This post is part of a series of posts in which students of the English Seminar present their favourite books they have read in 2014. The lists are not restricted to books that were published this year. If you want to participate as well, send your list to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Today’s list comes to you from the newly appointed ZEST contributor Fabia Morger.
2014 was stuffed with books. I took the German reading list exam for which, in contrast to the English Seminar’s version, you are required to read 52 texts, many of them several hundred pages long (however, you also get 9 credit points for that). As it (unfortunately) usually is the case when you are required to read many texts within a short span of time, most of them tend to fade from your memory as soon as the exam is done. Those in the list are the ones who stayed and, even months after passing the exam, come to haunt me from time to time. And I personally think it’s a good thing when books haunt you. I know that there is only one English book on the list. However, this might give some people the opportunity to rethink their attitude about the inferior status of German literature. An attitude that, sadly enough, can be observed quite often in the English Seminar.
Franz Kafka (ca. 1915): Der Proceß
The Trial is certainly not an easily digestible read but an intriguing one nevertheless. It contains one of mankind’s existential angsts – the fear of being condemned for no apparent reason and pushed around by an ominous justice system until, in the end, you start to believe in your own guilt. And given the numerous exonerations alone from the American death row (seven in 2014) and the many innocents that may still face (death) penalty all over the world, that fear is not too far-fetched. Anyway, an awful lot has been said about Kafka already, so I heartily suggest that you give him a try.
Hermann Hesse (1927): Der Steppenwolf
Well, who hasn’t heard of this legendary masterpiece? As a student of German literature, I’m kind of sad that it took a reading list to get me to read this book. It’s certainly one of the most compelling works I’ve read in my life and I know I’m not the only one who thinks so. I guess what makes the story of Steppenwolf so fascinating is that the novel has so many facets that nobody quite reads the same. To me, Steppenwolf was the story of essential human suffering. The struggle of its protagonist, Harry Haller, who is trapped between his animalistic and his cultivated human self, is the struggle of each and every one of us. It’s a story about despairing over being human and what enables us to bear the pain that comes with it.
Maria von Ebner-Eschenbach (1887): Das Gemeindekind
I deeply admire this book for its compassionate style of writing and its, for that time, revolutionary criticism of society. In some way, The Child of the Neighbourhood is a biopic of a rural community and their way of dealing with two disadvantaged children. While they encounter the sweet, pretty girl with compassion, her older (less handsome) brother meets nothing but scorn and repulsion in the community. Maria von Ebner-Eschenbach shows how society can foster criminals just by not giving them a chance to thrive and does so with intriguing intensity.
Elfriede Jelinek (1975): die liebhaberinnen
That Elfriede Jelinek won the Nobel Prize in 2004 has certainly a lot to do with this book. Written consequently in small letters (a bigger deal in German than it is in English), it displays with merciless preciseness the behaviour of middle-class conservative Austrians in the 1950. It is as an angry and shocking report on how gender stereotypes shaped and still shape society.
Toni Morrison (1987): Beloved
The only English contribution to this list is also from a Nobel prize laureate and the haunting of this book can be taken literally as the protagonist, Beloved, is an actual ghost. Set in the aftermath of the American civil war, Beloved tells about the traumas of slavery and the excesses of motherly love. It’s based on the true story of a slave mother who murdered her baby daughter rather than letting her lead a life in slavery. A sublime read.
Mats Strandberg, Sara Bergmark Elfgren (2011-2013): The Engelsfors Trilogy
This trilogy was the first Swedish text I read in its original language and it might have been a little over-ambitious considering that it consists of three huge books. But, you know what they say, you grow with your challenges and I regret nothing. Even though this trilogy might not be as sophisticated as its companions in this list, it has the charms of a teenage fantasy novel. All of its (mostly female) characters are unique and authentic and the story is just breathtakingly exciting, even if you have to grab the dictionary every other sentence. Plus, there is a love story between two girls, which is portrayed in such an unspectacular and natural way that I really hope it will be a prototype for other youth fantasy novels to come. (It’s also out in English.)