Stockholm,Sweden: Austrian author Peter Handke and Polish author Olga Tokarczuk have won Nobel Prizes in literature, the Swedish Academy announced Thursday.
The 2018 prize was awarded to Tokarczuk “for a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life.”
Before today, only 14 women had won the Nobel Prize in literature since it was first awarded in 1901. The 2018 prize was not awarded last year amid a scandal at the academy.
The Nobel Prize in literature for 2019 was awarded to Handke “for influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience,” according to the judges.
The judges praised Handke for his vast production in different genres, including essays, short prose, plays and films, and noted that he has become “one of the most influential writers of contemporary fiction” since his 1966 debut novel, “The Hornets.” His most widely read work is “A Sorrow Beyond Dreams,” about his mother’s suicide in 1971. The Nobel committee called out for special praise for “Die Obstdiebin” (“The Fruit Thief”) published in 2017, for its acute awareness of the landscape and its nomadic theme. “With great artistry, he explores the periphery and the unseen places,” the judges said.
Kosovo’s ambassador to the United States, Vlora Citaku, immediately condemned the Nobel Prize for Handke, saying it was a “preposterous and shameful decision.” Citaku tweeted: “SCANDALOUS! #Nobel committee decides to award Peter Handke — a man who glorified Milosevic aka ‘The Butcher of The Balkans’ & supported his genocidal regime — this year’s prize in literature. There is nothing nobel about this!”
Handke’s works have received mixed reviews in the United States. In 1985, a Washington Post reviewer described “Slow Homecoming” as “stupendously dull . . . clotted, undramatic, entirely self-obsessed.” A Post review in 1984 claimed that Handke was the best representative of those avant-garde German writers who are “solemn, strenuously intellectual, and glumly determined not to entertain.”
But in 1998, Post reviewer Thomas McGonigle praised “My Year in the No-Man’s Bay” and noted that “a new note of an acceptance of complex reality has gradually come to the fore in Handke’s work.”
Handke’s film work has expanded his audience considerably. In 1987, he co-wrote the award-winning movie “Wings of Desire,” directed by Wim Wenders. A review in The Post praised Wenders and Handke for creating “a whimsical realm of myth and philosophical pretense, dense with imagery.”
The judges read a statement saying that Tokarczuk is “a writer preoccupied with local life but at the same time inspired by maps and speculative thought, looking at life on Earth from above. Her work is full of wit and cunning.” The committee also singled out for special commendation Tokarczuk’s 1,000-page historical novel, “The Books of Jacob,” about an 18th-century sectarian leader. Riverhead Books plans to publish the novel in English in 2021.