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Nobel Literature Prize Speculation: Annie Ernaux


Myshkin
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It never seizes to impress me how things can get messed up...

You know, Western countries these days have no problems with war criminals as government officials in Belgrade, Pristina, Zagreb, Sarajevo, Banja Luka and Podgorica. Calling Handke "war criminal apologist" and simultaneously be OK with the leading parties in above-mentioned cities and their respective countries is the hypocrisy at its finest. 

No one cares that Montenegrin Prime Minister was part of Milosevic's government (yeah, he would tell you how he has changed), that current Serbian President was a busboy to Milosevic and his gang and that many current Serbian Ministers are from Milosevic's party. Then, up until few days ago, Prime Minister of Kosovo was someone whom Hague couldn't even properly trial because witnesses were dropping dead like flies. In Croatia, the President's favorite singer is the fascist who is yearning the good old days of Croatian Independent State under nazi Germany. Almost the same structures that were leading Bosnia during 1990s are still there. And these people are all applauded daily to be democratic leaders of the region, the peacekeepers. BY WESTERN COUNTRIES, nonetheless. So, I am sorry but if they are OK, if they get the unconditional support of USA and EU, I find it difficult to be bothered by Handke. 

And finally, no one is speaking about man's writing and work, like it doesn't matter. But that is whole new can of worms. 

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  • 5 months later...

Have now read a novel each from Tokarczuk (Primeval and Other Times) and Handke (Short Letter, Long Farewell), and so can now express an opinion on their writing. Of course a single novel each is not enough to speak authoritatively about their entire bodies of work, but here are my takeaways from what I’ve read so far:

Tokarczuk: Primeval and Other Times was a beautiful novel. Structurally very reminiscent of Garcia Marquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude, but still powerfully moving on its own merits. If Primeval is representative of Tokarczuk’s wider body of work she definitely deserved the Nobel.

Handke: Short Letter, Long Farewell was one of the dullest books I’ve ever read. Full of shallow, self-centered existentialism and obsessed with detailing the extremely boring minutiae of everyday situations. If Short Letter is representative of Handke’s wider body of work then I see no reason why the Academy was so determined to give him a Nobel.

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On 4/11/2020 at 11:18 PM, Myshkin said:

If Primeval is representative of Tokarczuk’s wider body of work she definitely deserved the Nobel.

Primeval was a moderate publishing success and the most famous book of the early stage of her career. It's a great novel, but completely incomparable in scale and ambition to her opus magnum (to date) - The Books of Jacob.

Edited by 3CityApache
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7 hours ago, 3CityApache said:

Primeval was a moderate publishing success and the most famous book of the early stage of her career. It's a great novel, but completely incomparable in scale and ambition to her opus magnum (to date) - The Books of Jacob.

So you’re saying Primeval is a minor work for Tokarczuk? If that’s the case then she’s even worthier of the Nobel than I thought.

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  • 4 months later...

So it’s getting to be that time of year again, and I’ve got to say I once again have no feel for what the Swedish Academy might do. After awarding both prizes to Europeans last year, thus wasting the opportunity to get a little more inclusive, non-Europeans might have a halfway decent chance this year. And after their plan to hide Handke behind Tokarczuk didn’t pan out, they probably won’t go with anyone too controversial (though they may just decide to say fuck the haters and give it to Michel Houellebecq). Other than that I’ve got no clue. Maybe it’ll be a poet (though not Ko Un), it’s been a while since they awarded a poet. So here’s my completely random shortlist, none of whom are at all likely to win:

Duong Thu Huong

Adunis 

Maryse Conde

Can Xue

Mircea Cartarescu

And here’s my list of who I want to win, but have no chance:

Salman Rushdie 

Milan Kundera 

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Don DeLillo

And here’s who will almost certainly win:

The eighth best writer in France 

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3 hours ago, Myshkin said:

So it’s getting to be that time of year again, and I’ve got to say I once again have no feel for what the Swedish Academy might do. After awarding both prizes to Europeans last year, thus wasting the opportunity to get a little more inclusive, non-Europeans might have a halfway decent chance this year. And after their plan to hide Handke behind Tokarczuk didn’t pan out, they probably won’t go with anyone too controversial (though they may just decide to say fuck the haters and give it to Michel Houellebecq). Other than that I’ve got no clue. Maybe it’ll be a poet (though not Ko Un), it’s been a while since they awarded a poet. So here’s my completely random shortlist, none of whom are at all likely to win:

Duong Thu Huong

Adunis 

Maryse Conde

Can Xue

Mircea Cartarescu

And here’s my list of who I want to win, but have no chance:

Salman Rushdie 

Milan Kundera 

Ngugi wa Thiong’o

Don DeLillo

And here’s who will almost certainly win:

The eighth best writer in France 

I agree with you it's likely to be a non-European this year.

I would prefer a non-American as well.  Here's my problem with Rushdie.  He deserved to win a decade or two ago on the basis of the Midnight's Children, Shame and Haroun and the Sea of Stories as well as his non-fiction writing.  But every subsequent novel has been worse and worse and his most recent ones were completely unreadable.  I've stopped reading his most recent novels preferring to just re-read Midnight's Children. 

Also he is by all accounts  (including Padma Lakshmi's) a sex-obsessed conceited prick who mopes every year when the Nobel Committee gives him the cold shoulder.  If it is to be a writer from the subcontinent it must be Vikram Seth, who is also a poet and translator (although opinions on his poetry/translation vary). 

Edited by Gaston de Foix
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5 hours ago, Gaston de Foix said:

I would prefer a non-American as well.  Here's my problem with Rushdie.  He deserved to win a decade or two ago on the basis of the Midnight's Children, Shame and Haroun and the Sea of Stories as well as his non-fiction writing.  But every subsequent novel has been worse and worse and his most recent ones were completely unreadable.  I've stopped reading his most recent novels preferring to just re-read Midnight's Children. 

That's not a knock out criterion tho. I mean, Grass received his Nobel Prize in 1999, a good fourty years after his Tin Drum was published (and let's be blunt, that was his award winning novel). And he his literary output for 1-2 decades before he collected his award, was not exactly great either.

5 hours ago, Gaston de Foix said:

Also he is by all accounts  (including Padma Lakshmi's) a sex-obsessed conceited prick who mopes every year when the Nobel Committee gives him the cold shoulder.  If it is to be a writer from the subcontinent it must be Vikram Seth, who is also a poet and translator (although opinions on his poetry/translation vary). 

Fits right in, with the old committee, doesn't he?

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I can’t agree about Rushdie’s output. Sure, his peak was Midnight’s Children-Shame-The Satanic Verses-The Moor’s Last Sigh, but that’s a streak of novels that is nearly unparalleled in modern literature. Of his later works Shalimar the Clown, The Enchantress of Florence, and The Golden House are all top notch. And his latest, Quichotte, which I haven’t read yet, is supposed to be his best book in decades. Even his “bad” books like Fury are only really bad by the standards he’s set for himself, and would have been judged much less harshly if the name on the cover wasn’t Salman Rushdie.

As for the stories of his personal life, I have a hard time swallowing most of it. There’s been a targeted effort for decades to turn public opinion against Rushdie, to turn him in the public eye into a conceited, self-centered, attention seeking prick. The goal of this effort is to shift blame for the fatwa onto Rushdie himself. I won’t take part in that.

I also can’t agree about Vikram Seth. To me he’s always been one of the two main purveyors of the cheesy and exploitative side of Lyrical India, happily giving Western readers the safe exoticism they crave. If the Academy went with an Indian writer other than Rushdie, it would have to be Anita Desai.

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6 hours ago, A Horse Named Stranger said:

That's not a knock out criterion tho. I mean, Grass received his Nobel Prize in 1999, a good fourty years after his Tin Drum was published (and let's be blunt, that was his award winning novel). And he his literary output for 1-2 decades before he collected his award, was not exactly great either.

Fits right in, with the old committee, doesn't he?

Funnily enough, the Tin Drum is a novel Rushdie always cites as a great inspiration. 

3 hours ago, Myshkin said:

I can’t agree about Rushdie’s output. Sure, his peak was Midnight’s Children-Shame-The Satanic Verses-The Moor’s Last Sigh, but that’s a streak of novels that is nearly unparalleled in modern literature. Of his later works Shalimar the Clown, The Enchantress of Florence, and The Golden House are all top notch. And his latest, Quichotte, which I haven’t read yet, is supposed to be his best book in decades. Even his “bad” books like Fury are only really bad by the standards he’s set for himself, and would have been judged much less harshly if the name on the cover wasn’t Salman Rushdie.

As for the stories of his personal life, I have a hard time swallowing most of it. There’s been a targeted effort for decades to turn public opinion against Rushdie, to turn him in the public eye into a conceited, self-centered, attention seeking prick. The goal of this effort is to shift blame for the fatwa onto Rushdie himself. I won’t take part in that.

I also can’t agree about Vikram Seth. To me he’s always been one of the two main purveyors of the cheesy and exploitative side of Lyrical India, happily giving Western readers the safe exoticism they crave. If the Academy went with an Indian writer other than Rushdie, it would have to be Anita Desai.

I haven't read Quichotte either.  Strong disagree on the quality of Shalimar and Florence though.  I will check out the Golden House since you praise it so highly.  

I think Rushdie is a great writer. He is also a victim of one of most hideous attempts to muzzle free speech the world has seen, and wrote movingly about the effect of the Fatwa on his life in Joseph Anton (which I think is worthy of citation by the Committee if he does win).  

I hate the fact that his attendance at the Jaipur Literary festival was a matter of controversy and he had to withdraw from an event in his homeland (although I assure you Indians will be quick to embrace him once more if he does win the Nobel). 

He is also a conceited, self-centered, attention seeking prick.  It has little to do with the Fatwa and everything to do with his celebrity/global adulation going to his head. I dislike Padma's score settling in her memoir, but who are we kidding, Padma has always been all about Padma. 

Anyway, all that said still rooting for him or any Indian to win. First since Tagore for Literature.  It should be Seth though for three reasons: 

1. India is lyrical and exotic. These are good things. 

2. Range: he's written a travelogue, original poetry, poetry in translation, A Suitable Boy, a novel entirely in verse (the Golden Gate), and campaigned for gay rights at a time when it was hugely needed.  

3. A Suitable Boy is basically India crammed between covers: the food, the religion, the politics, the philosophy, the math, the music etc.  Sure there are Rajas and Nawabs and politicians and lots of anglicized middle class people but all those people did live in India in 1952.  

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Concerning Rushdie: the idea of him as a shitty attention whore has everything to do with the fatwa. Every time the man speaks on any subject that isn’t literature a chorus of voices shout out that he should keep his mouth shut and stop trying to inject himself into conversations where he doesn’t belong. We do not do this to say, Margaret Atwood or J.M. Coetzee. But everything Rushdie says or does is meticulously examined to find the most unflattering angle from which it can be used to discredit him. He and his wife get a divorce after years of living through an incredibly stressful situation, a situation that would strain any marriage, and it’s OMG look at this self centered piece of shit heartlessly abandoning his faithful wife for some model. He tweets about some celebrity or other, something that tens of millions of people do every day, and it’s OMG why can’t this attention seeking asshole just shut up already? Now I’m sure that his fame and success have had an impact on his ego, just as I’m sure that the fame and success of every other writer of his stature has had an impact on their egos. But his reputation as a fame hungry attention seeker is absolutely the product of a targeted campaign perpetrated by people who want to see him dead. The more this idea takes hold the easier it gets to say ‘well he was looking for attention when he wrote that book, and he sure got it’. And that’s the whole point.

Concerning Seth: I suppose you and I just view him differently. To me it’s always felt like that while authors like Desai, Rushdie, Roy, and Mistry were showing us the beauty of India, they were also showing us its horrors. They were exposing the harsh truths of chauvinism, classism, fascism, terrorism, and violent nationalism in the world’s largest democracy. And it felt like Vikram Seth took advantage of the wave of popularity created by Desai and Rushdie to present a sanitized version of India. He made it safe for readers who didn’t really want to think about Indira Gandhi forcibly sterilizing people, or the RSS and BJP whipping Hindus into a murderous frenzy and sending them out to slaughter Muslims and Sikhs by the thousands. He made Indian literature safe for westerners who just wanted to imagine themselves sitting on the veranda of some English built hotel in the countryside, sipping tea served to them by dark skinned waiters in white Nehru jackets.

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On 9/2/2020 at 7:57 PM, Myshkin said:

...

1.  On Rushdie, there were definitely people in England who found a way to blame the fatwa on him.  They were wrong, irresponsible idiots and everything that's happened in the last 30-40 years has only strengthened the demonstration of their stupidity.  But this is also ancient history to a new generation of critics now.  Sure they don't celebrate his freshness but that's like celebrating the freshness of Roth or Updike.  Rushdie is a landmark of the global literary landscape.  He's not an up-and-coming writer anymore.  The problem, IMHO, is his failure to innovate or churn out books of consistent quality.  I know you disa 

2.  Seth has plenty of riots, pogroms and murder in a A Suitable Boy.  In fact he preceded both Roy and Mistry in this respect.  

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  • 2 weeks later...

Well it’s getting closer, so in the hopes of driving more conversation I thought I would write a little about why I think some of the people I named earlier might or might not win the prize this year.  

Duong Thu Huong: Vietnamese novelist - An NVA soldier during the Vietnam War, Duong Thu Huong brings western readers the other side of the story. Her fiction is informed by her  experiences during an era of enormous upheaval in her homeland, and in particular her growing disillusionment with the ruling regime. She would be the first Vietnamese (indeed the first Southeast Asian) writer to win the prize, and, at least in my opinion, would be a great choice.  

Adunis: Syrian poet - I don’t actually think Adunis has a chance of winning this year; his time has come and gone. But I just have a feeling that the Academy might be considering poets this year, and Adunis is probably one of the three most well regarded living poets (the other two being Transtromer, who’s already won, and Ko Un, who has been revealed to be a serial sexual harasser) so I figured I’d list him. He’d be the first Syrian, and only the second Arabic language, laureate. His poetry is beautiful BTW, even in translation.  

Maryse Conde: Guadeloupean novelist and playwright - Conde is probably the most well regarded Caribbean writer working today. Her works deal often with colonialism and the resulting African diaspora, and like VS Naipaul she writes with the voice of the displaced, people who are not truly at home anywhere in the world. In her writing she explores and confronts racism, sexism, and European cultural supremacy. Personally I think she’d be a wonderful choice for the Academy, perhaps even the perfect choice this year.  

Can Xue: Chinese novelist and short story writer - Can Xue denies being a dissident writer, but many readers (and Party members) view her as such regardless. Her writing is highly experimental, and focuses on the experience of the individual and the subjective nature of identity. Normally I wouldn’t think another Chinese novelist would have much of a chance so soon after Mo Yan’s 2012 win, but she’s been picking up some steam over the last few years. I feel like there’s a desire to “correct” Mo Yan’s* award. For many people, myself included, it felt like the Academy went looking for a Chinese writer in 2012, and settled on Mo Yan not because he was the best, but because his selection wouldn’t piss off the Chinese government. This felt even truer once it became clear that the Academy (and most of the press) were going to play along with the fiction that Mo Yan was the first Chinese Literature Laureate, effectively erasing Gao Xingjian because he held a French passport. A strong case can also be made for Yan Lianke as a corrective to Mo Yan, but I went with Can Xue because she seems to have more momentum at the moment.  

Mircea Cărtărescu: Romanian novelist and poet - Cãrtãrescu would be the first Romanian language writer to win the prize (Müller is Romanian, but is of the ethnic Germany minority and writes in German). A product of the Ceausescu era, Cărtărescu juxtaposes a surrealist style against a brutalist reality in his works. Likely too European to win this year, but a good candidate for the future.  

*I’ve read one work by Mo Yan, The Republic of Wine, which I liked a lot. I’m not trying to say that Mo Yan was a bad choice, or is a bad writer, only that he was perhaps not the best choice, and that politics had a hand in his selection over Can Xue and Yan Lianke.  

And one more, just for fun:  

Lyudmila Ulitskaya: Russian novelist - It’s been a long time since the Russian literary tradition has been recognized by the Swedish Academy (Solzhenitsyn, 1970), and Ulitskaya is probably Russia’s best hope for the prize. She would also represent the first win for modern Russian writers, as opposed to the Soviet era writers (though much of her work is set in the Soviet era). But I think there are two big reasons why she probably won’t win this year: 1) a Russian language writer (Alexievich) won just a few years ago; and 2) while I would usually consider Russia to be sufficiently non-European, in literary terms, with last year’s winners coming from Poland and Austria respectively, I don’t think it’s far enough removed this year to escape allegations of Eurocentrism.

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16 minutes ago, Gigei said:

Where should I start with Olga Tokarczuk? Specifically, which one of her works is more newbie friendly towards a reader who doesn't know much about Polish history?

I’m not the best person to answer this question, since I’ve only read one of her books, but that book, Primeval and Other Times, didn’t require any special knowledge of Polish history.

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Just now, Myshkin said:

I’m not the best person to answer this question, since I’ve only read one of her books, but that book, Primeval and Other Times, didn’t require any special knowledge of Polish history.

Great. I hope I have time to read it.

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Somewhat surprisingly Ladbrokes dropped their odds today:

Maryse Conde: 4/1

Lyudmilla Ulitskaya: 5/1

Haruki Murakami: 6/1

Margaret Atwood: 6/1

Nugugi wa Thiong’o: 8/1

Anne Carson: 10/1

Javier Marias: 10/1

Ko Un: 10/1

Yan Lianke: 12/1

Amos Oz: 16/1

Don DeLillo: 16/1

So I think we can immediately discount Amos Oz, as he’s dead. Also Ko Un, as he’s been revealed to be a sexual predator. Murakami and Atwood are also highly unlikely. Bizarrely Ladbrokes managed to misspell both Atwood’s (Attwood) and DeLillo’s (DeLilo) names.

 

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23 hours ago, Myshkin said:

Somewhat surprisingly Ladbrokes dropped their odds today:

Maryse Conde: 4/1

Lyudmilla Ulitskaya: 5/1

Haruki Murakami: 6/1

Margaret Atwood: 6/1

Nugugi wa Thiong’o: 8/1

Anne Carson: 10/1

Javier Marias: 10/1

Ko Un: 10/1

Yan Lianke: 12/1

Amos Oz: 16/1

Don DeLillo: 16/1

So I think we can immediately discount Amos Oz, as he’s dead. Also Ko Un, as he’s been revealed to be a sexual predator. Murakami and Atwood are also highly unlikely. Bizarrely Ladbrokes managed to misspell both Atwood’s (Attwood) and DeLillo’s (DeLilo) names.

 

It's a real pity about Ko Un. He has a large body of work that would normally make him a contender for the Nobel but, alas, there are tons of proof that he is a habitual molester. I'm glad he has been exposed.

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