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Sasa Stanisic wins German Book Prize

October 14, 2019

Reacting to the win, the Bosnian-German author has criticized the decision to award the Nobel Prize in literature to Austrian Peter Handke. Stanisic's work describes his escape from the former Yugoslavia.

Sasa Stanisic
Image: Imago/G. Leber

Bosnian-German author Sasa Stanisic has won the annual German Book Prize for best German-language novel for his novel Herkunft (Origin).

But the win did not come without controversy. Responding to the accolade on Monday, Stanisic took a thinly veiled swipe at recently anointed Nobel laureate Peter Handke.

Sasa Stanisic's "Herkunft" book cover
In "Herkunft," Stanisic speaks of his family's escape to Germany from war-torn Yugoslavia

Stanisic, who was born in Visegrad in 1978 and fled to Germany with his parents in 1992, said: "I had the good fortune to escape what Peter Handke fails to describe in his texts."

He added that it is "weird that you put the reality in such a way that it consists only of lies," and that it was remiss of Handke not to talk of crimes against humanity.

Handke's win on Thursday sparked criticism in many Balkan countries over the Austrian author's open support for the late Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, who led his country during the Balkan wars of the 1990s. Survivors of the 1995 Srebrenica massacre have called for Handke's Nobel Prize to be revoked, saying it was "shameful" to honor a man who has denied the killings happened.

In 1999, Booker Prize-winning author Salman Rushdie awarded Handke the runner-up spot for "International moron of the year" in the British daily The Guardian for his "series of impassioned apologias for the genocidal regime of Slobodan Milosevic." The winner was actor Charlton Heston, for his support of guns.

Read more: Olga Tokarczuk: 'Literature is meant to provoke thought'  

Motivated by memories

The Frankfurt-based panel, which consisted of seven judges, was effusive about the imagination and humor in Stanisic's book.

"Under each sentence of this novel waits the elusive origin, which simultaneously drives the story."

Inspired Minds - Sasa Stanisic

In Herkunft, Stanisic writes about his grandmother as she gradually loses her memory, as well about as his family's escape during the conflict in Yugoslavia, the subsequent collapse of the region and what role one's origins play in the first place.

The conclusion to the book has readers being invited to play a game: they can decide how the story should proceed. The writer shows great imagination and rejects "chronology, realism and the definite," the book panel said.

Members of the jury selected Stanisic's novel from more than 200 titles published in the last year. The winner receives €25,000 ($27,500), while the five remaining authors who made the shortlist are each awarded €2,500 ($2,750).

Read more: Artists After the Escape: Finding home in a foreign land

Speaking to DW about Herkunft, Stanisic described how one's origin is merely a matter of circumstance, yet it has a massive effect on how you are perceived.

"Every home is a happenstance. You're born somewhere, driven out from there, donate your kidney to science over here. Your origins are down to luck, and this has an enormous influence on you."

Saša Stanišić: Origin

jsi/cmk (KNA, dpa)

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