Ngugi among favourites to land Nobel prize

Kenyan author Ngugi Wa Thiong’o shows his book, Wizard of the Crow, during its launch in Nairobi in 2009. He has been mentioned as one of the likely winners of this year's Nobel Literature Prize. FILE


This year's Nobel Literature Prize will on Thursday go to a woman, a poet, an African... or not: as every year, observers are pulling out all the stops to try to come up with a likely pick.

There are deductions based on past statistics: Europe has spawned the most laureates; women are under-represented, poets have been neglected; and the Swedish Academy which attributes the prizes likes politically engaged work.

The conclusion? Algerian Assia Djebar should get the honour this year.

The novelist and author of the poetry collection "Poemes pour une Algerie heureuse" (Poems for a happy Algeria) has figured among favourites for the prize for years, but this time it will happen, some say. She will win.

But Djebar writes in French, and the Nobel Literature Prize went to Frenchman JMG Le Clezio just two short years ago.

There are more subjective guesses offered within Swedish literary circles.

"We have noticed a very big interest with the African themes, so maybe it could be an African author," said Birgitta Jacobsson Ekblom, a spokeswoman for the Gothenburg Book Fair which took place late last month and was dedicated to Africa.

"This year at the fair we have Nuruddin Farah (of Somalia) and NgugiwaThiong'o (of Kenya) who can win the prize," she said, stressing that "all the members of the Swedish Academy are here."

"They always visit us, every year."

Jonas Axelsson, the chief literary editor at the Bonniers publishing house, is meanwhile expecting "a surprise again this year," after last year's win by German-language author Herta Mueller from Romania.

"I have no name," he acknowledged, adding " I could give 40, but it wouldn't help. I've been wishing (to guess right) for years, but always got it wrong."

"The only hint that the Academy gives is that it has to be an eyewitness to something ... important for the whole world," he said.

So why not a journalist? Quite possible, according to Axelsson, but only one that is a true "mirror of the world."

It would need to be "a traveller, a reporter like (Ryszard) Kapuscinski. He would have had it two years ago if he had still been alive," he said of the Polish literary journalist who died in January 2007.

Because one of the few certainties ahead of the announcement is that the Academy only awards the living.

Other speculations meanwhile abound in media and on the Internet, with some Nobel watchers pointing out that Uruguayan Eduardo Galeano, who won the Stig-Dagerman prize earlier this year, could easily walk in the footsteps of Le Clezio and Elfriede Jelinek who both picked up that award the same year they won their Nobel, in 2008 and 2004.

The website of public radio station Voice of Russia meanwhile insists Chechen author Kanta Ibragimov, who writes in Russian, is on the Swedish Academy's short-list.

Some Nobel followers are more emotional about the Academy's choice such as Swedish poet Bjoern Haakansson who recently made a passionate plea in the Svenska Dagbladet daily for this year's prize to put poetry back on the map.

"Since (Polish) Wislawa Szymborska received the Nobel Prize in 1996, no other poet has been considered worthy ... Thirteen years without poetry! That is unique in Nobel Prize history," he wrote, questioning whether the long exile had to do with profit margins.

And for observers who fear the original, there are always the "usual suspects" whose names pop up in literary circles each year as possible laureates.

In poetry, there are Adonis of Syria, Ko Un of South Korea and Tomas Transtroemer of Sweden, while American novelists Philip Roth, Cormac McCarthy and Joyce Carol Oates, along with Canadians Margaret Atwood and Alice Munro, Israeli Amos Oz and Peruvian Mario Varas Llosa always figure on the list.

And finally, if all else fails, betting sites offer a quick fix to the guessing game, with Paraguayan Nestor Amarilla figuring Monday evening as the favourite on Unibet, and Transtroemer given the best odds by Ladbrokes.