Which books are considered classics and why

Classics of World Literature - 10 Must-Read Books

For many, they fill the home library as an obligatory decoration: classics of world literature - well cared for, but unread with a flawless cover. Like a noble carpet or a valuable grandfather clock, they linger on the bookshelf as an ornament, especially to give visitors the impression that an educated person lives here. But what if the book in question is picked from the shelf and questions are asked: “This work has accompanied me through my youth. Was it such a drastic reading experience for you too? "

At least now, a look at the book would have been the right choice. But don't worry. Missed things can be made up for. Even thick tomes, through which you reluctantly tormented yourself page by page during your school days, you can rediscover as an adult and above all: learn to love. In fact, there are books with that certain something that ensures that they stand the test of time and become classics. They are must-read books.

Goethe's Faust is still required reading in schools today. In fact, you probably couldn't avoid it either and you might have been bothered by the sultry language of the Weimar Classic. But if you break the story of the scholar Dr. Heinrich Faust once, the work has everything a bestseller demands: a hero with a conflict, a love story, the creative idea, namely to let the devil appear in person, and a lot of tension.

Almost 150 years later, the Nobel Prize for Literature, Thomas Mann, used the work as a template for his “Doctor Faustus”. His crucial question around 1943 is highly political and sees itself as an allusion to the devil's pact that the German people concluded with the National Socialists.

As if by the way, Gabriel García Márquez tells the story of his home country Colombia in "Love in Times of Cholera". The country shaken by civil war between 1875 and 1935, the approximate time of the novel, is only the backdrop for a seemingly larger story with which we can identify across time and country borders: that of great, true love.

A material that even Hollywood cannot ignore. The novel was adapted for the screen in 2007. If you want to feel the magic of the story, however, you should turn on your head cinema and read the original - the novel.

If a book deserves the title “big tome”, it is this one. The historical novel spans the tsarist feudal society against the background of the Russo-Napoleonic wars. Not only Tolstoy's meticulous research of the course of battle is impressive, but above all the modern interweaving of storylines of a large number of characters. Of course, a love interest should not be missing from such a monumental work. Written almost cinematically, the narrative style of this work anticipates the modern novels of the 20th century and has actually been filmed several times.

However, in order to do justice to the novel in any way, a film of normal length doesn't do it, a mini-series more. Incidentally, the cinematic narrative would be closer to the original, which was initially published serially in magazines.

The US atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 show how the war changes its face. The invention of “the bomb” drives the Cold War forward. The global political situation of the 50s and 60s inspired Friedrich Dürrenmatt to write the drama “Die Physiker”, in which two patients from a psychiatric institution pretend to be the physicists Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. A third, Johann Wilhelm Möbius, has found the so-called universal formula, which should never fall into the wrong hands. But he didn't count on Einstein and Newton, who are actually agents of rival secret services.

To protect the dangerous knowledge, the protagonists walk over corpses. The nurses have to die before the three finally agree on a pact of silence. This comes too late, however, because the actually crazy management of the institution has long since copied the documents in order to usurp world domination. As convicted murderers, physicists - and the rest of the world - have no escape.

To this day, even after the end of the Cold War, the so-called “balance of horror” has shaped the relationship between East and West. The MAD doctrine of mutually assured destruction is based on the rational point of view that none of the conflicting parties, neither the USA nor Russia, would accept the destruction of their own country in order to destroy the enemy and therefore refrain from an initial attack, provided of course that no technical defect or other error leads to the symbolic red button being pressed and that there is neither a madman in the White House nor in the Kremlin.

Does just murder exist? What a monstrous question - especially in the 19th century! But this is exactly the question posed by the impoverished law student Raskolnikov in Dostoyevsky's novel. In his precarious financial situation, he has already made a lot of money with a pawnbroker, but with little profit. Because the old woman is heartless and stingy. The perfect victim for a “lawful crime”, thinks the protagonist, who believes himself to be one of those chosen people who would keep a cool head even in the event of a murder.

So he plans to kill the old woman with an ax. But during the act he is surprised by her sister who happens to appear and in his panic kills her too. Only with luck will he initially escape arrest. From then on he was plagued by remorse that left him with no peace. Because of the pious Sofja, with whom Raskalnikov falls in love, he finally decides to surrender to atone for his sins.

The underlying themes of ethics, belief and morality oppose the zeitgeist of the emerging nihilism. However, the idea of ​​justified murder that in some situations it is okay to walk over corpses can be applied to many more situations - from the Nazi madness of euthanasia to the utilitarian nature of capitalism.

It is 1937 when Georg Heisler and six other prisoners break out of a concentration camp. The camp commandant orders the repatriation of the refugees and has seven crosses prepared. But one thing remains empty. In contrast to everyone else, Georg Heisler managed to escape.

The book, first published in English in the USA in 1942 and later in German by the Mexican exile publisher El Libro Libre, uses a sharp pen to sketch a cross-section of German society during the Third Reich. Seghers tells of the mechanical followers of those involved, the hardened opportunists, the silence of former opposition members, the high-ranking officials of the regime and those impartial but humane Germans who helped to escape. The gripping and authentic image of society puts the reader in a rollercoaster of emotions - between hope and powerlessness.

Ulrich is “the man without qualities”. Embedded in a fictional image of the outgoing k. u. k. Monarchy in a distorting mirror, affectionately ironically called "Kakanien", tells Musil the story of a man who leaves all possibilities open to himself and apparently stumbles aimlessly through the upheaval of the First World War. His novel is one of the most important literary works of the 20th century and is also of enormous importance for the author personally.

Not only the decade-long writing process, but also the autobiographical references of Musil to the hero himself, catch the eye. In addition, every reader has the chance to search and find themselves in Musil's book. A constant companion is (self-) irony, which allows new perspectives to be thrown up, but also to discard. The author himself recommends reading his book twice, "in part and as a whole."

The interest in the work “Frankenstein”, published anonymously for the first time in 1818, continues unabated. Mary Shelley tells the story of the Swiss researcher Viktor Frankenstein, who creates an artificial human being at the University of Ingolstadt - a monster that he is ultimately unable to control in a fantastic late-romantic manner.

Frankenstein's monster has a mind of its own, longs to belong and yet only brings harm. Not only Shelley's poetic, gloomy writing contributed to the decisive success of the book, which was made into a film again and again, but also her enormous empathy. For better or worse, the reader is tempted to see the world through the eyes of the monster that has been cast out by society and that is precisely why one does not want to put this book down before the last page - a classic that one must have read.

You should definitely read these two classics of ancient literature. Homer himself was as mythical as his poems - almost nothing is known about the Greek philosopher. Iliad depicts the Trojan War using 24 chants. In his second epic, Odyssey, Homer tells the adventurous journey home Odysseus after the end of the war. With themes such as love and betrayal, revenge and reconciliation, and the mythical life of the Greek gods, Homer not only delivered first-class literature, but also laid the foundation for European literary history.

George Orwell's masterpiece is one of the most important works of the 20th century. Shaped by the political situation of its time (published in 1949), 1984 tells the story of the gloomy dystopia of a surveillance state.

The story is told in three parts from the perspective of the protagonist Winston Smith. The focus of the plot is language and its simultaneous destruction. Since many Americans want to recognize parallels between George Orwell’s novel and the current situation in their country, the book is currently a bestseller again in the USA.

What makes a classic?

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As an epochal designation, the term “classical” initially refers to antiquity, especially to authors such as Aeschylus and Aristophanes. According to the word, it is first-rate literature - the classis were Roman citizens of the highest order. To this day, the ancient authors are regarded as models. Concepts for building pieces as well as archetypal materials continue to influence writers. In the broader sense, a classic is also a work that stands out from the crowd and does not lose its relevance. Classics are books that you have to read.

Over time, these works become bestsellers with each new edition. But not every bestseller has what it takes to become a classic. A book with its finger on the pulse, which brings its message to the point in an exciting and innovative way, can polarize today or inspire masses of people and yet is forgotten tomorrow. Not every bestseller goes down in the collective memory. But works of global importance gather on the shelves of world literature. Goethe was the first to use the term "world literature" in 1827, meaning that which was written "out of a supranational, cosmopolitan spirit."

Whether a work is enough to become a classic depends not least on whether the subject (still today) shakes the innermost foundations of a person. But even works that seem historical, not too seldom force an inevitable reference to current events and thus become books that you have to read.