I'm a bit late in reporting this -- he passed away on the 12th -- but Ali A. Mazrui has died; see, for example, Douglas Martin's obituary in The New York Times or Horace G. Campbell on The Humanism of Ali Mazrui at counterpunch.
The only Mazrui book under review at the complete review is, predictably enough, his only work of fiction, the woefully under-appreciated (look for mention of it in the obits ...) The Trial of Christopher Okigbo.
Flawed though it is, I would argue it's still a very significant/important novel, a major work of the 1970s.
(And, yes, I am pretty proud that I already got to this in the much earlier days of the site, reviewing it back in 2001.)
I mentioned Chinese president Xi Jinping's recent address on cultural production in China and, regrettably, it already seems to be having some effect.
In the South China Morning Post Nectar Gan reports that the Ministry of Culture thinks it's now a good idea for Art and literature awards to evaluate 'social benefit' of works, as Zhu Di, head of the art department of the ministry:
said Xi's comments on arts and literature -- that works should place social benefits first, should not bow to commercial demands and should be evaluated by the public -- will become "important principals for the ministry's award evaluation system reform in the future".
Oh, great .....
The central propaganda department of the Communist Party is taking the lead in reforming guidelines, Zhu said.
But I have to admit I'm curious how this will work out, since China has a vibrant -- and huge -- writing scene that isn't going to pay any attention to this kind of nonsense.
At 91, French author Claude Ollier has passed away; he published his last book ... last year: Cinq contes fantastiques (see the P.O.L. publicity page).
Surprisingly little notice of his death so far, even in the French press -- but see, for example, Sabine Audrerie's Mort de l'écrivain Claude Ollier.
Several of his works have been translated; most of these were published by -- of course -- Dalkey Archive Press.
(And, yes, Ollier's work fits the Dalkey-profile to a T.)
Only one of his works is under review at the complete review: Wert and the Life Without End.
See also Cecile Lindsay's 1988 A Conversation with Claude Ollier from the Review of Contemporary Fiction.
So far there have been few articles about the sales-effect of the announcement that Patrick Modiano is this year's Nobel laureate -- in part, in the US/UK, no doubt because almost none of his works are actually available or in print (a situation that will be changing in the coming weeks).
Unsurprisingly, he got a nice boost in France -- though not enough of one for his new novel to top last week's (through 12 October) bestseller list (you can see how Le suicide français would be hard to top, regardless of international honors ...).
[Updated: See also the Datalib list covering the past seven days of literary-title (i.e. excluding the likes of Le suicide français) sales, which has Modiano's new work at number one and several more in the top fifteen.]
Ahn Sung-mi reports, in The Korea Herald, that Nobel prize boosts Modiano's book sales in South Korea, as, for example:
Online book retailer Interpark said Missing Person recorded 300 books in sales over a four-day period since the announcement.
"This is a drastic change from 2010 when the book was first published and total of 120 books were sold that year," said Jeong Ji-yeon from Interpark.
"Prior to the award announcement, less than 10 copies of his books were sold on average in a month at bookstores," said a representative of Munhakdonge, publisher of seven books of the author.
Munhakdongne printed 13,000 Modiano books upon the Nobel Prize announcement, and plans to print 10,000 more copies as the demand is increasing.
More surprisingly and impressively, the Tehran Times reports that Patrick Modiano's books soar to Tehran bestsellers list, with six Modinao titles among the top-five at various Tehran booksellers.
Okay, so in South Korea there are apparently seven Modiano titles available, in Iran -- Iran ! -- there are six, in the US/UK ... less.
Yes, the situation is changing/improving: Yale University Press' three-in-one collection, Suspended Sentences (see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), substantially increases what's available (from those two Godine titles, with one more reprint to follow soon), and the University of California Press has quickly resuscitated Dora Bruder -- a re-issue is due out next month (see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com; no Amazon.co.uk listing at this time).
(The University of Nebraska Press seems also to be working on resuscitating Out of the Dark -- see their publicity page, or back-order at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)
Still, overall: a sad state of English-speaking affairs -- and surely yet another counter-example to all the supposed translation-enthusiasm that everyone is so excited about: the down-to-earth reality looks like this: a lot uglier, with even the Iranians managing to do a better job in at least some (and possibly many ?) cases.
UK publishers released 2,875 new titles per million inhabitants, more than 1,000 titles ahead of the nearest nation, Taiwan.
In absolute figures, 2013 saw the UK publish 184,000 new titles and re-editions, the highest figure in Europe, with only the US and China publishing more, with 304,912 and 444,000 titles respectively.
I do note that Iceland is not included in the reckoning; the most recent statistics I could find, covering 2012, report 1349 published titles; with an Icelandic population at the end of 2012 of 321,857, that makes for 4,191 new titles per million inhabitants .....
Nevertheless, the UK totals are impressive.
Those from Georgia, too -- what the hell is that about ?
On the other hand: South Africa only published 68 titles per million inhabitants ?
(Okay, those are 2010 figures; not necessarily directly comparable -- but it's still shocking.)
They've announced the ten-title strong longlist for the 2015 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature.
A couple of real heavyweights on the list: books by Jhumpa Lahiri, Khaled Hosseini, and Kamila Shamsie.
Shamsur Rahman Faruqi's The Mirror of Beauty is apparently the only work in translation that made the cut (not that you could tell it's a translation from the Penguin India publicity page ...).
The University of Vienna has put up an online Datenbank literarischer Bildzitate, a database of some 1,500 references to works of art in modern German literature, searchable by author, artwork, artist, and text.
(See the search page, which makes it reasonably obvious what's on offer.)
I'm not sure how comprehensive this is (yet) -- Bernhard referenced specific works of art in only one of his novels ? -- but it's still fairly interesting and even somewhat useful.
The obligatory 'judging the Man Booker Prize'-piece comes from Sarah Churchwell at The Guardian's book blog, where she writes about The joys of judging the Man Booker prize.
(I enjoy these, but I'd love it if one year they did get the judge who just hated the experience to spill all the ugly beans about the process.)
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Emmanuel Carrère pseudo(?)-biographical 2011 prix Renaudot-winning Limonov -- rather desperately subtitled in the US edition: The Outrageous Adventures of the Radical Soviet Poet Who Became a Bum in New York, a Sensation in France, and a Political Antihero in Russia.
As longtime readers know, I'm not a big fan of biography in any form, and I note with some amusement that my review barely even mentions any of these supposedly 'Outrageous Adventures' Limonov had -- I found and consider them completely uninteresting (and Limonov -- despite some obvious talents -- a vacuous poseur: I can't imagine a less interesting person or subject matter, all noise and affectation).
I didn't even notice until after I finished writing the review, but it didn't even occur to me -- though of course it should have: presumably a not insignificant percentage of readers are curious about the book because they want to know about Limonov.
But, yeah, I really shouldn't be reviewing biographies -- even if this can also be considered something else entirely (and is much more interesting when considered as such).
(This is also the second recent prix Renaudot-winner that I've reviewed in less than two months -- Our Lady of the Nile is the other.)
addressed another forum on literature and arts, again calling for artworks to "embody socialist core values in a lively and vivid way", to "uphold Chinese spirit" and "rally Chinese strength".
Apparently the concern is that:
Although China has already had a Nobel Prize winner in Literature and a number of Chinese films have won international awards, there are plenty of vulgar, repetitive and fast-food art works.
They lack insight and artistic values and do not meet the needs of the people.
Always good to see when the state (or any other pseudo-authority) decides what exactly meets the "needs of the people" .....
But maybe here is finally an explanation why Chinese literature (which seems to be thriving in China ...) hasn't done particularly well abroad yet ?
The current weakness of Chinese literature and art may derive from the pervasion of consumerism and money worship.
These trends prevent artists from reaching deep into society to find the most vivid materials -- the method that Xi called for in the meeting.
Down with such pervasion ! (?)
Though I have to admit Xi's speech did give me the giggles -- the thought that he could take himself seriously (much less believe any 'artist' might) .....
Princeton University has announced that Nobel laureate Toni Morrison's papers will join their library-collection -- about 180 linear feet worth (and counting, presumably).
No word, alas, how much they shelled out for the collection.
Recall that a 1993 Christmas Day fire at one of Morrison's houses fortunately apparently did not badly damage what was at hand there at the time.
Already then, then Schomburg Center chief Howard Dodson said: "The whole world wants her papers".
(He also said:
he and Ms. Morrison, friends for about seven years, have discussed the possibility that some of her papers would be left to the Schomburg Center, which she has long supported, but no formal agreement has been reached.
Sore loser ?
Annoyed by the annual distraction ?
Whatever the case, Peter Handke thinks it's time to abolish the damn thing -- the Nobel Prize in Literature: that's what he said Thursday, Die Pressereports.
He argues: it brings a brief bit of attention, 'six [!] pages in the newspaper', but that's about it.
(Americans meanwhile shake their heads even more -- what newspaper would have six pages of laureate coverage ?)
It can't all be sour grapes: he thinks this year's selection an excellent one -- and you can take his word for it: he's translated two of Modiano's books into German, Une jeunesse (see the Suhrkamp publicity page) and La Petite Bijou.
(A pretty decent stamp of approval, to have been translated by Handke -- and a reminder, yet again, how few prominent English-writing authors also translate, while a world-class author like Handke thinks it's important enough to occupy himself with ....)
I wonder whether he'll take up a petition among his prominent-author-buddies.
And whether the Swedish Academy will hold this against him .....
(Updated - 19 October): Okay, so it's not probably not just sour grapes that he didn't get it: see the Nouvel Observateur profile of 7 May, "Donner le Nobel à des écrivains est une farce grotesque", in which he already says it's a farce to give authors such a prize -- and proposes sending it off with one final award ... to Adonis (in a not very nice two-birds-with-one-stone-suggestion).
Eurozine reprints Vladimir Yermakov's look at Sergei Dovlatov, dissident sans idea, considering the dichotomy that 'All but invisible in his home country, Sergei Dovlatov became something of a mythical figure among the Russian diaspora of New York'.
Dovlatov's Pushkin Hills was recently published, complete with James Wood Afterword (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), but I'm afraid I don't see, for example, -- as Wood does -- that it: "is funny on every page", etc.
But, hey, they named a street after him .....
They've announced the finalists for the (American) National Book Awards.
As usual: I haven't reviewed or read any of these (though at least I have a copy of the Marilynne Robinson, and am intrigued by the Rabih Alameddine).
Donna Leon, an American writer based at the other end of Italy from Naples, in Venice, has seen her Commissario Brunetti detective novels published around the world -- but she refuses to let them be published in Italian for fear it will spoil her relative invisibility.
Surely they'd sell pretty well there, too, so she's a writer who is actually leaving a decent pot of cash on the table; quite remarkable.
(As to Elena Ferrante's identity: who cares ?
As with practically all fiction my advice is: ignore the author, read the books.)
Another prize for which Richard Flanagan's Man Booker-winning The Narrow Road to the Deep North is presumably a favorite is the 2014 (Australian) Prime Minister's Literary Awards -- but that prize seems to be MIA (or rather: missing in inaction).
Last year, they announced the shortlists on 17 June and the winners on 15 August; this year ... they haven't even announced the shortlists (though apparently the judging panels submitted them weeks ago).
In The Australian Stephen Romei now reports on this odd Long wait for Prime Minister's Literary Awards shortlist.
(Updated - 19 October): Well, maybe that shook some life into them: they've now announced the shortlists -- and no surprise that Flanagan's book is one of the fiction-finalists.
In The Bookseller Anna James reports that Visser of De Geus launches English language publisher -- which is to be called World Editions.
(The current World Editions site doesn't quite capture the English-language-publication version that's coming.)
They kindly sent me ARCs of their forthcoming (in early 2015) first four volumes and it's a promising start.
The most notable title is Linda Boström Knausgård's The Helios Disaster (see, for example, the review in the Swedish Book Review) -- yes, she is the wife of that struggling Norwegian author .....
I'm very excited to see their ambitious program (twenty titles in 2015 !) -- and am very pleased that they are already working towards translating 25 Dutch and Flemish authors in time for the 2016 Frankfurt Book Fair (when the Netherlands and Flanders are guests of honour at the book fair).
In the Irish Times Richard Pine worries that: 'Bureaucratic and fitful support for translators risks hampering authors', as Greek literature risks getting lost in translation.
As long as I can remember, Greek fiction has always fared poorly in translation -- only a couple of big names (i.e. Kazantzakisn and Vassilis Vassilikos) getting some attention, while a small number of other authors have work occasionally (and in tiny print-runs) appearing in translation.
I'm actually surprised by some of these numbers -- especially given current Greek economic conditions:
In Greece, the Frasis project, managed by the national book centre, funds the translation of books published outside Greece. In its two years of existence, with a budget of €189,000, out of a total of 100 applications it has subsidised the translation of 28 books (at an average cost of €6,500), only four of them into English.
Well, the 'only four of them into English' is hardly surprising .....
See also the (limited amount of) Greek literature under review at the complete review.
At The Washington Post's 'Style Blog' (?) Ron Charles writes about a New $25,000 prize for Catholic literary arts, the George W. Hunt Prize.
(There doesn't seem to be any dedicated website or the like yet, or information at the sponsoring sites (indeed, sponsor America can't be bothered to do much more than link to Charles' piece.)
Apparently, the prize: "seeks to recognize the finest literary work of Roman Catholic intelligence and imagination", and "will consider works in a variety of genres, including journalism, fiction, poetry, drama, music, memoir, biography, history, art criticism and academic scholarship" -- i.e. it is, alas, not merely a fiction prize.
Among the nuttier requirements:
The Hunt Prize guidelines state that each entrant "should be familiar with the Roman Catholic tradition" and "should be a person of sound moral character and reputation and must not have published works that are manifestly atheistic or morally offensive."
I.e. works presumably will have to be submitted with a good-conduct note from the author's parish priest .....
Somehow I don't think I'll be keeping a close eye on this one.
Karen Joy Fowler's novel, We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves, has sold more than three times the rest of the Booker shortlist combined.
It has shifted 55,664 copies so far, more than 20,000 of those since the shortlist was announced.
Her rivals have sold a combined 16,710 copies, according to latest figures.
Her nearest sales rival is Ali Smith's How To Be Both, available only in hardback and released more recently, with a mere 4,669 copies sold.
And previous winner Howard Jacobson's J has been an impressive dud, with only 3,263 copies sold.
I can't imagine ever getting to this, but you can get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
I'm looking forward to the day when a mention of the title is naturally assumed to refer to the Knausgaard-book(s), but for now the original Mein Kampf remains the contentious work of reference -- all the more so this year, at least in Germany, as copyright protection is running out very soon and free-for-all potential hovers in the air.
Eurozine now print an e-mail exchange from the Index on Censorship between German PEN vice president Sascha Feuchert and former World Jewish Congress vice president Charlotte Knobloch, debating Should Hitler's Mein Kampf be republished?
One more among the literary laureates and finalists announced last week: they've announced the shortlist for the Russian 'Booker' prize.
Lizok's Bookshelf has an English overview -- and, yet again, I note that that Sharov is something I really want to see .....
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Colin Adams' Zombies and Calculus.
Not exactly my usual fare, but I have a soft spot (one of many ...) for mathematical fiction, and this novel was brought out by Princeton University Press, of all places, so even/despite with zombies: pretty hard to resist.
Via I'm pointed to Rodolfo C. Estimo Jr.'s Arab News report, Bookstores urged to rethink strategies, as the number of bookstores selling secondhand books in the Saudi capital is apparently declining -- indeed: "bookstores for secondhand books along Makkah Road are gone".
A literature professor is quoted:
There are only a few bookstores remaining in the Saudi capital and they will also close down if the owners don't make the right moves competition-wise to stay in business
Options would seem to be limited for used bookstores -- which have been on the decline all over the world in recent years (or have shifted much of their selling online ...).
The 2014:2 Issue of the Swedish Book Review is now (partially) available online.
Not the book reviews, alas, but Karin Boye's Linköping Cathedral February 1938, introduced and translated by Bruce Phenix, so that's something .....
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Nakamura Fuminori's Last Winter, We Parted.
This is the third Nakamura thriller translated into English (by Soho Press), and it seems clear to me that he's the most interesting Japanese thriller writer currently being translated, ahead of the likes of Miyabe Miyuki and Kirino Natsuo (Kitakata Kenzo's work seems to stretch too far beyond the genre for comparison ...).
At The New Yorker Vauhini Vara wonders Do You Have to Win a Nobel Prize to Be Translated ?
While the situation isn't quite so dire, big prize-wins tend to help a lot -- but perhaps only for so long: Modiano (and Le Clézio) publisher David Godine is quoted:
My takeaway thought to this is that it's really sad that the only way that these people get any attention is when they win the Nobel Prize -- and then, five years from now, no one's going to remember it, no one's going to remember that Modiano won it
As seems inevitable in any piece on how much gets translated, Vara muddies some of the numbers in writing:
Last year, traditional publishers put out about sixty thousand print titles in fiction, poetry, or drama; only five hundred and twenty-four of those were translated books of fiction or poetry, according to the Three Percent Web site
The 60K number includes new editions, paperback editions of previously published translations, new translations of previously translated works, etc., while the Three Percent database is limited to works of fiction and poetry appearing in English for the first time (i.e. the two new translations of Anna Karenina (see below) count among the 60K, but not among the translations tracked at Three Percent ...).
Still, quite a few interesting points and observations here -- including regarding the American phenomenon of small and independent publishers having taken the translation-lead, while the biggest publishers seem willing to only take the smallest risks (Knopf's Bogaards' comments may be half-joking, but sure sound half-serious, too ...)
The (Anglican) Church Times has put together a list of the 100 best Christian books; at the TLS weblog one of the judges, Rupert Shortt, comments on the making of this list, in 100 good godly reads.
While there is some religious fare under review at the complete review, it is obviously a subject matter I have little affinity or sympathy for, so I'm probably the last person to be able to assess how right or wrong these selections are.
Still, good to see a reasonable amount of actual (as opposed to just theological) literature included, such as: Pascal, T.S.Eliot's Four Quartets, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Donne, Kierkegaard, Marilynne Robinson's Gilead, and Graham Greene's The Power and the Glory.
The Nigeria Prize for Literature rotates through four genres -- this was a year for drama -- so my interest rather ebbs between the fiction-announcements; still, worth noting -- even as they don't seem to have yet at the official site -- that Iredi War by Sam Ukala took this year's $100,000 prize, selected from 124 submissions.
See, for example, Nigeria Prize for Literature winner emerges in The Nation.
(Updated - 16 October): See now also a Q & A with Ukala in Vanguard.
Two new translations of Anna Karenina are coming out this fall, by Rosamund Bartlett and Marian Schwartz, respectively -- see my previous mention -- and at Russia Beyond the Headlines Alexandra Guzeva now has a Q & A with Bartlett.
See also the Oxford University Press publicity page for her translation, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
So Patrick Modiano is the 2014 Nobel laureate -- and those official pages are a good source for much of the basic information about him and the prize.
See also yesterday's post for early reactions, information, and links to (English) reviews of his books -- but now there's already a whole lot more to add.
A good place to begin: at the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy Sven Grundberg and Jens Hansegard have a Q & A with the Swedish Academy's Nobel point-man, Peter Englund, and try to learn from him: Why Patrick Modiano Won the Nobel Prize in Literature.
Englund probably does himself no favors with his first 'explanation':
So no American this year, yet again. Why is that ?
[Alice] Munro is Canadian, and I believe Canada is part of the North American continent, so there.
Still, good to get some information from the source
For those looking for a basic introduction, there are several pieces on offer:
In many cases, the English-language rights to Mr. Modiano’s books have lapsed and now must be renegotiated, according to Anne-Solange Noble, the foreign-rights director for Éditions Gallimard, Mr. Modiano’s French publisher.
This week, she is attending the Frankfurt Book Fair, where such rights are often negotiated.
Recall that the first Modiano to make it into English was Night Rounds, which Alfred A. Knopf brought out in 1971 -- but they seem to have soured on him quickly, and presumably rights reverted ages ago.
(Updated): Alexandra Alter and Dan Bilefsky's report in The New York Times, Patrick Modiano, a Modern 'Proust,' Is Awarded Nobel in Literature offers some hard numbers, too: apparently the three titles Godine has published: "have collectively sold fewer than 8,000 copies in America" (which actually isn't that bad); and they will now: "print an additional 15,000 copies of the books".
Meanwhile, the forthcoming Yale University press collection, Suspended Sentences (see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), now has a first printing of 20,000, rather than the originally planned 2000.
There's also the winner himself, briefly interviewed at the Nobel site by Hélène Hernmarck (but handle with caution: it is a: "Translation into free English (not literal) of a telephone interview in French with Patrick Modiano").
Appreciations and (relatively) more thorough overviews include:
There were also quite a few articles about betting-on-the-Nobel:
- Worth noting that The Guardian polled readers regarding Who should win the Nobel prize in literature ? with the top ten betting favorites as options: Modiano tied for dead last with two per cent support, while Murakami polled 36% and Philip Roth 28%.
- At the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy -- you've figured out that they had by far the best overall prize-coverage, right ? -- Brenda Cronin reports on the Nobel Prize in Literature: Bookmakers Hail A Dark Horse, with titbits such as:
On Thursday, Ms. Bridge said that during the final leadup to the Swedish Academy's decision, the number of bets on Mr. Modiano didn't increase notably.
"There were a few chunky bets placed on him in the last few days," she wrote, amid all-over brisk betting on the contest, which was up 20% from last year.
And apparently Ladbrokes already have a list for next year (though I failed to find it at their site).
- In Svenska Dagbladet Alan Asaid takes a more in-depth look at the betting phenomenon, in Vadslagningen sätter snurr på priset -- noting:
Vadslagning och Nobelpriset i litteratur har nu bildat en medial konstellation under lite mer än ett årtionde.
[Betting and the Nobel Prize in Literature have now formed a media-constellation in little over a decade.]
He also mentions the different sources of information and speculation, and I am of course tickled to read:
avancerade spekulationskällor på nätet, varav den kanske mest informativa och underhållande är oddsoraklet MA Orthofers blogg The Literary Saloon.
("Oddsoraklet" might be a good title for my next business card.)
In general, I suspect translation is seen in a more positive light in less-than-dominant cultures that have to translate to keep up with the mainstream.
American complacency keeps the incoming volume of translations low.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Judith Schalansky's Darwinian novel, The Giraffe's Neck -- subtitled a Bildungsroman in the German original (though not in the English, in part presumably because the play on words is lost: the protagonist is a teacher, and 'Bildung' is the German for 'education'/'learning', so it is literally both a Bildungsroman and a 'Bildungs-Roman').