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German Women Writers: Historical Fiction – Lioness at Large

German Women Writers: Historical Fiction

General introduction to this series of blog posts HERE.

Historical fiction is obviously an important way to visit the past; alas, while I’m happy to report that the genre is alive and extremely well in Germany, only a tiny fraction of the books published — and an even tinier fraction of those written by women — have been translated into English … and this is true even for the unofficial doyennes of the current generation of historical fiction writing hereabouts, Rebecca Gablé and Tanja Kinkel.  The latter doesn’t even have an English Wikipedia page; and the same also applies to many of the other successful German representatives of the genre, even those whose works have at least partially been translated.  Rather than not being able to provide any information at all, I decided to link their German Wikipedia pages anyway; just be aware that you’re going to have to resort to your online translation service of choice to learn more about them. — In recent years, some of Germany’s historical fiction writers have taken to programs such as Amazon Crossing and ebook publishing to be able to bring their books to an international / English-speaking audience, translated by bona fide, native-speaker translators, or they have even found English language publishers.

  • Sandra Paretti: One of the best-known German writers of historical fiction of the generation preceding that of today; also one of the few with more than a single book to have been translated into English.  These include:
    • The Drums of Winter (Der Winter, der ein Sommer war), a novel set among the German — chiefly: Hessian — soldiers fighting on the British side in the American War of Independence.
    • Tenants of the Earth (Pächter der Erde), the story of two rivaling railway companies and of the families owning them in Civil War America.
    • The Rose and the Sword (Rose und Schwert), Paretti’s first novel and the first installment of a trilogy chronicling the life and love affairs of a young adventuress in Napoleonic France.
    • The Wishing Tree (Der Wunschbaum), a historical romance involving a young woman from a German upper middle class merchant family in the late 19th / early 20th century, whose life is shattered by her family’s bankruptcy, and who has to forge a path in life she hasn’t been prepared for.
    • The Magic Ship (Das Zauberschiff): A novel based on the true story of the German ocean liner Kronprinzessin Cecilie, which had just set out on a voyage from New York to Germany when WWI broke out; rather than have his ship and passengers fall into the hands of the British or French, the captain turned around and sought (and was granted) safe harbor in the port of Bar Harbor, ME (Frenchman Bay).
  • Rebecca Gablé: Considered the queen of historical fiction writing in present-day Germany … however, chiefly on the basis of books set in medieval and early modern England, not in Germany.  Those series — The Waringham Chronicles, set during the Hundred Years’ War, and The Scarlet City, a series of prequels to the Waringham Cycle — seem to be among the few books of hers that have been translated to date; including her breakthrough novel, book 1 of the Waringham Chronicles, Fortune’s Wheel (Das Lächeln der Fortuna).  Another book of hers that is available in English is The Settlers of Catan (Die Siedler von Catan), which follows a Viking community setting out to discover a mythical island; the book is based on a popular board game and inspired the creation of two further spinoff board games in turn.  As far as I can see, no other books of hers have been translated, though, including and in particular not the two set in the realm of 10th century German Emperor Otto I “the Great”.  (Just in case these ever are, the German titles are Das Haupt der Welt and Die fremde Königin, which translates as “The Head of the World” and “The Strange / Foreign Queen”, respectively.)
  • Tanja Kinkel: Her novels are bestsellers in Germany, but would you believe even a single one has been translated into English to date?  Well, at least those of you who speak French or Spanish are able to sample some of them if you’re interested:
    • Die Puppenspieler (“The Puppeteers”; French title: Le montreur de marionnettes) is set during the late 15th century witch hunts and features, inter alia, the super-rich and powerful merchant dynasties of the era, the German Fuggers (bankers to the Holy Roman Emperor) and the Medici.
    • Die Schatten von La Rochelle (“The Shadows of La Rochelle”; French title: Les ombres de La Rochelle; Spanish title: La sobrina del cardenal) showcases the cruelty of the religious conflicts of the 17th century as set against life at the court of Louis XIII, and involves a conspiracy against Cardinal Richelieu.  (Three Musketeers, anyone?)
    • Die Löwin von Aquitanien (“The Lioness of Aquitaine”; Spanish title: Reina de trovadores) is Kinkel’s take on Eleanor of Aquitaine.  If translations of the works of female German-speaking historical novelists weren’t so g’damned rare to begin with, the fact that this book apprently was neither translated into English nor into French would make me wonder whether her publishers thought she wouldn’t be able to hold her own against Sharon K. Penman, Elizabeth Chadwick, and their French equivalents; but given the general state of affairs, this is probably just par for the course.  Hats off to whoever made sure there is a Spanish translation at least!
    • Mondlaub (“Moon Foliage”; French title: La princesse de Grenade; Spanish title: El maleficio de la Alhambra) is set, as indicated by the book’s French and Spanish titles, in late 15th century Granada and deals with the end of Moorish rule in Spain.
    • And lest anyone think she doesn’t also write about German history, she does; e.g., Das Spiel der Nachtigall (“The Nightingale’s Recital”) deals with the life of Germany’s most famous medieval poet and minstrel, Walther von der Vogelweide.
  • Charlotte Link: A highly prolific author whose name alone practically guarantees her books bestseller status, not least because a fair number of them have been adapted for the screen — looking just at those adaptations, you just might get the impression that she is Germany’s answer to Rosamunde Pilcher.  As most of her fiction is either contemporary or, in any event, set in the 20th century, I’m going to include her other translated books in my post on contemporary German women writers; however, two of her comparatively few excursions into historical fiction that have at least been translated into French — though as per usual, not also into English:
    • Wenn die Liebe nicht endet (“If / When Love Doesn’t End”; French title: Les trois vies de Margareta), a love story set during the Thirty Years’ War, featuring a Catholic, convent-raised woman from Bavaria and a Protestant gentleman from Bohemia; and
    • Cromwells Traum oder die schöne Helena (“Cromwell’s Dream, or Beautiful Helena”; French title: La belle Hélène) — as the title indicates, the life story of a woman in Cromwellian and Restoration England.
  • Eveline Hasler: Arguably the queen of Swiss historical fiction and also a prolific author of children’s books; she has to be included here not only because she’s a successful German-speaking writer but also because, unlike the vast majority of her German colleagues’ books, several of hers actually do have foreign language, including English, incarnations (hooray) — both her historical novels and her children’s books –, even if in her case, too, there’s vastly more untranslated than translated material.  Among the books of hers available in English are the two on which her reputation as a writer of historical fiction is chiefly built:
    • Anna Goeldin: The Last Witch (Anna Göldin: Letzte Hexe), a fact- and historical document-based novel about the last witch tried and excuted in Switzerland; and
    • Flying With Wings of Wax (Die Wachsflügelfrau), the story of Johanna Spyri’s niece Emily Kempin-Spyri, the first woman to graduate and earn a PhD from a Swiss law school, who — barred from practicing in Switzerland on account of her sex — emigrated to the U.S., where she founded a law school for women that was eventually integrated into NYU.
  • Martina Kempff: An author of historical fiction and contemporary mysteries; as far as I can see, only one of her numerous historical novels has been translated … not into English, of course: Die Königsmacherin (“The King Maker”; French title: Berthe au grand pied), a novel about the mother of  Charlemagne.
  • Iny Lorentz: A husband and wife writing team (Iny is the wife’s first name), several of whose historical novels have been adapted for TV.  Probably their best-known series is The Wandering Harlot (Die Wanderhure — and yes, there actually is a bona fide English translation, too); a cycle of novels dealing with a 15th century woman who goes from riches to rags in a split second at the hands of her villainous fiancé and, from a life on the streets, plots her revenge.
  • Martina André: Speaking of “Germany’s answer to …”, André (who incidentally has a second home in Scotland) is Germany’s answer to Diana Gabaldon; only replace 18th century Scotland by the Middle Ages, Germany, and the Knights Templar, and reverse the direction of the time travel (i.e., forward to modern times, not backwards from there).  I think only one of her plethora of books has been translated to date (even into English): Mystery of the Templars (Das Rätsel der Templer), the first volume of her Templars time travel series, though hopefully eventually there will be more.
  • Asta Scheib: A novelist who has made a name for herself for her contemporary fiction as well as for her biographical novels fictionalizing the lives of historical personalities; in addition, she is also a screenwriter (particularly on TV).  Her only translated historical novel seems to be Children of Disobedience: The Love Story of Martin Luther and Katharina Von Bora (Kinder des Ungehorsams: Die Liebesgeschichte des Martin Luther und der Katharina von Bora) — though those who are looking for a more in-depth portrait might be better served with Margaret Skea’s two-part novelized treatment of Katharina von Bora’s life, Katharina: Deliverance and Katharina: Fortitude (see the Reformation Age section of this post).
  • Petra Durst-Benning: Via Amazon Crossing, she has become the poster child for the fact that, contrary to what most traditional German publishers seem to believe, historical novels written by German women writers do sell abroad, including and in particular in English.  (Now all she needs is an English Wikipedia page.)  She’s the author of several historical series featuring women protagonists, typically set in the later part of the 19th (and the early 20th) century in different parts of Germany, as well as a number of stand-alone novels that do not yet seem to have been translated.  Not yet having read any of her books, I can’t vouch for their historical accuracy, which some reviewers seem to question (at least for her earliest books); I’ll note, though, that — like virtually every other woman writer mentioned on this page, incidentally — she’s won historical fiction awards, so you’d think her stuff can’t be all that terrible. Anyway, here’s what is available in English to date:
    • The Glassblower Trilogy — as the title indicates, focuses on the world of glass blowing, one of the showpiece crafts of Thuringia, in the small town of Lauscha, one of that craft’s big centers, at the turn from the 19th to the 20th century:
    • The Seed Traders’ Saga (Samenhändlerin-Saga) — a duology of romances set against the background of the trade in flower seeds and a flower shop in various parts of 19th century southwestern Germany:
    • The Photographer’s Saga (5 books, of which to date 2 have been translated into English) — the late 19th /early 20th century story of a woman who takes over her uncle’s photo studio in a small town south of Stuttgart:
    • The Century Trilogy (Jahrhundertwind-Trilogie) — focuses on three friends who all forge their path towards personal and financial independence at the turn of the (19th/20th) centuries:
      • 1. While The World Is Asleep (Solang die Welt noch schläft) — Josephine’s story: cycling (Berlin and Black Forest)
        2. The Champagne Queen (Die Champagnerkönigin) — Isabelle’s story: wine / champagne growing (Champagne region, France)
        3. The Queen of Beauty (Bella Clara) — Clara’s story: beauty products (Berlin and Lake Constance).
  • Petra Mattfeldt: An author, editor and publisher who writes under her own name as well as two pen names, and who has recently begun to take a page out of Petra Durst-Benning’s book to publish English translations of the first books of several of her series of historical novels (with a fair dose of romance and / or family drama) published under the name Ellin Carsta:
    • The Secret Healer (Die heimliche Heilerin), a series focusing on a 14th century woman in southwestern Germany who is a trained midwife, but has to leave town after a birth that goes wrong, as a result of which she is accused of witchcraft (books 1 and 2 of 5):
    • The Draper’s Daughter (Die Händlerstochter), book 1 of a duology about a — you guessed it — draper’s daughter in 14th century Cologne who, defying the social norms of the day, takes over her father’s business in the cloth trade.
    • A Distant Hope (Die ferne Hoffnung), book 1 of an 8-book series about a series of late 19th century / early 20th century Hamburg coffee merchants who move their buiness to Cameroon to escape from bankruptcy at home after their father’s death.
  • Ines Thorn: Also a heretofore traditionally-published author of historical novels (including historical mysteries and romances) who seems to have taken a page out of Petra Durst-Benning’s book, using Amazon Crossing to publish English versions of the first two books (to date) of a trilogy of historical novels set on the island of Sylt in Northern Frisia, on the Danish border, during the 18th century: The Whaler (Die Walfängerin) and The Beachcomber (Die Strandräuberin).
  • Marion Kummerow had a personal motivation to turn to writing historical fiction, as her grandparents Hansheinrich Kummerow and Ingeborg Kummerow were members of the Red Orchestra anti-Nazi resistance group who were killed by the Nazis when their group was discovered and its members arrested.  Unsurprisingly, their story became the subject of her first trilogy, which is available in English (as are several other books of hers), as she went the whole hog and found an English language publisher in addition to a German one — I suspect she was able to do so because her German books are not published by one of the industry’s behemoths but a smaller publisher:
  • Silvia Stolzenburg: A very prolific, awardwinning author of historical fiction and historical biographies, who has published an English Kindle edition of one of her books, Daughters of Venice (Töchter der Lagune), an adaptation of Shakespeare’s Othello in the form of a historical romance set in the 16th century.
  • Henrike Engel: Another traditionally-published novelist who seems to be making use of AmazonCrossing; except that in her instance we’re back to French translations, for the first book of her trilogy of historical novels (as far as I can see, a blend of historical mystery, romance, and women’s lib) focusing on a female doctor working with women in peril among the would-be-emigrants and the poor in the port area of early 20th century Hamburg: Die Hafenärztin (“The Harbor Doctor”; French title: Les femmes du dispensaire).
  • Lena Falkenhagen: An author of historical novels and computer games — and another major case in point for the underrepresentation of German women writers’ works in translation, as none of her novels seem to be available in any other language than German to date; never mind that she won awards for them … in addition to currently being the CEO of the German Writers’ Association (VS).

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