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Coetzee utters barely a whisper

Stockholm, Dec. 10 (Reuters): South African novelist J.M. Coetzee collected his Nobel literature prize today along with a scientist who worked on Stalin’s atomic bomb and eight other laureates in physics, economics, medicine and chemistry.

Sweden expects laureates to sing for their supper — a cheque for $1.3 million and a banquet for 1,300 hosted by the king and queen. But media-shy Coetzee, taciturn even by Nordic standards, uttered barely a whisper in public outside formal readings.

“He was very distant,” said a tailor at Dahlquist outfitters who kitted out eight of the winners with white tie and tails.

Fans of the white South African author, twice winner of the Booker Prize and hailed by Nobel peace laureate Nelson Mandela as an “intellectual hero” for tackling colonialism and apartheid in such novels as Disgrace and Age of Iron, were undeterred.

“Ten seconds a book for J.M. Coetzee” was one paper’s view of a signing session at a bookstore where he was the biggest draw since Monica Lewinsky.

The softly-spoken academic, who writes in English despite his Afrikaans and Dutch parentage and divides his time between Australia and the University of Chicago, posed stiffly for fans’ pictures but did not talk to the news media.

Local papers concentrated on what Swedish princesses Victoria, 26, and Madeleine, 21, would wear to the ball — one paper’s headline was “Victoria’s Secret” — and ran illustrated tips on how Swedes watching the Nobels on TV could hold a banquet “on the sofa”. A proud academic tradition was also in the papers: professional jealousy.

A US doctor convinced he should have got to share the medicine prize with American Paul Lauterbur and Briton Peter Mansfield took out a double-page Swedish newspaper advert saying they had merely made technological advances on his inventions.

All prizes except economics — awarded since 1969 — were set up in 1901 by Swedish industrialist Alfred Nobel.

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