The German writer Heinrich Böll (1917-1985), Nobel Prize for Literature in 1972, was about to obtain it that year ex aequo together with Günter Grass (1927-2015), according to the declassified minutes revealed yesterday by the Swedish Academy -after fifty years of secrecy–, to which La Vanguardia has had access. A large part of the jury chose to divide the prize between Böll and Grass, who finally had to wait 27 more years, until 1999, to obtain it.
Of the 99 initial candidates for the award that year, finalists remained, in addition to the two Germans, the Italian Eugenio Montale and the Australian Patrick White. From the reading of the minutes, however, it can be deduced that Böll's main competitor was his compatriot Günter Grass, ten years younger, and that the proposal to share the prize was based on the fact that both "have exerted a renovating effect on the German Literature”.
In fact, when Böll found out that he had been awarded the Nobel Prize, he asked: “Why only me and not Grass too?”, which indicates that Böll – who, as president of the International Pen Club, was in those days coincidentally in Stockholm – may have had some inside information on how the debates had gone.
The Swedish Academy juries also record, as a determining fact, that Germany had been forgotten in their deliberations for a long time. Thus, the last award-winning German author had been Thomas Mann in 1929, although the German language had had two winners later, the Swiss Hermann Hesse, in 1946, and the Swedish Nelly Sachs, in 1966. The Second World War had had this marginalizing effect on Germany in the Nobel deliberations, something the academics intended to correct. Another area that had not been favored either was Australia, hence Patrick White was one of the finalists.
According to the documents, Lars Gyllensten points out that "politically Grass is a more radical left-wing author than Böll" but that both deal in their works with the German question, "which has to do with Nazism and society's ability to settle accounts with the past. He argues that both authors are equally suitable for the award, although he personally gives Böll an advantage in terms of literary maturity.
The then permanent secretary of the Academy, Karl Ragnar Gierow –the highest-ranking position within the jury–, takes the floor to defend that dividing the prize between Böll and Grass would clearly be an ideal decision, although he detects that several of his colleagues They are not in favor of distinguishing two names "because it is possible that the public imagines that neither of the two authors has been considered suitable enough to obtain the full award." In this case, he continues, the winner should be Böll, "who has just published his most representative work, Group Portrait with Lady, a comprehensive description of the changes in German life over a long period spanning two lost world wars." , a document that is difficult to surpass”. From what can be read in the proceedings, it was this novel –published just a few months ago and which narrates the life of a woman from the rise of National Socialism to the 1970s– which decided the jury to award Böll instead of dividing the prize. Nobel between him and Grass.
Several juries also opined that Böll represents "a moral revival from the ruins of the Third Reich", which "is in full accordance with the conditions of Alfred Nobel's will, which speaks of favoring the best work 'in an ideal sense'".
The deliberations were not exempt from doubts, which had to do above all with some of his early works. Anders Österling praises Where were you, Adam? –“significant document of its time as a protest against the barbarism of its time”– and Y did not say a word –“moving for its excellent description of a resigned humanity”– while Billiards at half past nine – which narrates the story of three different generations of the same family – believes that "it exhibits an ambitious work in terms of style and construction of the plot but nevertheless does not manage to achieve its goal", and also describes its stories as "a forced production".
Despite his reservations, Österling concludes that "his talent is the greatest promise that German literature has at the moment."