Tuesday, 13 October 2015

German Book Prize to Frank Witzel

It's not just me, I suspect, who's rather surprised that the German Book Prize has gone to Frank Witzel for his 800-page experimental novel on a West German youth in the late 1960s and early 1970s. The title is Die Erfindung der Roten Armee Fraktion durch einen manisch-depressiven Teenager in Sommer 1969. Publishers Matthes & Seitz say it's unavailable right now, so I'm guessing they hadn't dashed off an extra print-run in anticipation. And yes, good on him, Mr Witzel – a writer of fiction, poetry and essays, translator, illustrator and musician living far from the maddening crowd in Offenbach. The kind of writer other writers are happy for, the kind of writer literary types love to love. I haven't read any of his writing other than the short sample, but those who have actually done so are very pleased today (with the award and with themselves). You can read Bradley Schmidt's sample translation via New Books in German.

The judges said of it:
Frank Witzel’s work is, in the best sense, a boundless novelistic construct. It tells the story of a youth from the Hessian provinces who, at the age of thirteen and a half, finds himself on the verge of adulthood. Woven into this story is the political awakening of the former Federal Republic of Germany, which is just beginning to shake off the fustiness of the immediate post-war years. This era of transformation is conjured up through disparate episodes that run through an incredibly wide range of literary forms, from internal monologue to action scene, from meeting minutes to philosophical treatise. In its blending of delusion and wit, formal audacity and historical panoramicity, the novel “Die Erfindung der Roten Armee Fraktion durch einen manisch-depressiven Teenager im Sommer 1969” (The Invention of the Red Army Faction by a Manic-Depressive Teenager in the Summer of 1969) is unique in German-language literature. Frank Witzel ventures into the precarious terrain of speculative realism. The German Book Prize honours a brilliant linguistic work of art that is a vast quarry of words and ideas – a hybrid compendium of pop, politics and paranoia.
I shall buy a copy when one becomes available, and report back. All I can say right now is that Witzel's win continues a line of "difficult" novels taking the prize, following Lutz Seiler, Terézia Mora and Ursula Krechel. Of those, I believe English translation rights have only sold for the Seiler book (forthcoming from Scribe Publications in Tess Lewis's translation). We shall see if anyone is brave and rich enough to launch The Invention of the Red Army Faction by a Manic-Depressive Teenager in the Summer of 1969 on an Anglophone readership.  

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