German Book Prize Robert Menasse Awarded the 2017 German Book Prize

Robert Menasse, awarded the German Book Prize 2017
Robert Menasse, awarded the German Book Prize 2017 | Photo: Arne Dedert; © dpa

For his novel, “Die Hauptstadt” (The Capital), the author has been distinguished with the industry’s most prestigious award. This book on the political goings-on in Brussels is a plea for a Europe above and beyond national egocentrisms.

It took a while before Robert Menasse, moved to tears, was able to say “Thank you”, adding that he was deeply moved at receiving the prize, but that his five competitors were equally deserving of the award.

The German Book Prize jury explained its decision as follows „Menasse’s book makes unmistakeably clear: the economy alone will not be able to guarantee us a peaceful future,” adding that the humane is always worth striving for, it is never reliably given, and with his novel, Menasse vividly shows that this applies to the European Union as well.

Successful atmospheric image of the European capital

Die Hauptstadt deals with the political goings-on in Brussels. The Austrian Robert Menasse researched on site for four years, and thereby developed a lovingly critical perspective on EU bureaucrats and their human fallibilities. The book is at once satire, crime thriller and analysis – and also a plea for a Europe above and beyond national egocentrisms. The seven members of the jury praised the book as “a multilayered text that interweaves existential questions on the private and political spheres in a masterly fashion, and releases the reader into open-endedness.” With dramaturgic skill, Menasse digs “with a light hand into the deeper strata of this world that we call our own”.

Robert Menasse has conducted many a discussion on European politics, also in the follow-up to his collections of essays on Europe. In Europäischer Landbote (i.e. European country courier, 2012) he wrote positively about the EU’s trans-national institutions and bureaucracies. Now in fact, he only desires to discuss his novel. But the theme preoccupies him above and beyond literary considerations. “This is a creeping revolution. For 60 years now, common parameters are being systematically produced for the continent as a whole. And when that happens, I want to know who is doing this, and how are they doing it? That’s why I had to fly to Brussels back then”. 

“The man-made aspects of the EU have to be narrated”

“I think people who say the EU is a problem, that it has taken away our sovereignty, we have to get out, it ought to be destroyed, are clueless and almost a public danger”, said Menasse in an interview after the award ceremony. “The concept is bold, important, and the one chance for all of us to still have a future on this continent. To develop this concept further, we have to criticise everything that is going wrong, and to be able to do that we have to know how the whole thing functions. What sort of people are they, who work there? What is on their minds?” He adds that there’s a lot to tell and it has to be shown that the EU is not some abstraction.  “What is happening there is man-made, and everything that is man-made can and must be narrated.” That is his approach as a novelist. “This is how we get closer to the possibility of reflecting on our contemporaneity and understanding it better. And intervening in it!“ 

The “European Republic” as concrete utopia

Robert Menasse was born in Vienna in 1954. His Jewish father had fled the National Socialists in 1938, and returned to Austria only after the war. Menasse studied German literature and culture, philosophy and political science in Vienna, Salzburg and Messina, and obtained his doctorate with a thesis on the “Typus des Außenseiters im Literaturbetrieb” (i.e. the outsider phenotype within literature). He worked as a publisher’s reader for Austria literature until 1988, and as a junior lecturer at the Institute of Literary Theory at the University of São Paulo in Brazil, where he also began writing.
 
Sandro Abbate: “I see the blogger as a literary mediator - like a good bookseller.” Photo: © Sandro Abbate | novelero.de goethe.de/jadu
Declarations of love to literature
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Influence of bloggers long recognized. More than 1.300 German-speaking book blogs are available. One of them is novelero by Sandro Abbate. In 2017 he was an official blogger accompanying the German Book Prize.
His literary breakthrough came in 1995 with his novel Schubumkehr. In this work he depicts the historic turning point in the late 1980’s taking as his example a village on the Austrian-Czech border. Menasse has been dealing with the European Union and themes critiquing globalisation in his essays since 2005. Here, he was not fundamentally critical of the European Union from the outset, but located its democratic deficits primarily in the influence and power of the individual national states. In Frankfurt he stated that he has not been converted from Saul to Paul through his experiences in Brussels, but from Paul the child to Paul the man.  He confirmed as early as 2013  that in his view the “European Republic” is a concrete Utopia.

Losers do not leave empty-handed

“I’m ecstatic”, was the author’s response to the journalists’ question as to how he felt shortly after being given the award – with a gallant allusion to his fellow shortlister Sasha Marianna Salzmann’s title (“Außer sich,” i.e. ecstatic). “Any author who says he doesn’t wish for an award like this and doesn’t need it is lying.” It’s just that he’s been noticing something bewildering since receiving the award. “I feel as if I’m a con-man who’s talking about a novel somebody else wrote.”
 
Other nominees for the finale of the best German-language novel of the year were: Gerhard Falkner (Romeo oder Julia), Franzobel (Das Floß der Medusa), Thomas Lehr (Schlafende Sonne), Marion Poschmann (Die Kieferninseln) and Sasha Marianna Salzmann (Außer sich). Each received a purse of 2500 Euros. Last year Bodo Kirchhoff won the German Book Prize for Widerfahrnis
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The award has been given annually by the Association of German Publishers and Booksellers since 2005 for the purpose of recognising the best German-language novel of the year. Publishers from Germany, Austria and Switzerland can submit titles. A seven-member jury whose membership changes each year first selects 20 titles for the longlist. Then five or six authors are chosen from among them for the shortlist. The winner receives a purse of 25,000 Euros, and as a rule the book is assured a place on the bestseller list. The festive ceremony is held each year in the Frankfurt City Hall, the Römer, on the day before the opening of the Frankfurt Book Fair.
 

Nominations for the Book Prize – Short List and Long List

In addition to the award-winning novel Die Hauptstadt, the following books were nominated for the Book Prize 2017:

  • Romeo oder Julia by Gerhard Falkner
  • Das Floß der Medusa by Franzobel
  • Schlafende Sonne by Thomas Lehr
  • Die Kieferninseln by Marion Poschmann
  • Außer sich by Sasha Marina Salzmann
The 2017 book price long list also included the following titles:
  • Lichter als der Tag by Mirko Bonné
  • Schau mich an, wenn ich mit dir rede! by Monika Helfer
  • Das Jahr der Frauen by Christoph Höhtker
  • Kraft by Jonas Lüscher
  • Flugschnee by Birgit Müller-Wieland
  • Schreckliche Gewalten by Jakob Nolte
  • Nach Onkalo by Kerstin Preiwuß
  • Phantom by Robert Prosser
  • Wiener Straße by Sven Regener
  • Peter Holtz by Ingo Schulze
  • Das Singen der Sirenen by Michael Wildenhain
  • Walter Nowak bleibt liegen by Julia Wolf
  • Katie by Christine Wunnicke
  • Evangelio by Feridun Zaimoglu