Kiepenheuer & Witsch, September 2018
Shortlisted for the German Book Prize 2018
A literary tour de force about a family secret and the long arm of the KGB
Every family has secrets and rumours that survive from one generation to the next. Sometimes they are a matter of life and death. In his new novel, Maxim Biller writes about one such rumour, whose evil power reaches all the way to the present.
Sechs Koffer is the story of a Russian-Jewish family fleeing from East to West, from Moscow via Prague to Hamburg and Zurich. Told from six points-of-view, the novel recounts a major betrayal – a denunciation. The victim: the narrator’s grandfather, who was executed in the Soviet Union in 1960. The suspects: his own relatives.
Who betrayed Shmil Grigorevich? Was it one of his attractive, talented sons? Was it his ambitious, sorrowful daughter-in-law? Or is it ultimately he himself, the black-market dealer and benevolent family patriarch, who is responsible for his having been arrested by the KGB and sentenced to death? Maxim Biller’s new novel is a psychological family drama and literary masterpiece that leaves readers with the existential question: How would they behave if they had to save their own life – like a hero or a traitor?
Maxim Biller, born in Prague in 1960, has been living in Germany since 1970. His books have been translated into 16 languages. His most recent works include the memoir Der gebrauchte Jude (‘The Second-Hand Jew’) published in 2009, the novella Im Kopf von Bruno Schulz (‘Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz’) published in 2013 and the novel Biografie (‘Biography’) published in 2016. In 2018, he held the poetics lectureship at the university of Heidelberg.
‘This novel is an elaborately cut gemstone. Different facets keep catching the light, different sides breaking through, yet another polished face. It encloses an era, the hardness of an age, so mysteriously limpid.’ – Robert Menasse
‘How do you keep a family secret? By telling everyone about it. With this book, Maxim Biller has achieved a real tour de force.’ – Durs Grünbein