daughter Josy. Four years on,with his life in tatters, he retreats to an isolated North Sea Island to deal with his grief. Here he encounters a woman suffering from schizophrenia, begging Viktor to take her on as his patient. Her case is unusual. A novelist, she claims her characters come to life. One of her characters is a 12 year old girl who has disappeared – the details make it impossible for Viktor to turn her away. As inconceivable as it seems, could this woman know something about the disappearance of his daughter?

There are two major plot twists in Therapy. One of these is hinted at fairly early on and to really enjoy the story, requires acceptance of this twist. Not everything is as it seems though and the other excellent twist occurs right at the end.

A very enjoyable read.

Translated from German by Sally-Ann Spencer

352 pages, 2008

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The Artificial Silk Girl – Irmgard Keun

The Artificial Silk Girl is a treat to read, not just for the delightful yet achingly lonely voice of it’s narrator Doris but for the historical context in which it is set (early 1930s Berlin), in those pre WWII years. This is a time when the first hint of the horrors that would follow are starting to appear. A sense of discomfort bubbling beneath the surface and ‘politics’ starting to be discussed in everyday life. This book was banned by the Nazis along with all of Irmgard Keun’s work. There are not a lot of political references in it, just the odd little comment, snippet of conversation or attitude to come through. I think this makes it all the more powerful, especially as it was published in 1932. It was a bestseller when published, reading it nearly eighty years later with the knowledge of what followed, is a real privilege. A big thank you to Caroline at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat for writing about this author as part of German Literature Month – I hadn’t heard of her before.

The Artificial Silk Girl is Doris, young and beautiful, living in Cologne. She wants desperately to be a star and as her story progresses, wants desperately to be loved. She dreams of being in films, takes great pains with her appearance and writes a diary in which she is the star attraction. There is no pretense from Doris, she is candid in her diary about what she wants, and that includes a man who can pay for all the material trappings she associates with success and therefore craves.

“Heavenly Father, perform a miracle and give me an education – I can do the rest myself with makeup”

Most of this story takes place in Berlin where Doris and her newly acquired (stolen) fur coat arrive looking for fame. The Berlin she finds is one of contrast, glitz and glamour alongside ruthlessness and poverty. Doris has certain standards, she will sleep with a married man without regret but is offended by swearing and the word ‘pimp’. Sadly and frustratingly she comes close to needing the services of this pimp, her diary entries reflecting a reoccurring pattern of seemingly landing on her feet and living it up before needing to flee and finding herself homeless and wondering where her next meal will come from. She keeps hold of her kind heart and dreams throughout and it is easy to care for her.

There is a slightly superficial feel to Doris’ dilemmas as she has a mother and a home back in Cologne – although there is the issue of the stolen fur coat and probable arrest to deter her from returning.

The Artificial Silk Girl is a slim book which ended just before Doris’s youthful optimism and breathless narrative style had time to become tedious. It is one of those books where I wanted to highlight passages all the way through – a gem.

At times Doris reminded me very much of Sophia in Our Spoons Came From Woolworths – both innocent, optimistic yet gullible, mistreated by men, dealing with poverty – both stories set in the 1930s but in different cities (Our Spoons Came From Woolworths is set in London).

Both books are excellent especially from a historical perspective – a slice of life from the 1930s.

A belated huge thank you to Caroline and to Lizzy for hosting the German Literature month. I didn’t quite finish this one in time but am inspired by all the great posts and recommendations to explore further.

Translated from the German by Katharina von Ankum
194 pages, 1932 (republished in English in 2002)

The Weekend – Bernhard Schlink


I didn’t want November to come to an end without reading at least one book for German Literature Month – which is being lovingly hosted by Lizzy at Lizzy’s Literary Life and Caroline at Beauty is a Sleeping Cat.

I’d been meaning to read something by Bernhard Schlink. The Reader is one of those books that was everywhere for a while, but I’ve never been that keen to try it. The concept of The Weekend though was more appealing, a short novel, set over a period of three days, the reunion of a group of old friends/colleagues more than 20 years later. The reason for the reunion? The release from prison of one of their number after 24 years. The common thread amongst them all – they had been Baader-Meinhof activists/sympathisers.

So far so good – except I hadn’t yet opened the book and that was when things went a little awry. Despite being set over a period of just a few days, the scope of the book is massive, encompassing the individual stories and history of the characters along with the collective sense of responsibility they carry for the historical actions of their country.

It all sounds very intense but unfortunately it wasn’t. For me there was something uncomfortable about the pacing of the story, after the briefest of introductions to the reader, the characters almost immediately launch into intense revelations, conflicts and intimacies with each other. Secrets are revealed in a way that seemed a bit too casual. I don’t very often say this because I appreciate shorter books but I think it could have been longer with time for character development and time to build tension. There is also reference to the September 11 attacks which I don’t think worked at all.

So it probably sounds as if I really didn’t like it which isn’t quite true – I never considered not finishing it and there were glimpses of brilliance. The idea of rebuilding friendship and trust in the symbolic setting of a run down old house that is itself in need of rebuilding I liked. The fear of a man re entering society after nearly a quarter of a century and being torn between reforming his life or continuing where he left off as a hero to the cause – on some level I can appreciate. Unfortunately though it all seemed a bit wooden and I came away not feeling much for any of the characters.

The book though has inspired some further reading. The Baader Meinhof Complex by Stephan Aust looks to be an excellent non fiction account of the Baader-Meinhof group. Perhaps I should have read that first.

Translated from the German by Shaun Whiteside

215 pages
2008, (English 2010)