The Sleep of the Righteous by Wolfgang Hilbig

The Sleep of the Righteous by Wolfgang Hilbig

“Wolfgang Hilbig is an artist of immense stature.”
— from the introduction by László Krasznahorkai, author of Seiobo There Below and Satantango



“­Evokes the luminous prose of W.G. Sebald. . . . Hilbig’s masterly work captures the angst of a man unable to escape the wreckage of his past.” — The New York Times

“Out of the ugliness of history and the wasted landscape of his home, he has created stories of disconsolate beauty.” — The Wall Street Journal

“Unusually accessible for Hilbig . . . the paralyzing duality of identity in his relationship to East and West runs through the collection.” — Times Literary Supplement

“[Hilbig writes as] Edgar Allan Poe could have written if he had been born in Communist East Germany.” — Los Angeles Review of Books

“Beautiful, dream-like stories of the pain and wonder of becoming oneself.” — Die Zeit

“Wolfgang Hilbig is on the track of the truth. Once he has found it, he is not afraid to look it straight in the face.” — Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

“Pure, masterful . . . a calmly, powerfully flowing stream of words that stops time like an endless spell of intoxication.” — Süddeutsche Zeitung


Doppelgängers, a murderer’s guilt, pulp noir, fanatical police, and impossible romances—these are the pieces from which German master Wolfgang Hilbig builds a divided nation battling its demons. Delving deep into the psyches of both East and West Germany, The Sleep of the Righteous reveals a powerful, apocalyptic, utterly personal account of the century-defining nation’s postwar struggles. In the words of 2015 International Man Booker Prize recipient László Krasznahorkai, Hilbig “described a world which is distasteful not only to the Germans but actually horrific for all of us.”

From a youth in a war-scarred industrial town to wearying labor as a factory stoker, surreal confrontations with the Stasi, and, finally, a conflicted escape to the West, Hilbig creates a cipher that is at once himself and anyone who has become ensnared in the tug-of-war between East and West. With an obsessive, impressionistic prose and an innovative approach to storytelling, Hilbig evokes the eerie, allegorical bleakness of films like Tarkovsky’s Stalker while creating an original, visionary statement on the ravages that history can wreak on the human mind.

Wolfgang Hilbig (1941–2007) was one of the major German writers to emerge in the postwar era. Though raised in East Germany, he proved so troublesome to the authorities that in 1985 he was granted permission to emigrate to the West. The author of over 20 books, he received virtually all of Germany’s major literary prizes, capped by the 2002 Georg Büchner Prize, Germany’s highest literary honor.

Isabel Fargo Cole is a U.S.-born, Berlin-based writer and translator. Her translations include Boys and Murderers by Hermann Ungar (Twisted Spoon Press, 2006), All the Roads Are Open by Annemarie Schwarzenbach (Seagull Books, 2011) and The Jew Car by Franz Fühmann (Seagull Books, 2013). The recipient of a prestigious PEN/Heim Translation Grant in 2013, she is the initiator and co-editor of, an online magazine for new German literature in English.

László Krasznahorkai is the recipient of the 2015 International Man Booker Prize. He is the author of Seiobo There Below, Satantango, The Melancholy of Resistance, and others.