The German Book Prize short list is out today! Three women, three Swiss writers and four with other books published in English in the last three years have made the cut. In my very subjective order of preference, they are:
Jenny Erpenbeck’s Gehen, ging, gegangen (Go, Going, Gone) is certainly the most topical. Three men are on hunger strike on Alexanderplatz in front of Berlin’s town hall. They are Black, they speak English, French, Italian, and other languages that nobody understands – they won’t say where they are from, but they want to stay and work. A retired professor gets to know them and enters their world.The author has already won multiple awards this year for The End of Days in Susan Bernofsky’s English translation.
Swiss author Monique Schwitter’s Eins im Andern (One in the Other) is also very contemporary, but more personal. It opens with the author googling her ex-lover instead of writing, then delving back into the history of 12 ex-lovers. Her short story collection Goldfish Memory, published this March by Parthian Books in Eluned Gramich’s English translation, looks a really great read.
“Three months are up: my lady will take a bath”. Is Inger-Maria Mahlke’s Wie Ihr wollt (As You Wish) the German Wolf Hall? It enters the world of the Tudors from the perspective of Mary Grey, cousin to the reigning Queen Elizabeth I. It’s billed as a “feminist deconstruction” of the historical novel. Her Silberfischchen (Little Silverfish) about the encounter between a widowed ex-policeman and a Polish woman also looks interesting.
His Die Erfindung der Roten Armee Fraktion durch einen manisch-depressiven Teenager im Sommer 1969. (The Invention of the Red Army Faction by a Manic-Depressive Teenager in the Summer of 1969) is a very German bulky novel in broad sweep from the impact of WWII forward to 1989. For more on this theme, German readers can try his Die Bundesrepublik Deutschland (2009), a conversation with Thomas Meinecke and Klaus Walter about 60 years of music and popular culture in the West German Federal Republic.
From another Swiss writer, Ulrich Peltzer’s Das bessere Leben (The Better Life) is a thriller that dives headfirst into 21st century global capitalism. Try his Part of the Solution (tr. Martin Chalmers, Seagull Books 2012) about a journalist investigating a left wing radical group in 2003 Berlin.
And finally one more Swiss writer! Rolf Lappert, Über den Winter (Through the Winter) is a big “family saga cum social novel” about a middle-aged artist in New York. His Islands of the Dying Light (tr. Eugene Hayworth, Owl Canyon Press 2012) also faces love and death, stretching from Ireland to the Philippines.
You can read and listen to extracts of all the books in German on the prize website, which is also in English and French.