As Angela Merkel gears up for her third re-election later this year, observers could be forgiven for assuming that the issue which has come to dominate Germany’s image abroad will only play a minor role in the campaign.
A year and a half after the German chancellor and her Austrian counterpart opened borders to thousands of refugees in September 2015, the anti-migrant party Alternative für Deutschland has dropped in the polls to pre-crisis levels.
At last month’s regional elections in Saarland, a state that had voluntarily taken in a larger share of asylum seekers than required, the refugee issue barely registered.
But two books published this spring suggest that Germans are still hungry for answers to what exactly happened in the autumn of 2015.
Robin Alexander’s Die Getriebenen (The Driven Ones), a political non-fiction thriller which reconstructs the backroom deals and rushed decisions behind the headlines, has sold 120,000 copies in less than a month and sits atop the bestseller charts.
It is followed this Friday by Konstantin Richter’s Die Kanzlerin: Eine Fiktion (The Chancellor: A Fiction), the first novel to speculate what may have gone on in the German leader’s mind in that same period.
Even though neither book is unsympathetic to its protagonist – Alexander introduces his work as “neither a tale of sainthood nor villainy” – both propose that the refugee crisis has fundamentally changed the relationship between Germany’s chancellor and her people.
Alexander, a parliamentary correspondent for the broadsheet Die Welt, paints Merkel’s decision to keep open German borders not as the result of either rational planning nor moral righteousness, but tactical blundering and communication…
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