The 2011 German Book Award, which was created to be Germany’s answer to the Man-Booker Prize and the Prix Goncourt, goes to Eugen Ruge for his novel In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts, which is a multi-generation family saga set against the backdrop of the rise and fall of Communist East Germany.
Anybody who has been following the German Book Award for the past seven years that it has been in existence will probably be sighing right now, because the winning book is yet another multi-generation family saga using German history, particularly the Third Reich and/or East Germany as a background. Just like – oh, every other year or so. Indeed, going by the fairly brief description of the book, it sounds almost identical to the 2008 winner, Der Turm by Uwe Tellkamp, as both followed the fortunes of a single elite family through rise and fall of East Germany. Though Tellkamp’s family was a bourgeois family from Dresden who disliked Communism, while Ruge’s family are committed Communists. Both novels are at least semi-autobiographical as well. I’m not the only one to notice the similarities between this year’s winner and the 2008 winner. Die Welt and the blog eliterator make a similar point.
Now In Zeiten des abnehmenden Lichts might actually be a good book. I haven’t read it, so I cannot say. Though some reviewers compare it to Die Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann. But I find it troubling that the German Book Award always rewards exactly the same type of book year after year. Family sagas with historically significant content aren’t the only kind of serious German fiction out there – and indeed family sagas aren’t necessarily considered serious literature in the US and UK, unless written by Jonathan Franzen. What makes this even more problematic is that interesting and different books regularly make it onto the long- and shortlist for the German Book Award, including a philosophical fantasy novel and a portrayal of an underclass girl this year or a quirky sort-of SF novel and an equally quirky sort-of contemporary romance in previous years. But in the end, the winner is yet another quasi-autobiographic, historically relevant family saga about an upper middle class family. It’s so boring.
From German literary awards to the German e-book market: I’ve got a new post up at Pegasus Pulp about German attitudes to e-books in general and indie publishing in particular. Go read.
Not at all connected to German literature, but still well worth reading: Neil Gaiman interviews Sir Terry Pratchett at BoingBoing.