/ 28 May 2024

Novel set in East Berlin wins international Booker award

Britain Literature Award
Prize: German writer Jenny Erpenbeck at the International Booker Prize award ceremony in London on 21 May. Photo: Benjamin Cremel/AFP

The German writer Jenny Erpenbeck, along with translator Michael Hofmann, were on Tuesday named winners of the International Booker Prize for her fourth novel, titled Kairos.

The book, originally written in German, tells the story of a young woman’s “destructive affair” with an older man in 1980s East Berlin.

The prestigious award, handed out at a ceremony at London’s Tate Modern gallery, recognises works of fiction from around the world that have been translated into English and the £50 000 (R1.2 million) prize is split equally between the author and the translator.

Chair of the judges Eleanor Wachtel praised Erpenbeck’s “luminous prose”, evoking “the complexity of a relationship” and the atmosphere of East Berlin.

“It starts with love and passion but it’s at least as much about power, art and culture,” Wachtel said.

“The self-absorption of the lovers, their descent into a destructive vortex, remains connected to the larger history of East Germany during this period, often meeting history at odd angles,” she added.

For Erpenbeck, who is also an opera director, the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 represented a “breaking free”.

“What interested me is that breaking free is not the only thing that can be told in such a story,” she said in a statement.

“There are years before and years after,” she said.

Last year, the International Booker Prize was awarded to Bulgarian writer Georgi Gospodinov and translator Angela Rodel for the novel Time Shelter — a first for a book written in Bulgarian. — AFP