The Man is Asleep
Der Mann schläft

der mann schlaeft sibylle berg
Hanser Verlag
July 2009 / 312pp

This book is outside of the five-year window for guaranteed assistance with English language translation. We suggest getting in touch with the relevant funding body for an informal conversation about the possibility of support. Please refer to to our  recommendations page for books that are currently covered by our funding guarantee.


Sibylle Berg’s latest novel combines a cynical attack on the modern world with a deeply sincere love story. The narrator, a forty-something-year-old woman with a history of short affairs with younger men and a job writing instructional leaflets, is relentless in her contempt for the lives of those around her. She rejects the cliché of the perfect marriage. Silver candlesticks, classical music, homemade organic jam, multilingual children and a husband who wears cashmere scarves are not for her. Love is for the mentally defective, a mere marketing ploy for washing powder manufacturers, and men are empty projection surfaces for kitsch ideas. And yet this woman, whose cynicism at times borders on misanthropy, manages, if not to fall in love, then at least to attain a kind of blissful contentment with the sleeping man of the title.

‘The man’, unnamed, because according to the narrator everything we give a name to has a tendency to disappear, weighs 110 kilos, resembles a small mountain range, and plays an important role in both strands of the novel. In the first he is most often an inert sleeping mass whose presence the reader is reminded of intermittently in between the narrator’s tirades and her self-deprecatory descriptions of life before she met him; in the second he has vanished, to become a mere absence.

After four contented years together, the couple go on a holiday to a small Chinese island near Hong Kong. Their relationship comes to an abrupt end when the man disappears one day. The chapters alternate between ‘then’ and ‘today’, between the narrator’s uneventful but serene life with the man in Ticino and her uneventful and lonely life without him on the island. Fulfilment and loss become inseparable from one another; when the narrator thinks she sees the man returning on the ferry in the last line of the novel, a happy ending seems implausible and yet somehow possible.

An expert balancing act between the down-to-earth and the weird and unexpected, kitsch sentimentalism and political correctness are rejected along with realism in this sharply intelligent novel with its trademark sardonic humour. Witty aperçus abound and will have the reader reaching for his or her notebook. There is no writer quite like Sibylle Berg and some translator is going to have great fun with this wicked work of understated love.

press quotes

‘Cynical, poignant and subtle: a brutally honest novel which is razor-sharp in its unrelenting search for the truth.’– Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

about the author

Sibylle Berg was born in Weimar in 1962. Alongside her novels and essays, she has also written a number of stage plays which have been performed both in Germany and internationally. Now living in Zurich, she is a regular contributor to Die Zeit and the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. In 2008 she was awarded the Wolfgang Koeppen Prize, an award given by writers to writers.

Previous works include:
Ein paar Leute suchen das Glück und lachen sich tot (1997); Sex 2 (1998); Amerika (1999); Ende Gut (2004); Die Fahrt. Vom Gehen und Bleiben (2007); Die goldenen letzten Jahre (2009, play).

rights information

Translation rights to previous works sold to:
France (Jacqueline Chambon); Greece (Topos).

Translation rights available from:
Carl Hanser Verlag
Vilshofener Str. 10
81679 Munich, Germany
Tel: +49 89 99830509
Contact: Friederike Barakat 

Carl Hanser Verlag was established by its eponymous owner in 1928 in Munich, and its founder’s interests in both literature and science have been maintained to the present day. The firm publishes fiction and non-fiction for both adults and children. Its authors include Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, Jostein Gaarder, Lars Gustafsson, Milan Kundera, Harry Mulisch, Philip Roth, Susan Sontag, Botho Strauß, Raoul Schrott, Rafik Schami, Alfred Brendel, Elke Heidenreich and ten Nobel prizewinners, among them Elias Canetti, whose works have been translated into more than twenty different languages.

translation assistance

Applications should be made to the Goethe-Institut.

share this recommendation

Share this on twitter, facebook or via mail.

All recommendations from Autumn 2009