The winner of the prestigious 10 million Swedish crown ($1.3 million) prize will be announced on Thursday. Book critics are betting on Adonis for the top prize.

 

So intense is the focus on the prize that the choice is often linked to the power of politics of the day, prompting some pundits to say an Arab may win this year to alleviate humiliation and anger caused by the United States-led invasion of Iraq.

   

"This prize should always be seen in a political context," said Javier Rodriguez Marcos of the Spanish newspaper El Pais's literary supplement Babelia. "One factor could be countries that have been in the news recently, from Arab cultures."

 

Life and culture

   

Duraid Albaik, news editor for the daily Gulf News in Dubai, noted that the prize had gone to the Arab world only once - to Egypt's Nagib Mahfuz in 1988.

   

"If we can get someone in this area, it will show this is not only an area of violence, that there is also life and culture here," he said, naming Adonis as his favourite.

   

"That would be wonderful," agreed Josyane Savigneau, a literary editor at the French newspaper Le Monde.

 

"If we can get someone in this area, it will show this is not only an area of violence, that there is also life and culture here"

Duraid Albik
news editor, Gulf News, Dubai

Asa Bechman, chief literary critic at the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter listed Adonis as a "maybe", saying New Zealand poet Janet Frame was her top candidate.

   

"Now is the time for a poet," Bechman said, noting novelists had won for the past six years - the most famous being VS Naipaul in 2001 and Gunter Grass in 1999.

 

The Nobel literature award, together with prizes for medicine, chemistry, physics and peace, was founded in the will of  the Swedish chemist and engineer Alfred Nobel, who invented dynamite.

   

The Swedish Academy's 18 members choose the winner from five candidates short-listed in May, from an initial field of about 200 nominations received by 1 February.

   

Andrei Nemzer, literary critic at the Moscow daily Vremya Novostei, said the Academy was keen "to support indigenous people" and to appear politically correct.

   

"There is an ethnic element - they look at who hasn't received it yet," he said.

   

The Nobel prize has never been won by an author writing in Dutch, and Babelia's Rodriguez Marcos mentioned the Dutch writer Harry Mulisch as a possible first.

   

Perennial favourites mentioned by many critics were South African JM Coetzee, Americans Don DeLillo and Philip Roth, Canadian Margaret Atwood, Carlos Fuentes of Mexico, Mario Vargas Llosa of Peru and French poet Yves Bonnefoy.