German Writer Juli Zeh’s Novel “Empty Hearts” (Leere Herzen)


    Full Hands. Empty Hearts. It´s a Suicide World

    Juli Zeh’s latest novel “Leere Herzen” (Empty Hearts) is a political and psychological SF narrative with highly topical themes.

    Set in 2022, it takes place in an era after Trump, Brexit, Frexit, a global financial crisis, armed conflict, mass migration and the triumph of an ultrapopulist movement in Germany.

    While Germany’s new government is busy dismantling democracy, protagonist Britta and her peers have given up the vision of a better future and decided to optimise their personal lives and careers.

    Taking the pragmatic approach of paying as little attention as possible to the world, Britta focuses on managing her immaculate home and successful business with maximum efficiency. As far as the outside world is concerned, she runs a walk-in clinic for suicide prevention, but the reality is somewhat different.

    Linking supply with demand, ‘The Bridge’ connects people committed to ending their lives with terrorist organisations seeking candidates for suicide bombing missions. A computer programme designed by Babak, Britta’s sole employee, data-mines to locate potential candidates for the programme, and Britta then subjects them to a series of rigorous tests to assess the strength of their suicidal tendencies. Many fail the tests and return to their lives with new enthusiasm; the remainder are given the opportunity to die a useful death.

    Britta acts as the broker, selling candidates to whichever extremist organisations express an interest. The efficiency of the arrangement suits everyone and even the authorities refrain from intervening. Britta’s company has stabilised the sector and decreased the casualty rate.

    Terrorism almost never takes place without Britta’s services – which is why news of a thwarted suicide attack in Leipzig comes as a shock. When The Bridge’s candidate database is stolen, Britta and Babak go into hiding with their newest suicide recruit, a young woman called Julietta. Afraid for the first time, Britta loses control of herself and the situation, until a confrontation with Julietta – with whom she has developed a bond – causes her to reassess her priorities.

    In “Empty Hearts“, as in her previous fiction, Zeh examines ‘big’ themes and weaves them into a pacey narrative with plenty of psychological drama, suspense and black humour.

    The ‘Empty Hearts’ of the title refers to a terrorist organisation and a pop song about suicide, but also to a generation disillusioned by the apparent defeat of old ideals. Zeh’s appealing narrative style is full of metaphor and imaginative language and makes effective use of irony. Zeh blends a suspenseful plot with an exploration of morality and politics, finding new ways to examine the age-old question of whether political violence is ever justified.

    Empty Hearts” is a provocative, gripping and red-hot political SF thriller set in Germany in the near future. And it is also a disturbing psycho thriller about a generation that is empty at heart and without belief and convictions.

    In “Empty Hearts“, as in her previous fiction, Juli Zeh examines ‘big’ themes and weaves them into a pacey narrative with plenty of psychological drama, suspense and black humour.”

    The Tech Dystopia

    “German literature, once notorious for digging through the past in search of answers to the 20th century’s unanswerables, is becoming increasingly fixated on the future.

    Juli Zeh’s 2016 novel “Unterleuten” (Among-people) demonstrated her talent for turning social debates into bestsellers, and she has been described by Deutschlandradio as the rightful heir to Günther Grass and Heinrich Böll.

    Her latest book is “Leere Herzen” (Empty Hearts). In the year 2025, Angela Merkel has resigned in the face of the rise of a so-called “Concerned Citizens Movement”. The UN is about to be dissolved, Frexit is in the air and Continuity Occupy and Bavarian separatists are planning terrorist attacks.

    But psychotherapist Britta Söldner and her colleague Babak Hamwi find that even suicide bombings can be monetised: their agency The Bridge uses a powerful algorithm to scrape wannabe jihadis from social media networks and match them with fundamentalist organisations. “As the republic’s first and only terror service provider, The Bridge has pacified and stabilised its trade,” Britta reports proudly. “They provide the necessary level of threat that every society needs.”

    Leading highbrow weekly Die Zeit has described “Empty Hearts” as the German equivalent of Michel Houellebecq’s dystopian fantasy “Submission“. Its success seems to suggest that in the country whose handling of the 2015 refugee crisis divided its population and much of the rest of the world, fears about modern technology loom just as large”. – Philip Oltermann

    Juli Zeh (born 30 June 1974 in Bonn) is one of the best actual German writers.

    Her first book was “Adler und Engel“, 2001 (translated into English as “Eagles and Angels” by Christine Slenczka), which won the 2002 Deutscher Bücherpreis for best debut novel.

    She traveled through Bosnia-Herzegovina in 2001, which became the basis for the book “Die Stille ist ein Geräusch“, 2002 (Even Silence Is a Sound).

    Her other books are “Das Land der Menschen, Schilf“, 2007 (translated into English as “Dark Matter” by Christine Lo), “Alles auf dem Rasen“, 2006 (The Full Monty), “Kleines Konversationslexikon für Haushunde“, 2005 (The Little Encyclopedia for Household Dogs), “Spieltrieb” (2004, Gaming Instinct), “Ein Hund läuft durch die Republik“, 2004 (A Dog Runs through the Republic) and “Corpus Delicti“, 2009 (translated into English as “The Method” by Sally-Ann Spencer), “Das Land der Menschen“, 2008 (The Land of People), “Nullzeit” (2012, Decompression), “Unter Leuten“, 2016 (Under People).


    “The Method” (German: Corpus Delicti: Ein Prozess) is a 2009 SF novel by the German writer Juli Zeh.

    The story is set in a future “health dictatorship”, where laws have been written to optimize the citizens’ health. The novel was developed from Zeh’s 2007 play with the same title. Reviews in major German newspapers complimented Zeh’s focus points and narrative structure, and compared the book to works by authors such as Ray Bradbury and Friedrich Dürrenmatt.



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