“Such a prize will, in a way, give us a kind of optimism”
Telephone interview with Olga Tokarczuk after the announcement of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature on 10 October 2019. The interviewer is Adam Smith, Chief Scientific Officer of Nobel Media.
Olga Tokarczuk speaks of the importance of the award of the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature as a symbol of hope for those worried about the ‘Crisis in democracy’ she sees facing central Europe. She received the news from the Swedish Academy while driving on a book tour in Germany for the launch the German version of ‘The Books of Jacob’. Shortly afterwards, she kindly took time for this brief conversation, amidst a bombardment of calls and texts as she sat by the side of the road.
Olga Tokarczuk: Hello, Olga Tokarczuk speaking.
Adam Smith: Oh hello, my name is Adam Smith. I’m speaking from Nobelprize.org, the website of the Nobel Prize. Many congratulations on the award of the Nobel Prize.
OT: Thank you so much. I am in the car still and I cannot, you know, really drive, and I have to be in the evening in Bielefeld.
AS: So, how did you hear the news?
OT: Funny situation because I am, as I told you, on the road. We are driving in Germany, so they called me from Nobel Academy just 15 minutes before and … and then I was so surprised, and I’m still very surprised. And I cannot find out, you know … the right words, how to express, and … which is very new for me, that there are thousands of telephones calls and texts. So I would like to reach a stable place somewhere, a hotel or whatever, and, yeah, just to take my time to … for reaction.
AS: Of course, no, being caught on the side of the road is hardly the most convenient thing.
OT: Yeah, yeah.
AS: In the citation, the Swedish Academy talk about ‘the crossing of boundaries as a form of life’, and that seems to apply particularly to you at this precise moment.
OT: Yeah, very literally, because I’m on the way, yeah.
AS: You sound very happy though.
OT: Yeah, I’m very happy. Of course I’m very happy, and I am proud that I am with Peter Handke, and that we, both of us, we are from central Europe. It’s really very meaningful for me, this Nobel Prize is going to central Europe. I’m really, really very proud.
AS: Can I just ask you, what is it that you think that makes the writing of central Europe different to, for instance, the west of Europe?
OT: Oh, this is a long subject. But I think just right now we have a problem in central Europe with democracy. We are trying to find out our own way to … how to manage with those problems. And I think that such a prize, literary prize, in a way will give us a kind of optimism that we have something to say to the world, and that we are still active, and we still have an ability to express ourselves, and we have something profound to tell to the world. So I hope so, so it’s really very special for me. And I’m also very proud that we, with Peter Handke, that I am, as the winner from 2018, I am the first writer awarded by this new Nobel Prize academy after this crisis. So it’s also very meaningful for me. Thank you so much.
AS: It’s a pleasure. We look forward to seeing you in Stockholm in December. Thank you very much indeed.
OT: Thank you, bye bye.
AS: Bye bye.
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