Awards: Nobel Prize in Literature: Ukraine, Rushdie, Surprise?

Margaret Atwood and Haruki Murakami, of course, but also Ngugi wa Thiong'o and Anne Carson.

Awards: Nobel Prize in Literature: Ukraine, Rushdie, Surprise?

Margaret Atwood and Haruki Murakami, of course, but also Ngugi wa Thiong'o and Anne Carson. When the world waits for the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature to be announced every year, certain names should not be missing from the circle of favourites.

Before this year's announcement next Thursday (October 6), because of the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, the question is whether the award could go to a Ukrainian or other author from Eastern Europe - and with it the question of how political the most important literary prize on earth.

"Well, I really hope that a Nobel Peace Prize will be sent to Ukraine. But I don't want to see the Nobel Prize in Literature being so politicized," says German literary critic Denis Scheck. The Nobel Prize for Literature should be awarded according to aesthetic criteria - not political ones.

Awarding to Bob Dylan was extremely controversial

Now the Swedish Academy, which announces the winner every year on an autumn Thursday in the pompous stock exchange building in Stockholm's old town, is not at a loss for controversy. The award to the US musician Bob Dylan in 2016 was extremely controversial, as was the case with the Austrian Peter Handke, who was criticized for his attitude towards the Yugoslavia conflict, three years later. Between these two awards, the academy also experienced a widespread scandal surrounding the now-resigned academy member Katarina Frostenson and her husband Jean-Claude Arnault, who was convicted of rape.

After a long struggle, the venerable academy left behind this scandal, which initially prevented the Nobel Prize in Literature from being awarded in 2018. In 2019 there was a double award to the Pole Olga Tokarczuk as the subsequent winner for 2018 and to the said Handke, then two surprises: First the Academy conjured the name of the US poet Louise Glück out of the hat in 2020, and then last year that of the Tanzanian Authors Abdulrazak Gurnah.

"I have to admit that I didn't know this author before either," Scheck says of Gurnah himself. "And I was very, very positively surprised." Gurnah has a lot to say to German readers in particular because he is dealing with the crimes of German colonial history in East Africa.

The look into the crystal ball

And this time? As every year, it is completely open in advance who will receive the renowned Nobel medal and prize money of ten million Swedish crowns (around 920,000 euros). This time there are 233 candidates on the so-called long list for the award, as the Swedish Academy revealed to the German Press Agency. Which names are among them - that is always kept top secret.

So all that remains is to look into the crystal ball. The literature expert Miriam Zeh thinks it is possible, among other things, that the prize will go to Eastern Europe - or to Salman Rushdie, who was attacked and seriously injured in an assassination attempt in the USA in mid-August. Both would have a political dimension, which Zeh didn't think was wrong. "Of course, according to the price's self-definition, it's justified to also send a political signal," she says. "I don't think that hurts the price."

Betting agencies also see Rushdie - alongside Michel Houellebecq - right at the top. In view of the academy's penchant for surprises, however, Zeh can imagine that it will not be one of the authors who are publicly favored in advance. That could also reduce the chances of success for the Ukrainian writer Serhij Zhadan. He was only awarded the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade at the end of June. Instead of going directly to Ukraine, the Nobel Prize could also go to other countries in Eastern Europe, Zeh suspects. "There are also other states that were or are under the influence of Russian imperialism."

Russia's war of aggression against Ukraine did not go unnoticed at the Academy this year either. Contrary to her practice of not commenting on political matters, she had early on strongly condemned the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russia's actions go beyond politics and threaten the world order built on peace, freedom and democracy, the institution wrote in a rare statement in early March.

Favorite from France?

Denis Scheck has a big favorite from France on his list this year: Annie Ernaux. "She is the guiding star for a lot of authors because she is the mother of autofiction." The 82-year-old writer grapples with the class barriers that still exist in Europe today and thus also with highly political issues - but not those that you read about on page one of a daily newspaper.

A possible problem for Ernaux: She has also been one of the favorites for a long time, which the academy seems to like to avoid. But Scheck has other candidates in mind. He would particularly treat the American Thomas Pynchon, but also the Chinese Can Xue, who writes about home and homelessness, and the Somali Nuruddin Farah, whose great novels mainly deal with the situation of women in Africa.

And from the German-speaking area? Martin Walser would be his "heart candidate" there again, says Scheck. "He is the chronicler of the Federal Republic." Christoph Ransmayr from Austria would also be a worthy winner, "especially since his novel "Cox"".