Readersforum's Blog

March 25, 2011

What they’re reading in Germany

As part of the Guardian’s New Europe series, literary editors reflect on the literary scene in their countries, beginning with Germany’s Sebastian Hammelehle of Der Spiegel.

By Sebastian Hammelehle

A young woman reads Herta Mueller's novel 'Atemschaukel'. Photograph: ARNE DEDERT/EPA

One of the biggest recent news stories in Germany involved a plagiarism scandal that brought down the defence minister, Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg. Perhaps this is a fitting moment, therefore, to recall another case of plagiarism that rocked the literary world at the beginning of 2010.

The debut novel by the Berlin author Helene Hegemann, who was 18 at the time, had the unusual title of Axolotl Roadkill and made headlines with its depiction of a teenage girl’s drug-addled adventures in Berlin’s club scene. But the author found herself attracting headlines of an entirely unwelcome kind when it was revealed that she had borrowed liberally from other writers, including a blogger who goes by the name Airen. The initial enthusiasm for the book quickly melted away, and some critics may have wondered how they had allowed themselves to get caught up in the hysteria over what turned out to be a minor literary event.

Perhaps that’s why a large swath of German readers are pleased that there is at least one person who never loses his cool, namely the former chancellor Helmut Schmidt. Four of his non-fiction works are among the 10 most successful books of the past 10 years.

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