Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 19 October 2019

Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke win the Nobel Prize for Literature

The prize was awarded for 2018 and 2019 after it was postponed last year

Austrian author Peter Handke and Polish novelist Olga Tokarczuk. Courtesy: AP Photo and EPA
Austrian author Peter Handke and Polish novelist Olga Tokarczuk. Courtesy: AP Photo and EPA

Polish novelist Olga Tokarczuk and Austrian author Peter Handke have both won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

The prize was awarded twice this year after it was withheld in 2018, following a sexual assault scandal that engulfed the Swedish Academy and "reduced public confidence" in the prize.

Tokarczuk, 57, has retroactively won the 2018 award, while Handke, 76, wins this year's award. The announcement was made by the permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy Mats Malm at a ceremony in Stockholm.

The Swedish Academy praised Tokarczuk, author of the novel Flights, winner of the Man Booker International Prize in 2018, for "a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life".

Tokarczuk said she was "very happy" and described it as "meaningful" that both prizes went to authors from central Europe. "We have problems in central Europe with democracy, we are trying to find our own way to manage those problems," she explained. "Such a literary prize will give us an optimism that we have something to say to the world ... It's really very special for me."

Handke, a novelist, poet and playwright, was commended for "an influential [body of] work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience".

Each writer will receive nine million Swedish kronor (Dh3.35 million).

Tokarczuk, who was born in 1962, studied psychology at the University of Warsaw. In 1993, she published her debut novel, The Journey of the Book-People, which won the Polish Publisher's Prize for best debut novel.

It wasn't until 1996, however, and the publication of her third novel, Primeval and Other Times, that Tokarczuk began to gain the attention of the wider literary world. This novel is recognised as the moment when Tokarczuk's imagination took flight and her writing became more mythical.

Tokarczuk, who has also written a series of essays and short story collections, is perhaps best known for her 2007 novel, Flights, a series of vignettes narrated by a nameless female traveller, and her epic 2010 novel, The Books of Jacob, which is set in 18th century Poland and explores Jewish history in the country.

Handke was born in 1942 in southern Austria but spent parts of his childhood in Berlin. He studied law at the University of Graz but, like Tokarczuk, departed from the academic path with the publication of his debut novel in 1966, The Hornets. According to Anders Olsson, Handke has remained "part of the literary debate" ever since. Among his most popular works is A Sorrow Beyond Dreams: A Life Story, which chronicles the aftermath of his mother's suicide in 1971.

Handke's notable plays include Offending the Audience, written in 1969, while he collaborated with director Wim Wenders on the script for 1987 film Wings of Desire.

Handke has attracted controversy, however, for his pro-Serbia views and support for Slobodan Milosevic during the Yugoslav wars of the 1990s. He is reported to have described the former President of Serbia as a "man who defended his people" and spoke at his funeral in 2006. After Handke was given the International Ibsen Award in 2014 for his contribution to theatre, there were calls for the jury to resign and protests at the awards ceremony.

The 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature was postponed in March last year after a number of Academy members resigned in protest over the handling of sexual misconduct allegations against the photographer Jean-Claude Arnault, husband of poet and former Swedish Academy member Katarina Frostenson. Arnault was subsequently convicted of rape and jailed.

It was revealed that Frostenson had leaked the names of prize winners to her husband, something which she denies. Frostenson has since resigned from the Swedish Academy.

With fewer than the 12 required members remaining, it was not possible to select a winner. This was the first time since 1949 that the prize was not awarded.

Previous winners of the Nobel Prize for Literature include Doris Lessing, Alice Munro and Kazuo Ishiguro.

Updated: October 11, 2019 09:39 AM

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