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Monday, September 25, 2023

Shortlist for the German Book Prize: Pole of Power and Pole of Outsiders

Terézia Mora, Anne Rabe and Sylvie Schenk are on the shortlist. The list is built around middle-generation white male authors.

A stack of new books lies on a sales table.

The book prize shortlist was selected from this stack of longlists Photo: Frank Rumpenhorst/dpa

Okay, some are now happy again, especially the fans and professional companions of the authors Terézia Mora, Necati Öziri, Anne Rabe, Tonio Schachinger, Sylvie Schenk and Ulrike Sterblich, who are on the shortlist for the German Book Prize.

Others will be annoyed, perhaps the people at Fischer Verlag, who will have to ask themselves whether the list of errors is correct “Gittersee” by Charlotte Gneuss contributed to the novel not being on the list. There was excitement about this. For internal publishing purposes, Ingo Schulze had listed some incorrect phrases that the author, who was born in Ludwigsburg in 1992, used in her historical GDR novel, and these reached the book prize jury through some channels.

Eventually it turned into a should-Wessis-write-about-the-East debate, which quickly collapsed anyway. Of course, Westerners are allowed to do that too, if they can do it. Whether the list of errors (for example “plastic” instead of “plastic”) played a role in the jury’s decision to reject the novel will come out at some point or not.

Seen from a little distance, something else is much more interesting about this shortlist. It is precisely built around the figure of the older white male author. This figure, which dominated the literature of the Federal Republic for many years, is so missing that it is still present as a hollow form. Apparently they definitely didn’t want to have a top dog in the selection.

And that is precisely why this shortlist is perhaps a good expression of a central tendency in the literary world. Books that are not written from a pole of power by an author who claims to see the big picture, but rather from an outsider and affected person pole, are well received. Fair enough. There is no need to shed a tear for the auratic author figure.

Not anti-kings per se

However, it is permissible to ask whether there are current authors of the middle generation (Biller, Bjerg, Hettche, Kermani, Kleeberg, Peters, Staffel, Steinaecker and others) actually have to completely ignore the fact that their previous generation around Grasswalserenzensbergerhandke etc. traumatized you a bit with their inertia. But perhaps beyond this shortlist, a peak has been reached in this matter; In any case, everyone might have heard the shot that authors are not anti-kings per se.

Katharina Teutsch, the jury spokeswoman, said about the six novels on the shortlist: “If you put these six next to each other, they inevitably start talking to each other. This conversation is about our influences: about upbringing and social background, about political ideologies, about dramatic system changes and the hardships of migration.”

That’s well said and certainly true. It may just be that this shortlist as a whole is more interesting than the individual book that will receive the book prize on October 16th at the start of the book fair.

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