The 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature has been awarded to Austrian author Peter Handke, while the 2018 award, postponed from last year, was given to Polish author Olga Tokarczuk.
Handke won the award “for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience.”
His debut novel “Die Hornissen” (“The Hornets”) was published in 1966, and his other works include the 1969 play “Publikumsbeschimpfung” (“Offending the Audience”).
Born in 1942 in southern Austria, Handke started studying a law degree in 1961 but broke off his studies when “Die Hornissen” was published. He has become “one of the most influential writers in Europe after the Second World War,” according to the Nobel committee.
However, the author has previously attracted criticism for his outspoken positions on the Yugoslav Wars of the 1990s and for his close ties with former Serb leader Slobodan Milošević, who was charged with war crimes associated with the conflict. Handke controversially gave a speech at Milošević’s funeral in 2006.
The literary organization PEN America said in a statement that it was “dumbfounded” by the decision to honor a writer “who has used his public voice to undercut historical truth and offer public succor to perpetrators of genocide.”
“At a moment of rising nationalism, autocratic leadership, and widespread disinformation around the world, the literary community deserves better than this,” the statement read. “We deeply regret the Nobel Committee on Literature’s choice.”
Tokarczuk, meanwhile, won the 2018 award “for a narrative imagination that with encyclopedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life.”
Her first work of fiction “Podróz ludzi Księgi” (“The Journey of the Book-People”) was published in 1993, but it was her third novel “‘Prawiek i inne czasy” (“Primeval and Other Times”) that marked her major breakthrough. It was published in Polish in 1996 and translated into English in 2010.
And her 2014 historical novel “Księgi Jakubowe” (“The Books of Jacob”) is Tokarczuk’s “magnum opus,” according to the committee.
Tokarczuk also won the 2018 Man Booker International Prize for “Bieguni” (“Flights”), which was published in Polish in 2007 and English in 2017.
She was born in 1962 to a mother who was a teacher and a librarian father, and studied psychology at the University of Warsaw before embarking on a literary career.
Two prizes were awarded this year after the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature was postponed in the wake of a sexual and financial scandal that engulfed the Swedish Academy, the cultural institution responsible for awarding it. The decision did not affect the other Nobel prizes, which are awarded separately.
The crisis revolved around a string of allegations against Jean-Claude Arnault, a leading cultural figure in Sweden and husband of Katarina Frostenson, who was an academy member until she stepped down in the wake of the scandal.
A total of 18 women accused Arnault of a range of sexual misconduct between 1996 and 2017. Most of the cases occurred too long ago to be prosecuted. At the time, Arnault’s lawyer said his client denied all the allegations.
Arnault was later convicted on two counts of rape of the same woman in 2011 and sentenced to two years and six months in jail, reported Reuters.