German writer and director Jenny Erpenbeck has won the 2015 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize for The End of Days (Portobello Books), translated by Susan Bernofsky, in the prize’s 25th anniversary year.
Erpenbeck and Bernofsky were presented with the £10,000 award, which they will share, at a ceremony supported by Champagne Taittinger at the Royal Institute of British Architects this evening (Wednesday 27th May).
Erpenbeck has previously been longlisted for the prize in 2001 for The Old Child and the Book of Words and then shortlisted in 2011 with her novel Visitation (both published by Portobello Books). She is the only living German author to have won the prize in its 25-year history; W G Sebald and Gert Hofmann were both awarded the prize posthumously.
She beat books by Japanese author Haruki Murakami, Belgian Erwin Mortier, fellow German Daniel Kehlmann, Colombian Tomás González and Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel from Equatorial Guinea.
The End of Days is a story of the 20th century traced through the various possible lives of one woman. Moving from a small Galician town at the turn of the century, through pre-war Vienna and Stalin's Moscow to present-day Berlin, it homes in on the moments when life follows a particular branch and 'fate' suddenly emerges from the interplay between history, character and pure chance. It has already won the Hans Fallada Prize for German literature and has been endorsed as part of the English PEN Writers in Translation programme.
Judge Boyd Tonkin, who is a columnist for the Independent, said of the winning title: “This is a novel to enjoy, to cherish, and to revisit many times. It is both written and translated with an almost uncanny beauty, which grows not out of historical abstractions but from the shocks and hopes of everyday life, and from our common quest for peace, home and love. Re-reading this jewel of a book, I came to feel as if both W G Sebald and Virginia Woolf would recognise a kindred spirit here.”
Tonkin was join on the judging panel by Cristina Fuentes La Roche, director of Hay Festival Americas; Antonia Lloyd-Jones, a full-time translator of Polish literature; Richard Mansell, senior lecturer in Translation at the University of Exeter; and author Helen Oyeyemi.
The judges gave a special mention to In the Beginning Was the Sea, the debut novel of González, translated by Frank Wynne (Pushkin Press). Based on a true story, it was first published in 1983 by a nightclub where the author worked as a barman. Oyeyemi described it as “quietly profound, finely wrought and containing a wave-like motion within its prose”.
Erpenbeck and Bernofsky will be appearing in conversation with Tonkin at the Hay Festival on 28th May.
The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize is managed by reading charity Book Trust, with the prize money and associated costs supported using public funding by Arts Council England. The prize is also supported by the Independent and Champagne Taittinger.