When I was five, I wanted to be an inventor. I took a plank and then I wrote on it: “My fine plank, this will be the beginning of a great invention.” Then I nailed in some nails and tied threads around the nails, and it looked like a machine, but I just: “How do you get it to move?” So, I did not become an inventor. When I was 15, I wanted to be a guitarist. I liked Jimi Hendrix and so I thought it cannot be that difficult? So, I pictured myself standing there playing and so on, but how do you get from where I was now, where I knew nothing, to there? Then I said to Dad, who is sitting over there: “Can I go to guitar lessons?” “Yes, you can.” And then after a few times the teacher said: “But hey, how many hours a day do you actually practice? You know nothing.” “No, but what do you mean hours? I only practice for fifteen minutes before I come here.”
Then Dad said, “You will not be a Jimi Hendrix, because those who become guitarists they cannot stay away from the guitar. They just sit there and play all the time. But I see you’re not really interested in this. All you do is sit down and write everything. You write down all the conversations we have in the family. You write letters to a lot of people.” (I probably had 50 pen pals then all over Sweden.) “You write different stories, diaries and so on, so that’s probably what you should do.” And that’s how it went. So, I want to thank my dad for that, and I also want to thank him for showing me the world. He gave me an interest in politics, music, and culture beyond Europe, took me to so many places and taught me that it is important to be forward in life and practical and not complain if you want to get anything done.
The international issues are something that unites most of the ones who have received this award before me, and it makes me very proud to be part of that group. Because sometimes you feel a little lonely when dealing with international issues. Today in Sweden, it feels a bit like other countries are either awful or completely uninteresting. I think the most meaningless question, and perhaps very typical of our time, that one always gets is: “What will happen now?” You can never know what’s going to happen. No one can know what will happen.
At the beginning of the twentieth century, few could have imagined that the revolution would come in the undeveloped Russia instead of the industrialized Germany where the working class was organized. Who could have guessed it? Who would have thought that it was Venezuela, home to the philistines of Latin America, the country that became known for a phrase: Es barato, dame dos! – It’s cheap, give me two! when they flew to the United States to shop, an oil country, that it was that country that would start the left-wing wave that then spread across the continent and has now fought itself back after a couple of years of coup d’états and lawfare.
Who would have thought that history would repeat itself, but as a negation? Who would have thought that the futurists would reappear on the stage 60 years later as punkers under the slogan “No future”? At the beginning of the last century, the Social Democrats discussed whether revolution or reformism was the best way. Who could then believe that in the countries where socialism was introduced by revolution it would be abolished by counter-revolution and that in the countries where it was introduced by reforms it would be abolished by counter-reforms? And who would have thought that it was not capitalism that would lead to communism but, on the contrary, it was communism that laid the foundation for capitalism in countries like China, by meeting the need for an educated population, infrastructure, and electricity? And who would have thought that it was precisely when socialism was declared dead in Europe that it was reborn in Latin America?
That is why you cannot choose the right side. There is no right side of history and that is why if you are a dialectician, you are always optimistic. Because then you know that all situations carry the seed of their own opposite. That all oppression breeds resistance. I am disappointed every year when the Nobel Prize is awarded, and it does not go to the Albanian author Ismail Kadare. Because he is my absolute favourite author living today. In his book The Great Winter, he depicts an apartment building during the break with the Soviet Union. Albania broke with the Soviet Union, you who are sitting here probably know that. Partisans live in this apartment building, secretaries, people whom communism has lifted from poverty. But on the bottom floor lives an old landowner’s wife.
She who once ruled over huge estates and hundreds of people is now declassed. So, she knits sweaters for her former servants, and she waits anxiously at the radio for every tremble in Hoxha’s regime. From her small room is constantly heard, writes Kadare, words in French, words in Italian, lamenting over the prices, over the volunteer work, over the neighbourhood councils, contemptuous jokes about the adjective comrade – especially when used to a woman, scornful statements and above all fear. This novel, I think it is the best dialectical novel because it shows that by sucking out the poor, this landowner’s wife sowed the seed to her own fall in social status. But in her desire for revenge also lies the seed for the fall of communism, where this class would regain what they had lost.
No one can know what it will be like because man creates history. This also applies to a writer. When I started writing, I thought that the most controversial thing one could say was “Crush capitalism”. “Now I say it. Crush capitalism!” No one cares! It’s like saying “Bingo tickets, bingo tickets!” Nobody hears me at all. Who could have guessed then that the most controversial thing would be to say that “yes, I think there are men and women, but I do not think it is related to male and female”? Who would have thought that this classic foundational principle of feminism would suddenly become explosive? Who could have imagined that you would have the church, RFSL and Göteborgs-Posten against you?
It is like a bourgeois view of life that is spreading. Everything should be so appropriate now; you should not question anything because everything should be pleasant and good. Though one uses other words that sound contemporary, inclusion and so on. But really, it is this typical bourgeois idea that one should not butt in and that which is private is private and no one else should in any way have anything to do with it. We pretend to talk about feelings and the self in some way, but it is fake feelings that people think they have, but that they do not have.
I can therefore not describe how incredibly grateful I am to you Lasse, for being there and helping writers like me to work and live. Because I have written my last two books, the one about Greece and the one about gender, partly at Hotell Havanna. So, I really want to thank you for giving me peace of mind. I am single with two children, and I have been allowed to come here, I have been able to sit down and write all day and then eat and bathe. The entire history chapter about Greece was written here, where I could sit down and just concentrate and write. Without you, I probably would not have been able to write these last two books.
I would also like to thank you for the award and for the old award I received ten years ago. Then it was a bit like the Nobel Prize to Obama, I had like not done anything yet. But now I have written some books and we’ll see, there may be a few more. And now I will give you an advice if you meet an author, never ask this: “Are you working on something new?” We hate it! That’s the worst thing there is. If we are writing something new, we absolutely do not want to tell people. If you go around and tell everyone, what happens then? Then they say after five years: “I heard you were writing about that.” Then nothing came of it. It’s very embarrassing, so never ask that. Finally, I would like to thank all the people who, despite the bourgeois’ attempts to make us uneducated, continue to read books.