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The biggest literary trends of 2021

What have been the running themes of 2021 in literature?

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2021 saw a number of language books set in Berlin. Photo: IMAGO / imagebroker


Could Anglo literature’s minimalism finally soon be over? Perhaps one source of influence towards literary ambition and formal innovation is the growing interest in translated literature – particularly from Central and Eastern Europe. The re-release of Romanian maestro Mircea Cărtărescu’s Nostalgia was accompanied by new translations from fellow maximalists László Krasznahorkai (Hungary), Maria Stepanova (Russia) and Wolfgang Hilbig (Saxony); Polish Nobel Winner Olga Tokarczuk’s much-hyped masterwork The Books of Jacob is out this winter. One sleeper pick is Czech author Daniela Hodrová’s magical-realist Prague trilogy City of Torment, but be warned: it’s seriously highbrow.


A fine crop of English-language Berlin books has underlined the local literary scene’s diversity, in all its senses. The UK contingent included Musa Okwonga’s impressionistic expat novel In The End It Was All About Love and Victoria Gosling’s English manor-mystery tale Before The Ruins; meanwhile, Paul Scraton took to Europe’s forests with In The Pines. Irishman Adrian Duncan’s short stories in Midfield Dynamo roamed the whole world, while two talented New Zealanders – Hinemoana Baker and Alice Miller – produced stellar poetry collections in vastly different styles. Translations from Syrian-Palestinian Berliner Ramy Al-Asheq’s Ever Since I Did Not Die and German literary critic Ijoma Mangold’s The German Crocodile rounded off a remarkable year. Stay tuned for more in 2022!


Penguin Random House’s attempts to gobble up Simon & Schuster may have run aground, but there’s no doubt the consolidation of major publishing houses in the US and UK – coupled with the rise and rise of Amazon – rings alarm bells for the health of anglophone writing worldwide. Thankfully, a number of fabulous indie publishers continue to showcase their worth by expanding what’s available beyond the safe market bets and big names. Berlin readers can be particularly grateful to Fitzcarraldo, NYRB, New Directions, Seagull and locals V&Q for delivering the goods in 2021 – long may they do so in the future.