The lawyer and writer Juli Zeh was born in Bonn in 1974 to Wolfgang Zeh, a former Secretary-General of the German Bundestag. She studied law in Passau, Cracow, New York and Leipzig, where she specialized in international law, and later completed an LLM on Laws of European Integration. Her thesis on the legislative activity of UN interim administration missions gained her a doctorate in 2010. Zeh’s legal treatises predominantly focused on questions regarding the entry of Eastern European countries into the European Union. While she was still studying law, Zeh was also enrolled at the German Institute for Literature in Leipzig, from where she graduated in 2000.
»Adler und Engel« (2001; Eng. »Eagles and Angels«, 2003), categorized by critics as a »drug thriller, critique of capitalism and rite of passage«, is about the drug excesses of an international law expert after the death of his great love, and his downward spiral into the underbelly of organized crime. Already in her debut novel, Zeh takes a critical stance toward our world of spent ideologies, crushed illusions and boundless destructiveness, and lays the foundations for her rapid-fire and laconically poetic style of writing. Travels through war-bombed Bosnia in 2001 prompted her to record her observations in a travelogue »Die Stille ist ein Geräusch« (2002; tr. Even silence is a sound). Her second novel »Spieltrieb« (2004; tr. Play instinct) is about the obsessive love affair between two students at a private high school, who describe themselves as the »great-grandchildren of the Nihilists« and follow a completely amoral pragmatism: »If everything is just a game, then we are lost. And if it isn’t – then all the more.« Critics place »Spieltrieb« in the tradition of Musil’s »The Confusions of Young Törless« and Dostojevsky’s philosophical crime stories. It was brought to the screen by Gregor Schnitzler in 2015. Her social novel »Unterleuten« (tr. Among people), published in 2016, reveals the spiritual abyss of a seemingly idyllic Brandenburgian village, where those who lost everything and those who gained everything due to the German reunification collide.
Apart from being a novelist, Juli Zeh has also written children’s books, audio dramas and theater plays. Together with Ilya Trojanov Juli Zeh published the book »Angriff auf die Freiheit« (2009; tr. Attack on Freedom), which criticizes the intrusion of the state into the private lives of its citizens under the pretext of protecting them from terrorism. Together with 70,000 cosignatories, they also wrote an open letter to Federal Chancellor Merkel in 2013, demanding that the NSA be prohibited from collecting data illegally. Zeh has received numerous awards, including the Ernst-Toller-Preis in 2003, the Per Olov Enquist Prize in 2005, the Carl-Amery-Literaturpreis in 2009, and Thomas-Mann-Preis in 2013, among many others. Her works have been translated into 31 languages. She lives in Barnewitz in the district of Havelland/Brandenburg.