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British writer wins top German language literature award

WINNER: Sharon Dodua Otoo

A LONDON-born writer has won a major German language literature award.

Sharon Dodua Otoo has just won arguably the most prestigious award in the German language, the Ingeborg Bachmann prize – for the first and only short story she has ever written in the language of her adopted homeland.

She received the €25,000 (£21,000) Ingeborg Bachmann prize for her short story Mr Gröttrup sits down.

Dodua Otoo, who was raised in a “very strict Ghanaian household”, moved to to Hanover as an au pair in 1992. And 24 years later, she still lives and works in Germany.

Her entry is centred on the historical figure of Helmut Gröttrup, a scientist who worked first on the Nazis’ V2 rocket, then on the Soviet rocketry programme and later wound up inventing the chip card. In a twist that stretches the conventions of anthropomorphism to their limits, the story is partially narrated from the perspective of an unboiled egg.

At the prize event in Klagenfurt, the jury hailed Dodua Otoo’s story as a surrealist parable grappling with fundamental philosophical issues around identity and otherness, drawing comparison with the work of Austrian absurdist Thomas Bernhard and the German comedian Loriot.

“You have this British author telling the story of a forgotten chapter of German history – I think that’s incredible,” said critic Sandra Kegel, who had nominated Dodua Otoo for the competition.

Dodua Otoo submitted her story on the suggestion of a friend, without being aware of the prize’s significance.

“That was probably a good idea,” she told The Guardian, “otherwise I wouldn’t have submitted anything.”

Since winning the €25,000 prize, which is chosen using a three-day X-Factor-style competition screened live on Austrian, German and Swiss television, Dodua Otoo has been swamped with offers from German publishing houses and literary agents. She is determined to take the opportunity to turn the short story into a novel.

“It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity”, she said.

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