Valerie Fritsch

Heart Valves by Johnson & Johnson - Novel

Valerie Fritsch
Foto: Valerie Fritsch
© Jasmin Schuller

Valerie Fritsch, born in 1989, grew up in Graz and Carinthia, Austria. After graduating in 2007, she completed her studies at the Academy of Applied Photography and has been working as a photo artist since then.

Fritsch’s texts have been published in numerous literary magazines and anthologies and were broadcasted on the radio. Her first novel, Die VerkörperungEN, was published in 2011. Die Welt ist meine Innerei, a cycle of travel reports and photographs published in 2012, is based on Fritsch’s many travels, especially to Africa, South America and South East Asia.

At the Ingeborg Bachmann Competition in 2015, she was awarded the Kelag-Prize and the Audience Prize. Both her novels Winter’s Garden and Heart Valves by Johnson & Johnson were longlisted for the German Book Prize in 2015 and 2020 respectively. She lives in Graz and Vienna.

Sold to

France (Robert Laffont / Bouquins), Sweden (Faethon)

Longlisted for the German Book Prize 2020

Winner of the Brothers-Grimm-Prize 2020

The Pain of the Past


Due to a genetic defect, Alma and Friedrich’s baby is unable to feel pain. In constant worry about their son Emil, it’s mainly Alma who incessantly checks that his body is unharmed. Every night she palpates Emil’s body so as not to overlook any wounds and there is nothing the young mother fears more than an invisible injury to an organ that goes unnoticed.

Alma finds support with her grandmother who, old and bedridden and after a life of staying silent, now begins to talk: about growing up during the war, about escaping, hunger and about grandfather being a prisoner of war. With the child that knows no pain on her lap, Alma sits at the bedside of the gravely ill woman who wishes for nothing more than to overcome her own pain. In her grandmother’s stories Alma finds an explanation for those seemingly unfounded feelings of guilt, of powerlessness and forlornness that have accompanied her all her life. Retracing the grandfather’s steps, Alma, Friedrich and Emil travel as far as Kazakhstan.

How does a child become a person, a compassionate social being, if it doesn’t know vulnerability? If it doesn’t understand how much something can hurt? In powerful images Valerie Fritsch talks about a trauma that continues to have an effect across generations. She explores the vulnerability of humans and asks about the nature of empathy that determines everybody’s life.


»And where the title [Heart Valves by Johnson & Johnson] is already an adventure, the novel itself is all the more so. A grand story in which the sentences and words are like microscopes. They see what wouldn’t be visible without them. […] The existential tension of Valerie Fritsch‘s novel lies in the fact that it shows us ruins and last things all around but that a fantastic, vibrant vividness is created in the describtion of those things.« Paul Jandl, Neue Zürcher Zeitung

»[Fritsch‘s] style is shaped by a conceptual vagueness, a semiotically primed shyness of naming things in concrete terms. That’s why her observations are so delicately quiet as well as exhaustive. Not a healing book. But one that talks about the difficulty of transferring and sharing experiences between from one generation to the next.« Miryam Schnellbach, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

»In Valerie Fritsch’s prose lives some of that childlike vulnerability and wonder we train ourselves to forget at some point so as to be able to survive.« Juliane Liebert, DIE ZEIT

»Fritsch‘s prose is clear yet hallucinatory, a kind of ardently laconic style, it’s a text that manages to lock onto the reader’s unconscious time and again and therefore has an invasive quality, the sentences are so melodic that reading [the book] assumes almost physical form, one would like to whisper, bob along, following the rhythm.« Peter Praschl, Die literarische Welt

»Saying that this novel is powerful both in style and imagery is not a mere feuilleton phrase. Valerie Fritsch is an author as well as a photographer and she knows how to utilize both talents. She seems to photograph the disturbing and often surreal scenes in language with almost digitally precise sentences.« Carsten Otte, Der Tagesspiegel

»Heart Valves by Johnson & Johnson explores the decades-old pain, the physical knowledge without corresponding experience. Valerie Fritsch sets off for the iridescent boundaries of reality, for the boundaries of language and the boundaries of being human – as wondrously and delicately as literature has rarely managed to do.« Miriam Zeh, Deutschlandfunk

»Valerie Fritsch describes the most subtle nuances of this world that has become uncertain, in which it seems as though, ultimately, everyone was only ever putting on an act.« Klaus Kastberger, Die Presse

»Valerie Fritsch writes as though she were painting – and masterfully so: She only needs a few lines, a sentence, two sentences, then the picture is complete and an entire cosmos opens up.« Katharina Kluin, stern

»It is not a heart-warming book, this book doesn’t open any doors, only the reader’s mouth gapes open in astonishment: Valerie Fritsch delights.« Peter Pisa, Kurier

»In her most recent novel the Graz-born author wins readers over in a very poetic style rich in imagery, just as she has done with previous works.« Günter Kaindlstorfer, WDR

»In strong images the novel talks about the vulnerability of people and what it is that makes them empathetic social beings in the first place.« Julian Schütt, SRF

»[…] Fritsch describes in succinct and melodic sentences that captivate […] with their seeming simplicity and their rhythm. […] She presents a confident and thoughtful novel that documents her artistic development […]« Florian Baranyi, ORF

»Fritsch‘s skill appears when it comes to translating images both nightmarish and of devious beauty into organic language. […] One has long since fallen for [Valerie Fritsch’s] enchanting style and her awareness for form. The compactness, block by block, lends the story its urgency, its rhythm is that of a racing heart.« Senta Wagner, Buchkultur

»Valerie Fritsch’s work is a triumph of language and her appearance on the stage of German-language literature is a cause for celebration. Melancholy and joy, decay and flowering, death and lively growth are all entwined within her sentences. Her prose is fearless, full of style, and dedicated to the eternal mystery of the world. This is a prize for a young master.« from the 2015 Peter-Rosegger-Literature-Award Jury Rationale, on Winters Garden

Other publications

Winters Garten/Winter's Garden (2015)

Sold to:

Spanish world rights (Alianza), France (Phébus), Netherlands (De Bezige Bij), Estonia (Eesti Raamat)