The Booker Prize for 'Kairós', by Jenny Erpenbeck: a love plot within the instances of the tip of the world | Babelia | EUROtoday

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East Berlin, July 11, 1986. Hans, 54 years outdated, novelist, author of radio applications, and Katharina, 19 years outdated, typography scholar, meet as a result of a type of coincidences (which Lezama Lima would name “concurrent”), on a bus . How it occurred in order that Tomás and Teresa met in The Unbearable Lightness of Being, there have been a number of coincidences that induced the assembly. The most notable of all is that the bus driver, who was already shifting with Germanic self-discipline, was variety sufficient to cease and decide up the younger girl in order that the chain of connections might start to be weaved. Hans and Katharina have a look at one another, simply because they have a look at one another, a few instances. Then, as a result of they had been going to do it, they abandon the bus on the similar cease and, since it’s raining, they take refuge underneath the bridge the place the tram runs. When it clears, each walks in the direction of their vacation spot alongside the identical route and… that evening their inconceivable love story begins and, for a time, they handle to see the type face of Kairós, the Greek god of alternative, the one who brings issues proper. the proper second (after which takes them away) and shares management of time with Cronus.

Kairos (2021), the newest novel by the German author Jenny Erpenbeck, printed in 2023 by Anagrama and which has simply received the Booker International Prize, is, in essence, the story of a love woven from a vulgar alternative that would not have have occurred and that flows in a interval that would have been a couple of moments and became a number of years. A ardour that’s born, grows, sickens and dies. A fervor marked by the nice distinction in age and standing between the characters (Hans, married, with expertise in affairs, is ten years older than Katharina's father) and by the methods during which one of many lovers subjugates the opposite, with methods that can transfer from the ecstasy of a compact happiness to essentially the most overwhelming and petty cruelty. A love that begins as devastating after which dilutes because the world that appeared everlasting and during which it developed is diluted: that of a rustic that, even with out figuring out it, was already dying with out cures and that was referred to as the German Democratic Republic.

If the love story that the novel helps is much like many different tales of inauspicious loves filled with sexual and psychological violence, Kairos It begins to be one thing completely different as a result of context of the time during which its plot takes place. But it is going to be extra distinguished by the daring narrative methods that Erpenbeck makes use of, with video games of views between one character and one other and by a uneven narrative that introduces feedback on issues unrelated to the strict improvement of the plot, with which the author manages to transcend the sentimental adventures that the characters endure and introducing touches of the world that welcomes them.

Jenny Erpenbeck, at the Tate Modern in London this Monday after winning the Booker International 2024.
Jenny Erpenbeck, on the Tate Modern in London this Monday after profitable the Booker International 2024.Kate Green (Getty Images)

But the depth and depth of the love plot is so highly effective that, because the novel progresses, the peculiar social second during which the characters transfer barely seems to be a backdrop that doesn’t affect in a very decisive approach in a story that revels in in sentimental historical past. For this cause, of that universe that was the German Democratic Republic within the years earlier than the autumn of the Berlin Wall, solely a few of its particularities, particular occasions, are talked about, corresponding to Katharina's journey to Cologne (the west, the Federal Republic) and the passing temptation to remain in that different nation.

Like remoted photographs we’re listening to screams of discontent coming from exterior and warning {that a} gigantic historic course of has been launched that would be the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe.

However, Jenny Erpenbeck appeared to have saved her most revealing arsenal of the historic time during which the romance happens for the final quarter of the novel, simply as the connection between Hans and Katharina is painfully dissolving. Like remoted photographs we’re listening to cries of discontent coming from exterior and warning {that a} gigantic historic course of has been launched that would be the collapse of socialism in Eastern Europe. Then this virtually submerged historic context involves the foreground and turns into the principle theme of the novel within the days earlier than an occasion as crucial as the autumn of the Wall (it is just talked about) and, above all, the trauma of the start and the belief of a German reunification that not solely altered the lives of residents, however did so in a humiliating approach for the inhabitants of the east. The second during which the protesters' posters underwent an vital mutation, from the nonetheless socialist slogan “We are he people!”, to the great national claim of “We are and pueblo!”.

With the respectable literary skill of not turning her work into a political statement, Jenny Erpencek cannot fail to make a political reading of the process that concludes with the elimination of the socialist system in the east and the reunification of the country, which occurs as a voracious invasion of economic and social conquest. Thus, while Hans loses his job and his way of life is disrupted, Katharina feels at the beginning of that turbulent 1990 that she had never started a year with such uncertainty. They are just another citizen of a world that, in a few months, ceases to exist as if swallowed by a historic tsunami that brings them freedom. But freedom can also be trauma.

Only at the end of the novel – and I think not with sufficient narrative skill – does the author hint at what the dark role of the Stasi, the all-powerful secret police of the GDR, meant in the lives of citizens. She perhaps postponed and even obscured that information to avoid narrating the techniques of that agency in the almost trite way that we have already read, although in my opinion she did it in such an oblique way that it is barely recognizable.

But without any doubt, Kairos It is a literary commitment with a remarkable capacity to delve into the dark essences of human feelings and, also, into the intertwinings of a society that believed itself to be healthy when in reality it was deathly ill.

Cover of 'Kairós', by Jenny Erpenbeck.

Jenny Erpenbeck
Translation of Neila García Salgado
Anagram, 2023
336 pages. 20.90 euros

Cover of 'Kairós', by Jenny Erpenbeck, edited by Angle Editorial in Catalán.

Jenny Erpenbeck
Translation by Lourdes Bigorra Cervelló
Angle Editorial, 2023 (in Catalan)
384 pages. 20.90 euros

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