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30 August 2014 - Saturday

On Machado | Read Russia finalists
Towards the One and Only Metaphor review | Character description

       On Machado

       At the Times Literary Supplement site Peter Robb's piece on the truly Magnificent Machado -- Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis -- is now freely available. It's a review of two recently published-in-translation story-collections, but (except for the odd John Updike references ...) is also a good overview/introduction to the great author.
       Only The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas is currently under review at the complete review, but I've been a huge fan over the years; my review of one of these collections, Dalkey Archive Press' Stories, should be up soon as well (meanwhile, see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
       The other collection Robb discusses is a bilingual edition from new-to-me New London Librarium, Ex Cathedra; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Read Russia finalists

       The Read Russia Prize for translations of Russian works into (selected) foreign languages will be announced 6 September, and at Russia Beyond the Headlines they have all the information and the finalists -- seventeen titles (only three of which are translations-into-English), selected from 112 nominations from 16 countries.
       This seems a great way to encourage translation, with both the translator(s) and the publisher getting decent prize-money -- and it's great that it's not limited to translations-into-English.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Towards the One and Only Metaphor review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Szentkuthy Miklós' Towards the One and Only Metaphor, the second of his works to be brought out in English by Contra Mundum Press, with more to follow (not soon enough !).
       One of these hard to review/get a grasp on titles, but definitely worthwhile.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Character description

       A little while ago I flailed about on how I don't much care for/need/get much out of descriptions of characters in fiction; now I find, in Szentkuthy's Towards the One and Only Metaphor (which I just reviewed) a passage conveying exactly what I mean.
       Section 92 reads, in its entirety:
How preposterous it is for a novelist to describe a person even on the very first page: one has already long ago pictured something else -- the tablet of the book, the smell of its print, the letter font, the form of the page numbers, the touch of the paper, a title long retained in the mind, the pressure of the chair in which one is sitting, the shadow thrown by the roller blinds, the wall, door, or picture opposite: these have all once and for all time, absolutely indelibly traced the protagonist's face (even if it is not directly visible).
       Exactly !
       (And you understand now why you really should be reading Szentkuthy, right ?)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



29 August 2014 - Friday

Publishing in ... Spain | Amis, not in Germany | Ramuz revival ?

       Publishing in ... Spain

       There have been bad numbers from all over, over the past few years, but few as dismal as this: at The Bookseller Benedicte Page reports that Spain's domestic market sees 12% drop in 2013. That's turnover -- but even so:
The latest survey found 154 million copies were sold in 2013, a decrease of 9.6% on 2012 numbers. Publishing numbers were down 3.5% year-on-year to 76,434 titles.
       Disappointingly, too: "Studied by genre, fiction saw the biggest revenue fall, down 17.2% to €469m" (Come on, you Spaniards -- no matter how bad things are, there's always room for ... fiction ! Always ! Fiction is what matters ! Buy some !)
       It's hard to ascribe plummets like this to the absence of one or two blockbusters; this is a much broader problem -- not a good sign at all.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Amis, not in Germany

       An Interesting Q & A (in German) with Martin Amis in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung -- summed up by Philip Oltermann and Anne Penketh in The Guardian, in Martin Amis's holocaust 'comedy' fails to find German publisher, as the German publisher of his last few duds books, Hanser, has declined to publish The Zone of Interest -- the big question being (this being the German market): is it because it is about Auschwitz, or is it because it is crap ?
       Amis doesn't seem to have ever really caught on in Germany, and you can see that he's a tough sell there under the best of circumstances (among his works' main qualities is his style, and that's tough to translate effectively/well).
       Understandably Interestingly, recent French Amis-publisher Gallimard has also passed on this one (though another French publisher did pick it up) -- though Amis suggests in his FAZ-interview that that likely has more to do with a general editorial shift at Gallimard, rather than the subject-matter at hand. (Presumably, that's how his 'literary agent' -- Andrew Wylie -- is trying to spin things to his no-doubt irritated client .....)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Ramuz revival ?

       At English PEN, Michelle Bailat-Jones writes about Charles Ferdinand Ramuz -- trying to sell him as a: "contemporary of Robert Walser" (because that's relevant to .. anything) and how he: "is now being introduced to a new readership as the 'dams' between languages break down", in "You must keep feeding the lake".
       Hey, I'm a Ramuz fan -- The Young Man from Savoy, yes ! -- but let's get real. Walser was a long-overlooked genius; Ramuz's When the Mountains Fell (Eng. 1949) was an early Pantheon title (yes, as far back as the Jacques (not André ...) Schiffrin days) that was a freaking Book-of-the-Month-Club title (you young 'uns won't remember, but that was a big, big deal back then). Ramuz has been mainstream (and, since, admittedly, completely forgotten ...).
       Good to see some attention for Ramuz, but, please, some perspective -- which includes not trying to compare him to Walser.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



28 August 2014 - Thursday

Sheridan Le Fanu at 200 | Lessing's books to Harare
First Soviet Writers' Congress anniversary

       Sheridan Le Fanu at 200

       It's the bicentenary of Sheridan Le Fanu's birth, and it's nice to see some coverage -- though one wonders how much is occasioned by the (validation ?) that, as for example The Guardian reports, comes with: Google Doodle to celebrate author Sheridan Le Fanu's 200th birthday (sigh).
       But there is some decent coverage, notably: Sheridan Le Fanu: 200 years of literary blood and terrorism by Bill McCormack at Times Higher Education; see also Sheridan Le Fanu's haunting legacy by Brian Maye in the Irish Times.
       I've enjoyed his work over the years -- I have fond memories of some of those Dover editions -- and since you can find pretty much everything online, sample away. In A Glass Darkly, Uncle Silas, and Carmilla are all good places to jump in.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Lessing's books to Harare

       As New Zimbabwe reports, Lessing donated entire book collection to Harare, as Nobel laureate Doris Lessing:
bequeathed her entire personal collection of over 3,000 books to the Harare City Library in Zimbabwe.
       Interesting also to learn:
A Book Aid International said they were fascinated by the variety and breadth of Lessing’s library, describing it as "A collection to aspire to !"

"We found books not just in every room of Lessing’s home, but on shelves in every space where shelves could be fitted, in hallways, under stairs -- there were books everywhere," said an official.
       Neat. I guess the only thing that surprises me is that the collection constitutes only three thousand titles. Granted. many of my books are boxed up and piled up out of easy reach, but my collection is ... several times bigger. I suppose I could live with a working library of 3000, carefully selected -- but it's cutting it close .....

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       First Soviet Writers' Congress anniversary

       At Russia Beyond the Headlines (which continues to offer a variety of fun literary coverage -- you do have it bookmarked, don't you ?) Anastasia Gorbatova reminds of When literature came under state control: 80 years since the First Congress of Soviet Writers.
       As she notes:
Attendees at the congress included Boris Pasternak, the foremost Soviet poet of the time, the "Red Count" Alexei Tolstoy, a nobleman who adjusted to the demands of Soviet power, future Nobel laureate Mikhail Sholokhov, and leading children's author Korney Chukovsky.

Maxim Gorky gave a keynote lecture to close the event on September 1.
       But, of course, the defining figure was Andrei Zhdanov -- Mr. Socialist Realism himself, the man who latched onto Stalin's 'writers-are-engineers-of-human-souls' idea and ran with it, ushering in the lowliest times of socialist realism (pre-1934 Soviet literature, like pre-code Hollywood cinema, was actually pretty happening).
       Yes, this was the guy who said:
I think that every one of our Soviet writers can say to any dull-witted bourgeois, to any philistine, to any bourgeois writer who may talk about our literature being tendencious: "Yes, our Soviet literature is tendencious, and we are proud of this fact, because the aim of our tendency is to liberate the toilers, to free all mankind from the yoke of capitalist slavery."
       'Noble' sentiments -- but, hey, 1934, under Stalin, you know the deal ..... (The marxists.org page suggests: "Zhdanov died on 31st August 1934"; yeah, not quite/no such luck .....)
       Marxists.org has good documentation (other than hopefully killing off Zhdanov way prematurely ...) on that first congress -- worth being reminded of.
       Meanwhile, as Anastasia Gorbatova notes:
There were only eight congresses between 1934 and 1986, and they increasingly became formal events with almost no influence on Soviet culture. The First Congress was unique in its own way -- it was the first and last successful attempt to unite all the writers of one country
       Whereby 'successful' is a matter of ... opinion.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



27 August 2014 - Wednesday

Jonathan Franzen Q&A with Daniel Kehlmann
(Not) reading in ... Pakistan | Bhima review

       Jonathan Franzen Q&A with Daniel Kehlmann

       Jonathan Franzen tries to give his buddy Daniel Kehlmann a helping hand, now that Kehlmann's new novel, F is out (without, so far, having made much of an impression, it would seem) by engaging in a Q & A with him ("an edited transcript of a conversation he and I had by phone last month") at Salon.
       It's of some interest -- first in what Franzen reveals, like that he thinks his books are funny (or at least means them to be):
The first thing I put in every email to my German editor about my own fiction is "try to remember that this is supposed to be funny."
       And that Franzen is a fan of ... Thomas Brussig (Heroes like Us; Am kürzeren Ende der Sonnenallee) and that:
If I had an extra five hours in my day, I'd be translating some of Thomas Brussig's novels into English. He's hilarious and I think it's a tough sell on both sides of the water.
       Meanwhile, Kehlmann reports:
I'm "world famous" only in Germany. But when it comes to the U.S., it is still extremely difficult to be a novelist not writing in English. I'll never forget the radio host who asked me on my American book tour with genuine incredulity: "So is it true that this book was actually not written in English ?”
       Well, it's a nice anecdote, and depressingly has a ring of plausibility.
       He certainly has a point in noting a basic American problem:
Any young writer from Brooklyn who writes about the Holocaust gets a lot of attention, whereas a true genius like Imre Kertész, who even got a Nobel Prize and arguably wrote the best Holocaust novel in the history of literature, doesn't get much attention in the U.S.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       (Not) reading in ... Pakistan

       Muzaffar Mukhtar reports in The Express Tribune that there's been a Slump in sales: Booksellers going out of business -- an article that could be written about most any place right now but, in this case, is about Pakistan, and specifically Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The problem, of course: "the absence of a book reading culture", the lament:
People are now too occupied with TV channels, social media and the internet to find time for books.
       Good to see that they could find support for that thesis:
Muhammad Ali, a student at the Arid Agriculture University Rawalpindi, said there is no need to buy prints when you have an internet connection. "Reading books is boring in today's fast-paced world. There are other ways available to acquire information."
       (I have to admit I'm tickled at the thought that there's actually an 'Arid Agriculture University', but I'll be damned -- there is. Still, nice touch, getting that quote from someone from a so-named institution.)
       Also interesting:
Umaira Ahmad and Nimra Ahmad are the most popular fiction writers with the youth these days. "Writers such as Intizar Hussain, Saadat Hassan Manto and Ismat Chughtai are not the choice of the people. While most girls like Wasi Shah, hardly anybody knows about Noon Meem Rashid"
       Not sure what it means that Hussain (Basti, etc.), Manto (Bombay Stories; see the Vintage publicity page, and Chughtai (e.g. The Crooked Line; see the Feminist Press publicity page) are the authors that have recently been made available in the US; the Ahmads and Wasi Shah, not so much .....

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Bhima review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Malayalam-writing M.T. Vasudevan Nair's Mahabharata-variation, Bhima.
       Glad to see a translation-from-the-Malayalam (hard to come by, hereabouts) -- but I would prefer to see more original work. (And this is the second translation of this work -- another version came out in 1997.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



26 August 2014 - Tuesday

South Asian translations (not) in the US, cont'd
MFA, Dubai style ? | On Not Out of Hate

       South Asian translations (not) in the US, cont'd

       At the Asymptote blog Mahmud Rahman continues his examination, 'On the Dearth of South Asian Translations in the U.S.' with a third instalment, focusing on the lack of institutional support for it.
       Talking with publishers and translators, he notes the lack of information that publishers have (or are able to find ...) is one major issue. I share his doubts about the efficacy of government agency-led efforts (from the German Book Office to the Literature Translation Institute Korea) -- certainly they can be and often are very helpful in seeing to a presence in translation, but I wouldn't want to know the cost-benefit numbers (i.e. what ever the bang, it comes at the cost of an enormous amount of buck). Certainly, as he warns:
Should such initiatives emerge, I worry that these may fall prey to the fractious politics within those countries. Governments agencies may be more inclined to reward image-boosting and play favorites rather than promote literary quality.
       Literary prizes are also mentioned, and he also suggests:
In fact, a different kind of "translation" is necessary: reviews of such books published in English. The literature pages of newspapers and magazines and English language literary journals from the subcontinent could play a role here.
       What is so weird about the South Asian (essentially: Indian) situation is that a relatively large amount (far more than from anywhere else in South East Asia) is both published in translation and written about (in the local media -- newspapers and weblogs, etc.) in English. I.e. an incredible amount of information is fairly readily accessible for anyone who wants to seek it out. What's so odd -- or not ? we are talking about publishers, after all ... -- is how few US-based folks seem to bother.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       MFA, Dubai style ?

       Gulf News suggests:
With the addition of the Dubai Programme for Writing, the imminence of a rich yield from the Emirati literary soil has just announced itself.
       Well, when they put it like that, who can doubt the value of the Dubai International Programme for Writing -- "set to launch its first phase in September" ? Supported by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation -- which has an endowment of freaking $10 billion -- this will apparently bring all the ... well, whatever creative writing programs are supposed to be good for. And given that that includes publication -- well, maybe a pretty good deal for aspiring writer students. (As to readers .....)
       They certainly have it mapped out:
Upon completion of each phase of the training, the works of the trainees will be edited, designed, published and distributed, an outcome that will lead to a visibly enriched literary growth for the UAE.
       Hmmm ... I'll believe it when I see it.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       On Not Out of Hate

       In The Myanmar Times Whitney Light suggests, in Classic anti-romance of colonial Burma condemns good intentions:
After Orwell's Burmese Days, a foreigner's next obligatory Burma fiction read should perhaps be Ma Ma Lay's Not Out of Hate
       Given how little else there is translated from the Burmese (sigh), certainly a reasonable choice. But it would be nice if more more recent works were available .....

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



25 August 2014 - Monday

Translating Dostoevsky | Looking for anti-capitalist polemics in Africa
Wittgenstein Jr review

       Translating Dostoevsky

       In Dostoevsky's cacophonic catastrophes, at Russia Beyond the Headlines, Georgy Manaev profiles Oliver Ready, translator of (yet another) English version -- "five years in the making" -- of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment (recently released by Penguin Classics; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
       Some interesting observations -- including that:
Several earlier translations tended to smooth over Dostoevsky's stylistic peculiarities, robbing the novel of the unique, jagged tone and nervous repetitions that best represent Raskolnikov's anxious state. Ready sought to preserve these lexical peculiarities of Dostoevsky's language in his own work, while also trying to maintain the novel's hypnotic and compelling power.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Looking for anti-capitalist polemics in Africa

       In Will the pro-poor writers please stand up in The Herald (Zimbabwe) Stanely Mushava argues:
With the elites preoccupied with petty cross-aggrandisement, writers must step up the podium on behalf of the masses. African literature must be remastered to make the continent a povo-friendly space.
       He sees the globally-trendy inequality-debate as one of great regional importance, too:
Writers must foreground on their taskbars the reconfiguration of Africa into a more habitable space for the poor who saddle the brunt of uneven development, misappropriation of resources and municipal dysfunction.
       Not sure the writers (or the local publishing-conditions) are entirely up to it, but I wouldn't mind seeing some of this.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Wittgenstein Jr review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Lars Iyer's new novel, Wittgenstein Jr, coming out from Melville House.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



24 August 2014 - Sunday

Prizes: James Tait Black Prizes - Premio Nacional de Literatura de Chile
Literature in translation in ... the UK

       Prizes: James Tait Black Prizes

       They've announced the winners of this year's £10,000 James Tait Black Prizes (Britain's oldest literary prizes, as they like to remind you), the prizes going to Harvest, by Jim Crace (fiction category), and Penelope Fitzgerald: A life, by Hermione Lee; personally, I would have gone with another headline for the press release, not Authors join book prize's hall of fame
       I haven't seen either of these -- the Lee is only coming out in the US in November -- but they're both titles I am curious about.
       Get your copy of Harvest at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk; pre-order your copy of and Penelope Fitzgerald at Amazon.com, or get your copy at Amazon.co.uk.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Prize: Premio Nacional de Literatura de Chile

       They've announced the 2014 winner of the biennial Premio Nacional de Literatura de Chile -- the Chilean national literary award -- and it goes to Antonio Skármeta; see, for example, Writer Antonio Skarmeta Wins Chile's National Literature Prize at teleSUR.
       They've made some solid selections -- scroll down here for all the winners -- and did well in, for example, honoring Pablo Neruda back in 1945 already. But Skármeta picks the award up four years after Isabel Allende won; it's a good rule of thumb that you really don't want to win an award after they gave it to Isabel Allende.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Literature in translation in ... the UK

       In The Observer Dalya Alberge reports that British readers lost in translations as foreign literature sales boom.
       Sounds good -- boom ! -- but I'd be more convinced if more of the numbers flung about were of actual UK sales figures: the fact that Jo Nesbø "has sold more than 23 million copies internationally", that: "In Norway alone, the volume [of Knausgaard's autobiographical novel-series] has sold 450,000 copies", that Stieg Larsson's: "Millennium books have sold more than 75 million copies in 50 countries" doesn't really say anything about how well fiction in translation is doing in the UK.
       There are some local statistics -- including the good-sounding:
The Collini Case, a legal thriller by Ferdinand von Schirach, one of Germany's top authors, which has sold 29,385 copies -- "more than the last John Grisham" -- eclipsing some homegrown novels that barely sell a few hundred.
       (But: when the writer feels compelled to throw in the gratuitous and pointless observation about: "some homegrown novels that barely sell a few hundred" ... I get mighty suspicious.)
       I am very eager to see this:
Next month, Literature Across Frontiers will publish a report analysing market data. Its director, Alexandra Büchler, said that literary translations have grown by some 18% over 20 years.
       (Lots of context needed there -- including how much the comparable non-translated market has grown, and the market as a whole. I'm very curious about the details of this report -- and note that, in most areas, 18% growth over 20 years would at best be called anemic; of course, in the sad 'business' that is publishing anything resembling 'growth' of any sort and by any stretch must be celebrated.)
       Certainly very good to hear that:
Adam Freudenheim of Pushkin Press, a small publisher that specialises in translated literature, said: "There has been an increase. Pushkin Press's sales doubled last year and are on track to double or even triple this year."
       But I'm still not convinced about the bigger market picture -- anecdotally, it seems a lot better than a decade ago, but the early 2000s seemed a particularly low low-point for literature in translation in the US and UK -- things weren't so bad in some of the preceding decades, and we may just be returning to prior (also low) levels .....

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



23 August 2014 - Saturday

U.R.Ananthamurthy (1932-2014) | Writing in ... Brazil
I Called Him Necktie review

       U.R.Ananthamurthy (1932-2014)

       U.R.Ananthamurthy (Udupi Rajagopalacharya Ananthmurthy), one of India's leading writers, has passed away.
       Lots of Indian media coverage about this, of course (see, for example, Shiv Visvanathan on U.R. Ananthamurthy -- The greatest storyteller in The Hindu) -- he was a leading Kannada literary figure -- but little beyond, so far; some will surely follow -- hey, he was a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize, 2013.
       Two of Ananthamurthy's novels are under review at the complete review:        I wish I could cover more -- and hope eventually to be able to.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Writing in ... Brazil

       At PEN Atlas Paulo Scott writes on Identity and durability, arguing:
The period of recent Brazilian democratisation (...), has so far failed to produce an even moderately impressive number of novels that manage to get away from the reality of white guys, living in the big urban centres, belonging to a middle class that is modernised and advantaged. Nor has it produced novels that risk a more substantial (and also more vertically-oriented) and challenging weighing-up of the social impact of recent political choices.
       Indeed, he thinks:
From this perspective, contemporary Brazilian literature (...) is still quite timid compared to what is being produced in the rest of Latin America, from Mexico to Argentina.
       In English we of course only get a sliver of the big picture (since very little is translated), but from that limited vantage point the differences don't seem so great.
       Scott's Nowhere People is just out from And Other Stories -- see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk. I have a copy, and will certainly be taking a closer look.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       I Called Him Necktie review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Austrian-Japanese author Milena Michiko Flašar's I Called Him Necktie, coming out soon from New Vessel Press.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



22 August 2014 - Friday

The Zone of Interest interest | Russia-born writers in America
La Mamounia Literary Award finalists

       The Zone of Interest interest

       There's a new Martin Amis out -- in the UK; US reader will have to wait another five weeks or so -- and it was apparently 'embargoed' in the UK until publication-time (meaning: no reviews could/should be posted). Pathetically, UK reviewers obediently held back until now -- even as reviews went up weeks ago at, for example, Kirkus Reviews ("(A)n indelible and unsentimental exploration of the depths of the human soul") and Publishers Weekly (starred; "An absolute soul-crusher of a book, the brilliant latest from Amis") -- folks, if you're going to 'embargo' in this internet age, then get your act together and make sure you've got things covered abroad, too. .... (Though you shouldn't 'embargo' anyway -- it's a silly policy, and the sooner it dies, the better.)
       So now the first UK (+) reviews are up as well, including at:
  • the Irish Times: Eileen Battersby calls it; "Highly cerebral and innovative, and also human, humane -- even humbling -- this is a brave, inquiring work from a literary maverick whose biggest problem as an artist has been his rampaging talent. He has certainly harnessed it here."

  • The Independent: James Runcie calls it: "a frustratingly memorable read"

  • The Independent: Katy Guest finds: "I read this once thinking it horrifically brilliant, and Amis's best novel for years. (It is, though that's not saying a lot.) I read it a second time asking, but what is the point ?"

  • Asylum, where blogger John Self weighs in
       (Updated): As expected, the reviews keep coming -- fast and occasionally furious. See now also:        I haven't seen a copy yet, but I hope to soon; I was disappointed by Koba the Dread -- but greatly admired Time's Arrow (possibly my favorite Amis) -- so I'm not sure what to expect.
       Meanwhile, get your copy at Amazon.co.uk, or pre-order at Amazon.com.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Russia-born writers in America

       At Russia Beyond the Headlines Diana Bruk considers A long-distance romance: Russia-born writers in the U.S.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       La Mamounia Literary Award finalists

       Marrakesh hotel La Mamounia have an annual literary prize (well, what fine international hotel wouldn't ?) and, as Morocco World News now report, La Mamounia Literary Award Nominates 8 Candidates for its 5th Edition.
       Slightly -- okay, crushingly -- disappointingly it's a Francophone award -- yes, great that they've:
created an essential platform for francophone writers in which they promote their literary works and showcase the Moroccan talents by awarding them basically on the value of their productions.
       But, still ... Morocco, where there are some folks speaking -- and writing ! -- in languages like ... Arabic, Berber, even Spanish .....
       Still, solid literary support, with a prize of MAD 200,000 (yes, that translates into real money) -- though I do have to wonder about the symbolism of the photograph accompanying that article -- empty seats, no one behind the lectern ... easy to read a lot into that .....

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



21 August 2014 - Thursday

Rashid al-Din in Edinburgh | Teaching translation | Geek Sublime review

       Rashid al-Din in Edinburgh

       A neat-looking exhibit at the Edinburgh University Library: The World History of Rashid al-Din, 1314. A Masterpiece of Islamic Painting; see now also Si Hawkins piece in The National on it, Edinburgh University gives visitors rare chance to see the 700-year-old The World History of Rashid Al-Din
       It's on through 31 October -- sounds like it is definitely worth a look if you're in the neighborhood.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Teaching translation

       At Words without Borders' Dispatches weblog Margaret Litvin offers a look Between Love and Justice: Teaching Literary Translation at Boston University.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Geek Sublime review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Vikram Chandra's Geek Sublime, due out shortly in the US from Graywolf (after being published in the UK and India earlier this year).
       This was published under the same title by Faber in the UK, but the Indian edition was titled: Mirrored Mind.
       More bizarrely, each edition has a different subtitle:
  • US: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty
  • UK: Writing Fiction, Coding Software
  • India: My Life in Letters and Code
       Publishers -- gotta love 'em.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



20 August 2014 - Wednesday

PEN/Heim Translation Fund grants | Simin Behbahani (1927-2014)
(African) literary prize debate

       PEN/Heim Translation Fund grants

       They've announced the 2014 PEN/Heim Translation Fund grant winners:
From a field of 120 applicants, the Fund's Advisory Board -- Esther Allen, Barbara Epler, Sara Khalili, Michael F. Moore, Lauren Wein, and Lorin Stein -- has selected fifteen projects for funding.
       (That's a pretty impressive advisory board, by the way.)
       Some great-sounding projects, including work by some pretty big names -- Johannes Urzidil, Arseny Tarkovsky, Romain Gary, and Per Aage Brandt -- as well as a Richard Weiner, forthcoming from Two Lines Press (alas, too many of these other projects are still listed as: 'Available for publication' -- so check them out, publishers, some great things still up for grabs !).
       Among the intriguing projects: Sholeh Wolpé's translation of Farid ud-Din Attar's The Conference of Birds -- somewhat misleadingly presented as: "This artful and exquisite modern translation brings one of the definitive masterpieces of Persian literature to the English-speaking world". 'Definitive masterpieces' is right -- but of course it's hardly new to English-speaking audiences -- hey, there's a Penguin Classic's edition (Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis' 1984 translation; get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk; my own dates to 1991, when I paid the then-list price of $6.95 for it at my local Barnes & Noble-- and even then I was reluctant to pay list, so a pretty significant book if I was willing to shell out that kind of money ...). Peter Avery's 1998 translation, published as The Speech of the Birds (see the Islamic Texts Society publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), has long seemed the most definitive version, but after more than fifteen years perhaps the time is ripe for a new version.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Simin Behbahani (1927-2014)

       I last mentioned leading Iranian poet Simin Behbahani less than a year ago, on the occasion of her being awarded the Janus Pannonius Poetry Prize. Now she has passed away -- see, for eample, the IBNA report
       Some of her work has been translated into English -- your best bet is still A Cup of Sin: Selected Poems; get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk See also her official site.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       (African) literary prize debate

       In The Herald (Zimbabwe) Beaven Tapureta takes on the Caine Prize -- the leading (no doubt about that, for the time being) African short-story prize -- and literary prizes as a way of fostering (African) literature, asking What is an African story ?
       So they're wondering:
Are the Commonwealth Prize for Africa, Caine, Booker, and NOMA prizes doing more harm than good to the telling of a true African story? On what basis are the works by African writers being judged at these prizes which in some cases have part of the juries coming from the continent ?
       And:
Zimbabwe's multi-award winning writer Shimmer Chinodya, who was shortlisted for the Caine Prize in 2000, its inaugural year, was bitter about the Prize for it has become.

One of the biggest crimes the Prize has committed is the way it has degenerated into gender and geographical issues. It has masqueraded as the prize 'for African writing', that's nonsense. We have had the NOMA Award for Publishing in Africa, the Commonwealth Prize for Africa although it has been downplayed by the Caine Prize which has made the short story look an easier genre to write than a novel. African tradition is not a minimalist tradition. I think the Prize should grow out of the ten-page stories and do something,” he said.
       I've long argued that the Caine Prize -- estimable though it is -- shouldn't be considered the 'Man Booker' of African writing because, after all it is 'just' a short story prize. Nothing wrong with that -- but still, something different from novels (and, as you know, I'm a novel-man, through and through and through ...). Nevertheless, I must point out that the repeatedly mentioned "Commonwealth Prize for Africa" (meaning, surely, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize-African region) and the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa both ... no longer exist, having given up their respective ghosts in 2011 and 2009. Other pan-African (sort of ... northern Africa always seem to get rather left out of these, as does non-English-writing ...) prizes have sprung up, but nothing has established itself as near-convincingly pan-African as the Caine Prize.
       (As always, I note that the bizarre policy of announcing the winner of the Caine Prize in Oxford is perhaps not the best way to sell yourself as an 'African' prize; it's a big continent and there are lots of nice places you could hold an awards ceremony .....)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



19 August 2014 - Tuesday

African Poetry Book Fund
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage review
Blasts from the Internet past

       African Poetry Book Fund

       At Sampsonia Way Annie Piotrowski has a Q & A with Kwame Dawes and the African Poetry Book Fund.
       He says
We want to see more African poets in print
       And, well, who doesn't ? This, and their efforts to bring libraries to Africa -- five are slated to open next month -- sounds very worthy and pretty impressive.
       See also the official site, where there's more information about their various initiatives.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Murakami Haruki's Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, now also out in English.
       Lots of reviews out already, lots of links. And one of those books that you could easily find fault with -- all over the place --, but which I nevertheless found a very enjoyable read.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Blasts from the Internet past

       So in posting a review of a new Murakami Haruki book -- Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage -- I also went back and cleaned up/updated the links on all the other Murakami-review pages at the site: there are reviews of eleven other Murakami-titles, as well as of two books about him, and an author page. I've ... dusted the older review-pages over the years, as new reviews have been added, but this is the most thorough overhaul I've done in close to a decade (and, yes, it was long overdue).
       It's a dirty, time-consuming, thankless job (yes, yes, I know you appreciate it -- but really, you only notice when the links don't work, and have no idea of the behind-the-scenes maintenance I waste so many hours on), and with this many reviews with this many links (there's lots of Murakami-material out there) it took me several days of heavy drinking and loud cursing -- lots and lots of loud cursing -- to get this done.
       I continue to be amazed by the mutability, fragility, and ephemerality of the Internet (and bless the Internet Archive, which I see as ever-more vital). It's amazing how little seems to be built to last -- or how little that was built is maintained accessibly. Yes, I understand some changes, but, for example, The Guardian changing its URL from the sensible "guardian.co.uk" to "theguardian.com" -- and not redirecting all the old URLs -- is just a giant fuck you to anyone who sees/wants to use the Internet for anything beyond today. (Yes, most of the guardian.co.uk content can be found at theguardian.com -- though damned if I can find some of it, and I put a decent (albeit drunken, cursing) amount of effort into trying -- but I don't enjoy the jumping through hoops necessary to get at it, and I assume most people can't be bothered.)
       Of course, The Guardian's URL switch happened like yesterday (to be followed, presumably, by another tomorrow) but in updating the Murakami links I came across some ancient stuff which I thought I'd share.
       My favorites include the 'hijacked' URLs -- abandoned, they've now been taken up by, of course, commercial interests. Among the great examples:
  • Remember when the The Onion's A.V. Club -- now at www.avclub.com -- was, perfectly sensibly, at "www.theonionavclub.com" ? Well, that site is now 'The A.V. Club of Ecigarettes'
  • Remember litblog Rake's Progress, at rakesprogress.typepad.com/ (it used to look like this) ? "Rakes Progress - 10 years and still no progress / How I am going to get fit this year with a rowing machine" the site now asks .....
       As always, I encountered Dalkey Archive Press' most misbegotten of their many, many, many misbegotten sites -- the 'Center for Book Culture' at www.centerforbookculture.org (which once looked like this); unconscionably they didn't even hold onto the URL, so poor unsuspecting fools (like yours truly) still click through ... to now find this 'Center for Book Culture' (and, yes, it always makes me feel like: well, I guess that's what book culture has devolved into in our day and age ...). (Much as I love Dalkey Archive, I find their URL- and site-changes close to unforgiveable, and the china always goes flying when I come across yet another www.centerforbookculture.org-link.)
       Other prominent changes I encountered:
  • Salon ... oh, Salon, Salon, Salon. Now the easy, obvious www.salon.com, but there was "www.salonmagazine.com", there was "www.salonmag.com"; I was almost disappointed not to encounter the other old standard, "www.salon1999.com" this time around !
  • A puzzler: why did The New York Observer abandon the perfectly good "www.nyobserver.com" (now unclaimed !) for observer.com ? (The old URL surely would have been worth preserving just as a mirror-site.)
  • And, okay, I understand why the Evening Standard switched from the bizarre "www.thisislondon.co.uk" to "www.standard.co.uk" (and, hey, the old URL points to the new one ! though, sigh, the old page URLs certainly don't carry over ...)
       Of course, the real fun ones are the sites that moved up in the world:
  • Remember when infinity plus -- now at "www.infinityplus.co.uk" -- was at "www.users.zetnet.co.uk/iplus/" ?
  • When Scott Esposito was publishing the Quarterly Conversation -- now at: "quarterlyconversation.com" -- at "esposito.typepad.com" (really ! check it out) !) ?
  • When Critique -- now at: "critique-magazine.com" -- was at "www.etext.org/Zines/Critique" ?
       Of course, some of these links go back to when ... Time could be found at: "pathfinder.com/time/magazine" .....
       Most disappointing, however, is what's (and how much has) just disappeared -- a Flak Magazine at "www.flakmag.com" that once looked like this now a front for what calls itself an Art and Jewelry Magazine
       Yes, it's kind of amusing to see how things have changed -- but also kind of depressing. Especially since so much of what is lost seems to go unnoticed.

       (I have no idea what the long-term legacy of the complete review might be, down the line, but its sheer durability and constancy -- if you linked to a page in April 1999 (and any time after that), that link still works, that page is still there -- seem pretty damn impressive, relatively speaking.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



18 August 2014 - Monday

Louise Erdrich to get Dayton prize | Literature in(/from) ... Jamaica
The Children Act review

       Louise Erdrich to get Dayton prize

       The Dayton Literary Peace Prizes "is the first and only annual U.S. literary award recognizing the power of the written word to promote peace"; they also award an annual Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award ("formerly the Lifetime Achievement Award") -- and while this year's book-prizes haven't been announced yet, they have now announced that Louise Erdrich will get this year's Holbrooke Award. (Inexplicably, they haven't announced that yet at their site, last I checked , but they did give AP the scoop; see, for example; Writer Louise Erdrich wins Ohio peace prize.)
       The book-finalists usually make for an interesting selection; I hope they'll be announced soon.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Literature in(/from) ... Jamaica

       I think the Caribbean is probably the single most under-represented area at both the complete review and the Literary Saloon -- with Cuba probably the most-discussed/-reviewed country -- so it's good to find some coverage about, for example: Flourishing Jamaican literature, as reported in the Jamaica Observer.
       Okay, the piece is fairly limited -- but at least some enthusiasm, and a lot of names.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       The Children Act review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ian McEwan's new novel, The Children Act.
       It did not make this year's Man Booker longlist-cut (though, with McEwan a former winner, it presumably had a free pass to consideration (a high hurdle for many books ...) and was one of the 154 books considered for the longlist).
       After some spring-buzz (New Ian McEwan novel The Children Act to take on religion, etc.) there doesn't seem to have been much recent fuss about it; I wonder whether it will generate much noise/excitement. (As a McEwan it will no doubt sell just fine regardless.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



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