When a family vacation turns into a nightmare
Lanzarote on New Year’s Day: Henning is cycling up the steep path to Femés. As he struggles against the wind and the gradient he takes stock of his life. He has a job, a wife, two children—yet hardly recognizes himself anymore. Panic attacks have been pouncing on him like demons. When he finally reaches the pass in utter exhaustion, a mysterious coincidence unveils a repressed yet vivid memory, plunging him back into childhood and the traumatic event that almost cost him and his sister their lives. In this compelling and darkly psychological novel, Juli Zeh tells the breathtaking story of two small children who, in the middle of a holiday in paradise, end up in hell and live to tell the tale.
Juli Zeh studied law in Passau and Leipzig, and holds a doctorate in international law from the University of Saarbrücken. She is one of Germany’s most successful authors … Read more
Book Club Questions
- Did you enjoy New Year? Why?
- Did you connect particularly strongly with either the adults’ or the children’s story?
- In what ways is the main character’s childhood reflected in his present life?
- What is the role of fantasy in Henning’s life? Is it different from the role it plays in Theresa’s life?
- What is the monster?
- Was the monster fantasy just a facade for the underlying fear that his mother had abandoned him to pursue her own pleasure?
- What do the painted stones mean?
- Does Theresa have an escape, like Henning has his cycling?
- Is Theresa and Henning’s marriage a relatively happy one?
- Were any of their conversations recognizable?
- What is the role of (fabricated, suppressed, …) memory in the way characters organize their lives?
- Does Henning’s knowledge of what really happened when they were kids cause him to treat his sister differently? Or was it just the final drop, or a catalyst?
- What will Luna do now?
- What does Luna mean to Theresa? Does she represent a threat on any level?
- What did Juli Zeh capture about modern life in New Year?
Author Reading in German
Praise for Juli Zeh
“Zeh challenges readers to consider how complicit we are in our current political dilemmas.”
Los Angeles Times
Praise for New Year
“In this wrenching psychological portrait from Zeh, a character’s buried traumatic past distorts his memory and loosens his grip on reality…The tale’s startling climax, which reveals the roots of Henning’s neuroses and the unreliability of his perspective, is perfectly executed, with the author adopting a child’s-eye view of past events that is colored by nostalgia and terrifying vulnerability. Zeh’s novel skillfully asks how a person can come to terms with a painful past that has been intentionally misremembered for the purpose of sustaining one’s mental health. Readers, though, will have no trouble remembering this.”
Publishers Weekly, *starred review*
“This spine-tingler captures the peak of what appears to be a spectacularly hallucinatory middle-aged crisis.”
Kirkus Reviews, *starred review*
“The eeriness of the landscapes’ familiarity and the trauma of what nearly killed Henning and his sister highlight how difficult it can be to integrate past pain into adult existence. It’s a tale of psychological dread that nonetheless retains visceral unease, and a terrific read for a winter’s day when you feel completely safe and warm at home.”
“Read New Year to have your heart moved, but also to see a virtuoso writer at work.”
European Literature Network
“A character piece and social critique wrapped in a psychological thriller, the intelligent and absorbing New Year is as much of a journey for the reader as for Henning, and the tension doesn’t slacken until the last page.”
“Zeh’s suspense writing is masterful. … In New Year, she spins a tale of the uncanny, as Henning encounters items from his childhood in this far-flung vacation destination, items that unlock a repressed childhood trauma. … Her straightforward style leaves few obstacles for the reader, and Price’s translation is crisp. This no-nonsense style lends itself well to fast-paced reading, keeping us in the tension that makes this book a page-turner.”
World Literature Today
“New Year is structured like Henning’s bike ride: the journey to the top that maps out Henning’s present and recent past; and the exhilarating ride down again, as we discover just why Henning is the way he is.”
David’s Book World
“Because both the thriller and the analysis of society are here intertwined so densely, New Year is perhaps Juli Zeh’s best book to date.”
“New Year is an impressively original book whose elegant construction testifies to Zeh’s writerly prowess.”
New Books in German
“Past experience is part of us, like a code in computer software―Zeh, in her usual straightforward way, has condensed this to make a compact novel.”
“A thrilling, cinematic story.”
“With New Year, Juli Zeh has succeeded in writing a lost-memory thriller and at the same time an accurate psychogram of today’s overwhelmed fathers.”
“With New Year, Juli Zeh shows that good entertainment can indeed be easily coupled with depth and literary quality. This psycho-thriller is thus well on its way to becoming a bestseller.”
SRF 2 Kultur
“A compact, highly concentrated story with gripping dynamics and a superb ‘aha’ effect.”
“Juli Zeh has written not only an enthralling psychogram of a man, but also quite nearly a classical tragedy.”
Praise for Eagles and Angels
“Folding the story of Max’s tortured love for both women into a larger chronicle of European drug smuggling and related war crimes, Zeh weaves a nightmarishly effective tale of personal and societal collapse.”
“Zeh’s style is always enjoyable. She writes brittle little sentences, trying to shock and often succeeding. Her characters are vivacious and thrilling; she tussles with big themes, and is fuelled by an admirable fury … what shines through is Zeh’s exhilarating ambition, as she dares to plunge deep into the dark heart of Europe and expose its core.”
Praise for Empty Hearts
“Empty Hearts has the veneer of a thriller but it’s more accurate to call it a chiller: chilling in the accuracy of its satire and chilling in its diagnosis of our modern malaise.”
New York Times
“Darkly entertaining … A thoughtful political thriller with a provocative sense of humor.”
Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Will keep readers turning the pages … Zeh makes it easy to suspend disbelief in this cold-blooded and macabre future.”
“Empty Hearts explores interesting ideas about the price of failure to act against tyranny and the moral complicity of people who capitalize on a bad situation, or do nothing in the hopes that it will all go away.”
Los Angeles Times
“2019 has seen a string of novelists exploring the destabilized Western political psyche, but Empty Hearts strikes me as one of the strongest so far. It asks, what if the current political climate led not to catastrophe, but to stagnation? Its answer comes in the form of both a riveting thriller and a nuanced piece of social science fiction—predictive and precautionary … Brilliantly executed—one of the stand-outs of the year.”
“A gripping, character-driven thriller that’s rooted in insightful political commentary—perfect for beach reading and book groups.”
Praise for Dark Matter
“A thrilling read as well as a terrific mental workout.”
“A clever and truly entertaining read.”
“Zeh constructs an impressive matrix of information for each of her key players and provides descriptions that are vivid and original … Her often unexpected imagery is precise and pithy—this philosophical thriller is well paced; one turns the pages impatient for the denouement.”
Times Literary Supplement
“Juli Zeh’s new novel Dark Matter combines crime novel, love story, and physical speculation.”
“A compelling novel, thrilling yet profound … This book makes for a wonderful read, gripping until the last page. A masterpiece!”
Financial Times Deutschland
Praise for Decompression
“Zeh’s award-winning thriller climaxes with a scene of splendid drama.”
“Deftly translated by John Cullen, Zeh plays with our expectations throughout … Like The Method, this is a story about obsession—this time with status, looks, and celebrity culture.”
“Erotic intrigue, deep-sea diving and clients from hell make for a lively mix—the gathering suspense is complemented by nuanced characterization in a pleasingly unpredictable work.”
“A mesmerizing and disturbing psychological thriller … Zeh’s talent pulls this morally murky tale up from the depths and toward a redeeming light.”
Wall Street Journal
“A deft thriller.”
“Gripping … Zeh is exceptional at building tension, and her use of shifting viewpoints keeps the reader guessing to the end. A darkly comic thriller that is impossible to put down.”
“A tale that unfolds at a high level of psychological excitement.”
“A nightmarish, furious, cold thriller … Juli Zeh is at her literary best when she’s describing underwater silence, when she’s describing situations in which isolation is total and the world as it exists above water is bidden farewell. This is phenomenal.”
Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung
“Juli Zeh’s love-triangle drama easily bears comparison with the work of Patricia Highsmith, doyenne of the conspicuously amoral.”
Praise for The Method
“This is a brilliant, disturbing and wildly imaginative picture of the nanny state run mad; how far should the State be allowed to poke its nose into a citizen’s business?”
“Zeh seems to have won every European literary prize going … Three years since its first publication in German (it is translated here with tremendous gusto by Sally-Ann Spencer), Zeh’s novel is even more relevant to our over-structured, over-quantified times.”
“An impressively plausible account of a conformist society disguised as a utopia.”
“In Sally-Ann Spencer’s superb translation from the German, Juli Zeh’s novel gives form to a dystopia that remains hauntingly recognizable.”
Times Literary Supplement
“Thoughtful and intelligent—Zeh’s main character Mia is an intellectual heroine as much as a physical rebel.”
Praise for In Free Fall
“Erudite digressions and vivid characters—such as a detective with a trusting nature who learns always ‘to assume the opposite of what she was thinking’—combine with a devastating 11th-hour reveal to make a memorable intellectual thriller.”
“An elegant quasi-thriller about physics, murder, and the solving of murders … This is one of the best books of the year. Zeh has enough control to keep the murder from being lurid and the physics from being dull. Her prose is sharp and often witty, and the excellent translation means every moment shines brightly.”
New York Observer
“A highly cinematic thriller … Zeh’s smart novel will appeal to a wide range of readers.”
“Add a hospital scandal and two of the quirkiest detectives in fiction, mix with Juli Zeh’s thrumming, moody prose, and you have one of the finest crime novels you’ll read.”
“It is such a delight to watch Juli Zeh play her entire repertoire of literary skill … challenging the conventions of the classical detective story with subtle irony.”
“A masterfully constructed story of an intense friendship between two physicists, a marriage, a kidnapping, and a murder, In Free Fall plunges the reader into a hyper-reality that is as seductive as it is disturbing.”
The Boston Globe
“Give me a crime novel of ideas, where two physics professors, friends, and rivals, opposites but startlingly similar, do emotional battle on an intellectual canvas, raise the stakes through betrayal, the possible kidnapping of a child, and embroil a romantic-leaning police detective in the complicated machinations of quantum theory, and holy hell, I think I have myself one of my favorite books of the year.”
Los Angeles Times
“The most intellectually satisfying thriller you’ll read this summer … Slyly intelligent and enigmatic … The brainiac’s beach read.”
The Daily Beast
“In Free Fall is very clever … and often astounding … A wonderful exhibition of bravura novel writing.”
Curled Up With A Good Book
“A novel from Juli Zeh’s pen is always an adventure, because each of them opens up an entirely new world … This is Juli Zeh’s unique talent: her sharp intellect absorbs the most complex issues, including elementary particles, to then put them into words with such playful precision it makes you swoon … In Free Fall takes the bird’s-eye view, unorthodox, nerve-racking, simply unforgettable—like Hitchcock’s masterpiece.”
“In Free Fall is the virtuosic presentation of an amazing narration. Juli Zeh steers through with confidence and ease.”
Welt am Sonntag
“A gripping, high-toned philosophical thriller … Readers who can surrender to Zeh’s radical rewriting of the rules of detective fiction and the physical universe will find it revelatory.”
Why You Should Read This Book
“Writing, to me, is a highly intuitive process. It has always been my belief and my experience that literature has this mysterious way of writing itself. New Year is a story about helplessness, hopelessness, and guilt. Writing it was like watching a horror movie. I kept seeing my own children in it, who, as I was writing, were the exact same age as the children in the story. And from my own childhood I also recognized that fatal feeling of responsibility for a younger sibling when the parents are absent. Never before has one of my texts grabbed me this way, telling me: ‘Sit down and write me as fast as you can.’ And that’s what I did.”
JULI ZEH, the author
“Like its island setting, this book is a dormant volcano. The moment I finished translating, I wondered whether it had even existed. Interpreting the toddler talk, the rueful repetitions, and the eerie echoes in this deceptively clear narrative was a thrilling process that revealed more mysterious depths with each pass. I’m excited for new readers to meet Henning and Luna.”
ALTA L. PRICE, the translator
“Juli Zeh can do it all—write a highly suspenseful story with the depth of a classical tragedy, that appeals to readers of thrillers as well as of psychological novels. In New Year she describes a traumatic childhood event during a holiday that gets out of hand in nail-bitingly evocative scenes that cause you to hold your breath until the very end. Zeh is one of Germany’s best and most successful authors, and I am very happy and proud to be allowed to bring this exciting novel to English-language readers.”
JUDITH UYTERLINDE, the publisher