Süddeutsche Series

In early 2004, the Süddeutsche Zeitung, one of Germany’s leading daily newspapers, began a new venture: publishing hardcover books. They began with a worthy and ambitious set of 50 great novels of the twentieth century, published one per week through to February 2005, when the series concluded with If on a Winter’s Night, a Traveler… It was a smashing success, with sales reaching into the millions. I lived in Munich at the time, and I remember seeing people all around town reading one or another volume from the series. In the early weeks, I could tell them apart from the different colors in the series’ distinctive design, and I enjoyed wondering what they were thinking about books that in many cases I had already read, or was reading as part of the series.

Voices of Marrakesh by Elias Canetti

I couldn’t keep up the book-a-week pace, not in German, but I liked the concept and I liked the execution. The list of 50 books was interesting, and interesting to argue with. I liked that the editors did not pretend to choose the 50 greatest, just 50 that were great. That allowed them, for instance, to choose A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man rather than Ulysses for their Joyce book. It also led to odd choices, such as Amerika for Kafka’s entry. It was by no means a perfect list. As I wrote at the time, there were only four women among the 50 authors in the first set. I didn’t find it peculiar that the list leaned toward German-language writers; I did find it peculiar that there were no authors from Africa or Aisa in the set. Science fiction was missing entirely, despite its importance to literature of the twentieth century. Even with these shortcomings, it’s an interesting set of books, and in the course of time I have read nearly 40 of the 50. It encouraged me to get around to books I had been interested in but never made time for — Under the Wheel (Hermann Hesse), The Lover (Marguerite Duras), The Heart is a Lonely Hunter (Carson McCullers), The Judge and His Executioner (Friedrich Dürrenmatt). It showed me that I don’t need to bother with further books by Paul Auster or Peter Handke. I had read some Rainer Maria Rilke, of course, but I had never attempted The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge, and it is such a beautiful and amazing book that I am still in awe nearly 20 years later. Best of all, it introduced me to plenty of terrific authors who were either completely unknown to me, or whose works I probably would not have picked up except for this series. Among them are Elias Canetti (Voices of Marrakesh), Cees Nooteboom (All Souls Day), Marguerite Yourcenar (Coup de Grace), Julio Cortázar (The Pursuer), Wolfgang Koeppen (The Hothouse), and Primo Levi (The Periodic System).

As I read through the list, I developed a couple of ground rules. If a book was originally written in English, I read that instead of the German translation. If a book was originally written neither in English nor in German, then I would read it in whichever of the two was more convenient. Primo Levi in German, Marguerite Duras in English; Peter Høeg in English, Andrzej Szyczypiorski in German. And while it wasn’t exactly a rule, I have tended to read the books in German by the unedifying princple of shortest to longest.

The success of the first set of novels led the Süddeutsche to expand their publishing efforts. In the years that followed, they not only produced additional sets of books — children’s books, mysteries, and more — but also sets of movies and music albums. The albums, collections from particular years, were unfortunately not very good. I presume that musicians and their lawyers were less interested in what the Süddeutsche offered than authors were. The hundred movies they eventually selected look like a terrific collection, though outside of my budget to buy all at once.

Three more sets of books have caught my attention. The first of these is the second batch of great novels of the twentieth century. I bought a bunch of these as they came out — the cover price was well under €10 apiece. A good book in hardback with good design at a bargain price. The second 50 contain a lot more names that are unknown to me, so reading them will be a voyage of discovery. The list of authors is still nowhere near gender parity, but it does have at least three times as many women as the first one. Asia and Africa are no longer completely missing. Science fiction gets in with A Clockwork Orange, and maybe some of the other books I don’t recognize, though mundane remains the overwhelming mode of fiction on this list. I read three of the works pre-Frumious, and to date three more since (though I have not yet written about Mitsou — ETA now I have).

The second is a collection of 20 books concerning Munich. I’ve read all but two of them, and all but one of those since starting to write for Frumious. I didn’t finish Salz im Blut, and I have yet to start in on the 800 pages of Erfolg. Otherwise, I enjoyed seeing Munich in different eras, from different perspectives, portrayed in different genres.

The third is a set called “Metropolen,” that is, “Metropolises.” The editors chose 20 novels (ok, 19, given that Bombay: Maximum City is not fiction), each one representing one of the world’s great cities. Africa and Asia are present in this list, though Australia is not. Although the list of cities is not so surprising, the editors showed more daring in choosing the novels to represent them. Softcore, an otherwise not very good book set in Tehran, takes place mostly in the city’s suburbs and emphasizes the teeming life in the high-rises rather than something more historical set in the city center. Magic Hoffmann, the Berlin book, echoes the classic Berlin Alexanderplatz in some aspects but is set after the fall of the Wall. I’ve only read three of them, including the Mumbai book pre-Frumious, and I’m looking forward to all of them except for Bret Easton Ellis’ collection of Los Angeles stories, which I don’t expect to read. I’m also a bit skeptical that I will get to The Dark Side of Love, the Damascus book. It’s nearly a thousand pages in the original German and 900 or so in English. Rafik Schami, the author, grew up in Damascus and moved to Germany in the early 1970s; he writes in German.

Below are lists of the authors and titles from the two sets of 50 great novels of the twentieth century, from the Munich collection, and from the Metropolen set. Links are to what I have written about individual titles or to an author’s works more generally on Frumious. For many in the first set of 50 I wrote brief notes collected into longer blog posts. In these cases, I have not set up author links unless there are more writings about them on the blog. For the great-novel lists, if a book was originally published in German, I add an English title, and for books originally published in other languages I only provide an English title. The Munich list is, at present, only German titles. The Metropolen list has titles in both German and English. I am nothing if not inconsistent.

Great Novels of the 20th Century

1: Milan Kundera: The Unbearable Lightness of Being
2: Umberto Eco: The Name of the Rose
3: Günter Grass: Katz und Maus (Cat and Mouse)
4: F. Scott Fitzgerald: The Great Gatsby
5: Thomas Bernhard: Der Untergeher (The Loser)
6: Paul Auster: City of Glass
7: Elias Canetti: Voices of Marrakesh
8: E.M. Forster: Howards End
9: Martin Walser: Ehen in Philippsburg (Marriages in Philippsburg)
10: John Irving: The Hotel New Hampshire
11: Juan Carlos Onetti: The Short Life
12: Arthur Schnitzler: Traumnovelle (Dream Story)
13: Peter Handke: Die Angst des Tormanns beim Elfmeter (The Keeper’s Fear of the Penalty)
14: James Joyce: A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
15: Marguerite Yourcenar: Coup de Grace
16: Patricia Highsmith: The Talented Mr Ripley
17: Jorge Semprún: What a Beautiful Sunday!
18: Uwe Johnson: Mutmaßungen über Jakob (Speculations About Jacob)
19: Harry Mulisch: The Assault
20: Joseph Conrad: Heart of Darkness
21: Julio Cortázar: The Pursuer
22: Claude Simon: The Acacia
23: Michael Ondaatje: The English Patient
24: Georges Simenon: The Man Who Watched Trains Go By
25: William Faulkner: Sanctuary
26: Rainer Maria Rilke: Die Aufzeichnungen des Malte Laurids Brigge (The Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge)
27: Wolfgang Koeppen: Das Treibhaus (The Greenhouse)
28: Siegfried Lenz: Deutschstunde (German Hour)
29: Graham Greene: The Third Man
30: Eduard von Keyserling: Wellen (Waves)
31: Ian McEwan: The Cement Garden
32: Max Frisch: Mein Name sei Gantenbein (My Name Was Gantenbein)
33: Cees Nooteboom: All Souls Day
34: Somerset Maugham: The Magician
35: Carson McCullers: The Heart is a Lonely Hunter
36: Franz Kafka: Amerika (America)
37: Bruce Chatwin: The Songlines
38: Botho Strauß: Paare, Passanten (Couples, Passers-by)
39: Marcel Proust: Swann’s Way
40: John Steinbeck: Tortilla Flat
41: Andrzej Szczypiorski: The Beautiful Mrs Seidenman
42: Friedrich Dürrenmatt: Der Richter und sein Henker (The Judge and His Executioner)
43: Julien Green: Leviathan.
44: Oscar Wilde: The Picture of Dorian Gray
45: Jurek Becker: Bronsteins Kinder (Bronstein’s Children)
46: Hermann Hesse: Unterm Rad (Under the Wheel)
47: Peter Høeg: Smilla’s Sense of Snow
48: Primo Levi: The Periodic System
49: Marguerite Duras: The Lover
50: Italo Calvino: If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler …

51. Truman Capote: Breakfast at Tiffany’s
52. Orhan Pamuk: My Name Is Red
53. Margriet de Moor: The Virtuoso
54. Virginia Woolf: Mrs Dalloway
55. Ingo Schulze: 33 Augenblicke des Glücks (33 Moments of Happiness)
56. Louis Begley: Wartime Lies
57. Stefan Zweig: Maria Stuart (Mary Stuart)
58. Urs Widmer: Der Geliebte der Mutter (My Mother’s Lover)
59. Christa Wolf: Kassandra (Cassandra)
60. Nadine Gordimer: None to Accompany Me
61. Carlo Levi: Christ Stopped at Eboli
62. Brigitte Kronauer: Berittener Bogenschütze (Mounted Archer)
63. Andrzej Stasiuk: Die Welt hinter Dukla (Dukla — the title of the Polish original is also just Dukla)
64. Kurt Tucholsky: Schloss Gripsholm (Castle Gripsholm)
65. Colette: Mitsou
66. Nuruddin Farah: Maps
67. Joan Aiken: Du bist ich (US: Deception; UK: If I Were You)
68. Lars Gustafsson: The Death of a Beekeeper
69. Ivo Andric: The Bridge on the Drina
70. Hartmut Lange: Das Konzert (The Concert)
71. Amos Oz: Ein anderer Ort
72. Ilse Aichinger: Die größere Hoffnung (The Greater Hope, published in 1963 as Herod’s Children)
73. Joseph Heller: Catch-22
74. Anna Seghers: Transit
75. Per Olov Enquist: The Book About Blanche and Marie
76. Bohumil Hrabal: Ich dachte an die goldenen Zeiten (Vacant Lot/Gaps; Czech title: Proluky)
77. Anthony Burgess: A Clockwork Orange
78. Jaan Kross: The Tsar’s Madman
79. Marlene Streeruwitz: Verführungen (Seductions)
80. Juan Goytisolo: Landscapes After the Battle
81. Isaac Bashevis Singer: Enemies, A Love Story
82. Ricarda Huch: Der Fall Deruga (The Case of Deruga)
83. Javier Marías: All Souls
84. Christoph Ransmayr: Die Schrecken des Eises und der Finsternis (The Terrors of Ice and Darkness)
85. Wolfgang Hildesheimer: Marbot. Eine Biografie (Marbot: A Biography)
86. Patrick Modiano: Young Once
87. Muriel Spark: Memento Mori
88. Lion Feuchtwanger: Narrenweisheit (‘Tis folly to be wise)
89. Philip Roth: Deception
90. Monika Maron: Stille Zeile Sechs (Silent Close No. 6)
91. William Maxwell: The Folded Leaf
92. Franz Werfel: Eine blassblaue Frauenschrift (Pale Blue Ink in a Lady’s Hand)
93. W.G. Sebald: Austerlitz
94. Wolfgang Hilbig: “Ich” (“I”)
95. Penelope Fitzgerald: The Blue Flower
96. Robert Walser: Jakob von Gunten
97. Ingeborg Bachmann: Malina
98. Arno Schmidt: Das steinerne Herz (The Stony Heart)
99. Leo Perutz: Der schwedische Reiter (The Swedish Cavalier)
100. Mario Vargas Llosa: In Praise of the Stepmother

München erlesen

1. Siegfried Sommer: Und keiner weint mir nach
2. Lion Feuchtwanger: Erfolg (This one is about 800 pages long; I haven’t read it yet.)
3. Ernst Augustin: Die Schule der Nackten
4. Annette Kolb: Die Schaukel
5. Oskar Maria Graf: Wir sind Gefangene. Ein Bekenntnis
6. Max Bronski: München Blues
7. Walter Kolbenhoff: Schellingstr. 48. Erfahrungen in Deutschland
8. Ludwig Thoma: Münchnerinnen
9. Ödön von Horváth: Der ewige Spießer
10. Friedrich Ani: Süden und der Straßenbahntrinker
11. Alfred Andersch: Der Vater eines Mörders
12. Lena Christ: Die Rumplhanni
13. Wolfgang Koeppen: Tauben im Gras
14. Josef Ruederer: Das Erwachen
15. Thomas Mann: München leuchtete (I read this pre-Frumious.)
16. Uwe Timm: Heißer Sommer
17. Franziska zu Reventlow: Herrn Dames Aufzeichnungen
18. Andreas Neumeister: Salz im Blut
19. Herbert Achternbusch: Die Olympiasiegerin
20. Karl Valentin: Die Jugendstreiche des Knaben Karl
(21. Andrea Maria Schenkel: Kalteis – This volume was only available to people who bought the whole set at once. I didn’t.)


1. Don DeLillo: Cosmopolis (New York)
2. Rafik Schami: Die dunkle Seite der Liebe (The Dark Side of Love — Damascus) (This one looks good but it’s 1000 pages in its original German and 900 pages in English.)
3. Hei Ma: Verloren in Peking (Lost in Peking)
4. Raymond Queneau: Zazie in der Metro (Zazie in the Metro — Paris)
5. Suketu Mehta: Bombay: Maximum City (Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found — Mumbai) (Read this one pre-Frumious; it’s good but not fiction.)
6. Jakob Arjouni: Magic Hoffmann (Berlin)
7. César Aira: Die Nächte von Flores (Flores Nights — Buenos Aires)
8. Naguib Mahfouz: Die Midaq-Gasse (Midaq Alley — Cairo)
9. Saiichi Maruya: Die Journalistin (The Woman Journalist — Tokyo)
10. Calos Fuentes: Landschaft in klarem Licht (Where the Air is Clear — Mexico City)
11. Elif Shafak: Der Bonbonpalast (The Flea Palace — Istanbul)
12. Alan Hollinghurst: Die Schönheitslinie (The Line of Beauty — London)
13. Bret Easton Ellis: Die Informanten (The Informers — Los Angeles) (Don’t like his work, not reading this one.)
14. Chinua Achebe: Heimkehr in fremdes Land (No Longer at Ease — Lagos)
15. Yuri Trifonov: Das Haus an der Moskwa (The House on the Enbankment — Moscow)
16. Paulo Lins: Die Stadt Gottes (City of God — Rio de Janeiro)
17. Tirdad Zolghadr: Softcore (Tehran)
18. Cees Nooteboom: Rituale (Rituals — Amsterdam)
19. Ivan Vladislavic: Johannesburg. Insel aus Zufall (Portrait with Keys: Joburg & what-what — Johannesburg)
20. Alberto Moravia: Die Römerin (The Woman of Rome — Rome)

Permanent link to this article: https://www.thefrumiousconsortium.net/2023/10/03/suddeutsche-series/


1 pings

  1. Hey Doug,

    ich wünsche dir viel Spaß beim Lesen all dieser Bücher und natürlich auch viel Erfolg, dass du sie alle schaffst.


    1. Hey RoXXie,

      vielen lieben Dank! Ich hoffe, dass meine Kommentare um die Listen herum dich interessiert haben. Dir auch viel Spaß beim Lesen generell und bei den Süddeutschen Bücher besonders. Ich freue mich ab und zu bei deinem Blog vorbeizuschauen.


  1. […] of a Beekeeper is part of the series of 50 More Great Novels of the Twentieth Century that the Süddeutsche Zeitung published in 2008–09. The first set was published in […]

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