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#STBooks: Let the Race Begin and May Afrikaans Win, by Ben Williams

By Ben Williams for The Sunday Times

On any given Saturday morning in the salad days of the late nineties, you would find me prowling up and down Cape Town’s Long Street, picking through its many second-hand bookshops for first editions of South African books.

Rich were the treasures – I amassed a library of hundreds of titles – and sweet were the pleasures of my weekly meander, in particular the conversations I had with the booksellers.

JM Coetzee naturally often came up. On one occasion, I recall gravely predicting to a specialist in rugby books that there was no doubt Coetzee would win the Nobel. He said he would start stocking rare editions of his work and I hope that, when the prize actually shipped in 2003, he collected extra winnings off my tip.

KlimtolKaarKatalekteSkinnedKlawerjasDie aanspraak van lewende wesensPhilida

The signals from Stockholm about who deserves a seat in literature’s Valhalla are cause for hope that we’ll have another laureate soon. To judge by its recent picks the Nobel committee is looking for writers who write in languages other than English, receive critical acclaim locally but wallow in obscurity beyond their home borders, and – this is essential – have a complicated relationship with the government or regime they labour under or sprang from.

We have many such writers in South Africa. To a person, they’re Afrikaans, and I submit that our next laureate will come from their number.

Nobel week has just passed, but it’s never too early to look ahead. I thus present, in the time-honoured tradition of the lit prize wager, bookie’s notes on the leading Afrikaans contenders. (Odds are calculated against the pool, not all the eligible writers who people this world.)

Etienne van Heerden
Odds: 4-1
Latest work: Klimtol (fiction, Tafelberg, 2013)
Tip: Placed much the best to finish first. His many novels are folded with irony, poetry and alienation, and he hustles his mother tongue along, dazzling us with literary acrobatics.

Marlene van Niekerk
Odds: 9-2
Latest work: Kaar (poetry, Human & Rousseau, 2013)
Tip: Rushing to contention with her epics Triomf and Agaat. She once was interviewed by laureate Toni Morrison; who knows what the latter might’ve whispered in the corridors of Stockholm?

Breyten Breytenbach
Odds: 6-1
Latest work: Katalekte (poetry, Human & Rousseau, 2012)
Tip: Fractious in the gate but full of run. Having been in prison never hurts. Extra points: he holds French citizenship, and lives partly in Senegal.

Antjie Krog
Odds: 6-1
Latest work: Skinned (poetry, Umuzi, 2013)
Tip: Away alertly with her early poetry, then pressed the pace with her blockbuster, Country of My Skull. One of South Africa’s key interpreters to the rest of the world.

Adam Small
Odds: 7-1
Latest work: Klawerjas (poetry, Tafelberg, 2013)
Tip: Checked repeatedly during his career, he’s circled the field, returning with acclaim and controversy. Stockholm loves a querulous playwright-poet.

Ingrid Winterbach
Odds: 8-1
Latest work: Die aanspraak van lewende wesens (fiction, Human & Rousseau, 2012)
Tip: The dark horse. Maintains a nicely rated publishing output and is closing the gap.

Andre Brink
Odds: 8-1
Latest work: Philida (fiction, Human & Rousseau, 2013)
Tip: Good early speed and showing a late rally, but may have ultimately failed to menace.

Will any of these writers figure on the main tote boards for the Nobel, run by Ladbrokes and William Hill. It’s hard to say. But there’s money to be made if you get your bets in early. Place ‘em now! – @benrwms

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Recent comments:

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    October 14th, 2013 @08:52 #

    Right! So the Swedish Academy made a bit of a fool of me, in choosing a writer who (a) writes in English and (b) certainly doesn't wallow in obscurity outside her home country and (c) has a relatively normal relationship with said home country (Canada). Because of the necessities of deadlines, the column was written well in advance of the Nobel announcement. Such are the breaks!

    This morning, a few readers wrote in on behalf of Karel Schoeman; to judge from their fervor, I'd put him at 6-1 with Krog and Breytenbach. Any others?

  • <a href="" rel="nofollow">Kathryn</a>
    October 15th, 2013 @12:01 #

    The terrors of print ;)

  • Ben - Editor
    Ben - Editor
    October 15th, 2013 @16:44 #

    Meanwhile, they've already given odds on the main contenders for the 2014 prize:


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