Who Wins the Arab Nobel, 2010?

The Swedish Academy has chosen the winner of the 2010 Nobel literature prize, according to the Associated Press. However, they won’t announce their decision until October 7.

Peter Englund, secretary of the academy, declined to give the AP reporter any hints about the academy’s choice.

He did acknowledge a trend of awarding European writers, and told the AP that the panelists—as Europeans—find it easier to relate to European writers.

Meanwhile, away from the tight-lipped academy and over at the Literary Saloon, Nobel season has kicked into high gear. M. A. Orthofer has moved beyond the Ladbrokes list and has his own lists of names, including an extensive Arabic section. (Thank you, Michael!) Orthofer writes:

  • Ibrahim al-Koni: seems like a natural Nobel choice, though I wonder if his European residency works against him.
  • Bensalem Himmich: interesting selection of works, including serious non-fiction
  • Ibrahim Abdel Meguid: fairly well-translated into French and English, and maybe the kind of representative describer of modern Egyptian life the Academy would go for
  • Sonallah Ibrahim: he’s been an important writer for a while, several noteworthy books under his belt
  • Gamal al-Ghitani: another author with a a very solid body of interesting work
  • And French-writing Amin Maalouf and Tahar Ben Jelloun often get mentioned in this mix; I don’t really see it, but they’re certainly authors for whom a case could be made

This is in addition to Adonis (8:1), Elias Khoury (45:1), and Francophone Algerian author Assia Djebar (15:1), who are on the Ladbrokes list.

Now, recall that the “Arab Nobel 1987” crew—according to Denys Johnson-Davies—was Adonis (yep, he’s been in the running for that long), Yusuf Idris, Tayeb Salih, and a young man named Naguib Mahfouz. Johnson-Davies and the academy would also surely have included Tawfiq al-Hakim—perhaps even awarded al-Hakim the prize—except that the brilliant Egyptian had died earlier in the year.

As for myself, I like to remember that the Nobel is supposed to be awarded to a writer who works in an “ideal” or “idealist” direction (depending on your translation from the Swedish). With that in mind, I like Ibrahim al-Koni, Elias Khoury, Bensalem Himmich, Assia Djebar, and Sonallah Ibrahim for the award. Although we had better keep Adonis in the running, too.

I would also toss in the idealist first couple of Arabic writing, Radwa Ashour and Mourid Barghouti. Maybe not as winners (husband-wife co-winners?), but at least to go on the list.

On his list, Orthofer has a number of other good suggestions, such as Somali novelist Nuruddin Farah (like Orthofer, I don’t understand how Ladbrokes left him out of the betting) and Persian-writing Mahmoud Dowlatabadi.

But as for the real winner, of course, we’ll have to just wait for the afternoon of October 7.

You can find other Nobel candidates over here, where prominent authors, publishers, critics, and translators talk about the five Arabic books you should read before you die. (Of course, not every author on the list is still alive. It’s probably a bit late for Ibn Khaldun to pick up the award.)

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