German novel bags top Chinese award for foreign books

Updated 2018-04-20 11:18:03 China Daily

Bodo Kirchhoff, author of Widerfahrnis. (Photo provided to China Daily)

It is a spur-of-the-moment trip. A man receives an uninvited visit to his reclusive cabin from an attractive woman, who, much like himself, has also lost her career and loved ones. Within hours, they decide to drive together, and the destination is all the way south. So begins the story of the German novel Widerfahrnis (Encounter).

As the name suggests, the book published in 2016, is about encounters. On the trip, the couple meets refugees and questions around their own European identity.

Penned by 70-year-old writer Bodo Kirchhoff, Widerfahrnis was announced as the top winner at the 21st Century Best Foreign Novel of the Year 2017 award ceremony in Beijing on April 13.

Co-sponsored by the China Publishing Group Corp, People's Literature Publishing House, the Chinese Association of Foreign Literature and the Taofen Foundation China, the award is the longest-running such honor in China for foreign books published in Chinese.

Commenting on Widerfahrnis, Nie Zhenning, chairman of the Taofen Foundation China and director of the judging panel for the award, says it is a story that readers across the world can relate to.

"We gave it the biggest prize not only because of its unflinching portrayal of reality of the refugee crisis in Europe, but also its ruminations on the difficulties of human communication," says Nie.

This year's four novels that win 21st Century Best Foreign Novel of the Year are published in Chinese by the People's Literature Publishing House in April. (Photo provided to China Daily)

Nie likened the general vibe of Widerfahrnis to American writer Jack Kerouac's 1957 magnum opus On the Road.

Kirchhoff, who couldn't attend the ceremony to receive the award in person, says he is thrilled to have had his book published in China, in a video shot for the ceremony.

"I believe that readers in China will know about the current state of mind of Europeans once they read the book," says Kirchhoff in the video.

Kirchhoff was born in Hamburg, West Germany, in 1948. He studied pedagogy and psychology at Frankfurt University from 1972 to 1979 and completed his doctoral thesis. He is an award-winning fiction writer and has also written movie screenplays. In 2016, Widerfahrnis won the German Book Prize.

In his address to readers in the book's Chinese edition, Kirchhoff refers to himself as a writer "unheard of" in China, despite his fame in his home country.

"I hope I can come to China one day with my wife and talk to Chinese readers," writes Kirchhoff.

This year's four novels that win 21st Century Best Foreign Novel of the Year are published in Chinese by the People's Literature Publishing House in April. (Photo provided to China Daily)

Three other novels by writers from France, Italy and Argentina were announced as winners in other categories of the Chinese award on April 13.

La noche de la Usina (The Night of the Heroic Losers), written by 51-year-old Argentine novelist Eduardo Sacheri, is set in a fictional small town on the Pampas. Coaxed out of all their money to start a business, the residents have no choice but to plan an elaborate heist to take back what is rightfully theirs.

"The novel is entertaining, highly visual and heart-trending. I think the smart, sensitive and curious Chinese reader will enjoy the book," says Juan Manuel Cortelletti, minister counselor for cultural affairs at the embassy of Argentina in China, who accepted the award on the writer's behalf.

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