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Olga’s road to the Nobel

Olga’s road to the Nobel

Many congratulations to Man Booker International prize winner Olga Tokarczuk who has just been named one of the winners of the second most prestigious prize in literature, the Nobel. Tokarczuk joins a stellar list of other Booker and International Booker Prize winners (and a shortlistee – Doris Lessing) who have gone on to scoop the Nobel Prize for Literature: William Golding, Nadine Gordimer, V.S. Naipaul, Alice Munro, J.M. Coetzee, and Kazuo Ishiguro. Tokarczuk has, of course, been writing for many a year but her ascendancy into public consciousness is recent, and can be dated to 2018 when she won the Man Booker International Prize (with her translator Jennifer Croft) for Flights. It was a win that prompted the translation and publication of her earlier work that had previously only been available in her native Polish. Her Nobel triumph has been widely applauded, a feeling summed up by the Guardian headline: “Olga Tokarczuk: the dreadlocked feminist winner the Nobel needed.” Tokarczuk has previously pondered: “Sometimes I wonder how my life would have worked out if my books had been translated into English sooner.” Well, it seems to be working out just fine now.


Timing is everything. Tokarczuk has coincidentally just been named as one of the longlisted authors for the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation. Her literary crime novel, also shortlisted for the 2019 Man Booker International Prize, Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, translated from Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones, is one of 13 books selected (13? a homage surely to the Booker Dozen). Also on the list is The Years by Annie Ernaux, another of this year’s Man Booker International shortlistees. Who makes the shortlist will be revealed early next month.


With the big Booker reveal just moments away one of the judges, Afua Hirsch, has emerged dazed and blinking into the daylight to reflect on what the process has meant to her. The need to read 151 books in some 10 months has meant, she says, “I have been sleeping less, answering my phone little, not mentally present in queues or on public transport, and roaming instead the mountains of Kashmir, the villages of the Cotswolds, colonial-era Zambia and superhuman communities in Northern Ireland. I have found myself decrypting Shakespearean time travel and complicated sibling love in Lagos.” Tellingly, she confesses to being an adherent of non-fiction before she took on the Booker task, but things have changed: “reading for the Booker was a study in the power of fiction to shape our social and political discourse”. How that discourse stands up to the intensity and passion of the final meeting to select the winner Hirsch may perhaps reveal at a future point.


Marlon James, Man Booker winner in 2015 with A Brief History of Seven Killings, has just been named one of the finalists for America’s National Book Awards fiction category. His fantasy novel Black Leopard, Red Wolf, the first volume in his fantastical “Dark Star Trilogy” based on African mythology and folklore, is one of five novels in the category. He is joined by another Booker winner, László Krasznahorkai (the 2015 Man Booker International Prize winner) in the translated literature category. The winners will be announced on 20 November. Anyone lucky enough to be present at the MBI award dinner in 2015 will be rooting for Krasznahorkai, who gave perhaps the greatest, and most entertaining, winner’s speech of all time.