Iraqi Author Abbas Khider Wins Major German Literary Prize

Officials announced yesterday that Iraqi novelist Abbas Khider had won the biennial literary prize of the city Dortmund, the €15,000 Nelly-Sachs-Preis:

Portrait-A_DetailGrossKhider, who was born in Baghdad in 1973, was previously a a runner-up for Germany’s Adelbert von Chammisso Award, a prize for non-German writers who make a contribution to German letters. He was honored for Der falsche Inder (The Fake Indian), which came out in 2008. It just came out in English translation from Seagull Books as The Village Indiana copy is now on the way.

Khider has since released two more novels in German (Die Orangen des Präsidenten in 2011 and Brief in die Auberginenrepublik in 2013) and has been recognized by the  Hilde Domin Prize for Literature in Exile.

The Nelly-Sachs was not for a single novel, but for his overall impact on literature. The jury noted that Khider is “a laconic and humorous chronicler, as well as a master of comic situations and a born narrator.”

According to MIchael Orthofer at The Literary Saloon:

…this prize has an impressive list of winners. Thrice they gave it to a writer who would go on to win the Nobel Prize a few years later: namesake Nelly Sachs in 1961, five years before her Nobel; Elias Canetti in 1975, six before his; Nadine Gordimer in 1985, six years before hers. Since then the winners’ roll has included: Milan Kundera (1987), Juan Goytisolo (1993), Javier Marías (1997), Christa Wolf (1999), Per Olov Enquist(2003), Aharon Appelfeld (2005), Margaret Atwood (2009), and, most recently, Norman Manea (2011).

Khider has also published two collections of poetry and one volume of essays in Arabic. In 2010, Khider told Today’s Zaman that “I’d never thought to write in German.” But then:

One day, students at the university came and told me that I wrote poems but that they couldn’t understand a word since they were in Arabic. So they told me to write in German. I replied, ‘Why should I write in German, why don’t you learn Arabic instead?’ Later on I thought about this and I wrote a story in German and sent it to seven friends of mine. I wanted them to say one of two things: either ‘Abbas, go on writing in German’ or ‘Abbas, stop writing in German.’ They all gave a positive answer. So, I wrote my first novel.

Khider also said, in publicity materials, that “When I write in Arabic, it’s all about pain. German gives me distance.”

The award ceremony is set for December 15 at the Dortmund City Hall.

Read sample translations:

And much more about Khider from his German publisher (in English).

Another sample translation from his US publisher, Seagull Books.