Ralf Rothmann

To Die in Spring

(German title: Im Frühling sterben)
ca. 200 pages
Ralf Rothmann
Foto: Ralf Rothmann
© Heike Steinweg

Ralf Rothmann was born in 1953 in Schleswig and grew up in the Ruhr. He lives in Berlin.

He is the recipient of numerous awards, including:

Uwe-Johnson-Prize 2018
Premio San Clemente 2017
Kleist Preis 2017
Friedrich-Hölderlin-Prize 2013
Hans-Fallada-Preis 2008
Literaturpreis der Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung 2008
Max-Frisch-Preis 2006
Heinrich-Böll-Preis 2005
Wilhelm Raabe Literaturpreis 2004

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English world rights (Picador UK; USA/Canada sublicense: FSG; English audiobook sublicense: Tantor), Spanish world rights (Libros del Asteroide), Catalan rights (L'Altra Editorial), Portuguese rights (Sextante Editora), France (Denoël), Italy (Neri Pozza), Netherlands (Arbeiderspers), Denmark (Rosinante), Sweden (Thorén & Lindskog), Norway (Gyldendal Norsk), Finland (Atena), Poland (W.A.B.), Czech Republic (Argo), Slovak Republic (Premedia), Hungary (Magvetö), Bulgaria (Atlantis), Romania (ART), Estonia (Hea Lugu), Croatia (Fraktura), Serbia (Laguna), Slovenia (Goga), Turkey (Yapi Kredi), Greece (Kastaniotis), Kosovo / Albanian world rights (Buzuku)

Domestic Rights Sales: German Audiobook (Hörbuch Hamburg), German Entire Radio Reading (NDR)

80.000 copies sold

»In contemporary German literature, there is nothing that can be compared to this book.« FAS

»The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge.«


To Die in Spring is the story of Walter Urban and Friedich »Fiete« Caroli, two seventeen-year-old farm hands from Northern Germany who are both forced into military service in February 1945. While one of them is deployed as a driver for the supply unit of the Waffen-SS, the other, Fiete, is sent to the front. He deserts, is captured and sentenced to death – and Walter, whose cynic superior is unwilling to reason with him, finds himself facing his best friend with his weapon at the ready…

»When I mentioned my father’s thick hair to him during my childhood, he’d say that it was because of the war: one actually rubbed fresh birch sap onto one’s scalp every day. I didn’t ask any further questions; I probably wouldn’t have received a more specific answer anyway, as always when we talked about that particular time. The answer only came about when, decades later, I held photographs of soldiers’ graves in my hand and saw that behind the front, many crosses were made from young birch trunks.«

Ralf Rothmann describes the last spring during the war in Hungary with impressive images. It’s the spring in which the German officers throw hand grenades at their men’s heels in order to make them attack, and in which the soldiers behind the front lines celebrate desperate orgies in the face of death. And we experience the first weeks of a peace that people like Walter can never get used to and in which still they sigh, even on their deathbed: »They’re coming closer and closer, man! If only I knew a place for us…«


»The haunting portrayal of conflict and carnage in the final weeks of the second world war makes this German novel a modern classic.« The Guardian

»A Bosch-like vision of hell . . . The horror of war and the deep damage it does to people . . . is not always handled as well, or as powerfully, as this. « The Sunday Times

»To Die in Spring by Ralf Rothmann, is the best novel about the end of the Second World War in years, and a beautiful anti-war tale of universal importance . . . With its lyrical realism, the text reaches new heights. Not a word is out of place.« El País

»In To Die in Spring Ralf Rothmann finds a way to describe German suffering without succumbing to self-pity or overlooking guilt. An extraordinary novel.« La Nueva Espanola

»Rothmann tells a story which, without resorting to a hyper-realistic description of catastrophe, narrates the destruction of human beings who seek to remain untouched by evil, who strive with very different intensities to preserve the traces of their humanity . . . Moving, with exquisite prose, suffused with a sense of poetry, in the face of human and collective desolation.« Diario Vasco

»Spare and elegant, the novel paints a quietly harrowing picture of the lasting effects of human violence and offers brief, poignant glimpses into the natural world [...]. Directly confronting issues of responsibility, accountability, and legacy, this is an undeniably powerful work.« Publishers Weekly

»Rothmann’s […] prose lingers plaintively on images of suffering animals and devastated buildings but avoids sentimentality about all that is damaged. And in portraying Walter with compassion, both as a vulnerable teenager and, later, as an old man who suffers in silence, Rothmann bravely insists that readers consider questions of culpability, of how ordinary Germans could be both perpetrators and victims.« Booklist

»Rothmann’s writing is spare and vivid, nearly cinematic. It is also crucial: German accounts of WWII have been relatively rare and slow in coming, especially when it comes to descriptions of their country's own suffering. Rothmann is unflinching in his accounts of both German atrocities and misery. [...]. A spectacular novel [...]. Searing, haunting, incandescent: Rothmann’s new novel is a vital addition to the trove of wartime fiction.« Kirkus Reviews

»A well accomplished novel with a different take on the second world war … To Die in Spring may turn out to be one of 2017’s literary highlights.« Adresseavisen

»Effectively [Rothmann shows] how a person is disempowered from their own actions … his novel is mesmerizing in its details … It is an attempt to dive into the history left behind by time witnesses. It is an attempt to imagine what feels necessary.« Klassekampen

»To Die in Spring is a silent story of brutality and living without purpose, but also about hope and unity.« Tønsberg blad

»One reads Ralf Rothmann’s new novel about a friendship overrun by evil with great excitement and full of admiration for the closeness to the protagonists. To Die in Spring is, without a doubt, one of the important, thrilling publications of this season and a moral challenge at the same time. One can justifiably say that To Die in Spring heralds the post-Grass era with force, especially because the patricide doesn’t, symbolically speaking, take place.« Die ZEIT

»[This novel] haunts you like Goya’s Disasters of War or the atrocities committed by the soldiers in Grimmelshausen’s SimplicissimusNZZ

»He phantasises the characters, landscapes, dialogues with hallucinatory precision, doesn’t spare the reader any detail of the brutality […], lets objects – a footstool, a coat, the hem of a dress – speak. But there’s one thing he never is: proud of the virtuosity with which he creates the illusion of his presence during the spring of 1945. […] He doesn’t comment, he narrates.« Süddeutsche Zeitung

»A sublime work on damaged lives – and on fathers and sons. ... Ralf Rothmann, an author who has been under- rather than overestimated despite his many awards, whose novels are usually set in the Ruhr area and Berlin, in the working class milieu and the world of men, chose a historically prominent subject this time, one that literature has also occupied itself with in detail – and still manages to captivate readers with it.« Spiegel Online

»With his powerful poetics, Ralf Rothmann belongs to the most important German authors, and as a narrator, he is possibly the most sensitive of his generation. He visualises thoughts, gestures and noises masterfully.« Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

»The internal necessity that drives the new book is apparent to the reader immediately. A vacuum had to be filled: with truth, with a story.« Der Spiegel

»Ralf Rothmann is one of the best living German authors. He is a terrific observer of social milieus, the hard-working people, those who got the short end of the stick, the failures.« taz

»[An] important, shocking novel […]That the realistic reconstruction of the war needs, despite all the radicalism that Rothmann is also capable of, a subversive composition is shown by the spiritual empathy Rothmann is able to convey. […] You cannot shed this novel. Rothmann’s realism is one that can’t be overcome, an inspired realism« Frankfurter Rundschau

»Those who think they have been made familiar with the horrors of war through literature and film still experience moments of shock due to Rothmann’s art of succinct, atmospheric description. […] Rothmann’s work [is] one of the most substantial of contemporary German literature.« Tagesspiegel

»A fantastically written anti-war novel that doesn't want to be art« der Freitag

»Ralf Rothmann has written a moving novel about the deep traumata of a war that still have an impact today.« Süddeutsche.de

»And so he filled the vacuum of silence that he mentions once exemplary with that which might have happened or could very well have had happened. And in that he succeeds masterfully, with great power of imagination, in his novel To Die in Spring.« Bayern 2

»As a critic, one should use superlatives cautiously, but this novel is a sensation, a literary caesura and a political event. Rothmann manages to narrate the moving drama unpretentiously. His scenes and images are so impressive that readers experience the sensation of standing on the battlefield themselves. The author always finds the appropriate words for the horror, for this life damaged by war. […] Rothmann poses the question of guilt, without moralising. […] Apart from the prizes that this powerful and smart novel will receive, one wishes the text one thing first and foremost: many readers. From all generations, in Germany and abroad, because in belligerent times like these, the sad story of Walter and Friedrich is a strong, timeless beacon against war.« SWR

»The innermost circle of hell has rarely been described with such disturbing accuracy. […] The detached radicalism with which Rothmann narrates the primal scenes of horror takes one’s breath away. In the extremely dense description, accurate in every detail, there’s no room left for a reassuring dissociation on part of the later generations […] In this masterpiece, Ralf Rothmann manages the seemingly impossible. He describes the guilt of their fathers’ generation from the viewpoint of the post-War generation without betraying it to a moralising know-it-all attitude.« Badische Zeitung

»a realism superb in language and style […] That’s where he draws the severity and the dignity of narration from, a fright, a trembling when faced with the possible stories of the war. That’s what he wrote into every cadence of the narration – to be capable of that is to be capable of a lot!« MDR.de

»The best book I read this year.« Sebastian Hammelehle, Spiegel Online

»[his] new book, in which a story commensurate to an Attic tragedy is told with archaic anger and sensual precision.« Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung

»A short novel that is profoundly moving. […] an impressive, touching book with its clear, straightforward yet empathetic language« WDR5


Other publications

Der Gott jenes Sommers/The God of That Summer (2018)

Sold to:

English world rights (Picador), Italy (Neri Pozza), Czech Republic (Argo), Croatia (Fraktura), Turkey (Yapi Kredi), Greece (Kastaniotis)

Domestic Rights Sales: German Audiobook (Hörbuch Hamburg), German Book Club rights (Büchergilde Gutenberg)

Feuer brennt nicht/Fire Doesn't Burn (2009)

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English world rights (Seagull), Arabic world rights (Kalima), Lithuania (Lithuania Writers Union Publishers)

Junges Licht/Young Light (2004)

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English world rights (Seagull), Spanish world rights (Libros Del Asteroide), Russia (Fluid), Finland (Avain), Turkey (Metis), Azerbaijan (Alatoran); previously published in the respective language / territory; rights available again: Poland (Atut)

Hitze/Heat (2003)

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Croatia (Fraktura), Macedonia (Antolog); previously published in the respective language / territory; rights available again: Russia (Ast)

Milch und Kohle/Milk and Coal (2000)

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Sweden (Thoren & Lindskog), Serbia (Clio), Turkey (Yapi Kredi); previously published in the respective language / territory; rights available again: France (Laurence Teper)

Domestic Rights Sales: German Book Club rights (Büchergilde Gutenberg), German Hardcover Sublicense (Klartext)