The Austrian State Prize for European Literature, which they've been handing out since 1965, has a pretty solid list of winners -- pretty much an all-star roster of Eurtopean writers --, and they've announced that the 2014 prize will go to Ljudmila Ulitzkaja (i.e. Людмила Улицкая, i.e. Ludmila Oulitskaïa, i.e. Liudmila Ulítskaya, i.e. Ludmila Ulitskaya ... oh, for god's sake ...).
The only Ulitskaya title under review at the complete review is Daniel Stein, Interpreter; The Big Green Tent ("An absorbing novel of dissident life in the Soviet Union" -- sigh ?) is due out late this year from Farrar, Straus & Giroux; pre-order your copy from Amazon.com.
The New York Public Library has announced the 2014-2015 Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers Fellows -- a sweet deal offering: " a stipend of up to $65,000, an office, a computer, and full access to the Library's physical and electronic resources".
They were selected: "from a pool of 288 applicants from 24 countries" and include Keith Gessen (for work on a novel, Russia) and Jordi Puntí (for work on a novel, The Century of Mr. Cugat, "inspired by the life of the musician Xavier Cugat").
They've announced the shortlist for the Caine Prize for African Writing, and the shortlisted stories (yes, it's a story prize: "Indicative length is between 3000 and 10,000 words") can be read via links on that page (but: all in the dreaded pdf format).
This year there's a pronounced shift away from western Africa (i.e. Nigeria, which had four of last year's five finalists), but the finalists are, yet again, all sub-Saharan, and the works were all originally written in English (admirably, works in translation are eligible, though they still have to have been published in English somewhere -- but it seems to have been quite a while since any such story made the cut).
One (other) work by a finalist -- Tendai Huchu's The Hairdresser of Harare -- is under review at the complete review.
I got my copy of Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century just over a month ago and have been impressed and intrigued by it.
I've been meaning to offer review-coverage but, quite honestly, have been a bit overwhelmed by the attention it's received (and have to wonder whether I can really add anything to what's already out there).
Now it's number one at Amazon, apparently/possibly publisher Harvard University Press' biggest seller ever ... and a book in translation !
(See their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)
Leaving aside the economic arguments -- already debated ... well, yes, ad nauseam (though, yes, it's important enough that it's worth continued debate) -- one thing has struck me about the coverage is ... the claims about how big a book it actually is.
Consider the various claims:
When posting page-totals of books under review at the complete review I count (only) the pages of text, not the notes.
(The number is nevertheless often inexact: many texts don't being on 'page 1', but I don't deduct the outstanding pages.)
So what's the deal with the Piketty ?
The Harvard University Press edition is the only English-language edition.
2 pages of Acknowledgments (pp.vii-viii)
577 pages of text (pp. 1-577)
77 pages of notes (pp. 579-655)
8 pages of 'Contents in Detail (pp. 657-664)
5 page listing 'Tables and Illustrations (pp. 665-669)
15 pages of an Index (pp. 671-685)
So, to me, the book has 577 pages (the text proper).
Okay, I can be sold on 653/655, since the Notes certainly are important (and readable -- they're not just bibliographic) supporting material.
But anything beyond/other than that is silly.
I have to include the blank last and unnumbered page, and all the front-matter to get to Harvard University Press' own official tally of 696 pages (okay, that is truly every last and unprinted page in the book ...), and nothing gets me to 700 or beyond.
What's so odd is how few of the page-totals make any sense at all.
Anyway, don't let yourself be put off by .... however many pages there are -- it's surprisingly/agreeably readable.
2014 is quite the centennial year for authors -- Arno Schmidt, William S. Burroughs, Hopscotch-author Julio Cortázar -- and Tove Jansson.
Impressively, there's a Tove 100 site, and there's also a Jansson exhibit at the Helsinki Ateneum -- scroll down and click on the different pictures to see her impressive range.
Several of her books are under review at the complete review -- all worth a look:
Apparently the copyright runs out on Hitler's Mein Kampf at the end of next year, posing something of a problem for the German authorities, who have tried to keep the book out of local circulation.
At The European Timothy W. Ryback -- author of Hitler's Private Library -- argues The €500,000 Solution -- "an authoritative edition of Mein Kampf, complete with annotations and context-setting academic commentary" -- is a pretty good way to go.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of 1979 Nobel laureate Odysseas Elytis' The Oxopetra Elegies and West of Sorrow, just out in a bilingual edition in the Harvard Early Modern and Modern Greek Library.
Canadian author Alistair MacLeod has passed away; see, for example, Mark Medley's obituary in the National Post.
None of his books are under review at the complete review, but I certainly admired his work; get your copy of No Great Mischief at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
In the Mail & Guardian 'Chenjerai Hove reminisces about what April 18 1980 meant for him', in Free at last: The day Zimbabwe became independent.
The obscenity that was Rhodesia is certainly not missed; still, one wishes a bit more of the promise had been realized by now.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Mansoura Ez Eldin's Maryam's Maze.
(The review appears just ...2537 days after I received the review copy.
Which demonstrates that little is lost in the piles surrounding me, and there's always a chance I will still get to a title from way back when .....)
Kundera's "book was not published in the Czech Republic until 2006"
"We might expect the presence of "the unbearable lightness of" to boom with the publication of the translated novel (1984) and the popularity of the movie (1988) and to wane as years pass.
The opposite, however, is the case: through 2000, the frequency of "the unbearable lightness of" is rising."
The piece is from: The Man Between: The Life and Legacy of Michael Heim, Translator forthcoming from Open Letter Books; pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
In The Korean Times Yun Suh-young reports on Lost in translation: New book explores mistranslation in Korean literature.
I'd love to see more studies on mistranslation !
Though, of course, it's really just a matter of perspective, isn't it ?
All translation is mistranslation, and it's just a matter of whether your focus is on the miss or the translation, so to speak.
Still, interesting that, for example:
In Korea, writer Ahn Jung-hyo, was one of the first movers in translating his Korean work into English on his own.
The English works of Ahn are significantly different from the Korean version because in writing the Korean novel into English, he freely translated, added and re-wrote some parts into the foreign language.
(Not really the kind of thing I want to hear, I have to say.)
Publisher Bungei Shunju has already raised the first shipment of the book to 300,000 copies from 200,000 due to heavier-than-expected advance orders for the first compilation since 2005, local media said.
You figure they'd have this figured out by now; I assume they just low-ball what they say the initial print run is so that they can report the 'heavier-than-expected' demand .....
(Of course, since this the publishing industry it's distinctly possible that they have nothing figured out .....)
In Daily Sabah Kaya Genç considers Turkish Masterpieces Unread by the World -- both some available in translation and some that have yet to make it into English.
Maureen Freely weighs in with some suggestions:
So which Turkish authors would she like to see in English ?
The first name that came to her mind was Sevgi Soysal. Freely had translated Soysal's Yıldırım Bölge Kadınlar Koğuşu in her twenties but said it had been impossible to place Turkish writing in English publishing houses in those days.
"The book of hers I really love is Şafak," Freely wrote.
"And I also wish that somebody could bring the best of Murathan Mungan into English."
This week's Small Talk-column in the Financial Times has a Q & A with Peter Buwalda, whose Bonita Avenue is just out from Pushkin Press; see their publicity page and the Dutch Foundation for Literature information page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
I'm won over by this response:
Which book changed your life ?
The Darkroom of Damocles by Willem Frederik Hermans, one of the great 20th-century Dutch writers.
It's a novel about resistance in the second world war but also about personal failure.
I read the book when I was 18.
I stopped studying physics immediately and started studying literature.
The big news here is Malmqvist claiming of Border Town-author Shen Congwen that:
If he hadn't passed away, he would have got the Nobel Prize in 1988
Stop the presses ?!??
Was the 1988 laureate -- Naguib Mahfouz -- really second choice ?
Well, not so fast -- Shen passed away in May of 1988; he may well have been one of the (usually five) finalists by then, but they don't settle on a winner until the fall, so there's no way of telling whether he would have prevailed over Mahfouz.
Still, interesting to hear he was so close.
Also of interest: Malmqvist's complaints:
Unfortunately, he says, there are as many poor translators as there are good writers in China.
"What makes me angry, really angry," he cries, eyes blazing, "is when an excellent piece of Chinese literature is badly translated.
It's better not to translate it than have it badly translated.
That is an unforgivable offence to any author. It should be stopped.
"Often translations are done by incompetent translators who happen to know English, or German, or French.
But a lot of them have no interest and no competence in literature.
That is a great pity."
David Hawkes' rendition of Cao Xueqin's epic novel The Story of the Stone, which he regards as a rare gem of translated Chinese literature.
At Eurozine they reprint a piece by Jonathan Bousfield from New Eastern Europe, Growing up in Kundera's Central Europe, in which he discusses how Milan Kundera's concept of Central Europe (and his writing) influenced three writers from the area -- from Czechoslovakia (Tomáš Zmeškal, "of mixed Czech and Congolese descent"), Yugoslavia (Miljenko Jergović, several of whose works have been translated into English), and the Soviet Union/Ukraine (The Moscoviad-author Yuri Andrukhovych) -- three countries that no longer have the same contours as they did when these authors were growing up, or even after the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The closing date for entries for this year's Nigeria Prize for Literature was 31 March, and they've now announced (though not yet at the official site ...) that there were 124 entries; see, for example, the This Dayreport.
The prize rotates through four genres, and this year it's drama; the winner will receive US $100,000.
To "encourage literary criticism" there's also a literary criticism prize, "open to literary critics from all over the world" (as long as the criticism is of Nigerian literature).
Here the prize-sum is given in the local currency -- presumably since 1,000,000 naira sounds more impressive than its US dollar equivalent (less than $6200).
As a judge for the fiction category for the Best Translated Book Awards (and, let's face it, someone whose reading is entirely dominated by fiction (as I noted recently, 91 of the past 100 titles reviewed at the complete review were of works of fiction)) I focus almost exclusively on that half of the BTBA (see also yesterday's mention) -- but, of course, there's also a poetry half to the BTBA, and the finalists for that were also announced yesterday.
I've only even seen one of these -- but that one is under review at the complete review: The Unknown University by Roberto Bolaño.
Karl Ove Knausgaard and his multi-volume My Struggle epic (see reviews of volumes one and two, with more to follow) is getting a nice lot of attention.
In the US the series is coming out in hardcover from Archipelago Books, with Farrar, Straus and Giroux then publishing each volume in paperback.
Archipelago prints their copies in a more or less uniform look, boxy books with a cover design like this:
The FSG paperbacks were originally designed (and the first one published) as:
Universally reviled and ridiculed -- and presumably not selling as well as hoped for -- FSG appears to have had a change of heart -- and cover-designer.
The first three volumes now look like this:
Looks a bit more promising .....
(But if you got a copy of the original FSG-volume one paperback, hold onto it -- collector's edition !)
The 2014:1 Issue of the Swedish Book Review is now available online, including a whole bunch of reviews -- including of the most recent book by The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared-author Jonas Jonasson, Analfabeten som kunde räkna (which, disappointingly, will apparently be titled The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden in English); Kevin Halliwell finds him mining: "once more the material of his earlier work to produce another entertaining, Fieldingesque romp"
(I think I might pass.)
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Amanda Michalopoulou's Why I Killed My Best Friend, just out from Open Letter.
(Oddly, of the last four books I've reviewed, three have some form of 'kill' in their title (even more oddly, the one book that doesn't is the only real mystery/thriller among them ...); I'm not quite sure what to read into that.)
The Swedish Academy (the folks that decide who gets the Nobel Prize, among others) announced a month ago that Lars Gustafsson would be getting their Nordic Prize, and the ceremony was held on Wednesday, Gustafsson picking up his 350,000 kronor prize (a bit more than $53,000 at the current exchange rate).
Previous winners include Purge-author Sofi Oksanen (last year) and Per Olov Enquist (2010).
At his weblog Swedish Academy permanent secretary Peter Englund writes about the event, while in Svenska Dagbladet Per Wästberg has a nice tribute, Hos Lars Gustafsson är gåtan svaret.
New Directions brought out a pile of Gustafsson's works but seem to have lost interest -- a shame.
He deserves more and continued attention.
Evan Hughes recently published a profile of My Struggle (etc.) author Karl Ove Knausgaard in The New Republic and now follows that up with a wide-eyed report on how wonderful the literary situation in Norway is, The Norwegian Government Keeps Book Publishers Alive.
It's always fun to read Americans writing about state support in other nations for ... well, almost everything (even outrageous things like ... health care !), but especially the arts.
The Norwegian situation is a bit unusual -- they have even more money to play with than most countries (and, unlike most of the other oil-rich nations, are more convincingly democratic, and less corrupt ...), but a lot of this sort of support, direct and indirect, is common elsewhere too.
And some things surely are less than ideal -- such as: "The leading bookstore chains in Norway are owned by the major publishing companies".
In The New Republic the great Cynthia Ozick writes on the first two volumes of Reiner Stach's Kafka-biography (the third volume, covering his early years, is apparently nearing completion), in How Kafka Actually Lived -- well worth a read.
While I agree with much that she says -- and admire the way she puts it -- I'm not not fully on board with all her raging against the term 'Kafkaesque'.
As she notes, "it has by now escaped the body of work it is meant to evoke" -- and that's exactly how I see it: it seems perfectly fine (if admittedly a bit confusing) to me if treated as such: I find 'Kafkaesque' a useful shorthand in describing some writing and situations, but when I do I never mean anything to do with Kafka; so, also, Kafka's own writing doesn't seem in the least 'Kafkaesque' to me and I would never call it that.
For the Stach-volumes (which I have, and hope to get to):
In The Guardian Natalie Hanman profiles Kamila Shamsie.
Of particular interest:
She is scathing about what she sees as a lack of rage in the fiction coming out of the world's superpower, a country with such a tangled involvement -- both past and present -- in the region she comes from.
"I am deeply critical of American writers for their total failure to engage with the American empire.
It's a completely shocking failure, not of any individual writer ... but it's the strangest thing to look around and say, 'Where is the American writer writing about America in Afghanistan, America in Pakistan ?'.
At a deep level, there is a lack of reckoning."
At Russia Beyond the Headlines Phoebe Taplin considers what she terms Future legends of Russian literature at the London Book Fair.
A lot of names bandied about, and among the most interesting is Eugene Vodolazkin -- see also the Banke, Goumen & Smirnova information page, as well as Lizok's Bookshelf's review of his Лавр (apparently coming to English soon).
Given that even what should have been a very impressive one-two punch by Mikhail Shishkin of Maidehair and The Light and the Dark barely seems to have even registered in the US/UK I think contemporary Russian fiction still has quite the uphill climb -- and I don't know that any of the authors mentioned here will help make much of a dent either.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Pascal Garnier's How's the Pain ?.
Gallic Books brought this out in the UK in 2012, and now it's finally also coming to the US -- and let's hope the flood of Garnier titles continues, because these are damn fine books.
Also a nice touch: translator Emily Boyce is described as the: "in-house translator for Gallic Books".
Every publisher should have an in-house translator !
(Of course, less nice, still: the translation copyright is in Gallic Books' name, not Boyce's .....)
They've announced the 2014 (US and Canadian) Guggenheim fellows -- 178 of them (from almost 3000 applicants).
As always, lots of writers -- and a few translators, notably Susan Bernofsky for two Robert Walser works.
Korean writing has been increasingly visible in English in recent years (with lots of help from the LTI Korea), with more titles being published in translation -- especially in Dalkey Archive Press' Library of Korean Literature -- and just now there's been a Korea Market Focus at the just-concluded London Book Fair.
Of course, pretty much all of this is South Korean literature (and the part that's not tends to be pre-divided Korean ...), i.e. there's not much heard or word from North Korea.
Insights of any sort remain rare -- see, for example, Sonia Ryang's Reading North Korea -- but it's good to see at least some discussion of the subject around the LBF events.
At Publishing Perspectives Olivia Snaije reports on Yi Mun-Yol on Allegory and Naked North Korean Writing, as Yi (see my reviews of Our Twisted Hero and The Poet, among others) addressed the subject:
He said there was almost zero literary output coming from North Korea, and that in the case of the few non-fiction books that make their way to South Korea, "even though the language is the same, we can't identify with them.
The forms and mechanisms are completely unfamiliar.
We feel like we're reading South Korean books from 50 years ago."
(North Korean non-fiction sounds particularly uninteresting, but surely there's some fiction that trickles out, no ?)
Apparently speaking about North Korean exiles now writing in the South:
While he finds North Korean authors' stories very interesting, unfortunately South Koreans don't appear to be responsive to what they have to say, remarked Yi Mun-yol.
Meanwhile, at PEN Atlas Shirley Lee reports on North Korean love poetry (and wouldn't it be great to see an anthology of that stuff ?).
At Qantara.de Arian Fariborz has a Q & A with Mansoura Ez-Eldin about the literary situation in Egypt these past few years.
Ez-Eldin's story, Gothic Night, is available online.
I have a copy of Maryam's Maze and will try to get a review up soon [updated: here we go]; meanwhile, see the American University in Cairo Press publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.