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The top Nobel contenders
February 03, 2015

Wishing everyone a very happy new-year. Hey, as long as this is our first meeting of the year, I am entitled to wish you, even if the new-year’s eve euphoria has settled down by now.

Winters are exciting times for book lovers in India. I grew up in Kolkata, where the book fair held every winter was a mandatory annual ritual for me. I live in Delhi these days. I can witness various literary events dotting the Delhi landscape too at this time. In keeping with the mood of the season, I will explore the much publicized Jaipur Literary Festival and the relatively new Crime Writers Festival in the forthcoming issues of Book Lovers Club News.

Last month we took a look at the Booker Prize shortlists and explored how each author had a decent claim to the Booker fame until Richard Flanagan finally took away the trophy.

Let’s look at the Literature Nobel shortlists this month and examine their literary merit as well.

Possible candidates for the Literature Nobel

The Booker Prize The Nobel Prize for Literature is by far the most important literary prize in the world, not just due to the large monetary sum attached to it but also because of its popularity across international borders. Like all big awards therefore, the Nobel is also not devoid of controversy. Fallible humans nominate and judge the contestants and the jury is often questioned. Did you know that almost anybody of some merit in the field of literature can actually nominate someone for the prize? For example, any professor of literature or linguistics in universities or university colleges can nominate someone for the prize.

In the picture on the top right, you will see the process and timelines for nomination, selection and declaration of the Nobel. Given the large number of entries, the selection committee must face some real challenges before coming to their conclusion. It does not help of course, that the entries are international and hence written in different languages. It is possible that the selection committee is not well versed in the nominee’s language of writing.

As you will see from the list of 2014 frontrunners, the candidates are from across the world. The most famous contender in 2014 was Haruki Murakami, a Japanese author of considerable literary output. He has produced several bestsellers and received many literary awards including the Franz Kafka Prize, the World Fantasy Award and the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award.

Next on the popularity scale is Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, a 76 year old educationist of Kenyan origin. Ngũgĩ has been imprisoned in Kenya for experimenting with the established theatrical art form. He now lives in USA and has several literary works to his credit. He has also been nominated for the Man Booker International Prize.

Another hot contender, Svetlana Alexievich is a Belarusian journalist and writes about the Soviet, post-Soviet period spanning the Second World War, Soviet Afghan war, the collapse of the USSR and the Chernobyl Disaster.

Philip Roth was yet another hot favorite of 2014. US based Roth has already won the highest literary award in the US, the Pulitzer, along with several other coveted literary awards.

Book Review Circle gossip

Did you know that famous French philosopher Jean Paul Sartre had been awarded the Nobel for Literature in 1964 but he refused to accept the honor? According to him, writers should not get affiliated to institutions and he lived by his belief. He is even said to have turned down the highest French honor ‘National Order of the Legion of Honor’!

Book Review Circle suggested read:

The Unwomanly Face Of The War by Svetlana Alexievich. The book is a chronicle of the Second World War by women. It provides a new and unusual perspective of the war.

Test your Literary Quotient

See if you know answers to the following:
  1. Name the highly acclaimed oral history of the Chernobyl Disaster written by Svetlana Alexievich
  2. Are actual Nobel nominations ever made public?
  3. Name the only Nobel awardee who received the prize posthumously.


  1. Voices from Chernobyl
  2. Yes, but after 50 years. For 50 years all nominations, nominees, nominators, investigations and opinions related to the award are kept confidential. Till then ofcourse, speculation runs high.
  3. A Nobel cannot be given to a dead person, by rule. But Ralph Steinman died three days before his Nobel Prize was announced. The committee decided to go ahead with the award on grounds that it had not known about his death at the time of decision.
Do write in to me at with your comments, updates and suggestions. I look forward to hearing from you.

Ok. I will leave you to munch on that.

Happy reading till we meet again.


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