Wolfgang Koeppen

Pigeons on the Grass - Novel

(German title: Werke in 16 Bänden)
ca. 269 pages
Wolfgang Koeppen
Foto: Wolfgang Koeppen
© Isolde Ohlbaum

Wolfgang Koeppen was born on June 23rd, 1906 in Greifswald and died on March 15th, 1996 in Munich.

After spending eleven years in Ortelsburg (East Prussia), he returned to Greifswald in 1919. Due to financial reasons he had to leave grammar school and change to a lower secondary school, which he left without obtaining a diploma. After that, he dabbled in many different professions: he worked in a bookshop, and in Greifswald's city theatre. As a commis chef he went to Sweden and Finland; in Wurzburg he worked as a dramaturge. In 1927 he settled in Berlin, where he began to work as an editor at the Berliner Börsen-Courier in 1931. He stayed there for two years. He wrote reportages, for the feuilleton, and started on his first literary works.

His first novel, A Sad Affair, was published in 1934. That same year he emigrated to the Netherlands, which is where he began writing the novel The Jawang-Society, which was to remain unfinished. In 1935, the novel The Wall Is Shaking was published but hardly received any recognition. Koeppen returned to Germany in 1938, started working for the Bavaria Movie Corporation in 1941, and moved to Munich in 1945. He published Jacob Littner's Notes From A Ditch anonymously in 1948. He agreed to have the book appear under his name only in 1992.

In 1951, 1953 and 1954 three novels were published that are regarded as the most accurate description of the atmosphere of the republic under Konrad Adenauer: Pigeons on the grass, The Hothouse and Death In Rome. Koeppen's To Russia And Other Places, Travel To America and Journeys to France created high regard for travel literature in Germany.

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USA (New Directions), Chinese simplex rights (Shanghai Lucidabooks), Serbia (Fabrika), Greece (Kritiki); previously published in the respective language / territory; rights available again: Spanish world rights (RBA), Russia (Progress), France (Laffont), Netherlands (Thoth), Norway (Bokvennen), Finland (Kirjayhtymä Oy), Czech Republic (Academia), Slovenia (PAN), Israel (Carmel)

Domestic Rights Sales: German Audiobook (DAV)


»Koeppen's work consists, as does that of all writers, of books of varied degrees of importance. I myself appreciate the early novel A Sad Affair, Death In Rome and the fragment Youth in particular. But I regard the fantastic novel Pigeons on the Grass, published in 1951, as the most important book in Koeppen's oeuvre, too little known now as it was then. Those who haven't read this novel cannot claim to know German literature after 1945.« Marcel Reich-Ranicki

In 1951, Wolfgang Koeppen accomplished a first critical inventory of the social and political conditions that were under restoration in Germany with his novel Pigeons on the Grass. His sketches of figures and events of a single day in the Munich of 1949, which is described as an impenetrable »pandemonium«, appear in front of our eyes as if observed through a kaleidoscope.


»Koeppen’s voice – cold, defiant and relentless in its fury at the deadly amnesia he saw emerge from Germany’s ruins after World War II – neither transforms nor imbues the world around him, but rather indicts it.« The New York Times

»Scathing, disillusioned novel ridiculing the notion of a new start and a clean slate for West Germany. Pigeons on the Grass is set in Munich on a single day and its 105 short fragments reveal the failure of more than thirty characters to face up to reality.« London Review of Books

»In a many-toned language Koeppen not only depicts a cacophonous world but peoples that world with individuals whose lives barely overlap. The result documents a uniquely German situation; it also, with its echoes of James Joyce and John Dos Passos, reconnects the German novel at a surprisingly early date to modernist fiction.« The Independent

»Germany’s greatest living writer.« Günter Grass

»A modernist tour of Munich over the course of one eventful day in 1948. The novel’s roving consciousness deliberately blurs the boundaries between the characters’ minds, turning Munich into one large, pulsing brain – exhilarating and original.« Andrew Martin, Harper’s Magazine

»Scathingly beautiful – lyrically inescapable.« Nadine Gordimer

»a forgotten masterpiece.« The Evening Standard

»Almost eerily contemporary in its concerns, and remarkable as a sidelong, searing appraisal of the legacy of the Nazi years, it is a recovered masterpiece.« Publishers Weekly

»A kaleidoscopic narrative that follows a disparate cast of characters whose lives accidentally intersect during a single day in Munich, Germany, in 1948. [...] this portrait of despair and endurance amid postwar ruin is nothing less than a miniature masterpiece.« Kirkus

»Koeppen’s masterwork soars.« Publishers Weekly

Other publications

Werke in 16 Bänden/Youth (2016)

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English world rights (Dalkey Archive), France (Hachette); previously published in the respective language / territory; rights available again: Russia (Progress), Netherlands (Querido), Japan (Dogakusha), Poland (Czytelnik), Czech Republic (Odeon), Bulgaria (Narodna Kultura)

Domestic Rights Sales: German Audiobook (Der Hörverlag)

Werke in 16 Bänden/Death In Rome (1954)

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English world rights (Granta / Penguin), Chinese simplex rights (Shanghai Lucidabooks), France (Typhon), Netherlands (Cossee), Macedonia (Ad Verbum); previously published in the respective language / territory; rights available again: Spanish world rights (RBA), Catalan rights (La Magrana), Russia (Progress), Italy (Zandonai), Norway (Bokvennen), Poland (PIW), Czech Republic (Academia), Slovakia (Slovensky Spisovatel), Hungary (Europa), Bulgaria (Narodna Kultura), Latvia (Liesma), Slovenia (Mladinska Knijga)

Werke in 16 Bänden/The Hothouse (1953)

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Chinese simplex rights (Shanghai Lucidabooks); previously published in the respective language / territory; rights available again: English world rights (W.W.Norton; UK sublicense: Granta), Spanish world rights (RBA), Russia (Progress), Netherlands (Thoth), Finland (Kirjaythymä), Poland (PIW), Czech Republic (Academia), Slovakia (Slovensky Spisovatel), Hungary (Europa), Latvia (Liesma)

Werke in 16 Bänden/A Sad Affair (1934)

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Previously published in the respective language / territory; rights available again: English world rights (W.W. Norton), France (Albin Michel), Norway (Bokvennen), Finland (Karisto)