Small eyes roll back when they are tired

Prize winner

German Book Prize

Ceremony October 18th 2021

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2020

The jury has decided: The winner of the German Book Prize 2020

Prize winner 2020

Annette, a heroine epic

What a life! Born in Brittany in 1923, raised in modest circumstances, a member of the communist resistance as a teenager, rescuer of two Jewish youths, a neurophysiologist in Marseille after the war, sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1959 for her involvement in the Algerian independence movement ... and still, to this day, a living example of the importance of disobedience. The improbable life of Anne Beaumanoir in a brilliant biographical epic of a heroine.

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Justification of the jury

“The power of Anne Weber's story is equal to the power of her heroine: It is breathtaking how fresh the old form of the epic sounds here and with what lightness Weber condenses the life story of French resistance fighter Anne Beaumanoir into a novel about courage, resistance and the struggle for freedom. ‘Annette, ein Heldinnenepos’ (‘Annette, an Epic of a Heroine’) is a story full of hardships, which Weber tells with effortless discretion and subtle irony. This novel is about nothing less than Franco-German history as one of the foundations of our Europe today. We are grateful that Anne Weber has discovered Annette for us and tells her story. "

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2020

The novels nominated for the German Book Prize 2020

Switchbacks

A father and son on the road. Their journey takes them back to the hilly countryside where the father comes from, to the places of his childhood. Their constant travel companion is the fate of their male ancestors, who all took their own lives: "Great-grandfather, grandfather, father. Drowned, shot, hung." The father is forced to recognize that moving away, getting educated and moving up in the world have not brought him salvation. Perhaps returning and remembering will help. For he who returns must take all the bends in the road once more.

Jury evaluation

A father sets off on a journey with his son, not just into the hilly landscape of his childhood but also into his own oppressive family history and Germany’s past. "Serpentinen" offers a deeply sociological and simultaneously very literary account of oppressive gloom - often with surprising wit. Not a single word is out of place in this novel, rendering it capable of relating the unspeakable.

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audio sample

© Gerald von Foris

Author

Bov Bjerg

Publisher

Claassen

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From the sugar factory

'My skills never end' says the T-shirt of a worker who is just collecting his wages. Switzerland’s first lottery millionaire stands on the beach of a Caribbean island, looking out to sea. This novel follows the trail of money and desire through the centuries and the regions of the world. It sketches biographies of mystics, insatiables, gamblers, orgiasts and colonialists, records dreams and cases of ecstasy and madness - and opens our eyes to the complexities of the world.

Jury evaluation

The starting point of Dorothee Elmiger’s novel is a simple question: Where does sugar actually come from? The narrator assembles her research into a highly essayistic form, more like a collage. These investigations lead her not only into world history but literary history as well, which is why a text can find itself landing in Haiti, one of the major sugar exporters, only to encounter Heinrich von Kleist’s novel "Betrothal in Santo Domingo" there. This method demonstrates that colonialism is inseparably interwoven with European history and that whenever Europeans tell each other anything different they are recognizing only half the truth.

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audio sample

© Peter-Andreas Hassiepen

Author

Dorothee Elmiger

Publisher

Carl Hanser

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Heart thread

After a performance at the Augsburger Puppenkiste puppet theater, a 12-year-old girl finds herself passing through a hidden door to a fairy-tale-like attic where many friends are waiting: Princess Li Si, the tomcat Mikesch and Lukas, the locomotive driver - and above all the woman who carved all these puppets and now tells her story. It is the story of a unique theater and the family that founded it and made it famous - and a tale about the power of imagination in dark times.

Jury evaluation

With a light and elegant touch, this novel interweaves major themes from the present and Germany’s past. From an enchanted attic, it takes us into the world of wooden marionettes, World War II and post-war West Germany to the loss of innocence and the end of childhood. It is about imagination and recapturing it - and, in the process, Thomas Hettche succeeds in creating a work of illusionist art as playful and melancholy as the one the novel itself describes so impressively.

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audio sample

© Joachim Gern

Author

Thomas Hettche

Publisher

Kiepenheuer & Witsch

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Stray light

Industrial snow marks the boundaries of the village. This is where the first-person narrator grew up, and this is where she returns to and remembers: her father, who was incapable of throwing anything away until he was overwhelmed not just by household items but repressed memories as well; her mother, who felt suffocated by the cramped conditions of the workers ’apartment until she finally packed her bags and left her daughter with her drinking father; dropping out of school, the effort to make up for missed opportunities and the fear of being told to get back to where she belongs as someone trying to move up in the world.

Jury evaluation

Deniz Ohde writes with captivating clarity about a segment of society we otherwise only very rarely get to hear from. It is a text about a (post-) migrant worker milieu, about a small family and its hopeful wish to belong in an education and incentive system unable to keep its promise of equal opportunity. Ohde not only renders three dimensionally a world and its actors that usually remain hidden behind the doors of cluttered rental flats but manages to do so without ever resorting to clichés or didactic finger-pointing.

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audio sample

© Heike Steinweg

Author

Deniz Ohde

Publisher

Suhrkamp

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Annette, a heroine epic

What a life! Born in Brittany in 1923, raised in modest circumstances, a member of the communist resistance as a teenager, rescuer of two Jewish youths, a neurophysiologist in Marseille after the war, sentenced to 10 years in prison in 1959 for her involvement in the Algerian independence movement ... and still, to this day, a living example of the importance of disobedience. The improbable life of Anne Beaumanoir in a brilliant biographical epic of a heroine.

Jury evaluation

Anne Weber has succeeded in transforming the real life of 96-year-old Anne Beaumanoir into a magnificent piece of literature in the form of an epic. With subtle humor, she writes about a woman utterly steadfast in her determination to fight for her ideal of justice. In mostly unrhymed verses that develop a flowing rhythm, playfully and with great sensitivity, Anne Weber sets the stage for her heroine. Enthralled, we follow Annette from the French Resistance to the Algerian War of Independence. Philosophical, political and reflective, the novel discreetly establishes a connection to the present. A wonderful and convincing homage to an extraordinary woman.

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audio sample

© Thorsten Greve

Author

Anne Weber

Publisher

Matthes & Seitz Berlin

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The lady with the painted hand

1764. India wasn't on the itinerary and the island of Elephanta definitely wasn't. But that's where the explorer Carsten Niebuhr from Bremen is stranded, though he should be in Arabia. Ditto Master Musa, an astrolabe farmer from Jaipur, who wanted to be in Mecca. They speak Arabic with each other - enough to pass the time until they are rescued, enough to get into East-West misunderstandings and friendly arguments about constellations. It could all just have been a fever dream. But that's written in the stars.

Jury evaluation

"The Lady with the Painted Hand" recounts migration the other way around. In 1764, the German explorer Carsten Niebuhr becomes stranded on the Indian island of Elephanta. Suffering from swamp fever, he is found and nursed back to health by the locals. "The Lady with the Painted Hand" is a breezy novel about curiosity, traveling and the early scientific exploration of the world. It is also a novel about the friendly welcome that, with a little luck, one can experience in a foreign country. All of it told with a great deal of mischief and quirky wit. Self-assured and absolutely captivating.

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audio sample

© private

Author

Christine Wunnicke

Publisher

Berenberg

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2020

The novels nominated for the German Book Prize 2020