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Tales of life

Updated: 2015-01-02 06:25
By Xing Yi (China Daily Africa)

A Chinese literary award honors foreign writers whose stories stand out in telling universal themes

German writer David Wagner this month became the first foreign writer to win a cash prize from a Chinese literary award.

The author won $10,000 from the Taofen Foundation, named after celebrated Chinese correspondent and publisher Zou Taofen (1895-1944), for his novel, Leben, upon topping the 21st Century Best Foreign Novel of the Year 2014 list.

 Tales of life

The Chinese-version covers of six winners of the 21st Century Best Foreign Novel of the Year 2014. Photos Provided to China Daily

 Tales of life

German writer David Wagner receives the prize for his novel Leben in Beijing.

The Chinese Association of Foreign Literature and People's Literature Publishing House jointly released the list. Six novels from Germany, Russia, France, Canada, Spain and Romania won.

The list and award have been issued annually since 2002 but without prize money.

"Our prize money is less than a hundredth of the Nobel Prize but 1,000 times higher than Prix Goncourt and equal to the Franz Kafka Prize," jury director Nie Zhenning says, jokingly.

Leben, which literally translates as "To Live", is about an organ transplant. It's loosely based on the author's experience of receiving a liver transplant six years ago.

Wagner, who was born in 1971, was diagnosed with congenital chronic autoimmune hepatitis at age 14. Wagner stayed positive while struggling with his illness. He studied comparative literature and art history at universities in Bonn, Berlin and Paris, and published several novels and essay collections.

The book reflects on life and death. It blurs the line between the narrator's internal monologues and the author's self-disclosure.

The narrator recalls life events, depicts doctors and nurses in the hospital, listens to confessions of patients in nearby beds and realizes that he should fight to live for his daughter and his donor.

The German version won the Leipzig Book Fair prize in fiction in 2013.

Tales of life

Other winners of the Chinese award include Russian writer Andrei Volos' Return to Panjrud; French author Christophe Ono-dit-Biot's Plonger (To Dive); Canadian Dennis Bock's Going Home Again; Romanian Florin Lazarescu's Amortire (Numbness); and Spaniard Rafael Chirbes' En la orilla (On the Shore).

Winning works use different languages to discuss a universal theme - life.

Return to Panjrud, for instance, recounts the return of blind Persian poet Rudaki to his birthplace Panjrud under the guidance of an illiterate boy, with whom the poet shares his wisdom.

En la orilla reveals the grim realities of contemporary life in Spain through the protagonist's struggles after the country's economic crisis.

Amortire tells of the hardships of an obscure writer and the writer's host, who has Alzheimer's disease. Both characters face an increasing feeling of numbness.

Over the past 13 years, 74 novels from 22 countries have won the award, which is bestowed by a panel of acclaimed Chinese scholars and translators. The jury in 2007 gave the honor to J.M.G. Le Clezio, who won the Nobel Prize the following year, and this year's Nobel winner Patrick Modiano also won the Chinese prize in 2004.

Yu Zhongxian, a judge of French novels, says that, although the selection is based on Chinese aesthetics, "great minds think alike".

"What's most important is a serious attitude toward literature that reflects authors' concerns and reflections upon life and the world," Nie says.

"Winning works should carry forward human ideals."


(China Daily Africa Weekly 01/02/2015 page26)

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