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Review of the year 2020: These are the 20 best books

The best books of 2020: Does Dorothee Elmiger lead our annual best list, even if she couldn't win the German Book Prize with “Aus der Zuckerfabrik”? Or is Leif Randt, with his intelligent relationship analysis “Allegro Pastell”, right at the forefront of the best books of 2020? In the race for a top position is of course also Sally Rooney, who after “Conversations with Friends” with “Normal People” presented an even stronger runner-up. And what are all the exciting debutantes like Verena Keßler, Olivia Wenzel, Leona Stahlmann, Amanda Lasker-Berlin and Ronya Othmann doing?

Review of the year 2020: The best books places 20 - 11

20. Jami Attenberg: Not my thing

19. Benjamin Maack: If that still works, it can't be that bad

18. Mercedes Spannagel: The palace must be on fire

17. Victor Jestin: Heat

16. Verena Güntner: Power

15. Ben Lerner: The Topeka School

14. Sally Rooney: Normal people

13. Sebastian Jabata: The Ambassador

12. Amanda Lasker-Berlin: Elija's song

11. Roman Ehrlich: Malé

Our top 10 best books of 2020

10. Verena Keßler: The ghosts of Demmin

In 1945 there was a mass suicide in Demmin. In 2020 Verena Keßler will choose exactly this place for a coming-of-age story that can take on "Tschick". In an interview with kulturnews, the Leipzig-based author explains why she made her debut about mass suicide. “I wanted to know: why did this happen? Why did it just happen there? I also asked myself what that still does to the place today. That there was such a big incident in such a small town that doesn't seem to have been properly processed, that one doesn't really know how to deal with in terms of memory, that somehow haunts around, that interested me very much. "

Hanser Berlin, 2020, 240 pp., 22 euros

9. Katrin Seddig: Safety zone

The best books of 2020 - of course, this list cannot do without Katrin Seddig: “Creative protest. Put down your tanks! Free yourself from frozen structures. She herself feels trapped in frozen structures for a long time. Anything you do for a long time may lead to it. Even complete liberation can eventually lead to paralysis, if one paralyzes with sheer freedom. ”Katrin Seddig tells a family story that takes place during the G20 summit in Hamburg: Thomas and Natascha's marriage is falling apart, their 17- year-old daughter Imke is involved in youth against the G20, and her older son Alexander, as a police officer, is worried about suddenly being confronted with his sister during an operation.

Rowohlt Berlin, 2020, 460 pp., 24 euros

8. Alexander Chee: Edinburgh

It took almost 20 years until the grandiose debut novel by Alexander Chee finally appeared in German translation. This is probably due not least to the great success of Ocean Vuong's “On Earth, We Are Briefly Terrific” last year: Chee was Vuong's university professor and has had a decisive influence on his career. Vuong and Chee share their Korean roots, and Chee was also marginalized as an adolescent in the USA because of his skin color and sexual orientation. In the autobiographical coming-of-age novel “Edinburgh” he tells of sexual abuse in a boys' choir from the perspective of twelve-year-old Phi. Even when it became clear that his best friend Peter would be the conductor's next victim, Phi remained silent out of shame. Chee documents the years of struggle with this guilt and the difficulty of finding an identity after the traumatic experiences with allusions and poetic language.

Albino, 2020, 304 pp., 22 euros

From d. Engl. V. Nicola Heine and Timm Stafe

7. Dorothee Elmiger: From the sugar factory

"Martin, the editor, says that if these records are published," Roman "must be on the cover in any case. [...] I say it is a report on research. ”With this sentence, roughly in the middle of“ From the sugar factory ”, Dorothee Elmiger sums up her new book very well. Instead of a plot or characters that are more than initials, readers are confronted with Elmiger's own search for a connection. She is obsessed with individual historical scenes that cover a very wide field: the auctioning off of the possessions of a bankrupt lottery winner. A documentary about a Dominican sugar plantation. The notes of an early psychoanalysis patient. Capitalism and colonialism. Your own search for love. Lots of literature. What do all these complexes have in common? The author doesn't know for sure - but she suspects that human hunger, desire in all its facets, from longing to greed, plays a central role. What starts out bulky soon develops a hypnotic pull: You watch Elmiger pile up fragments, and how you yourself become dizzy from the suddenly visible connections. The most beautiful thing about this very beautiful book is the way in which it ultimately turns out to be an illustration of human hunger: the hunger for truth. And of course Dorothee Elmiger should not be missing on our list of the best books of 2020.

Hanser, 2020, 272 pp., 23 euros

6. Ulrike Almut Sandig: Monsters like us

Ulrike Almut Sandig is an established poet. The 41-year-old saved her first novel in order to give a difficult topic a completely new tone: In “Monster wie wir” she tells of her best friends Ruth and Viktor, who grew up in the East German provinces. Both experience violence and sexual abuse in their families. While Ruth takes refuge more and more in her career as a musician, Viktor seeks a break in the neo-Nazi scene and finally goes to France as an au pair. Sandig does not write autobiographically, but it was important to her to work with autofiction in her text. In this way, she creates a narrative attitude with which she is very close to her topic, but she avoids this tone of dismay, which is rather off-putting in many other books on the subject of violence and abuse.

We talked extensively with Ulrike Almut Sandig about “monsters like us”.

Schönling, 2020, 240 pp., 22 euros

5. Leona Stahlmann: The defect

In literature, BDSM is often exhibited sensationally, but Leona Stahlmann prefers to look inward in her debut and negotiates the topic in combination with a coming-of-age story: 16-year-old Mina grows up in a small village in the Black Forest . She gets to know Vetko, who is two years older than her, and establishes a connection with him that oscillates between pleasure and pain. Mina sees her deviant sexuality as a defect, and as Vetko's demands become more and more existential, she wonders how far she is willing to go. The best books of 2020? Leona Stahlmann's “Defect” should definitely not be missing.

Leona Stahlmann in an interview with kulturnews.

No & But, 2020, 272 pp., 22 euros

4. Olivia Wenzel: 1000 serpentines fear

Black, white, woman, queer, East German. The nameless protagonist of the author Olivia Wenzel breaks down into several identities, Wenzel's debut novel “1000 Serpentinen Angst” does the same: It has three parts, the first and the last predominantly take place as a dialogue with an internal voice whose role is as fluid as hers Presence is all-encompassing. Sometimes it sounds like a surveillance state, sometimes like a therapist, sometimes like a spiritual mirror. Again and again she asks: “Where are you now?” This question guides the flow of the narrative, which takes place between a visit to the grandmother, a vacation in the USA at the time of Donald Trump's election victory in 2016 and a vacation in Vietnam. In between, in the second part, which breaks up the dialogue pattern, there is a visit to the mother and with it the résumé of the past, which has been sketched out everywhere. In addition: coming to terms with the turbulent present and reflecting on the many identities that have to be continually recontextualized. Because the past leaves traces in the now: inability to relate, anxiety disorders, destructiveness and depression - Olivia Wenzel depicts oppressively what happens to a woman for whom it has become a survival strategy to always think outside the box.

Fischer, 2020, 352 pp., 21 euros

3. Leif Randt: Allegro pastel

With “Shimmering Haze over CobyCounty” and “Planet Magnon” he traveled into the future in order to understand the present. Leif Randt's new novel stays in the present: when he examines the long-distance relationship between web designer Jerome Daimler and Berlin author Tanja Arnheim in “Allegro Pastell”, he explains love and much more. “I wanted to surprise myself a bit and write from a comfort zone at the same time. Life in a south Hessian village and being a freelancer in Berlin are antiparameters, much less interesting and somehow also painful, you can hardly put it on - that was an attraction. And similar to “Shimmering Haze over CobyCounty”, at some point I found a writing position in which I felt protected enough and still could write in almost everything that occupied me. In order to trust myself, I probably needed this preliminary run of more complicated projects, ”says Leif Randt in an interview with kulturnews. Leif Randt made it to third place on our list of the best books of 2020.

Kiepenheuer & Witsch, 2020, 288 pages, 22 euros

2. Jonas Eika: After the sun

When he was awarded the Nordic Council's literary prize last year, the Dane Jonas Eika used his acceptance speech to denounce the state racism in his home country in front of Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen. The 29-year-old's debut, which has now been published in German translation, has a similar explosive power: The novellas of “After the Sun” are about the holes that capitalism has torn in Eika's protagonists - and about the attempts to stuff them. There is an old couple who want to come to terms with the cancer death of their two daughters and are stranded in the Nevada desert to wait for the arrival of aliens. There is an IT consultant in Copenhagen who discovers that the bank he works for has sunk into a crater. Above all, there is the two-part text “Bad Mexican Dog”, in which Eika tells with brutal sensuality about the very young beach boys on the beach in Cancun, who carry the umbrellas after the wealthy tourists, put lotion on them, massage them and hand them cool drinks. Driven by solidarity with one another, by desire and the longing for love, the boys create a parallel world that gradually pushes the over-saturated, obese and emotionally cold reality.

Hanser Berlin, 2020, 160 pp., 20 euros

From d. Danish v. Ursel Allenstein

1. Ronya Othmann: The summer

The best books of 2020 - at the top of this list is “Die Sommer”. Last year, Ronya Othmann's text “Seventy-Four” not only won the audience award at the Bachmann Competition, her shocking protocol about the 2014 genocide of Kurdish Yazidis in Syria also sparked a heated debate among the jury about the unspeakable and the limits of literary criticism. The 27-year-old author and journalist now counters this discussion with an autobiographical debut novel that initially focuses on the conflict and the search for identity of a protagonist with a migration background. Leyla grows up as the daughter of a German and a Yazidi Kurd in Munich, but spends the summer holidays every year in her grandparents' village in northern Syria. Atmospherically dense, it tells of the archaic life in the village and the close ties to the religious grandmother, but from summer to summer an understanding mixes with the child's gaze. Leyla's father, who did not want to work for Assad's secret service, tells her about his privations, the life-threatening escape to Germany and the years of delaying his asylum application. Later on, the grandmother and the rest of the family also have to leave their homes, and Leyla is a student in Leipzig when she follows the destruction of Aleppo and the IS massacre on the Internet. "Die Sommer" by Ronya Othmann is a moving coming-of-age story that unfortunately cannot do without the unspeakable.

Hanser, 2020, 288 pp., 22 euros


December 15, 2020 // Carsten Schrader

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