Juan the Landless (Spanish Literature)

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They Could Have Been Contenders: Hot Tips on Latin America’s Nobel Candidates

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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.

Surprise Me!