While We Were Dreaming

Clemens Meyer

Translated by Katy Derbyshire

Published 30 March 2023 (UK) | 19 September 2024 (US) | French paperback with flaps, 528 pages
Longlisted for the 2023 International Booker Prize

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Rico, Mark, Paul and Daniel were 13 when the Berlin Wall fell in autumn 1989. Growing up in Leipzig at the time of reunification, they dream of a better life somewhere beyond the brewery quarter. Every night they roam the streets, partying, rioting, running away from their fears, their parents and the future, fighting to exist, killing time. They drink, steal cars, feel wrecked, play it cool, longing for real love and true freedom. Startlingly raw and deeply moving, While We Were Dreaming is the extraordinary debut novel by one of Germany’s most ambitious writers, full of passion, hope and despair.

Financial Times Books of the Year 2023 

‘The cumulative power of [the] well-constructed, pitiless and unflinching dispatches from the underbelly of society is remarkable…. Historical events often pass unnoticed by those living through them, unaware even of how much their lives have been changed. It is Meyer’s achievement to capture the profound effects those events had on the lives of those at the bottom of German society.’
—  David Mills, Sunday Times

‘The narrative nips back and forth between the group on the cusp of adolescence, and when they are in and out of prison and rehab, or worse. What some of them were like as children is cleverly saved for much later, once we know who they become…. While We Were Dreaming, which was longlisted for the International Booker Prize, has the strengths of a good first novel: a vivid sense of place and detail; a focus on voice, rendered wonderfully in Katy Derbyshire’s translation.’
— Jonathan McAloon, Financial Times

‘Katy Derbyshire’s virtuoso performance does justice to every nuance and colloquialism of Meyer’s precipitous and stylish vortex of a novel.’
Maren Meinhardt, Times Literary Statement

‘A book like a fist … German literature has not seen such a debut for a long time, a book full of rage, sadness, pathos and superstition.’
—  Felicitas von Lovenberg, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

‘[Meyer’s] stripped-back prose is suffused with meaning.’
— The Arts Desk

‘[Meyer] is one of the strongest German writers.’
— Heinrich Oemsen, Hamburger Abendblatt

‘Clemens Meyer’s great art of describing people takes the form of the Russian doll principle: a story within a story within a story…. So much is so artfully interwoven that his work breaks the mould of the closed narrative.’
— Katharina Teutsch, Die Zeit

‘The novel’s treatment of class, masculinity and violence is memorable; yet it is the slangy, adrenal language – brilliantly rendered into English by Katy Derbyshire – that impresses most.’
— Alexander Wells, ExBerliner

‘Meyer’s … coming-of-age novel offers a fully empathetic, yet painful, portrait of rebellious youth during the fall of the Berlin Wall…. Flashes from history extend towards and across to us in our 21st-century Anglophone setting, including universal moments of unbridled joy alongside the painful nostalgia of teenage bravura. Most powerful is Meyer’s ability to force readers to reflect on the momentous in their own banal surroundings, the last bastions of hope and naivety palpable amidst the devastation.’
Gwendoline Choi, Oxonian Review

‘This is, in the end, a nuanced and supersensitive translation of a soul-pummeling novel.’
Jonah Howell, The Rumpus

Praise for Bricks and Mortar

‘Meyer’s multifaceted prose, studded with allusions to both high and popular culture, and superbly translated by Katy Derbyshire, is musical and often lyrical, elevating lowbrow punning and porn-speak into literary devices … [Bricks and Mortar] is admirably ambitious and in many places brilliant – a book that not only adapts an arsenal of modernist techniques for the twenty-first century but, more importantly, reveals their enduring poetic potential.’
Anna Katharina Schaffner, Times Literary Supplement

‘[Bricks and Mortar is a] stylistic tour de force about the sex trade in Germany from just before the demise of the old GDR to the present, as told through a chorus of voices and lucidly mangled musings. The result is a gripping narrative best described as organic.’
Eileen Battersby, Irish Times

Clemens Meyer was born in 1977 in Halle and lives in Leipzig. Bricks and Mortar, his first novel to be published in English by Fitzcarraldo Editions, was shortlisted for the German Book Prize, awarded the Bremer Literaturpreis 2014, longlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize, and shortlisted for the 2019 Best Translated Book Awards. His collection of stories, Dark Satellites, appeared with Fitzcarraldo Editions in Katy Derbyshire’s translation in 2020. While We Were Dreaming, Meyer’s debut novel, was originally published in Germany in 2007.

Katy Derbyshire, originally from London, has lived in Berlin for over twenty-five years. She translates contemporary German writers including Inka Parei, Heike Geissler, Olga Grjasnowa, Annett Gröschner and Christa Wolf. Her translation of Clemens Meyer’s Bricks and Mortar was the winner of the 2018 Straelener Übersetzerpreis (Straelen Prize for Translation). She occasionally teaches translation and also co-hosts a monthly translation lab and the bi-monthly Dead Ladies Show. Katy Derbyshire’s translation journal for While We Were Dreaming is published online at toledo-programm.de.