With the announcement of the Nobel Prize for Literature 2012 a couple of days ago, Mo Yan became the first Chinese writer to win the coveted prize. Beating better known writers like Haruki Murakami, Alice Munro and Philip Roth to the prize, Mo Yan has shot to fame overnight.
However, readers in India eager to acquaint themselves with his writings will have to wait for a while. The author’s works include Red Sorgum , The Garlic Ballads , Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out and Change among others. Even though bookshops across the Capital reported enquiries about these books over the weekend, they are so far not available in the Indian market. Retailing website Flipkart stocks the imported editions but they cost upward of Rs.975.
“If the rights are with a publisher not in India, very few booksellers and distributors take the trouble of importing the books. The Nobel by itself doesn’t ensure saleability,” informs Ajit Vikram Singh, proprietor of Fact and Fiction book store here. “We sold a copy of Red Sorgum about five years ago,” he adds.
Priyanka Malhotra, Director of Full Circle chain of book shops, remembers having a copy of The Garlic Ballads in stock a few years ago. “The Nobel announcement coupled with his scant availability is bound to generate a lot of curiosity among readers. So a lot of booksellers and distributors will start importing,” she says. Although the Nobel does serve to pique interest, the book might not go on to become a phenomenon once the copies arrive. “The Nobel definitely brings an initial wave of excitement but that does not always carry through. From a bookseller’s perspective, what happens to Mo Yan will also depend on word of mouth, after the initial wave has died,” Ms. Malhotra adds.
In her opinion, the Booker Prize winners tend to be more widely read. This could be because they tend to be better known than their Nobel winning counterparts. But there is no way of predicting what happens to a Nobel winner. While Mario Vargas Llosa, the 2010 Nobel laureate, enjoys tremendous visibility in Delhi bookstores, a search for the books of Tomas Trantromer, the 2011 winner, is likely to end in disappointment. “The Nobel has been going either to obscure authors or authors who were popular once,” says Ajit, echoing what is likely to be the complaint of Murakami lovers as well.