Sus­pense over this year’s lit­er­a­ture No­bel to end shortly

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE in Stockholm


Lit­er­ary cir­cles are abuzz with spec­u­la­tion ahead of Thursday’s No­bel Prize an­nounce­ment, with award watch­ers sug­gest­ing this year’s hon­ors in lit­er­a­ture could go to a con­tro­ver­sial writer such as Syr­ian-born poet Ado­nis.

The academy is known for its cloak-and-dag­ger meth­ods to pre­vent any leaks about its choice, re­sort­ing to code names for au­thors and fake book cov­ers when read­ing in pub­lic.

The list of nom­i­nees is never re­vealed and the jury’s de­lib­er­a­tions are kept se­cret.

The sus­pense will come to an end on Thursday when the win­ner is an­nounced, end­ing an un­usu­ally long wait. It comes a week later than usual “for cal­en­dar rea­sons”, the Academy said in late Septem­ber.

“That leaves a lit­tle more time to spec­u­late” about the 2016 lau­re­ate, jokes Swedish Academy mem­ber PerWast­berg.

While per­fectly in line with academy statutes ac­cord­ing to Wast­berg, some No­bel watch­ers have in­ter­preted the late date as a sign of dis­cord over this year’s choice.

“If you ask me, it’s ab­so­lutely not a ‘cal­en­dar’ is­sue,” says Bjorn Wi­man, cul­tural pages ed­i­tor at Swe­den’s main daily Da­gens Ny­heter. “This is a sign there’s a dis­agree­ment in the process to select a win­ner.”

Mat­tias Berg, cul­tural re­porter at Swedish Ra­dio, sug­gests the academy’s 18 mem­bers may have ar­gued over a “po­lit­i­cally con­tro­ver­sial lau­re­ate, such as Ado­nis”, whose most re­cent pub­li­ca­tion is a polemic tract on po­lit­i­cal Is­lam.

“The prize would in such cases be seen as tak­ing a stance,” Wi­man says.

If the academy is in­deed look­ing for a lau­re­ate­who­di­vides opin­ion, it may also have set its sights on In­dian-born Bri­tish au­thor Sal­man Rushdie. In March, the academy de­nounced the Ira­nian fatwa on the au­thor of The Satanic Verses, af­ter a 27-year si­lence it at­trib­uted to its neu­tral­ity and in­de­pen­dence.

Lit­er­ary critic Madelaine Levy at daily Sven­ska Dag­bladet says only one thing was cer­tain: We­knowthat we know noth­ing about the academy’s choice.

“Year af­ter year, the writ­ers cho­sen are in­cred­i­bly dif­fer­ent,” she notes.

Some of the same names have been mak­ing the rounds for sev­eral years, in­clud­ing Ngugi wa Thiong’o of Kenya, Don DeLillo and Joyce Carol Oates of theUnited States and Haruk­iMu­rakami of Ja­pan.

Wi­man mean­while has his No­bel tri­fecta for this year:

“I think it will be (Nor­we­gian play­wright Jon) Fosse. I’m hop­ing for (Is­raeli writer David) Gross­man. And I would jump for joy for (the novelist us­ing the pseu­do­nym Elena) Fer­rante.”

Amid all the spec­u­la­tion, the academy is re­main­ing tight-lipped.

“Some peo­ple want to know what’s in the Christ­mas par­cel and some peo­ple want to be sur­prised. We want to sur­prise you,” says Swedish Academy di­rec­tor Odd Zschiedrich.

Ev­ery year, the ven­er­a­ble tra­di­tion re­mains the same. In Fe­bru­ary, the acade­my­makes a list of all of the nom­i­na­tions sub­mit­ted be­fore re­duc­ing it to a se­cret short list of five names in­May.

Through­out the sum­mer, academy mem­bers study their works, be­fore reach­ing a de­ci­sion in October.

Last year, the academy sur­prised ev­ery­one “by not sur­pris­ing us”, Wi­man says.

Be­laru­sian writer Svet­lana Alex­ievich, who won for her doc­u­men­tary-style nar­ra­tives based on wit­ness tes­ti­monies, was the fa­vorite in both lit­er­ary cir­cles and on bet­ting sites.

This year, most ob­servers say they are ex­pect­ing a re­turn to fic­tion.

But Mu­rakami, the big fa­vorite among bet­tors and the pub­lic, is not con­sid­ered a se­ri­ous con­tender.

Too su­per­fi­cial, is the unan­i­mous ver­dict among the Stockholm literati.

“There’s room for a cat­e­gory of au­thors who haven’t yet won”, as was the case with the short story genre and AliceMunro, and Alex­ievich and her doc­u­men­tary style, ac­cord­ing to Swedish Ra­dio’s Berg.

De­spite that, and even though nov­el­ists are those most fre­quently hon­ored with a No­bel, he says he would love to see Joyce Carol Oates win.

And, note many ob­servers, more women ought to win the award. Since 1901, only 14 women have won, com­pared to 98 men.

Oth­ers sug­gest it’s time for an Amer­i­can lau­re­ate, the last one dating to 1993 when ToniMor­ri­son was hon­ored.

“It’s been a long time since an Amer­i­can au­thor won the prize,” Levy says. “The great Amer­i­can novel is un­der­rep­re­sented.”

But the academy in­sists its mem­bers do not con­sider gen­der or ge­og­ra­phy when select­ing a lau­re­ate.

“They’re only in­ter­ested in­whether it’s a skilled writer,” Zschiedrich says.


Left: Syr­ian-born poet Ado­nis, a top con­tender for the No­bel lit­er­a­ture prize this year. Right: Chi­nese au­thor Mo Yan, a No­bel lau­re­ate in 2012.

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