Adelbert von Chamisso Prize “I mistrust art that aims to convey a message.”

The Award ceremony in Munich: Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, president of the Goethe-Institut, Abbas Khider and Uta-Micaela Dürig, manager of the Robert-Bosch-Stiftung.
The Award ceremony in Munich: Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, president of the Goethe-Institut, Abbas Khider and Uta-Micaela Dürig, manager of the Robert-Bosch-Stiftung. | Photo: Markus Kirchgessner

Female superheroes, Facebook chats and identity crises – for the last time, the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize was awarded to three authors whose work is shaped by more than one culture and language. They cannot be reduced to a simple message.

“Guest worker literature?” By no means, even back then. Yet in the 1980s, when the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize was awarded for the first time, it was an innovative objective to put authors writing in German who were not native speakers under the spotlight. A lot has changed since then; a lot has improved. The awardees are now often native German speakers; cultural diversity is largely socially accepted. What the prize-winning authors have in common is that their work is shaped by a cultural transition.
 
Yesterday, the prize was awarded in Munich for the last time. The president of the Goethe-Institut, Klaus-Dieter Lehmann, sat on the jury. “The three awardees of the 2017 Adelbert von Chamisso Prize once again reveal the allure of this unusual prize. Their books are simply sensationally good, an enrichment. It’s not for nothing that so many authors travel between the Goethe-Instituts on reading tours! I enjoyed being part of the jury for the Chamisso Prize.”
This year, the Robert-Bosch-Stiftung awarded Abbas Khider the Adelbert von Chamisso Prize for his complete works. We interviewed the winners of the promotional prizes, Barbi Marković and Senthuran Varatharajah:
 
Barbi Marković Barbi Marković | Photo: Yves Noir Ms Marković, what do you aim to convey with your novel Superheldinnen?
Three of the messages in Superheldinnen are, “‘Help!’ ‘Shit!’ ‘Class struggle!’” The truth is that I did not aim to send a message, but to make a status report of urban life with a focus on desperation, precariousness and the absurd. 
 
Your native language is Serbian. Is there a word that, for you, cannot be translated from Serbian into German (or vice versa)?
“Jein” – that’s both the answer (“yes and no”) and an example. A lot that rhymes in one language is lost in another. 

Your novel Superheldinnen premiered as a play at Vienna’s Volkstheater in February. Did you attend the rehearsals or did you want to be surprised?
At the beginning I was there a bit as a consultant for the text version, but I let myself be surprised for the premiere anyway. Very positively.
 

Senthuran Varatharajah Senthuran Varatharajah | Photo: Yves Noir Mr Varatharajah, what message do you want your novel to convey?
I mistrust art that aims to convey a message.
 
You grew up speaking German and Tamil. Is there a word that, for you, cannot be translated from one to the other language?
No word is translatable. That applies to any language. 
 
Your novel Vor der Zunahme der Zeichen is structured like a Facebook dialogue. When was the last time you sent analogue post?
The day before yesterday: a letter to the tax office.