Novel about the twisted environment
in a Viennese boarding school
October 2023: The German Book Prize 2023 (Deutscher Buchpreis), Germany's premier literary prize, went to the Austrian author Tonio Schachinger for his novel Echtzeitalter. The coming-of-age novel tells the story of Till, a high school student who attends an elite boarding school in Vienna. It is about the disintegration of the family, friendships, first love. And it is about gaming, because Till's adolescence largely takes place on the net.
The jury praised how the author deals with the political and social conditions of the present with subtle irony.
“At first glance, Tonio Schachinger’s Echtzeitalter is a school story. At second glance, it is much more than that: a social novel that describes its hero Till’s coming- of-age at an elite Viennese boarding school where future key players are prepared for life with reactionary rigour and according to the ideals of the educated bourgeoisie. Till escapes from this repressive environment – embodied by his diabolical teacher Dolinar – into the world of gaming. With subtle irony, Schachinger mirrors the political and social conditions of the present: brute force issues forth from educated pupils. The world of computer games offers a place of fantasy and freedom. In a narratively brilliant and contemporary way, the novel negotiates the question of literature’s place in society.”
The literary editors of German media praised the jury's decision and also emphasised that, in their views, each of the short-listed six titles would have been worthy winners.
But there were also critical voices. Above all, Wiebke Porombka, literary editor at the Deutschlandfunk (German national radio channel) said it had been the wrong decision. She emphasised that Tonio Schachinger's Echtzeitalter was not a bad book at all, but added that it was certainly not the novel of the year. In her view, there were more worthy candidates.
Judith von Sternburg, the literary editor of the daily newspaper Frankfurther Rundschau, wrote that the only thing that could be objected to is that Tonio Schachinger should have won won the German Book Prize in 2019, for his debut football novel Nicht wie ihr. In it, Schachinger follows an Austrian football player of Croatian origin who plays for the English club Everton FC, earning 100,000 euros a week.
Andreas Platthaus, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
"While the audience cheered loudest for Necati Öziri's, one of the six finalists, the applause after the announcement of the decision was also generous. Schachinger's high school novel with detours into the computer game milieu is probably far better suited for the bestseller lists. The book is funny, cheeky, well-written and accessible to all generations of the public, because who wouldn't be familiar with school? At the same time, Schachinger's view of the milieu of his novel is also a satirical one: "You need a bit of education to succeed at the top," is how the author characterises the expectations of the parents of the pupils he describes. That also applies to his novel."
Judith von Sternburg, Frankfurter Rundschau
“The only thing that could be objected to is that Tonio Schachinger could have won the German Book Prize in 2019 already, with his debut football novel Nicht wie ihr. Nicht wie ihr is possibly even a touch more cogent than Echtzeitalter. This year, too, another book could have won. The shortlist was thoughtful and jury spokesperson Katharina Teutsch pointed out in an interview with that the six finalists were actually what the jury stood for.”
Wiebke Porombka , Deutschlandfunk:
Tonio Schachinger's Echtzeitalter is not a bad book at all, but certainly not the novel of the year. In my view, there would have been more worthy candidates for the German Book Prize.
Muna oder die Hälfte des Lebens (Muna or Half of Life) by Terezia Mora was nominated as an aesthetically brilliant novel about a topic that has been hushed up for far too long and still is: Violence against women.
Necati Öziri's Vatermal is a rhythmically immensely strong novel about young people with migration experience who demand that their experiences be told.
And Anne Rabe's Die Möglichkeit von Glück (The Possibility of Happiness) is a novel that impressively portrays an essential contemporary discourse in literary form: How does a subsequent generation tell about the legacy of the GDR? Each of these three novels would have deserved the German Book Prize."
The German Book Prize (Deutscher Buchpries) is considered one of the most important awards in German publishing and has been presented since 2005. The prize is endowed with a total of 37,500 euros: The winner receives 25,000 euros, the other authors on the shortlist 2,500 euros each.
Tonio Schachinger was born in 1992 in New Delhi, India, studied German and language arts in Vienna and lives there today. He was joined in the final round by Terézia Mora (Muna oder Die Hälfte des Lebens), Necati Öziri (Vatermal), Anne Rabe (Die Möglichkeit von Glück), Sylvie Schenk (Maman) and Ulrike Sterblich (Drifter).
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