1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

Nonbinary author's win is exciting

Kieselbach Sabine
Sabine Kieselbach
October 19, 2022

Kim de l'Horizon's book on the pain of self-discovery and the jury's brave decision to deem it best novel shows how vibrant German literature can be, says Sabine Kieselbach.

Kim de l'Horizon holding up the book Blutbuch
Kim de l'Horizon won the German Book Prize 2022Image: Arne Dedert/dpa/picture alliance

Cheers and standing ovations. It's never happened before in the history of the German Book Prize.

After becoming the first nonbinary author to win the prize for best novel of the year for Blutbuch  — German for "Blood Book" — Kim de l'Horizon surprised an astonished audience at Frankfurt's city hall with a spectacular performance: a teary thank you to their mother and a song.

And then, they grabbed an electric razor and ran it through their dark curls: "This prize is not just for me," said de l'Horizon. "I think the jury also chose this text to send a signal against hate, for love, for the struggle of all people who are oppressed because of their bodies."

In its statement, the jury praised the literary innovation of Blutbuch, which it said was provocative and inspiring.

Resistance preprogrammed

Naturally, the backlash didn't take long. Already at the celebration following the award ceremony, some visitors expressed irritation and annoyance. And unsurprisingly, also on social media, where many of the comments were obvious knee-jerk reactions.

Have the "woke" and the gender activists now also hijacked the German Book Prize? The debate was not about the book's literary quality.

Sabine Kieselbach
Literature expert and DW editor Sabine KieselbachImage: DW

The sometimes savage reactions, however, offer an inkling of the resistance experienced by people who do not define themselves as men or women, who reject an either/or for themselves. And that is precisely what the award-winning novel is about.

Courageous decision by jury

The narrator in Blutbuch defines themselves — like Kim de l'Horizon — as a nonbinary person. But how does one assert oneself in a society that insists on fixed roles? The book outlines all the pain of self-discovery for which there is not even a language. How can we write about people without pinning them down to one gender?

Sometimes the language Kim de l'Horizon chooses is poetic and delicate, then suddenly vulgar and distant. A flow of characters and thoughts that sweeps you along. This power of language and this courage have been recognized. In a world in which many certainties are currently eroding, the idea that gender roles are also not fixed apparently terrifies many people.

The fact that a book, which celebrates precisely this fluidity while breaking all the rules, has been named best novel of the year is a courageous decision on the part of the jury.

Because it proves how vibrant, exciting and different German-language literature can be.

This opinion piece was originally written in German.

Skip next section Related topics
Skip next section DW's Top Story

DW's Top Story

Mobilized military reservists are seen during a send-off ceremony at Nakhimov Square in Sevastopol.

Are Russia's plans to reform its army realistic?

Skip next section More stories from DW
Go to homepage