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Empty Hearts

3.56  ·  Rating details ·  2,791 ratings  ·  253 reviews
A prescient political and psychological thriller ripped from tomorrow's headlines, by one of Germany's most celebrated contemporary novelists

A few short years from now, the world is an even more uncertain place than it is today, and politics everywhere is marching rightward: Trump is gone, but Brexit is complete, as is Frexit; there's a global financial crisis, armed confl
Audiobook, Unabridged, 10 pages
Published August 20th 2019 by Random House Audio (first published November 13th 2017)
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Average rating 3.56  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,791 ratings  ·  253 reviews

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Jessica Woodbury
We are still in the very early days of post-Obama fiction in the US, but this isn't just an American Fiction situation. All over the world we're seeing a push to fascism and the chaos of the European Union/Brexit is something we often forget about. I haven't seen anything quite like what Juli Zeh is doing yet and I would very much like to see more. Zeh gives us a near-future of a domineering but democratically elected German regime that has the country both comforted and unsettled. As a reader i ...more
What makes Empty Hearts so intriguing to me is that it talks about an upcoming soon-to-be-seen future for what our society may amount to. Donald Trump's presidency is over, and Brexit has been completed, but now, we have France leaving the European Union (as the book describes, Frexit). The global economy is widely uncertain—where those who are wealthy, keep getting richer, but the middle class's economic stability is basically in shambles. Germany is in a political nightmare—with violence c ...more
Emily Skidmore
I think I need time to think about this book. Not sure what I was meant to get out of it and I only finished it because I’ll be discussing it with book club.

The protagonist was incredibly unlikeable. I didn’t understand her motives and the story didn’t really get interesting until about 60% in. As I finished the book, I felt as if there was something I was meant to be taking away but it really wasn’t clear....

Overall an unsatisfying read. Maybe I’ll feel different once I discuss with book club
4.5 stars rounded down.
This science fiction novel is considered dystopian but, alas, I'm not familiar enough with modern-day German society to grasp what is futuristic about the story. Still, it is a thoroughly engaging read.
Dec 24, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The book is a political thriller set in the not-too distant future in Germany. The author certainly knows her craft and the book was an enjoyable and easy read for me. However, the characters remained too one-dimensional in my view and all in all I found the writing lacking in subtlety despite the somewhat surprising ending.
Whoa, this one is dark.
Jul 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a really good book. Go out and read it
Aimee Dars

In 2025, the United States and Russia have formed an alliance making most terrorist groups impotent. France, along with Britain, has left the European Union. Nationalist, anti-immigration political parties have control of countries across the globe as many citizens have moved from despair to apathy.

Britta comforts herself by knowing she’s doing her part—providing a necessary service. She and her colleague Babak run The Bridge, a non-traditional anti-suicide service that uses Lassie, a sophistica
Aug 29, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5ish: An interesting and provocative premise that kept me engaged but failed to go deep enough
Jan 07, 2022 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: german, 2022
It's interesting to revisit Zeh again over 10 years after I first encountered her work. Back in high school, I found her pop-nihilism incredibly appealing - being sixteen and reading that nothing in the world means anything just goes together a bit too well. My rating of this particular work might be more of a reflection of my own changing beliefs than of its literary qualities: her writing still has that highly precise lyricism that cuts to your bone, half flippant nonchalance, half deeply obse ...more
May 31, 2020 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2020
Political thriller meets near-future dystopia in an original, unsettling tale that takes the current disillusionment and political fatigue evident in many places around the world and dials them up to arrive at a chilling vision of where things might lead. An intriguing read, it would have benefitted from more fleshed out characters and deeper exploration of the world it describes.
Jan 30, 2022 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Love it! Juli Zeh just never disappoints
Mar 01, 2021 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
A sorry attempt at political commentary
Apr 25, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: contemporary, german, 2018
(part of my contemporary german-reading program) disappointing on several levels - as a much too simplistic and uninteresting „political dystopia“ of a germany in 2025, in its uninspired writing quality, the schematic one-dimensional characters and its somewhat naive thriller-quality.
Nov 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant and haunting. I especially loved the passages about the death of democracy.
Sep 07, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
It took me a bit to get into this one. I liked the premise from the start, and found some commonality with the detached way Britta (claims to?) view the world--the need to continue on as if everything's fine, the slow but ever-increasing slide into fascism and authoritarianism, all the while tension you can't allow yourself to acknowledge building up within your body with nowhere else to go.

I felt the book moved slowly in the first half; that might be simply because knowing the premise--what Bri
Mar 10, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-fiction
This took a while to grow on me but by the end I was pretty into it! I normally don't read books quite like this. When I read the starred review, I thought it sounded interesting, a near future European book about political radicalism, but then I again, I also sometimes skim the reviews of books I ::want:: to read because I don't want to exactly know the whole premise!

So this is a near future novel (speculative fiction? not really?) written in Germany that was translated into English. It deals w
Oct 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: thriller, fiction
Been slacking on updates lately--and this is one I read 2 months ago--but still vividly recall the most. Set a few years into the future of today--one that has gotten even worse, with a tumultuous Brexit, a Frexit, and a world that's descended into spiteful nationalism, Britta seems to have it all in Germany. The doting husband, the adorable toddler, good friends, and a job doing what she loves, working at a suicide prevention clinic with her best friend.

Except, suicide prevention is only a part
Patricia Ogden
Sep 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think I figured out the ending of this book. Britta actually drinks the Kool-Aid and gives up trying to change anything- and we had hopes for her and Julietta. But she was already OCD major so there was really never any hope for her anyway.

Really dark, droll dystopian speculation about how fascism could return to Germany and no one even knows it happened. Doesn't deal with what Germany will be like a generation or two from now when the 900,000 Middle-Easterners settled there now have lived o
Matt Pfaff
May 04, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very very interesting approach to handling the upcoming right-winged (if not to say nationalistic) movement in society. I loved the very decent passages showing how the tendency to fascism undermines our society (if you read between the lines). It seems sometimes a bit rough when Juli cites real persons like Trump or Merkel because this doesn't make the scenery more authentic as it already appears (considering the story playing in the future).
Maybe not everone agrees with the final outcome of th
The plot of this book is really original and clever--I think this might be the first 'near-future' (as opposed to far off future) dystopia I've read and I thought the author did a very good job of making it credible without being melodramatic.

HOWEVER. This book straight up does not read like a native English speaker translated it. I read this in English so I don't know if my issue is with the translation or with the writing itself, but there are SO MANY wildly clunky and/or unnecessary turns of
This was my first baby step into contemporary German literature. I read it while in Palm Springs, in a very elongated vacation. We had left Shanghai on Jan 20, 2020, and a week later our flight back was canceled due to COVID19. And we were never went back. In fact today, three months later, our stuff is being packed and hopefully we’ll see it again sometime. But I digress. Juli Zeh is very clever. Her ingredients for this book are: social satire, explosive themes (terrorism, suicide-bombers), ge ...more
A not-unrealistic Germany of the near future, post Merkel, with a right-wing government that focuses on efficiency and slowly eradicates democracy. While the population is more and more disillusioned and disinterested, the suicide rates are rising. Our protagonist - who has long since dropped all political engagement - leads a successful business that on the storefront helps people with suicidal thoughts, while in the backroom makes big bucks by connecting the unhelpable to terrorist organisatio ...more
Oct 30, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Not too far into the future, in Germany, Britta runs a business that helps match suicidal people with organizations/entities eager to use them to make big statements, i.e. suicide bombers. Sounds engaging and thrilling and sinister, and yet much of the story is about Britta's inner process. It's far less action-driven than I expected, which was somewhat of a letdown. The message at the end of was surprising in its moral and ethical stance, especially given the whole premise of the matchmaking bu ...more
Peter Bayuk
Apr 19, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Part surreal dystopia. Part political thriller. Part dark, dark comedy. My first foray into modern German fiction and man is it cynical, sharp, and perversely funny. Zeh takes no prisoners. Nobody is safe, no topic is off limits. Working moms and toddlers meet terrorists and international espionage. A post-Trump, post-Merkel, post-Brexit Germany not so dissimilar from reality, where the lines blur between good and evil. Even while it oozes with satire, Empty Hearts leaves you with a sense of opt ...more
Liz L
Sep 01, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I loved this book. It's my favorite kind of book, the kind that I feel like I understood about 70%. There's clearly a ton more going on, especially with some of the symbols, and there are few things I love more than mulling over this sort of thing for days on end.

The world-building is so good, the general conceit is so good, and some of the turns of phrase are A+. This would be a really great book club selection, I think.
Oct 21, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
*I won this book through goodreads giveaway compliments of the publisher*
I must admit this is not my go to genre (political thriller) although I did still find the concept and plot really interesting. Some parts may require an information search or two if you don’t keep up on politics and the twists and speed are a bit slower than some other thrillers. I’d say all together this was a very well written and thought out book with some interesting characters and concepts.
Jan 21, 2021 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: rwc-2021
I definitely see the commentary that Juli Zeh was making with this, but the pointedness of it all overshadowed the actual story? The ending was dissatisfying and fell very flat to me. Britta’s character seemed to follow no pattern of behavior that made sense and didn’t contribute to a thematic arc.
Premise and imagining of the near-future/prose was really interesting, but the possibilities of the story built up a lot of anticipation for me that didn’t come to fruition.
Giovanna Tufano

Prepare to be thrown into this crazy story, it takes a while to understand the various 'changes' of a not too distant future. The protagonist is absurd, she has a husband and a daughter but she acts as if they do not exist. She disappears for days, she acts a little crazy. She goes around with no purpouse. I honestly expected the ending to be explosive, but instesd it was very rushed.
An unusual "thriller" with an audacious (I can't think of a better word) premise.
Although I read German fluently, I found enough modern slang in this book to feel that I missed some nuances. I may re-read it. Or read it in English when the translation becomes available!
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Juli Zeh is a German novelist.

Her first book was Adler und Engel (in English: Eagles and Angels), which won the 2002 Deutscher Bücherpreis for best debut novel.

Juli Zeh has lived in Leipzig since 1995. Zeh studied human rights law in Passau and Leipzig, passing the Zweites Juristisches Staatsexamen - comparable equivalent to the U.S. bar exam - in 2003. She also has a degree from the Deutsches Li

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