Critical Context

(Literary Essentials: World Fiction)

Devotion is Botho Strauss’s most successful and accessible narrative. Together with his drama Trilogie des Wiedersehens (1976; trilogy of reunion), Devotion marks the turning point in his writing career. Strauss’s earlier plays, Die Hypochonder (1971; the hypochondriacs) and Bekannte Gesichter, gemischte Gefuhle (1974; familiar faces, mixed feelings), and the two stories published under the title Marlenes Schwester (1975; Marlene’s sister) were too esoteric and complex to reach a wide audience. Strauss’s later works, however, reflect the emotional reality of a politically quiescent Germany in the later 1970’s and the 1980’s with a precision unmatched by any other German writer. With the dramas Gross und Klein (1978; big and little), Kalldewey, Farce (1981), Der Park (1983; the park), and Die Fremdenfuhrerin (1986; The Tourist Guide, 1987), Strauss has become the most performed contemporary dramatist on the German stage. The short prose collected in Paare, Passanten (1981; couples, passersby) further develops Strauss’s acerbic observations of people groping to find love and meaning in a nervously satiated society. The first of his two longer novels, Rumor (1980), deals with the disintegration of a father involved in an incestuous relationship with his daughter. The second, Der junge Mann (1984; the young man), is a loose series of realistic, parodic, allegorical, and imaginary narratives centered on the fifteen-year career of a young theatrical director.

Devotion contains in nuce many of Strauss’s main themes and motifs: melancholy self-observation, political resignation, impossibility of love, escape into literature, and longing for depth and meaning in one’s life. Despite the thematic bleakness, Strauss’s macabre humor, self-assured style, and meticulous attention to detail make this short novel one of the more interesting and appealing works of modern German literature.