Robert Menasse

The Capital

(German title: Die Hauptstadt)
ca. 459 pages
Robert Menasse
Foto: Robert Menasse
© Rafaela Proell

Robert Menasse was born in 1954 in Vienna, where he also grew up. He studied German, Philosophy and Political Science in Vienna, Salzburg and Messina, and received his doctorate in 1980 with a thesis on the character of the outsider in literature. Menasse then spent six years at the University of São Paulo, first as a lecturer for Austrian literature, then as a guest lecturer at the Institute for Literary Theory. There he held lectures on philosophical and aesthetic theories, including on Hegel, Lukács, Benjamin and Adorno. Since his return from Brazil in 1988, Robert Menasse has been a writer and essayist based mainly in Vienna.

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UK & Commonwealth (MacLehose Press), USA & Canada (W.W.Norton/Liveright), Spanish world rights (Seix Barral), Chinese simplex rights (People's Literature Publishing House), Chinese complex rights (Linking), Russia (Text), Portuguese rights (Dom Quixote), Arabic world rights (AFAQ), France (Verdier), Italy (Sellerio), Netherlands (Arbeiderspers), Denmark (Vandkunsten) Sweden (Weyler), Poland (Noir sur Blanc), Czech Republic (Plus), Hungary (Geopen), Bulgaria (Lege Artis), Lithuania (Tyto Alba), Croatia (Fraktura), Serbia (Arhipelag), Slovenia (Cankarjeva založba), Turkey (Everest), Greece (Patakis), Georgia (Intelekti), Armenia (Antares), India/Hindi (Saar Sansaar)

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

Winner of the German Book Prize 2017

Nominated for the Premio Strega Europeo 2019

Nominated for the Prix du livre européen 2019

The great European novel - Robert Menasse’s testament to a shameful age


Brussels. A panorama of tragic heroes, manipulative losers, involuntary accomplices. In his new novel, Robert Menasse spans a narrative arc between the times, the nations, the inevitable and the irony of fate, between petty bureaucracy and big emotions.

Fenia Xenapoulou is facing a career setback. She has been »promoted« to the Department of Culture by the Directorate General – no budget, no power, no reputation. So the »Big Jubilee Project« comes just at the right time for her: she is to revamp the boring image of the European Commission. Her Austrian personal assistant Martin Susmann suggests proclaiming Auschwitz as the birthplace of the European Commission. Fenia is thrilled, but she didn’t take the other European nations into account. Austria: a Polish camp could not be misused to question the Austrian nation. Poland: Auschwitz is a German problem. Germany: Islam, by now a part of Germany, had nothing to do with Auschwitz. What’s more, Fenia can’t count on David de Vriend, one of the last living witnesses, any longer: he runs to the metro station Maalbeek at the wrong time.

Inspector Brunfaut is in a difficult situation as well. He is supposed to leave a murder case covered up at the highest level at rest. But luckily he is friends with the chief computer scientists of the Brussels Police Department, who can gain access to the secret files of the public prosecutor‘s office. Matek, the Polish hitman, knows nothing of this when he makes his escape. But he does know that he shot the wrong guy. That’s not nothing to Matek. He would rather have become ordained a priest; the fact that he had to follow his father’s and grandfather’s footsteps in becoming a »soldier of Christ«, doesn’t really make him happy. And yes, there are others who are unhappy as well: the pig farmers who take to the streets with pitchforks in protest of the existing trade restrictions blocking the profitable export of pigs’ ears to China


»Drolly comic [… ] A major book about coincidences, of linked and overlapping meanings […] This is a deeply humane novel, a novel for adults. It carries the wisdom and weight and weariness of late middle age. Menasse writes not about the way things should be but about the way things are, rare enough these days.« Dwight Garner, The New York Times

»The Capital delivers, within a brilliant satirical fiction, thoughtful and instructive analysis of both the weaknesses in the EU that galvanise leavers and the strengths that motivate remainers [...] Readers may understandably feel that a novel about the EU is the last thing they need just now; but if so they will miss a first-class read.« The Guardian

»Menasse has given us a work in which a national identity and a European allegiance are not mutually exclusive. On the contrary, they blend into the very thing that the unfortunate bureaucrat found unimaginable, a gripping novel with an urgent political purpose.« Fintan O’Toole, New York Review of Books

»[Menasse] created what might seem impossible: a readable novel of Brussels. The Capital is a mischievous yet profound story about storytelling; about the art of shaping a narrative by finding resonances in the messy stuff of life. [An] unexpectedly delightful book about Brussels.« The Economist

»A traditional novel, broadshouldered, omniscient, almost Balzac-ian, but with terrorism part of a plot centered satirically around an all-too-plausible Brussels idea.« The New York Times

»[...] a thoroughly entertaining fiction that serves both as a sort of campus satire and a novel of ideas. [...] Menasse packs his Brussels with sharply-etched types. [...] With its zest, pace and wit, Jamie Bulloch’s translation serves him splendidly.« The Spectator

»A brutally funny and exhaustive tableau of both a continent in transition and the organization straining to hold it together [...]. Menasse writes with a wry, self-deprecating touch. He turns what might have been a dry lecture into a teeming epic that brings to multitextured life a continent undergoing an identity crisis.« Andrew R. Chow, Time

»A deliciously vicious – and timely – satire about the E.U. and the meaning of Europe today.« Financial Times

»Menasse has a finely tuned satirical ear that easily criss-crosses borders [...]. [A]n intelligently written, pacy novel whose wide-ranging narratives ensure the momentum never wavers [...]. Robert Menasse has produced an extraordinary piece of work.« New European

»Witty but humane. [...] The massive cast never becomes unwieldy thanks to Menasse’s delightful prose. This epic, droll account of contemporary Europe will be catnip for fans of mosaic novels and comical political machinations.« Publishers Weekly

»[An] ambitious panorama that arrives amid the throes of Brexit and the Chinese Year of the Pig. Intelligent, fun, sad, insightful – an exceptional work.« Kirkus Reviews

»Raucously funny. [...] A timely satirical look at the current state of the European project, Robert Menasse’s The Capital is a dark comedy of manners packed with urgency.« H.W. Vail, Vanity Fair

»Rumbustios [...] deliciously witty.« Paul Connnolly, Metro

»Robert Menasse's polyphonic E.U. satire juggles a multitude of wryly amusing storylines.« Siobhan Murphy, The Times

»The Capital could hardly be more topical [...] It is about Europe reconnecting with its ideals via a tragic past [...] It's a smart read, unlike anything being written in Britain today.« David Herman, Jewish Chronicle

»This is above all the polyphonic novel in excelsis [...] I want to read much more from this major European writer.« David Nice, Arts Desk

»This is an elegantly written, fabulously constructed, very witty and thoughtful novel.« DIE ZEIT

»More than practically anyone else in German-language literature, Menasse has made the history of Europe his subject.« Paul Jandl, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

»The committed intellectual reveals himself here to be an uncompromising, even passionate storyteller, […] who handles his material so masterfully (that due to the lightness of touch one actually forgets the complexity of the constellations of characters so that after nearly five hundred pages [the reader] is astonished that the novel is already at an end.) Skilfully and with great wit Menasse shows time and again […] how swiftly the private can slide into the political, and indeed just how political the private self is.« Tobias Lehmkuhl, Süddeutsche Zeitung

»Depicting the milieu of Brussels bureaucrats poses no difficulties. On the contrary, it is tremendously successful.« Jochen Hieber, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

»A coup – so far no writer of quality has tried to find out whether European bureaucracy works as a literary concept [...] With his novel The Capital, Menasse provides an enjoyable reading experience« Carsten Otte, taz. die tageszeitung

»He manages to write humorously about Europe’s bureaucratic world without resorting to mockery.« Andrea Pollmeier, Frankfurter Rundschau

»Writers such as Robert Menasse should be listened to more closely and politicians should at last forge links again with such intellectuals.« Björn Hayer, Spiegel Online



Other publications

Ich kann jeder sagen/Everyone can say I (2009)

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English world rights (Ariadne), France (Jacqueline Chambon), Bulgaria (Lege Artis)

Don Juan de La Mancha oder Die Erziehung der Lust/Don Juan de la Mancha or an Education in Pleasure (2007)

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France (Verdier), Latvia (Jumava), Hindi (Vani); previously published in the respective language / territory; rights available again: English world rights (Alma Books/Calder Publications), Spanish world rights (Alianza), Italy (Scritturapura), Netherlands (Arbeiderspers), Slovakia (Kalligram), Hungary (Kalligram), Bulgaria (Lege Artis), Lithuania (Pasvires Pasaulis

Die Vertreibung aus der Hölle/Expulsion from Hell (2001)

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Spanish World Rights (Alianza), Russia (Text), Portugal (Ulisseia), France (Verdier), Netherlands (Arbeiderspers), Norway (Aschehoug), Czech Republic (Academia), Hungary (Ulpius Haz), Bulgaria (Lege Artis), Greece (Polis)