The 2015 winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature is a Belarusian investigative journalist and non-fiction prose writer who writes in Russian. Lauded "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time". First published in 1997 in Russian, Voices from Chernobyl was an undertaking of over 10 years when she was in her 30s. She painstakingly interviewed more than 500 eyewitnesses, including firefighters, liquidators (members of the cleanup team), politicians, physicians, physicists and ordinary citizens, drawing out the personal tragedies that happened because of this disaster.
Winner in 2008, Le Clézio was described as an "author of new departures, poetic adventure and sensual ecstasy, explorer of a humanity beyond and below the reigning civilization". Despite having written over 40 books, he's still almost unknown to the English world. Start with Désert, n novel featuring two interwoven stories of different timelines and places. Yet they are still bound by the same themes of humanity, displacement, exile, refugee crossing, ethnic cleansing.
Doris Lessing is a woman of many awards and her Nobel Prize for Literature in 2007 was awarded for "that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny". She was always enthralled by ideas so a plot-less, character-less novel seems like her style. In her deft hands, the novel focuses on the "clefts" - females who lived by the sea and reproduced asexually - and their evolution.
Elfriede Jelinek was praised "for her musical flow of voices and counter-voices in novels and plays that with extraordinary linguistic zeal reveal the absurdity of society's clichés and their subjugating power" when she won the award in 2004. Sports Play explores contemporary society’s obsession with fitness and body culture bringing into sharp focus our need to belong to a group, a team or a nation.
The 1995 winner was lauded "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past". Reading The Midnight Verdict is enough to see why his poems can seem transcendental.
Winner in 1994, Kenzaburō Ōe was someone "who with poetic force creates an imagined world, where life and myth condense to form a disconcerting picture of the human predicament today". The Changeling is about one man's discovery of the shared life he had with his recently deceased friend through a series of recorded tapes. The book deals with the past and the present, both imagined and real and remains one of the most powerful works in modern Japanese literature.
Toni Morrison, winner of the prize in 1993, "[whose] novels characterized by visionary force and poetic import, gives life to an essential aspect of American reality". Her books were sometimes banned by various schools, that's why Burn This Book is an important piece of literature from her, as she discusses the philosophy and concept of censorship.
South African writer Nadine Gordimer, winner of the 1991 prize, was described as someone "who through her magnificent epic writing has - in the words of Alfred Nobel - been of very great benefit to humanity". Her works often dealt with moral and racial issues, particularly apartheid in South Africa. The Pickup is one that discusses displacement, alienation, and immigration; class and economic power. Not an easy read by any means, but it will be extremely rewarding.
Awarded the prize in 1976 "for the human understanding and subtle analysis of contemporary culture that are combined in his work", Saul Bellow was also described as "the greatest American author ever" by Martin Amis. Written in 1947, The Victim is a book that so accurately captures the insecurities of the modern man. Protagonist Leventhal is a man uncertain of himself, never free from the nagging suspicion that the other guy may be right. So when he meets a down-at-heel stranger in the park one day and finds himself being accused of ruining the man's life, he half believes it.
And Quiet Flows the Don is an epic novel spanning four volumes, depicting the lives and struggles of Don Cossacks during the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and Russian Civil War. And "for the artistic power and integrity with which, in his epic of the Don, he has given expression to a historic phase in the life of the Russian people." Awarded the prize in 1965, Mikhail Sholokhov was truly a force in the Russian literary scene.
Awarded in 1962 for "his realistic and imaginative writings, combining as they do sympathetic humour and keen social perception", John Steinbeck truly showed his skill and keen observations with The Grapes of Wrath. Set in the Great Depression, he writes of how poor sharecroppers have to move across the lands in search for better days.
Ernest Hemingway was a badass, but most importantly, he was awarded the prize in 1954 "for his mastery of the art of narrative, most recently demonstrated in The Old Man and the Sea, and for the influence that he has exerted on contemporary style." These 3 short stories and poems will give you a glimpse into his simple yet rich writing style.
Andre Gide won in 1947 "for his comprehensive and artistically significant writings, in which human problems and conditions have been presented with a fearless love of truth and keen psychological insight". The Vatican Cellars is a scandalous, funny and highly original novel centrering around a group of ingenious fraudsters ('The Millipede') who convince their wealthy victims that the pontiff has been imprisoned in the Vatican cellars, and a false Pope has been enthroned in his place.
This satirical piece truly is a piece of fine work.
The 1946 winner won "for his inspired writings which, while growing in boldness and penetration, exemplify the classical humanitarian ideals and high qualities of style". Siddhartha deals with the spiritual journey of self-discovery of a man named Siddhartha during the time of the Gautama Buddha. The book has many complex, deep themes and dissecting the text proves to be a very enriching feat.
The Emperor Jones was Eugene O'Neill's first major hit in theatre. The play tells the tale of Brutus Jones, a respected man who as a result of a stabbing, goes to prison, escapes, and then goes about setting himself up as emperor. He was awarded the prize in 1936 "for the power, honesty and deep-felt emotions of his dramatic works, which embody an original concept of tragedy".
The 1934 winner was praised "for his bold and ingenious revival of dramatic and scenic art". This absurdist metatheatrical play is about the relationship between authors, their characters, and theatre practitioners and at that time when performed, was a clamorous failure. However, the play is still being reproduced in theatres all over the world.
John Galsworthy won the prize in 1932 mainly for " his distinguished art of narration which takes its highest form" in this very novel. Presented as a series of three novels, the series chronicle the vicissitudes of the leading members of a large commercial upper class English family, similar to Galsworthy's.
The 1930 recipient was awarded "for his vigorous and graphic art of description and his ability to create, with wit and humour, new types of characters". Arrowsmith won the Putlizer Prize in 1926 but he refused it. The book contains considerable social commentary on the state and prospects of medicine in the United States in the 1920s.
Henri Bergson was awarded in 1927, for his philosophical ideas, "his rich and vitalizing ideas and the brilliant skill with which they have been presented". In this essay, Bergson develops a theory not of laughter itself but of how laughter can be provoked. A very fascinating, in-depth read on what seems to be a banal subject matter.