International Literature Prize goes to Cristina Morales


In her novel “Easy Language”, the Spanish author explores boundaries: four women with disabilities fight for their self-determination and struggle with powerlessness. That has enormous power, impact – and dignity.

Winner of the literary award: Cristina Morales

Cristina Morales novel “Leichte Sprache” is angry, sensual, emancipatory: free in the best sense of the word, in language and form, the 37-year-old Spaniard writes about the life situation of four women with mental disabilities of different degrees of severity, all of whom live together in an apartment in Barcelona. Morales captures the different perspectives of her protagonists through different narrative styles and forms – whether through minutes of conversations or court proceedings, her own texts or a WhatsApp novel.

For the 14th time, the International Book Prize honors exceptional contemporary literature from all over the world – and its artful translation into the German language. The House of World Cultures (HKW) in Berlin and the Elementary Particles Foundation are awarding this year's awards to Cristina Morales and Friederike von Criegern. The prize always goes to a tandem of author and translator; the author of “Easy Language” receives 20,000 euros, the translator 15,000 euros. 

The perspective of people with disabilities

< p>Morale's work is neither a shocking novel nor a particularly dramatic story: the emotionality of the protagonists alone carries the story. The four women are considered mentally handicapped and the readers quickly become familiar. Nati, Patricia, Àngels and Marga are rebellious, emotional and direct. They are shameless, angry, subtle and sensual. However, the limitations in their everyday life are also becoming increasingly noticeable – through a system that “manages” people with disabilities.

Limitations and anger

The anger is particularly noticeable in the person of Nati –  against the people, the institutions, the system, which sometimes affects women with a lot of violence. She verbally lashes out with snotty language; even if she sometimes meets herself or her roommates. And she fights the brutality of the system with clear, blunt language: “(…) and besides, you're a neoliberal who 'masturbates' and covers your 'ass' with the same rolled-up hundred-euro bill wiping away with which she 'sniffs' the 'coke' she confiscated from El Raval at the last 'ticker'.” 

The Fig Leaf of Plain Speech

< p>One of the greatest dialogues in “Leichte Sprache” is one that only unfolds in the mind of the reader: a court record (which is intended to decide whether the protagonist Marga should be sterilized) documents the dialogue between the judge and witness Àngels. The latter is the author of the WhatsApp novel in the so-called easy language. 

Author, dramaturge, Political scientist: the Spaniard Cristina Morales

In the recorded scene, Àngels has to instruct the judge what is plain language: namely “books, administrative and legal documents, websites and so on, which are written according to the international guidelines of Inclusion Europe and IFLA, these sigla stand for international association library associations and institutions.” And that's not all, she goes on to explain how easy language simplifies terms for people, that it always explains complicated terms. And she adds “that it is not only about being able to read it, but also about fulfilling the universal right of access to culture, information and communication, which is enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights”.

The translator Friederike von Criegern also received an award

Other extensive explanations are recorded, as well as repeated inquiries from Àngels as to whether her testimony will be written in plain language, which the judge just as repeatedly ignores. Until “the judge says it won't be written in 'easy language' and the witness says she won't testify then 'and adiós'”. Veiled demonstrations of power or inability have rarely been exposed more beautifully. 

Who is actually being handicapped here?

The vita of the author Cristina Morales, born in Granada in 1985, shows that she too is always concerned with freeing herself: from norms, constraints and prejudices. After studying politics and law, Morales wrote several award-winning short stories, worked as a playwright, played in a punk band and was a dancer and choreographer for the contemporary dance company “Iniciativa Sexual Femenina”. Price to give to Morales as a “declaration of love – to the book and its protagonists, to the violence with which they react to restrictions, humiliation and incapacitation”. 

The strength of Cristina Morales' book lies not only in credibly embodying the women in their peculiarities, it lies in the empowerment story of these women, who are made more powerless than they are – and who regain their dignity and simply live. Cristina Morales practices using the four female voices Social criticism and asks the question with her book: Who is actually hindering whom?