Debating the Next Nobel Laureate
On October 8, 2015, the winner of this year’s Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced. The favourites among bookmakers are the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami, Belarusian author Svetlana Alexievich, and Kenya’s Ngugi wa Thiong’o. Maya Kucherskaya, Professor in the HSE School of Philology, shares her opinions on the most likely contenders.
Maya Kucherskaya, Professor at the School of Philology
Despite the lists made by bookmakers, Svetlana Alexievich will not end up being the winner this year. Everything that has to do with Russian literature and language arts – and Svetlana Alexievich writes her books in Russian – looks hopeless and rather uncomfortable in the eyes of Swedish academics. This is not a field that can contribute an exotic colour to the palette of world literature; on the contrary, it’s seen as a colourless field. Challenging this now makes no sense; it is a well-known fact. There is a reluctance to translate Russian authors, for example. Everyone is lazily interested in what we have that’s new, and if authors are translated and are invited, then it’s those who were discovered 20 years ago. So there is no chance of there being either a Russian or Belarusian Nobel laureate this year. Although I would be happy to be wrong!
Who they will choose is anyone’s guess. For a long time, no one exotic and non-European has been on the Nobel horizon – someone with a mix of cultures and languages in their background – a postmodernist playwright from a distant Pacific island, for example. On the other hand, it’s time to finally honour Philip Roth. He’s a great writer, his novels connect with one another to form an epic about life in 20th century America. Besides Roth is not very young; in a word, the sound of the clock ticking is deafening!
Alexander Arkhangelsky, Professor at the Faculty of Communications, Media and Design
I see only one candidate, but he is unlikely to be given the award – for political reasons. This is the Israeli Amos Oz. An Israeli writer has won the award only once, and that time it was only half the award (in 1966, the prize was shared by Shmuel Yosef Agnon and Nelly Sachs of Sweden). But he has proven that he is worthy. He is a humanist but not a nationalist, one who is oriented toward the classics rather than modernism. His ‘A Tale of Love and Darkness’ is a great book that will undoubtedly go down in history of world literature.
There are a few candidates who are better known. Jonathan Franzen is very popular – his first novel ‘The Corrections’ is really a great book, but his second doesn’t quite leave the same impression. Svetlana Alexievich’s latest novel is not her strongest.
There may be some surprises, like there was previously, for example, with the completely incomprehensible choice to award Dario Fo or Elfriede Jelinek. It’s also impossible to understand when someone who deserves the award doesn’t receive it, such as Astrid Lindgren.
So I would say that what we are waiting for is not justice, but simply a decision.
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On September 26 and 27, the HSE School of Philology hosted Professor Brian Baer of Kent University (Ohio, USA) for a lecture entitled ‘The Translator’s Biography in Soviet and Post-Soviet Russia: Art, Politics, Identity’, followed by a workshop on ‘Teaching Translation Studies’. Following his lecture and workshop, Professor Baer spoke with the HSE News Service about his career as a translator, the role of the translator in society and his recommendations for international readers looking for exposure to Russian literature.