Nobel Makes a ‘Great Effort to Study’ World Literatures: ‘Arab, Chinese, Japanese, Indonesian…’

Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer, at the head of the (bookmakers') pack

Or so says Per Wastberg, a Swedish author and chairman of the Nobel committee for literature, in an interview with Reuters.

This is after bookmaker Ladbrokes came out with their odds for the 2010 prize, placing Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer square at the top. (You can read some of his poems here.) American authors were not high on the list.

So again, we must hear about how American writers “deserve” another Nobel. And indeed, the tail end of Wastberg’s quote—following efforts made to read Arabs, Chinese, and Indonesians—is the bowing to Americans: “…Indonesian, and obviously American literature which has such an impact.”

The Americans kick up a fuss because, after all, no American has received a literature Nobel since Toni Morrison’s in 1993. (So what? No Arab writer has received one since Mahfouz’s in 1987; nor before that, either.) But “deserving” or not, the feeling of American entitlement is rarely pretty.

Three poets follow Tranströmer in the Ladbrokes odds: Adam Zagajewski, Ko Un, and the perennial favorite from Syria, Adonis.

Francophone Algerian novelist Assia Djebar comes in at 15:1, just ahead of Americans Philip Roth and Joyce Carol Oates, the Canadian Alice Munro and the Brit A.S. Byatt. (Let’s not forget one of the real and verified biases of the Nobel committee: To award writers who have been translated into French or English. If you haven’t made it into one of these languages, you can forget being noticed.)

Israeli author Amos Oz has dropped to 25:1 in the rankings, something noted over at the New Yorker book bench. Two of my favorites—Lebanese novelist Elias Khoury and Nigerian Chinua Achebe—fall in at 45:1. I would also love to see Bengali writer Mahasweta Devi take the prize: She’s at 66:1.

David Malouf is also on the Ladbrokes list (his father was Lebanese).

Of course, the New Yorker book bench points out that last year’s winner, Herta Müller, had only 50:1 odds. So we wait.

Or, if you don’t want to wait, M. A. Orthofer has a long and delightful assessment of the Nobel odds over at the Literary Saloon. Michael particularly suggests keeping an eye on: Bella Akhmadulina, A.S.Byatt, Les Murray, Michel Tournier, and Adam Zagajewski.