Shortlist year: 2009

Shortlist category: Non-fiction

Published by: Giramondo Publishing

In 1933 the author and activist Heinrich Mann and his partner Nelly Kroeger fled Nazi Germany, finding refuge first in the south of France and later, in great despair, in Los Angeles, where Nelly committed suicide in 1944 and Heinrich died in 1950.

Born into a wealthy middle class family in Lübeck, Heinrich was one of the leading representatives of Weimar culture; Nelly was twenty seven years younger, the adopted daughter of a fisherman, and a hostess in a Berlin bar. As far as his family was concerned, she was from the wrong side of the tracks.

Their story is crossed by others from their circle, including Heinrich's brother Thomas Mann, his sister Carla, their friends Bertolt Brecht, Alfred Döblin, and Joseph Roth,and beyond them, the writers Egon Kisch, James Joyce, Franz Kafka, Robert Musil, Virginia Woolf and Nettie Palmer.

In train compartments, ship's cabins and rented rooms, they called upon what was left to them — their bodies, their minds, their books — and amidst the debris of an era of self-destruction, built their own annexes to the House of Exile.

About the author

Evelyn Juers

Evelyn Juers has lived in Hamburg, Sydney, London and Geneva. She has a PhD from the University of Essex on the Brontës and the practice of biography.

Her essays on art and literature have appeared in a wide range of Australian and international publications.

Judges’ comments

An exemplar of the new 'group biography', Juers follows Heinrich, brother of one of the greatest twentieth century writers, to the US where he finds troubled refuge in Los Angeles.

This book is remarkable for both its research and its prose.

Juers has devoted years to the former and the skills of a novelist to the latter, seeing the horrors of the 1930s, in particular the desperate diaspora of Jews seeking to escape the malignancy of Nazism, through the experiences of one distinguished family.