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15 Oct 2019 19:35
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  •   Home > News > International

    Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke win the Nobel prizes in Literature for 2018 and 2019

    Controversial Austrian author and playwright Peter Handke is awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2019, with the postponed 2018 prize going to Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk.


    Austrian author and playwright Peter Handke has been awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature for 2019, with 2018's postponed award going to Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk.

    Two Nobels were awarded this year after last year's prize was suspended when the Swedish Academy that selects the laureates was engulfed in a sexual assault scandal that exposed harassment, conflicts of interest, infighting, and a culture of secrecy among its 18 members.

    Since then, the organisation has appointed new members and reformed some of its more arcane rules after a rare intervention by its royal patron, the King of Sweden.

    Handke won the 2019 prize for "an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience," the Academy said in a statement.

    The 76-year-old established himself as one of the most influential writers in Europe after World War II, the Academy said, with a body of work that contains novels, essays, notebooks and dramatic works.

    He is also known for co-writing the script of the critically-acclaimed 1987 film Wings of Desire.

    Tokarczuk, who also won the Man Booker International Prize last year for her novel Flights, won for her "narrative imagination that with encyclopaedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life."

    The 57-year-old trained as a psychologist before publishing her first novel in 1993, going on to publish a steady and varied stream of works brimming with realistic and vivid details.

    She has courted controversy in her native Poland by touching on dark areas of the country's past that contrast with the version of history promoted by Poland's ruling nationalist party, Law and Justice (PiS).

    Poland holds an election on Sunday that a PiS-led coalition is widely expected to win.

    Handke's award ignites controversy

    While the Nobel Committee seemed keen to move past its recent scandals and away from incendiary laureates, Mr Handke's win has drawn the ire of some.

    The provocative author was an opponent of NATO's airstrikes against Serbia in the Kosovo war of the late 1990s and was widely condemned for giving a eulogy at the 2016 funeral of Slobodan Milosevic, who was accused of war crimes.

    He was reported to have said that he was happy to be beside "a man who defended his people".

    At the time, French-Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut called him an "ideological monster", while British Indian novelist Salman Rushdie nominated him "International Moron of the Year" for 1999.

    The American writer and political activist Susan Sontag said that there were many people who would never pick up one of his books again.

    On Thursday, the Ambassador of Kosovo to the United States, Vlora Citaku, called Mr Handke's award a "preposterous and shameful decision".

    Poland waives tax on winner's prize

    Poland's finance minister said he will waive the income tax bill for Tokarczuk's half-share in the nine million Swedish kronor ($1,350,000) Nobel award — which also comes with a gold medal and a diploma.

    Jerzy Kwiecinski admitted he had not read any of Tokarczuk's books but was happy at her success.

    The tax on the award, which translates to some 3.3 million Polish zlotys, would have been 32 per cent on the amount above 85,528 zlotys.

    Tokarczuk has been deeply critical of Poland's right-wing government.

    She was just the 15th woman to have won the Nobel Prize in Literature, compared to 114 men.

    Just days ago, the Swedish Academy promised to move away from the prestigious award's "male-oriented" and "Eurocentric".

    The Swedish Academy's permanent secretary Mats Malm said both laureates had been informed of their win; Handke was at home, while Tokarczuk was driving in Germany and had to pull her car to the side of the road when she received the call.

    The laureates will receive their prizes at an elegant ceremony in Stockholm on December 10 — the anniversary of Nobel's death in 1896 — together with five other Nobel winners.

    The sixth one, the peace prize, is handed out in Oslo, Norway on the same day.

    ABC/Reuters

    © 2019 ABC Australian Broadcasting Corporation. All rights reserved


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