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The mind field

Chinese Gold: Mo Yan wins 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature

And they who bettered life on earth by their newly found mastery” - Aeneid, 6th song, verse 663.

Some of the names thrown around were Haruki Murakami from Japan - author of Norwegian Wood and, most recently, 1Q84, a novel about a woman who slips into an alternate reality; Margaret Atwood or better yet Alice Munro from Canada; Syrian poet, Adonis; and Nigerian novelist, Chinua Achebe, best known for his magnum opus, Things Fall Apart, the most widely read novel in Africa.

Australia’s best bet to win the Nobel Prize in literature remains Les Murray. Widely acknowledged as one of the best poets writing in English today, his name is perennially linked to three postcolonial poets - all Nobel laureates - Derek Walcott from Saint Lucia, Seamus Heaney from Northern Ireland and the late Joseph Brodsky who hailed from the USSR.

Each year America hopes, however unlikely, Bob Dylan might be their winner, but novelist Philip Roth is a more serious contender. In European eyes, contemporary American authors, it must be said, are considered too insular and unworldly to be strong contenders.

The 105th Nobel Prize for literature was awarded to novelist Mo Yan from China for his many works, the Swedish academy said, of “hallucinatory realism” that “merges folk tales, history and the contemporary”.

Mo Yan.

The announcement was made at 10 pm (Australian time) on Thursday evening. When the academy phoned him at home to inform about the prize, Mo said he was “overjoyed and scared”.

Born Guan Moey, Mo assumed his non de plume - meaning “don’t speak” - to remind himself to hold his tongue and avoid trouble. He is the first Chinese national to win the Nobel Prize for literature (Gao Xingjian won in 2000 but by then he was residing in Paris).

Mo admits that early on his novels were fuelled by a desire to escape poverty. But these days, as one of China’s bestselling authors, money is no longer the motivator.

“Now that I can afford dumplings, why am I still writing?” he asks. “Because I have things to say.”

Mo came to fame with Red Sorghum, a novel set during the Japanese occupation which was made into a film directed by Yimou Zhang in 1987.

His other books include his masterwork, Big Breasts and Wide Hips, and the more accessible Garlic Ballads, a beautiful yet brutal novel about the suffering of farmers ordered to grow garlic crops in Revolutionary China.

Following the Nobel prizes for medicine, physics and chemistry earlier this week, the literature prize is the fourth and one of the most anticipated announcements the Nobel season. The Nobel Peace Prize will be announced today at noon, followed by the Economics Prize on Monday.

Following tradition, laureates will receive their prize at a formal ceremony in Stockholm on 10 December, the anniversary of the death of the prizes’ eponymous benefactor, Alfred Nobel, in 1896.

Interestingly two authors have declined the Nobel Prize in literature: Boris Pasternak in 1958 and Jean Paul Sartre in 1964.

As a result of the economic crisis, the Nobel Foundation has cut the prize money to eight million Swedish kronor ($A1.18 million) per award, down from the 10 million kronor awarded since 2001.

Last year, the literature prize went to Swedish poet Tomas Tranströemer.

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