Stephan Thome

Counterplay - Novel

(German title: Gegenspiel)
ca. 420 pages
Stephan Thome
Foto: Stephan Thome
© Heike Steinweg

Stephan Thome, born in 1972 in Biedenkopf, studied Philosophy and Sinology at the Freie Universität in Berlin and at various universities in China, Taiwan and Japan. He worked in East Asia for ten years and has also lived in Lisbon. His novels Border Crossing (original title: Grenzgang, 2009) and Centrifugal Forces (original title: Fliehkräfte, 2012) were both shortlisted for the German Book Prize. His work has won several prizes. Stephan Thome lives in Taipei.

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Chinese complex rights (Linking)

Domestic rights sales: German Audiobook (DAV), German Entire Radio Readings (SWR and NDR), German Book Club (Büchergilde Gutenberg)


Counterplay revolves around Maria-Antonia Pereira, a young Portuguese woman: Maria is in her early twenties, finished school in Lisbon and wants to leave a Portugal that seems, at the end of the seventies, only a few years after the Carnation Revolution, hardly attractive for young people. Salazar’s dictatorial corporative state is finally finished, but certainly the aftermath of decades of political standstill and isolation is still palpable. Portugal is underdeveloped, arch-Catholic, with a high illiteracy rate – and especially for women it seems that there’s not much to do in this country but marry and have children.

And that is definitely not enough for Maria. She is afraid of missing out on life, dreams of studying in London. She leaves for West Berlin in the end, where she begins a course in theatre studies during which she falls in love with a young director who is beginning to make a name for himself as a new »berserk of the theatre«. More than that, the sexual libertinage of the early and mid-eighties contributes to the failure of the relationship. Maria eventually meets a man ten years her senior who is working towards is habilitation. And without wanting to or even planning it, she suddenly finds herself a married woman and mother in a provincial village in North Rhine-Westphalia, watching her husband build his career. She ends up a professor’s wife in Bonn just when the city lost the title of »capital« to Berlin. For the most part, she manages to adjust to the circumstances and to suppress her frustration with life in Bonn and the longing for an urban lifestyle, but as her daughter grows up and is about to leave the parents’ home, the grand delusion becomes unbearable.

Maria needs to leave – leave Bonn, and maybe even her husband. She moves to Berlin in order to work at a theatre, which is lead, of all people, by the director she loved more than two decades ago. But after just a year she has to realise that her decision for Berlin has set developments in motion that she didn’t expect and that may be irreversible. Stephan Thome uses distinctive scenes of the then contemporary life: the situation in Lisbon of the late-seventies, the mood in a country that was cut off from Europe at the time; the milieu of West Berlin in the eighties: squatters in Kreuzberg, demonstrations, police raids. And especially striking are the depictions of the West German province before the reunification.

Just like in Borderwalk and Centrifugal Forces, Counterplay doesn’t follow a chronological order, but uses leaps in time, curtailment and flashbacks. In that way Thome manages to capture life with all its contingencies, contradictions and discontinuities and engages with the drama of failed life plans and the question of responsibility, especially toward one’s own life. As for the characters, there are some that are known to the reader from Centrifugal Forces – and some that join them only now. Thome’s new novel is thus a complimentary story, a mirror-image of Centrifugal Forces: Maria, the great void around which Centrifugal Forces revolves, is now the focus of a narration told from her point of view. We believe we know the story, but under this new focus it appears completely new and entirely different and creates the moving and sometimes unsettling portrait of an impressive woman.


» [...] his writing assumes a flow in which the portraits of the characters and the portrait of the times merge seamlessly.« Süddeutsche Zeitung

»Probably not since the young Martin Walser has an author written as clearly about the emotional lives of the West German middle class as Thome does in these two novels [Centrifugal Forces & Counterplay].« Der Spiegel

»Stephan Thome is a realist and emphatically dialogic author […] Like a diagnostician he examines the structure of men’s and women’s various modes of speaking, acting, and feeling. His double portrait is a theoretically engaging game.« Deutschlandradio kultur

»Imagination distilled into words« rbb kulturradio

»Stephan Thome paints a brilliant portrait of the various social milieus […] Above all his dialogues are masterful and could easily be transformed into a film script.« NDR

»Counterplay is psychological realism at the pulse of our times.« taz. die tageszeitung

»The prose is exquisite and the narrative masterful« neues deutschland

»... a melodrama told with precision and a sense for the grey areas of human relationships ... In expertly managed leaps in time, Thome talks of the Carnation Revolution in Portugal, the squatter years in Berlin and an infernal interlude in Germany’s back country.« SPIEGEL ONLINE

»Counterplay is an impressive novel full of empathy and psychological smartness, that can be compared, in regards to literary history, to the French realists, especially to Balzac and Flaubert.« MDR

»Counterplay is a modern-day Bildungsroman that is so well written that you can’t put it down.« Gießener Anzeiger Online


Stephan Thome reads from his novel Counterplay:

Other publications

Gott der Barbaren/God of the Barbarians (2018)

Sold to:

Chinese simplex rights (Social Sciences Academic Press), Chinese complex rights (Linking)

Domestic Rights Sales: German Audiobook (Griot)

Fliehkräfte/Centrifugal Forces (2012)

Sold to:

Chinese simplex rights (People's Literature Publishing House), Chinese complex rights (Linking)

Domestic Rights Sales: German Audiobook (DAV), German Book Club Rights (Büchergilde Gutenberg)

Grenzgang/Borderwalk (2009)

Sold to:

Chinese simplex rights (Jiangsu People's Publishing House), Chinese complex rights (Linking), Netherlands (Cossée)

Domestic Rights Sales: Film rights (WDR), German Audiobook (Griot), German Book Club (Büchergilde Gutenberg)