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South Africa
Culture - Arts

Nobel Literature Prize for John Coetzee

afrol News, 2 October - The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2003 is awarded to the South African writer, John Maxwell Coetzee, "who in innumerable guises portrays the surprising involvement of the outsider," according to the Swedish Nobel Committee.

At 1 pm today in Stockholm, the Permanent Secretary of the Swedish Academy, Horace Engdahl, announced the winner of this year's Nobel Prize in Literature. That the prestigious prize was awarded to South Africa's best known writer, Mr Coetzee, only came as a surprise to the novelist himself.

Mr Coetzee's novels were "characterised by their well-crafted composition, pregnant dialogue and analytical brilliance," according to Mr Engdahl's announcement. "But at the same time he is a scrupulous doubter, ruthless in his criticism of the cruel rationalism and cosmetic morality of western civilisation."

The South African writer - born in 1940 in Cape Town by German and English parents - made his debut as a writer of fiction in 1974. His international breakthrough came in 1980 with the novel 'Waiting for the Barbarians'. In 1999, Mr Coetzee became the first author to be twice awarded the UK Booker Prize, first for his novel 'Life and Times of Michael K' (1983) and than for the novel 'Disgrace'.

- There is a great wealth of variety in Coetzee's works, the Swedish Academy noted. "No two books ever follow the same recipe. Extensive reading reveals a recurring pattern, the downward spiralling journeys he considers necessary for the salvation of his characters."

Mr Coetzee's interest is directed mainly at situations where the distinction between right and wrong, while crystal clear, can be seen to serve no end. "It is in exploring weakness and defeat that Coetzee captures the divine spark in man," according to the Academy.

As a white man born in South Africa, a fundamental theme in Mr Coetzee's novels involves the values and conduct resulting from his country's apartheid system, which, in his view, "could arise anywhere". He himself lived the most of his adult life in British exile.

In 2002 he moved to Australia, where he remains attached to the University of Adelaide. Currently, however, Mr Coetzee is at the University of Chicago (US), where he also received the message of his Nobel Prize from his British publisher, Jeff Mulligan.

Mr Mulligan told the Swedish press that Mr Coetzee had been thrilled by the award. "He was very happy about it," Mr Mulligan said, adding that he had "really deserved it." Although Mr Coetzee was said not to have expected the Nobel Prize, he had figured among the favourites before today's announcement.

Also in South Africa, the news was received with joy. South Africa's ruling ANC party today congratulated Mr Coetzee and expressed hope the recognition given to South African authors like Mr Coetzee and Nadine Gordimer, who received the award in 1991, would serve as "an inspiration to young writers in this country and on the African continent."

- We also hope that it will encourage publishers and readers to realise the continent's vast untapped literary potential," the ANC added. In addition to South Africa's Mr Coetzee and Ms Gordimer, only three Africans have ever won a Nobel Prize in Literature: Albert Camus (1957, Algeria), Wole Soyinka (1986, Nigeria) and Naguib Mahfûz (1988 Egypt).

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