'Kairos' by Jenny Erpenbeck wins 2024 International Booker Prize Jenny Erpenbeck's novel, translated by Michael Hofmann, follows a couple in 1980s East Berlin and their tumultuous relationship, while Germany undergoes its own political transformation.

A German novel about a tortured love affair wins 2024 International Booker Prize

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A novel about a torrid love affair between a young woman and an older married man has won this year's International Booker Prize. The prestigious award is given to the best fiction translated into English. NPR's Andrew Limbong has more about the winning book.

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: The book is called "Kairos," and yeah, at the center of it all is an age-gap couple who spend the early, blissful parts of their affair going on walks, listening to classical music and having sex. After they first hook up, Hans and Katharina are both downright naive about their futures - quote, "It will never be like this again, thinks Hans; it will always be this way, thinks Katharina." This feeling, of course, does not last. Here's author Jenny Erpenbeck talking about the book in a promo video for the Booker Prize.


JENNY ERPENBECK: It should be universal enough because it's about hope and decay and disappointment.

LIMBONG: The relationship sours and turns abusive. I should say the book takes place in 1980s Germany, and their relationship serves as a metaphor for all the political changes going on there at the time, including the fall of the Berlin Wall. Here's Erbenbeck again.


ERPENBECK: You know, the fall of the Wall is also an idea of breaking free, and what interested me is that breaking free is not the only thing that can be told in such a story. There are years before and years after. You know, it's also...

LIMBONG: In the novel, Erpenbeck writes, (reading) where the wall stood a year ago is now a narrow strip of wasteland between the two halves of the city. The landscape between the old that is being abolished and the new that is yet to be installed is a landscape of ruins.


MICHAEL HOFMANN: The book seems to me like a coin, which...

LIMBONG: In that same video, the book's translator, Michael Hoffman, compares the book to a coin flip, with the personal on one side and the political on the other.


HOFFMANN: And it keeps being spun up into the air. It comes down heads, comes down tails.

LIMBONG: The prize is worth 50,000 British pounds, about $63,000, and will be split between Erpenbeck and Hofmann evenly.

Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

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