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Books

Shortlist for German Book Prize 2016

Six novels have been shortlisted for the German Book Prize. The winner will be announced in October. Among the nominees are books on hooligans, lonely families and depressed city-dwellers.

There's a lot of drinking and sex to be found in the books that have made it to the shortlist for the German Book Prize 2016. Is that an indication of contemporary reality? Or perhaps that's what happens when the books are for the most part written by young men. We have a look at the five male and one female author that have been shortlisted for their latest novels.

Reinhard Kaiser-Mühlecker: 'Fremde Seele, dunkler Wald' (Strange soul, dark woods)

Reinhard Kaiser-Mühlecker, © Jürgen Bauer

Reinhard Kaiser-Mühlecker

The Austrian author has more than a dozen prizes and stipends under his belt for the works he's already published: five novels and a book of stories. The German Book Prize, however, is not yet among those prizes, but Kaiser-Mühlecker, born in 1982, is still young.

Equally youthful are the main characters in the nominated book. Jakob is just 15 when we first meet him, and his brother Alexander is a soldier returning home from deployment abroad. They live in the countryside with their parents and grandparents and are trapped in a domineering tradition that is in direct opposition to the changing times.

With quiet, heavy language, Kaiser-Mühlecker seems to take the reader back to another era. The feeling of being held hostage between resignation and nostalgia is present.

Bodo Kirchhoff: 'Widerfahrnis' (Experience)

Bodo Kirchhoff, © Laura J Gerlach

Bodo Kirchhoff

What does a pensioner do when his publisher has closed and the future is not as open as it once was? He could, for example, cross love's path while writing a novel without a title and a hat maker one day appears at his door.

An experienced author, Bodor Kirchhoff specializes in unusual happenings and in this novella about an unexpected love late in life, he sends two people to Capri on a dream vacation. Italy is a destination longed-for by many Germans, yet in this book, the idyll place butts up against our current reality when a neglected refugee girl who cannot speak turns up.

The couple wants to help but where does the help end and a feeling of forced assistance begin? With light, ironic pathos and very precise prose, Kirchhoff has created a work that is simultaneously timeless and current.

André Kubiczek: 'Skizze eines Sommers' (Sketch of a summer)

André Kubiczek, © Imago/gezett

André Kubiczek

In the summer of 1985, René is in Potsdam, about to celebrate his 16th birthday. His mother has died of cancer. His father is in Geneva for the East German government, negotiating disarmament. For seven weeks during the school break, René and his friends are free from adult supervision; the summer is a time for discovery. Smoking, brandy drinking, listening to The Cure.

There's a lot of time to create their own style: with words, music, attitudes. They can make themselves look important in front of Bianca, Connie and Rebecca. They can talk and talk about Beaudelaire, the working class, the disco at Orion. It's a book that tells the story of a childhood spent in East Germany. Told from René's point of view, the book is funny and authentic thanks to its author, Kubiczek, who himself was 16 and living in Potsdam in 1985.

Thomas Melle: 'Die Welt im Rücken' (The world at my back)

Thomas Melle, © Dagmar Morath

Thomas Melle

An autobiographical book about his life with a mental illness isn't exactly a novel, but rather a literary attempt author Thomas Melle took at taking his life back. "Fiction has to take a break," Melle writes in the prologue. This year's Book Prize jury showed courage in selecting the book, seeing as the shortlist is for the "best novel."

But the writer has shown even greater bravery in the book, which details his life as someone with bipolar syndrome. It begins in 1999 in a hectic Berlin, where life as a student takes place between lecture halls and night clubs and the protagonist experiences his first manic episode. Suffering from the delusions for months, he continues on with his city life only to be struck with a depression that ranges from devastating to near suicidal. The cycle between mania and depression carries on to the point that his life is in ruins, his identity all but stolen.

Melle, who has previously written novels and theater plays, writes about this shifting between delusion and shame from the interior perspective with enormous literary power.

Eva Schmidt: 'Ein langes Jahr' (A long year)

Eva Schmidt, © Markus Gmeiner

Eva Schmidt

The unnamed city lies on the east banks of Lake Constance in southern Germany, most likely the hometown of author Eva Schmidt, Bregenz. Though the city is never named, the episodic novel is a story in short chapters that jump from character to character and shifts point of view as they sketch out a panorama of people and dogs.

The narrator is a single, childless woman with a dog. She watches the daily goings-on around her before suddenly realizing that she herself is being watched by the woman across the way. The perspective shifts. Cora and Susanne. Tom and Ben. Marasek and a person who cannot speak.

Eva Schmidt's first book in over 20 years deals with the everyday people who could be our neighbors or those who sleep out on the streets. The book is filled through and through with a quiet melancholy.

Philipp Winkler: 'Hool' (Hooligan)

Philipp Winkler, © Kat Kaufmann

Philipp Winkler

From the very first sentence, Philipp Winkler's debut novel guides readers into a world closed-off to most: the inner world of hooligans. In this case, the hooligans from Hanover.

Winkler tells the story of Heiko Kolbe and his blood brothers through Heiko's eyes and brings readers along to fights carried out in forests against other groups of hooligans. There are cocaine-fueled bikers, cocky sayings doled out by his uncle Axel, skinheads on their stomping grounds and at the gym, readers are introduced to a martial artist past his heyday. With a hard-drinking, angry father, a sister striving for the middle-class and a mother who has disappeared, Heiko has developed an unbreakable love for the football club Hannover 96 and his friends.

It is a world filled with the language of the outsider. Fatally sad, hopelessly poetic and sometimes comical, the book gets under your skin.

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