Filed Under:

Long Literary Shadows On Nobel Shortlist

Play associated audio

They are the Nobel literature bridesmaids. Every year, they appear on Ladbrokes' betting site alongside their odds of winning. Les Murray: 16/1. Cees Nooteboom: 33/1. Claudio Magris: 40/1.

Perennial names probably more familiar to American readers include Haruki Murakami (7/1), Chinua Achebe and Amos Oz. The latter two aren't even ranked by Ladbrokes this time around. If recent history is any indicator, that means they've got a decent shot of winning. The Ladbrokes lads, after all, did not bother to place odds for such recent winners as Herta Muller or Elfriede Jelinek.

Here in the U.S., drums are beating for Philip Roth. But those same drums are beating abroad, too. The UK's Guardian newspaper nagged Nobel Academy permanent secretary Horace Engdahl this week about whether Roth would ever win. "If I had a dollar whenever I got that question," he sighed. Roth's brilliant, prodigious output is certainly Nobel-esque. His greatest books, like Portnoy's Complaint and American Pastoral are arguably world classics. And with a novel like The Plot Against America, he's imagined the sort of externalized literature of global consequences so beloved by the Swedish Academy.

But the Academy also tends to reward writers who've worked in multiple genres — novels, dramas, essays, poems, translations — and that might hamper Roth and another constant Nobel bridesmaid, Tomas Tranströmer. He's a Swedish surrealist poet who's also spent a career as a psychiatrist working with institutionalized children.

A lot of folks around the world are predicting that the bouquet will finally be caught by Adonis, who's been mentioned as a contender for at least a decade. A victory by the Syrian-born poet would resonate in the wake of the Arab Spring, as people are still being jailed, beaten and killed while struggling, in part for free expression.

Some younger Arab intellectuals have criticized Adonis for not being involved enough with the Arab Spring and for being too Western in his ideological allegiances. It's true that Adonis has always been interested in bridging East and West — he helped introduce modern experimental free verse into Arabic poetry and has said he considers Nietzsche and Rimbaud among his most profound influences. But he's written movingly about the Arab Spring for months.

"I do not know how to cry," he wrote last May about protestors in Syria for the Lebanese newspaper Al-Hayat. "And even if I did, I would rather my eyes become two fountains of tears: a southern one for Daraa, and a northern one for Banyas and Jebla."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit


'Steve Jobs': As Ambitious As Its Title Character

Danny Boyle's new biopic, Steve Jobs, is a look at the man who made Apple mean computers, not fruit. NPR film critic Bob Mondello says it's an invigorating story told in three acts of crisis.

Could A Mushroom Save The Honeybee?

The bees that pollinate crops are on the brink of collapse. One big reason why: a virus-carrying mite. Now, researchers think a rare fungi could boost bees' immune system and attack the mite itself.

'Quartet' Member: Nobel Peace Prize Is 'Very Important For Tunisia'

NPR's Kelly McEvers speaks with Wided Bouchamaoui, president of the Tunisian Employers' Union, and a member of the National Dialogue Quartet in Tunisia, about winning the Nobel Peace Prize Friday.

Volkswagen Faces Uphill Battle In Repairing Tarnished Reputation

Volkswagen faces two enormous repair jobs: fixing its polluting diesel cars and its battered reputation. Both may be much harder to fix than anything other scandal-plagued car companies have faced.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.