Sibylle Berg


All Books

The Man Sleeps

Love is the capacity to stand each other.

A woman of a certain age finds a man while she‘s not looking for one. She finds in him everything she‘d never considered to be a part of love before - family, a companion who will stand with her against the world. Great love is a lot less anxious and stressful than what most people have come to expect from lms and books. It is quiet and warm, it‘s cheerful, doesn‘t ask any questions, and it knows no insecurities. Then, on a holiday together that both were reluctant to go on, that thing happens which most people fear the most: the partner vanishes. From one moment to the next, the man, who was the whole world to her, is gone.

The pair had just now been holding each other, breathing together, looking at each other, knowing that they would never lose one another, and then this happens - and it‘s a kind of death for the one left behind. On an island o Hong Kong, the woman goes through all the stages of loss: the inability to accept, the angry search, the despair, the rage, and the utter helplessness. The Man Sleeps is a musical score rendered as literature. Warmth and devotion, loss and despair, is rendered as a melody that leaves readers shattered and speechless before being ung back into their own lives. After the book was published, many readers wrote to the author of how the book had suddenly made them reassess their own love. It caused marriages, but also break-ups, for after reading the novel, people were left with a great sense of yearning - for their own partner, or a new one.

"An appeal for more stoicism in love and less avarice in life, dressed in gently melancholic, moderately malicious images."

Kristina Maidt-Zinke, Die Zeit

"More than just the story of two people searching for happiness - and actually finding it. Sibylle Berg finds new, quieter tones."

Kolja Mensing, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung


Die Zeit, 2010

In Sibylle Berg’s novel, Man, Asleep (Der Mann schläft) she cloaks her yearning for beauty and goodness, kindness and humanity in soft, melancholic, moderately malicious images. The heroine, a nondescript middle-aged woman who earns her living by writing instruction manuals, recognizes, in retrospect, that she has found something precious and lost it again - a special, even odd kind of love. In other words, not "what the French films have shown us, desire, endless nocturnal conversations about feelings, hoping to reawaken passion, sex under rain-drenched street lamps, lots and lots of suffering, and, in the end, silently sitting in a French kitchen. This is not what went missing here, rather it was a love "that was calm and quiet, that was friendly and exuded a certain sweetness.”

The story begins in a vaguely Swiss region, where the world hasn’t yet been destroyed or gone dark, though it is grey, damp and washed out. In any case, as the first chapter title reveals, it was "in the winter back then. Four months ago". And yet, according to the narrator, all was well with the world, because: "Every morning I stood in front of the door and was happy I had survived the night; that all the houses were still where they belonged; and the man lay in bed.”

This slight, modest happiness does not last for long. The story moves back and forth on a fictional timeline between "Back then”. Four years ago," and the changing times of the day—of a certain "today"—through to the "now ', in which the narrator is standing on the dock of a Chinese vacation island, feeling like a " a clump of organic tissue," a toxic orange sunset before her eyes and her brain bathed in French white wine, which helps her to "forget the incredible boredom that comes with trying to get her life in order."

The cause of her misery, "The man”, suddenly disappeared after about three and a half years of living together. During a vacation on the above-mentioned island he does not return from fetching a newspaper. The desperate woman tries to figure out what has happened. She describes the man, explains the nature of their relationship. And since this figure has been created by Berg, she also observes the world and offers a running commentary on it. She reports her encounters with strange and sad individuals, with suicide victims and dysfunctional characters in Europe and China. In each case, "The people had their moments of sweetness, which did not conceal the fact that most of them were overwhelmingly simple-minded and malicious."

An exception was "the man". He was not handsome, not rich, not particularly charming and not a great speaker, but he was devoted to the woman with a wonderful stoic consistency, and he made little noises while he slept, "which were nicer than all the others before him, because the person making them was somebody I liked, and to make noises he had to be alive, to build a tent for me in the night."

Yet, the woman rebelled against the feelings of security he provided; in the first weeks they were together she threw a night lamp at the man, and in the final hours before he disappeared drove him crazy with her bad mood. But in between, before she had the "unfortunate idea" of taking a long journey, her affection was "like a friendly river that occasionally overflowed." The portrayal of that time is full of poetic and bizarre Berg-aperçus that take the clichéd topic of "love" and cast it in a new and oblique light.

Whether the end is good or bad is left for the reader to decide. When some white wine prevents the abandoned protagonist from plunging into the South China Sea, she has a delicate hallucination, which might be seen as a glimmer of hope. In any case, this is the "sweetest" novel Sibylle Berg has written so far – but it still beautifully and powerfully proves her reputation as being the last free radical of contemporary German literature.

Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 2009

This book could be a small masterpiece according to critic Kolja Mensing. Indeed, it is deeply impressive in terms of the tension between the almost cynical, drily evocative language of the first person narrator and the unfulfilled longing for something that she does not believe in, that she found and then lost – namely, love. While certain passages of Sybille Berg’s novel read like a light romantic novel, ultimately, says Lesing, Berg was never so dark and unreconciled as in this book where she depicts “life’s humiliations.”