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International Booker Prize for German author Erpenbeck

The writer Jenny Erpenbeck is the first German to win the prestigious British International Booker Prize. In her novel “Kairos” she tells a complicated life story in the final phase of the GDR.

The German writer and opera director Jenny Erpenbeck and the translator Michael Hofmann have won the International Booker Prize for fiction. You won an award for your novel “Kairos.”

The book, originally written in German, tells the story of a “destructive affair” between a young student and an older writer in East Berlin in the 1980s. However, the relationship between the two, inspired by their shared love of music and art, is falling apart, just as the state around them is crumbling.

“Both beautiful and unpleasant”

The jury said the book was exceptional because it was “both beautiful and unpleasant, personal and political.” Erpenbeck invites us to make a connection between political developments that defined generations and a destructive, even brutal love affair.

Canadian author and radio presenter Eleanor Wachtel, who chaired the five-person jury, highlighted Erpenbeck's “luminous prose” that describes “the complexity of a relationship” and the atmosphere of East Berlin. “It starts with love and passion, but it's just as much about power, art and culture.”

The novel is “a richly structured evocation of a tormenting love affair, the entanglement of personal and national changes,” explained Wachtel. “Like the GDR, (the book) begins with optimism and confidence, and then begins to falter completely.” Wachtel also praised Hofmann's translation. His work captures the “eloquence and eccentricity” of Erpenbeck's prose.

Erpenbeck explained that the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 was an idea of ​​liberation. She was interested in the fact that this liberation was not the only thing that could be told in such a story. There are years before and after.

Prize aims to strengthen the profile of foreign fiction

The International Booker Prize is one of the most prestigious literary prizes in Great Britain. The award goes to foreign language works that have been translated into English and published in Great Britain or Ireland.

The prize, awarded at a ceremony at London's Tate Modern, is considered the equivalent of the Man Booker Prize for English-language literature. It was created to raise the profile of fiction in other languages ​​- which accounts for only a small proportion of books published in the UK – and to recognise the undervalued work of literary translators.

The prize money of 50,000 pounds (around 58,000 euros) will be divided between the author and translator. Hofman is the first male translator to win the International Booker Prize since its inception in its current form in 2016.

“Kairos” beat five other finalists who were selected from 149 novels submitted. Last year's winner was also a novel about communism and its legacy in Europe, “Time Shelter” by Bulgarian writer Georgi Gospodinov, translated by Angela Rodel.

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