Jenny Erpenbeck and Translator Michael Hofmann Awarded the 2024 International Booker Prize

[Photo courtesy of GLD member Angela Gulick]

When I woke up to the news this morning that German author Jenny Erpenbeck and translator Michael Hofmann had received the 2024 International Booker Prize for Erpenbeck’s novel Kairos, I was tickled pink. Not because I am a fan of Kairos (now at the top of my “to read” list), but because Erpenbeck had been in Aachen back in 2016 to receive the Walter-Hasenclever-Preis for her novel Gehen, Ging, Gegangen. My amateur orchestra had been asked to appear at the award ceremony to add a musical touch to the occasion. As it turned out, the atmosphere was quite somber, as Erpenbeck had just learned that a person who had served as inspiration for one of the novel’s characters had recently died. And the novel’s very timely theme was “heavy” as well, as Erpenbeck used fictional characters as mouthpieces for the different sides of the migration debate in Germany, not exactly painting an optimistic picture. Still, getting the chance to experience the raw emotion underpinning the writing experience was a special privilege.

In 2015, while Erpenbeck made it to the shortlist for the German Book Prize for Gehen, Ging, Gegangen, she was not chosen for the award. Despite everyone on our Christmas list receiving a copy of Erpenbeck’s novel in 2016, her “fame” in Germany is limited. This morning, a friend asked for a book tip, and when I said that we would all need to read Kairos by Jenny Erpenbeck, she had to write down the author’s name—having never heard of her.

Thanks to translator Michael Hofmann, Erpenbeck has found an appreciative audience in the English-speaking world. Hofmann is the first male translator to win the Booker Prize (Erpenbeck is the first German writer to do so). He will split the ₤50,000 prize money with Erpenbeck. Hofmann was born in Germany and educated in the United Kingdom. He has written two books of essays and five books of poems, and numerous translations of his have been published, including Alfred Döblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz.

Congratulations! Herzlichen Glückwunsch!