Haruki Murakami, there's always next year.
This year's Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to Mo Yan, a Chinese writer whose pen name — in English, "Don't Speak" — is a nod to the censorship under which he writes his books. (Early this week, with the help of Ladbrokes, I considered placing some bets on the prize.) He's a niche name to Anglophone readers, but my Sinophone friend nodded when I asked about him. "He's right up there with Ma Jian and Can Xue," she said. All three authors have managed to write dazzling novels that function as fascinating stories and intriguing social commentaries on one of the last Communist countries in the world.
Mo Yan's novels are rich with phantasmagoria and magic; his recent Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out includes multiple animal narrators and fifty years of Chinese history. I'm always fascinated by the ways writers circumvent the constraints set by official censors, from Mikhail Bulgakov's samizdat (self-)publication of The Master and Margarita in Communist Russia to Shahriar Mandanipour's publication abroad of Censoring an Iranian Love Story. Magical realism appears to be Mo Yan's favorite way to bypass censors, and the official citation from the Swedish Academy notes his kinship with "William Faulkner and Gabriel García Márquez, [while] at the same time finding a departure point in old Chinese literature and in oral tradition."
And his books aren't just literary. Red Sorghum has been made into a film by Zhang Yimou, who also directed Raise the Red Lantern, Hero, and House of Flying Daggers.
Interestingly, Murakami isn't the only one who's less than thrilled by Stockholm's selection. The Week notes that an assortment of Chinese writers, including Ai Weiwei and Mo Zhixu, feel like the Swedish Academy could have made a more daring choice. Certainly, the long shadow of Liu Xiaobo's imprisonment for being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize hovers over Mo Yan's achievement.
image credit: K.Y. Cheng, scmp.com