1976 — Saul Bellow, United States
- Won the prize for: “ the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work“
- Work(s) I read: Humboldt’s Gift* (1975), The Adventures of Augie March (1953)
- Reaction: Witty. Clever. Personal: The guy is all about Chicago, so you know we’re going to get along real well. Bellow if anything, writes about the internal plight of man but in a not-so-conditioned format. Forget the wars, the oppression, the revolutions, the social and political stratifications, the philosophical meanderings, and what-have-yous (though some of it is brilliantly intertwined) and get lost in the what really makes us Real. This is at times hilarious and at times inspirited with the truest of human feeling and ponderings that I have read in some time. Oh, there’s some stuff about Art as well.
1972 — Heinrich Boll, Germany
- Won the prize for: “his writing which through its combination of a broad perspective on his time and a sensitive skill in characterization has contributed to a renewal of German literature”.
- Work(s) I read: The Clown (1963)
- Reaction: Self-liberation. Nation. Commanding: To me this felt like a very liberating and charitable work as if, Boll was picking up the fragmented and broken pieces of his nation, his people and trying to put them back together with his words. The shame was there. The guilt was overpowering. But there it was, a voice that needed to be heard – a voice of reason, a voice of criticism, and a voice of necessity. Through The Clown my whole inversion of idealism was, well, inverted and through Boll, another voice spoke out to me, one that rallied an unfathomable amount of tolerance – a trait grossly rare and grossly underappreciated but incredibly important to the sustenance of our kind.
- Apparently Boll pissed off a lot of right-wing whiggies in Germany during his time (& especially when he won the award) – how unfortunate. You should have come to America, Herr Boll…oh, wait.
1971 — Pablo Neruda, Chile
- Won the prize for: ” a poetry that with the action of an elemental force brings alive a continent’s destiny and dreams”.
- Work(s) I read: Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (1983)
- Reaction: Love. Love. Despair: I’ve been in love. Can I describe it? No, but Pablo Neruda can, like no one can. This is what poetry, if anything, was made for. To capture the greatest human feelings in the greatest manner – all of it. Love is a feeling that has been contested, debated, vilified, immortalized, defiled, romanticized – but what Neruda does is Realize it in a manner which any lover regardless of what kind, can bask in. Whether you love love or hate love, but if you’ve EVER been in it, visit Neruda. If you don’t believe in love, or have never loved, or you believe it’s just a chemical reaction produced by blah blah blah … still read Neruda. It’s the next best to being in love and despairing in love – or in the latter’s case, believing in it.
- Rating: 5/5
1970 — Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, Soviet Union
- Won the prize for: “the ethical force with which he has pursued the indispensable traditions of Russian literature”.
- Work(s) I read: Inspirit. Meaningful. This-is-life : One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (1962)
- Reaction: Dostoevsky, I will forever love you. Turgenev, you stole a part of my prose-bound heart. Pasternak, you taught me how to love. But move over all of you, there’s a new “Ivan” in town ready to infiltrate my heart with all of his Russian splendor.
- Sometimes the reason for why individuals win this award baffles me and I find myself scratching my head in a stupor. Yes, we have a great revival of “Tradition” from “Traditional” Russian Literature, but is that why this book or author is great? No. What he is great for is constructing spirit, dignity, and the human effort to be just that – human. In the face of atrocity, bound to a life of meaningless task like the modern Sisyphus, Ivan shows us that he too can find meaning, no matter how outwardly apparent the opposite may seem. This book is one of the few that I can really claim to have a profound effect on me in the way that any life-changing experience has on an individual. I now too wish I could live One Day in the life of Ivan Desnisovich so I too could find and free myself from the conditioned machination of meaning. Life is meaningful. It has to be. Ivan shows us that.
- And it also tickled my fancy that the guy who showed Ivan how to pursue this meaning was named “Alyoshka”. I mean, can we just pretend that the “K” doesn’t exist? /end act finding-dosto-everywhere
- Rating: 5/5
1969 — Samuel Beckett, Ireland
- Won the prize for: ” his writing, which – in new forms for the novel and drama – in the destitution of modern man acquires its elevation”.
- Work(s) I read: Waiting for Godot (1952)
- Reaction: Absurd. Existential. Influential: Here we go. Paltry attempt. I’ll wait.
Beckett beckons. There’s a tree. I stand under it. Waiting. Why? No reason.
Here comes my friend. He stands under it. Waiting. Why? No reason.
Let’s talk. About? Nothing. Why? No reason.
Well, that was a great conversation. Truly. Who knew nothing could be so … everything?
What were we even waiting for? Who knows? Why were waiting under this tree again? No reason.
- Did you want me to allude to some scholarly resolution or give this allegory a name? I think you still have a lot of waiting to do.
1968 — Yasunari Kawabata, Japan
- Won the prize for: ” his narrative mastery, which with great sensibility expresses the essence of the Japanese mind”.
- Work(s) I read: Snow Country* (1937), The Sound of the Mountain (1949), Beauty and Sadness (1961)
- Reaction: Intuitive. Beautiful. Melancholy: I can taste the snow. I can see the white fields. I can smell the frosty air. I can hear the lonely train. I can feel the breaking hearts. It’s like all of my senses went awry while reading Snow Country. Kawabata didn’t tell me anything, not one thing, but what he did was show me – he showed me a country disguised in snow, in heartbreaks, in melancholia, in desperation, in pain – destined for loneliness while slowly melting into the white sky beneath my feet. And I too, like the falling snow, fell on the pages of his book, bearing a heavy heart with nothing to say, only left to feel.
- Rating: 5/5
1965 — Mikhail Sholokhov, Soviet Union
- Won the prize for: ” the artistic power and integrity with which, in his epic of the Don, he has given expression to a historic phase in the life of the Russian people”.
- Work(s) I read: The Fate of Man (1956)
- Reaction: Hard-hitting. Profound. Immersive: Unfortunately, I didn’t read his seminal work for which he won the prize, but it doesn’t matter (I’ll definitely get to it!).
- As I’ve been writing these, I’ve come to realization (an obvious one) that many of these winners have written about an experience that came as a product of a horrific history or event. Why is suffering so esteemed in ink? Why is the collective effort of humanity that’s a product of interminable pain, atrocity, and horror so intrinsically personal to those outside the circle? I mean, surely they can’t just be handing out prizes as an act of “we acknowledge your suffering so here’s a cool award” nor can I as a reader who is completely distant to the sufferings of this writer and the group of which he talks about feel totally in sync.
- Then it hit me. Hello. This is writing. This is what writing does. I don’t mean to undermine any other efforts, memoirs, fiction novellas written that do the same, but the effect of the power of writing and the immeasurable degree to which it captures that banality, that emotion, that feeling, and the hope conjured by it all is the answer to all of my questions.
- And that answer is what you’ll find encrypted in the words of Sholokov.
- Rating: Not a five, but needed to be mentioned. if anything got as close to a 5, this is it.
1964 –Jean-Paul Sartre, France
- Won the prize for: ” his work which, rich in ideas and filled with the spirit of freedom and the quest for truth, has exerted a far-reaching influence on our age”
- Work(s) I read: Being and Nothingness (1943), No Exit and Three Other Plays (1947), Nausea (1938)
- Reaction: Beauvoir’s-bootycall. Dejection. Too-cool-4-Nobel: I’m going to talk about Sartre as a Being, as a holistic person rather than a sum of his works (JK). First, I should mention he has good taste in women i.e Simone de Beauvoir. Second, I should mention that he made me sick, I mean, in the soul (also when I started believing I had one, thanks Sartre!).
- I love Sartre. I hate Sartre. If any writer, thinker, guy ever turned me into a polarized heap of mad and happy – it’s him. Nausea made me nauseous, but I think that was the intent (still doesn’t take away from it being a less-than-satisfactory experience). Then, I read No Exit, which finally made me realize that my festering distaste of other people was warranted because “hell is other people”. The joy I felt. Thanks Sartre! Finally came Being and Nothingness which I read for a existentialism class and wow/10 is the best way to describe that. As I flipped the pages, furiously trying to align my thoughts with the reality as Sartre was putting it, I couldn’t help but trying to question my own place and how to align myself within Sartre’s reality. Essentially, if a work of philosophy succeeds in you know making you question your place, your life, and the way you have been living, I think it’s worth reading. On the question of why I love and hate Sartre, well that doesn’t matter. Really. It doesn’t. I mean, the guy rejected the Nobel prize, if that doesn’t tell you anything about him, I don’t know what would.
1962 — John Steinbeck, United States
- Won the prize for: ” his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception”.
- Work(s) I read: Of Mice and Men (!937), The Grapes of Wrath (1939), East of Eden* (1952)
- Reaction: Social. Stiff. Voice-of-the-people: I have never been a huge fan of Steinbeck, but that changed temporarily when I read East of Eden. Steinbeck is great at what he does and writes about subjects and themes we should all care about. However, certain flaws appeared a little too real for me. For one, my major issue often rested with characters and the lack of connection I could [not] find with them, as a reader. I mean, I don’t go around seeking myself in characters nor looking for traces to exude my empathy, but there has to be some sort of relative force that attracts – and I often couldn’t find it in Steinbeck.
- That silly and unfruitful criticism aside, I think Steinbeck needs to be read. He does. He voices many concerns with a certain power that I find lacking in American writers. East of Eden was brilliant in that regard and absolutely unconventional. I found myself left in a state of bewildering confusion and admiration for Steinbeck after reading that.