David Albahari wins Aleksandar Tišma International Literary Prize

This year's winner of the Aleksandar Tišma International Literary Prize is David Albahari for the novel Heute ist Mittwoch (Schoffling & Co, 2022), translated into German by Mirjana and Klaus Wittmann. Five famous European writers were shortlisted for the Aleksandar Tišma International Literary Prize: David Albahari, Cécile Wajsbrot, Slobodan Šnajder, Serhiy Zhadan, and Miljenko Jergović. By a majority of votes, the jury for the Aleksandar Tišma International Literary Prize, Peter Handke, Ilma Rakusa, László Márton, Vladislava Gordić Petković, and Mathias Énard, decided on the novel  Heute ist Mittwoch by David Albahari.

David Albahari

The explanation of the jury, signed by Vladislava Gordić Petković:

David Albahari  (1948), novelist, short story writer and translator, was born in the Serbian city of Peć, but his formative years were spent in Zemun, an ancient town which is today part of the Serbian capital, Belgrade. Albahari published the first collection of short stories, Family Time, in 1973. He became known to a wider audience in 1982 with Description of Death, which won the Ivo Andrić Award for the best short story collection of the year. Albahari has published thirteen collections of short stories, fourteen novels, and five books of essays. His works have been translated into 16 languages, and six books, includ¬ing Leeches, have been trans¬lated into English. The novel  Bait  received the NIN Award for the best novel of the year in 1996. Albahari also won the Balkanica Award in 1998 and the Translation Prize Brücke Berlin  in 2006.

David Albahari moved to Canada in 1993, and that is the reason his literary opus is sometimes divided into two periods: the time before moving to Canada and the time after, starting with the novel Snow Man in 1995. The works of the first period (1973-1993) reflected Albahari's interest in the postmodernist fiction experiment, whereas the second reveals the author's deep concern with the interplay of history and identity. During his emigration, Serbian history has developed into a prominent theme in Albahari's writing, as has the concept of exile. Still, he has never abandoned his early interest in dreams, secrets, and surprises emerging from a seemingly dull everyday life, where the most prominent character is "My Wife," the author's second self who readily responds to his thoughts and visions.

Prefering the "rootlessness" of Canadian exile to political pressures in the Serbia of the 1990s, Albahari left home at the beginning of the turbulent decade, after the breakup of former Yugoslavia and the ensuing ethnic conflicts. In spite of his endeavours, however, he could not avoid the politicization of his life and works during the war in former Yugoslavia. Albahari, who is Jewish, became the chair of the Federation of Jewish Communes of Yugoslavia in 1991 and worked on the evacuation of the Jewish population from Sarajevo.

Albahari's crucial theme was and still is the family circle. The reader approaches the historical reality through the protagonists’ subjective impressions that are presented in the individual memories and life experiences. Albahari's use of his autobiographical emigrant experience is best seen in Bait, where his mother’s life story is narrated by three voices: the mother's (recorded on tape), the son's, and the voice of a Canadian friend who represents the author's new homeland. The novel Götz and Meyer focuses on two SS-officers, guilty of murdering Jews among other people, during World War II. Although the narrator tells the story in cold and detached tone in order to prevent the readers from identifying with the protagonists, he remains incapable of keeping a critical, unemotional attitude, and is shattered by the confrontation with the past.

As the editor of several literary magazines, small presses, and book-length anthologies, Albahari introduced American postmodernist writing into Serbian literature. His translations exerted a major influence on the writers of his generation. Albahari translated such seminal contemporary writers as Vladimir Nabokov, John Updike, Sam Shepard, Thomas Pynchon, Saul Bellow, Margaret Atwood, and many others.

The novel Today is Wednesday (Heute ist Mittwoch, Schoffling & Co, 2022.) deals with sorely acute topics such as disease, old age, memory and forgetting. The motive of an ailing person helps develop the narrative about how an individual interacts with history.

By an ovewhelming majority of votes, the jury for the Aleksandar Tišma International Literary Prize decided for  the novel Today is Wednesday by David Albahari, translated into German by Mirjana and Klaus Whitman, in order to honour the high artistic value of an exciting, diverse, and influential literary work that leaves a lasting mark in the imagination of its readers and the poetics of its literary followers.

The Aleksandar Tišma International Literary Prize for literary and artistic work which, in addition to the writer's mother tongue, is published in English, French or German, is awarded every other year by the Aleksandar Tišma Foundation. The award consists of a monetary prize (10,000 euros) and a diploma signed by the President of the Board of Directors of the Foundation and the President of the Jury. The award will be presented to David Albahari, by the president of the jury, Ilma Rakusa, on June 24 at a ceremony at the Matica Srpska in Novi Sad.