Frankfurt Book Fair 2022
German Book Prize 2022 goes to Kim de l'Horizon
How do you write about people who are neither male nor female? Kim de l’Horizon showed how in “Blutbuch” (Blood Book). At the award ceremony in Frankfurt, Kim shaved their head bald – and thanked their mother.
By Christine Lehnen
The non-binary author from Switzerland could hardly believe their luck at winning the prestigious German Book Prize. In its decision, the jury said it was “challenged and inspired” by the novel; Blutbuch was awarded for its “urgency and literary innovation,” noting “What narratives exist for a body that eludes conventional notions of gender?”
After the announcement in Frankfurt’s Römer, the city’s town hall, Kim de l’Horizon suddenly rushed into the audience to embrace friends. They then exclaimed only “Wow!” on stage, before tearfully thanking their mother and spontaneously performing a song.
“I actually thought for aesthetic reasons I wouldn’t put on my glasses, but I am anyway,” Kim de l’Horizon’s speech in Frankfurt began. It ended with the non-binary author shaving their head bald, a gesture of solidarity with Iranian women – after the death of 22-year-old Mahsa Amini, countless women had cut off a strand of their hair.
“This prize is not just for me,” said Kim de l’Horizon, also dedicating the €25,000 award to the women in Iran who are currently demonstrating for their human rights under life-threatening conditions. “I think the jury also chose this work to broadcast a signal against hate, for love, for the struggle of all people who are oppressed because of their bodies.”
What is “Blutbuch” about?The non-binary first-person narrator of Blutbuch lives in Zurich, having fled the small, conservative village in Switzerland where they grew up. In the big city, they are content with their life and can live their identity freely.
When their grandmother falls ill with dementia, the narrator begins to reflect: They address their grandmother directly in the novel, starting with a list of all the topics they never talked about, including the protagonist’s fluid gender identity and their grandmother’s racism.
Secrets and silence in families are an equally popular and timeless theme in literary history. De l’Horizon approaches the topic from a new perspective through their non-binary protagonist and adds to the many accusations made within families. After the Federal government presented key points for a law on a simple change of gender registration in June 2022, Blutbuch comes at the right time politically.
Prize boosts salesBlutbuch is Kim de l’Horizon’s debut and took them ten years to write. The novel’s blurb says of Kim: “born in 2666, studies witchcraft, transdisciplinarity and writes collectively.” Conventionality cannot be expected from this young talent.
The German Book Prize is one of the most important German-language literary prizes, which often noticeably boosts the sales of the awardees. In addition, the winning books receive a great deal of international attention, are exhibited in Goethe-Instituts all over the world and, as a result of the prize, are translated into other languages, sometimes even into English – still a rarity.
Five other authors were nominated: Fatma Aydemir, Kristine Bilkau, Daniela Dröscher, Jan Faktor and Eckhart Nickel. The German Book Prize is awarded as part of the Frankfurter Buchmesse. The British Booker Prize serves as a model. Last year, author Antje Rávik-Strubel won the prize for her European novel Blaue Frau.
de l'Horizon, Kim: Blutbuch
Köln: Dumont, 2020. 336 p.