Dublin Literary Award goes to German chiropodist Katja Oskamp for ‘Marzahn, Mon Amour’

Jo Heinrich and German author Katja Oskamp

Melanie Finn

A German chiropodist is putting her best foot forward after picking up the world’s largest prize for a single novel published in English.

Author Katja Oskamp and her English translator Jo Heinrich today scooped the 2023 Dublin Literary Awards for the book, ‘Marzahn, Mon Amour.’

Described as a mixture between a personal memoir and a collective history, the book tells the story of a woman approaching the “invisible years' of middle-age who retrains as a chiropodist.

She was inspired to write the book after working in the suburb of Marzahn, formerly east Germany’s largest housing estate on the outskirts of Berlin.

As a result of working so intimately with her clients, she heard all about their colourful lives and experiences of their time in the GDR (east Germany) and detailed them all in individual vignettes in a manner that was lauded by the judges.

Ms Oskamp said it was “unbelievable to win this prize” and paid tribute to her clients for sharing their personal histories with her.

“I can’t imagine the person who looks after people’s feet Marzahn is the same one who has won this award here today. I’m very happy and I’m very thankful,” she told independent.ie.

She walks away with €75,000 for her literary efforts while her translator Jo Heinrich, has won €25,000 for the prize nominated by libraries with the winner plucked from 70 titles nominated by 84 libraries from 31 countries.

Ms Heinrich said it was “absolutely unbelievable” to pick up the accolade at a ceremony in Merrion Square as part of the International Literature Festival Dublin.

“We’re being treated like stars here. This is my first literary translation and I’m a complete unknown so it’s the most remarkable validation for my work. It’s gorgeous,” she said.

She said that apart from names and a few little details, the whole book is “entirely true” and based on real-life events in the author’s life.

“Katja was a writer for a long time and she was fed up with writing as she wasn’t getting very far and she became a chiropodist and then she wrote these stories, based on her clients in east Germany.

"And the stories from east Germany were inspirational and unique and it became a best-seller and she had to give up chiropody because her writing career took off,” she said.

On the theme of feeling invisible when she hits middle age, Ms Oskamp said it’s a problem that effects many women and men too.

“I learnt from my clients, mostly older people in my practice, that it’s very helpful to stop looking into a mirror and start looking at other people. And if you do that, you can learn from them what to do with the second half of your life,” she said.

“I’m very thankful to my clients and their open hearts. They told me their stories, both funny and tragic and I’ve learned a lot from them. Without them talking to me, I couldn’t have written the book.”

Lord Mayor of Dublin Caroline Conroy described it as a “beautifully written novel.”

"It’s a warm, witty and moving portrait of older residents in Berlin, which offers the reader an insight into a community often overlooked.

"I’d like to congratulate Katja Oskamp and Jo Heinrich on winning the 2023 Dublin Literary Award and to thank everyone involved in the award – writers, translators, librarians, publishers and the administrative staff of Dublin City Council,” she said.