Young doctor wins top German literary prize for euthanasia novel | Culture | Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 29.06.2009

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Young doctor wins top German literary prize for euthanasia novel

Jens Petersen, a German doctor living in Switzerland, has said he sees a lot of pain in his job, which spurs his creativity. That's earned him one of the top German-language literary awards: the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize.

Jens Petersen

Petersen said his work as a doctor inspires him to write

Petersen, 33, was presented with the prestigious Bachmann Prize on Sunday in Klagenfurt, Austria, for his yet-to-be-published novel entitled "Bis dass der Tod..." ("Until death..."). The prize is endowed with 25,000 euros ($35,000).

The book, which is set in an "apocalyptic landscape" and which the jury generally described as "oppressive," tells the story of a man who shoots and kills his girlfriend, who had been chronically ill for many years.

The author himself called his text "rather extreme," adding that it was the result of the large number of "borderline experiences" he has had as a doctor.

Ingeborg Bachmann

Austrian writer Ingeborg Bachmann died in 1973

"In my job, I see a lot of pain," he said.

Petersen, born in Pinneborg, Germany, lives and practices in Zurich. His first novel, "Die Haushälterin" ("The Housekeeper," 2005), was well received and earned him several other literary prizes in Germany.

Lackluster submissions for otherwise scandalous prize

While the winning book focused on a morbid topic, the German daily Sueddeutsche Zeitung wrote that the other entries this year were equally "torturous," if for different reasons.

"How faint-hearted and conventionally told were some of the stories!" the paper wrote. "Seldom a failure - but unattractively well-behaved."

"Well-behaved" is atypical description for the Ingeborg Bachman Prize, which was founded in 1977 in memory of the Austrian writer.

"You can't plan a scandal, but you can scandalize, and that was going on from the beginning," Doris Moser, who had directed the prize committee for four years and done a study on it, told Deutsche Welle.

Though Petersen's book broaches a topic full of ethical quagmires, he didn't quite reach the expected level of shock and scandal otherwise expected at the Bachmann Prize.

During the reading for the first award in 1977, outspoken critic and jury member Marcel Reich-Ranicki shouted to feminist author Karin Struck on the stage: "Who cares what women think when they're menstruating?"

Rainald Goetz bleeds from his forehead at the 1983 Ingeborg Bachmann Prize

In 1983, blood was spilled at the awarding of the Bachmann Prize

He said her text was "a crime," and not literature, in an event that the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung dubbed "a theatrical event."

In 1983, the scandal-factor hit its peak when author Rainald Goetz ran a razor blade across his forehead during the reading and continued on, blood streaming down his face. He didn't win the prize, but shot nevertheless to instant fame.


Editor: Sean Sinico

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