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German Book Prize

Kate CoxOctober 2, 2006

Germany's top award for contemporary novels, the German Book Prize, went to Katharina Hacker’s novel "Die Habenichtse" ("The Have-nots") published by Suhrkamp.

Hacker, center, now has a major international literature prize to go with her babyImage: picture-alliance / dpa

A seven-member committee chose the winner from a short-list of six, announcing it in Frankfurt on Monday, October 2, the eve of the Frankfurt Book Fair.

The prize, worth 25,000 euros ($32,000) is currently in its second year. It is similar to the Booker Prize in Britain, but for novels written in the German language.

A contemporary love story

In "The Have-nots" Hacker uses 9/11 as the starting-point for a story about a chance encounter. A world gone crazy provides the backdrop to this love story about a privileged young couple who have everything but achieve nothing.

"I was dealing with the question of how we live, how we should live our lives properly. Whether we can be happy, and how much we should become involved," said Hacker.

A stack of books and the logo for the German Book Prize
The German Book Prize was founded in 2005Image: dpb

The author explained that she'd written the book out of concern for her well-to-do contemporaries. She wondered why their life style disturbed her so much and was also concerned about her own involvement. Personal responsibility is a central issue to Hacker.

In "The Have-nots" a couple meets at a party in Berlin on the day of the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. They split up but later the couple meets again by chance in a bar. They marry, almost in haste, and follow their careers in London.

It's a tense time, in the run-up to the invasion of Iraq. And the couple, seemingly so successful, can only watch as their lives fall apart. This is the portrait of a generation with no aims.

The jury praised Hacker for showing how world events can affect the lives of individuals, and how an inability to sympathise and make decisions can clash with a need for 'existential' experience.

Frankfurt-born Hacker, who is a graduate in philosophy and Jewish studies and lived in Israel from 1990 until 1996, currently makes her home in Berlin.

She first aroused international attention with her novels "The Lifeguard" and "Morpheus".

German authors dealing with big issues

Six authors were still in the running when the jury, nominees, press and who’s who of Germany’s literary scene as well as the national book trade gathered for the award ceremony in Frankfurt’s Römer city hall on the night of Oct. 2.

The announcement of the winner was carefully timed for the eve of the Frankfurt Book Fair. All of the shortlisted works dealt with intense issues: terrorism, the division of Germany, the Bosnian War, the business world, and encounters with foreign cultures.

A gaping hole where the Twin Towers once stood
The aftermath of Sept. 11 is the background for Hacker's bookImage: AP

See the link below for a complete list of the shortlisted works and other works by the shortlisted authors that have been published in English.

This year’s German Book Prize jury included authors John von Düffel and Terezia Mora, literary critics Volker Hage, Elmar Krekeler and Pia Reinacher, as well as the TV literary editor Denis Scheck and bookseller Stephan Samtleben.

They had the daunting task of selecting the best novel published in Germany, Austria and Switzerland between Oct. 1, 2005 and Sept. 12, 2006.

"We have read our way through a mountain of novels and even asked for more titles in addition to those nominated by the publishing companies since we didn't want to be limited to the initial choices," said jury spokesman Hage.

Award in its second year

This high-profile fiction competition was founded in 2005 by the German Booksellers and Publishers Association to give contemporary German literature a boost in an increasingly tough overseas market.

"The presentation of the German Book Prize has helped to boost confidence in the quality of contemporary German literature, aroused expectations for the continuation and increased the appetite for new literary discoveries," said Gottfried Honnefelder, president of the German Booksellers Association and chairman of the German Book Prize Academy.

Last year Austrian novelist Arno Geiger received the Prize for his epic family saga "Es geht uns gut" ("We are doing fine"), published by Hanser.

Deutsche Welle supports the German Book Prize primarily with media activities abroad.