Of the quartet of German-speaking successful authors who are finally presenting a novel again this autumn after a break for years - Eva Menasse, Jenny Erpenbeck, Sasha Marianna Salzmann and Julia Franck - only one is still in the race for the German Book Prize, the youngest and so far the least prominent : Salzmann with "Everything has to be wonderful in people".

Franck will cope with her separation, she won the 2007 book award for “Die Mittagsfrau”.

But Menasse and Erpenbeck have incurred something like the book price curse.

No matter how much their books are extolled and bought, they don't get the award.

This year not even a place on the long list of twenty titles announced this Tuesday morning.

Andreas Platthaus

Responsible editor for literature and literary life.

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But even Judith Hermann, with her much-praised and much-bought novel “Daheim”, which was published in the spring, did not make it.

The jury cannot, however, generally assume reluctance towards the bestseller lists, because Christian Kracht's novel “Eurotrash”, which has already been celebrated everywhere and has also been excellently sold, is represented as well as Mithu Sanyal's “Identitti” or Monika Helfer's “Vati”.

However, the ambitious, almost thousand-page novel "Matou" by Helfer's husband Michael Köhlmeier, who will gradually have to take on the role of the lesser-known half of the Austrian writer couple, has not been taken into account.

Books of weight

But the lack of "Matou" on the longlist is in turn no evidence of any jury shy away from weighty books, because Dietmar Dath's "Gentzen or Drunk Clean Up" is not only a six-hundred-page novel, but also a highly demanding topic: Life and reception of the German logician Gerhard Gentzen, who died young as a prisoner of war in a Czech prison in 1945. Franzobel's historical novel “The Conquest of America” also reaches almost 550 pages. But with Dilek Güngör's “Father and I” or Georges-Arthur Goldschmidt's “The Blocked Path”, two novels are represented that barely reach more than a hundred pages. Both offer profound analyzes of related speechlessness.Together with helpers “Vati” and Henning Ahrens' “Mitgift”, these are at least four classic family novels among the nominees.

But is there no other clear trend at all? Everything is comfortably balanced and undecided: eleven titles from the first half of the year, nine from the second. And eleven men are also nominated this time, so a slim majority, but the eternal counting according to gender duality is tiring anyway - and also idle, since this time, with Salzmann, there is an author who declares herself diverse. The fact that Shida Bazyar's “Three Comrades” is another flagship of advanced identity literature on the list alongside Sanyal's already mentioned novel can be understood either as compensation or surrender after that storm in a water glass that occurred six months ago after the shortlist for the Leipzig Book Prize was announced excited. But Sharon Dodua Otoo's novel “Adas Raum”, which was vehemently demanded at the time, did not make it in Frankfurt either.

The year of the established publishers

More interesting is the overwhelming preponderance in the Frankfurt list of such established publishers as Suhrkamp (apart from Salzmann also with Thomas Kunst's “Zandschower Klinken”), Fischer (three nominations with Felicitas Hoppe's “Die Nibelungen”, “Blaue Frau” by Antje Rávic Strubel and “My favorite animal is called Winter” by Ferdinand Schmalz), Hanser (also three times: in addition to Helfer and Sanyal, Norbert Gstrein's “The Second Jacob”), Kiepenheuer & Witsch (Kracht, Bazyar) and Rowohlt (Heinz Strunks “It is always so nice to you ”and Yulia Marfutova's“ Heaven a hundred years ago ”). Penguin, on the other hand, is only represented with Dana Gricorcea's vampire farce “They don't die”, which seems somewhat grotesque in view of the novels by Erpenbeck or Matthias Jügler (“Die Verlassenen”) that were also published there.

Of the smaller houses that are otherwise regularly considered, this time only Matthes & Seitz (after all, last year's winner with Anne Weber's “Anette, a heroine epic” and also in 2015 with Frank Witzel) was taken into account by Dath's book, while the previous permanent finalist Jung und Jung (2012 Winner with Ursula Krechel's “Regional Court”) just as empty as the Frankfurter Verlagsanstalt (2016 successful with Bodo Kirchhoff's “Incident”).

The only big surprise is the nomination of Peter Karoshi's novella “To the Elephants”, which was published by Leykam.

Very few people know this Austrian publisher, although it has existed since 1585.

An old master as a favorite

One of the favorites is Gerd Loschütz, who in the second summer of his writing career is preparing to finally make the big breakthrough: his autobiographically motivated novel "Inspection of a Disaster" is thematically and formally based on the recipe for success of his comeback "A beautiful couple" from 2018 , which made it onto the longlist at the time. This time there should be more. 

You can live and read with the current selection, it doesn't hurt anyone (except for the mentioned omissions) and it does many people good. The shortlist of six more titles that is due in four weeks' time would have been brought to a more literary level in order to sharpen the profile of the German Book Prize. It will be awarded on October 18 in the Kaisersaal of the Frankfurter Römers, at the start of the book fair week - which currently nobody knows what it will look like. Only one thing is already clear: if the trade fair can take place, there will be significantly fewer visitors due to the pandemic. An attention-grabbing book award winner with quality would be more than just gratifying. It would be necessary.