The German Book Prize 2013 has been awarded to Hungarian-German writer Terészia Mora for her novel Das Ungeheuer (The Monster). Spiegel Online, Tagesspiegel and the Süddeutsche Zeitung have more. Finally, here is a video interview with Ms. Mora about her novel.
Now I have expressed my disastisfaction with the German Book Prize selections before, both here and here. Now the good news is that Ms. Mora’s winning novel is not a middle class family saga set against the backdrop of German history like approximately eighty percent of previous winners. Instead, it is a sort of literary road movie featuring a disaffected middle-aged middle class man who travels through South Eastern Europe mourning his Hungarian-German wife who committed suicide. But then, tales of disaffected middle class people in their thirties and forties who are well off, but drift through life and refuse to grow up and become adults, can win the German Book Prize in a pinch, when there is no middle class family saga available. The 2006 winner, the novel Die Habenichtse (The Have-nots) by Katherina Hacker is another example. No, the trophy is not a baby, by the way. The baby is Ms. Hacker’s then newborn daughter.
Now I no more get the “disaffected middle class professional who refuses to grow up” subgenre than I get the “middle class family saga set against the backdrop of recent German history” subgenre. In particular, I always have problems figuring out what is so bad about the protagonists of those novels and why they are not considered proper adults. In Ms. Mora’s case, I suspect the reason is that her protagonist failed to notice that his wife was suffering from a deep depression that eventually led to suicide. Which would make him unobservant and potentially a jerk, but in what way is Ms. Mora’s forty-year-old protagonist not an adult? Privately, I suspect that accusations about characters not being “proper adults” are just veiled jealousy of people who manage to live a life free of marriage, children, mortgages and other attachments. But again, this does not apply to Ms. Mora’s protagonist, because he was married. And Terézia Mora explicitly said in the video interview I linked to above that her protagonist only becomes a full adult by the end of the novel.
Talking of protagonists we are supposed to dislike, because they allegedly refuse to grow up, I stopped reading Nick Hornby’s novels the moment I realized I was supposed to dislike his protagonists and sympathize with their annoying girlfriends, whereas I always sympathized with the protagonists (who were all geeks of some sort, so it was easy to sympathize, even if football or music are not my fandoms of choice) and hated the girlfriend characters.
But this is not supposed to be an indictment of Das Ungeheuer (the titular monster is the wife’s depression BTW), which I haven’t read. In fact, it seems as if very few people have read it, since Das Ungeheuer has only two customer reviews at Amazon Germany. Honestly, some of my stories have more and I have neither stellar sales nor a whole lot of reviews.
However, the German Book Prize is still sadly predictable. As for the supposed other favourites on the shortlist, Clemens Meyer’s novel Im Stein (In the stone) didn’t have a chance in hell, since it’s society epos set in the redlight district of a big German city and redlight districts are too alien and offputting for bourgeois middle class readers. Die Sonnenposition (The sun position) by Marion Poschmann had rather better chances, since it features the director of a psychiatric clinic in former East Germany shortly after the unification ruminating on his family history, i.e. it has the crucial ingredients middle class and family saga. Though in the end, the jury still went with Terézia Mora instead.
BTW, there actually was an SF novel on the shortlist for the German Book Prize, Nichts von euch auf Erden (Nothing of you on Earth) by Reinhard Jirgl, but unsurprisingly it didn’t win. For the record, I’m surprised it made the shortlist. A lot of people seemed to dislike Jirgl’s novel because of the faux futuristic slang he uses much of the time BTW. I wonder how they would have coped with A Clockwork Orange.
Interestingly, Terézia Mora also busts the prejudice that literary writers don’t write series and sequels, just in case John Updike’s Rabbit series hasn’t already done that. Because Das Ungeheuer is the sequel to Ms. Mora’s 2009 novel Der einzige Mann auf dem Kontinent (The only man on the continent), wherein the workaholic protagonist suffers from burnout and is saved by his wife, the suicide from the latter novel.
More German literature news: Bulgarian German writer Ilija Trojanow has been denied entry into the US, where he was supposed to speak at a conference in Denver. Officially no reason was given, but there are suspicions that an open letter that Trojanow and fellow German writer Juli Zeh wrote to Angela Merkel to protest NSA surveillance might have something to do with it.