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Jenny Erpenbeck

Jenny Erpenbeck and Michael Hofmann Win International Booker Prize for “Kairos”

Berlin, May 22, 2024, The Europe Today: German author Jenny Erpenbeck and translator Michael Hofmann have been awarded the prestigious International Booker Prize for fiction for their collaboration on the novel “Kairos.” The announcement was made on Tuesday, highlighting their exceptional work from among 149 submissions for the UK-based award.

The £50,000 ($64,000, €59,000) prize money will be evenly split between Erpenbeck and Hofmann, honoring both the original literary work and its translation. This recognition follows last year’s win by Bulgarian author Georgi Gospodinov and translator Angela Rodel for “Time Shelter.”

“Kairos” is set in 1980s East Berlin and narrates a young woman’s tumultuous and destructive affair with an older man. Canadian broadcaster Eleanor Wachtel, who chaired the five-member panel responsible for selecting the winner, described the novel as “a richly textured evocation of a tormented love affair, the entanglement of personal and national transformations.”

Wachtel elaborated, “Like [former East Germany], the book starts with optimism and trust, then unravels so badly. 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 also praised Hofmann’s translation for preserving the “eloquence and eccentricities” of Erpenbeck’s prose.

Erpenbeck expressed her hope that “Kairos” would illuminate aspects of former East Germany beyond the well-known narrative of state surveillance and repression. “The only thing that everybody knows is that they had a wall, they were terrorizing everyone with the Stasi, and that’s it,” she remarked. “That is not all there is.”

Reflecting on her personal history, Erpenbeck emphasized, “What interested me is that breaking free is not the only thing that can be told in such a story. There are years before and years after.” Born and raised in East Berlin, she offers a unique and nuanced perspective on life in East Germany, particularly the complexities and transformations before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989.

The International Booker Prize continues to celebrate outstanding works of fiction from around the world, translated into English, fostering a deeper understanding and appreciation of diverse literary voices. The Booker Prize for English-language fiction will be awarded this fall.