Novelist Antje Ravik Strubel wins German Book Prize
Currently, in the literary world, everything seems to revolve around the past: its weight, how we can come to terms with it, learn from it, worry about it or overcome it.
In Britain, for example, the historical novel has enjoyed an unprecedented renaissance over the past decade, with authors like Hilary Mantel at the forefront. In the United States, tales of old sagas are popular and frequently climb the bestseller lists. Likewise, this year’s Nobel Prize for Literature went to author Abdulrazak Gurnah, who writes about Europe’s colonial past on the African continent in a humane, humorous and candid way.
German author Antje Ravik Strubel, who won this year’s German Book Prize – one of Germany’s most important literary prizes – delves into this area in her novel Blaue Frau (literally: Blue Woman).
The protagonist of the novel is Adina, also called Sala or Nina, who took refuge in Helsinki. As a child, she longed to leave her village in the mountains of Krkonose in the Czech Republic where she grew up. She sells mulled wine there to German tourists. One of them kisses her against her will because she doesn’t want to serve him alcohol. His friends call him Ronny.
Power structures are examined
The encounter has a profound negative effect on Adina. In the first pages, Ravik Strubel traces with elegance and art the major themes addressed by his novel. He is especially interested in the unequal distribution of power between men and women today; between Eastern and Western Europe. It also deals with the power of the past: how can we use it to move forward into the future? What can we learn from it? What can we do with it? What does freedom allow us to do in Europe and elsewhere, especially as women?
Despite the bad experience, Adina moves to Germany and does an internship in a cultural center in the Uckermark region, in the northeast of the country. There she is raped, but no one takes her seriously. As a result, Adina becomes an “invisible” woman, leaving for Helsinki where she works under the table in a hotel. She begins a relationship with the Estonian professor Leonides, a member of the European Parliament.
The German Book Prize jury described the novel as a “significant book” that develops into a “story of women’s empowerment” and is a “reflection on commemorative culture in East and West”. Ravik Strubel succeeds, according to the jury, in “giving voice to what seems inexpressible”.
Both poetic and exciting
The jury also noted that Ravik Strubel’s book is one that confronts violence through literature. The novel is an example of what storytelling can accomplish.
With great skill, Ravik Strubel interweaves various narratives, languages and settings such as a Czech village, Germany and Helsinki. The book reveals the fate of people who meet on a continent where they are allowed to move freely, with all the dangers and joys that entails. It is a book about our present as poetic as it is exciting. This makes Blaue Frau both the novel of the hour and the “book of the year”.
Book price boosts sales
The German Book Prize is not only one of the most important literary prizes in Germany, it gives a noticeable boost to the sales of the winners’ books. Internationally, too, the winners receive great attention, which leads to the translation of many works into other languages.
This year, five other authors were nominated: Norbert Gstrein, Monika Helfer, Christian Kracht, Thomas Kunst and Mithu Sanyal. The German Book Prize is awarded as part of the Frankfurt Book Fair, which opens this week. It is inspired by the British Booker Prize. Last year, author Anne Weber won the award for Annette. A heroic epic.
This article has been translated from German.