The 2020 Shortlist

Most of the books on the shortlist of the Internationaler Literaturpreis this year have conciliatory, hopeful, and even enthusiastic titles: Was für ein Wunder (What a Miracle), Der Zirkel der Literaturliebhaber (The Circle of Literature Lovers), Glückliche Fälle (Fortunate Fallings), Die Sanftmütigen (The Meek), Geile Deko (Gaudy Bauble). Even if not all of the falls in Yevgenia Belorusets’s Fortunate Fallings are so very fortunate, and if not all of the characters in Angel Igov’s The Meek are necessarily forgiving, they all have one thing in common with Chigozie Obioma’s Das Weinen der Vögel (An Orchestra of Minorities): They show us the world as a big realm of opportunity where not everything can be reduced to reproduction numbers. Regardless of the language they’re written in they testify to the world’s immense diversity of voices because thanks to the respective translator, each of the six books has its own tone and very own linguistic form. Whether about victor’s justice in 1944 Bulgaria, the great earthquake in Haiti or a love in Nigeria, what connects the six books is their narrative quality, the very specific way that they grasp their objects. Be it through a collective first-person plural narrator, be it in relation to classic Persian poetry or in the dialog with accompanying photographs.

At a time when the importance of solidarity has become so obvious, whether interpersonal or global, it was important to the jury to not highlight just one of the titles, but to conceive of the entire shortlist as a constellation of six outstanding books and to divide the prize money among them all. This year, therefore, the Internationaler Literaturpreis is a kind of chamber choir encompassing four continents: Africa, Asia, Europe and North America.

Looking at the present and looking at the past, our six books tell about how people deal with conflicts, how they grow and fail because of them, how they bring them about and are overwhelmed by them. The way they do so is sometimes quiet, sometimes comical, sometimes weird and sometimes loud, but above all they do so in a way that is as shattering as it is illuminating. What a miracle, how fortunate. — The Jury