NBG interviews Rolf Lappert,
winner of the Swiss Book Prize

NBG: Rolf Lappert, you are the winner of the first Swiss Book Prize. We most warmly congratulate you. But tell us, what did winning this prize mean to you?
Lappert: A great deal. I had been off the literary stage for a long time, thirteen years to be precise, because I was busy doing other things – like running a Jazz Club, for example. The prize helped enormously in putting my novel into the spotlight. It was a bit like saying: Hey, I’m back! The fact that it was the very first Swiss Book Prize also means something special to me: it was, or seemed to be, almost a historic moment.
NBG: In your acceptance speech you noted that in literature, unlike sport, success in not measurable, that subjectivity on the part of the jury will always play its part. Do you think nonetheless that prizes are important or do you regard them with a certain scepticism?
Lappert: I have also emphasised on several occasions that I consider the Swiss Book Prize to be very important. Great Britain has one, and so have France and Germany. It would have been a great shame if Switzerland had stood aside much longer with nothing comparable to offer. Awards such as the Swiss Book Prize may not always be completely just and fair and objective, but this is the case in any event where the subject to be judged and competed for is Art.
NBG: What practical effect has winning the Swiss Book Prize brought – a sharp increase in the sales of your novel Nach Hause schwimmen (‘Swimming Home’) and earlier work? Even more invitations?
Lappert: Thanks to the Swiss Book Prize the book has got a lot of attention and was on the bestseller list for many weeks, which of course had a very positive impact on its sales. My next book, a novel, to be published in 2010, will, I hope, also benefit from the success of its predecessor. Another positive side-effect is the release of two of my earlier novels in paperback. And yes, the demand for public readings has increased too.
NBG: And how do you balance this with the need for peace, with creating time to work on your new book, and not to be living in the wake of the old?
Lappert: I just take the time I need to write, no matter what. I have recently returned from South Africa, where I spent three months at a lodge working on my new book. I hardly ever think about Nach Hause schwimmen any more and try to focus completely on my next.
NBG: Ireland is also a home for you – what drew you there?
Lappert: I love nature. I enjoy walking, and canoeing on a secluded lake. The Irish I have met so far are mostly great, warm-hearted human beings who have made it easy for me to feel comfortable and at ease on their island. I also believe that the fact that artists, who make a living from their work, pay hardly any income tax says a lot about the spirit and attitude of a country. Could such a tax-exemption be conceivable in Switzerland? I doubt it.
NBG: You seem to be a person who likes to travel and who can be at home in a wide variety of climates and locations, some rather remote, leading almost a nomadic life, while apparently being equally at ease when it comes to the demands of publicity. Which places have been particularly inspiring to you of late, and do you ever yearn to return to your ‘Heimat’ of Switzerland?
Lappert: In South Africa I stayed in a very remote place out in the middle of nowhere. You would have difficulty in finding anywhere more peaceful and quiet – and more perfect for settling down to concentrate on one’s own work. Of all the places I’ve visited or stayed in, America and Ireland have inspired me the most when it comes to locations and settings for my novels. When I travelled through Ireland for the very first time, in 1999, I knew instantly that I was going to write about this country sooner or later. When I think of Switzerland, I don’t feel homesick, although I always love to visit the country of my birth. But if it wasn’t for my family and friends, whom I long to see whenever I’ve been away from them for any length of time, I would come ‘back home’ less often.
NBG: Thank you. We much look forward to reading your next book and to welcoming you to our own ‘heimat’ very soon.