One of my favourite German rituals is the New Year's Eve tradition of "lead-pouring". You take little plugs of lead (actually aluminium these days), melt them down over a candle, and then pour them into cold water to see what shape they make and predict your fate for the coming year. Of course it's all in the interpretation, but this year I got a saxophone. Make of that what you will. I also had a fortune cookie that told me to "be patient and optimistic" - and chose not to apply that to my love life.
There a few German books I'm really looking forward to in 2011, in two different areas.
Firstly, in the patient and optimistic sector, two debuts of which I have no idea when they'll be coming out: novels by Jan Brandt and Sebastian Polmans. Brandt is a geezer about town I vaguely know, alway impeccably dressed and surrounded by hordes of women, and I'm curious to find out whether his writing's any good. So far I've heard one short story and was impressed - but found it slightly too smooth. The book's allegedly being published by Dumont. And Polmans was my favourite at the Open Mike competition a while back. He seems to write with a spirit of adventure and excitement, so again I'm very curious as to what his debut with Suhrkamp will bring us.
Secondly, I predict a major anti-chauvinist backlash against the likes of Thilo Sarrazin, in fiction and non-fiction. The most obvious title in this category is the essay volume Manifest der Vielen, edited by Hilal Sezgin and featuring pieces by all sorts of sensible writers. The publishers promise writing about their lives in Germany, home and identity, being a Muslim or a non-Muslim, focusing on critical analysis and personal stories rather than terms like migrants, Muslims, Germans, etc. Out in February from Blumenbar.
And after the exhilarating presence of "migrant writers" from all sorts of places all over last year's shortlists and awards (with Melinda Nadj Abonji taking almost every prize going for her beautiful but plot-disadvantaged novel about Hungarian-Serbian immigrants to Switzerland), this year promises more. Zsuzsa Bánk, feted back in 2002 for her debut Der Schwimmer, returns with a big fat novel about Hungarians and Germans growing up together, Die hellen Tage. Out in February from Fischer. And the same month sees the long-awaited follow-up to My Official Favourite German Book Ever, Selim Özdogan's Die Tochter des Schmieds. Called Heimstraße 52 (Aufbau), it follows the protagonist Gül and her family from Turkey to Germany, where Özdogan shows typical dramas, childhoods and working lives in Germany's industrial boomtime. Think Small Island applied to Germany. I love it already, and I think 2011 will be the year when writers whose parents came from abroad but who grew up in Germany, Austria and Switzerland themselves really come into their own. The postmigrant generation in your face, dude.
On the translation front, I'm looking forward to all sorts of goodies. First and foremost Helene Hegemann's Axolotl Roadkill in English, translated by - er, me. Out in April from Constable & Robinson. Then my translation of My Second Favourite German Book Ever, Inka Parei's The Shadowboxing Woman, published I'm not quite sure when by Seagull Books. Then I have two gorgeous young adult/children's titles by the delightfully talented Rusalka Reh coming out with AmazonCrossing in May and August.
Translations on the "to be reviewed" pile include Thomas Pletzinger's celebrated novel Funeral for a Dog, translated no doubt extremely well by Ross Benjamin, and Daniel Glattauer's Love Virtually, an internet romance romp rendered into English by husband-and-wife team Katharina Bielenberg and Jamie Bulloch. Both spring releases, I believe. I'm looking forward to two short books brought to us by Peirene Press - Matthias Politycki's Next World Novella (trans. Anthea Bell) and Austrian Alois Hotschnig's Maybe This Time, translated by my buddy Tess Lewis. Oh, and I don't know if it's actually coming out this year or not, but Open Letter are doing Benjamin Stein's jewel The Canvas.
Plus, 2011 sees the first books from the wonderful people at And Other Stories, who have confirmed two titles so far from Iosi Havilio (Argentina) and Juan Pablo Villalobos (Mexico). And who knows, maybe they'll discover a German writer to share with the English-speaking world as well. You certainly need to check them out if you haven't already.
So, join me in exercising patience and optimism, and let us all play our saxophones for fantastic German books in 2011.