The Leipzig Book Fair Prize recognizes the best new books on the German market and helps readers navigate through the mass of new releases. This year's award unexpectedly goes to Georg Klein for his novel on childhood.
Georg Klein is known for the uncanny feeling in his works
The moment his name was announced on Thursday evening in Leipzig, a broad smile broke out on Georg Klein's face and he was greeted with warm applause from the audience.
"I would like to pick daisies of thanks from the meadow of this moment," said the author.
Klein, who was born in Augsburg in 1953, has long been an established figure in the German literature world. Since his first novel, "Libidissi," was published in 1998, he has been considered a masterful author who weaves irony into his science fiction, horror and secret agent novels.
All of his stories are imbued with a touch of something that cannot be grasped - something eerie. Even his most recent book, "Roman einer Kindheit" (Novel of a Childhood), which won him the Leipzig award, is autobiographical, but in no way an idyllic memoire.
Eyes of a child
The story is set in the 1960s, on the outskirts of a southern German town. The war has been over for a while, but the men are still haunted by their memories.
The interesting thing about Klein's book, said jury chairwoman Verena Auffermann, "is that the characters that he describes don't get to you. He describes everything from the surface. A black-and-white photographer couldn't do that better."
Klein's wasn't the only book on the Leipzig shortlist which deals with childhood. In fact, Anne Weber's comical novel "Luft und Liebe" (Air and Love) was the only one of the five selections that had nothing to do with childhood.
Jan Faktor's novel "Georgs Sorgen um die Vergangenheit oder Im Reich des heiligen Hodensack-Bimbams von Prag" (Georg's Concerns About the Past or In the Third Reich of the Holy Moly Scrotum of Prague) looks back on childhood in communist Prague.
Helene Hegemann's nomination was controversial
"Die Zeitwaage" (The Time Scale) by Lutz Seiler takes readers into the scene of his childhood in Thuringia - a landscape of coal and uranium mines. According to an Internet survey, Seiler, who is primarily known as a lyricist, had been the favorite to win the Leipzig Book Fair Prize.
On literary 'borrowing'
And Helene Hegemann's much discussed debut novel "Axolotl Roadkill" uncovers the entirely unromantic world of the upper-middle-class youth of our time. The 18-year-old author's admission of plagiarism in the novel ignited a lengthy discourse in Germany on sharing intellectual property in the Internet age - and discussion has continued in Leipzig.
At the beginning of the fair, a group of prominent German writers - including Christa Wolf, Guenter Grass, and Imre Torok - signed and published a declaration condemning plagiarism and upholding the rights of authors to their literary work.
"When plagiarism is considered prize-worthy, when intellectual theft and fraud is accepted as art, then this attitude demonstrates the negligent acceptance of legal violations in the established business of literature," read the declaration, which was initially signed by 18 authors.
The reference to Hegemann's case is unambiguous. While the youth author admitted to copying sections from a book written by an underground writer by the name of Airen, she has fuelled the debate by defending her actions. Still, Thursday in Leipzig, she was evidently annoyed by all the attention from the press.
"I'm overwhelmed and am trying - as best I can - not to let it get to me," Hegemann told reporters. "There are two ways to deal with it: One is to act like I'm above it. And the other is to slug it out in public. I don't know what's more intelligent."
In addition to the Leipzig Book Fair Prize for fiction, two other accolades were awarded on Thursday. The head of the German Literature Archive in Marbach, Ulrich Raulff, received the prize for non-fiction and essays for his book about the fate of Stefan George's poetry circle following his death.
In the translation category, Ulrich Blumenbach was recognized for his German version of David Foster Wallace's 1996 novel "Infinite Jest." Blumenbach spent six years on the complicated, 1,600-page translation.
The Leipzig Book Fair runs through March 21.
More than 100,000 visitors are expected at the Leipzig Book Fair
Author: Gabriela Schaaf (kjb)
Editor: Nathan Witkop