German author Jenny Erpenbeck wins International Booker Prize for tale of tangled love affair

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LONDON: German author Jenny Erpenbeck and translator Michael Hofmann won the International Booker Prize for fiction Tuesday for “Kairos,” the story of a tangled love affair during the final years of East Germany’s existence.

Erpenbeck said she hoped the book would help readers learn there was more to life in the now-vanished Communist country than depicted in “The Lives of Others,” the Academy Award-winning 2006 film about pervasive state surveillance in the 1980s.

“The only thing that everybody knows is that they had a wall, they were terrorizing everyone with the Stasi, and that’s it,” she said. “That is not all there is.”

“Kairos” traces an affair from utopian beginning to bitter end, and draws parallels between personal lives and the life of the state.

The book beat five other finalists, chosen from 149 submitted novels, for the prize, which recognizes fiction from around the world that has been translated into English and published in the UK or Ireland. The 50,000 pounds ($64,000) in prize money is divided between author and translator.

Canadian broadcaster Eleanor Wachtel, who chaired the five-member judging panel, said Erpenbeck’s novel about the relationship between a student and an older writer is “a richly textured evocation of a tormented love affair, the entanglement of personal and national transformations.”

It’s set in the dying days of the German Democratic Republic, leading up to the fall of the Berlin Wall. Erpenbeck, 57, was born and raised in East Berlin, which was part of East Germany until the country disappeared with German reunification in 1990.

“Like the GDR, (the book) starts with optimism and trust, then unravels so badly,” Wachtel said.

She said Hofmann’s translation captures the “eloquence and eccentricities” of Erpenbeck’s prose.

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