Full disclosure: I had already started this book before I put it on my Spin list, but I felt it was pretty fair because it's not an easy read at all, and I could use the help!
This is a very early German novel, from 1668. Like Don Quixote, it's a picaresque novel, consisting of one adventure after another and not too linear in plot. It is set during the Thirty Years' War (1618-1648), and the beginning, at least, is a fairly savage satire on war and soldiers, but then it moves into the picaresque adventures.
The narrator is born a German peasant, but his home is plundered and ruined by soldiers looking for food, women, and loot. Believing his whole family dead, he wanders in the forest and ends up living with a hermit, who teaches him religion and names him Simplicius Simplicissimus, because he is too simple to know his own right name. After the hermit's death, Simplicissimus meets up with soldiers; the leader turns him into a jester, since he has no idea how to function in the world. Simplicissimus goes through a huge variety of jobs: soldier, highwayman, painter, thief, snake oil doctor....anything you can mention, all against a backdrop of horrible war, plunder, and destitution. Near the end he meets his own father and finds out who he is, travels to Russia, and even visits the land of the mermen underwater. It gets really strange, and then he decides to become a hermit again and renounce the sinful world.
From the beginning, when Simplicissimus begins his tale:
...'tis not untrue that I have often fancied I must have drawn my birth from some great lord or knight at least, as being by nature disposed to follow the nobleman's trade had I but the means and the tools for it. 'Tis true, moreover, without jesting, that my birth and upbringing can be well compared to that of a prince if we overlook the one great difference in degree...It's an important book in the development of German literature, and it was a huge hit, which encouraged von Grimmelshausen to write more--most of which wasn't really very good. Modern readers probably won't love it unless they're really interested.