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WWB Weekend: Nobel Hall of Fame

By Savannah Whiting

This WWB Weekend, we give you an overview of the Nobel laureates we’ve published.

We were tickled to hear that Svetlana Alexievich had won the 2015 Nobel Prize for Literature (for more on that, see editorial director Susan Harris’s response and our office pool, which was cut short by this year’s early announcement). An excerpt from Alexievich’s book of love stories, “The Wondrous Deer of the Eternal Hunt,” appeared in our April 2005 issue, and we’ve proudly added her to our office hall of fame of WWB Nobel laureates. She joins back-to-back winners J. M. G. Le Clézio (2008) and Herta Müller (2009), along with Naguib Mahfouz, who in 1988 became the Arab world’s first Nobel laureate in literature.

We ran an excerpt from Müller’s The Hunger Angel in our November 2009 issue, “Twenty Years After: Germany Then and Now,” three years before the book was published in English. In the passage set in 1945, a seventeen-year-old Romanian girl packs her belongings for the trip to a Russian internment camp:

Many people think packing is a matter of practice, you learn it automatically, like singing or praying. We had no practice, and no suitcase, either. When my father had to go to the front, to join the Romanian army, there was nothing to pack. As a soldier you're given everything, it's part of the uniform. Apart from for traveling away, and against the cold, we didn't know what we were packing for. You don't have the right things, so you improvise. The wrong things become what's needed. What's needed is then the only thing that's right, but only because you have it.

In our January 2004 issue, we brought readers a sneak peek of Le Clézio’s novel Wandering Star, in which the lives of two teenage girls, an Arab orphan and a Jewish refugee from France, intersect briefly and indelibly during World War II:

Esther could not erase Nejma from her mind—that stare, that hand set so gently against her arm, the longing in her gestures as she held the notebook out. She could not forget the women, their blank faces, and the frightened eyes of the children, the silence weighing on the earth and in the shadows. "Where are they going?" Esther asked Elizabeth. The woman beside her said nothing. Esther repeated, "Where are they going?" She shrugged her shoulders, as if she did not understand. Another woman, dressed in black, responded, "To Iraq." She spoke harshly, and Esther was afraid to ask more. The dust on the road made a yellow halo around the truck. Elizabeth held Esther's hand in hers. The woman turned back to Esther, as if trying to read her thoughts, and said, "They're not innocent, those are the mothers and wives of those who are trying to kill us." Esther asked, "What about the children?" Those fear-widened eyes had been etched on her spirit, and she knew that nothing could erase their stare.

And finally, Mahfouz’s “The Toughest Guy in Utouf,” translated by Raymond Stock, appeared in the magazine in February 2006. It’s a story of retribution, in which professional bully is forced to make an honest living:

His mind was filled with images of his salad days dancing before his eyes, which were filmed over with angst. During those trying times, his friend the driver would watch him slyly as his fingers played with the warning that caused him so much rage. The matter remained critical in the driver's mind, and as he turned it over and over in his thoughts, he swiveled to look at the former futuwa.

"What would you say, Boss," he asked, "if I offered you a job that would keep the heat off your back?"

[…] The mi'allim felt no rush of elation, as might have been expected of one in his situation, simply because work was the one thing he had never known. Never important to professional futuwas, he recoiled from it with instinctive fear. Yet, so long as labor was his sole salvation from a return to prison, he was not in a position to turn down any job. "Is it possible I could be hired for this work before the twenty days are up?" he said to his friend, barely able to conceal his annoyance.

We (and the Swedes) highly recommend them all.

Published Oct 9, 2015   Copyright 2015 Savannah Whiting

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