Saša stanišic: a linguistic artist with imagination and humor

Saša Stanišic is one of the most important contemporary German authors. His novels and short stories have won awards. Most recently, the Hamburg native published two children’s books.

by Janine Kuhl

At the latest with his novel "Origin", for which he received the German Book Prize in 2019, Saša Stanišic has risen to the top ranks of the country’s writers. His use of language is virtuosic, poetic and spiced with a pinch of humor, his stories dreamy and intricate. Yet they only met in 1992, the German language and Saša Stanišic, when he came to Germany from Bosnia at the age of 14.

Born in Višegrad – Flight in the Bosnian War

Saša Stanišic was born in 1978 in the small Bosnian town of Višegrad, where he lived with his parents until 1992. When the town was occupied by Bosnian Serb troops during the Bosnian War, the family fled to Heidelberg. Already in high school, a German teacher recognized and encouraged the writing talent of the student, who consequently studied German as a foreign language and Slavic studies at the University of Heidelberg after graduating from high school.

Debut novel immediately translated into 30 languages

Gradually, Stanišic’s literary texts found their way into magazines and anthologies. With the story "What we play in the basement . " he competed for the Ingeborg Bachmann Prize in 2005. The young author’s debut novel, "How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone," followed a year later became an instant worldwide success. The semi-autobiographical story about the young Bosnian Aleksandar has been translated into 30 languages and made it to the shortlist of the German Book Prize.

Leipzig Book Fair Prize for "Before the Feast

Eight years, several plays, audio book versions and stories later, Stanišic presented his second novel. "Before the Feast tells the story of the village of Furstenfelde in the Uckermarck region – based on a real village and partly on real people, interwoven with the history and old, transformed legends of the region. In the meantime, the author, who now lives in Hamburg, is read at school. In 2019, he anonymously participated in the Hanseatic city’s baccalaureate exams for his novel "Before the Feast" and still achieved 13 out of 15 points.

"Trappers": Stanišic’s great love of ancient terms

In 2016, the German-Bosnian author published the short story collection "Fallensteller". In the eight stories, Stanišic gives free rein to imagination and language. Stanišic’s delight in language is most evident in his use of ancient terms, which he discovered for himself while studying the archives and the Grimm’s dictionary.

"Origin awarded with the German Book Prize

In the same year, Stanišic’s most acclaimed work to date was published: "Herkunft" was awarded the German Book Prize. The novel, which is strongly autobiographical, convinces with its power of language, imagination, wit and what is unspoken and yet clearly perceptible between the lines. Poetically and playfully the author tells his family story of war and flight and the all overlaying question of what origin actually means for life.

"Origin is the sweet-bitter coincidences that carried us here to there. It is belonging to which one has contributed nothing." Reading from "Origin

Two years after the success of the book, "Origin" was published also performed as a play. Director Sebastian Nubling staged it as a kind of memory parcours at Hamburg’s Thalia Theater.

Controversy with Peter Handke

In his acceptance speech at the book award ceremony, Stanišic vehemently criticized the awarding of the Nobel Prize for Literature to Austrian Peter Handke, who has repeatedly attracted attention for his pro-Serbian stance on the Yugoslav wars. "I do it also because I was lucky enough to escape what Peter Handke does not describe in his texts", Stanišic justified his criticism in his speech.

Stanišic and son publish children’s book

Saša Stanišic’s first children’s book is characterized by a love of storytelling. "Hey, hey, hey cab" originated from stories the author invented with his son Nikolai during the Corona pandemic. In September 2021, father and son received the Hamburg Tuddelband for their book: "It is, in a word, a great happiness", was the jury’s verdict. The book is full of "wild and funny, surprising and inspiring stories"."

"Panda-Pand": A fantastic story

With his latest book, Stanišic, who loves reading aloud, is also addressing a very young audience: "Panda-Pand. How the pandas used to have music for breakfast" Tells a fantastic story about panda bears, which the author has always been fascinated by. Writing was his childhood dream, Stanišic once said. As a sixth-grader, a teacher attested to his special interest in "strange things and fantasies" to formulate. Over the years, this has given rise to novels and stories that are critically acclaimed and read all over the world.

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