The Greatest German "Fiction" Books Since 1980

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This list represents a comprehensive and trusted collection of the greatest books. Developed through a specialized algorithm, it brings together 280 'best of' book lists to form a definitive guide to the world's most acclaimed books. For those interested in how these books are chosen, additional details can be found on the rankings page.

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  1. 1. Perfume by Patrick Suskind

    Set in 18th-century France, this novel tells the story of Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, a man born with an extraordinary sense of smell but no personal scent of his own. He becomes an apprentice to a prominent perfumer and learns to create the world's most intoxicating perfumes. However, his obsession with capturing the perfect scent leads him down a dark path, as he begins to kill young women to extract their scent. The book is a chilling exploration of obsession, identity, and the power of scent.

  2. 2. Austerlitz by W. G. Sebald

    The novel follows the story of Jacques Austerlitz, an architectural historian who was brought to England on a Kindertransport from Czechoslovakia during World War II. As an adult, Jacques embarks on a journey to uncover his past, including his original identity, his parent's fate, and his own lost history. The narrative is a haunting exploration of memory, identity, and the lasting impact of the Holocaust.

  3. 3. The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

    Set in Nazi Germany during World War II, the novel follows the story of a young girl who finds solace in stealing books and sharing them with others. In the midst of the horrors of war, she forms a bond with a Jewish man her foster parents are hiding in their basement. The story is narrated by Death, offering a unique perspective on the atrocities and small acts of kindness during this period. The girl's love for books becomes a metaphor for resistance against the oppressive regime.

  4. 4. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink

    "The Reader" is a poignant narrative centered around a young German boy's complex relationship with an older woman, who later turns out to be a former Auschwitz guard. Their relationship begins with her teaching him to read, but takes a drastic turn when she disappears, only to reemerge on trial for war crimes. The novel explores themes of guilt, shame, and redemption, as the boy, now a law student, grapples with his feelings for a woman he once loved, but whose past actions he cannot reconcile with.

  5. 5. The Rings of Saturn by W. G. Sebald

    "The Rings of Saturn" is a richly detailed travelogue that follows the narrator's journey along the coast of Suffolk, England. The narrative weaves together history, literature, and personal anecdotes, exploring topics as diverse as the decline of the herring industry, the horrors of colonialism in the Congo, and the life of philosopher Sir Thomas Browne. The book is characterized by its melancholic tone, its digressive style, and its meditative reflections on memory, time, and decay.

  6. 6. The Emigrants by Winfried Georg Sebald

    "The Emigrants" is a novel that explores the experiences and memories of four different emigrants, each with a unique and complex history. The narrative primarily focuses on the psychological impact of displacement and the haunting nature of the past. The author delves deep into their lives, revealing their struggles with identity, loss, and the persistent influence of their roots. The narrative is interwoven with historical events, photographs, and other documents, creating a rich tapestry that blurs the line between fact and fiction.

  7. 7. Cassandra by Christa Wolf

    The novel is a retelling of the Trojan War from the perspective of Cassandra, the doomed prophetess and daughter of Priam, the king of Troy. Through her eyes, we experience the final days of the legendary city and her own tragic fate. The narrative delves into themes of power, feminism, and the role of women in history and myth, as Cassandra reflects on her life, her prophetic gift that was both a blessing and a curse, and the events leading up to the city's downfall. Her internal monologue provides a poignant and introspective examination of human nature, war, and the often-unheard voices of women in the shadow of great historical narratives.

  8. 8. Couples, Passersby by Botho Strauß

    "Couples, Passersby" is a collection of short stories that explore the complexities of human relationships and the subtleties of everyday life. The stories are set in various locations, from urban landscapes to rural settings, and feature a wide range of characters, from couples to solitary individuals, each grappling with their own internal struggles and external circumstances. The author's evocative prose and keen observations of human behavior offer a poignant and insightful look at the human condition.

  9. 9. The Parable of the Blind by Gert Hofmann

    "The Parable of the Blind" is a darkly comedic novel that follows six blind men who are hired to pose as models for a famous painter's depiction of a biblical parable. As they journey to the painter's studio, they struggle with their dependence on each other and the outside world, grappling with the limitations and challenges of their blindness. The narrative explores themes of human vulnerability, the nature of perception, and the absurdity of existence.

  10. 10. The Swarm by Frank Schatzing

    "The Swarm" is a science fiction novel that explores the disastrous consequences of mankind's exploitation of the world's oceans. The narrative follows a group of scientists around the world as they try to understand a series of inexplicable, catastrophic natural disasters. They eventually discover that these events are not random but are the result of a collective intelligence in the sea, a swarm of marine life that has decided to fight back against humanity's destruction of their habitat. The book combines elements of ecological thriller, disaster novel, and speculative fiction as it explores the potential consequences of human interference with the natural world.

  11. 11. The Pigeon by Patrick Suskind

    "The Pigeon" is a psychological drama about a man whose life is turned upside down by the presence of a pigeon in front of his apartment. The man, a meticulous and orderly bank security guard, has his life thrown into chaos when he encounters the bird, which triggers an existential crisis within him. The book explores themes of fear, isolation, and the fragility of human existence, as the protagonist grapples with his sudden and irrational fear of the pigeon.

  12. 12. Inkheart by Cornelia Funke

    The book revolves around a young girl named Meggie and her father Mo, who possesses a unique ability to bring characters from books to life by reading aloud. This gift, however, comes with a price, as they are entangled in a dangerous adventure when a villain from a fantasy book called "Inkheart" is accidentally summoned into the real world. As they struggle to fix the chaos caused by this crossover, they must navigate a treacherous world of magic and betrayal, while attempting to thwart the villain's sinister plans and protect the balance between reality and the fantastical realms of literature.

  13. 13. Vertigo by W. G. Sebald

    "Vertigo" is a complex narrative that combines elements of fiction, travelogue, biography, and autobiography. The novel is divided into four sections, each exploring the life and works of different historical figures such as Stendhal, Kafka, and Casanova, as well as the author's own experiences. The narrative is characterized by its exploration of themes such as memory, identity, and the past, often blurring the lines between fact and fiction. The book is also notable for its distinctive style, featuring long, meandering sentences and a lack of traditional plot structure.

  14. 14. The 13 1/2 Lives Of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers

    The book is a whimsical fantasy novel that follows the adventures of a blue bear as he navigates a world filled with bizarre creatures and surreal landscapes. With half a life more than the usual allotment for his species, the protagonist recounts his experiences, which range from being raised by mini-pygmies to attending an academy for gifted creatures, and from escaping the clutches of a carnivorous island to befriending a sentient tornado. Each of his thirteen and a half lives is a unique tale of curiosity, learning, and survival, set in a richly imagined universe that defies the ordinary at every turn.

  15. 15. The Invention of Curried Sausage by Uwe Timm

    The book is a fictional account of the creation of the popular German fast food, curried sausage. The story unfolds through the narration of a young journalist who visits an elderly woman, believed to be the inventor of the dish during World War II. It explores the woman's tumultuous love affair with a young sailor during the chaotic final days of the war, her struggle for survival, and the circumstances that led to the creation of the spicy sausage. The novel is a blend of romance, war-time survival, and culinary innovation.

  16. 16. The Land Of Green Plums by Herta Müller

    The novel is a poignant exploration of life under a repressive regime, following a group of young friends in Romania during the totalitarian rule of Nicolae Ceaușescu. Through the eyes of the narrator, a young woman with aspirations of freedom and self-expression, the story delves into the oppressive atmosphere of surveillance, fear, and betrayal that permeates their existence. As they struggle to maintain their integrity and hope amidst the dehumanizing forces of the state, the friends are inexorably drawn towards tragic outcomes, illustrating the devastating impact of living under constant oppression and the indomitable spirit that resists it.

  17. 17. Hitchhiking: Twelve German Tales by Gabriele Eckart

    This collection of short stories offers a vivid tapestry of life in East Germany before the fall of the Berlin Wall, exploring the everyday experiences, dreams, and struggles of ordinary people. Through a series of engaging narratives, the book delves into the complexities of life under a socialist regime, capturing the human spirit in a society rife with political tension and personal longing. Each tale serves as a poignant vignette, revealing the nuances of East German culture and the universal quest for identity, purpose, and connection amidst a backdrop of political oppression and social change.

  18. 18. Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann

    "Measuring the World" is a historical novel that reimagines the lives of two brilliant and driven men, German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss and German geographer Alexander von Humboldt. The narrative alternates between the two protagonists, exploring their individual quests to quantify and understand the world. Gauss, a child prodigy from a poor family, rises to become one of the greatest mathematicians in history, while Humboldt, a wealthy and ambitious explorer, embarks on a five-year journey across South America. Their paths converge in a humorous and touching manner, highlighting the contrast between their approaches to knowledge and discovery.

  19. 19. Floating In My Mother's Palm by Ursula Hegi

    The book is a poignant coming-of-age story set in a post-war German town, where a young girl navigates the complexities of her family life and the secrets of her community. Through her eyes, readers experience her relationships with colorful local characters, her discovery of love and loss, and her quest for identity amidst the lingering shadows of World War II. The narrative is a tapestry of small-town life, capturing the essence of growth and the bittersweet nature of memory, as the protagonist learns about the resilience of the human spirit and the fluidity of time, much like floating in the comforting yet unpredictable embrace of her mother's palm.

  20. 20. The Hidden Word by Ulla Hahn

    "The Hidden Word" is a poignant coming-of-age novel set in post-war Germany, which follows the life of a young girl from a conservative, working-class family as she discovers the transformative power of language and literature. Struggling against the constraints of her rural, religious upbringing and the societal expectations placed upon women of her time, she seeks solace and freedom in the world of books. Her intellectual and emotional journey is marked by the tension between her burgeoning individuality and the traditional values she is expected to uphold, leading to a narrative rich in both personal growth and the exploration of the capacity of words to both conceal and reveal profound truths.

  21. 21. The Discovery Of Slowness by Sten Nadolny

    The novel is a historical and philosophical exploration of the life of the 19th-century British explorer Sir John Franklin, reimagined through the lens of his unique perception of time. It delves into Franklin's character, portraying him as a man who experiences the world at a slower pace than those around him, allowing for deep reflection and a profound connection to his surroundings. This narrative approach offers a meditation on the virtues of slowness in a rapidly changing world, challenging the reader to reconsider the value of patience and careful thought in an era that increasingly prioritizes speed and efficiency.

  22. 22. Der Laden by Erwin Strittmatter

    The book is a richly detailed, autobiographical trilogy that paints a vivid portrait of village life in Germany through the first half of the 20th century. It follows the life of Esau Matt, a baker's son, as he grows up during the tumultuous times of the Weimar Republic, the rise of National Socialism, and the Second World War. The narrative delves into the everyday experiences of the villagers, their struggles, and their resilience, capturing the social and political changes of the era through the lens of a small community and the coming-of-age story of its protagonist.

  23. 23. The Blind Side of the Heart by Julia Franck

    "The Blind Side of the Heart" is a historical novel that explores the life of a German woman before, during, and after World War II. The story begins with her abandonment of her young son at a railway station, then flashes back to her own childhood, her experiences during the war, and her tumultuous relationships. The narrative provides a deep and unflinching look at the psychological effects of war and the struggle for survival, as well as the profound impact of trauma and loss.

  24. 24. Crabwalk by Günter Grass

    This novel delves into the tragic sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a German ship, during World War II, through the eyes of a journalist investigating the event's historical and personal ramifications. The narrative weaves together past and present, exploring the intergenerational impact of the catastrophe on survivors and their descendants. The author employs a unique storytelling technique, the "crabwalk," moving backward and forward in time to reveal the complexities of guilt, memory, and the reinterpretation of history. Through its intricate plot and deep character exploration, the book addresses the themes of nationalism, the repercussions of war, and the struggle to come to terms with one's heritage.

  25. 25. Die Puppenspieler by Tanja Kinkel

    Set against the backdrop of the late Middle Ages, the novel weaves a tale of intrigue, power, and betrayal, following the lives of two families of puppeteers who become embroiled in the political machinations of their time. As they travel through the tumultuous landscapes of Europe, they encounter historical figures and events, from the fall of the Knights Templar to the turmoil of the Papal States. The families must navigate the treacherous waters of courtly life, where the art of puppetry becomes a metaphor for the control and manipulation exercised by the ruling classes. Their journey is not only a physical one but also a quest for artistic freedom and personal integrity in an era rife with corruption and upheaval.

Reading Statistics

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If you're interested in downloading this list as a CSV file for use in a spreadsheet application, you can easily do so by clicking the button below. Please note that to ensure a manageable file size and faster download, the CSV will include details for only the first 500 books.

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