French-Rwandan author Scholastique Mukasonga made it to the shortlist of the 2024 Internationaler Literaturpreis 2024, a highly esteemed German translation prize.

The award of €35,000—€20,000 for the author and €15,000 for the translator—honors an outstanding work of contemporary international literature that has been translated into German for the first time. In this way, the prize recognizes both the original work and the work of translation. This dual focus makes the prize unique to Germany, building on the existing legacy of a prize that continues to expand upon an understanding of heterogeneous forms of storytelling.

Mukasonga was selected for her novel Kibogo, translated from French into German by Jan Schönherr Claassen as
Kibogos Himmelfahrt. Mukasonga recounts, in four woven parts, the clash between ancient Rwandan beliefs and the missionaries’ determination to replace them with European Christianity.

The jury comprised of Asal Dardan, Ibou Coulibaly Diop, Beatrice Faßbender,Khuê Phạm, Olga Radetzkaja,  Cia Rinne, and Deniz Utlu. Diop remarked that Mukasonga’s novel is a stunning oral work captured beautifully in the translation:

The prince Kibogo stands symbolically in this novel for the conflict between traditional belief and colonial evangelization. The collective memory recalls Kibogo, who died long ago in Rwanda, bringing rain in times of drought, sacrificing himself, and ascending to heaven. Mukamwezi, the wife of Kibogo’s spirit, asks: “What do you want to believe? What the Padri say, or the stories of your mother?” This fuels conflicts; the villagers no longer know whom to turn to. Scholastique Mukasonga narrates this rich history of a country, its roots, and legends in a simultaneously mocking and tender language. She immerses readers in these incredible stories, passed down from generation to generation and embellished over time. This art of storytelling is reflected in the precise translation by Jan Schönherr, which follows Mukasonga’s rhythm and wonderfully translates the oral nature of the text into German.

Scholastique Mukasonga, born in 1956 in Rwanda, lives and works in Normandy. Her novels are published by Éditions Gallimard. She has been awarded, among others, the Prix Renaudot, the Grand Prix SGDL de la Nouvelle, and the Prix Simone de Beauvoir pour la liberté des femmes. Her book “The Sacred Virgin of the Nile” was adapted into a film titled “Our Lady of the Nile” in 2019.

Jan Schönherr lives in Munich and has translated authors such as Jack Kerouac, Jacques Poulin, and NoViolet Bulawayo. He has been awarded multiple times for his work, most recently with the Working Grant of the Free State of Bavaria in 2022.

Congrats to Mukasonga!