She’s done it! Olga Tokarczuk wins Nobel Prize for Literature
Novelist, poet and essayist Olga Tokarczuk has won the 2018 Nobel Prize for Literature, the Swedish Academy announced on Thursday.
Announcing the winners, judges commended Tokarczuk “for her narrative imagination, that with encyclopaedic passion, represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life."
The 57-year-old is the most recognized Polish author of her generation abroad, wining the Man Booker International prize for the best work of translated fiction for her novel ‘Flights’ last year. The book was also nominated for the American National Book Award.
While explaining their decision, the panel’s chairman Professor Anders Olsson said: “She 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 centres on migration and cultural transitions, visible in one of the most fascinating prose works ‘Flights’.”
Tokarczuk made her debut in 1993 with the novel ‘The Journey of the Book-People’, but her breakthrough came with the historical family saga ‘Primeval and Other Times’ in 1996.
Set in a mythical place somewhere in Poland, it traces the tragic Polish history of the twentieth century.
The book follows one of Tokarczuk’s recognizable trope – focusing on the local, to tell the universal story of a given time and grand historic event, keeping the entire narrative in a mythical tone.
In 1998 came ‘House of day, house of night’, a novel composed of many stories and episodes, a kind of micro-epic typical for the author. Once again, it was possible for Tokarczuk to represent a whole community with many colliding fates and cultures.
“Her work is full of wit and cunning, coming forth in the regional crime novel ‘Drive your plow over the bones of the dead’,” continued Prof. Olsson. “Last but not least, the committee has been impressed by her historical novel ‘Jacob’s Books’, appearing in 2014, not yet translated in English.
“This thousand page long chronicle gives us not only a vivid portrait of the eighteenth century sectarian leader Jacob Frank, by his followers proclaimed the new messiah. It presents rich panorama of little known chapter in European history.“
Born in Sulechów in 1962, western Poland, Tokarczuk graduated in psychology from Warsaw University.
At first she worked as a therapist, which fuelled her fascination with Carl Jung, visible in her literary pursuits.
Currently, the acclaimed author lives in a small Silesian village Krajanów, from where she runs her independent publishing company Ruta.
The novelist, who even wrote an opera libretto for ‘Ahat ili – Sister of the gods’ , is known for her out-spoken political views and activism.
After last year’s scandal, when one of the Swedish Academy’s members husband was accused of sexual assaults, some of them on the Academy’s premises, the announcement of the literary prize was postponed, hence the double winners this year.
The new extended committee, consisting of four members of the Academy and five external experts.
The prize for 2019 was given to Austrian novelist, playwright and political activist Peter Handke, known for among many others for ‘The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick’, ‘Repetition’, and ‘My Year in the No-Man's Bay’.
Each of the honoured writers will also receive nine million Swedish kronas (about €944,000 ).
Tokarczuk and Handke will collect their award during a ceremony in December.
The ‘Flights’ author, who learnt the news while driving on a reading tour in Germany, already confirmed her presence.
Other Polish recipients of the Literature Nobel prize include Henryk Sienkiewicz, Władysław Reymont, Czesław Miłosz and Wisława Szymborska.
To read our interview with Tokarczuk’s translator of Flights, click here: