Tag Archives: Nobel Prize

That’s Noble, that is

‘Who on Earth is the Princess Sofia?’ I asked myself a week or two ago. Odd, as the Resident IT Consultant and I, prompted by a viewing of The Crown, had just a day or two earlier discussed how big the Swedish royal family is. And by that we meant how many of them actively go out cutting ribbons and the like. I guessed an answer, but exile doesn’t help with names of new royals.

I follow Kungahuset on Facebook – yes, really – so should be better at names. Anyway, I read that Prinsessan Sofia had opened a primary school. Or was it a secondary school? It was one she has attended as a child, now rebuilt or enlarged or improved. She’s the ‘ordinary’ girl who married Prins Carl Philip, son of the King. A few days later I learned it was her 35th birthday.

And then, after a few mutterings from Daughter on Tuesday night, I cyber stalked a bit more and discovered Sofia was the one who was escorted into the Nobel dinner that evening by none other than Didier Queloz, who you all know shared the Nobel Prize in Physics. Hence the mutterings all the way from Berlin.

Prins Carl Philip med Esther Duflo, Nobelpristagare i ekonomi, Prinsessan Madeleine med William G. Kaelin Jr, Nobelpristagare i fysiologi eller medicin och Prinsessan Sofia med Didier Queloz, Nobelpristagare i fysik. Foto: Pelle T Nilsson/SPA

His former PhD supervisor Michel Mayor was also in Stockholm, at the same dinner, since they shared the prize. He, in turn, got to share Crown Princess Victoria at dinner with the third, but first, Nobel laureate in physics, James Peebles.

Michel Mayor and Didier Queloz are Daughter’s former colleagues from Geneva, and they have – more or less – done research on the same kind of thing. The other two have a head start on her, so we’ll have to wait.

But what I really wanted to know was whether my Cousin GP was there, pouring the wine.

Sara Danius, and two new Nobel laureates

I was saddened to learn Sara Danius has died. The news, coming as it did just after we’d heard who the two new winners of the Nobel Prize for literature were (Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke), seemed almost unreal.

It had been good to have a woman at the helm of the Swedish Academy, and it would have been better still if Sara could have remained at her post when the waters got choppy last year. It seemed as if the men were all right, in the way men often are, while the – seemingly – fault-free woman did the honourable thing and resigned.

With hindsight, maybe Sara knew she was ill. I hope it wasn’t the trouble with the academy that caused her illness.

I wrote about Sara – and had the temerity to compare her with me – a couple of years ago. It was good to discover someone who was so [almost] normal, doing a job like that of permanent secretary. And then I railed against her departure. Maybe it was a blessing Sara didn’t have to die on her chair, though, as you’re supposed to.

But let’s be happy for the two new winners of the prize, Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke. Both are names I know, and I recognise their faces, too. Haven’t read their books, but at least they don’t seem as strange as some earlier choices.

Geniuses

Well, isn’t that just fantastic?

Less than a year after I wrote about Sara Danius, permanent secretary to the Swedish Academy, she’s been forced out. I’m fairly certain her being a woman is not immaterial.

It’s so bad the King is planning on knocking some sense into the remaining members. Except, I’m fairly certain this is another instance when there are already too many ‘posh’ older men involved, and we don’t need another one, even if he is the boss of the so called geniuses of the academy. He’s also been in hot water, in the not too distant past.

As Jonas Gardell, who is someone very famous in Sweden, wrote in one newspaper, if it happens behind locked doors, it’s not going to be good. That’s true in more everyday circumstances, and I’m fairly certain he’s right. It was just we didn’t think about it before.

Klas Östergren i Edinburgh 2009

I somehow believed people, even when they are men, could be decent. The two academy members I’ve met have been. That’s one ordinary member – Klas Östergren – and one former permanent secretary – Peter Englund. And presumably I was right about them, as they were two of the three who resigned first. I was surprised when I read about that, but should have realised it was a sign worse was to come.

Peter Englund

In a year when women are standing up for their rights, it’s sort of interesting that in a country like Sweden, the establishment feels so established that they can ignore reports of rape and generally inappropriate sexual behaviour by people in and out of, but close to, the academy. That they can just get away with it.

It seems it’s one or two of the former permanent secretaries who can’t quite give up being boss, and who are of an age where they feel entitled, who are [mostly] behind all this. As Jonas Gardell wrote, they’ve won the battle, but they won’t win the war. I hope he is right.

And how can you have a member who passes on academy secrets, such as who’s about to get the next Nobel Prize for literature, to her husband? And if she didn’t do it, it appears the husband is tight with enough members that he could have heard it from any of them. He is the sex pest, apparently. As an exile I’d never heard of him, but it seems he runs a business financed by the academy, where he has access to women to pester.

I’m fairly certain that this will be a tough problem to solve, if it’s even possible. But I fail to grasp how this could have been the fault of the relatively new, and female, permanent secretary. My bet is on a few of the men. Perhaps kick them out in Sara’s place?

The problem being, of course, that you are supposed to die on your chair. You can’t resign or be fired. That’s why there are now too few members left.

Kepler, take 2

Translations can be tricky. I’m sure that in some cases it doesn’t matter what they are like. In the case of instructions for household appliances it does help if they don’t cause people to be injured, or worse. On the other hand, it has been claimed once or twice that a good translation of mediocre literature can win awards for authors, including the Nobel.

But does a bad translation prevent sales? After all, you tend to buy before you discover this, if you are able to tell. Sequels might suffer, though.

I read about the plans to reissue the crime novels by Lars Kepler, with new translations into English, and was reminded of a comment on here when I reviewed The Hypnotist, which was their first. Adèle Geras felt quite strongly that the translation was what put her off finishing the book. On the other hand, Alexander and Alexandra Ahndoril (aka Lars Kepler) reckoned the translation was good. And I found no immediate fault with it, but could have been handicapped by having already read the book in Swedish. It was just not a favourite of mine.

Now, however, Niclas Salomonsson of the Salomonsson Agency believes he knows why the books haven’t done as well in the US as he feels they deserve. When he ‘discovered’ that the translations were bad, he first spent a lot of money on buying the agency which owned the rights and then he bought back the US rights and hired a new translator to retranslate the first three books (of six). And he has high hopes of success, second time around.

It will be interesting to see if he’s right.

Another ‘fascinating’ aspect is how this all goes down in the translating community. A job is a job, so I can understand if the new translator feels OK about this improvement task. But it must surely also feel a little icky, re-doing what your colleague seemingly has ‘failed’ at? And if you’re the ‘failure’? Except, according to my in-house translator, we don’t know who did the first translation, as it was a pseudonym, so I imagine no one will be publicly embarrassed.

In the end, I wonder if it will make a difference. I believe more in a good publicity effort, even if it is second time lucky. After all, we mostly don’t read crime novels and thrillers for any literary chills that might run down our spines. We want quick thrills.

But the blurb by Lee Child probably won’t hurt.

Noble about a worthy Briton

I think the nicest thing about Kazuo Ishiguro being awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for literature is that everyone’s being so nice about it. None of this ‘who?’ or ‘really?’ but just a quiet acceptance.

Not having read anything by Ishiguro I’m not in a position to comment on his worthiness. He seems to be popular, but not too popular, except from the point of view that those asked to comment in the Guardian last week all had good things to say.

What’s more, it’s so ‘nice’ that he’s British. I’m at least as British, apart from the fact I don’t have the passport to go with it. Otherwise, Kazuo and I are both foreigners, really. But people like to claim successes as their own whenever they can.

Whether there are too many English language authors being successful with awards is another matter. You can’t avoid the fact that their work will be easier to access, and that identifying with what they write about is also easier. I like books where I feel at home. I see no reason why awarding committees shouldn’t also feel that way, even if they are not aware of it.

And I don’t believe awards should go to someone because of the colour of their skin, or for belonging to any category under-represented in the awards competition. (Reminds me of The Good Wife, where one character greets another with the words ‘You must be the woman! I’m the black.’)

So few will win any kind of jackpot that this will always be unfair in some sense.

Mårbacka

It took me a while to work out what Mårbacka was. As a child I’d read another Selma Lagerlöf autobiographical book with very nearly the same title. I was reluctant then, but as a book-starved young thing, there was no way I could ignore even a boring looking book for very long, and once I began reading I loved it.

Selma Lagerlöf, Mårbacka

This time I felt much the same, except this new translation – by Sarah Death – does not look boring. It’s very pretty with its red roses on the cover. But I thought it might go over the same ground (I suppose it does, but not so it matters), and I really don’t feel I ought to read it in anything but the original.

But once I got past that bit of snobbery, I discovered it was fun, in a quiet Swedish kind of way. Disconcerting, too, as I feel that this was more or less my life, one hundred years earlier. I wonder if this is something that many Swedes are afflicted by? I grew up in a small family with not much money, in a town. Selma was part of a larger and wealthier family in the countryside.

It could have been my life too. And the anecdotal way of telling us about her life is a good technique. It’s almost like a regular column in a magazine. And like them, entertaining and partly truthful while also being helped along with some embellishments to the truth.

As I was reading, I couldn’t help stopping every now and then to consider what the original might have said. A bit as with subtitles when you don’t need them; you still look for something. (I might have gone differently with the vörtbröd…)

It’s charming, and funny, and it shows the reader what Sweden was like before the big move to the towns, before socialism and before Ikea. It’s about building a new cowhouse, the Swedish way of celebrating birthdays when you can’t prevent the whole county from turning up uninvited, about having your old, former maid come to tea, coming face to face with a kelpie, dreaming of the King coming to visit, and how it took days to travel from Värmland to the West coast.

I can see that if I had been awarded the Nobel prize, I’d have done exactly what Selma did and done up my childhood paradise. After all, she only did what her own father worked on before her. What most of us would do if we could.

How, erm, very Nobel

Bob Dylan eh?

I like it. I mean, I’m not a particular fan of Dylan’s, but I’m not not a fan either. He’s just Dylan.

It’s funny though. Yesterday morning on Facebook people were discussing who it might be, who they wanted it to be, and so on, mentioning names I’d either heard of, or ones I really didn’t know much about. My only comment was that surely the Swedish Academy could only pick someone no one – but them – had ever come across.

Peter Englund

Can’t you just picture it, The Eighteen sitting around pondering who they could possibly find that would enable them to hold their heads up high. And then some bright spark (that could be absolutely any one of them, obviously) came up with the complete opposite to the ‘never heard of him’ conundrum. ‘Let’s go for Bob Dylan! We just need to think up some clever way of saying why we chose him. But we can do that.’

And Peter Englund – probably – said that even the Bookwitch will know Dylan. Problem solved.

(Yes, I know. Peter is no longer their permanent secretary. But I have a photo of him I can use. And he might ‘know’ me. OK, I have photos of two more members, and I have met one, but not so he would remember.)

It has the surprise factor, and the Swedish Academy never disappoint. They just ‘never disappoint’ in different ways every time.

Bob Dylan… This is Swedish protest at its best. (That rhymed. I’m quite pleased with my phrase. Witty. And rhyme, all at the same time. Yes, I know. That rhymed too, but it was totally unintentional.)

Because, it can’t be because some of those old fogeys want to hang out with Dylan? Or that the King said he wouldn’t mind hanging with Bob?

I wonder what Joan Baez is thinking?