German Book Prize 2021 – IN THE RANKS OF WOMEN

Photo: Courtesy Goethe Boston

Antje Rávik Strubel’s novel “Blaue Frau” (Blue Woman) was named best novel of the year. In 2021, the German Book Prize goes to a sophisticated and dedicated writer.

By Marie Schmidt

On Monday evening, the writer and translator Antje Rávik Strubel was awarded the German Book Prize. She received the award for the year’s best novel for Blaue Frau (Blue Woman), the story of a woman who, after being raped, has to regain her ability to think and speak. To do so, she has retreated to a block of flats in Helsinki on the northern edge of Europe. From there, the narrative feels its way back to the experiences Adina, from the Czech Republic, had as a student and intern in Berlin and in a holiday resort in the Uckermark region. In many of the people she encounters, her Eastern European origins trigger images rather than genuine human interest.


In this book, Rávik Strubel creates a non-linear time structure of forward and backward movements. She contrasts the legal language used to negotiate sexual assaults with the experience of her character, who finds it nearly impossible to express. In transitional chapters of the novel, the “blue woman” from the title is a fairy-like counterpart to the narrator with whom she can speak about writing about violence.

Blaue Frau is a formally and aesthetically sophisticated narrative that is probably better understood by a public sensitized through the Me-Too movement, although the self-reflexivity of her writing prevents it from tying into more recent debates.

Nevertheless, Rávik Strubel took the opportunity to make a political statement in her acceptance speech. She objected to the fact that seemingly natural desires for sensitivity to structural violence and self-chosen names are denigrated as political correctness.


She quoted Ilse Aichinger, saying, “Perhaps the natural must first become unnatural again in order to remain natural.” She also referred to Virginia Woolf and thanked her mentor Silvia Bovenschen, who died in 2017 and to whom the book is dedicated. Bovenschen wrote the authoritative 1979 study Die imaginierte Weiblichkeit (Imagined Femininity) on the question of what has silenced women’s voices in literary history. Rávik Strubel, who has translated Joan Didion and Lucia Berlin into German, thus refers to female writing that does not simply react to this with self-assertion, but is decidedly interested in uncertainties and the changeability of language and social relations.

The German Book Prize is unique in that its jury consists of members of the book trade, literary organisers and critics. This year, Knut Cordsen, critic for Bayerischer Rundfunk, chaired the jury. The award ceremony in Frankfurt’s Römer is the first major event of book fair week; in 2021 it could be held again in front of a small audience. The shortlisted authors Norbert Gstrein, Monika Helfer, Christian Kracht, Thomas Kunst and Mithu Sanyal were also present.

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