Israeli Writer Amos Oz Hot Favorite for Nobel in Literature

Oz has already won Goethe Prize, considered literary world's second-most important prize, after Nobel.

Israeli writer Amos Oz is the hot favorite to win this year's Nobel Prize for Literature - which will be announced Thursday at 1 P.M. in Stockholm - according to bookmakers. Like every year, betting is heavy. Other front-runners include the Algerian writer Assia Djeba, the Syrian poet Adonis, the Japanese writer Haruki Murakami and the Albanian novelist Ismail Kadare.

The winner will receive a prize of 10 million Swedish kronor (about NIS 5.3 million). If Oz does receive the award, he will become the second Israeli to win in 2009. On Wednesday, Israeli scientist Ada Yonath was awarded the Nobel prize for chemistry for her work on ribosomes.

Oz's works have been translated into 36 languages and he has won several prestigious prizes: He is an Israel Prize laureate for Literature, in 2005 he won the Goethe Prize, considered the literary world's second-most important prize, after the Nobel, and in 2007 he was made a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, 250 of whose members are Nobel laureates. Last November Oz became the first Israeli to be awarded the Heinrich Heine Prize in literature, one of Germany's most important prizes. For the past few years his name has been mentioned as a front-runner for the Nobel Prize.

The list this year also includes a number of American writers (Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Roth and Thomas Pynchon) as well as two other Israeli writers - A.B. Yehoshua and Shlomo Kalo.

The issue of American writers and the Nobel Prize made headlines last year when the secretary of the Swedish Academy, Prof. Horace Engdahl, expressed the old, condescending European attitude toward American literature, arguing that it cannot compete with European literature because it is "too insular and ignorant" and does not "participate in the big dialogue of literature." His statements angered many American writers, and this year he has stepped down as secretary, although he is still a member and has a vote.

Indeed, no American writer has won the Nobel Prize for 15 years. The last American to garner the prize was Tony Morrison, in 1993. Literary pundits say that the storm raised by Engdahl's remarks could work in two directions: His attitude might genuinely reflect the attitude of the prize committee toward American writers, and raise the chances of a writer like Oz to take the prize. Alternatively the academy might feel a need to compensate the Americans for the insult and in the Obama age, turn over a new literary leaf and give the prize to Roth or Pynchon.

The Nobel Prize in Literature is awarded for a writer's entire corpus and not for a specific work. The selection committee receives some 350 nominations, which it pares down to a short list of 20, on which the 18 committee members vote.

The list is secret, which gives punters a good reason to try their luck. Last year, for example, Le Clezio's win shocked gamblers, who had put much of the money on Oz or better known writers.