The Greatest Russian, 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. Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman

    "Life and Fate" is a sweeping epic that explores the human condition during the Siege of Stalingrad in World War II. The novel delves into the lives of a wide range of characters, from soldiers and scientists to children and victims of the Holocaust, providing a stark and unflinching portrayal of the horrors of war, the brutality of totalitarianism, and the resilience of the human spirit. At the same time, it also examines themes of love, loss, and the struggle for freedom and dignity in the face of overwhelming adversity.

  4. 4. 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.

  5. 5. 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.

  6. 6. 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.

  7. 7. Summer in Baden-Baden by Leonid Tsypkin

    "Summer in Baden-Baden" is a unique blend of fact and fiction that intertwines the author's own travels to Leningrad with a reimagining of Fyodor Dostoevsky's summer in Baden-Baden, Germany. The narrative shifts between the two journeys, exploring themes of obsession, identity, and the power of literature. The author's fascination with Dostoevsky serves as a lens through which he examines his own life and experiences as a Jew in Soviet Russia, while also providing a fresh perspective on the famous Russian author's life and works.

  8. 8. 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.

  9. 9. The Clay Machine-gun by Victor Pelevin

    "The Clay Machine-gun" is a surreal and complex novel that explores the nature of reality and illusion. The story is set in post-Soviet Russia and follows a protagonist who has multiple identities, including a poet in 19th-century Russia, a 20th-century psychiatric patient, and a 21st-century advertising executive. The narrative moves between these identities and realities, blurring the lines between them and creating a layered and philosophical exploration of Russian society, identity, and the human psyche.

  10. 10. 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.

  11. 11. Happy Moscow by Andrey Platonov

    "Happy Moscow" is a satirical novel set in the Soviet Union during the height of Stalinist rule, following the life of a young woman, Moscow Chestnova, who is named after the capital city. Despite the harsh realities of life under an authoritarian regime, she maintains a positive and optimistic outlook, symbolizing the Soviet Union's propaganda that promoted an image of a happy and prosperous society. The novel, through its characters and their experiences, explores the paradoxes and contradictions of the Soviet society, challenging the official narrative of happiness and prosperity.

  12. 12. 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.

  13. 13. Soul and Other Stories by Andrey Platonov

    "Soul and Other Stories" is a collection of short stories that delve into the human condition and the struggle for identity in a world filled with political and social upheaval. The stories are set in a variety of contexts, from the harsh landscapes of Central Asia to the chaos of the Russian Revolution. The characters are often faced with existential crises, grappling with questions of purpose, meaning, and morality. The narrative is marked by a unique blend of philosophical inquiry, poetic prose, and a deep sense of empathy for the human plight.

  14. 14. 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.

  15. 15. 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.

  16. 16. 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.

  17. 17. 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.

  18. 18. 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.

  19. 19. 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.

  20. 20. The Life of Insects by Victor Pelevin

    "The Life of Insects" is a surreal novel that explores the complexities of post-Soviet Russia through the lens of a bizarre seaside community of humans who transform into various types of insects. The narrative unfolds through a series of interconnected stories that delve into the characters' struggles, dreams, and fears, serving as a metaphor for the human condition. The book provides a satirical commentary on society's ills, touching on themes of capitalism, corruption, and the search for identity in a rapidly changing world.

  21. 21. 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.

  22. 22. Child 44 by Tom Rob Smith

    In a 1950s Soviet Union gripped by fear and paranoia, Leo Demidov, a dedicated officer of the state security agency, is faced with a chilling reality: a series of brutal child murders that the government refuses to acknowledge. As Leo defies his superiors and embarks on a dangerous investigation, he becomes entangled in a web of political intrigue and personal danger, risking everything to uncover the truth and protect those he loves. "Child 44" is a gripping thriller that explores the dark underbelly of a repressive regime and the resilience of one man determined to bring justice to a society plagued by secrets.

  23. 23. The Zone by Sergei Dovlatov

    "The Zone" is a semi-autobiographical novel that follows the life of a writer who is confined to a Soviet labor camp. Through a series of vignettes, the protagonist reflects on his experiences in the camp, the absurdities of the Soviet system, and the struggles of maintaining his identity and integrity in the face of oppression. With dark humor and sharp observations, the book offers a poignant and satirical portrayal of life in the Soviet Union.

  24. 24. 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.

  25. 25. Pushkin Hills by Sergei Dovlatov

    The book is a tragicomic novel that follows the story of an unsuccessful writer and divorced father who takes a summer job as a tour guide at the rural estate of a famous Russian poet. As he immerses himself in the petty concerns and daily life of the museum staff and local villagers, the protagonist grapples with his own literary ambitions, the complexities of his personal life, and the cultural legacy of the poet whose memory he is charged with preserving. The narrative is infused with sharp wit and a deep sense of irony as it explores themes of artistic integrity, cultural heritage, and the absurdities of Soviet life.

Reading Statistics

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