Two Books of the Century

print version
The Panama Papers
By Bastian Obermayer and Frederik Obermaier
Oneworld, June 2016, 384pp
Translated by Seiriol Dafydd, Simon Pare, Alice Paul and Jackie Smith

Frohburg
By Guntram Vesper
Schöffling & Co., March 2016, 1008pp

Frohburg coverPanama Papers cover

The Panama Papers

This is an extremely important book - this decade's most important rather than the year's. - Times Literary Supplement

It didn’t take long for Bastian Obermayer and Frederik Obermaier, journalists at Germany’s biggest broadsheet the Süddeutsche Zeitung, to get hot on the trail of the so-called Panama Papers. An anonymous tip in April revealed that the Argentinian president had just sequestered millions of state dollars for private use. What followed was the ‘biggest leak in the history of data journalism’, according to Edward Snowden – all centred around Panamanian law firm Mossack Fonseca, whose worldwide clients had been hiding money offshore. 

What literary agent Tanja Howarth calls a ‘roller-coaster real-life thriller about tax avoidance’ is perhaps the most pertinent book of our times – and certainly of this year. Most of all, the fact that the ‘Gebrüder Obermay/ier’ are German makes this a ground-breaking publication not just worldwide, of course, but also in Germany, where data protection is of utmost importance. Germany was also one of the few countries where no politicians or other figures were compromised by the release of the papers.

The English translation, released in June, brings this national and international affair to readers living in countries where some of the most high-profile personalities were implicated by the revelations. The Panama Papers has been translated into sixteen languages so far, the English edition a grand team translation effort. Within thirty chapters, the book seeks to make accessible to the broader public the financial injustices being committed at their expense and to highlight the bizarre parallel realm that the world’s extremely wealthy inhabit: the tax haven.

The book’s film rights were recently  bought by Netflix. The film team will be working closely with the ‘Gebrüder Obermay/ier’ for an accurate representation of events: the initial whistle-blower wishes to remain anonymous.

 

Frohburg

Sensual, blazing narration. - Süddeutsche Zeitung

Winner of the 2016 Leipzig Book Fair prize, Frohburg is the latest, 1000-page work by Guntram Vesper. The eponymous town in Saxony is where the author was born in 1941, before fleeing to West Germany via Berlin with his family in 1957. Over six years, Vesper put together an Erinnerungsroman, or memory novel. In Frohburg, he analyses the post-war period in a stream of consciousness format, weaving between the new Germanies from a personal perspective that often feels like that of an omnipresent narrator.

Guntram Vesper has never been translated into English; the Erinnerungsroman genre, however, follows the tradition of the ever-popular W.G. Sebald. Mike Mitchell’s sample translation highlights the incomplete sentences and thought-statements that define this style: Vesper’s observations, bits and pieces that may lack context, form a whole that the Leipziger Volkszeitung calls ‘as thick as a life’. Indeed, there are definite temporal points lighting the way of this trip down memory lane that even non-German readers can immediately make sense of (including ‘[the] year of the Nazi Olympics’), as well as sprawling descriptions of local landscapes within countries as a means of exploring the metamorphic nature of national history and identity.

In a Europe with the audacity to wonder about staying together, a book like this is more important than ever: a narrative that reminds us of the pieces of history, personal and national, that knit us together and can’t quite be thrown away.

Read a sample translation by Mike Mitchell on the Schöffling & Co. website.

By Rosamund Mather