One of Germany’s finest contemporary writers.

Claire Messud, The New York Times

Jenny Erpenbeck’s much anticipated new novel Kairos is a complicated love story set amidst swirling, cataclysmic events as the GDR collapses and a whole world evaporates

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Fiction by Jenny Erpenbeck

Translated from German by Michael Hofmann

Jenny Erpenbeck (the author of Go, Went, Gone and Visitation) is an epic storyteller and arguably the most powerful voice in contemporary German literature. Erpenbeck’s new novel Kairos—an unforgettably compelling masterpiece—tells the story of the romance begun in East Berlin at the end of the 1980s when nineteen-year-old Katharina meets by chance a married writer in his fifties named Hans. Their passionate yet difficult long-running affair takes place against the background of the declining GDR, through the upheavals wrought by its dissolution in 1989 and then what comes after. In her unmistakable style and with enormous sweep, Erpenbeck describes the path of the two lovers, as Katharina grows up and tries to come to terms with a not always ideal romance, even as a whole world with its own ideology disappears. As the Times Literary Supplement writes: “The weight of history, the particular experiences of East and West, and the ways in which cultural and subjective memory shape individual identity has always been present in Erpenbeck’s work. She knows that no one is all bad, no state all rotten, and she masterfully captures the existential bewilderment of this period between states and ideologies.”

In the opinion of her superbly gifted translator Michael Hofmann, Kairos is the great post-Unification novel. And, as The New Republic has commented on his work as a translator: “Hofmann’s translation is invaluable—it achieves what translations are supposedly unable to do: it is at once ‘loyal’ and ‘beautiful.’”

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Portrait of Jenny Erpenbeck

Jenny Erpenbeck

German writer and former opera director

One of Germany’s finest contemporary writers.

Claire Messud, The New York Times

Erpenbeck is among the most sophisticated and powerful novelists we have. Clinging to the undercarriage of her sentences, like fugitives, are intimations of Germany’s politics, history and cultural memory. It’s no surprise that she is already bruited as a future Nobelist....I don’t generally read the books I review twice, but this one I did.

Dwight Garner The New York Times

Erpenbeck presents the intimate and the momentous with equal emphasis, so that personal and historical time run on nearly parallel tracks, until they have no choice but to converge.

Robert Rubsam, The Washington Post

An expertly braided novel about the entanglement of personal and national transformations, set amid the tumult of 1980s Berlin. Kairos unfolds around a chaotic affair between Katharina, a 19-year-old woman, and Hans, a 53-year-old writer in East Berlin. Erpenbeck’s narrative prowess lies in her ability to show how momentous personal and historical turning points intersect, presented through exquisite prose that marries depth with clarity. She masterfully refracts generation-defining political developments through the lens of a devastating relationship, thus questioning the nature of destiny and agency. Kairos is a bracing philosophical inquiry into time, choice, and the forces of history.

Jury of the 2024 International Booker Prize

Erpenbeck’s handling of characters caught within the mesh (and mess) of history is superb. Threats loom over their love and over their country. Hans is jealous, weak-willed, vindictive, Katharina self-abasing. At heart the book is about cruelty more than passion, about secrets, betrayal, and loss.

Kirkus Reviews

With Kairos, Erpenbeck proves the impossibility, irresponsibility even, of an easy binary and reminds us that the only thing we can be certain of is an ending that will bring along change.

Amber Ruth Paulen, Full Stop

In Erpenbeck, Germany has a rare national writer whose portrayals of a ruptured country and century are a reminder that novelists can treat history in ways that neither historians nor politicians ever could, cutting through dogma, fracturing time, preserving rubble.

Gal Beckerman, The Atlantic

An intimate account of obsessive, transgressive passion.

Claire Messud, Harper's

A novel that pushes deep…into the evanescent gap between public and private lives.

Bethanne Patrick, Los Angeles Times

In Kairos, Erpenbeck brilliantly uses distortions of memory and distance to elucidate the ways in which history is constantly happening; the future can be made clear if only one pays acute attention to the minutiae of the present––politically, personally, socially.

Regan Mies, Necessary Fiction

Pain and pleasure do the tango in the engrossing new novel Kairos, the story of a love affair set in East Germany right before and after the fall of the Berlin Wall. It’s the latest book from the East Berlin born Jenny Erpenbeck who I fully expect to win the Nobel Prize sometime in the next five years. Erpenbeck—in Michael Hofmann's crystalline translation—provides the richest portrait I've read of what happened to East Germans when their glumly repressive communist state was replaced overnight by a cocky, shopping-mad West Germany that instantly set about erasing the reality they knew – devaluing their money, dismantling their media, denying their values.

John Powers, NPR

Ms. Erpenbeck has proved time and time again that she is a fearless, astute examiner of a country's soul.


Dissonant, complex mourning, for the collapse of a relationship and an entire country, is the core of Kairos. Clear-eyed and without slipping into “Ostalgie,” Erpenbeck offers a counter-narrative to Western triumphalism and cliches of liberation.

Brendan Driscoll, The Millions

Potent...Erpenbeck, whose writing is propelled by suggestive, sinuous undercurrents of menace and trauma, is keenly interested in self-deception and its consequences.

Alex Clark, The Irish Times

Erpenbeck’s sentences are ascetic and plainspoken, easily mistaken as needle drops, when really they’re short stories. They stretch far into the horizon. … Kairos, translated by Michael Hofmann, marries her philosophy of time with her childhood in East Berlin. It’s somehow both Sebaldian and anti-Sebaldian. In historical clarity, it brims.

Meghan Collins Sullivan, NPR

Erpenbeck astutely conveys the affair's quotidian beats...[she] is not a writer who coddles her readers, starting with the coolly dispassionate narrative voice of her fiction, a studied craft that skillfully heightens emotional heft by maintaining tension between what is being conveyed and how it is conveyed.

Cory Oldweiler, The Boston Globe

Erpenbeck is wary of swift and unequivocal resolutions, choosing instead to reside in extended moments of tension. In effect, almost everything about Erpenbeck’s latest novel, from the musical texture of its prose to its occasionally synoptic narration, is arranged to allow these tensions to remain wonderfully unresolved...There is serendipity in the relationship’s beginning, and necessity in its ending.

Bailey Trela, Commonweal Magazine

Another major work…ice-pick precise and gorgeously written.

Barbara Hoffert, Library Journal

Erpenbeck is frequently named on lists of Nobel Prize contenders and, for newcomers to her work, Kairos easily demonstrates why. Its mix of intimacy and historical sweep is astounding. So is its prose. In poet and translator Michael Hofmann's rigorous translation, Kairos' writing feels purified, as if any emotional irrelevancy had been burned out.

Lily Meyer, NPR

Erpenbeck’s hypnotic prose and brilliant accounting of German history feel particularly profound. Kairos is an absorbingly bleak look at lost love that will stay with you long after it ends.

TIME 100 Must-Read Books of 2023

Erpenbeck beautifully portrays this entwining of two selves, alternating continuously between the two characters’ perspectives, sometimes at a rapid pace, their thoughts separated by no more than a line-break.

The Telegraph

What is past, what is present, and what persists are questions that haunt Kairos, a novel concerned with continuity in politics and culture but also with passion and character… Erpenbeck's spare style, seamlessly blending dialogue, thought, narrative and allusions to German culture, echoes the ideas that animate "Kairos," and occasionally the disorientation at its core.

Minneapolis Star-Tribune

One of the bleakest and most beautiful novels I have ever read… Erpenbeck never reaches for the stock phrase or the known response. While the novel is indeed bleak in its view of love and politics, spending time with Erpenbeck’s rigorous and uncompromising imagination is invigorating all the way to the final page.

The Guardian

Erpenbeck is adept at exploring big subjects via the intimate relationships between people... [Kairos is] a clear-eyed book, morally neutral and the more interesting for it.

Rumaan Alam, The New Republic

Erpenbeck’s narration artfully alternates between the perspectives of Katharina and Hans, inviting us to read the mirrored thoughts of this couple, unequal both in terms of age and power. … Her eagle-eyed observations are both poignant and accurate. … Kairos can be read as the downfall of a controlling relationship, but it becomes much more: an analysis of the power balance between a state and its subjects. A compulsive read.

Catherine Venner, World Literature Today

Here Erpenbeck climbs in between the reality of things, mapping the subterranean affect of the GDR through its humor, speech, customs, gestures. The picture that emerges is that of a vanished system, a code of sentiment and behavior no longer in use, intact but unserviceable. Kairos gains its emotional voltage from the individuating force of love, with all of its indelible precision and detail.

Janique Vigier, Bookforum

The truth of history consumes everyone sooner or later, them and their homelands as well; those are the rules. But an artist like Jenny Erpenbeck can at least flaunt the rules, offering a hot transgressive kiss—a landmark like Kairos.

John Domini, Los Angeles Review of Books

As a vexed critique of Ostalgie (Germans’ nostalgia for the former East) this is plausible. And neat. But Kairos is about many other things too—music and writing and art and contingency, self-actualization and self-doubt. It resists straightforward interpretation. It resists fixity in place, or time.

Toby Lichtig, Wall Street Journal

Beautifully translated by Michael Hofmann, the novel provides an intimate account of Katharina's obsessive, transgressive passion...Erpenbeck writes masterfully about time: days, weeks, and years stretch or collapse.

Claire Messud, Harper's

A writer with a roving, furious, brilliant mind...Erpenbeck has done it again.

Charles Finch, Los Angeles Times

The most prominent and serious German novelist of her generation.

James Wood, The New Yorker