Journey through a Tragicomic Century

The Absurd Life of Hasso Grabner

translated by Katy Derbyshire

‘…particularly peculiar, breath-taking and worth telling.’

Alexander Solloch, NDR Kultur.

Francis Nenik’s thrilling slice of narrative non-fiction »Journey through a Tragicomic Century« is about the life of the forgotten writer Hasso Grabner, told with great joy in language and love of absurdity. The journey takes us from the Young Communists in 1920s Leipzig to wartime Crete, with Grabner falling from steelworks director to a vilified author banned from publishing his work in the GDR.

‘Truth stranger than fiction, told with lancet-like irony. Nenik follows his picaresque pragmatist across the shifting fronts of socialism and fascism, navigating the horrors of World War II with black humour recalling Catch-22 or Slaughterhouse-Five, and finding the absurdist entertainment value in East German party intrigues. The verbal pyrotechnics drive an incisive reflection on the workings of the ‘grotesque names history.’

Isabel Cole, writer and translator of Wolfgang Hilbig.

'Francis Nenik tells [...] this man’s story from his birth in 1911 to his years in the KPD, in Nazi imprisonment, in the Wehrmacht, the new beginning, via sudden twists, crashes, departures. He has found a tone that corresponds to his hero’s defiant independence.'

Süddeutsche Zeitung

'...particularly peculiar, breath-taking and worth telling.'

Alexander Solloch, NDR Kultur

'With an inclination for the apparently tangential, precise research and a generous portion of linguistic confidence, Francis Nenik pulls off the trick of distilling a kind of micro-history of the absurd 20th century itself out of the life of a wrongly forgotten man.'

Deutschlandfunk Büchermarkt

'Nenik’s biography-as-novel is one of my highlights of the year. Unpretentious, it made me laugh, shake my head, pause to think. Journey through a Tragicomic Century is absolutely worth reading and recommending!'

Sophie Weigand, Literaturen magazine

'Francis Nenik quickly draws in the reader with his writing style, interweaving short and long sentences in a pleasant rhythm – often linked with little punchlines.'


'Nenik seems not only to be a researcher as obsessive as he is gifted, with the nose of a truffle hog. He can also write. And how. In his pleasantly dimensioned 192-pager, luscious elements of Anglophone historians’ narrative talent, including first-person perspective, are wedded with the picaresque novelist’s lust for imaginative style.'

Sächsische Zeitung

'A vividly written slice of German history – which finds suitable form in this mixture of non-fiction and novel.'

MDR Kultur