The New York Review of Books is grumpy. Or at least a tad cynical. Tim Parks comments on the Swedes picked a Swede, calling the selection of Tomas Tranströmer for the prestigious lit prize “a healthy decision in every way. Above all for the Nobel jury.” The lifetime judges are “condemned for life to making, year in year out a burdensome and near impossible decision to which the world increasingly and inexplicably ascribes a crazy importance.” Picking someone they don’t have to read in translation is an inevitable temptation, the bottle of ibuprofen always on one’s desk.
What a relief then from time to time to say, the hell with it and give it to a Swede, in this case the octogenarian acknowledged as his nation’s finest living poet and a man whose whole oeuvre, as Peter Englund charmingly remarks, could fit into a single slim paperback. A winner, in short, whom the whole jury can read in the original pure Swedish in just a few hours. Perhaps they needed a sabbatical. Not to mention the detail, not irrelevant in these times of crisis, that the $1.5-million-dollar prize will stay in Sweden.
But most healthy of all, a decision like this, which we all understand would never have been taken by say, an American jury, or a Nigerian jury, or perhaps above all a Norwegian jury, reminds us of the essential silliness of the prize and our own foolishness at taking it seriously. …
In 1998, the TLS called Tranströmer’s poetry “the work of a major, even a great, modern poet,” raving about the “icy Nordic romanticism of bleak forests, remote villages, and shorelines” where “half-smothered, the gods of summer / fumble in sea-mist.”
Controversy erupted in 2007 when Alan Brownjohn considered Robin Robertson‘s “versions” of the Swedish poet, and all hell broke lose. The controversy is here. Versions, adaptations, translations – what’s the difference?
Not a problem for this year’s Nobel judges in Stockholm:
Of course, the Swedish Nobel committee did not need to translate Tranströmer to consider him for this year’s laureateship. They chose him because “through his condensed, translucent images, he gives us fresh access to reality.”