Opinion novels of the year
Not an old white man, anywhere
Status: 20.09.2023 | Reading time: 3 minutes
The favorites in clockwise order: Terézia Mora, Necati Öziri, Anne Rabe, Sylvie Schenk, Ulrike Sterblich, Tonio Schachinger
Source: picture alliance: dpa/F. Rumpenhorst; dpa/C. Charisius; Klett-Cotta/A. Hauschild; dpa/C. Charisius; dpa/Rowohlt; dpa/C. Charisiu
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The German Book Prize wants to choose the best German-language novel of the year. Now the six hottest candidates have been selected on the shortlist. The GDR novel, which is currently the subject of the most heated debate, is not included. Why actually?
Commenting on literary prize jury decisions is a sadomasochistic exercise for a literary critic, all the more so because he or she knows firsthand how jury discussions work to find favorite titles, and even more so if a debate has already arisen as to whether this or that title is the right choice The longlist “makes it” to the shortlist, as it is said in the security auditor-like jargon that misses the quota ratios: How do authors relate to authors, spring titles to autumn titles, which publishers are represented? Six titles on a shortlist are one thing above all: the result of discussions within a heterogeneous jury whose categories of literary judgment are not always the same.
On the shortlist of the German Book Prize, which will be awarded on October 16th at the beginning of the Frankfurt Book Fair and is endowed with 25,000 euros, are: Terézia Mora’s “Muna or Half of Life”, Necati Öziris “Father’s Mark”, Anne Rabe’s “The Possibility of Happiness”, Tonio Schachinger’s “Echtzeitalter”, Sylvie Schenk’s “Maman” and Ulrike Sterblich’s “Drifter”. Means: four women, two men, only one literary heavyweight (female), two nominations for Rowohlt.
The novel that has caused the most fuss over the last few days is not on the list: a short debate arose about Charlotte Gneuss’s “Gittersee” after it became public last week that Ingo Schulze had written a kind of report on the Fischer-Verlag had created the novel. Schulze, born in Dresden in 1962 and an award-winning author of autobiographical novels about the time of reunification, had created a document that was originally intended for internal use in the publishing house’s editing department, in which he told his publishing colleague, a debutante born in 1992, herself the child of Parents from the GDR wanted to prove historical and linguistic inaccuracies.
“Gittersee” would have been well placed on the shortlist. It would be desirable for the short debate about the book to be continued along the literary and literary-critical lines suggested by Gneuss’ debut on the one hand and Schulze’s novels on the other: whether one form of realism is perhaps being replaced here by another, new form of storytelling, which does not stand out because it is young or “Made in West Germany”, but rather answers the question of historical authenticity differently from a literary perspective.
The debate about a formal generational change in the literary engagement with East Germany could also be continued with Anne Rabe’s “The Possibility of Happiness,” a formally highly interesting memoir dealing with generations-spanning experiences of violence in the GDR.
And the other titles on the shortlist? Their most outstanding unifying element is probably that they each address changing, often harsh social conditions and that they were written by hitherto relatively unknown authors. Not an old white man, anywhere. What aesthetic shifts this means remains to be clarified.
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