Nobel prize in literature: reactions after Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke win – as it happened | Books

And that’s a wrap



Who is Peter Handke?

Peter Handke.

Peter Handke. Photograph: Georg Hochmuth/APA/AFP via Getty Images

The Austrian playwright and author is a more controversial decision than Tokarczuk. His selection come days after the Swedish Academy promised to move away from the “male-oriented” and “Eurocentric” past of the Nobel prize in literature. Handke doesn’t change either of those directions.

His bibliography contains novels, essays, note books, dramatic works and screenplays. He has lived in Paris since the 1990s, and is most famous for his play The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other (completely dialogue free), his screenwriting credit for Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire and particularly the novel Die Wiederholung (Repetition).

Handke, who has Slovenic origins on the maternal side, famously gave a speech at the 2006 funeral of Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milošević, a decision that was criticised widely. His nomination for the Heinrich Heine prize that same year was eventually withdrawn due to his political views. His 2014 win of the International Ibsen award was also met by protests in Oslo.


Who is Olga Tokarczuk?

Edinburgh, UK. 25th August 2017. Olga Tokarczuk, the Polish writer, appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Gary Doak / Alamy Live NewsK0W729 Edinburgh, UK. 25th August 2017. Olga Tokarczuk, the Polish writer, appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival. Gary Doak / Alamy Live News

Olga Tokarczuk. Photograph: Gary Doak/Alamy Stock Photo

Torkarczuk is a surprising, but an excellent choice. The judges are describing her as “a writer preoccupied by local life … but looking at earth from above … her work is full of wit and cunning.” Aside from her novels, which are wide-ranging and brilliantly translated into English by Antonia Lloyd-Jones and Jennifer Croft, she also has political heft. As public intellectual, feminist vegetarian, she has frequently rankled the conservative edges of Poland.

In a television interview after she won the Nike award (Poland’s Booker equivalent), Tokarczuk outraged rightwing patriots by saying that, contrary to its self-image as a plucky survivor of oppression, Poland itself had committed “horrendous acts” of colonisation at times in its history. She was branded a “targowiczanin” – an ancient term for traitor – and her publisher had to hire bodyguards for a while to protect her.

Read a recent interview with her here.

How many women vs men have won the Nobel in literature?


If you need a last minute refresher as to why we have two Nobel laureates this year, Jon Henley has produced this summary:

The Swedish Academy, founded in 1786, is thought likely to try to avoid any controversy as it seeks to rebuild its reputation after the scandal exposed harassment, furious infighting, conflicts of interest and a culture of secrecy among its 18 members, who are elected for life and seen as the country’s guardians of culture.

The poet Katarina Frostenson was among seven academy members who left the body after bitter rows over how to handle rape accusations made in 2017 against her husband, Frenchman Jean-Claude Arnault, who was also accused of leaking the names of several prize winners.

The couple ran a cultural club in Stockholm that was part-funded by the academy, and several of the assaults committed by Arnault – who is now serving a prison sentence for rape – took place in academy-owned properties.

The academy has since made changes that it says will improve transparency, including allowing members to voluntarily resign, which they could not previously do. It has also pledged to review its lifetime membership policy and appointed five members to its selection committee from outside the body.

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Possible contender: Haruki Murakami

Haruki Murakami.

Haruki Murakami. Photograph: Ali Smith/Photograph by Ali Smith

The Japanese novelist is a frequent frontrunner for the prize. Last year, he withdrew from the New Academy award – the one off replacement for the Nobel in 2018 – citing a wish to concentrate on his writing.

Then, the New Academy said in a statement that Murakami had emailed them saying that it was a great honour to be shortlisted. But “Murakami then said his preference is to concentrate on his writing, away from media attention … The New Academy regrets but respects his decision.”

Will he accept the Nobel if it finally comes his way this year? Fans certainly hope so.

Stephen Williams

Nobel Prize in literature in a few days, who you got? Since they’re awarding two this year, do they finally give one to Murakami?

October 8, 2019

Suraya Pelszynski

Fingers crossed for Haruki Murakami to finally win the Nobel Prize in Literature! Love him! ❤#HarukiMurakami #NobelPrize2019 #NobelPrizeLiterature

October 10, 2019


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