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Kairos wins the International Booker Prize 2024

Kairos, written by Jenny Erpenbeck and translated from German by Michael Hofmann, has been announced as the winner of the International Booker Prize 2024.

Erpenbeck’s novel, which was originally written in German, follows a destructive affair between a young woman and an older man in 1980s East Berlin. It intertwines the personal and the political as the two lovers seemingly embody East Germany’s crushed idealism, with both holding on to the past long after they know they should move on. A meditation on hope and disappointment, Kairos poses complex questions about freedom, loyalty, love and power.

The winner was announced by Eleanor Wachtel, Chair of the 2024 judges, at a ceremony sponsored by Maison Valentino. It was held at London’s Tate Modern and hosted by academic and broadcaster Shahidha Bari. The £50,000 prize is split equally between author Jenny Erpenbeck and translator Michael Hofmann, giving each equal recognition.

Eleanor Wachtel, Chair of the 2024 judges, says:

In luminous prose, Jenny Erpenbeck exposes the complexity of a relationship between a young student and a much older writer, tracking the daily tensions and reversals that mark their intimacy, staying close to the apartments, cafés, and city streets, workplaces and foods of East Berlin. It starts with love and passion, but it’s at least as much about power, art and culture. The self-absorption of the lovers, their descent into a destructive vortex, remains connected to the larger history of East Germany during this period, often meeting history at odd angles.

Michael Hofmann’s translation captures the eloquence and eccentricities of Erpenbeck’s writing, the rhythm of its run-on sentences, the expanse of her emotional vocabulary. What makes Kairos so unusual is that it is both beautiful and uncomfortable, personal and political. Erpenbeck invites you to make the connection between these generation-defining political developments and a devastating, even brutal love affair, questioning the nature of destiny and agency. Like the GDR, it starts with optimism and trust, then unravels.

About the Author

Jenny Erpenbeck was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1967. While working as an opera director, she debuted with her novel The Old Child & The Book of Words (2008). Her other books include Visitation (2010), The End of Days (2014, winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, the precursor to the International Booker Prize), and Go, Went, Gone (2017, longlisted for the International Booker Prize in 2018), as well as Not a Novel: Collected Writings and Reflections (2020). Her work has been translated into over 30 languages.

On her book she said:

The fall of the Wall is 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. It’s also about what follows the happy end.

About the Translator

Michael Hofmann is a poet, reviewer and translator. He has translated the work of several German authors, including Franz Kafka, Joseph Roth and Hans Fallada. He is the winner of several literary prizes, including the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 1995 for the translation of his father’s novel, The Film Explainer. Since 1993 he has held a parttime teaching position at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He was a judge for the International Booker Prize in 2018, the year Jenny Erpenbeck was first longlisted for the
prize (for Go, Went, Gone, translated by Susan Bernofsky). In 2023, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

On the book he said:

It’s a wonderfully circumstantial story in which the ten years pre- and post-Mauerfall come into play. The book seems to me like a coin, which has a personal story – heads, as it were – on one side, and tails, the emblem of the state, on the other. It keeps being spun into the air, and it comes down heads, it comes down tails.

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