Katja Petrowskaja

Maybe Esther

(German title: Vielleicht Esther)
ca. 200 pages
Katja Petrowskaja
Foto: Katja Petrowskaja
© Susanne Schleyer

Katja Petrowskaja was born in 1970 in Kiev. She studied at the University of Tartu, Estonia, and was also awarded research fellowships for Columbia University in New York, and Stanford in California. Katja Petrowskaja received her PhD in Moscow. Since 1999, she has lived and worked in Berlin. Maybe Esther is her first book, and is translated into 20 languages.

Prizes and awards (selection):
Premio Strega Europeo 2015
Ernst-Toller-Preis 2014
»aspekte«-Literaturpreis 2014
Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis 2013

Sold to

English world rights (Harper Collins US; UK sublicense: Fourth Estate), Spanish world rights (Adriana Hidalgo), Brazilian Portuguese rights (Companhia das Letras), Portugal (Quetzal), France (Seuil), Italy (Adelphi), Netherlands (De Bezige Bij), Denmark (Tiderne Skifter), Sweden (Norstedts), Norway (Gyldendal Norsk), Finland (Tammi), Poland (Jagiellonian University Press), Slovakia (Premedia), Hungary (Magvetö), Bulgaria (Paradox), Romania (Humanitas), Estonia (Hea Lugu), Greece (Kapon), Ukraine (Knihy XXI)

Domestic Rights Sales: German Book Club rights (Büchergilde Gutenberg)

Ingeborg-Bachmann-Prize 2013


Was her name really Esther, her great-grandmother on her father’s side, who stayed behind in the empty apartment in Kiev in 1941, after her family had fled? And the Yiddish words with which she trustingly addressed the German soldiers – who was there to hear them? And when the soldiers shot the old babushka, »with routine indifference« – who was standing at the window, watching?

The unfinished family history, which Katja Petrowskaja recounts in a series of short chapters, could have been made into a tragic historical novel: The student Judas Stern, a great uncle of hers, who was sentenced to death for the attempted assassination of the counsellor at the German embassy in 1932. Stern’s brother, an Odessa revolutionary, who adopted the name Petrowski when he went underground. One of her great-grandfathers founded an orphanage in Warsaw for deaf-mute Jewish children. But if not even the family name is certain, then what can we really know? Rather than expanding this monumental material into a sweeping epic, Petrowskaja writes about her journey to visit the scenes of these events, reflecting on a fragmented and traumatised century, and placing her focus on figures whose faces are no longer visible.


Selected Foreign Editions


Spanish edition released by Adriana Hidalgo >>

French edition released by Éditions du Seuil >>

Italian edition released by Adelphi Edizioni >>

Dutch edition released by De Bezige Bij >>

Danish edition released by Gyldendal Norsk >>

Norwegian edition released by Gyldendal Norsk >>

Finnish edition released by Tammi >>

Hungarian edition released by Magvetö >>

  Estonian edition released by Hea Lugu >>

Greek edition released by Kapon Editions >>


»Rarely has a text been received with such emotion and unbridled enthusiasm [at the Ingeborg-Bachmann-Prize 2013] in Klagenfurt as Maybe Esther«. FAZ

»The author is the deserving winner of the Ingeborg-Bachmann-Prize for this masterful journey into an imaginary zone of terror.« NZZ

»Even now we can say that German literature has gained an intelligent, flamboyant, and highly independent voice.« ZEIT

»A text that is both moral and artistic.« SZ

»Written in precise language and elegantly structured, this is also a text about the ways in which later generations must reinvent their history and give it new poetic form.« NZZ