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Culture

German Book Prize shortlist: of shattered dreams and sticky feelings

In the five years since its inception, the German Book Prize has helped German literature grab more of the international limelight. It's awarded to the year's best German-language novel.

The pages of a book

The winner is announced on Oct. 12

The German Book Prize is considered to be the most prestigious award in the area of German literature. Jury members consisting of critics and bookshop owners delve through mountains of books, reading their way to the best. Six have now been short-listed for this year's prize. The winner, who will receive over 25,000 Euros ($37,000) in prize money, will be announced on Oct. 12 at the Frankfurt Book Fair.

Images of horror

Herta Mueller is the most famous of those nominated on the shortlist, and her novel "Atemschaukel" (Everything I Possess I Carry With Me) is the favorite. The author, who has received numerous awards, writes about the horrors ethnic Germans from Romania experienced in a Soviet work camp. The book is based on interviews with some of the deported, including the poet Oskar Pastior. He, like Mueller, was a part of the German minority in Romania, and they had planned to write the book together until Pastior's death in 2006. "Atemschaukel" is a tender homage to the poet, and the most political book on this year's shortlist.

Author Herta Mueller

Author Herta Mueller

Eifel blues

Until now, it's been a smaller crowd that is familiar with Norbert Scheuer's work, even though he's written several novels and novellas. All are based in the semi-mountainous region in west-central Germany known as the Eifel, where the author grew up. "Ueberm Rauschen" (The Rushing of the Water) tells the story of a man who returns to his homeland and attempts to make sense of the shattered pieces of his life. An almost magical world of fish presents a contrast to this, as does a river in which memories flow away, and whose rushing sound blends out all the unpleasantness.

Saying goodbye to dreams

With his debut novel "Grenzgang" (Walking the Boundaries), Stephan Thome also takes the reader to the provinces. He writes of shattered dreams and people around the age of 40, who have not lived up to their potential. There's the scientist, who has failed in the big city, and now lives the dreary life of a lecturer in a village in the state of Hesse. Or a dancer who ends up as a single mother overwhelmed with life. As the title suggests, the paths of these two cross - at a three-day village festival - with an unimaginable force of attraction. Stephan Thome is himself from Hesse, but currently lives in Taipei, and dares to take a literary look at his homeland.

Love in the waiting loop

Rainer Merkel's novel "Lichtjahre entfernt" (Light Years Away) looks at "placing" or "positioning" memory. In the book, a family therapist is on his way to the airport in New York and thinks about the past few years of his life. He recalls affairs, adventures and his one true love, who seems to be light-years away. In his third novel, Merkel - who is a trained psychologist - plumbs the inner world of a man who is stingy both with money and with his feelings.

The body: a prison

The most personal book on this year's shortlist is "Du stirbst nicht" (You're Not Going to Die) by Katrin Schmidt, who has primarily wowed audiences with the powerful use of language in her novels. A trained psychologist herself, the author has always focused on the psyches of her characters. But, in 2002, then 44-year-old Schmidt suffered from a cerebral hemorrhage that stripped her of her abilities of speech and movement. This is what her new novel addresses - experiencing one's own limits, losing one's ability to speak, and how this powerlessness manifests itself in the body.

The cover of Die Frequenzen by Clemens J. Setz

"Die Frequenzen" by Clemens J. Setz

Gloomy panopticon

At 27, the Graz-based author Clemens J. Setz is the youngest among the nominated writers. His 700-page novel "Die Frequenzen" (The Frequencies) is also the most unusual on the shortlist. The book contains letters, newspaper reports and a series of monologues by a dog - all of which are linked together. In the novel, paintings begin to talk and computers lose their minds. The story also revolves around the lives of two young men, and Graz, the capital of the Austrian state of Steiermark. Clemens J. Setz received the Ernst Willner Prize at the Ingeborg Bachmann Literary Competition in 2008 and is the only Austrian candidate this year.

Shattered dreams, personal retrospection and stories from the provinces are at the helm this year. Historical topics and political views play only a minor role. The jury has placed many, largely unknown authors on the shortlist, whose literature is yet to be discovered, but is no less exciting for it.

Author: Ayguel Cizmecioglu (als)

Editor: Kate Bowen

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