Italian Claudio Magris receives Peace Prize of German Book Trade | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 18.10.2009
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Italian Claudio Magris receives Peace Prize of German Book Trade

One of Germany's most prestigious literary prizes has been awarded to a writer whose own life story inspired him to write about European history, culture and conflict.

Claudio Magris

Magris accepted the award in the Paulskirche, Frankfurt

Claudio Magris has been picked as the winner of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. 70-year-old Magris became well-known in 1986 for his book "Danube: a sentimental journey from the source to the Black Sea", in which he analyzes the culture and conflicts of Central Europe. His writing has always focused on the problems that arise from different cultures and ethnic groups living together.

Born in the Italian town of Trieste, many of Magris' books deal with the old Austro-Hungarian Empire, which his hometown once was a part of. His own family history reflects the multicultural tapestry of this region and the interlocking cultures on the north and south slopes of the Alps

"My grandfather came to Trieste from a village at the end of the 19th century, and my mother was from Dalmatia and of Greek-Venetian heritage," said Magris. "And we have Croatian cousins."

Inspired by experience

A view on Trieste

Trieste is a melting pot of Central European cultures

Rising nationalism in the early 20th century often tore families in this region apart. One side chose Italy; the other Croatia. And, just like Berlin, Trieste was divided into separate administrative zones after World War II.

This meant that a region of mixed languages, dialects, cultures and ethnicities suddenly became a place divided by borders. It brought a certain sense of melancholy to the town, and a hint of this melancholy can still be seen in Magris when he sits in one of the local cafes writing his books.

Magris' wife, writer Marisa Madieri, died over ten years ago. She was his travel companion and the first reader and editor of his work, keen on simplifying his occasionally convoluted writing. Today, when Magris speaks about the loss of utopia as one of his key literary topics it is partly a reflection of his own personal experience.

The awards is given each year as part of the Frankfurt Book Fair. Endowed with 25,000 euros ($37,000), the prize was introduced in 1950, and usually goes to writers or scholars whose work improves understanding between rival nations and ethnic groups. It is administered by the German association of publishers and booksellers.

Author: Tomas Fitzel (ew)

Editor: Andreas Illmer

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