Predicting the Nobel Literature Prize winner is near-impossible as the Swedish Academy stays tight-lipped and often honours writers off the beaten path – so could it be Syrian poet Adonis this year?
Each year the names of popular authors are tossed about – US novelists Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates and Cormac McCarthy to name a few – but their work may actually be too widely read for them to become Nobel laureates.
“The whole idea of the prize is not to be mainstream,” Stephen Farran-Lee, senior editor at Swedish publishing house Bonniers, told AFP.
A look at the list of recent winners could prove him right: Mario Vargas Llosa, Herta Mueller, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio, Doris Lessing, Orhan Pamuk, Harold Pinter, Elfriede Jelinek, JM Coetzee, Imre Kertesz, VS Naipaul, Gao Xingjian, Guenter Grass, Jose Saramago, Dario Fo, Wislawa Szymborska.
A political choice may thus be more likely when the Academy announces its decision, which it is likely to do on October 6th though the date has not been confirmed yet. Given the current situation in the Middle East, Syrian poet Adonis or even Israeli author Amos Oz could be well-placed this year.
“It’s time for a poet and the Mideast. So who would be better than Adonis?,” said Nicklas Björkholm, manager of one of Stockholm’s biggest bookstores, Hedengrens.
In June, Adonis, whose real name is Ali Ahmed Said and who lives in France, won the Goethe Prize. The same month, he published an open letter to Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a Lebanese newspaper urging him to end the bloody repression.
“It seems your destiny is to sacrifice yourself for your mistakes and to give back voice to the people and let them decide,” he wrote in the letter.
Online betting site Ladbrokes tipped Adonis as the favourite on September 30th, just ahead of Swedish poet Tomas Transtroemer and far ahead of US author Thomas Pynchon and musician Bob Dylan.
“This year, Adonis will get it, it’s politically correct,” Björkholm insisted. Yet exactly that argument has others doubting the Syrian’s chance.
“The Academy is very keen to point out that they don’t have a political agenda,” Farran-Lee said, noting that even though a writer such as Alexander Solzhenitsyn won it in 1970, the members have no “political tendency”.
“I’d say that the chances for an Arab writer are slimmer this year than they’ve been other years. They want to show their independence,” he added.
Like other Nobel-watchers in Stockholm’s literary circles, Farran-Lee also noted that the Academy has no set criteria for chosing the laureate, following only vague instructions set out in the will of Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel that created the prizes. “The testament stipulates that the work should be of an ‘ideal’ nature. Whatever that means.”
Since 1974, the prize cannot be awarded posthumously. “The important thing for (the author) is to write lots of good books and as few bad books as possible,” Björkholm said.
This broad scope allows for a wide range of names to be floated each Nobel season – as was the case at this year’s recently concluded Gothenburg Book Fair that gathered both renowned and up-and-coming authors from around the world just days before the Academy’s big announcement.
Organisers said they watch the Academy’s choices very closely. This year’s fair focused on German-language authors and was attended by “many young very interesting writers” who have bright futures, according to communications director Birgitta Jacobsson Ekblom. But after the 2009 Nobel went to German-language author Herta Mueller, that language isn’t likely to be honoured again any time soon.
Jacobsson Ekblom listed some potential winners as Kenya’s Ngugi wa Thiong’o, Somalia’s Nuruddin Farah, Hungary’s Peter Nadas and Korean poet Ko Un, while the Unibet betting site lists other favourites like Japan’s Haruki Murakami, India’s Vijaydan Detha and Australia’s Les Murray.