One of the most interesting books for me this past year has been the latest "novel" by the much-laurelled Norwegian Dag Solstad.
(As longtime readers know, I revere Shyness and Dignity-author Dag Solstad, the Scandinavian author -- along with, perhaps, Per Olov Enquist -- most deserving of the Nobel Prize, if they dare pick anyone from that region anytime soon.)
Even more impressively:
Since the book, known familiarly over there as "Telemark novel" (its full title is long), does not exist in English, I have been struggling, happily, to make what I can of it in Norwegian
Way to go Ms. Davis !
(The book is -- suggested English title -- The Insoluble Epic Element in Telemark in the Years 1592-1896; see the Aschehoug Agency information page (and, hey, the opening words are, apparently: "Read slowly, one word at a time, if you want to understand what I am saying", which is presumably what Davis is doing).
I'm hoping for imminent translation into English (though I'll settle for: in my lifetime -- and am tempted to seek out a Norwegian copy, to try to make my way through it Davis-style ...).)
Flabbergasting, however: the site with the URL newlitfromeurope.org -- surely the one you'll be pointed to if you 'Google' (or whatever you do) for 'New Literature from Europe' -- only offers information about last year's festival, while the official site for this year's festival is apparently newlitfromeurope.wordpress.com.
Why not update the old site (archiving the 2013 information there too, so it's nicely all together ...) ?
They've announced the winners of the 2014 (American) National Book Awards.
Redeployment, by Phil Klay, won the fiction prize; I can imagine almost no circumstances under which I would review this title, but see the Penguin Press publicity page or get your copy at Amazon.com, or pre-order it at Amazon.co.uk.
The number of recently and newly-founded presses devoted to literature in translation continues to impress -- the promising Deep Vellum just released its first title, for example, and the still very young Hispabooks has already done an impressive job of bringing literature from Spain to English-speaking readers in a very short time.
New to me is Cubanabooks, but a just-received stack of their six fiction titles easily wins me over.
With a focus on: "contemporary literature by Cuban women writers" they offer the sort of things we're unlikely to otherwise see -- and, impressively, their books are bilingual editions; in a country (the US) where Spanish is widely spoken and read, that seems like a great way of making these works accessible to the largest possible audience, from native speakers more comfortable reading the originals to those without any Spanish who can rely entirely on the translated versions.
Surely worth a closer look -- the just-released The Bleeding Wound, by Mirta Yáñez looks like a great place to satrt; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
The Korea Times prints the judges' report -- by Brother Anthony, Jung Ha-yun, and Min Eun-kyung -- for the 45th Modern Korean Literature Translation Awards.
One of their more positive reports in recent years -- though sad/interesting to note: "In the poetry category, only four entries were received".
But at least fiction-translation seems to be thriving.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Liu Cixin's The Three-Body Problem -- one of this year's most anticipated translations, as the first blockbuster science fiction title out China to make it into English.
Interesting publishing side-notes: after some back-and-forth publisher Tor went with a Western-style arrangement for the author's name on the cover: 'Cixin Liu'.
While Japanese authors' names have long been written 'Western' style ('Yukio Mishima', 'Haruki Murakami') only recently have publishers ventured to 'westernize' Korean names ('Young-ha Kim' and 'Kyung-sook Shin' are the first to get the Western treatment, while, for example, Dalkey Archive Press' Library of Korean Literature still adheres to the Korean-(/Chinese-/Japanese-)style of writing family names first ('Mao Zedong')), and I can't recall seeing it used for a translation-from-the Chinese (well, excluding also-English-writing authors like Zhang Ailing).
(House style at the complete review is home-turf style wherever the book was first published -- hence: 'Liu Cixin' (and 'Kertész Imre, etc.).)
I am curious to see whether this takes.
On a more troubling note: the work is translated by Ken Liu -- but the copyright page insists:
Allen B. Riddell's 'Public Domain Rank: Identifying Notable Individuals with the Wisdom of the Crowd' (see abstract or (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) full text) is an interesting attempt at: "identifying authors of notable works throughout history".
The main purpose is to identify works coming into the public domain -- determining which ones are most worth preserving -- but the methodology also works for authors whose work won't be in the public domain for quite a while, with Riddell suggesting:
A second application arise from treating the Public Domain Rank as a general, independent index of an individual's importance for contemporary audiences.
So how well does this thing work ?
Admirably (and entertainingly) there's an easy-to-use Public Domain Rank Browser -- allowing anyone to see for themselves.
The results are ... actually rather disappointing.
Okay, I've been complaining that Arno Schmidt hasn't been getting his due -- hence my Arno Schmidt: a centennial colloquy (you've got your copy, right ?) -- but does he really rank just 62nd among authors who died in 1979 ?
Okay, maybe I'm a little too close to that one; how about Brecht -- 17th among authors who died in 1956 ?
And among authors who died in 1989, surely I'm not alone in believing Samuel Beckett (12th) and Thomas Bernhard (33rd) rate higher ?
How about a bumper year like 1970 ?
Some authors of considerable note who died that year fare pretty poorly:
S.Y.Agnon - 21st
John Dos Passos - 22
Paul Celan - 54
John O'Hara - 57
Jean Giono - 68
Erich Maria Remarque - 77
Stanley Edgar Hyman - 86
Unica Zürn - 146
Nelly Sachs - 173
François Mauriac - 188
Mishima Yukio - 373 (or thereabouts -- it's hard to keep track that far down the list)
Do these rankings really reflect their relative: "importance for contemporary audiences" (especially when you consider some of the higher-ranked names) ?
Methinks ... not so much.
And consider even a year long in the public domain -- 1910, where the top four author are, in order:
Any formula that puts Goldwin Smith ahead of Tolstoy ... maybe not entirely reliable.
Still, fun to play with, and maybe a decent place to start.
But it could certainly use some tinkering.
In the Boston Globe Mark Shanahan profiles David R. Godine (of the eponymous publishing house), in Beyond sales, Boston publisher's devotion speaks volumes.
Godine now famously published (and kept in print) a couple of Patrick Modiano titles, even as for year they were ... not exactly flying off the shelves ("I couldn't sell them to Chicago for landfill", in his words), which has now paid off (see, for example, my review of Honeymoon).
But that's just the tip of an excellent list -- notable also for its many Georges Perec titles.
They've announced the category shortlists for the WhitbreadCosta Book Awards -- though not yet at the official site, last I checked ....
See, for example, the report in The Telegraph.
None of these titles are under review at the complete review, but I do have and will be getting to the Ali Smith (and, if/when I get my hands on a copy, possibly the Neel Mukherjee).
At The New Republic Stephen Akey writes about 'The problem with literary agents', in My Book Is Not About Vampires or Childhood Trauma. I'm Doomed.
"I have no problem with the role played by literary agents as cultural gatekeepers", he claims -- but he does seem to have a problem: not with the abstract ideal of such agents as cultural gatekeepers, but the reality of how they perform that role -- concluding that:
in mediating between writer and publisher, the agencies build in an extra layer of exactly what is not needed: more conservatism and caution.
You know where I stand -- at a safe and cautious ten-foot-pole distance -- but always fun to see yet another perspective on the peculiar business that is the publishing industry.
_listBooks from Korea has a new (confusing and messy) look to their site, which doesn't seem to be quite all there yet.
The Summer, 2014 issue, which I had not previously seen/linked to is conveniently available; the current one -- apparently with a lot of Ko Un coverage, which you can access via the main page -- not so much.
I hope they make it more functional/user-friendly, but meanwhile there's some interesting stuff to be found in the summer issue, including the usual reviews.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of A Novel of Chengdu by Murong Xuecun, Leave Me Alone.
This first came out in English from Allen & Unwin in Australia, in 2009, and has now been picked up by Make Do/Forty-six in the UK.
The Translation Databases at Three Percent offer a good overview of most of what has been translated into English and published in the US in 2014, from all languages (though the upcoming long overdue update will certainly offer a better picture ...), but it can still be helpful to have more specific lists -- like Paper Republic's 2014 translations from Chinese -- a bumper crop.
This doesn't quite overlap with the Three Percent list, as it includes both US and UK publications (Mo Yan's Frogs, for example, is only coming out in the US in 2015, and will thus only be included on next year's database), but gives a good sense of what has been translated.
Surprisingly, almost a quarter of the fiction is under review at the complete review -- four titles, with another to follow later this week:
At The Believer online, Lydia Perović has a Q & A with A.S.Byatt's sister, Margaret Drabble, a fine writer in her own right.
I certainly like her attitude towards historical fiction ("I know the plot. I know my Shakespeare. I know what happened. I don't need to read it to find out.").
And then there's her take on (The Sea, the Sea, etc.-)author Iris Murdoch:
Basically, she was an androgynous figure.
She wasn't really a woman; she wasn't a man, but she wasn't a woman. She was married to this elderly professor...
A local library I visited in Bagan was a case in point -- bookshelves creaking under the weight of unloved, mildew-covered books, most of them obscure and unrecognizable.
According to a survey by the Asia Foundation, almost 90% of books at libraries such as this one are religious texts.
See also the (limited) index of books from and about Burma under review at the complete review.
It seems like one -- or indeed several -- German literary prizes are being awarded daily, and yesterday they announced that Marcel Beyer takes this year's Bremer Literaturpreis -- a rare German literary prize awarded for a specific title, Beyer's Graphit, in thsi case.
A €20,000 prize barely seems worth a mention -- but the list of winners suggests this is one is worth paying some attention to: consider, they've given the award to: Clemens Meyer (2014), Wolf Haas (2013) Friederike Mayröcker (2011), Clemens J. Setz (2010), W.G.Sebald (2002), Elfriede Jelinek (1996), Peter Handke (1988), Volker Braun (1986), Peter Weiss (1982), Christa Wolf (1978), Thomas Bernhard (1965), Paul Celan (1958), and Ingeborg Bachmann (1957), among others.
Equally impressively, their 'Förderpreis', for up-and-coming authors recognized talents such as Herta Müller (1985) and Durs Grünbein (1992) early on.
So they're clearly doing something right.
The Roswitha-Preis is apparently the German variation on the English-language prize that use to be called the Orange Prize -- though it's been around considerably longer.
At €5,500 it's not a huge money prize -- but that winner's list is a knock-out: future Nobel laureates were recognized way early on: Elfriede Jelinek in 1978 (!) and Herta Müller in (1990), and other winners include Aichinger, Mayröcker, Sarah Kirsch, Irmtraud Morgner, Julia Franck -- and die Grande Dame des deutschen Comics, Dr. Erika Fuchs.
They've announced this year's prize-winner: it's Gertrud Leutenegger.
Among the bestselling books of all time (okay, like that other big 'seller', the Bible, more copies were probably given away than actually sold) is Mao Tse-Tung's (as he was called/transliterated, back in the day) so-called 'Little Red Book' (actual title: Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-Tung; get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
At (New York's) Grolier Club they have a 50th anniversary exhibit -- see also the coverage in The New York Times.
It sounds pretty neat, and I will certainly be going to have a look.
(My own appreciated-for-its-pocket-size copy is a Foreign Language Press one from 1967.)
And I am also really curious about Mao's Little Red Book: A Global History, edited by Alexander C. Cook, and will try to get my hands on a copy; see the Cambridge University Press publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
At The New York Times' 'Times Insider' Susan Lehman has a Book Reviewer Tell-All: Dwight Garner on Reading, Reviewing and Avoiding Blindness with The New York Times' book reviewer.
Always of interest to me: how many books other reviewers/outlets have to deal with -- and Garner says: "I get about 25 books a day in the mail".
By comparison, I -- admittedly better able to keep the unsolicited titles at bay -- have gotten 466 review copies to (yesterday's) date in 2014 -- less than a book and a half a day; at a 25-per-day rate I would be entombed in my apartment in short order (admittedly: not the worst fate I could imagine) -- I can barely handle sorting, and especially deaccessioning, from the trickle I do get .....
(By further comparison: I have reviewed 173 books to date in 2014 -- not many less than have been reviewed in the daily edition of The New York Times so far this year .....)
They've announced that Oorlog en terpentijn, by Stefan Hertmans, has won this year's AKO Literatuuurprijs -- one of the leading (and, at €50,000, most remunerative) Dutch literary prizes; the book was also shortlisted for another one of the big ones, the Libris Literatuur Prijs, earlier this year.
See also the foreign rights information page at De Bezige Bij -- and note that foreign rights have already been widely snapped up, including into English -- Knopf will be publishing this in the US, and Harvill Secker in the US; as to whether they'll keep the suggested English title as 'War and Turpentine' .....
The American Literary Translators Association's National Translation Award winner has been announced; since they're ... between websites, the only notice I could find was the Twitter mention: Eugene Ostashevsky and Matvei Yankelevich's translation of Alexander Vvedensky's An Invitation for Me to Think takes the prize.
See also the New York Review Books publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
I suggested to Malcolm Lyons, the translator of a recent edition of the Nights, that having completed that mighty task, he might consider translating Tales of the Marvellous.
He sounded unenthusiastic and I thought no more about it.
Then, last summer, he emailed to let me know that he had completed the translation.
create a Library of India, comprising, say, translations of the 50 best works in Indian languages (fine, we'll include original works in English too) into a set of books that can truly represent the India story
As Mahmud Rahman discussed in his recent series of posts at the Asymptote weblog, a variety of hurdles still present themselves to such efforts.
One hopes that it's only a matter of time .....
They've announced the winner of the 2014 Goldsmiths Prize, the £10,000 fiction prize with the cringe-worthy tag-line: 'Fiction at its most novel', and it is How to be both, by Ali Smith, selected from 119 (regrettably unnamed) novels entered.
That Man Booker-shortlisted title isn't out in the US yet -- a couple of more weeks -- but I should get to it around then; meanwhile, get your copy at Amazon.co.uk or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano's Honeymoon, one of the few Modiano titles in print in the US at the time of the Nobel-announcement, and now quickly reissued in paperback by Godine.
Published in French in 1990, this one comes and fits smack in the middle of the trio just published by Yale University Press in Suspended Sentences (see my review of, for example, the title novel).
There's little doubt that this is one of the Modiano-peaks (of a pretty high (and very extensive) plateau).
And while Suspended Sentences fare very well under the translating hand of Mark Polizzotti, it was old master Barbara Wright who translated this one -- and nailed it.
They've announced that the Premio Internacional Carlos Fuentes a la Creación Literaria for 2014 will go to Sergio Ramírez (the first one, in 2012, went to Mario Vargas Llosa).
Worth US$250,000 (though the actual pay-out is in Mexican pesos), this is trying to establish itself as a major Spanish-language author award; with Ramírez they've certainly selected an author that helps establish their bona-fides: woefully under-appreciated/noticed in English (perhaps because of his inconvenient politics -- he was vice-president of Nicaragua in the Sandinista government, from 1985 to 1990 ...), he is a major writer.
Three of his works are under review at the complete review: the novels A Thousand Deaths Plus One and Margarita, How Beautiful the Sea, as well as A Memoir of the Sandinista RevolutionAdiós Muchachos.
Surely there was never much doubt about what book would win this year's FT and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award, but they had to go through the process and the motions; now the inevitable has been announced: Thomas Piketty's Capital wins Business Book of the Year.
This really was no contest: the other books might have been impressive, but nothing has come close to the impact this book has had in a long, long time.
See also the Harvard University Press publicity page, or get your copy, if you really still don't have one, at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
They've announced that Koala, by Lukas Bärfuss, has won this year's Swiss Book Prize, selected from 80 (unnamed ...) submissions (and note that the prize is only for written-in-German books).
See also the Wallstein Verlag publicity page (which has some English book-information; scroll down and click on 'Englisch').
Bärfuss' One Hundred Days came out in Tess Lewis' translation not too long ago; get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
I'm puzzled by a Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitungarticle by Jochen Hieber looking back at the literature of GDR -- and making the claim that only one work of true 'world literature' was produced under the East German regime (arguing that pretty much everything else of note was pretty much solely of (greater-)German interest): Jurek Becker's Jacob the Liar.
I lapped up everything of Becker's back in the day (the 1980s), but can't say that this stood out above a heap of other works that seemed to be of greater-than-just-national-interest.
Of course, that Robin Williams film version (see the IMDb page) didn't help much.
But you can still get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
They've held the first Daphne Awards -- a great idea, reassessing the best books of 50 years ago (1963, for this first go) -- and they've now announced the winners.
The fiction prize went to the eminently worthy The Ice Palace, by Tarjei Vesaas -- yes, a (very rare) top-rated book hereabouts.
Much as I love it (and I do, it's a beautiful book), however, I think that fifty years on it's hard to put it ahead of Julio Cortázar's (equally highly rated, hereabouts) Hopscotch which, I'd argue, is probably one of maybe the dozen most influential (and 'significant') works of fiction written in the second half of the twentieth century.
Mind you, I'm talking influence, which isn't the same as quality, but in this case it comes on top of it being just a great work.
Yes, nice that Vesaas' much quieter work gets some recognition (it's in print, but doesn't get nearly the attention/love it should), but Hopscotch was the book of the year.
(I'm talking fiction here because ... well, what else is worth talking about ?
But they did award prizes in several other categories as well -- Akhmatova. Primo Levi, sure, good stuff too).
Jessa Crispin, whose conceived the awards, also comments at Bookslut -- though I have to admit I really don't get where she's coming from in claiming about the "post-1945 era in literature", that:
The names that we associate most strongly with that era -- Mailer, Roth, Updike, etc -- are all of this macho pose, this high masculinity.
They dominate our view of what the post-war novel is supposed to be, and everything else kind of hides in their shadow.
Admittedly, I'm not very worldly, but: not in any world I know.
(Though I suppose there might be some university seminars where this is the prevailing wisdom/party line.)
(Also: how relevant is this in this context ?
By 1963 Roth had published all of two novels, and Updike three (and surely neither had really entered their full 'macho pose'-phases yet (long though those then extended ...); they had barely made any impact on even just the American world of letters, much less the larger, lasting one.)
Besides, I'd worry about (or rather, simply ignore) anyone who thinks the novel -- even in a specific period or era -- "is supposed to be" any particular way or thing.
That's the wonderful thing about fiction: anything goes, and any way can be the right way (even, occasionally, Roth's and Updike's (yeah, even I have my doubts about Mailer)).
As I mentioned last week, I've released a little book, Arno Schmidt: a centennial colloquy.
(I hesitate to say 'published' because it's not yet widely available via many distributors (currently only in Kindle-form (Amazon.com (US), Amazon.co.uk (UK), and any other Amazon you care to buy from), in print from Lulu.com (here), and as an ePub from Lulu.com (here)), so so far it's been a very soft launch.)
My main reason for writing it was because there was essentially no English-language coverage of the Schmidt-centennial this year, and because he's an author deserving more attention; it's gratifying to see that there does seem to be some interest in him and in this -- seventeen copies sold in less than a week, to readers in the US, UK, and Germany, which considerably exceeds my early expectations.
Maybe there is hope yet, of bringing Schmidt ... if not into the mainstream (a tall order) at least the busier periphery.
Not quite the Nobel, either cash- or prestige-wise (but, hey, Philip Roth did win it (2009) -- albeit six years after ... Jeffrey Eugenides), but the Welt-Literaturpreis has a decent list of winners (Kertész Imre, Jonathan Franzen, the obligatory Amos Oz) and this year they gave it to Murakami Haruki, who got to pick it up a couple of days ago.
With Clemens J. Setz (whose Indigo is just out in English; get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) giving the laudatio, and surprise guest Patti Smith playing three songs it sounds like it wasn't bad for an awards-show.
Murakami's speech isn't online yet, but The Japan Times, for example, reports that Novelist Murakami hails Hong Kong democracy protesters in German award speech.
Meanwhile in Die Welt Richard Kämmerlings has a long (German) Q & A with Murakami -- fairly interesting, once you get past the ridiculous lede that explains: 'Haruki Murakami doesn't like giving interviews' (which makes everyone involved -- interviewer, interviewee, reader -- sound like a chump).
(Updated - 11 November): See now also the (German translation) of Murakami's acceptance speech.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Otar Chiladze's 1995 novel, Avelum: A Survey of the Current Press and a Few Love Affairs, which came out in Donald Rayfield's translation from Garnett Press last year.
With Georgia set to be 'guest of honour' at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2018 more literary attention should be coming their way -- and Chiladze is one of the twentieth century Georgian greats.
Garnett has also published his A Man was Going Down the Road (which I have and should be getting to as well) -- a book that's coming out in German shortly, in a pretty cool looking edition (and, honestly, with a better title -- see the Matthes & Seitz Berlin publicity page).
Meanwhile, of course, Dalkey Archive Press is building up a nice little Georgian Literature Series -- and among their forthcoming titles is another Rayfield translation, the fun-sounding Kvachi by Mikheil Javakhishvili; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Odd coincidence: this is the second book this month I've read which mentions Hélène Carrère d'Encausse.
Okay, the previous one was her son's book (Limonov) -- but what are the chances of coming across a second work of fiction in which she gets name-checked within a month ?