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International Literature Prize: 6 books to check out

Torsten Landsberg | Elizabeth Grenier
May 20, 2021

The major literary award honors a novel's German translation — and offers a preview of acclaimed works that are also set to be published in English later this year.

A pile of six books, the titles nominated for the International Literature Prize.
Jonas Eika, Jenny Offill, Nastassja Martin, Ava Farmehri, Fatima Daas and Fang Fang are the nominated authorsImage: HKW

Awarded annually since 2009 by the Berlin arts center Haus der Kulturen der Welt and the foundation Elementarteilchen, the International Literature Prize recognizes a work of international prose that has been translated into German. 

The winning author will receive a prize of €20,000 ($25,000), and the translator  €15,000. The winning work, to be revealed at the awards ceremony on June 30, is selected from a shortlist of six titles.

Last year, the jury decided to split the award among all shortlisted nominees, to recognize the plurality of voices of authors and translators working in precarious conditions during the pandemic.

This year's shortlisted titles are:

'The Last One'

French author Fatima Daas, who was born in 1995, offers an autobiographical debut novel dealing with her Algerian roots, her Muslim faith and her homosexuality. Growing up in a Paris banlieue, love and sexuality are taboo subjects in her family. When she meets and falls in love with Nina, Fatima realizes what was missing in her life.

La petite dernière was a bestseller in France. German-language translator Sina de Malafosse is shortlisted alongside Daas for the award.

The English version of the book is set to be published on November 9, 2021. 

'After the Sun'

Danish author Jonas Eika, born in 1991, also made it onto the shortlist with his debut, Efter solen, alongside German-language translator Ursel Allenstein.

A novel dealing with capitalism and technological progress and praised for its inventive storytelling, After the Sun has already received numerous awards, including the prestigious Nordic Council Literary Prize in 2019.

The English version will hit bookstores on August 24, 2021.

'Soft Burial'

Published in China in 2016, the novel written by Fang Fang (best known for her Wuhan Diary) obtained widespread acclaim and awards, but was soon pulled off the shelves in her home country.

The book is set in 1950s China, following Mao Zedong's agrarian and land reform, through which the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) confiscated land from landlords and redistributed it to peasants. During this tumultuous era, millions of landlords were executed and buried without coffins — in so-called soft burials.

The novel was published in German in April, translated by Michael Kahn-Ackermann, and is not available yet in English. 

Chinese novelist Fang Fang
The Chinese government banned the sale of Fang Fang's award-winning novel, 'Soft Burial'Image: Getty Images/David Levenson

'Through the Sad Wood Our Corpses Will Hang'

Born in Iran and now living in Canada, Ava Farmehri's novel is set in the country where she grew up.

It tells the story of Sheyda, who as a child found escape from her repressive environment by daydreaming. The 20-year-old pursues her mental leaps when, accused of killing her mother, she lands in prison and faces the death penalty.  

The book was translated from English into German by Sonja Finck.

'To Believe in the Animal'

French anthropologist Nastassja Martin's work of literary non-fiction tells the story of her nearly fatal run-in with a bear during a research trip to the Russian Kamchatka Peninsula. Left severely mutilated, she undergoes multiple surgeries and decides to return to where it all happened. With the help of the local Eveni people, she undergoes a spiritual transformation.

As the German translator, Claudia Kalscheuer is also shortlisted for the award. The book will also be published in English on November 2, 2021.


The main narrator in Jenny Offill's latest novel is a librarian and hobby psychologist called Lizzie Benson. As she becomes obsessed with the topic of the end of the world, she is confronted with both leftist climate activists and ultra-conservative preppers.

The US book was translated from English into German by Melanie Walz.

Portrait of a young woman with red hair and glasses
Elizabeth Grenier Editor and reporter for DW Culture