Polish author Olga Tokarczuk won the 2018 award, and Austrian-born Peter Handke the 2019 honor. Artwork by Niklas Elmehed/Nobel Media
Polish author Olga Tokarczuk won the 2018 award, and Austrian-born Peter Handke the 2019 honor. Artwork by Niklas Elmehed/Nobel Media

In an extremely rare move Thursday, Nobel Prizes in Literature were awarded for both 2019 and 2018, to two authors from Austria and Poland.

The Swedish Academy, which recognizes Nobel laureates in literature, did not give an award last year following a sex assault scandal that led to mass resignations and doubts about the legitimacy of the 18-member body. Jean-Claude Arnault, a French photographer who’d been closely associated with the academy, was ultimately convicted of rape and sent to prison.

Belatedly, the 2018 prize was awarded Thursday to Polish author Olga Tokarczuk for her historical 2014 novel Ksiegi Jakubowe, which the Swedish Academy called the “magnum opus” of her career. It tells the story of 18th century sect leader Jacob Frank, who believes he’s the new Messiah and is determined to unite all the faiths, on the wrong side of Orthodoxy.

“It is fascinating how Takarczuk lets us enter the minds of several person in this 1,000 pages long chronicle to give us a portrait of the main characters, while he himself is only described from the outside,” the academy said in a statement.

The novel depicts realistic historical settings based on several years of research in archives and libraries.

“She constructs her novels in a tension between cultural opposites; nature versus culture, reason versus madness, male versus female, home versus alienation.”

The prize for 2019 was awarded to Polish writer Peter Handke, who the academy said established himself as one of the most influential writers of the second half of the 20th century, writing a series of novels, essays, notebooks, dramatic works and screenplays.

The academy said Handke’s works are filled with a strong desire to discover and make those discoveries come to life through literary expressions.

Handke believes “to be receptive is everything,” the Swedish Academy added, and explains how even the tiniest detail can be woven into everyday life with “explosive significance.”

Nobel laureates were honoured for medicine or physiology on Monday, physics on Tuesday and chemistry on Wednesday. The Nobel Peace Prize will be awarded Friday, and the honour for economic sciences Monday.

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