Nobel Prize for Literature Talk

The Scroll

Jews Again Long Shots for Lit Nobel

Syrian poet Adonis favored; Roth at 25:1

By Marc Tracy|September 28, 2011 12:00 PM|5comments

From left, David Grossman, A.B. Yehoshua, and Amos Oz—the big three of Israeli literature.(Alon Ron/Getty Images)

On “a Thursday in October,” the committee in Stockholm will announce the 2011 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature. And if the bookmakers’ odds—not to mention recent history—are to be believed, it will almost certainly not be an American, probably not be a Jew, and quite possibly be someone you have barely heard of. Actually, Ladbrokes’ favorite is Adonis, the Syrian poet, who is of course well known and who would make sense in the year of the Arab Spring (and the Syrian tragedy). And Thomas Pynchon comes in at a surprisingly high 10:1 (if the notoriously secretive novelist won, would he accept in person?). Beyond that, favorites include Tomas Tranströmer (Swedish!), Rajendra Bhandari, Assia Djebar, and Ko Un. (Remember: the award can only go to a winning writer.)

The highest-ranked Jew is Philip Roth, at 25:1, up slightly from last year’s 33:1. But generally, the Jews face worse odds than last year: E.L. Doctorow dropped from 22:1 to 33:1; Amos Oz 25:1 to 33:1; Shlomo Kalo 45:1 to 50:1; A.B. Yehoshua 50:1 to 66:1; and Jonathan Littell 66:1 to 80:1. Only Bob Dylan, the perennial long shot, stayed steady at 100:1. The committee has been relatively kind to Jews, awarding the prize to five (Joseph Brodsky, Nadine Gordimer, Imre Kertész, Elfriede Jelinek, and Harold Pinter) in the past 25 years. By contrast, only one American has been selected during that time (Toni Morrison); the committee’s head has made it explicit that he doesn’t consider American literature to be all that great.

So, probably Adonis, and probably not a Jew. Then again, last year, the talk was about how Howard Jacobson was the underdog for the Man Booker Prize, and we know what happened there.