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Frankfurt Book Fair 2020
Anne Weber Awarded German Book Prize 2020

German Book Prize 2020 goes to Anne Weber
Foto (Detail): Arne Dedert © picture alliance/dpa/POOL

"Annette, ein Heldinnenepos“ by Anne Weber has won the German Book Prize for novel of the year at the start of the Frankfurt Book Fair.

By Sabine Peschel

This year, the Frankfurt Book Fair is being held digitally and de-centrally – in 2020, the start is nonetheless still analogue: The German Book Prize Deutscher Buchpreis for Book of the Year was awarded, as it has been for many years, at Frankfurt's Römer – before a small but select audience: Five of the six shortlisted authors Shortlist nominierter Autoren were on hand, along with a few publishers' representatives, officials from the city of Frankfurt and the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels (German Publishers and Booksellers Association), technicians and journalists. All other interested parties were able to follow the award ceremony via video live-stream or radio. 

Gratitude to a real heroine

One had the impression that the applause of the few who could be physically present in the hall was particularly loud this year, when the decision was announced after just under an hour. Not to compensate for all the other literary figures who were absent, but out of genuine admiration for a very special book. After all, the prize for Anne Weber's Annette, ein Heldinnenepos (i.e. Annette, an epic of a heroine) not only honours a work that would be inadequately described by the “novel” format, but also a woman “who is not only the heroine of this book, but a real heroine”, as Anne Weber put it.
The author, who lives in Paris, expressed her deep gratitude to “Anne Beaumanoir, the real person, the woman whose story I am telling here”. In her speech, she described the extraordinary life of the woman to whom she dedicated her epic poem, written in rhyme-less verse, the story of 96-year-old Anne (Annette) Beaumanoir, who was born in 1923 in a modest background in Brittany, and joined the Communist Resistance at a young age.

Prize for a story of the Resistance

“The power of Anne Weber's narrative can compete with the power of her heroine,” the jury explained its decision. “It is breathtaking how fresh the ancient epic form sounds here, and with what ease Weber condenses the life story of the French Resistance fighter Anne Beaumanoir into a novel about courage, resilience and the struggle for freedom.” It is nothing less than Franco-German history as one of the foundations of our Europe today.

Anne Weber tells the story of Beaumanoir's life in staccato, in a manner both formally perfected and playful, who, herself almost a child, saved two Jewish youths in Paris – for which she later received the honorific title “Righteous among the Nations” from Yad Vashem. And who, after the war, struggled with the betrayal of her love for the Communist Party, became a wife and mother and led a relatively middle-class life – which did not last long – as a neurophysiologist in Marseilles. Beaumanoir took an active part in the Algerian independence movement and was consequently sentenced to ten years in prison in 1959. Even today, this real heroine still tells about her life in the Resistance in schools.

Appreciation of a diverse shortlist

The six titles on the shortlist were particularly heterogeneous this year. For the first time there were more female authors on the shortlist – four to two for women. “We chose these books because we were fascinated by the way the authors worked with different choices of form,” the jury commented retrospectively on their pre-selection. “In many cases they turned to historical material and in the process achieved something decisive: They turned this material into something that is very present to us. They created something that moves us.” These texts offer something that can only be experienced through novels.

The German Book Prize is awarded annually at the start of the Frankfurt Book Fair by the Stiftung Buchkultur und Leseförderung des Börsenvereins des Deutschen Buchhandels (i.e. Foundation for Book Culture and Promotion of Reading of the German Publishers and Booksellers Association) to the German-language “novel of the year”. It is endowed with a purse totalling 37,500 Euros: The winner receives 25,000 Euros, the other five shortlisted authors each receive 2500 Euros.

Weber, Anne: Annette, ein Heldinnenepos
Berlin: Verlag Matthes & Seitz, 2020. 208 p.

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