Update: Vargas Llosa wins! Learn more. Now that The Nobel Prize Committee has already selected their winner for the Literature prize, there's only a little time left before the announcement to bet on the winner at Ladbrokes. Of the 237 nominees selected, Ladbrokes bookies chose a few dozen authors they felt are particularly likely to win. Among them are some six Hispanophone writers, with the favorite of the bunch running at 25/1 odds. Still, everyone loves an upset, and with that in mind, we've handicapped the group ahead of the big day. Peruvian novelist Mario Vargas Llosa has been given 25/1 odds by the bookies. Vargas Llosa, 74, is an all around man of letters, in the long Latin American tradition of such figures. He’s a journalist, playwright, columnist, critic, politician (he ran for president of Peru in 1990), but most of all he’s a novelist, and among his greatest hits is The War at the End of the World, novel that made Harold Bloom’s best of all time list. A good starting point however might be The Time of the Hero, a coming-of-age story that takes place in a military academy. Of his non-fiction I am fond of Letters to a Young Novelist, a lyrical meditation on Flaubert, Cervantes, Borges, and other authors Vargas Llosa admires. It’s an admirable book of essays in its own right. Things in favor: old age, politically active Things against: politically conservative, name recognition Mexican Carlos Fuentes (30/1, then 33/1), in addition to being the screenwriter (of awful films), the former ambassador to France and an essayist, has penned some dozen novels. His fame for erudition in Mexico has reached near Harold Bloom levels. Fuentes, 82, spent much of his life in the United States as a boy and wrote The Death of Artemio Cruz when he was 34. Among other things novels often allude to U.S-Mexico relations. Of his books, I greatly enjoy The Old Gringo, a historical novel based on satirist Ambrose Bierce’s sojourn in Mexico. Fuentes remarkably takes the old stereotype of fatalistic Mexicans - seen in works by Graham Greene and D.H. Lawrence - and turns it on its head. Things in favor: old age Things against: name recognition, politically centrist This year, 79-year old Spanish novelist and poet Juan Goytisolo (30/1 then knocked to 66/1) – listed with the wrong first name on Ladbrokes (Luis Goytisolo is his brother in fact and I highly doubt he’s up for a Nobel; he hasn’t even been translated in English) - made the list. Obtuse, postmodern, and confessional are a few words that describe Goytisolo’s work. The Dalkey Archive recently reprinted Juan the Landless. A narrative tirade told with a brutal sense of humor, the book is the final part of a trilogy that announces Goytisolo’s own self-imposed exile in Morocco. Things in favor: obscure, expatriate, homosexual, old age Things against: none Ernesto Cardenal - not Cardinal, as Ladbrokes spells it - a Nicaraguan poet and former Sandanista was given 30/1 chance of winning the prize until Ladbrokes knocked him down to 45/1. After a correspondence with religious poet Thomas Merton, Cardenal decided to study at Merton’s convent in Kentucky in the 1950s. Then a visit to Cuba in 1970 lead him to embrace liberation theology - a mix of Marxism and Catholicism extremely popular all over Latin America at the time - which in effect converted him into a Sandanista. After the Sandista victory in 1979 he was the Minister of Culture until he resigned in 1987, and this year he publicly denounced Daniel Ortega, former Sandinista, and now president of Nicaragua. Cardenal is also a longtime friend of Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and New Directions released an anthology of his poems last year, Pluriverse. My favorite poem from the collection, “At the Grave of a Guerilla” imagines an astronaut looking down on a guerrilla’s tomb from space. Things in favor: leftist, politically active, old age, literary merit, neglected country, poet Things against: Javier Marias, the youngest of the group at 59, is, after Vargas Llosa, is probably the most well known in the Anglophone world, not to mention a best-seller in his native Spain (I once bought one of his novels from a vending machine). Son of the expat philosopher Julian Marias, a prodigious English translator, he was recently accepted into the Real Academia Española. Of his novels, I like Tomorrow in the Battle Think On Me, the story of a love affair and an untimely death, delivered in what almost sounds like a soliloquy, laced with Shakespearean references. Things in favor: politically outspoken Things against: name recognition, young Rounding out the group, we have writer Eduardo Galeano (66/1). Author of Open Veins of Latin America, his first work that he wrote when he was a journalist in the 1960s. This is also the book that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez handed to President Obama upon meeting him. All of his works since then are collections of short, aphoristic non-fiction fables. Galeano has cranked out quite a few beautiful quotes, some of which can be found in Voices of Time: A Life in Stories, an excellent place to start with the Uruguayan writer. Things in favor: leftist, politically outspoken Things against: none Who would I like to see win: Ernesto Cardenal - He’s been reprimanded by Pope John Paul II and had has his bank account frozen by Daniel Ortega; someone has got to cut this guy some slack, and who better than the Swedes? Who might win: Juan Goytisolo - His standing almost reminds me of recent winners, with an obvious political element in his work, recognized for his work, but in the bigger picture not well-known. Of course, that is if Ladbrokes doesn't really mean Luis Goytisolo - who doesn't stand a chance. Wild card pick: Although he didn't appear on the Ladbrokes card Nicanor Parra, 94, has been projected to win so many times he's written a poem about it, or anti-poem, as he calls it. With all of Ladbrokes’ typos, errors, and last minute changes, I wonder who is really betting on this. I’ve got my copy of Petals of Blood handy just in case the favorite Ngugu Wa Thiong’o (7/2) wins.
Well-known, established writer (and now four-time shortlister) Julian Barnes is likely the early favorite on the 2011 Booker shortlist, while Stephen Kelman and A.D. Miller make the list with their first novels. Alan Hollinghurst is probably the biggest surprise not to make it through to the next round. The longlist was offered here with some excerpts a month ago, but since you might not have gotten around to them then, we'll offer the same with the shortlist below. The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (excerpt) Jamrach's Menagerie by Carol Birch (excerpt) The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt (excerpt) Half Blood Blues by Esi Edugyan Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman (excerpt) Snowdrops by A.D. Miller (Staff Pick) Let us know if you've read any of these - and if you think any deserve to win.
The finalists for the annual National Book Critics Circle (NBCC) Award have been announced. The fiction list includes four books that have gotten quite a lot of attention over the last year - the Franzen, Egan, Grossman, and Murray - and one outlier, a novella originally written in 1947 by the 101-year-old Keilson, that was published in English for the first time last year. One might argue that with this set of finalists, the NBCC's fiction contest is more high-profile this year than the NBA and Booker slates were. Here are the finalists for fiction and non-fiction with excerpts and other links where available. As a side note, the NBCC award is particularly interesting in that it is one of the few major awards that pits American books against overseas (usually British) books. Fiction Jennifer Egan, A Visit from the Goon Squad (at The Millions, Egan's Year in Reading, excerpt) Jonathan Franzen, Freedom (at The Millions, excerpt) David Grossman, To the End of the Land (review) Hans Keilson, Comedy in a Minor Key (profile) Paul Murray, Skippy Dies (review, Murray's Year in Reading, excerpt) Nonfiction S.C. Gwynne, Empire of the Summer Moon: Quanah Parker and the Rise and Fall of the Comanches (excerpt) Jennifer Homans, Apollo's Angels: A History of Ballet (excerpt) Barbara Demick, Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea (excerpt) Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer (excerpt) Isabel Wilkerson, The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration (excerpt) For more on the NBCC Awards and the finalists in the other categories, visit PW.
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I'm back from Vegas just in time for the announcement of the winners of the Pulitzer Prize. Here are the winners and finalists in all of the book categories:NOVELThe Known World by Edward P. Jones Winner!American Woman by Susan ChoiEvidence of Things Unseen by Marianne WigginsDRAMA: I Am My Own Wife by Doug Wright Winner!Man from Nebraska by Tracy LettsOmnium Gatherum by Theresa Rebeck and Alexandra Gersten-VassilarosHISTORY: A Nation under Our Feet : Black Political Struggles in the Rural South from Slavery to the Great Migration by Steven Hahn Winner!They Marched Into Sunlight: War and Peace Vietnam and America October 1967 by David MaranissGreat Fortune: The Epic of Rockefeller Center by Daniel OkrentBIOGRAPHY OR AUTOBIOGRAPHY: Khrushchev: The Man and his Era by William Taubman Winner!Isaac Newton by James GleickArshile Gorky: His Life and Work by Hayden HerreraPOETRY: Walking to Martha's Vineyard by Franz Wright Winner!Middle Earth by Henri ColeEyeshot by Heather McHughGENERAL NON-FICTION: Gulag: A History by Anne Applebaum Winner!Rembrandt's Jews by Steven NadlerThe Mission: Waging War and Keeping Peace with America's Military by Dana PriestI have to commend the Pulitzer committee; they really got it right this time. I actually started reading The Known World today because it's the selection for my book club. I'll be able to add my two cents at the end of the week, but based on the lavish praise this book received from critics and readers, there's no doubt it was deserving. Also, the more I hear about Jones, the more I like him. Check out this excerpt from an AP story announcing his victory:The Pulitzer was a shot of energy on an otherwise down day for Jones, author of a previous book, the acclaimed story collection "Lost in the City." He was feeling so ill Monday he didn't bother at first to answer his phone. He also was in the middle of moving from his longtime home in Arlington, Va., because of noisy upstairs neighbors."This (award) should give me strength to finish up tomorrow," said Jones, who next week expects to move into Washington, D.CI think it's a particularly writerly trait to be distracted from the demands of the outside world by your inner concerns. As for the other winners, I was thrilled to see Anne Applebaum lauded for her truly astonishing book, Gulag. I'm glad that the Pulitzer did not stick to its bias of rewarding books with American themes in selecting a book that is of universal importance and that greatly expands our knowledge and understanding of what was until now a hidden part of 20th century history. For similar reasons, I was also happy to see Taubman's biography of Khrushchev get the prize. Daniel Okrent, another favorite author of mine, was named a finalist, as well. All in all, I have no complaints.