5 books for spring | Books | DW | 28.03.2017
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5 books for spring

As temperatures rise and the reading chair on the balcony beckons, we present novels from Britain, Russia, Germany and Finland, as well as a new edition of works by Edgar Allen Poe.

Julian Barnes: The Noise of Time

What is true and what is propaganda? What does courage mean? How can and should artists behave in a dictatorship? These are questions that British author Julian Barnes attempts to answer in his recent novel "The Noise of Time," one of the most outstanding works of fiction published in early 2016 in English and this spring in German translation. 

"The Noise of Time" picks up on the life story of Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975). The biography of the famous Russian composer serves Barnes as a model for artists living under a dictatorship.

Since the protagonist is a composer, and not an author, filmmaker or artist, the span between courage and resistance, between adjustment and desperation, can be perfectly exemplified. Music, no matter how dramatic, always remains abstract.

Barnes hasn't produced a heroic epic, but his novel explores everything that could have been imaginable in that era. The author's art lies in his ability to tell the story of the composer harassed by Stalin's henchmen in an unbiased way - without making accusations and without false compassion or anger, but with a great deal of empathy.

Boris Savinkov: The Black Horse

Shostakovich was 19 years old when he composed his first symphony in 1925, which made him famous. In that same year, Russian author Boris Savinkov jumped to his death off the fifth floor of the Lubyanka prison. He had been sentenced to death by the communist rulers, but his punishment was later reduced to 10 years in prison.

During the Russian Civil War, the author first sided with the White Army, which was fighting for democracy and against the nationalization of property, and later with the peasants fighting against the rulers' Red Army. He was a soldier and an activist and even served as a minister in Moscow for a short time - and he was a writer.

"The Black Horse," published two years ago, is a novel split into many short chapters about the struggles at the front of the Russian Civil War. The novel paints a rather somber picture of people haunted by murder, blood and darkness. While carnivores kill for hunger, only humans kill because of fatigue, laziness or melancholy.

The first-person narrator travels across the country accompanied by a small troupe: Jegorov represents the simple and faithful people, Vrede is a former lord of a manor, Ivan Lukich is an entrepreneur. Olga, the narrator's former lover, belongs to the Russian nobility, and Grusha, his next lover, is a peasant woman.

"Subjectively speaking, everybody is right," Savinkov writes in his prelude of the Russian edition of the novel: "The Reds, the Whites and the Greens. That's why I called the book, 'The Black Horse." The novel takes a deep look into the torn soul of the Russian people and comes to a somber conclusion: The struggle for power and influence only leaves behind losers. 

Feridum Zaimoglu: Evangelio

Buchcover Evangelio von Feridun Zaimoglu (Kiepenheuer & Witsch)

"Evangelio," a new work in German by Feridun Zaimoglu

Zaimoglu, whose parents emigrated from Turkey to Germany shortly after his birth, is one of Germany's most prolific writers. His latest novel is about Martin Luther. If you were to ask Zaimoglu about the work of the Reformer, he would probably be able to describe it in many different ways, but certainly not as a children's book.

"If you want to know how Luther got along, then go torture yourselves," Zaimoglu said in an interview with German news agency dpa. The novel is indeed a big bite to chew. The author makes frequent use of Middle Age German expressions that most readers are unlikely to be familiar with.

Zaimoglu tells the story of Luther from the perspective of the fictional landsquenet Burkhard. He was supposed to keep an eye on Luther, who had locked himself into the Wartburg castle. In 1521-22, Luther translated the New Testament into German in just 10 weeks. The castle located near Eisenach was supposed to be a sanctuary, but the former Augustinian monk was haunted by all kinds of doubts, temptations and hallucinations.

Zaimoglu emphasized that his objective was not to describe Luther as a nice guy tending to his little herb garden - an image of the theologians that experts have long since dropped anyways. His "Evangelio" shouldn't be seen as the single major Luther novel published in the Luther year of 2017 - the 500th anniversary of his famed 95 theses -, but rather as an unusual addition to the plethora of existing literature.

Selja Ahava:  Things That Fall From the Sky

All good things come from above, Martin Luther may have thought. Finnish author Selja Ahava, however, is convinced of the opposite. In her novel "Things That Fall From the Sky," it's mishap that comes from above.

Eight-year-old Saara's mother was killed by an ice cube that dropped from the sky. Her father subsequentially suffered from depression, and Saara was taken care of by her aunt - who is extremely lucky. After winning the lottery, she acquires a huge estate. But even that luck doesn't last for long.

Saara's daily life is once again shaken by an incredible coincidence. In her light writing style with short sentences, Selja Ahava describes the adolescence of a girl growing up in a Nordic country. Here and there, the story is reminiscent of a fairy tale.

Finnish literature has become popular in Germany ever since it was presented at the Frankfurt Book Fair three years ago. Back then, Ahava's had just released "The Day the Whale Swam Through London." Published just this month, the author has followed suit with "Things That Fall From the Sky" - a wonderful book full of poetry and serenity, melancholy and esprit.

Edgar Allen Poe: New German translation of selected stories originally published by Charles Baudelaire

New German translation by Andreas Nohl of some of Edgar Allen Poe's Tales of Ratiocination (dtv Verlagsgesellschaft)

New German translation by Andreas Nohl of some of Edgar Allen Poe's "Tales of Ratiocination"

Serenity isn't exactly the dominant sentiment in the writings of Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849). German readers are lucky this spring because a new translation by Andreas Nohl of some of his stories has been published. Edgar Allen Poe, who is seen by some experts as having marked the beginning of modern American literature, was discovered by Frenchman Charles Baudelaire in the middle of the 20th century. It was Baudelaire, obsessed by Poe's fiction, who helped the author reach mainstream audiences. His edition in five volumes is still considered the best of all Poe publications. 

"The Murders in the Rue Morgue" is regarded as a milestone in the development of modern detective stories and thrillers would be unthinkable without this story. Like the other 12 texts published in the new edition, it demonstrates Edgar Allen Poe's outstanding linguistic skills, as well as his rich imagination.

Reading the story, one can clearly detect literary developments stretching into present times. Poe, a master of quiet horror and abysmal fears, had a great deal of insight into the human soul. It was certainly no coincidence that Sigmund Freud developed a deep interest in the American author.

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