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Doppelgängers, a murderer’s guilt, pulp noir, fanatical police, and impossible romancesthese are the pieces from which German master Wolfgang Hilbig builds a divided nation battling its demons. Delving deep into the psyches of both East and West Germany, The Sleep of the Righteous reveals a powerful, apocalyptic account of the century-defining nation’s trajectory from 1945 to 1989. From a youth in a war-scarred industrial town to wearying labor as a factory stoker, surreal confrontations with the Stasi, and, finally, a conflicted escape to the West, Hilbig creates a cipher that is at once himself and so many of his fellow Germans. Evoking the eerie bleakness of films like Tarkovsky’s Stalker and The Lives of Others, this titan of German letters combines the Romanticism of Poe with the absurdity of Kafka to create a visionary, somber statement on the ravages of history and the promises of the future.
Wolfgang Hilbig (19412007) was one of the major German writers to emerge in the postwar era. Though raised in East Germany, he proved so troublesome to the authorities that in 1985 he was granted permission to emigrate west. The author of over 20 books, he received virtually all of Germany’s major literary prizes, capped by the 2002 Georg Büchner Prize, Germany’s highest literary honor.
Isabel Fargo Cole is a U.S.-born, Berlin-based writer and translator. Her translations include Boys and Murderers by Hermann Ungar (Twisted Spoon Press, 2006), All the Roads Are Open by Annemarie Schwarzenbach (Seagull Books, 2011) and The Jew Car by Franz Fühmann (Seagull Books, 2013). The recipient of a prestigious PEN/Heim Translation Grant in 2013, she is the initiator and co-editor of No-mans-land.org, an online magazine for new German literature in English.