I'm looking for good intermediate-level German novels. In German, that is.
July 21, 2011 6:20 PM   Subscribe

I'm looking for good intermediate-level German novels. In German, that is.

I'm learning German and I've been reading German kids books for a while on my own, but now I need something slightly more complicated. I just finished Tintenherz by Cornelia Funke and enjoyed it, but the vocabulary got repetitive after a while. I can read a lot of Grimm's fairy tales pretty easily. I can read articles from Deutsche Welle and the Berliner Zeitung and get the main point but not the specifics without a lot of help from the dictionary. I stuck my nose into Ein weites Feld by Günter Grass the other day and some paragraphs were as clear as a bell, but a lot of it was pretty incomprehensible. What books do I read next?

Also relevant: I'm reading on my own, so I need books that I can dive into without a lot of context. I like reading slightly above my grade level, if that makes sense. I like fiction better than non-fiction. Contemporary German writers as well as classics are fair game. I'm interested in books that have a lot of dialogue, because I'm interested in spoken German as well as in Hochdeutsch. Also, at the moment I'm more interested in books originally written in German than in translations.

If it's not too much trouble, specific titles along with authors would be really helpful, since I don't have a local German bookstore to browse through and so have to search for everything online. Thanks for your help!
posted by colfax to Writing & Language (16 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
I've found German translations of Haruki Murakami to be perfect for this. You might also want to look into german young adult fiction.
posted by smokingmonkey at 6:43 PM on July 21, 2011

I enjoyed Leonie Swann's Glennkill: Ein Schaskrimi recently quite a lot. It's about a flock of Irish sheep who decide to investigate when their shepherd George is killed. Not terribly difficult to read. Very fun.
posted by lysimache at 6:50 PM on July 21, 2011

One of my favorite recent books, Thomas Glavinic's Night Work, was originally published in German as Die Arbeit der Nacht. The English translation was very straightforward and readable, which I assume reflects the original text, and the premise of the book was both intriguing and intensely creepy. You can check out the author's website on the book (in German) here.
posted by Rhaomi at 6:59 PM on July 21, 2011

I LOVE LOVE the plays of Duerrenmatt, read them in my Intermediate German classes. Check out:

Der Besuch der Alten Dame
Die Physiker.

I don't think you can go wrong with a little Brecht, either:
Die Dreigroschenoper.

We read plays in Intermediate German because they were pretty straightforward - you get to focus on dialogue than parsing out the meaning of incredibly complicated German sentences that seem to go on fuer immer und immer und immer ohne komma....
posted by Dukat at 8:44 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Also! Der Vorleser by Bernhard Schlink is the book that the Kate Winslet movie "The Reader" was based on. Not my favorite, at all - themes about Schuld post-WWII get pretty depressing fast in German literature, but a thought if that's your thing.
posted by Dukat at 8:48 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not just the plays of Duerrenmatt, but, for a little more meat, his detective fiction. Der Richter und sein Henker (and Der Verdacht) were staples in my second year German classes.

I like to read detective novels to maintain/improve my foreign languages (Maigret for the French) because the plots carry you along and give you a clear narrative point to hang on to (Who did it?), something that can be missing in other fiction.

And I'll also second Dukat's recommendation of Die Dreigroschenoper. Brecht writes witty, wistful, world-weary lyrics, and Weil's music pushes them along. Get hold of the lyrics and follow along - then get your dictionary, translate, and do it again. I'd suggest starting with either the classic 'Mackie Messer', or my favorite 'Das Lied von der Unzulänglichkeit (des menschlichen Strebens)'.

I'll also put in a plug for Rilke's poetry. It's poetry, so I can't read it very flüssig, but I love Das Karussel.
posted by benito.strauss at 10:18 PM on July 21, 2011

Have you tried Herman Hesse's Siddhartha?
posted by Picklegnome at 10:43 PM on July 21, 2011


although it is Austrian German, I would recommend Wolf Haas. Funny, quirky crime novels and he has a distinctive writing style that feels a lot like just listening to an actual person talking and I guess this could make it easier to understand..

Here you'll find a some samples of his writing http://www.rowohlt.de/autor/2253

If you liked Tintenherz maybe you'll enjoy Walter Moers http://www.randomhouse.de/book/edition.jsp?edi=358447, very enjoyable Fantasy and not too difficult vocabulary- and style-wise
posted by ironicon at 12:01 AM on July 22, 2011

I"ve been reading some of these Easy Readers http://www.easyreaders.eu/books/das-feuerschiff-.aspx
posted by mary8nne at 12:24 AM on July 22, 2011

You might try some of Heinrich Boll's novels and short stories. I quite enjoy his writing, and he has a very simple style.
posted by trip and a half at 1:48 AM on July 22, 2011

* A classic of my schooldays was Max Frisch Homo Faber.
* Otherwise seconding Böll for ease of style (if you like his choice of topics).
* Grass is sometimes utterly incomprehensible even for native speakers. I liked his crafted-cryptic gimmick-style when I was a teenager, but it gets old after a while.
* For reasons incomprehensible I keep returning to Erich Kästner Die verschwundene Miniatur and Drei Männer im Schnee (possibly easiest obtainable via amazon.de), which are fun-type novelettes from the time that the Nazi regime forbid Kästner to write serious stuff.
* Almost everything by Hermann Hesse.
posted by Namlit at 3:42 AM on July 22, 2011

Thomas Mann's Tod in Venedig (Death in Venice) or if you like something less elegiac, his novella Tristan.
His brother Heinrich Mann wrote Der Untertan which is an awesome socially critical story about how a horrible little git makes it big time.

Anything by Max Frisch is good.

And try translations of Russian novels!

If you've read Grimm's tales in the original version your German must be fantastic, though?

Btw Lysimache's recommendation, the sheep thriller should probably read "Shafsthriller" not "Schasthriller" ("fart thriller"). Cracks me up though!
posted by Omnomnom at 4:16 AM on July 22, 2011

Oh and read some books by Ephraim Kishon and Friedrich Torberg for sly, fun, lightweight short stories and anecdotes.
posted by Omnomnom at 4:22 AM on July 22, 2011

I really liked Felidae when I was at about your level, as well as Happy Birthday, Türke!. I found crime stories were good because they gave me a reason to keep reading... I've also liked Wladimir Kaminer--I think his Russendisko was the first book I read cover to cover in German on my own.

I suppose one of the upshots of this comment is that as a foreigner to the German language, I like reading prose written by other foreigns to the German language... it's a bit of a broad suggestion, but maybe see if any of the Adelbert von Chamisso winners catch your eye.

Ooh! Look here! It's a Leseprobe from Zaimoğlu's Zwölf Gramm Glück... and all of the books on this site have Leseproben. Maybe you could get some ideas from there.

Viel Spass!
posted by besonders at 7:33 AM on July 22, 2011

Second the Murakami, despite the more-interested-in-German-originals caveat. They were some of the first German books I read where I was able to focus more on the story than on struggles with language. This isn't to say that all translations are a good idea. (Translations of Russian novels?! Those are dense and complicated and slow - if great - in any language, and don't seem great for someone who's not fluent yet.)

Shortish stories/novellas or plays - Dürrenmatt, ETA Hoffmann, Stefan Zweig - may be worth a look. There are collections where you can get a bunch of these shorter works in one (e.g. a "Meistererzählungen" collection for Zweig, with 9 short stories/novellas.) For that matter, several of Hesse's books (e.g. "Unterm Rad," "Siddhartha," "Demian", "Steppenwolf") are short enough that they're almost in novella territory, and they might be accessible enough for you. I might avoid Thomas Mann's "Tod in Venedig" for now - it's short, but all of Mann's stuff is pretty dense, which can be frustrating when you're not fluent. Similarly, while Günter Grass has some shorter works, like "Katz und Maus," they're dense and idiomatic and written in his idosyncratic style, and may still be too challenging. I really enjoy both authors, but they're just not great starting points for someone who's still learning the language, in my opinion.

Early on, I had some luck with authors who were not native German speakers (despite being fluent, and writing in German), including Catalin Dorian Florescu ("Der Blinde Masseur," "Zaira") and Terezia Mora ("Seltsame Materie"). Not that they don't get complicated, but I didn't necessarily feel like I was battling German sentence structure and a challenging story, the way I sometimes did with native German authors. I've also found some of the East German literary authors fairly accessible (e.g. Monika Maron, Christa Wolf, Anna Seghers).

Reading young adult books can be a bit of a crapshoot (slang and made-up words are challenging!) but "Die Unendliche Geschichte" (Michael Ende) and "Die Stadt der Träumenden Bücher" (Walter Moers) were neither too hard nor really too childish. Both of those authors have other works written at a similar level.

Some of the post-world-war (I or II) books are written in comparatively simple, blunt prose - "Im Westen Nichts Neues" (Erich Maria Remarque) and "Der Zug War Pünktlich" (Heinrich Böll) both come to mind, and many of those authors' other books are similarly accessible.

Finally, if you're looking for non-Hochdeutsch, there are definitely novels that use a lot of it. "Das Verborgene Wort" (Ulla Hahn) is the one I've read most recently. It follows a protagonist whose family speaks in a very broad Kölsch dialect, and translations and a glossary are actually provided. It's very readable, but a big book.
posted by ubersturm at 10:37 AM on July 22, 2011

Thanks very much, everyone. I was feeling sort of stuck and lost before: it's hard to find what you need when you're not actually sure what you're looking for. Anyway, I appreciate the road map and the guide posts.
posted by colfax at 2:50 PM on July 22, 2011

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