Literature Nobel: Olga Tokarczuk wins 2018 award, Peter Handke gets 2019 Prize
10 October 2019
The Swedish Academy has decided to award the 2018Nobel Prize in Literature to Polish author Olga Tokarczuk and the 2019 Nobel Prize in literature to Austrian author Peter Handke.
Olga Tokarczuk was awarded the 2018 Nobel Prize In Literature "for a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life," the Academy stated.
Olga Tokarczuk received her Nobel Prize in 2019.
Austrian author Peter Handke won the 2019 Nobel Prize for Literature for “for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience.”
The Swedish Academy in Stockholm announced the Nobel Prizes in Literature for 2018 and 2019 today (10 October 2019).
Olga Tokarczuk was born 1962 in Sulechów in Poland, and today lives in Wroclaw. Her parents were teachers and her father also functioned as school librarian. In the library she read pretty much everything she could get hold of and it was here that she developed her literary appetite. After studies in psychology at the University of Warsaw she made her debut as a fiction writer 1993 with Podróz ludzi Ksiegi (The Journey of the Book-People), set in 17th century France and Spain where the characters are in search of a mysterious book in the Pyrenees. The book was well received and was awarded the Polish Publisher’s Prize for the best debut 1993-94.
Her real breakthrough came with her third novel Prawiek i inne czasy 1996 (Primeval and Other Times, 2010). This subtly built family saga in several succeeding generations is set in a mythical place with strong symbolical impact, while, at the same time, being full of realistic and vivid details. It starts in the year 1914 and deals with the Polish history of the 20th century, and Tokarczuk has claimed that the narrative was a personal attempt to come to terms with the national image of the past. The novel is an excellent example of the new Polish literature after 1989, resisting moral judgement and unwilling to represent the conscience of the nation. Instead it shows a remarkable gift of imagination with a high degree of artistic sophistication.
But the device of a linear fable with an omniscient narrator, as well as the strong metaphysical undercurrent, are abandoned in the impressive Dom dzienny, dom nocny from 1998 (House of Day, House of Night, 2002). In this rich blend of beautiful and striking images one finds the intention to depict a whole region with many, conflicting cultures, individual fates and perspectives.
Olga Tokarczuk is inspired by maps and a perspective from above, which tends to make her microcosmos a mirror of macrocosmos. As it is stated in her third novel “Primeval is a village in the midst of universe”. Likewise, myth and reality are intimately connected in House of Day, House of Night, where mushrooms and wine made of wild roses are treated with the same attention as the legend of the martyr St. Kummernis. Migration and expulsion have marked the Silesian landscape that sets the scene. The place appears to be the protagonist of the story, weaving together the multitude of narrated fragments into a rich, epic fresco.
Tokarczuk never views reality as something stable or everlasting. She constructs her novels in a tension between cultural opposites; nature versus culture, reason versus madness, male versus female, home versus alienation.
Peter Handke was born 1942 in a village named Griffen, located in the region Kärnten in southern Austria. This was also the birthplace of his mother Maria, who belonged to the Slovenian minority. His father was a German soldier that he would not meet before reaching adulthood himself. Instead, he and his siblings grew up with his mother and her new husband, Bruno Handke. After a period in severely war-damaged Berlin the family returned and settled down in Griffen.
After finishing village school he was admitted to a Christian high school in the city of Klagenfurt. From 1961 he studied law at the University of Graz but broke off his studies a few years later when his debut novel Die Hornissen (1966) was published. It is an experimental ”double fiction” in which the main character is recollecting fragments of another, for the reader unknown, novel. Together with the play Publikumsbeschimpfung (Offending the Audience, 1969) – which was staged the same year and whose main concept is to have the actors insulting the audience simply for attending – he certainly set his mark on the literary scene.
This mark hardly diminished after his description of contemporary German literature as suffering from ”Beschreibungsimpotence” (description impotence) at the meeting of Gruppe 47 held in Princeton, USA. He made sure to distance himself from prevailing demands on community-oriented and political positions and instead found much of his own literary inspiration within the New Novel-movement in French literature (le Nouveau Roman).
More than fifty years later, having produced a great numbers of works in different genres, he has established himself as one of the most influential writers in Europe after the Second World War. His bibliography contains novels, essays, note books, dramatic works and screenplays. Since 1990 he has been based in Chaville, southwest of Paris, and from here he has made many productive journeys. His works are filled with a strong desire to discover and to make his discoveries come to live by finding new literary expressions for them. As he has claimed: ”To be receptive is everything”.