Juli Zeh: Schilf

Juli Zeh


novel. 384pp (84,000 words)

English sample translation (pdf)

>> Longlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Award
>> SPIEGEL Best Seller List
>> ORF Best Seller List
>> Film released March 2012

»A child is kidnapped but does not know it. One man dies, two physicists fight and a senior constable falls in love. In the end, everything is different ... yet exactly the same.«

The gripping international bestseller that fuses an ingenious detective tale with stunning, cinematic storytelling—and a provocative riff on quantum physics—from Germany’s foremost young literary talent.

Sebastian and Oskar have been friends since their days studying physics at university, when both were considered future Nobel Prize candidates. But their lives took divergent paths, as did their scientific views. Whenever Oskar comes to visit from his prestigious research post in Geneva, there is tension in the air, and it doesn’t help their friendship that he feels Sebastian has not lived up to his intellectual capacities, having chosen marriage and fatherhood as an exit strategy. A few days after a particularly heated argument between the two men, Sebastian leaves his son sleeping in the back seat while he goes into a service station. When he returns, the car has disappeared without trace. His phone rings and a voice informs him that in order to get his son back he must kill a man. As Sebastian’s life unravels, the only person he can safely reach out to is Oskar. Then Detective Schilf comes on the scene, with a most unorthodox method of uncovering the truth.

With intelligence, precision, and grace, Juli Zeh crafts a philosophical thriller, which uses the clash of the ideal and material worlds, the bending of reality, and the search for a definition of time to explore the ideas of guilt and innocence and the infinite configurations of love.

A rising star who has garnered some of Europe’s most important literary awards, Juli Zeh has established herself as the new master of the philosophical thriller. With SCHILF, she now takes us on a fast-paced ride through deadly rivalry and love’s infinite configurations.

»With the recent success of works in translation, such as Stieg Larsson’s The Girl With the Dragon Tatoo and The Girl Who Played with Fire, Zeh is poised to take off.«
Nan Talese / Doubleday

Juli Zeh has been honoured with the prestigious Thomas Mann Prize (endowed with 25,000 EUR) for her »multi-faceted work of prose focusing on questions of individual freedom and responsibility, social values and orientation. With her cleverly composed novels and conclusively argued essays Juli Zeh succeeds in creating lucid analyses of the present. In this she takes her turn in the best tradition of engaged literature – for a world desperately needing authors like her.«
Previous laureates include Daniel Kehlmann, Ruth Klüger, Günter Grass or Christa Wolf.

Rights sold

France – Actes Sud
Korea - Minumsa
Turkey - Metis

paperback – Random House/btb
audio book – Der Audio Verlag
stage adaptation - world premiere at the Münchner Volkstheater
film rights - X-Filme

Previously published (rights reverted)
Israel - Keter
Brazil – Record
China (Chinese simplified) - Shanghai 99
Czech Republic - Odeon/Euromedia
Denmark - Samleren/Rosinante
Italy - BaldiniCastoldiDalai
Japan - Hayakawa Shobo
The Netherlands – Ambo|Anthos
Poland - W.A.B.
Romania – Polirom
Russia – Azbooka
Sweden – Weyler Bokförlag
Taiwan (Chinese complex) - The Eurasian Publishing Group
UK - Harvill Secker/Random House
US - Nan Talese/ Knopf Doubleday

book club – Büchergilde Gutenberg (D)
special edition - ZEIT Verlag

» Contact


»A novel from Juli Zeh’s pen is always an adventure, because each of them opens up an entirely new world. (...) This is Juli Zeh’s unique talent: Her sharp intellect absorbs the most complex issues, including elementary particles, to then put them into words with such playful precision it makes you swoon. (...) SCHILF takes the bird’s eye view, unorthodox, nerve-racking, simply unforgettable - like Hitchcock’s masterpiece.«

»Juli Zeh has long proven herself as one of the most interesting and intelligent writers of her generation. In SCHILF she explores the possibilities of the crime novel, the result is a marvelous story, told with virtuoso.
Different strands are interwoven with the greatest refinement. A murder and its solution, the brutal rivalry between two scientist freinds, a medical scandal, and the ultimate questions of existence.«

»SCHILF is the virtuosic presentation of an amazing narration. Juli Zeh steers through with confidence and ease, even wit.«
Welt am Sonntag

»Enthralling, tantalizing, an incredibly rich book.«

»Features an elaborate, bewildering, and neatly designed plot. (...) Such delight to watch Juli Zeh play her entire repertoire of literary skill (...), challenging the conventions of the classical detective story with subtle irony while constantly breaking and reflecting the Many-Worlds Interpretation.«

»Following down the corridors into the elaborate labyrinth of Juli Zeh’s latest novel, we find an allusive love story (...) Here’s a piece of literature that takes the liberty to develop its very own rules, and to impose them upon an obsolete form, coming indeed very close to a musical work in its tenor and thematic variation. (...)
One might think that such perfection, such erudition must leave the reader untouched, bored even (...) but it does not. For that, Zeh’s labyrinth is built too cleverly, its corridors are adorned with witty elements, her sentences are of extraordinary brilliance.«

»SCHILF is a high impact crime novel, a rollercoaster of ideas, a murder scenario up to the mark of our time (...) If the genre of ›philosophical detective story‹ has been missing in past literatures - Juli Zeh has herewith introduced it.«

»There’s no trace of brittleness in this story around two rivaling physicists, the murder of a physician, a terminally ill detective. Too bad for those who envy her success: Juli Zeh has done it all right – again.«

»While featuring an inscrutable detective plot, SCHILF is not a classic detective novel. What characterizes the protagonists, adding to their profile and authenticity, is Juli Zeh’s articulate language. Emotions, moods, relationships, situations are rendered in just a few sentences, yet they leave an instant impression on the imagination.«
NDR Kultur

»Through powerful, precise imagery, artful yet succinct, conveying a lustful, lavish splendor, Juli Zeh lets the monstrous happen.«
Dresdner Neueste Nachrichten

»Juli Zeh’s new novel has it all: crime novel, romance, and physical venture.«
die tageszeitung

»Apart from its merits as a thoroughly composed detective novel, SCHILF stands out due to its pictographic, concrete language. Suspense is not only built upon action, but arises from inner conflicts and philosophical issues.«
Märkische Allgemeine

»Those who allow themselves to be drawn into the precise construction of the novel, into its cool yet exuberant display of dandyism and eccentric, overdrawn characters, they will come to relish this ingenious mind game and subtle maneuvers that make up the signature style of Juli Zeh.«

»SCHILF is the swan among the rubber duckies of German crime fiction.«
Mitteldeutscher Rundfunk

»Physics and boredom may not to be used synonymously anymore. No matter if you have always loathed crime novels, you won’t be able to find fault with Zeh’s book.«

»Juli Zeh, one of the most exciting and intelligent authors of her generation, in her third novel SCHILF creates a scenario of a murder, unimaginable and never read before. Virtuosic, sensuous, racy, merciless and shrewd does Juli Zeh carry her novel to the grotesque finale - and along the way explains the physical phenomenon of time.«

»Like in her award-winning debut ADLER UND ENGEL, Zeh plays her gift of a precise language, creating the most complex images with only few words.«
Stuttgarter Nachrichten

»Juli Zeh whirls us through the wildest plot in a language so beautiful that we stay with her on every twist and turn. Not one single thought is too much or too little in this extraordinary novel.«
Szene Hamburg

»Juli Zeh pens awe-inspiring characters that are as eccentric as they are authentic, and we have the pleasure to see and hear them think. (...) Even if you’re not so much into philosophy, and even less into physics, you’ll find this a treat.«
Sächsische Zeitung

»›The world belongs to those who can explain it‹, claims Juli Zeh – and she can.«
Hannoversche Allgemeine Zeitung

»Much better than any thriller. Juli Zeh knows how to create suspense, and how to keep it up.«
Hamburger Abendblatt Journal

»SCHILF is the rare proof of a novel that simply has it all: substance and wit, good style and a convincing story.«

»Juli Zeh plays a sophisticated mind game: What if there wasn’t one reality but a multitude of parallel universes instead?«
Berner Zeitung

»Turns reading into an enjoyable detective experience – even more so due to the intelligent twists and surprising turns that mark Juli Zeh’s style.«
Badische Zeitung

»The text is rich in cross-references and (in-) conspicuous motifs that increase its density and turn reading into a detective adventure. All topped off with the clever twists and surprising turns that are characteristic for Juli Zeh’s writing.«
Bayerischer Rundfunk

»SCHILF is a compelling novel, thrilling yet profound, in the tradition of Friedrich Dürrenmatt. (...) Juli Zeh is less interested in the questions of the Who and How than in the Why, and her answers come in spot-on dialogues that explore philosophical depth as well as physical phenomena. Nonetheless, this book makes for a wonderful read, gripping until the last page. A masterpiece!«
Financial Times Deutschland

»Captivating from cover to cover is this young author’s style and expressiveness that turns an idyll into living hell, reversing any notions of morals and guilt, thwarting time, perception and reality.«
Die Presse

»Tantalizing, written in a resourceful language. A plot that may at first seem queer, creative imagery, delightfully prim sentences – all told with magical lightness. Pure enjoyment, never losing its firm hold on the reader.«
Der Kurier

»Juli Zeh is one of the most noteworthy German writers. Her keen storytelling and psychologically deep characters are based on well-researched fact. Wherever necessary, she breaks the concept of the well-made, well-balanced novel to incorporate pressing contemporary issues into her narrative – by means of excessive use of metaphors, by her ruthless plunging into the abbysmal depths of the human mind, or by boldly claiming the very fields of science that our modern world likes to turn to for an explanation.«
Carl Amery Award, The Jury

»In our complex present, certainty is not easily attained. Juli Zeh demonstrates this with analytical wit and sparkling metaphor.«
Solothurn Literature Award, Jury Statement

Reviews from abroad

»German author Juli Zeh seems to have won every continental European award going, and it's easy to see why. (...) The philosophical discourse that underpins the story – the clash of ideals and abstractions with material reality – is extremely complex. However, Zeh's clarity of thought, plausible characterisation and ability to conjure up a world where everything that is possible happens make Dark Matter a thrilling read as well as a terrific mental workout.«
The Guardian

»Zeh constructs and impressive matrix of information for each of her key players and provides descriptions that are vivid and original. (…) Zeh’s inventiveness loses little in Christine Lo’s translation. Her often unexpected imagery is precise and pithy … this philosophical thriller is well paced ; one turns the pages impatient for the denouement.«
The Times Literary Supplement

»This ambitious philosophical novel was a bestseller in Germany, where critics have called it a masterpiece. Its subject is the relationship between guilt and innocence (...) An interesting and original novel.«
The Literary Review

»Juli Zeh crafts a philosophical thriller which uses the clash of the ideal and the material worlds, the bending of reality, and the search for a definition of time to explore the ideas of guilt and innocence and the infinite configurations of love.«

»That the prose can be so captivating, and the aphorisms so frequent turns the book into an adventure of the mind, satisfying on whichever level the reader wishes to approach it. It is certainly the best novel I've read so far this year, and should mark Zeh as one of Europe's brightest younger novelists.«
Crime Time

»Drawing extensively on recent physics Juli Zeh has put together a complex and emotionally moving piece of crime fiction. (..) A compulsive read.«
New Humanist

»Unusual and intriguing.«
The Times

»A character study with emotional clout.(...) A clever and truly entertaining read.«
The Independent

»Juli Zeh writes explicity intellectual novels, books that engage the reader’s mind, that provide food for thought, and for discussion afterward. Her detective Schilf is a thoroughbred Kantian, relying on his rationality, and not only does he expose the real culprit, he also forces him into a confession. This is what makes SCHILF a grandiose book, and a worthy successor to SPIELTRIEB. (...) An intellectual play with science, cosmology, and morals.«
De Morgen

»A thriller with virtuoso, a high-level crime novel (...). Juli Zeh takes a similar approach like Michel Houellebecq in The Elementary Particles yet delves further into unknown scientific terrain. Her baroque imagery creates just the right atmosphere (...) while the ironic undertone adds a hint of bitterness.«
NRC Handelsblad

»This is a crime novel, but a very special one. SCHILF is a thriller as well as a novel of ideas. Every leaf that falls within this meticulously conceived plot has a meaning. Engaging from start to finish.«
Standaard der Letteren

»Juli Zeh has written a brilliant philosophical novel with thriller elements. In every sense, an exceptional book.«
GPD newspaper group (printed in several publications)

»With great intelligence and exceptional clarity Juli Zeh tells a story that is deeply rooted in a society struggling with the big questions of our age: violence, ethics, justice, identity, and disorder. (...) Like Heinrich Böll and Günther Grass, she finds herself in the tradition of the socially involved intellectual taking an active part in the public discourse. (...) Nothing could stop the literary ambition of this young novelist, her intellectual role model doubtlessly being Robert Musil, who depicted society in the early 20th century with uncommon sharpness.«
Le nouvel observateur

»Subtle psychological portraits, refined dialogue and clever perception, a long-rising tension... Juli Zeh is the literary star of the season!«

»Juli Zeh’s brain works with a precise mechanic. Her compelling logic, her analytical, cool and strategical intelligence make her writing so awe-inspiring: efficiency, fatalism, and her fearless tackling of fundamental issues. Her style leaps forward in aphorisms and an authoritative tone. Zehs writing is like giving evidence.«
Livres hebdo

»May her literary masters be called Balzac or Dostojewski, this young German novelist makes it her task to challenge our world and its standards over and over again. (...) Her third novel is a scientific thriller, a passionate set-up, questioning our intellectual perception and classification of modern science.«

»Juli Zeh impresses and awes us by creating characters of superior intelligence. It takes a creature of infinite genius, we figure, to be able to breathe life into these mechanical, intellectual yet perplexing figures.«
Les Inrockuptibles

»An intriguing plot and fantastic prose chracterise this German ›philo-crime-story‹ (…), and if the plot is intriguing, the prose is pure gold. I feel like doing something I rarely do: rereading this book. Very soon.«

»They who could come up with just one of Juli Zeh’s would have any right to call themselves a writer. (...) Zeh has been named one of the greatest talents of German contemporary llterature, and quite rightly so.«

»German star author Juli Zeh delivers crime story of the highest calibre, about two physicists struggling to gain understanding of the world.«

»beautifully written fiction of great depth. (...) I would like to recommend Juli Zeh’s wonderful and resourceful novel to all readers who value literature as partner for dialogue.«
Berlingske Tidende

»SCHILF is quantum mechanics, elementary particles and the essence of time, murder and kidnapping mixed into an elegant cocktail. A true delight.«

»With SCHILF Juli Zeh sketches a breathtaking criminal case which explores and exposes human deficiencies with tragic precision and cruel humour.«

»Juli Zeh, qui capte tout de suite la sympathie par sa franchise, son sourire en coin, son ton enjoué, est devenue une romancière reconnue et couronnée de nombreux prix.«

More titles by Juli Zeh

Juli Zeh: The Full Monty. Not a NovelJuli Zeh: Eagles and AngelsJuli Zeh: Even Silence Is a Sound. Travels through BosniaJuli Zeh: Gaming Instinct (Spieltrieb)Juli Zeh: A Dog Runs through the RepublicJuli Zeh: The Little Encyclopedia for Household DogsJuli Zeh: Gaming Instinct (stage version)Juli Zeh: Schilf (stage version)Juli Zeh: The Land of PeopleJuli Zeh: The Method (Corpus delicti)Juli Zeh: Decompression (Nullzeit)Juli Zeh: TreidelnJuli Zeh: Good Morning, Boys and GirlsJuli Zeh: At Night They Are Animals