Predicting the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature is a foolish task. I should know: For the past seven years, I’ve tried to guess the winner based on odds from the British sports book Ladbrokes and have never quite gotten it right. You got it amazing wrong – wrong – wrong However, several times – including in 2016, when you said Bob Dylan definitely wouldn’t win the Nobel Prize in Literature, which he did days later.
Despite this track record, I still anticipate the award. why? Two reasons. One is that it’s a fun, low-risk way to get involved in the literary world, something that most people take very seriously. The other is that it remains the best global survey of literature. Despite recent scandals, controversies, and absurdities (here, I mean Dylan’s win), the Nobel Prize has maintained its status not only as the world’s most important literary award, but its most important cultural award.
When this year’s winner is announced on October 6, the winner will likely be a surprise. (Only living authors are eligible, which means that unfortunately, the recently deceased Javier Marias and Hilary Mantel are no longer in dispute.) As I write this, French novelist Pierre Michon is the front-runner, according to the bookies – but that rarely means anything. Last year’s winner, Abderrazak Qurna, was not on the list of competitors. Other writers, such as Syrian poet Adonis and American Twitter user Joyce Carol Oates, spent years as leading prospects before they disappeared from the race.
The following authors have never won the prize, and they probably won’t this year. But their names keep coming up for a reason: They’ve built, over the past several decades, an amazing and influential working group. There is little foolishness in caring about what a stifling group of Swedes decide to revere. However, the best argument for a Nobel Prize is the celebration of the meritorious and neglected works of world literature, many of which are flying under the radar in the United States. The five books below, one from each of these authors, should make this case very clear.
Alice in the fireby Jon Foss, translated by Damion Searles
like a dream It is a word often applied to Voss, the Norwegian novelist and playwright, and in Alice in the fireIt is at its most surreal and circular. The novel unfolds in what essentially amounts to a long, whirling sentence, and is a classic Scandinavian tale – that is, it is about a family and a strait. The book began in 2002 with Signe, an elderly woman, lying on a bench, staring at the water. She was quickly carried over to 23 years ago, when her husband, Asle, disappeared from the same spot. The narrative breaks down quickly, moving back and forth through generations – and spills over into multiple family tragedies, all involving the fjord and the house Signe still lives in. Voss is often compared to Henrik Ibsen, who was famous for being a playwright and is very frustrated. But in Alice in the fireIt reminds us more of William Faulkner – who, unlike Ibsen, won the Nobel Prize. Like Faulkner’s best works, Alice in the fire It is about the inevitability of the past and how history mysteriously reverberates through generations. Through voices and narratives that continually interrupt and interfere with one another, Voss captures a sadness — and love — that can never be described in words.
simple passionWritten by Annie Erno, translated by Tania Leslie
Choosing a single Ernaux work is perhaps more difficult than selecting any other writer on this list. It is in many ways a pioneer of the autobiographical novel that Karl of Knausgaard and Rachel Kosek recently highlighted. Her works extract her personal experience and compose a “complete account of life,” as Jimmy Hood wrote recently. You may now be known as is happeninga distressing account of the illegal abortion she suffered as a university student in France in 1963, which gained new fame and resonance after a newly adapted film and Dobbs resolution. works like the years, which is the closest thing to a full-fledged memoir I’ve written, is bursting with perspective and sound. But simple passion, her slightly fictional account of a turbulent obsessive relationship she had with an Eastern European businessman in the early 1990s, is claustrophobia. Erno mostly sits and waits for the married man to appear and then leaves again. She notes that the rest of her life is just a “means of filling the time between two meetings.” However, it’s a powerful depiction of being lost – or perhaps surrounded – by someone else, and with apologies to Graham Greene and Anne Seery, it’s probably the best book about an affair ever written.
raven wizardby Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
Ngũgĩ is arguably the most important and influential African novelist working today. He has authored dozens of novels, plays, and works of literary criticism, including Decolonize the mind, a profound work of postcolonial literature – it has for decades been the subject of Nobel speculation. Sadly, last year’s decision to award the prize to Gurna makes Ngogo’s selection this year less likely – a tragedy, given that he is in his mid-80s. Although he is probably best known for his anti-colonial novels, in particular blood petalsAnd the Satan on the crossAnd the a grain of wheatI made my decision raven wizard. A sarcastic, scathing allegory of contemporary Africa, the novel’s central character, Kumite, begins life as an unemployed MBA graduate before undergoing a series of metamorphoses that ends with him impersonating a wizard—the wizard of the novel’s title—as a means of resisting the book’s position on the World Bank. A crazy book often described as magical realism, raven wizard It is also a love letter to African storytelling – in fact, it was written to be read aloud.
borderby Kan Zhou, translated by Karen Jernan and Chen Ziping
It is almost impossible to describe what a Chinese writer can do Do, or why it works. If Voss is dreamlike, then Kahn—whose non-gender pseudonym can suggest both “dirty snow” and “pure snow”—is closer to that distance between wakefulness and sleep. Her novels and stories remind me a bit of drinking too much NyQuil – a feeling where one is exhausted and crazy at the same time. in borderIt can go beyond narrative limits. This is a book that is in many ways more like an abstract painting than a traditional novel: it has much more in common with, for example, Etel Adnan than it does with Charles Dickens. still in bordercan be traced almost in a manner remember us From the traditional narrative, its main character, Liujin, decides to live in a place called “Pebble Town”. There, she explores what sometimes feels like a surreal version of Richard Scarry’s Busytown. She talks with the townspeople and encounters strange phenomena – a garden, for example, that grows “in the air”. But he was an experimental writer in the true and best sense of the word. border It is a book that challenges our sense of what fiction and narrative should be – and one that would push the boundaries of what the Swedish Academy considers literature.
plansby Gerald Mornan
Four years ago, New York times“A strong case can be made for Mornan, who recently turned 79, as the greatest surviving writer in the English language most people have ever heard of,” wrote Mark Pinelli. Admittedly, Mornan, who is Australian, is eccentric and culturally distant. He lives in an uncharted place in Australia: Gorok, Victoria, a population of about 300 where, according to Benelli, he sometimes tends to the pub and hangs out in the local men’s shed (a kind of state-run cultural center meant to reduce loneliness among the elderly) . All of this makes talking about Mornan interesting, but he’s also an extraordinary writer. plans, his masterpiece, is ostensibly about a Mornan-like character: a filmmaker travels to a remote city with the goal of making a movie that unlocks the mysteries buried in the place. Instead, he spent the next two decades mostly in the library, studying the meaning of the landscape, which, he notes, is “a convenient source of metaphors for those who know that men invent their own meaning.” This is what the novel focuses on in one way or another: the beauty and strangeness of the way we extract meaning from our surroundings. It’s also a very funny book, both realizing and frightening the absurdity of that process.
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