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  • Writer's pictureMartijn

Traveling to Scandinavia thanks to Alfred Nobel

Alex and I are back in Buenos Aires after 5 weeks in the USA. Following local regulations, we now need to quarantine for 14 days, which means that Carmen and Tobias, who have been completely independent during our absence, will need to continue shopping for another 2 weeks. Interestingly, the infection rate and number of weekly deaths is currently at its highest in Argentina (which has reached over 20,000 deaths in the mean time), so in fact our quarantine probably protects us more from the local risks than it protects the Argentines from our USA and air travel... By the way, Covid flying is even less glamorous than before: all food for the trip was distributed in a plastic bag upon aircraft entry, no cart, no drinks, no blanket or pillow.

I know you are expecting a post on Chicago where we just came from but I am still processing that experience and the emotions associated with returning to the past.

Instead, I would like to react to this morning's announcement of the 2020 Nobel prize for literature, to write about a personal project. A few years ago, when I started to have more time thanks to the combination of less work and older children, I decided that I would try to read one book by each of the Nobel prize for literature laureates. At the time, there were 111 authors since the award was created, so it seemed like a surmountable task and, since this morning, there are now 117 of which I have read 79 (yes, I keep detailed records and have developed a technique to select the next author and choose his or her best work; it involves some online search and then picking the shortest book among the candidates!). In the mean time, I have also lowered my goal somewhat by eliminating all poets -I really tried but am clearly poetry-challenged- and a handful of authors who are really too archaic such as Theodore Mommsen and Rudolf Eucken, 1902 and 1908 Nobel prizes from the German Empire (!). Has anyone heard of them?? Bottom line, I still have between 6 and 9 authors to go, the three last ones have a question mark and will only get on the final list if I have enough energy because they are also somewhat outdated.

Today I was lucky: the 2020 award went to Louise Glück (who is also lucky, haha), an American poet who will therefore not make it to my list. Readers and book stores in France and Argentina are not so lucky because almost none of her work has been translated to French or Spanish, so unlike other years, the prize is somewhat of a non-event in the media of those countries and the Nobel academy will likely be criticized again for its Western dominated view of the world which is a fact, and within Western, it is very Scandinavian/German dominated due to the legacy of the earlier years.

However much they are criticized, I still like the idea of using a prestigious prize to guide part of my reading and I must say it has been quite a journey, filled with rushes of adrenaline, inspiration and increased consciousness of the reality world events: the tumultuous history of countries like Poland and even Finland, the messiness of revolutions and civil wars seen from within, the horrors of war and dictatorship, the injustice of slavery, submission and poverty, the dangers and excesses of religious manipulation and of course, the universality of human condition, search for status and glory, survival and hope. What else is new, you're probably thinking?? Nothing is new, but every book has been a powerful immersion into great literature and universal questions and I have learned I enjoy that!

Here some pictures of my Nobel shelves (but many are on Kindle which comes in really handy when you live at the end of the world).

My favorites so far have been: Selma Lagerlof-Jerusalem, Sinclair Lewis-It can't happen here, Eugene O'Neill-Long day's journey into night, Betrand Russel-Unpopular essays, Kenzaburo Oe-Teach us to outgrow our madness, Dario Fo-Accidental death of an anarchist, Imre Kertesz-Fatelessness, Mo Yan-Shifu, you'll do anything for a laugh, Svetlana Alexievich-The unwomanly face of war and Olga Tokarczuk-Flights (and yes, I have made notes on most books in a (multilingual) file that you can find by clicking here).

In preparation of our upcoming crossing to Greenland-Iceland-rest of Scandinavia, I have lately read many Scandinavians in a row. They include Nobels but also a few more fun novels such as Arto Paasilinna and Leena Lehtolainen's crime stories. They all do seem to confirm the stereotype of people of few words and a very cool and no-nonsense outlook on life, and remind me of this recent Covid-19 joke: "Scandinavians are very relieved that social distancing rules have been relaxed and that instead of having to stay 2 meters apart, they can go back to 5 meters!"

Below, my latest Scandinavian (hard copy, not available on Kindle): a kind of Finnish "Good Earth"

I promise my next post will be about Chicago but I just had to share today's Nobel news :)

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Oct 08, 2020

Effectivement! Bravo! C’est exactement pourquoi je l’ai rayé de ma liste. Il y a des limites à l’enthousiasme :)


Oct 08, 2020

Mommsen? une immense historiographie de l'empire romain non? bonne lecture!

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