International Booker Prize

Kairos by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated by Michael Hofmann, wins the International Booker Prize 2024

Today, May 21, Kairos by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated by Michael Hofmann, is announced as the winner of the International Booker Prize 2024

Publication date and time: Published
  • ‘It’s a private story of a big love and its decay, but it’s also a story of the dissolution of a whole political system. Simply put: How can something that seems right in the beginning, turn into something wrong?’ – Jenny Erpenbeck on Kairos 
  • Kairos follows last year’s International Booker Prize winner, Time Shelter, in being set during and after the fall of the Iron Curtain in Eastern Europe 
  • Jenny Erpenbeck, who was longlisted for the prize in 2018, becomes the first German writer to win it. Michael Hofmann becomes the first male translator to win
  • Granta Books wins for the second time since 2016, when the prize took its current form
  • Everything you need to know about the winner of the International Booker Prize 2024

Kairos is tonight, Tuesday, 21 May, named the winner of the International Booker Prize 2024. The winner was announced by Eleanor Wachtel, Chair of the 2024 judges, at a ceremony sponsored by Maison Valentino. It was held at London’s Tate Modern and hosted by academic and broadcaster Shahidha Bari. The £50,000 prize is split equally between author Jenny Erpenbeck and translator Michael Hofmann, giving each equal recognition. 

Highlights of the evening, attended by high-profile guests from across the cultural sector, were shared with a global audience via a livestream on the Booker Prizes’ YouTube channel, hosted by ‘the internet’s resident librarian’ Jack Edwards, which can be watched here. 

Erpenbeck’s novel, which was originally written in German, follows a destructive affair between a young woman and an older man in 1980s East Berlin. It intertwines the personal and the political as the two lovers seemingly embody East Germany’s crushed idealism, with both holding on to the past long after they know they should move on. A meditation on hope and disappointment, Kairos poses complex questions about freedom, loyalty, love and power. 

The winner was chosen from a shortlist of six books including Not a River, The Details, Mater 2–10, What I’d Rather Not Think About, and Crooked Plow. They were selected from 149 books published in the UK or Ireland between 1 May 2023, and 30 April 2024, and submitted by publishers. Alongside Wachtel, the 2024 judging panel includes: award-winning poet Natalie Diaz; Booker Prize-shortlisted novelist Romesh Gunesekera; ground-breaking visual artist William Kentridge; and acclaimed writer, editor and translator Aaron Robertson

Short films featuring excerpts from all six shortlisted books, read by high-profile performers, were shown at the ceremony. The films were produced by Sharon Horgan’s company Merman and directed by Charlotte Hamblin, and the extract from the winning novel was performed by Eleanor Tomlinson. All six films can be viewed here. Since being published on the Booker Prizes social media platforms on 25 April 2024, the films have been viewed over 32 million times.

International Booker Prize

What the winning author and translator said:

‘The fall of the Wall is an idea of breaking free. And what interested me is that breaking free is not the only thing that can be told in such a story. There are years before and years after. It’s also about what follows the happy end.’ – Jenny Erpenbeck 

‘It’s a wonderfully circumstantial story in which the ten years pre- and post-Mauerfall come into play. The book seems to me like a coin, which has a personal story – heads, as it were – on one side, and tails, the emblem of the state, on the other. It keeps being spun into the air, and it comes down heads, it comes down tails.’ – Michael Hofmann

Eleanor Wachtel, Chair of the 2024 judges, says:

‘In luminous prose, Jenny Erpenbeck exposes the complexity of a relationship between a young student and a much older writer, tracking the daily tensions and reversals that mark their intimacy, staying close to the apartments, cafés, and city streets, workplaces and foods of East Berlin. It starts with love and passion, but it’s at least as much about power, art and culture. The self-absorption of the lovers, their descent into a destructive vortex, remains connected to the larger history of East Germany during this period, often meeting history at odd angles. 

Michael Hofmann’s translation captures the eloquence and eccentricities of Erpenbeck’s writing, the rhythm of its run-on sentences, the expanse of her emotional vocabulary. 

What makes Kairos so unusual is that it is both beautiful and uncomfortable, personal and political. Erpenbeck invites you to make the connection between these generation-defining political developments and a devastating, even brutal love affair, questioning the nature of destiny and agency. Like the GDR, it starts with optimism and trust, then unravels.’

Portrait of Eleanor Wachtel.

Fiammetta Rocco, Administrator of the International Booker Prize, adds:

‘The judges have read 149 books, the largest number ever submitted for the International Booker Prize. I have sat in on all their meetings over the past year, and have witnessed at first hand the warmth, intelligence and humour that they brought to their discussions. Their winner, after many months of deliberation, is a book about love and politics. About the fissures of history. About how relationships can start out fierce and idealistic only to bend under pressure and eventually break. And about how long it takes for people, and for nations, to heal. 

‘I would like to say a huge thank you to Eleanor Wachtel and her fellow judges. And also to Maison Valentino, who have sponsored the ceremony tonight. We have long admired the work they’ve done with Booker Prize authors and are delighted to be the latest beneficiaries of their support for the literary world. Their contribution has also enabled us to donate 500 sets of the shortlisted books to libraries across the UK via The Reading Agency.’

Fiammetta Rocco

More about the winning author and translator

Jenny Erpenbeck was born in Berlin, Germany, in 1967. While working as an opera director, she debuted with her novel The Old Child & The Book of Words (2008). Her other books include Visitation (2010), The End of Days (2014, winner of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, the precursor to the International Booker Prize), and Go, Went, Gone (2017, longlisted for the International Booker Prize in 2018), as well as Not a Novel: Collected Writings and Reflections (2020). Her work has been translated into over 30 languages. 

Michael Hofmann is a poet, reviewer and translator. He has translated the work of several German authors, including Franz Kafka, Joseph Roth and Hans Fallada. He is the winner of several literary prizes, including the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in 1995 for the translation of his father’s novel, The Film Explainer. Since 1993 he has held a parttime teaching position at the University of Florida in Gainesville. He was a judge for the International Booker Prize in 2018, the year Jenny Erpenbeck was first longlisted for the prize (for Go, Went, Gone, translated by Susan Bernofsky). In 2023, he was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Kairos author Jenny Erpenbeck and translator Michael Hofmann.

What the critics said about Kairos

‘Erpenbeck is among the most sophisticated and powerful novelists we have. Clinging to the undercarriage of her sentences, like fugitives, are intimations of Germany’s politics, history and cultural memory.’ – The New York Times 

‘Like all the best allegories, Kairos cannot be reduced to a single, unambiguous message. There are too many questions – about the nature of love, about memory and history and truth – and no concrete answers. … The entanglement of interior and exterior is a central preoccupation in Erpenbeck’s writing. In her unfailingly serious work, physical objects and places serve as portals to memories and emotions, which can disappear or transform in an instant. And what’s happening in the world at large is never merely a backdrop: history is the material from which lives are made.’ – The Telegraph 

‘Jenny Erpenbeck’s Kairos is one of the bleakest and most beautiful novels I have ever read. Spending time with Erpenbeck’s rigorous and uncompromising imagination is invigorating all the way to the final page.’ – The Guardian 

‘A rare national writer whose portrayals of a ruptured country and century are a reminder that novelists can treat history in ways that neither historians nor politicians ever could, cutting through dogma, fracturing time, preserving rubble.’ – The Atlantic 

‘In her severe but rewarding Kairos, Erpenbeck has done it again, carefully mapping the disintegration of an East German love affair onto the era just before the 1990 reunification of Germany. The book bears with it, as so startlingly few novels seem to when you encounter one that does, the absolute urgency of existential questions. Questions that encompass both the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of S&M.’ – Los Angeles Times

Book cover of Kairos

A chance to meet this year’s winners

Winner event at Foyles Charing Cross Road 

The first public event with Jenny Erpenbeck and Michael Hofmann will be at Foyles Charing Cross Road, London, on Thursday, 23 May at 7pm. They will be in conversation with International Booker Prize administrator Fiammetta Rocco. 

Winner event at Hay Festival 

The prize’s annual visit to Hay-on-Wye occurs at 7pm on Saturday, 25 May, when International Booker Prize judge and novelist Romesh Gunesekera and Booker Prize Foundation Chief Executive Gaby Wood will be in conversation with Jenny Erpenbeck and Michael Hofmann. 

Full details and tickets are available here

Hay Festival logo

See our display at The Notting Hill Bookshop

Until 24 May, the globally renowned The Notting Hill Bookshop in London is dedicating itself to the International Booker Prize. The shop featured in the hit film Notting Hill, which celebrates the 25th anniversary of its release today, has seen its sales rise exponentially since the pandemic. The shop attributes this in large part to a new wave of young customers driven by BookTok, many of whom are increasingly drawn to translated fiction. 

As an established promoter of global writing, The Notting Hill Bookshop has created displays for the longlist, shortlist and now winner of the International Booker Prize, as well as showcasing bespoke recommendations of great fiction in translation provided by the nominated authors and translators. Find out more here.

Notting Hill Bookshop

The prize’s impact

Kairos can expect international recognition and a significant uplift in global sales. In the week after Time Shelter, written by Georgi Gospodinov and translated by Angela Rodel, won the International Booker Prize 2023, its publisher Weidenfeld & Nicolson saw a 435% increase in sales compared to the previous week. It has now sold over 100,000 copies of the book across all its editions. Before the 2023 longlist was announced, Time Shelter had been licensed in 23 territories, in addition to Bulgaria. Since then, agreements have been reached in a further 14 territories.

Author Georgi Gospodinov with translator Angela Rodel after winning the International Booker Prize 2023

Who is reading translated fiction?

Data compiled by Nielsen for the Booker Prize Foundation shows that, in the UK, readers of translated fiction are significantly younger than readers of fiction overall. Under 35s now account for almost half of all the UK’s translated fiction purchases: the largest group, 25 to 34-year-olds, purchased almost a quarter (24.9%) of all translated fiction in 2022; 13 to 24- year-olds bought a further 17.3%, bringing the total proportion of translated fiction bought by readers under the age of 35 to 48.2%. By comparison, the biggest demographic group for fiction in general is made up of readers aged 60 to 84. 

The proportion of younger readers of translated fiction is also growing: that 24.9% of translated fiction bought by 25 to 34-year-olds in 2002 is up from 21% in 2021. In addition, 48% of translated fiction buyers in the UK are male, compared with only 32% of fiction buyers overall. Read more here.

Young readers of translated fiction

For media enquiries please contact:

Premier: [email protected] / Ruby Short 07710 859447