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What Was Before

Martin Mosebach’s novel What Was Before opens with a young couple enjoying a moment of carefree intimacy. Then the young woman, turning slightly more serious, asks her lover that fateful question, one that sounds so innocent but carries toxic seeds of jealousy: What was your life like before you met me? The answer grows into an entire book, an elaborate house of cards, filled with intrigue, sex, betrayal, exotic birds, and far-flung locations.

Set against the backdrop of Frankfurt’s affluent suburbs, this elliptical tale of coincidence and necessity unfolds through a series of masterly constructed vignettes, which gradually come together to form a scintillating portrait of the funny, tender, and destructive guises that love between two people can assume and the effect it has on everyone around them. Hailed in Germany as the first great social novel of the twenty-first century, What Was Before is an Elective Affinities for our time.

296 pages | 5 x 8 | © 2014

The German List

Literature and Literary Criticism: British and Irish Literature

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“Extravagance and debauchery are flamboyant partners, and Mosebach’s prose is polished enough to match the occasion. What is most enjoyable about this strange book is when profundity, grace, and beauty appear in the everyday. . . . What Was Before reminds us that not only is good fiction good lying, but lying and love are inextricable partners, no matter how rich you are.”

Literary Review

“Mosebach has written a novel of detection—of investigation not just into how one relationship came to be, but into being itself. What Was Before is not a novel of ideas, let alone a Catholic novel, but behind it lies an idea, perhaps a religious one, of how spirit and flesh cleave together. Whether Mosebach arrived at this idea through Mediterranean simplicity, study of hylomorphic theory, or a belief in the Incarnation hardly matters. He has refined it into art.”

First Things

Table of Contents

Musical Introduction

The Mysterious Tenant

The Girl on the Train

Poolside Objets d’Art

A Single White Feather

Bernward and Rosemarie


The Secret of the Forest Quarter


Involuntary Excursions into Other Worlds

On the Eve of Great Things

Into the Unknown

The Power of Make-Up

The Eye of the Cockatoo

Struggle, Victory and Resolution

Little Causes—And Effects

A Wasp, a Dress

With Another’s Hands

Business Advice

Time Holds Its Breath

Mayonnaise, There’s Nothing to It

The Keys to Another World

The Services of an Old Typewriter

Two Letter and a Trip to the Cinema

The Old Goddesses

Dining Room Still Life

That’s How It’s Done

A Love Nest



A Harbinger of the Future

A Separation

Will the Patience Come Out?

Hopeful Outlook

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