By Hannah Johnson
This year’s six finalists for the German Book Prize, announced Tuesday, range from historical fiction to explorations of contemporary love and a brutal future for planet Earth. The winner, to receive 25,000 euros, will be announced on October 7 in Frankfurt, just before the Frankfurt Book Fair. The other five finalists will receive 2,500 euros each.
This year’s jury includes: Katrin Lange (Literaturhaus Munich), Ursula März (Die Zeit), Jörg Plath (independent critic), Andreas Platthaus (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung), Klaus Seufer-Wasserthal (Rupertus Buchhandlung, Salzburg, Austria) and Claudia Voigt (Der Spiegel).
“The shortlist features a broad range of writing styles that reflect the wide variety of contemporary literary possibilities: lyrical imagery, powerful notions of the world, and intricate and psychologically accurate constellations of characters”, said Helmut Böttiger.
Mirko Bonné: Nie mehr Nacht (Schöffling & Co.)
“Night No More” takes place during WWII, as the Allied Forces prepare to land on Normandy’s beaches.
From Schöffling: “An art magazine has commissioned Markus Lee to draw the bridges in Normandy whose capture was so important to the success of the Allied landings in 1944. He takes his fifteen-year-old nephew Jesse with him on the trip…The journey is overshadowed, however, by grief at the death of Jesse’s mother, Ira, who has committed suicide. In the enchanted atmosphere of the L’Angleterre hotel the planned one-week stay turns into a months-long time out, which marks a turning point not only in the life of Markus Lee.”
Mirko Bonné has translated poetry by Keats, e.e.cummings and W. B. Yeats, and has published several novels and volumes of poetry. His book, Wie Wir Verschwinden, was longlisted for the 2009 German Book Prize.
Download an English sample translation by Martin Chalmers.
Reinhard Jirgl: Nichts von euch auf Erden (Hanser)
“Deserted Earth” tells of a future in which humanity outgrows the Earth’s capacity and must find a way to survive.
From Hanser: “The day has come when the damage mankind has wreaked on Earth reaches a point exceeding even our wildest imaginings. Our weary old planet has become too small for the appetites of the powers that be and their ravenous markets. It’s clear that only the fittest can survive, so in the 23rd century they begin their evacuation to the Moon and Mars, leaving the weak behind to wait meekly for extinction. But by the 25th century, Mars proves so hostile to life that continuing human presence on the planet becomes untenable. The new Martians set about the brutal re-colonisation of a now peaceful Earth.”
Reinhard Jirgl was born in 1953 in Berlin, where he still lives, working as a full-time author. His work has won him numerous awards, amongst others the Alfred Döblin Prize, the City of Marburg’s Literature Prize, and the Joseph Breitbach Prize.
Clemens Meyer: Im Stein (S. Fischer)
Clemens Meyer is a familiar name in the German literary scence, and his book, All the Lights, was translated into English by Katy Derbyshire and published by And Other Stories in 2011.
From S. Fischer: “A young woman stands at the window and looks out into the evening sky. It is January and business is not going at all well; thoughts whirl about in her head. ‘The horse fellow,” a former jockey, is looking for his daughter. ‘The Bielefeld man’ is cornering the market with his new business plans, investing in nightclubs and sex shops. ‘AK 47’ lies in the street, blood seeping from a bullet wound. Clemens Meyer weaves these characters’ stories, lives, and voices into a wild chorus of night, creating a blazing, monumental portrait of a city and of our time.”
Clemens Meyer studied creative writing at the German Literary Institute, Leipzig and was granted a scholarship by the Saxon Ministry of Science and Arts in 2002. His first novel Als wir träumten was a huge success and his second book, Die Nacht, die Lichter, a collection of short stories, he was awared the Leipzig Book Fair Prize 2008.
Terézia Mora: Das Ungeheuer (Luchterhand)
From Luchterhand: “‘There’s nothing special about such stories; they happen all the time: was once an engineer, lost his job, lost his wife, ended up on the streets.’ A very ordinary fate, perhaps, but if it happens to you, you just cave in.
“This is the position Darius Kopp is in, an IT specialist who first lost his job, then the great love of his life. For Flora, his wife, committed suicide, and ever since Darius has hardly been able to carry on. In the end, he gets into his car and travels first to Hungary, where Flora had grown up, and then just drives on and on. During his journey, he reads Flora’s secret diary he found after her death and discovers how monstrously vulnerable Flora’s life had always been — and that he hadn’t had a clue about any of it.
“A man’s journey to look for the truth about his wife. About himself. And about this dark and monstrous world.”
Terézia Mora was born in 1971 in Sopron, Hungary. She has lived in Berlin since 1990, and is a translator. Her stories have won her the Open Mike Prize for Literature, the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize and the Adelbert von Chamisso prize for aspiring writers. Every Day was her first novel, for which she was awarded several prizes, and which was translated into 16 languages.
Marion Poschmann: Die Sonnenposition (Suhrkamp)
From Suhrkamp: “Marion Poschmann’s long-awaited new novel is about Germany from the perspective of the grandchildren of war. A novel about the power of time, about memory and timeless unity. A novel about fragile identities, about beautiful appearances and the search for an inner light — gleaming, clear as glass, and with a subtle tension.
“After the reunification of Germany, Altfried Janich finds a job in a decrepit baroque building that newly houses a psychiatric institute. He believes his duty is to adopt the position of the sun for his patients, to be a guide and source of comfort. When his friend Odilo is killed in a mysterious car accident, he descends into his own dark side. During the day he grows closer to his patients, at night he wanders like a ghost through the halls, besieged by memories, and his family’s history of losses closes in on him. All of Altfried’s life up until this point seems to have been headed toward the situation in the castle: all stories end here, and he soon adjusts to the certainty that he will never again escape.”
Marion Poschmann, born in 1969 in Essen, studied German Studies, Philosophy and Slavic Studies and currently lives in Berlin.
Download and English sample translation by Kári Driscoll.
Monika Zeiner: Die Ordnung der Sterne über Como (Blumenbar)
From Blumenbar: “Berlin, Genoa, Naples: Just separated from his wife, jazz pianist Tom Holler sets out on a concert tour through Italy with his band…The trip turns into a journey through his memories, as he considers the nature of love and death. When he reaches his goal, he hopes to reconnect with the great love of his youth, Betty Morgenthal, and to understand the tragic death of his best friend Marc. How can you know you’re in love? And how can death have meaning? Tom charts the constellations of people and places that have made up his life; when was the moment that his stars aligned?”
Monika Zeiner studied in Berlin and Naples and wrote her doctoral thesis on melancholy and love in the Middle Ages. She’s published multiple radio plays, and is a singer and songwriter for the Italo-swing band Marinafon. She lives in Berlin.