Were we really to expect the people who gave their name, via Thirty Years War, to the most amazingly disgusting torture method ever to actually believe in global fellowship and (inter)cultural justice less than 400 years hence, just because the dynamite guy said so? Sweden accounts for 0.137% of the world’s population. With this week’s awarding of the 2011 prize to Tomas Transtromer—the poet; no, not this one—Swedes are now 8 of the 107 all-time Nobel Laureates in Literature, or 7.48%.**
Are there any honest people in Scandinavia? Yes! The Nobel Peace Prize—the only one of the lot that’s picked by the Norwegian Parliament instead of the Swedish Academy (plucky Norway finally divorced semi-abusive Sweden in 1905, nine years after Nobel’s death)—has been awarded to 101 people and 20 organizations. Two Norwegians won back-to-back in 1921 and 1922. The first choice was an example less of jingoist national feeling than an even narrower breed of chauvinism; Christian Lange was named “for his work as first secretary of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.” But in post-‘22 modern times, the Norwegians have been models of global-citizen restraint, refusing to honor another one of their countrymen, despite their being far bigger players in the peace industry than Swedes in the book trade. If they acted like their former overlords, they surely would have given the Prize to Trygve Lie for being the first U.N. secretary-general, and Gro Harlem Brundtland for running the WHO and various other good works, and the city of Oslo for hosting the eponymous Accords, and the Norway-led Sri Lankan Monitoring Mission for appeasing the Tamil Tigers, etc., etc…
**The numbers are even more scandalous if you consider how many non-Swedes could/would realistically read Great Swedish Books, or to put it another way, the commonsensical importance of the swedophone canon to literature as such. Obviously, all the major European tongues—French, German, English, Spanish—are also super-overrepresented on an absolute proportion basis, but at least those are the official/predominant languages of more than one country (German: ~5; French ~29), and have as many, or many times as many, second-, third-, and tenth-language readers as native speakers.