Stephan Thome

God of the Barbarians - Novel

(German title: Gott der Barbaren)
ca. 719 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.

Sold to

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

Domestic Rights Sales: German Audiobook (Griot)

Shortlisted for the German Book Prize 2018


A master of thorough portraits delivers his first historical novel: the story of one of the bloodiest wars in human history

On the loss of our certainties in chaotic times


China, mid-nineteenth-century. A Christian revolutionary movement swamps the Empire with terror and destruction. A young German missionary, who wants to help with the modernising of the enormous Empire, travels full of idealism to Nanjing, in order to gain an impression of the rebellion. There he finds himself caught between the fronts where, ultimately, he loses everything that is important to him. At the conflict hotspots– in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing – we encounter a cast of characters as tattered as they are fascinating: among them Lord Elgin, the British High Commissioner in China; and a Chinese scholar, appointed warlord, who has grown so powerful that even the emperor has reasons to fear him.

In his enthralling new book, Stephan Thome tells a story that precedes our crisis-ravaged present day. Under the command of a Christian convert who believes to be God’s second son, rebels in China create a religious state that, in a devastating way, pre-empts the terror movements of our days. A major novel with a far-reaching gaze on religious fanaticism, on how easily we can be seduced, and on the loss of orientation in a radically changing world.


»Above all the author succeeds in bringing the mysterious, self-contained and fascinating world of Chinese thought to our eyes. [...] On the one hand, this large book is a suggestive introduction to Chinese aesthetics and China’s conception of history, on the other it can also be read as an exciting adventure novel.« Helmut Böttiger, Die ZEIT

»From all of this incredible material Stephan Thome has written a novel where, on every one of its seven hundred pages, we are confronted with the question of how to orient ourselves in greatly confusing times of change like our own.« Mark Siemons, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

»Familiar events are seamlessly reflected in the past [...] slight shifts in the familiar have a strongly revealing effect. But here Thome succeeds all the more, for he does not understand history as a means to an end – which could lead to trite parallels, whereas here nothing is trite, everything is intertwined and invites us to deeper reflection –, but something to be taken seriously in its own right.« Judith von Sternburg, Frankfurter Rundschau

»Stephan Thome’s novel skillfully tells China’s tumultuous and highly complex history from the perspective of the various protagonists. […] With his excellent knowledge about China, the Taipei-based Sinologist managed […] to make a chapter of Chinese history whose description poses a great challenge even for historians come alive.« NZZ am Sonntag

»You immerse yourself in the wealth of characters and developments with excited attention also because of the fact that Stephan Thome’s usually straightforward yet exceedingly vivid language doesn’t deny its position in the present and ultimately connects all the perspectives with one another.« taz. die tageszeitung

»A powerful book that reports historical atrocities in a way that we, who didn’t know about these horrors and didn’t really want to know either, are captivated by it – and draw the parallels to the world we live in today, where the barbarians are always the others, all by ourselves.« Volker Weidermann, LiteraturSpiegel

»God of the Barbarians is a masterfully composed novel. Thome’s narration is as composed as Confucius, beautiful like calligraphy, epically extensive. […] Each of the 700 pages is worth reading.« Badische Zeitung

»The author unfolds a large, meticulously researched epochal panorama and at the same time pays close attention to his protagonists.« WDR

»The meanings of good historical novels – and God of the Barbarians is a very good one – unfold on various layers. One can read it as an adventure story ... One can also read God of the Barbarians politically as a critical contribution on the history of colonialism.« Berner Zeitung

»Greatly entertaining and, furthermore, a key to understanding the great degree to which China, Europa, and America have been connected since the 19th century.« NDR

»Thome not only brings the reader closer to the history of the Taiping Rebellion in an entertaining way, but through his multi-faceted protagonists tells the story of the defeat present in victory, the struggle for understanding, and the unstoppable nature of progress.« Gießener Allgemeine

»With his many-shaped novel God of the Barbarians the learned Sinologist Thome depicts an immense empire in a historical phase of decline and upheaval.« SWR

»It is remarkable how bravely Thome writes himself into in unfamiliar lives and environments ... « rbb kulturradio

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

»A great master of emotional nuance.« Die Welt

Other publications

Gegenspiel/Counterplay (2015)

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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)

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)