Ladbrokes is just one handicapper for the big Swedish prize, which is set to be announced some Thursday this month. The Unibet* is another. Instead of Syrian-Parisian Adonis at the top, Unibet’s got the fabulous Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami. They’ve knocked Adonis down to 8:1, removed Assia Djebar and Elias Khoury from contention, and thrown in two more Arab names:
I imagine that Leila Aboulela is fairly startled to find herself here, in Nobel contention, even if at 150:1. I just read Aboulela’s “Missing Out” for the second time, in the Granta Book of the African Short Story, edited by Helon Habila. It’s a lovely and accomplished story, like many in the collection.
Of course, the Sudanese-Egyptian-Scottish Aboulela, who currently lives in Qatar, has also written four novels: The Translator, Coloured Lights, Minaret, and Lyrics Alley, which I reviewed for The Guardian earlier in the year. Aboulela does bring something special to her work, a fresh spiritual lens as well as beautiful writing, but no, I don’t think it’s quite time to award her the Nobel.
Hanan al-Shaykh, who writes in Arabic and is (usually) translated by Catherine Cobham, is perhaps a more serious choice. Unibet has her at 20:1 along with American novelist Philip Roth and the Indian poet K. Satchidanandan. Her Women of Sand and Myrrh, The Story of Zahra, Beirut Blues, and I Sweep the Sun off Rooftops are all beautiful novels. She’s on the Arab Writers Union’s “Top 105” list for The Story of Zahra and she made Sinan Antoon’s “5 Books to Read Before You Die” for the same book.
Will Hanan al-Shaykh take the Nobel Prize for Literature? Well, I don’t think so. I imagine I’d far rather have coffee with al-Shaykh, but I think Adonis has done more incredible things with Arabic words.
Meanwhile, the betting lists may have a new addition next year: Indian-Canadian writer Rohinton Mistry has won the 2012 Neustadt Prize, which is perhaps the most prestigious international prize after the Nobel.
Other (living) Arab writers Ladbrokes could consider for the list: Sonallah Ibrahim, Ibrahim al-Koni, Ibrahim Aslan, Bensalem Himmich, and my favorite, a joint prize to Mourid Barghouti and Radwa Ashour. And in a few years, I think we’ll need to add Khaled Mattawa.
*As MAOrthofer notes, it’s difficult to take Unibet too seriously, as J.K. Rowling’s at 30:1, but it is a way to learn about new authors. For instance, I’d never heard of Unibet’s No. 2, Australian poet Les Murray.