Olga Tokarczuk, Peter Handke win Nobel literature prizes
STOCKHOLM — Polish novelist Olga Tokarczuk and Austrian author Peter Handke — two writers whose works are deeply intertwined in Europe's religious, ethnic and social fault lines — won the 2018 and 2019 Nobel Prizes for literature on Thursday.
The rare double announcement came after no literature prize was awarded last year due to sex abuse allegations that tarnished the Swedish Academy, the group that awards the literature prize. Both winners will receive a full cash prize, valued this year at 9-million kronor ($918,000), a gold medal and a diploma.
Yet if prize organizers hoped to get through this year's awards without controversy, they will likely be disappointed.
Handke, 76, has faced criticism for his vigorous defense of the Serbs during the 1990s wars that devastated the Balkans as Yugoslavia disintegrated. He also spoke at the 2006 funeral of former Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic, who at the time was facing war crimes charges. His selection as winner of the International Ibsen Award for drama in 2014 prompted protests from human rights groups.
The Swedish Academy praised Handke's work for exploring "the periphery and the specificity of human experience" with linguistic ingenuity.
Tokarczuk, 57, is one of Poland's best-known authors, known for her humanist themes and playful, subversive streak. The academy said she was chosen for works that explore the "crossing of boundaries as a form of life."
She is only the 15th woman to win the Nobel literature prize in more than a century. Of the 11 Nobels awarded so far this week, all the other laureates have been men.
Tokarcuzk has been attacked by Polish conservatives — and received death threats — for criticizing aspects of the country's past, including its episodes of anti-Semitism. She is also a strong critic of Poland's current right-wing government.
Her 2014 novel "The Books of Jacob" tackles the forced conversion of Polish Jews to Catholicism in the 18th century. Her book "Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead" is a crime thriller with feminist and animal-rights themes that offers a sometimes unflattering depiction of small-town Polish life.
She won the Booker International Prize in 2018 for "Flights," which combines tales of modern-day travel with the story of a 17th-century anatomist who dissected his own amputated leg and the journey of composer Frederic Chopin's heart from Paris to Warsaw after his death.
Poland's Culture Minister Piotr Glinski, who said earlier this week that he has not finished any of Tokarczuk's books, tweeted his congratulations to her Thursday and said he now felt obliged to go back and read her books all the way through.
Polish President Andrzej Duda called it a "great day for Polish literature" on Twitter.
Handke is a novelist, essayist, playwright and screenwriter described by the academy as "one of the most influential writers in Europe" after World War II.
Beginning with "The Hornets" in 1966, he made his name with works that combine introspection and a provocative streak. One early play was called "Offending the Audience" and featured actors insulting theatergoers.
He has written screenplays, several of them for German director Wim Wenders, who also filmed Handke's 1970 novel "The Goalie's Anxiety at the Penalty Kick."
He was praised by the Swedish Academy for writing powerfully about catastrophe, notably in "A Sorrow Beyond Dreams," his 1972 novel about his mother's suicide.
But the choice also drew criticism. Handke has attracted controversy for his staunch support of the Serbs during the 1990s Balkan wars.