Linkdump, mostly German literature themed

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.

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11 Responses to Linkdump, mostly German literature themed

  1. Laran says:

    I agree with you on the Book Award. I have been very much surprised that this year with Blumenberg there actually is one book on the shortlist which I actually feel eager to read. I think part of the problem with the uniform winners of the award is the jury. What else can happen when the majority of these people want to uphold the same principles every year? All recruited to continue the exact same sort of literary criticism? Not much room to maneuver…
    A journalist friend of mine did an interview with one of the jurors, and this person mentioned – off the record – how unconventional suggestions were squelched by an easy majority of the other jury members…

    • Cora says:

      Yes, Blumenberg actually does sound interesting, which is rare with the sort of books honoured in the German Book Awards. There was another one that sounded interesting a few years ago, but otherwise it’s always the same old. I also find it interesting that the one time a GDR themed book did not win, it was a book about East German alcoholics and not a middle class family saga. Whatever you want to say about the Booker Prize, at least the list of winners is diverse and the winning books are very different from each other.

      I also agree that the problem is with the jurors. If the jury always consists of the same literary critics with conservative tastes (and since some of those people are frequently present in the media, we know they have conservative tastes), it’s no wonder that they always award the same sort of book.

      • Mark says:

        “I also agree that the problem is with the jurors.”

        I agree, but I wonder if the publisher’s are not part of the problem as well. They can nominate two books for consideration, but the big publishing houses (Rowohlt, Hanser, Suhrkamp, Dumont, Kiepenheuer & Witsch) obviously publish much more interesting titles each year, which is my personal explanation as to why so many books from good and well-known writers like Feridun Zaimoglu didn’t even make the long list. The jurors CAN ask the publishers to submit additional specific books, but I’m not sure how often they actually do that. So I have the feeling that the books that are nominated by the big publishing houses most often make it straight to the long list, and that what they don’t submit will not be considered.

        • Cora says:

          The nomination limits are also a problem with the Booker Prize, which is also the reason why an explicit genre novel, no matter how wonderful and well written, has never made the Booker shortlist – because the publishers already filled their slots with something else. As for Zaimoglu, he defended headscarves on Muslim women a while back, so that may have made him persona non grata. And while novels about immigrant experiences can win (see last year’s winner Melinda Nadj Abonji), apparently they have to fit into the family saga plus history framework to win.

  2. Mark says:

    I have read two of the nominees, Jan Brandt’s tome of a novel (a childhood story from the 80s, written in a very eccentric, modern style) and Michael Buselmeier’s Wunsiedel (a very short novel about the theatre in a very old-fashioned style). I guess everybody indeed expected Ruge to win. I haven’t looked into Blumenberg, but I hated the author’s previous novel, which also got the prize of the Leipzig book fair, if I remember correctly. I think that that prize is typically awarded to less mainstream novels and collections, like Georg Klein’s last novel, which I’m currently reading, or Clemens Meyer’s. That said, it’s also the prize for which the infamous plagiarism case Axolotl Roadkill was nominated.

    • Cora says:

      Leipzig does seem to reward a greater variety of books and some less mainstream selections (I quite liked Clemens Meyer), but they really damaged their credibility with nominating Axolotl Roadkill and not withdrawing the nomination when the plagiarism became known. Never mind that Axolotl Roadkill was a hyped up media sensation from the start, even before it became apparent that she plagiarized. A few years before that, the Prize of the Leipzig Book Fair also nominated an author who had been dead for thirty years – the book had been banned from publication in the GDR and only resurfaced years later. It may well have been a good novel, but the purpose of such an award isn’t to honour long dead authors and their trunk novels. So in short, Leipzig is more adventurous in their selections, but also fucking insane at times.

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