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Nobel: Eyes on the Prize

Wild speculation about the Nobel Prize in Literature

August 23, 2012|by Carolyn Kellogg
  • Author Chinua Achebe
Author Chinua Achebe (Craig Ruttle )

Nobody knows who will be awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature. Nobody. Not the Swedish Academy, which is still reading through the works of the very secret short list of finalists. Not the most erudite international reader or spot-on fortuneteller. And certainly not me.

That said, I'm going to make some wild, barely founded guesses about some possible contenders.

Like, say, Chinua Achebe. Born in Nigeria, Achebe (pictured) is the author of one of the most enduring works of 20th century African literature: "Things Fall Apart." Published in 1958, the novel chronicled the clash of cultures between the Nigerian protagonist and Christian missionaries. Achebe has been a politically involved writer -- something the Academy often looks upon favorably -- and he'll turn 82 in November. He seems like a strong candidate.

PHOTO GALLERY: Nobel Prizewinners

But current bettors haven't lined up behind him. Instead, early support at Nicerrods, a British oddsmaker, has put Chinese writer Mo Yan on top. Mo Yan -- a pseudonym that means "don't speak" -- is best known in the West for "Red Sorghum." The 57-year-old lives in and writes about his hometown, Shandong, China.

Over at British betting house Ladbrokes, which takes bets on the Nobel Prize in Literature every year, Mo Yan is running in second place, with odds at 12/1. He's been edged out by Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami, 63, who is  in first with 10/1 odds. Murakami's latest novel, "1Q84," was an L.A. Times bestseller. I don't think I'm going too far out on a limb by saying that in America, Murakami's work is better known than Mo Yan's.

Three American authors appear in the top 20 contenders at Ladbrokes: Philip Roth and Cormac McCarthy, both with odds at 16/1, and Thomas Pynchon, with odds at 20/1. Of them, only Roth appears near the top at Niccerods.

The highest-ranking woman on both lists is Dacia Maraini. Maraini, 75, was born in Italy. She was a small child when her family left the country for Japan; during the last years of World War II, they were interned there. They returned to Italy, and Maraini's first book, the novel "The Vacation," was published in 1963. She founded a feminist theater and has written plays, essays and poetry in addition to her novels; although she has been a bestseller in Italy, she has not been widely published in America.

That's the thing: it's hard to figure the chances of writers who haven't found traction with American readers. Mircea Cartarescu? Merethe Lindstrøm? Leonard Nolens? Who knows?

The current top five, according to the two British wagering houses, are below.

Ladbrokes Nicerodds  Haruki Murakami 10/1Mo Yan6.5 Mo Yan 12/1Haruki Murakami  8 Cees Nooteboom 12/1Cees Nooteboom10 Ismail Kadare 14/1Dacia Maraini10 Adonis 14/1Alice Munro15

We'll have more on the likely contenders soon.

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