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

Kairos by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated by Michael Hofmann, has been 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 and held at London’s Tate Modern on Tuesday, 21 May. 

The £50,000 prize is split equally between author Jenny Erpenbeck and translator Michael Hofmann, giving each equal recognition. 

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, with the two lovers seemingly embodying East Germany’s crushed idealism. A meditation on hope and disappointment, Kairos poses complex questions about freedom, loyalty, love and power. 

  • ‘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

Eleanor Wachtel, Chair of judges said:

‘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, said:

‘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
Jenny Erpenbeck
Translated by
Michael Hofmann
Published by
Granta Books
Kairos is the winner of the International Booker Prize 2024. An intimate and devastating story of the path of two lovers through the ruins of a relationship, set against the backdrop of a seismic period in European history. Translated from German by Michael Hofmann.

The Shortlist

Green book cover of Not a River by Selva Almada showing an abstract line drawing.

Translated by Annie McDermott

Yellow book cover of Kairos by Jenny Erpenbeck with a black and white photo of a woman.
Prize winner

Translated by Michael Hofmann

Book cover of The Details by Ia Genberg with torn black and white photos of peoples faces.

Translated by Kira Josefsson

The Longlist

The 2024 judges

About the judges

Eleanor Wachtel (Chair), co-founder and host for more than 30 years of the flagship programme, ‘Writers & Company’, on Canada’s CBC Radio, is rightly known as one of the world’s finest literary interviewers. Five books of her interviews have been published, including Random Illuminations (Goose Lane Editions, 2007), a collection of reflections, correspondence and conversations with Carol Shields, which won the Independent Publisher Book Award; Original Minds (HarperCollins, 2003); and, most recently, The Best of Writers & Company (Biblioasis, 2016). She also co-founded and hosted ‘Wachtel on the Arts’, featuring conversations with film-makers, composers, architects and artists, as well as the Toronto International Film Festival’s popular ‘Books on Film’ series for more than a decade. She has received numerous accolades for her contributions to Canadian cultural life, nine honorary degrees and Officer of the Order of Canada.

Eleanor Wachtel

Natalie Diaz is an award-winning poet whose work is published by Faber in the UK and Graywolf in the US. Her latest collection, Postcolonial Love Poem, won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2021 and was shortlisted for the National Book Award in the US and the Forward Prize in the UK. Her debut collection, When My Brother Was an Aztec (Copper Canyon Press, 2012), won the American Book Award in 2013. Diaz was born and raised in the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California, on the banks of the Colorado River. Diaz is Mojave and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Tribe. She has been awarded a MacArthur Foundation ‘genius’ grant, a Lannan Foundation Fellowship, a Native Arts Council Foundation Fellowship, and both Princeton University’s Holmes National Poetry Prize and Hodder Fellowship. She is currently director of the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands at Arizona State University.

Natalie Diaz

Romesh Gunesekera is internationally acclaimed for fiction that explores key themes of our times – political, ecological, economic - through novels and stories of wide appeal that spotlight the complexities of people’s lives and the choices they are forced to make. His ten books include Reef, shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1994, The Sandglass, (given the inaugural BBC Asia Award), and The Match, a pathbreaking cricket novel. Noontide Toll (2014), is a darkly humorous cycle of linked stories that capture a vital moment in post-war Sri Lanka. His most recent novel, Suncatcher (2019), returns to an earlier era in Ceylon and a story of divided loyalties and endangered friendship in the turbulent 1960s. Gunesekera has been widely translated and won numerous prizes for his fiction including a Premio Mondello (Italy). He was the Chair of the judges of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize in 2015 and has also judged Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists (2013), the Caine Prize and the Sunday Times Audible Short Story Award among others. He is the co-author of the Writers’ & Artists’ Companion to Novel Writing and has run fiction workshops and masterclasses internationally. He is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature.

Romesh Gunesekera

William Kentridge‘s ground-breaking exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in 2022 – his biggest ever in the UK – explored 40 years of visionary storytelling and translation through drawing, film, animation, printmaking, tapestry and sculpture. The Financial Times described the show as ‘elegiac, unexpected and wonderful’. It attracted over 100,000 visitors. From his base in Johannesburg, where he was born, Kentridge works across artistic mediums, often with dozens of collaborators, to make art that is grounded in history, literature, politics and science. His work has been seen in museums and galleries internationally since the 1990s and can be found in private collections and institutions across the globe. He has directed operas for the Metropolitan Opera in New York, La Scala in Milan, the English National Opera in London, the Salzburg Festival and others. His original works for stage combine performance, projections, shadow play, voice and music. Kentridge is the recipient of honorary doctorates from several universities including Yale, Columbia and the University of London. He has been awarded the Kyoto Prize (2010), the Princesa de Asturias Award in 2017 and the Praemium Imperiale Prize in 2019.

William Kentridge

Aaron Robertson is a writer, translator, and editor at New York publisher Spiegel & Grau. His translation of Igiaba Scego’s novel, Beyond Babylon (Two Lines Press, 2019), was shortlisted for the 2019 PEN Translation Prize and the National Translation Award. In 2021 he received a National Endowment for the Arts grant to support his translation of Giulia Caminito’s The Big A. He has served on the board of the American Literary Translators Association and is currently an advisory editor for The Paris Review. His debut book, The Black Utopians, will be published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 2024. Robertson has been a contributor to two books, The Heart of a Stranger: An Anthology of Exile Literature (Pushkin Press, 2019) and Violent Phenomena: 21 Essays on Translation (Tilted Axis Press, 2022). His work has also appeared in The New York Times, The Nation, Foreign Policy, n+1, The Point, Literary Hub and elsewhere. His writing has received support from the Robert B. Silvers Foundation, the McCoy Family Center for Ethics in Society at Stanford University and the Lewis Center for the Arts at Princeton University.

Aaron Robertson

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. Read more here.

Young readers of translated fiction

The history of the International Booker Prize

The Booker Prizes exist to reward the finest in fiction. The symmetrical relationship between the Booker Prize and the International Booker Prize ensures that the Booker honours fiction on a global basis: world-class fiction is highlighted by the prizes for English-speaking readers, whether that work was originally written in English (the Booker Prize) or translated into English (the International Booker Prize).

The International Booker Prize began life in 2005 as the Man Booker International Prize. It was initially a biennial prize for a body of work, and there was no stipulation that the work should be written in a language other than English. Early winners of the Man Booker International Prize therefore include Alice Munro, Lydia Davis and Philip Roth, as well as Ismail Kadare and Laszlo Krasznahorkai. 

In 2015, after the rules of the original Booker Prize expanded to allow writers of any nationality to enter - as long as their books were written in English and published in the UK - the International Prize evolved to become the mirror image of the English-language prize. Since then it has been awarded annually for a single book, written in another language and translated into English.

The Man Group continued to sponsor both prizes until 2019, when Crankstart became the funder, and the prizes reverted to their familiar ‘Booker’ names alone.

This prize aims to encourage more reading of quality fiction from all over the world, and has already had an impact on those statistics in the UK. Novels and collections of short stories are both eligible.


 Ismail Kadare