Germany Mourns Death of Its Most Famous Critic at 93

Marcel Reich-Ranicki
Marcel Reich-Ranicki
 WDR

COLOGNE, Germany – Germany is mourning the death of its most famous literary critic, Marcel Reich-Ranicki, who died this week, aged 93.

A Polish Jew who survived the Holocaust and settled in Germany after the war, Reich-Ranicki became one of the country's most outspoken and influential critics. He was known by his fans as well as his detractors as the “Pope of Literature."

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As host of the TV book program Literary Quartet from 1998 to 2001, Reich-Ranicki became a celebrity figure.  His scathing, curmudgeonly style and distinctive accent were much parodied by late-night comics and stand-ups.

He remained true to form in 2008, when he received an honorary German Television Prize, the local equivalent of an Emmy, for his cultural contributions, and used his acceptance speech to lash out at the idiocy of TV in general and award shows in particular.

"I cannot accept this prize," Reich-Ranicki told the a shocked audience of TV industry professionals. "I didn't know what to expect here, and I think it is awful that I had to sit through this for so many hours."

His own life, in which he escaped the Warsaw Ghetto and fought in the Polish resistance, was itself the stuff of a great novel, and  Reich-Ranicki's 1999 autobiography My Life became a German bestseller. It was adapted into a successful TV movie in 2009, featuring star Matthias Schweighofer as Reich-Ranicki.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel paid tribute to him following his death from prostate cancer: "We lose in him a peerless friend of literature, but also of freedom and democracy. I will miss this passionate and brilliant man."

In its obituary, German daily the Suddeutsche Zeitung said simply that Reich-Ranicki  was “the man who taught us how to read.”

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