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Little-known French writer wins Nobel Prize in literature

11/10/20143 minute read

French writer Patrick Modiano won the Nobel Prize in literature Thursday — a prize that’s been met with accusations of Eurocentrism in the past.

French writer Patrick Modiano is the latest Nobel laureate after he was awarded the prize for literature Thursday. But the recognition of yet another European writer raises a question that has dogged the Nobel Prize for years — is it too Eurocentric?

Swedish writer Peter Englund announced the prize and cited Modiano’s ability to write compellingly about memory and loss as reasons he was awarded the prize.

Modiano has written children’s books and screenplays, but he is best known for his more than 20 novels, many of which focus on those two themes.

Despite being a relative unknown outside of France, he’s something of a household name in the country, first attracting attention in the 1970s for having two critically acclaimed novels published by the time he was 24.

Modiano is the 11th French winner of the prize, and the Nobel Foundation compared him to legendary French writer Marcel Proust — which is somewhat ironic, considering Proust himself wasn’t awarded the prize.

In fact, there have been a number of big-name writers throughout the decades who haven’t been recognized by the Nobel Foundation, which has led to criticism of the award.

One of the primary objections is that it is Eurocentric — unfairly favoring writers from the West — which won’t be helped by this year’s prize, as the favorites Modiano beat out for the prize were Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami and Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

The record of the literary prizewinners is a little damning in that respect too, with eight of the winners over the last 10 years being Western writers.
But criticism of the Nobel Prize is hardly limited to the literature prize — or, for that matter, to allegations of Eurocentrism.

JOE HANSON VIA PBS: “Since their inception, only 15 women have won Nobel prizes in the sciences. … Women are underrepresented among Nobel laureates in the sciences, plain and simple.”

There are numerous examples of women being passed over for Nobel prizes. Vox cites the case of Jocelyn Bell Burnell, who discovered the pulsar but was passed over for the prize in favor of her adviser.

And then there’s the Nobel Peace Prize — probably the most fraught when it comes to criticism.

One notable example is President Barack Obama — the same president who recently launched military intervention in Syria and Iraq — winning the peace prize back in 2009.

And that’s at least partly why the peace prize tends to attract so much more attention than any of the sciences or literature honors, all of which are announced in the same week, with the peace prize awarded on its own in December.

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