The American poet Louise Glück has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in this bizarre 2020. I’ve never read her work, so I don’t have an opinion on how deserved the recognition is. There are other Nobel Prize Winners whose books I’ve read, though. Some I liked immensely, a couple I have almost no recollection of, and others I just didn’t enjoy at all. Literature is not objective after all and we all have opinions.
The Belarusian author Svetlana Alexievich won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 2015 “for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time”, as the Swedish Academy put it. I’ve only read one book by her, so far. I had high hopes for Chernobyl Prayer, but my expectations weren’t met. This non-fiction book about the nuclear disaster that took place in 1986 in Ukraine and highly affected Belarus is a collection of testimonies, some of which are invaluable. Alexievich interviewed former workers of the power plant, doctors, scientists, soldiers and displaced people. Although it raises interesting questions, overall it lacks context and editing to make the testimonies more engaging.
Mario Vargas Llosa
In 2010, the Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa was awarded the Nobel “for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual’s resistance, revolt and defeat”. Many years ago, I read the novel The Way to Paradise, which I don’t remember much about to be honest. I’m not even sure whether I enjoyed it or not anymore. It focuses on the painter Paul Gauguin and the feminist Flora Tristan, who was his grandmother.
The Swedish Academy characterised Doris Lessing, in 2007, as an “epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny”. I read The Cleft a long while ago. Although I don’t remember what it truly is about anymore, I am under the strong impression that it is utterly surreal and that I didn’t like it. According to Goodreads, it explores “a mythical society free from sexual intrigue, free from jealousy, free from petty rivalries: a society free from men”.
On a more positive note, I enjoyed the two books that I read by the winner of the Nobel Prize in 2006, the Turkish Orhan Pamuk, who “in the quest for the melancholic soul of his native city has discovered new symbols for the clash and interlacing of cultures”, according to the Swedish Academy. The New Life, the first book that I read by him, is a road novel about a young student who wishes to live the life promised on the pages of a book. The White Castle, on the other hand, is a historical fiction novel about a young Italian scholar who becomes a slave to a Turkish scholar who looks exactly like him. I need to pick up another of his books.
My favourite from all the Nobel Prize in Literature winners, José Saramago was recognised for his work in 1998. This was how the Swedish Academy justified the decision: “who with parables sustained by imagination, compassion and irony continually enables us once again to apprehend an elusory reality”. I have read several of his books, my favourite being The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis. I wouldn’t recommend starting to explore his work with that one. Death at Intervals, a book about what happens when Death decides to stop working, or Blindness, an allegorical novel about how humans deal with a terrifying situation, are better choices in that case.
The Nobel was awarded in 1996 to the Polish Wislawa Szymborska “for poetry that with ironic precision allows the historical and biological context to come to light in fragments of human reality”. I read one of her poetry collections, Moment, and didn’t become a fan of her writing style, while also not really disliking it. I find it hard to judge poetry that I read in translation, though.
Gabriel García Márquez
Another author I need to revisit, Gabriel García Márquez was the recipient of the Nobel in 1982, thanks to “his novels and short stories, in which the fantastic and the realistic are combined in a richly composed world of imagination, reflecting a continent’s life and conflicts”. This is both a short and comprehensive description of his work by the Swedish Academy, so there isn’t much left to say. I read three of his books – Chronicle of a Death Foretold, The Story of a Shipwrecked Sailor and Memories of My Melancholy Whores.
Which other books do you recommend by these authors? Which Nobel Prize in Literature winners have you read? Who would you like to win in the future? Tell me in the comments!