Anyone who cannot find happiness on earth is unlikely to find it at the book fair either. If we imagine Heinrich von Kleist in one of the trade-fair halls, if only for a second, then that famous sentence comes to mind that Kleist wrote to his brother-in-law: "I ask God for death, and you I ask for money." There is no more concise and drastic a way of describing the drama of the artist twixt a wish for salvation and a fear of impoverishment, between transcendence and dull life in the here and now, the poet's soul tossed hither and thither. This book autumn, as many as three biographies attempt to shed light on the Kleist phenomenon. Brief, sound and with pointed quill, the effort by Herbert Kraft ("Kleist". Live and Works, Aschendoff Verlag), while Jens Bisky declares Kleist with great passion and stylistic verve to be the "greatest German political poet" and tries to show in what delicate constellations the ideals of the Enlightenment and the French Revolution found their way into Kleist's life and works. Gerhard Schulz is interested more in the life than the work ("Kleist". A Biography, C. H. Beck), treating this and that enigma in the poet's biography, such as the nebulous trip to Würzburg, as mere balloons: Easily he deflates them. For all the cold logic as regards the details of Kleist's life, Gerhard Schulz preserves his respect for the secrets of poet's life as a whole.
If Kleist had been able to endure a book fair at all, it would have been this one - assuming he had been ready to put up with even more writers' biographies: Helmuth Kiesel ("Ernst Jünger. The Biography",
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Siedler-Verlag) and Heimo Schwilk ("Ernst Jünger", Piper) have applied themselves to the centennial figure of Ernst Jünger; Holger Hof reports on the life of Gottfried Benn ("Gottfried Benn", Klett-Cotta); Thomas Karlauf's much-regarded biography of the charismatic character of Stefan George has set new standards ("Stefan George", Blessing). The most important publication of a classic work is dedicated to Stendhal: Hanser presents Elisabeth Edl's marvellous translation of "The Charterhouse of Parma" (Hanser).
Katja Lange-Müller offers an impressive account of the fact that you need not be a poet to fail when faced by life. With "Böse Schafe" (Kiepenheuer & Witsch) she has written a bitter-sweet love story of flippant sentimentality, with a truly suicidal lack of fear for clichés, highly credible and full of dignity. It takes place in Berlin, in a world inhabited by the unemployed and junkies before the Wall came down. Seldom has old West Berlin seemed so small, so trashed and so lacking in spark as in this slender novel. All the more astonishing the power with which Katja Lange-Müller manages to infuse this love story, and in which right until the end you do not know whether all that is at stake is the small illusion held by a big heart and defended tooth and claw.