Swedish Academy Post-Dylan dilemma for Nobel Literature Prize

The overall buzz, from literary circles to fortune tellers, is that the 18 Academy members in Stockholm will pick a laureate most people agree is Nobel-worthy.

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Bob Dylan was a surprise winner of the 2016 Nobel prize for literature play

Bob Dylan was a surprise winner of the 2016 Nobel prize for literature

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Who will win the 2017 Nobel Literature Prize, after Bob Dylan last year? The Swedish Academy likes to stun the world with its pick, but, wary of its reputation, it is seen going with a more traditional choice this year.

The overall buzz, from literary circles to fortune tellers, is that the 18 Academy members in Stockholm will pick a laureate most people agree is Nobel-worthy.

"The Academy is actually a very discreet society and we shouldn't expect anything sensational" this year, Clemens Poellinger, literary critic for Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet, told AFP.

After Gao Xingjian won in 2000 and Mo Yan in 2012, another Chinese-language author is seen as a strong contender: Yan Lianke.

He won the 2014 Franz Kafka Prize -- just like Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek and others often mentioned as potential winners, such as Philip Roth, Amos Oz, Haruki Murakami and Claudio Magris.

Names that repeatedly appear in the Nobel speculation and are mentioned this year as well are Kenya's Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Syrian poet Adonis, Israel's Amos Oz and Don DeLillo of the United States.

The Swedish Academy will end the suspense and announce its pick on Thursday at 1:00 pm (1100 GMT).

Cloak-and-dagger secrecy

Last year's choice of US singer songwriter Bob Dylan -- who didn't comment on his win until weeks later and who snubbed the formal prize ceremony in Stockholm -- created such a stir that the Academy is likely to choose a more orthodox laureate, suggested Bjorn Wiman, cultural editor at Swedish paper of reference Dagens Nyheter.

"What happened last year was really unusual. This year I think it'll be a male novelist or essayist with roots in Europe. I think it's going to be the exact opposite of Bob Dylan," Wiman said.

He thinks Antonio Lobo Antunes of Portugal and Albania's Ismail Kadare have a good chance. "Everyone will think 'Ah, of course they deserve the prize', and there'll be no objection."

The prestigious distinction could also be bestowed upon Canada's Margaret Atwood, whose novel "The Handmaid's Tale" was recently made into a well-received television series, or Ngugi wa Thiong'o, a favourite of online betting sites.

Or it could go to a complete unknown.

Each February, the Academy makes a list of all the nominations it has received by those eligible to do so -- including former laureates and university professors -- before reducing it to five names in May. The members then spend the summer reading those writers, before making their choice in October.

The Academy is known for its cloak-and-dagger methods to prevent any leaks, resorting to code names for authors and fake book covers when reading in public.

Stockholm's literary circles therefore try to dissect the Academy members' latest interests to guess the winner -- sometimes with success but usually not.

In line with the last will and testament of Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite who used his vast fortune to create the prizes, "it has to be someone who deals with universal questions, someone who makes us reflect about all of us," explained publisher Elisabeth Grate.

Only 14 women

Another aspect not to be overlooked is gender. Of the 113 laureates honoured since Frenchman Sully Prudhomme won in 1901, only 14 have been women.

Wiman is however not convinced that has any bearing on the Academy, recalling its claim that it does not take gender or nationality into consideration.

"I think it will be a man in his 70s or 80s who has written heavy novels," predicts Clemens Poellinger.

At the Hedengrens bookstore in central Stockholm, owner Nicklas Bjorkholm has already set up a wall with books by possible winners, including Spain's Javier Marias, Americans Joan Didion and Don DeLillo, Poland's Olga Tokarczuk and David Grossmann of Israel.

His personal favourite for the prize is Korean poet Ko Un because, he insists, "the time has come for a non-anglophone and an Asian."

Each critic may have their favourite, but they're usually off the mark.

So why not see what's written in the cards?

Zanna, a Tarot card reader consulted by AFP, seems to think it's Yan Lianke's year.

"So many pieces come together. He gets such unbelievably good cards, it feels like a yes," she exclaimed.

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