German literature is the only literature where I feel fairly well-read in. Recently I haven’t been reading it as much as I used to but I plan to remedy that at some point. Until then I thought I would give a bit of a shout out to some my favourite German classics (modern and otherwise).
Faust – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
No list of German classics would be complete with this, quite possibly THE defining play in German literature. I first read this in school and adored it. I have seen it in theaters all over Germany (my favourite being a student production in Weimar with a female Mephistopheles and a Faust incongruously played by the most beautiful man imaginable (he went on to participate in some casting show I never watched but me and my friend I saw the production with still feel weirdly proud of that fact)) and cannot recommend doing this enough. My flatmate in uni told me the English translation is not quite as brilliant but I still think reading this is well worth anybody’s time.
Also, I wanted to get a quote from this tattooed for the longest time – I am nothing if not pretentious.
Group Portrait with Lady (Gruppenbild mit Dame) – Heinrich Böll
I adored every book by Böll I have read (and just got my dad’s collection of all his works and will be reading more over the coming months) but this one is my favourite. The narrative structure works extremely well and the whole book just gives a brilliant glimpse into 20th century Germany.
The Perfume (Das Parfüm) – Patrick Süskind
This postmodern work does not get enough love, I find. It might be because part of its appeal is the way it alludes to other literary works in a way that for me felt like a treasure hunt and for others ended feeling pretentious and tedious (I also read this in school and my classmates’ opinion were SO divided). If you like clever, dark, and super wonderful stories, this might be for you. And I will have to reread this at some point because I have read so much since school and would surely find more of the allusions now.
On tangled paths (Irrungen, Wirrungen) – Theodor Fontane
This is definitely one of those books that works the best when talked about extensively. Fontane writes with a purpose that makes it difficult to get into. Every word is there for a reason, every metaphor was placed intendly. I adore the dryness of his prose and his storytelling and analyzing this is one of my fondest memories of my high school years.
Also, can we talk about how ‘meh’ the English title is? Like, seriously.
And finally, we all knew this was coming:
Medea – Christa Wolf & Kassandra – Christa Wolf
Christa Wolf is, handsdown, my favourite German author. I find it a shame that she never won the Nobel Prize (and Grass did, but that is a rant for another time) and that she is not more widely read. Those two books are feminist re-tellings of, you guessed it, the Medea and the Kassandra myth respectively. Wolf’s perfect command of the German language is impeccable, her feeling for rhythm genius, and her ability to get at the emotional heart of these stories unparalled (I find).
What are your favourite classics? What is the one book you would recommend to everybody? Do let me know!