The shortlist for the German Book Prize 2020

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Aus twenty make six: This magic formula is used late summer by late summer by the jury of the German Book Prize to reduce the long list of twenty novels announced in August to the six finalists, from which the winner will be determined in Frankfurt in mid-October. Normally we would have said more precisely: “at the start of the book fair week”. But there is not much left of that this year between the book price announcement on Monday and the peace award ceremony on Sunday. After all, both take place, even if the former only as a live stream.

The six books that remained in the running are as follows: Bov Bjerg’s “Serpentinen” (Claassen), Dorothee Elmiger’s “From the Sugar Factory” (Hanser), Thomas Hettches “Herzfäden” (Kiepenheuer & Witsch), Deniz Ohdes “Streulicht” (Suhrkamp), Anne Weber’s “Annette, a heroine epic” (Matthes & Seitz), Christine Wunnicke’s “The lady with the painted hand” (Berenberg). As in the case of the shortlist, there was again a good spread. No double nominations for a publisher, a good mix of celebrities (Bjerg, Hettche), established people (Elmiger, Weber, Wunnicke) and a debutante (Deniz Ohde). Given the quality of the books, it was to be expected that there would be more women than men.

The fact that Bov Bjerg was the only one of the two nominated bestselling authors left while Robert Seethaler’s “The Last Sentence” was eliminated is a sign that the jury honored risk: “Serpentinen” is far more inaccessible and demanding than Bjerg’s previous novel “Auerhaus”. The exciting journey of a father with his little son in every respect in search of his father’s past is psychologically so dense that one can be amazed. With Anne Weber and Christine Wunnicke, authors are in the running who have been loved by critics for years, but still neglected by the public. Wunnicke has a subscription to book price nominations, she was also represented in 2015 and 2017, but she has now made it onto the shortlist for the first time. “The Lady with the Painted Hand” is an enchanted and comical historical fantasy about an encounter between a German explorer and an oriental astronomer, which opens the eyes of both parties to one another. Anne Weber’s “Annette”, on the other hand, is identified as a “heroine epic” and tells of a French resistance fighter. Both books show the deep sympathy of their authors for the people.

Deniz Ohde’s “Scattered Light” may be seen as a surprise, but the young author’s debut novel, with its keen eye for a girl’s childhood with migrant roots, is a very topical subject – and the plot is not, as is so often the case, in East Germany, but in Rhine Main Area. This also calls into question a piece of comfortable social normality as an integration myth, but without it becoming an indictment.

Dorothee Elmiger’s “From the Sugar Factory”, on the other hand, is already the third novel by the author, who takes an immense amount of time to write; its predecessor, “Schlafgänger”, was released in 2014. Perseverance is rewarded here – and it has paid off, because the novel, which is set around the world and across the ages, uses the example of Caribbean sugar to critically target the phenomenon of goods production and greed in a way that one would expect from non-fiction books . Only here also told with virtuosity.

All strong titles, then, with very different ones with one thing in common: they are clearly concerns that are close to the heart. However, Thomas Hettche can be described as a favorite for the book prize. Not because he already has the heart in the title, or just because he already has a long history of nominations for the book prize – his new book “Herzfäden” is also a generational phenomenon as “Roman der Augsburger Puppenkiste”, as the subtitle reads. This year’s book prize jury is, on average, young enough not to have given in to nostalgic considerations. This already shows that one has to expect Hettche’s book on October 12, when this year’s book prize winner is chosen from the six titles on the shortlist.

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