Valerie Fritsch

Winter's Garden

(German title: Winters Garten)
ca. 154 pages
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

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

Nominated for the Longlist of the German Book Prize 2015

»Death followed him on tiptoe. It was as if death coveted everyone close to him.«


Winter’s Garden is the second novel from young photographer Valerie Fritsch. The story is divided into three parts, the characters have been reduced to a minimum, the voice is neutral, prosaic, but the images are full of an arresting poetry.

Anton Winter has grown up with his extended, multi-generational family in a large farmhouse in the countryside surrounded by lush garden and thick woods. This garden idyll serves as a kind of cocoon, and his grandmother the epicenter of this world. On the distant horizon one can glimpse the city and the sea, but they are only a backdrop, an extraneous idea almost, and enshrouded in a vaguely threatening air.

In the second part of the story the idyll has been interrupted. Anton, now a grown man, lives alone on the rooftop of a skyscraper in the devastated city and breeding birds of all kinds. The apocalypse seems imminent, chaos reigns, and mass suicides have become the order of the day. One day down at the port, however, he meets a woman, Frederike, and without even a word she comes back with him. And thus – in the middle of the rubble, in the face of death – begins the very first love of his life. Frederike helps out in the abandoned hospital where by now there are only births and pregnant women. There she develops a strong relationship with Marta, a woman who has lost her husband in the chaos. But then, just before giving birth, he reappears: Leander, the brother Anton has not seen in decades.

In the third and final section the five have taken refuge in the »garden«, the brothers’ childhood home. An improvisational existence, somehow they find enough to eat, but have no future, even with a child. One day Leander and Marta go for a walk and never return. Anton and Frederike continue to take care of the child and protect it from the elements while awaiting the end. When Frederike is almost at the end of her strength, Anton carries her naked and catatonic into the snow and together they watch the city burn in the distance. Then nothing. Maybe a new beginning, a couple approaching in the distance. Everything remains unclear.

The novel is highly descriptive and notable for its sparing use of dialogue, which, when it does appear, comes almost entirely in one central chapter entitled »Language«. It is only toward the end of the book that we encounter other fragments before the work once again shifts back into its delicate and finely wrought description.


»Valerie Fritsch's work is a triumph of language and her appearance on the stage of German-language literature 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

»Valerie Fritsch’s novel confronts myth and urban reality in an ecstatic language. [...] This novel strikes up a symphony of doom that is as cruel as it is of graceful beauty« FAZ

»Valerie Fritsch’s story seems as if taken from a dream, but it is written down with wakeful prudence and the fear that the skill, that is undoubtedly there, could take on a life of its own, could burn in the flames of apocalyptic passion.« Die Literarische Welt

»The language with which Valerie Fritsch talks of the gap that tears through the world and each individual is of infatuating beauty, one that wasn’t to be found in German-language contemporary literature for a long time.« Der Standard

»Valerie Fritsch [...] has written a stunning, sensational, poetic yet tough novel about the apocalypse. About the apocalypse, and about love.« neues deutschland

»Enchanting, disconcerting, fascinating: Valerie Fritsch’s second novel dares a lot in regards to literary aspects. Winter’s Garden moves between paradise and apocalypse.« Kurier

»It’s a brave and exceptionally independent literary path that Valerie Fritsch has taken [...] One will marvel at the text’s strangeness and its radiance.« Die Presse

»A work of archaic, fundamental force that is exponentiated by Valerie Fritsch’s immensely precise, delicately nuanced and seemingly so modest voice [...] Those who have lost their faith in the grand, multi-layered art of narration will re-discover it here.« Kleine Zeitung Online

»The drastic way in which a 25-year-old author describes a destroyed world is shocking, and it’s astounding how she empathizes with her ageing hero who is mostly pondering the past. [...] Valerie Fritsch’s prose is enticing as she describes people and places very sensually and with strong images.« Lesart

»Possibly one of the most exciting publications of contemporary German literature of the last few years.” 3sat-Kulturzeit

»One looses oneself in this novel that transforms from utopia to dystopia« Freie Presse

»Here every word has meaning and depth, sentences have a melody and every page its own sound. And what a sound it is – an orchestral piece, a symphony […] In order to deliver something like this, it’s not enough to write well, you need more that mere talent – you need virtuosity.« buchrevier.com


Valerie Fritsch reads from her novel Winter's Garden:

Other publications

Herzklappen von Johnson & Johnson/Heart Valves by Johnson & Johnson (2020)

Sold to:

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