Nobel literature wins for Poland’s Tokarczuk and Austria’s Handke

STOCKHOLM: Austrian writer Peter Handke won the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature on Thursday and Polish author Olga Tokarczuk was named as the 2018 winner after a sexual assault scandal led to last year’s award being postponed.
The Swedish Academy which chooses the literature laureate said it had recognised Handke, 76, for a body of work including novels, essays and drama “that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience”.
Tokarczuk, 57, won for “a narrative imagination that with encyclopaedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life,” it said.
Both have courted controversy – Handke for his portrayal of Serbia as a victim during the Balkan wars and attending its leader’s funeral, and Tokarczuk for touching on dark areas of Poland’s past that contrast with the version of history promoted by the country’s ruling nationalist party.
Two prizes were awarded this year after last year’s award was postponed over a scandal that led to the husband of an Academy member being convicted of rape.
Since then, the organisation has appointed new members and reformed some of its more arcane rules after a rare intervention by its royal patron, the king of Sweden.
Academy member Anders Olsson said both Handke and Tokarczuk had accepted their prizes.
“I only talked to Peter Handke myself. He was very, very moved. At first he did not utter any words,” Olsson said. He added: “It is not a political prize, it is a literary prize.”
Handke, a native of the Austrian province of Carinthia, which borders Slovenia, established himself as one of the most influential writers in Europe after World War Two, the Academy said. He also co-wrote the script of the critically-acclaimed 1987 film “Wings of Desire”.
The author of books such as “The Goalie’s Anxiety at the Penalty Kick” and “Slow Homecoming”, he attracted widespread criticism attending the funeral of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic in 2006.
British writer Salman Rushdie once criticised him for “a series of impassioned apologias for the genocidal regime of Slobodan Milosevic”.
A perennial candidate for the world’s top literary prize, Handke appeared to have given up the idea of winning, telling the New York Times in 2006 he no longer cared.
“Now I think it’s finished for me after my expressions about Yugoslavia,” he said in an interview with the paper.
In 2014, he told Austrian daily Die Presse that “the Nobel Prize should be abolished”, adding that winning brings “false canonization”.
Lojze Wieser, a publisher in Carinthia who has done several projects with Handke in German and Slovenian, told Reuters that no one had expected Handke’s victory. “He is the greatest innovator of language and word in global literature,” Wieser said.
Tokarczuk trained as a psychologist before publishing her first novel in 1993. Since then, she has produced a steady and varied stream of works and her novel “Flights” won her the high-profile Man Booker International Prize last year. She was the first Polish author to do so. Tokarczuk’s husband said that he and his wife were on a road in Germany as part of book tour.
But she wrote on Facebook: “Nobel Prize for Literature! Joy and emotion took my speech away. Thank you very much for all your congratulations!”
She later told Polish broadcaster TVN she was proud that her books covering small towns in Poland can be read universally and be important for people elsewhere in the world.
— Reuters