Kairos: Winner of the International Booker Prize 2024 by Jenny Erpenbeck – Our Review

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Our Review…

Set in the year 1986, in Easy Germany, Katharina is a 19 year old student, who dreams of working in theatre when, by chance, she meets Hans, a 53 year old novelist. Despite the fact he is married and 10 years older than her own father, Katharina sees the fact that their birth years add up to 100 as a sign their relationship meant to be and they embark on an affair, we know from the start to be doomed.

Erpenbeck’s mastery is in her ability to immerse us in the emotion (and gaslighting) of the story. We are swept away in Hans’ ‘romance’ and, later, equally anxious of, and questioning, his reactions, even re-reading scenes for reassurance. Erpenbeck’s mid-scene switches in narration reveal the power imbalance and of the relationship. We see the manipulation and vulnerability of Katharina and Hans as arrogant, hypocritical and, later, sadistic. “From now on, he thinks, the responsibility for their existence is entirely hers. He has to protect himself from himself. Maybe she’s a monster? She thinks, he wants to prepare me for difficult times ahead. He wants to protect me. Protect me from myself, and so he gives me the power of decision over Us.”

Some critics have commented that Hans’ treatment of Katharina is an analogy for the post-reunification of East and West Germany. However, it is much more than that. On a local level, here is Australia, right now, this novel is an eye-opening portrayal of coercive control and how difficult it is for women to walk away from abusive relationships.

This novel will appeal to those who enjoyed Deborah Levy’s “August Blue” or Sarah’s Bernstein’s Booker shortlisted “Study for Obedience” and would be complemented by Australian Jess Hill’s incredible work, “See What You Made Me Do.”

Review by Katina @Great Escape Books