Weekly news round-up, 20th October 2013: Nobel Prize and awards-season special

The first of our weekly columns on literary news from around the world.

The big news of the week (naturally) was the launch of Asymptote‘s new Fall 2013 issue, and, alongside it, that of a new blog, which we very much hope you’re enjoying. For those of the Asymptote team who’ve worked on the quarterly journal, one of the more exciting things about the blog is the new-found ability to comment on events almost straight away. You’re reading the first of our weekly news round-ups, and the idea is to bring together (and perhaps even hold forth on) the most interesting literary news of the past week.

Stockholm. The problem with launching just over a week after the major literary news of the year – the announcement of the Nobel Prize for Literature – is that we feel compelled to report on it, even though, given the internet’s voracious 24-hour-news appetite, it’s really all a bit old-hat by now. Oh well. We hope your own appetites will stretch to a more international view on proceedings than you might have seen elsewhere.

The scoop is that Munro seems a popular choice internationally. And perhaps it’s unsurprising; she is relatively well-accounted-for in translation—unlike, say, Belarus’s Svetlana Alexievich, another of the late front-runners for the prize. While it would have been entertaining to hear stories of international publishingry running desperately through the Frankfurt Book Fair in search of the Belarusian publishers’ stand (the prize was announced with the major book fair of the year in full swing), it’s nice once-in-a-while to see the popular choice given the nod.

In L’Espresso, Mario Fortunato (writer, critic, ex-director of the Italian cultural institute in London, and apparently Munro’s first Italian reviewer) takes the win as a sign that ‘editors and readers all around the world will now have to take short stories more seriously.’ I’m not so sure about that – a win for an individual is always a win for an individual, and then we all read what we want into it – but Fortunato concludes with a nice (if not particularly illuminating) anecdote:

For a long time we’ve read in the Italian press that [Munro] is a very private person, shy, standoffish even. Imagine my surprise when, one summer five or six years ago, (I was living in Milan at the time) my phone rang and at the other end of the line I heard an English-speaking lady introduce herself as Alice Munro. I thought it must be a prank. But no: she was in Italy, she didn’t know anyone and a mutual friend had given me her number. She wasn’t at all standoffish; indeed, she seemed rather nice.

In Der Spiegel, Sebastian Hammelehle opines that the Academy’s decision was, for once, ‘not weighed down by political-strategic calculations. This is not about honoring a moral stance, or highlighting the literature of a previously criminally-overlooked region of the world. The decision to honor Munro is a decision to honor a great writer.’

Walter Siti, the most recent winner of Italy’s prestigious Strega Prize, makes a similar point: ‘Finally, they’ve given the Nobel to a really good writer. Often the decision is made for geopolitical reasons, but in this case it’s impossible to disagree.’

Alberto Manguel’s profile of Munro for El País is generally no more informative than those that have appeared in the English-speaking press, but there was one phrase of his that caught the eye. He writes of Munro’s vision of life as ‘an exercise in observation of the resignation, anguish, happiness and pain of others and of herself, so that afterwards she can offer her readers these small masterpieces in which all our worlds are reflected.’ Perhaps this is the reason there’s been so little wringing-of-hands and gnashing-of-teeth at the decision to recognise a writer so, well, already-recognised. Although her stories are almost all limited to the same narrow geographical and temporal setting, Munro’s work has that rare ability to affect us all, wherever in the world we are.

Frankfurt. Svetlana Alexievich may have missed out on the Nobel (or she may not have done—we won’t of course know who was shortlisted for a good while yet), but consolation comes in the form of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade. If you’re not familiar with Alexievich, this piece in the Paris Reviewtaken from one of the few books of hers available in English, Voices from Chernobyl—serves as a good introduction.

Barcelona. Awards season continued apace with the announcement on Tuesday of the Premio Planeta de Novela: Matias Néspolo reports in El Mundo that Clara Sánchez wins this year’s prize for El cielo ha vuelto, adding to her growing collection of prizes—she already has the Alfaguara and Nadal prizes in her trophy cabinet, the latter of which she won for Lo que esconde tu nombre, published in English by Alma as The Scent of Lemon Leaves.

London. This year’s Man Booker Prize went to Eleanor Catton. This is the last year that prize will restrict participation to Commonwealth authors, but it’s still a closed shop to novels in translation.

São Paulo. Evandro Affonso Ferreira’s O Mendigo que Sabia de Cor os Adágios de Erasmo de Rotterdam has won the Prêmio Jabuti for best Brazilian novel of the year. There doesn’t seem to be any information at all in English on the Araxá-born author (or his intriguingly-titled novel), so we’ll have to make do with Portuguese biographies for the time-being.