Mo Yan Wins The 2012 Nobel Prize For Literature

Mo Yan Wins The 2012 Nobel Prize For Literature

Years go by and the pattern seems to be repeating for the Nobel Prize Committee. A lot of fuss is made around the potential Nobel Prize for Literature winner, bookmakers release odds for gamblers and when the winner is announced, the majority of readers around the world are left slack jawed, with one burning question on their mind.


This year's Nobel Prize race had Japanese writer Haruki Murakami as the favorite, an author who's been charming readers around the world with his personal brand of magic realism (sometimes verging on full-on surrealism) set in contemporary Japan. One would've thought that the high-octane release of his latest novel, 1Q84, would've sealed the deal. Yet, the Nobel Committee found another way to surprise us.

This year's laureate is Chinese writer Mo Yan, for his 1987 novel Red Sorghum, which the committee has qualified of "hallucinatory realism" and praised for blending "folk tales, history and the contemporary". It's safe to say Mr. Murakami can forget about getting his Nobel, now that the committee has rewarded another writer for exactly the same thing, and his fans around the globe are left scratching their heads. Was it an effort by the committee to make a political statement about China? Probably not, since Yan has been criticized for being "too close to the establishment".

One thing's for sure, it follows the pattern set by the committee over the last ten years, of rewarding more obscure writers. Last year's victor, Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer was a big surprise, as well as Herta Müller in 2009, who nobody seemed to know before she won. It's not necessarily a bad thing, as it helps to cast light on authors that may not have had the best marketing machine behind them (expect Red Sorghum to sell a lot of copies over the next few years). But it's possible that such anticlimactic choices will eventually dwindle the hype and prestige of the prize.

Image of Red Sorghum: A Novel of China
Author: Mo Yan
Price: $17.06
Publisher: Penguin Books (1994)
Binding: Paperback, 359 pages
Benoît Lelièvre

News by Benoît Lelièvre

Benoît Lelièvre is twenty-nine years old and lives in Montreal,Canada. His fiction has been published in Needle Magazine, Crime Factory, Beat to a Pulp: Hardboiled, Shotgun Honey and The Flash Fiction Offensive, amongst others. When he's not furiously typing away, he's watching hockey, studying martial arts, consuming pop culture or kicking back with his better half and his dog. He blogs out of Dead End Follies, where he reviews books, movies and chronicles his existence.

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April Victoria's picture
April Victoria from California is reading Mortal Ties by Eileen Wilks October 11, 2012 - 8:58am

1987 novel? Did they just get around to reading it now?

Ben666's picture
Ben666 from Montreal, Canada is reading Scar Tissue, by Marcus Sakey October 11, 2012 - 9:23am

Well yeah, I always thought to be the Nobel for some kind of lifetime achievement award. It's the noble thing to do to reward someone born under an oppressive regime, but how about the guy who conquered the world with his pen? (I.E Murakami)

Jane Wiseman's picture
Jane Wiseman from Danville Virginia is reading The Women in the Castle, by Jessica Shattuck October 11, 2012 - 4:02pm

I think it has been shown over and over that while sometimes the Nobel committee awards the prize to a writer with a worthy body of work, it's often the case that however the committee's procedures work, they don't produce very good literary judgments. Take Pearl Buck. She was a competent novelist but hardly in the league with fellow Laureate Faulkner. Not having read anything by Mo Yan, I don't know what to think about this year's choice, but the record of the literary Nobel has always been idiosyncratic. I think the only reason anyone pays much attention to it at all is that its science prizes are so prestigious.

VicJeju's picture
VicJeju from Austin is reading Oryx & Crake October 19, 2012 - 5:55am

I am not familiar with this guy's work but I know that the nobel prizes tend to skip over great writers.....