Monday, 13 October 2008

And the Winner Is...

Just to conjure up a tiny bit of the same 55-minute tension I've just been through, I thought I'd explain the whole process of my finding out who won the German Book Prize.

First there was a wild scramble to find Deutschlandfunk on medium wave, after the lady on the FM version told me she wasn't going to broadcast the ceremony. The dash to the radio, the fumbling with the dial, the brief elation that subsided immediately on realising that no, this was the Voice of Russia, and the relief at finally finding Deutschlandfunk, not a moment too soon.

As I chopped half an onion and some garlic, the first speech was given by the mayor of Frankfurt. Interestingly, she was the only speaker who didn't make any nervous jokes about the financial crisis. She probably doesn't find it very funny right now. The onion and garlic were frying and I was struggling with the tin opener when the next speaker came on. He talked about the controversies surrounding the award this year, and how the organisation behind it does attempt to at least make the process transparent - especially compared to the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Mashing the tomatoes in the pan with the side of the wooden spoon, all the speeches seemed to mush together. I really can't say who said what, or even how many of them had something to say. The tomato puree was a suspicious colour at the top, but I put it in anyway, then boiled water for the tagliatelle. Literature is not a sport, it is impossible to measure superiority, the jury changes every year, oregano and basil. In between, the applause sounded wooden and arhythmic, and you could hear every footfall when someone new walked onto the stage.

A quick dash to fetch the offspring, who was surprisingly patient with Deutschlandfunk. As she spooned parmesan directly into her mouth while I wasn't looking, someone or other continued with the abstract speeches. Very possibly, this was the fourth or fifth speaker. By the time we got to "I'm not hungry any more, can I have some ice cream?" though, things had got slightly more specific. A man with a very young voice had moved on from Hegel's suggestions for literary critics ("What on earth is he talking about mum?") to introductions of the shortlisted authors and their books. This was actually a lovely recap, with a few sentences from each book followed by interviews and a different critic singing their praises each time.

The offspring had left the room and I was getting nervous. Displacement activities - that old butter needs throwing away. I had just grabbed a handful of butter out of the dish through kitchen paper, despairing that they would ever announce the winner, when they announced the winner. Or at least, they announced they were going to announce the winner.

So there I stood, the butter gradually seeping through the kitchen paper and giving off a faintly rancid smell, as someone announced:

Uwe Tellkamp, Der Turm.

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