The Czech round of the European Union Prize for Literature has a winner. In the new format of the European Union Prize for Literature, the Czech Republic will be represented by the novelist and journalist Ondřej Štindl. The jury was impressed by his latest novel So Much Ash (Tolik popela, Argo, 2022), which it described as being head and shoulders above mainstream contemporary Czech prose and having the potential to appeal to foreign readers too.
The results were decided by a jury nominated by the Czech Literary Centre (CLC), which was responsible for selecting the Czech representative for this year’s prize. The members of the jury were Kateřina Čopjaková (literary journalist and critic), Klára Fleyberková (editor for Czech Radio and the magazine Host), Kryštof Eder (literary journalist and critic), Sára Vybíralová (CLC) and Jonáš Zbořil (poet and editor of the Seznam Zprávy website’s culture section).
Here’s how the jury justified its choice:
“At the beginning of Ondřej Štindl’s novel, So Much Ash, is a clash of generations and opinions between the ageing translator and writer Kryštof and the young progressive sociologist Kristýna. However, as it soon turns out, their televised exchange, which ends in a fiasco, does not lead to just another disapproving sigh over a divided society. Instead, it is the trigger for a colourful narrative full of sometimes slightly exaggerated, sometimes brilliantly observed and psychologically nuanced episodes, which bring to light the vulnerability and wounds of both the main protagonists and other characters, while in the background the Covid-19 pandemic begins to stir.
One of the main strengths of the novel is the fact the author reflects on the burning issues of today’s society but does not stop at mere descriptions. Instead, he unmasks their superficiality, views them from unusual angles and vividly portrays the seemingly irreconcilable opponents’ deep emotions, which their strong opinions should have covered up like a fig leaf. Furthermore, Ondřej Štindl employs extremely lively, rhythmic and captivating language, which allows him to occasionally slip into the poetic or the almost aphoristic. It is precisely its language and penetration behind the curtain of attractive topics and seemingly stagnant pigeon-holing, which makes So Much Ash a novel that transcends the norms of contemporary Czech literary fiction and can also attract foreign readers.”
One winner and five special mentions
Last year, the rules for the prize underwent a major overhaul. While in the years from 2009 to 2021 each country chose its own winner, since 2022 only one nominated title per country is selected at the national level. In the second round, a seven-member international jury then selects an overall winner from the European line-up of works and also confers five special mentions. The decision will primarily be based on extracts of the nominated prose works translated into English which are 30–40 standard pages in length.
Support for undiscovered authors
The EU Prize for Literature aims to raise the profile of writers who are not yet known outside of their home countries. For that reason, only writers whose books have not been translated into more than four languages are eligible for the award. In addition, the nominated book must be their second to fourth published book. For this year’s edition, the national juries could only nominate books published between July 2021 and February 2023.
Although the prize is open to a total of 41 European countries, for organizational reasons only a third of them take part each year. Apart from the Czech representative, authors from the following countries will be competing for the award: Armenia, Croatia, Cyprus, Estonia, Finland, France, Kosovo, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Poland and Sweden.
The Leipzig finale
On Friday 28 April, at the Leipzig Book Fair, the European jury will announce the overall winner of this year’s European Union Prize for Literature, who will receive a financial award of 5,000 euros. However, all the nominated authors will be promoted on the European stage on an ongoing basis with the aim of reaching a wider international audience and connecting with readers beyond the borders of their country and language. Past winners representing the Czech Republic – though based on the competition’s earlier rules – were Tomáš Zmeškal (2011), Jan Němec (2014), Bianca Bellová (2017) and Lucie Faulerová (2021).