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Le Clezio is known and loved

October 14, 2008

Re "The Nobel isn't an open book," Critic's Notebook, Oct. 10

"How do we make the case for Le Clezio as representative of the best that literature has to offer when so many are unacquainted with his work?" asks David Ulin with regard to the author who won this year's Nobel Prize in literature.

As proof of the author's obscurity, Ulin cites himself and two other American critics who admit that they had not heard of the French author until the award was announced. Then he laments that the danger in "giving this kind of prize to a writer few have heard of is that ... this too can diminish the award."

With all due respect to Ulin, one way to find out if Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clezio deserves the award would be to read his work.

As for the danger of the award being diminished because it has been given to an author few have heard of, I would suggest that the Nobel committee's refusal to take its cues from the bestseller lists elevates its work and the honor it bestows on the winner.

Gina Nahai

Beverly Hills


Ulin's defense of American letters against the recent criticisms of Nobel Prize chief Horace Engdahl is a self-confuting example of his own ignorance. Ulin argues that because this year's winner of the Nobel Prize in literature is unknown to him, he is therefore an obscure writer.

I can assure Ulin that Le Clezio and his work are quite well known outside the English-speaking world and have been for decades. That Ulin would mistake his own ignorance for fact simply reinforces Engdahl's original point: Americans have become far too ignorant of the rest of the world to have anything significant to contribute to its culture or thought.

John McCumber

Los Angeles

The writer is a professor of Germanic languages at UCLA.


I care that Le Clezio won the Nobel Prize in literature. I have enjoyed reading his work since the early '70s.

It is unfortunate that more of his books have not been translated and widely distributed in the U.S. But that does not justify Ulin's arrogance in making speculations and judgments as to the wisdom of Le Clezio's selection for the award. Particularly when he admits that he had "never read his books" and had "never heard of him."

Great art like Le Clezio's, even if not as popular or profitable as others, is meaningful and vital. I am pleased that this award will present Le Clezio's gift to a wider audience.

Brian Mains



Major writers who never won the Nobel Prize in literature include James Joyce, Marcel Proust, Franz Kafka, D.H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf, Joseph Conrad, Henry James, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Andre Malraux and Vladimir Nabokov.

Since the prize began in 1901, it has missed a big part of where the action has been in modern literature. Insularity and weak judgment are nothing new. They have been characteristic of the Nobel committee throughout its history.

Randall Collins

San Diego

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