In addition to the €25,000 prize, the honor usually gives a big boost to the winner’s book sales. This year’s short list charts the story of modern Germany.
Often compared to the British Booker Prize, the French Prix Goncourt or the US’s Pulitzer Prize, the German Book Prize is the most high-profile literary prize in the German-speaking world.
The short list, announced on September 20, represents the panorama of contemporary German-language literature: from the anecdotal to the art novel to the feminist working-class novel to post-migration literature.
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Whether set in the Hunsrück uplands in southwestern Germany, Istanbul, Switzerland, or elsewhere, the stories tell of human folly, gender fluidity and the history of the German republic from the perspective of the people who have built it, namely the guest workers. Here is an overview of the finalists.
1. Fatma Aydemir: ‘Dschinns’ (Djinns)
German literary culture has shown its more diverse side in the past few years. Authors who were not born in Germany or whose parents were not born in Germany reveal lives that pendulate between worlds. “Post-migrant literature” describes very “normal” lives in Germany, where about 25% of people were born abroad or have a parent or grandparent who was.
In “Dschinns,” Hüseyin, who has worked in Germany for 30 years, finally fulfills his dream of owning a house in Istanbul. However, on the day he has to move into the new place, he dies of a heart attack. His funeral brings the family together. Fatma Aydemir narrates the story of human longings, unachieved dreams, big and small secrets, and German postwar history.
2. Kristine Bilkau: ‘Nebenan’ (Next Door)
Known for her withdrawn prose, Kristine Bilkau talks about themes that have occupied all her other novels: the lives, the problems and the neuroses of the upper middle class.
In an unnamed town at the Northern Baltic Sea channel, a shy 30-year-old woman who has moved in from the big city meets a 60-year-old general practitioner who has worked there for decades. A neighboring family disappears without a trace, the doctor receives threatening letters, and the small town changes insidiously.
With subtle tension, Bilkau narrates the diffuse fears of the well-off middle class in Germany.
3. Daniela Dröscher: ‘Lügen über meine Mutter’ (Lies About My Mother’)
Daniela Dröscher narrates a story of growing up in a family where one theme dominates everything: her mother’s obesity. Is this beautiful, impulsive and unreliable woman too fat? Does she need to lose weight urgently? Yes, she must, her husband decides. And the mother faces this, day after day.
On the one hand, the book is a story about a childhood in the Hunsrück uplands; on the other, it looks at misogyny of the past and how it continues to this day. A daughter narrates the story of her mother, who migrated to Germany from Poland, and perceives her as a complex personality, as well as an ideal.
“Lies About My Mother” is also a class novel. Dröscher has tackled the subject in the past. Her memoir about growing up as a working-class child in Germany was published in 2018 under the title “Show Your Class: The Story of My Social Origins.”
4. Jan Faktor: ‘Trottel’ (Idiot)
“What is the reason for my good mood? Simply, everything.”
These are the opening lines of Jan Faktor’s novel and, amid the pandemic, rising energy costs and the Russian invasion, a good mood can make a huge difference.
This anecdotal novel offers exactly that: the story of a man who calls himself “Idiot,” living and reliving his stupidity to the unending enjoyment of the readers. As is characteristic of the anecdotal novel, the “Idiot” is there to reveal his surroundings: the red wine-sipping intellectuals, the mother-in-law or the even more idiotic son.
5. Eckhart Nickel: ‘Spitzweg’
Nickel’s novel takes its name from the 19th-century German painter Carl Spitzweg. In the story, three students, including two boys and a girl, discover the attraction of the arts. The narrator admires Carl, a boy who joins the school shortly before his school-leaving exams.
In order to impress Carl, the narrator does not defend his classmate Kirsten when the art teacher calls her self-portrait a “courage to be ugly.”
This is a book about art, a love triangle, a highly talented girl and cunning plans for revenge. Nickel appeared on the 2019 long list for the German Book Prize for his novel “Hysteria.”
6. Kim de l’Horizon: ‘Blutbuch’ (Blood Book)
The nonbinary narrator of “Blutbuch” lives in Zurich after they flee from the small conservative village in Switzerland where they were born.
Their grandmother’s illness puts the narrator into a thoughtful mood: They talk to the older woman and list all themes about which the two have never spoken, including the protagonist’s fluid gender identity and the grandmother’s racism.
Secrets and silences in families are popular and timeless themes in literary history. De l’Horizon, through their nonbinary protagonist, approaches the subject from a new perspective, adding to the many accusations made about families.Coming on the heels of the German government’s proposed law in June 2022 to simply change gender entries, “Blood Book” comes at the right time politically — and rounds up a shortlist that depicts the modern society that the Federal Republic has become in the 21st century.