The Swedish Academy—which, since 1901, has been making people feel stupid once a year by lavishing acclaim on international writers they’ve never heard of—has bestowed its 2012 Nobel Prize in literature to Chinese novelist and short story writer Mo Yan. His actual name is Guan Moye; “Mo Yan” is a pseudonym meaning, “Don’t Speak.” Anyone wondering why that’s a good pen name for a Chinese writer should keep in mind that the Chinese government had a hissy fit and disowned the 2000 prize given to Gao Xingjian, the only previous Chinese Nobel laureate in literature, because his work is considered directly critical of the country’s leaders. Mo’s win seems to be going over a bit better in his native land, however, and Peter Englund, the permanent secretary of the academy, has confirmed that the author is expected to attend the awards ceremony on December 10.
In the West, Mo is probably best known for his early novel Red Sorghum, which got a boost when it served as the basis for the movie debut of director Zhang Yimou and his frequent star, Gong Li. (In 2000, Zhang made another film adapted from Mo’s writing, Happy Times.) There was widespread expectation among hardcore Nobel-watchers that the academy would give the prize this year to a non-European writer, to counter charges that the recent string of winners had become too Eurocentric. Still, the announcement probably comes as a disappointment to fans of the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami and Philip Roth and Bob Dylan, who were leading in the betting pools. Roth has been considered a hot contender going back to at least 1993, when Toni Morrison became the most recent American laureate, but it’s starting to look as if he may have missed his window. Meanwhile, the oddsmakers who were favoring Dylan may possibly have been smoking something funny.