Both the Nobel laureates for Literature whose names were announced are from Europe. While Polish writer Olga Tokarczuk has been awarded the prize for 2018 – it was not announced at the right time following allegations of sexual misconduct and assault against the husband of a member of the Swedish Academy – Austrian writer Peter Handke, who has written more than 80 books, is the winner of the prize for 2019.

While many of their works have been translated into English – Tokarczuk won the Man Booker International Prize with her novel Flights, translated by Jennifer Croft, in 2018 and was shortlisted for the same prize in 2019 with her novel Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead, translated by Antonia Lloyd-Jones – they are likely to find a much wider readership now that they have won the Nobel Prize.

Here is a glimpse of their writing, in the form of the opening lines of two of Tokarczuk’s works, and three of Handke’s, in English translation.

Drive Your Plow Over The Bones Of The Dead

Once meek, and in a perilous path,
The just man kept his course long
The vale of death.

I am already at an age and additionally in a state where I must always wash my feet thoroughly before bed, in the event of having to be removed by an ambulance in the Night.

Had I examined the Ephemerides that evening to see what was happening in the sky, I wouldn’t have gone to bed at all. Meanwhile, I had fallen very fast asleep; I had helped myself with an infusion of hops, and I also took two valerian pills. So when I was woken in the middle of the Night by hammering on the door – violent, immoderate and thus ill-omened – I was unable to come round. I sprang up and stood by the bed, unsteadily, because my sleepy, shaky body couldn’t make the leap from the innocence of sleep into wakefulness. I felt weak and began to reel, as if about to lose consciousness...

Translated from the Polish by Antonia Lloyd-Jones



I’m a few years old. I’m sitting on the window sill, surrounded by strewn toys and toppled-over block towers and dolls with bulging eyes. It’s dark in the house, and the air in the room slowly cools, dims. There’s no one else here; they’ve left, they’re gone, though you can still hear their voices dying down, that shuffling, the echoes of their footsteps, some distant laughter. Out the window the courtyard is empty. Darkness spreads softly from the sky, settling on everything like black dew.

The worst part is the stillness, visible, dense – a chilly dusk and the sodium-vapour lamps’ frail light already mired in darkness just a few feet from its source.

Nothing happens – the march of darkness halts at the door to the house, and all the clamour of fading falls silent, makes a thick skin like on hot milk cooling. The contours of the buildings against the backdrop of the sky stretch out into infinity, slowly losing their sharp angles, corners, edges. The dimming light takes the air with it – there’s nothing left to breathe. Now the dark soaks into my skin. Sounds have curled up inside themselves, withdrawn their snail’s eyes; the orchestra of the world has departed, vanishing into the park.

Translated from the Polish by Jennifer Croft

To Olga Tokarczuk

“for a narrative imagination that with encyclopaedic passion represents the crossing of boundaries as a form of life”

Olga Tokarczuk
Olga Tokarczuk | Image credit: Michele Tantussi

Don Juan

Don Juan had always been looking for someone to listen to him. Then one fine day he found me. He told me his story, but in the third person rather than in the first. At least that is how I recall it now.

At the time in question, I was cooking only for myself, for the time being, in my country inn near the ruins of Port-Royal-des-Champs, which in the seventeenth century was France’s most famous cloister, as well as its most infamous. There were a couple of guest rooms I was using just then as part of my provate quarters. I spent the entire winter and the early spring living in this fashion, preparing meals for myself and taking care of the house and grounds, but mainly reading, and now and then looking out one little old window or another in my inn, formerly a gatekeeper’s lodge belonging to Port-Royal-in-the-Fields.

Translated from the German by Krishna Winston.

The Moravian Night: A Story

Every country has its Samarkand and its Numancia. That night, both places were here with us on the Morava. Numancia, located in the Iberian highlands, had at one time been the last refuge from and bulwark against the Roman Empire, while Samarkand, whatever it may have represented in history, became and remains legendary, and will still be legendary when history is no more. On the Morava, in place of a fortress we had a boat, to all appearances a rather small one, which styled itself “hotel” but for quite a while now had primarily served the writer, now the former writer, as a dwelling. The HOTEL sign merely provided cover: almost anyone who inquired about a room for the night, a cabin, would be told “No vacancy” and sent packing. Such inquiries, however, hardly ever occurred, and not only because the boat always anchored in places along the river to which no proper roads led. On the rare occasions when someone did find his way there, it was because of the “hotel” sign beckoning at a great distance through the darkness, across the fields bordering the river: MORAVIAN NIGHT.

Translated from the German by Krishna Winston.

On A Dark Night I Left My Silent House: A Novel

At the time when this story takes place, Taxham was almost forgotten. Most residents of nearby Salzburg couldn’t have told you where it was located. To many of them, even the name sounded foreign. Taxham? Birmingham? Nottingham? And in fact the first football club after the war was called “Taxham Forest”, until it climbed out of the lowest category and received a new name, then, over the years, worked its way up in the standings and even became “FC Salzburg” (by now it may have backslid to an earlier original name). Although in the centre of two prople often saw buses with TAXHAM on their destination sign drive by, neither more full nor more empty than the rest of the buses, hardly a single townsperson had ever sat in one of them.

Unlike the old villages in Salzburg’s orbit, Taxham, founded after the war, never became a tourist attraction. There was no cozy inn, nothing to see – not even anything off-putting. Despite having Klessheim Castle, the gambling casion, and the official reception mansion just beyond the meadows, Taxham – neither a section of town, nor a suburb, nor farmland – had been spared all visitors, from nearby or from any distant parts whatsoever – in contrast to all the other villages in the region.

Translated from the German by Krishna Winston.

To Peter Handke
“for an influential work that with linguistic ingenuity has explored the periphery and the specificity of human experience”

Peter Handke
Peter Handke | Image credit: Dominic Ebenbichler / Reuters