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Book award

June 16, 2011

"Venushaar" ("Maiden's Hair") is the title that made him known to German readers - one of four novels by the celebrated author Michail Schischkin. Some have hailed him as the next Tolstoy.

Author Michail Schischkin
Schischkin's winning novel has autobiographical parallelsImage: Yvonne Böhler

Praised as a "new discovery for German readers," Russian author and journalist Michail Schischkin is the winner of this year's International Literature Prize.

Schischkin's winning novel, translated as "Venushaar" in German and not yet available in English, has earned a number of awards - and not just in Germany. The author's home country celebrated his work with the Russian Booker Prize and the national book prize. Critics have compared him with literary greats, at times suggesting he could be the next Tolstoy or Nabokov.

Bridge to the present

"Venushaar" ("Maiden's Hair") is the first of Schischkin's four novels to be translated into German. The novel features refugees from the former Soviet Union who narrate their experiences, which are relayed to the reader by way of the book's central character, an interpreter.

The structure of "Venushaar" has an autobiographical link to Schischkin, who has worked as an interpreter for around 15 years in Swiss governmental offices.

"Some writers view themselves as the masters of their books," said Michail Schischkin. "I view myself more as a servant - once a story beckons me to my writing desk, that's when a novel emerges."

The prize-winning book was originally published in 2005 and has been performed in a theater adaptation for four years in Moscow.

The book prize's jury was impressed with the "joy in experimentation and stylistic variety" and the way the novel "bridges the Soviet revolution with the present by way of the author's powerful idiom."

Translator also honored

"We want to bring German readers closer to the plurality of voices in world literature," explained Susanne Stemmler of Berlin's House of World Cultures, the institution which awards the International Literature Award. The jury consists of noted literary critics, journalists, translators and authors.

The award is unique in that both the translator, Andreas Tretner, and the author share the prize, which carries an award of 35,000 euros ($50,000). The author wins a share of 25,000 euros, while Tretner takes home 10,000 euros.

The official award ceremony takes place on June 29 in Berlin.

"Venushaar" cover
The word 'Venushaar' can refer to types of moss or fernsImage: DVA

Author: Gudrun Stegen / gsw
Editor: Kate Bowen