DIE GERMANISTIN: Riveting Forays into German-Language Literature by Sheridan Marshall: Frankfurt Book Fair 2023

Last week I attended the Frankfurt Book Fair for the first time. After years of hearing about other people’s experiences of the world’s biggest gathering of publishing professionals, it was a great pleasure finally to go there myself. I arrived in Frankfurt on an early morning flight from London and was delighted to be at the Fair in time to attend a 10:30am event with the German author, Philipp Oehmke. Oehmke discussed his family novel, Schönwald (‘Schönwald’, Piper, 2023), inspired by the American literary tradition of family sagas. The next speaker on the ARD, ZDF and 3sat (all German TV stations) literary stage was Austrian author, Tonio Schachinger, winner of the 2023 German Book Prize, Germany’s most prestigious annual literary award, for his novel, Echtzeitalter (‘Realtimes’, Rowohlt, 2023). The protagonist of Schachinger’s novel is an avid gamer, and it was illuminating to hear the unassuming Schachinger discuss his portrayal of this aspect of 21st-century life.

Next up was Necati Öziri, whose debut novel, Vatermal (‘Birth Mark’, Claassen, 2023), was also shortlisted for this year’s German Book Prize. The novel is told from the narrator’s hospital bed, where he is critically ill with liver failure, and is a poignant and powerful address to the father he has never met – a father who abandoned his young daughter and pregnant wife in Germany to return to his native Turkey. I translated the first three chapters of Öziri’s novel into English earlier this year, (you can read the sample translation on the New Books in German website here), and was over the moon that he knew who I was when I introduced myself after the reading – he had read the translated extract aloud to the participants in the Frankfurt Fellowship Programme earlier in the week.

I managed to see four more German-language authors on my first day at the Book Fair, interspersed with meetings with publishing contacts. The authors were Joana Osman, who spoke movingly about her Palestinian-German family history, Swiss author Judith Keller, the renowned nature writer Peter Wohlleben, and entertaining Austrian novelist, Daniel Wisser

During my second day at the Fair, I attended the packed award ceremony for Germany’s Independent Booksellers’ Favourite Book of 2023. This year 267 titles were nominated by close to 1,000 indie booksellers from all over Germany, who then voted for their favourite book. The coveted literary prize was won by the young German writer, Caroline Wahl, for her acclaimed debut, 22 Bahnen (‘22 Lengths’, Dumont, 2023). I was very happy to then win a copy of this novel in a #BookTok wheel of fortune competition, which is now at the top of my teetering ‘to-read’ pile.

The remainder of my day focused on translation, with a reception for literary translators hosted by RECIT (a network of literary translation centres), Translation House Looren and Pro Helvetia and taking place at the Swiss stand, followed by a fascinating panel discussion on translating non-fiction in the Book Fair’s International Translation Centre. In addition to the speakers’ reflections on the particular skills involved in translating non-fiction texts, it was interesting to hear about the professional challenges faced by translator colleagues in German-speaking countries, which are remarkably similar to those experienced by translators here in the UK.

My third and final day in Frankfurt was a literary extravaganza in which I saw five German-language authors present their latest titles: Ilija Trojanow, Deborah Feldman, Terézia Mora, Daniel Kehlmann and Navid Kermani. I also had the pleasure of interviewing the German author Christine Koschmieder about her latest book, Schambereich, (Kanon, 2023), which you can also read on the ELNet website. Christine’s book is an extraordinary work of narrative non-fiction, chronicling the history of her sexual feelings and experiences alongside an exploration of the evolution of social and cultural attitudes to sexuality.

I spent my final evening in the wonderful Römerhallen (‘Roman Halls’) in Frankfurt’s old town, at an event showcasing eight German-language debut authors. Short readings from the novels were interspersed with an expertly moderated Q&A with each author, offering the audience a real overview of the latest literary talent emerging from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to all the authors: Charlotte Gneuß, Özge Inan, Luca Kieser, Johanna Sebauer, Tamara Štajner, Varina Walenda and Ariana Zustra. It was a particular treat to hear Necati Öziri read for the second time in three days. He occupied the difficult final slot, following nearly two hours of preceding readings, but his beautifully read extract and well-timed plea for audience members to take action amid rising anti-Semitism in Germany in response to the crisis in the Middle East, was received with rapturous applause. 

This jam-packed literary evening was a fitting conclusion to my full and varied visit to the 2023 Frankfurt Book Fair. The trip was made possible by an award I received from Arts Council England’s Developing Your Creative Practice funding scheme, for the purpose of developing my literary translation career. I am grateful to them for the opportunity.

Sheridan Marshall

Sheridan Marshall works as a translator from German into English, and as Editorial Consultant for New Books in German. She was Deputy Editor of The Austrian Riveter.

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