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the Literary Saloon at the Complete Review
opinionated commentary on literary matters - from the complete review


The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 28 February 2003

21 February: Gilman's Glory | New Atlantic Monthly
22 February: More Sebald reviews | Stallabrass on Computer Fictions | Dante Club information
24 February: Chinua Achebe reviews | Aleksandar Tišma (1924-2003) | New Republic Online changes
25 February: Feast of the Goat on stage | Hornby's 31 Songs / Songbook | Reading vs. reviewing
26 February: Quevedo's Sueños | Reviews of translated works | Telegraph reviews: Kourouma, Sebald | Following Alexander to the Hindu Kush
27 February: Sebald symposium | National Book Critics Circle Awards
28 February: Kertész's Valaki más | Lysistrata revivals

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28 February 2003 - Friday

Kertész's Valaki más | Lysistrata revivals

       Kertész's Valaki más

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of recent Nobel laureate Imre Kertész's Valaki más. Yeah, sorry, as you can guess from the title, it's not available in English translation yet (though you can get it in, among other languages, French or German).
       Presumably eventually all his works will be translated; for now we can just offer you a glimpse of what you're missing. And you are missing something.

       Next month: our review of Gályanapló We know you can't wait .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Lysistrata revivals

       Anti-war protests are as good a reason as any to revive some Aristophanes, and The Lysistrata Project has set a nice ball rolling, with a ton of readings of Lysistrata scheduled for 3 March: 807 readings in 49 countries last we checked. (Any in Baghdad ... ? Riyadh ?) See also additional media coverage in, for example, The Village Voice or the Columbia Daily Spectator.
       Not surprisingly, Lysistrata is the most popular text currently being accessed at the great Perseus site (highly recommended). Check it out in Jeffrey Henderson's translation -- or be adventurous and read the Greek original ! (The Lysistrata project also offers numerous links to scripts for those in need thereof.)

       Henderson's translation, recently published in the revised Loeb editions, updates the English. This Harvard Magazine article describes the new Loebs -- and offers a nice comparison of how different translations can be:
       A passage in the 1924 edition reads:
If we women will but sit at home, powdered and trimmed, clad in our daintiest lawn, employing all our charms and all our arts to win men's love, and when we've won it, then repel them, firmly, till they end the war, we'll soon get peace again, be sure of that.
       While Henderson's new rendering reads:
If we sat around at home all made up, and walked past them wearing only our diaphanous underwear, with our pubes plucked in a neat triangle, and our husbands got hard and hankered to ball us, but we didn't go near them and kept away, they'd sue us for peace, and pretty quick, you can count on that !
       Ah, yes, translation ! Gotta love it. (That's why we commend the Greek original to you -- though the Loeb edition -- with both Greek and English text -- is probably easiest to handle.)

       So what'll be the next Aristophanes we can all rally around ? The Frogs ? Clouds ? We're fine with any of them !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



27 February 2003 - Thursday

Sebald symposium | National Book Critics Circle Awards

       Sebald Symposium

       Okay, we forgot to remind you of A Tribute to W.G.Sebald at Queens College (NY) yesterday night, but Sebald-related events continue to proliferate. The next big one is the Third Occasional Davidson Symposium on German Studies W.G. Sebald: Works & Influences, 13-16 March (at Davidson College). (Among the symposium participants: Ruth Franklin, who has done some decent Sebald commentary in The New Republic.)

       Meanwhile, look back on last year's A Symposium on W.G. Sebald at The Threepenny Review (with brief comments by Geoff Dyer, Susan Sontag, James Wood, and others).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       National Book Critics Circle Awards

       The American National Book Critics Circle Awards were handed out yesterday. We had a number of the nominees under review, and can't complain about the winning books in at least three categories: Samantha Power's "A Problem from Hell" in non-fiction, William H. Gass' Tests of Time for criticism, and Ian McEwan's masterful Atonement for fiction. (See all the nominees at the NBCC site.)
       McEwan was obviously deserving, but we're also particularly pleased that Samantha Power's book got this recognition. A San Francisco Chronicle article by Heidi Benson claims it came as a surprise ("The book that had been widely expected to win for nonfiction was William Langewiesche's best-seller, American Ground: Unbuilding the World Trade Center"), but Power's book seems quite obviously the more important one.
       Unfortunately, Power's award is slightly overshadowed by the continuing anti-Langewiesche events. An AP story from yesterday reported that there were protests, as: "Outraged firefighters demanded on Tuesday that the National Book Critics Circle withdraw the nomination of a book that accuses fire department members of disrespecting human remains and looting ground zero after the Sept. 11 terrorist attack." (It's sort of nice to see people get excited about any book, but this is a pretty ugly affair.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



26 February 2003 - Wednesday

Quevedo's Sueños | Reviews of translated works
Telegraph reviews: Kourouma, Sebald | Following Alexander to the Hindu Kush

       Quevedo's Sueños

       More classical fare at the complete review: the newest review is of Francisco de Quevedo's 17th century satire, Dreams and Discourses. Impressive stuff (and often very amusing), and the bilingual 1989 Aris & Phillips edition (with an introduction, notes, and translated by R.K.Britton) certainly met most of our needs.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Reviews of translated works

       As many of our readers will have noticed, we constantly complain about the lack of review-coverage of foreign literature that's been translated into English (not that there's that much translated work to review in the first place).
       We try to do our little part by reviewing a great deal of foreign literature, but we're small fish in that big reviewing pond. We also review a fair amount of literature that has not yet been translated into English yet -- and we praise the few major English-language publications that also review such still-only-foreign-language literature (the Times Literary Supplement, The Economist, occasionally a few others). But a review in the most recent TLS to reach us (14 February) does it one better: Ruth Morse reviews a French edition of Shakespeare (Les Tragicomédies - Poésies, II, Paris: Laffont).
       It's not the first time they've done this: 4 August 2002 Morse reviewed Gallimard's edition of the Tragédies (volumes one and two of a projected seven volume collected Shakespeare). It may seem an odd exercise -- and possibly even a waste of space better devoted to other book-coverage -- but we wholeheartedly approve.
       The Tragicomédies is a verse translation (the Gallimard-Tragédies are prose renderings) -- which leaves the French pages looking "old fashioned" (so Morse). But she still finds that "Monsieur Shakespeare, recontextualized as a European, has much to tell us".
       The 14 February review is just one "in brief" -- more overview than much else -- but the 9 August 2002 one is a full-length one, and well-worth revisiting (sorry, none of this stuff is freely accessible on the Internet).
       Translation is a complicated subject, but as even these mere review-pieces show, discussion of the transformations of a familiar author (and who, in English, could be more familiar ?) can reveal a lot about both the languages and the author's works. Indeed, it's possibly easier to convey many of the translating-issues and difficulties than it would be with, say, regard to the works of a French author translated into English; certainly, Morse does a good job of it in her two reviews.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Telegraph reviews: Kourouma, Sebald

       Some new Telegraph reviews are up at their site.

       We mentioned a few days ago that the second translation of Ahmadou Kourouma's novel Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote (see our review) is now available in the UK. We told you The Times took brief notice (15 February), and now there's a Daily Telegraph review by David Isaacson (22 February). "Waiting for the Wild Beasts to Vote to Vote is unlikely to lose its immediate political relevance any time soon", he notes.
       (Question: why didn't any major (or even middling) American publications review this important book when the first translation came out in the US a few years back ? Inexcusable.)

       Also in the Telegraph: W.G.Sebald reviews (see also our last mention for five other recent On the Natural History of Destruction review-links). There's Alan Marshall's (22 February), and then Max Hastings' (23 February).
       Hastings suggests: "His book is chiefly interesting to a British reader because it is the work of a brilliant mind, rather than because it exposes new evidence."

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Following Alexander to the Hindu Kush

       Decent little piece in today's The Times, as Michael Wood describes travelling to the Hindu Kush with (Penguin) classic in hand -- Arrianís Life of Alexander

       (Get your own copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk and set out for yourself. Or at least travel across the pages in the comforts of your own home.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



25 February 2003 - Tuesday

Feast of the Goat on stage | Hornby's 31 Songs / Songbook | Reading vs. reviewing

       Feast of the Goat on stage

       Here's an unlikely stage-adaptation: Mario Vargas Llosa's Rafael Trujillo-novel, The Feast of the Goat (see our review). Four hundred and four pages, three major narrative strands: it all seems a bit much, even in prose. But there's no denying a certain theatricality to the Trujillo-doings.
       Repertorio Español decided to tackle the book, and their stage-version, directed by Jorge AlŪ Triana, has its world premiere on 27 February in New York (in Spanish, with simultaneous English translation provided).
       A 23 February article by Mireya Navarro in The New York Times discusses the production. Among the interesting points: the same actor plays both the roles of Trujillo and Agustín Cabral. Also:
But after reading the adaptation, Mr Vargas Llosa said, he found it "faithful to the spirit of the novel" and sent word of his approval last February. A film adaptation of the novel is also in the works
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Nick Hornby's 31 Songs / Songbook

       Nick Hornby's 31 Songs (just out in the UK, available for a couple of months already in the US -- but under the title Songbook) has been getting decent reviews the past couple of weeks. (Far more notice in the UK (where Penguin published it) than the US (where, under the different title, it's a Mcsweeney's book) -- even though it appears to be selling well on both sides of the Atlantic.) We haven't reviewed it yet, but might yet get around to it -- we like list-books, and are sorely tempted by any book that features not one but two Teenage Fanclub songs .....
       And some of the reviews make it sound tempting too -- so Marcus Berkmann in the 22 February issue of The Spectator, writing:
I suspect that to many Spectator readers this book will be of less interest than virtually anything else published this year. Even Hornby fans may regard it as little more than a curiosity. But all music obsessives will want to read it; some will wish they had written it. Itís original, well written and wholly lacking in pretension. I think itís the most accomplished of his books so far: certainly itís as good a book about pop music as I have read in many years.
       The Observer got John Peel to review it (23 February), Lavinia Greenlaw thought "31 Songs makes heroic sport of hapless accumulation" (The Independent, 22 February), and Tim Lott found "Hornby's 31 Songs is a triumph, and quite the most enjoyable book he has written since High Fidelity" (Evening Standard, 10 February).
       Funny, though, how none of them mention Teenage Fanclub .....

       Other links of interest:
  • Rob Thomas' review in The Capital Times (9 January)
  • Interview in Seattle Weekly

  • To buy at Amazon.com/Amazon.co.uk:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Reading vs. reviewing

       The fuss about Beverly Lowry's 26 January review in The New York Times Book Review of Susan McDougal and Pat Harris' The Woman Who Wouldn't Talk -- Ms. Lowry apparently not having read the book she reviewed (at least not in its entirety, or too closely) -- led David Sexton to wonder Read any good books lately ? (Evening Standard, 24 February)
       Sexton acknowledges that Ms.Lowry isn't quite the exception among reviewers one might have hoped (much as Michael Kinsley's shocking NBA-non-judging led all sorts of judges to acknowledge they didn't wade through all the nominated books for all sorts of prizes either (see also our previous comments)).
       At least Sexton doesn't excuse the practice, concluding finally that reviewers:
are there professionally, to try these books to the end on our behalf and save us from the trouble. They are like the canaries that used to be sent down the mines, to be asphyxiated if necessary, as a signal to the rest of us.
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



24 February 2003 - Monday

Chinua Achebe reviews | Aleksandar Tišma (1924-2003)
New Republic Online changes

       Chinua Achebe reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of Chinua Achebe's essay-collection Morning Yet on Creation Day and Conversations with Chinua Achebe (ed. Bernth Lindfors).
       Coincidentally (Achebe isn't much in the news nowadays) the 22 February issue of The Guardian has a Caryl Phillips-piece about an Achebe-encounter, with the two debating Joseph Conrad. A decent Achebe-introduction along the way -- though we would have preferred to hear about them going at it over V.S.Naipual, with whom both seem to have some ... issues.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Aleksandar Tišma (1924-2003)

       Serbian author Aleksandar Tisma has had quite a few of his books translated into English (none of which we currently have under review), but so far the English-language press has taken next to no notice of his 16 February death. Literary figures -- especially foreign literary figures -- are apparently just not worth anybody's while. (As best we can tell The New York Times still hasn't even bothered to offer an Augusto Monterroso-obituary -- and they've ignored Tišma so far too.) (Monterroso did at least get a few notices; see also our previous mention.)

       For now the only Tisma write-ups are in the foreign press. See, for example, these obituaries in:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       New Republic Online changes

       The New Republic has made some changes to the look of their online-site -- as well as to how (and by whom) it can be used. A 21 February Online Editor's Note discusses some of what's been done -- but mainly it boils down to this:
But from this point forward most of the articles from The New Republic's print edition will be available only to subscribers to our new TNR Digital package.
       Which, of course leads to a scream of frustration and outrage from us, as another nice online book-review source becomes essentially useless.
       We actually subscribe to this periodical, and so are eligible for free access to all this TNR digital crap (wow ! it's the "new TNR Digital package" ! that must be cool !) -- after jumping through some annoying registration hoops. (They have the essentials from our subscriber information for the actual print copy, so why do they now need to know things like how old we are ? And do they really think there's a chance in hell we'll tell them anything close to the truth ?). Always appreciated: they only tell you that they require cookies to be turned on to register after you've filled out the form -- would it be so hard to reveal that information before ? (Of course it would: if they mentioned it more people might actually notice what's going on, and might not be too pleased about it. )

       Anyway, what it boils down to: don't expect many links to The New Republic-book reviews at the complete review any more. Which is too bad.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



22 February 2003 - Saturday

More Sebald reviews | Stallabrass on Computer Fictions | Dante Club information

       More Sebald reviews

       We've previously mentioned W.G.Sebald's On the Natural History of Destruction and numerous reviews thereof. More keep appearing (and yes, we'll try to get to it too -- we've asked for a copy from Random House, and we do hope they're nice enough to send us one).

       New reviews of interest:
  • John Banville's in The Guardian (today's issue) -- he even discusses the Peter Weiss essay a bit ...

  • Peter J. Conradi's in The Independent (today's issue)

  • Richard Eder's from The New York Times -- now available at the International Herald Tribune site

  • (Updated - 23 February): and today Adam Phillips chimes in in The Observer

  • (Updated - 24 February): and today Robert Winder offers his opinion in The New Statesman. (If you look this review up in the New Statesman's book review section they say the review is only accessible to subscribers -- but in their "book-shop" section the whole review is freely accessible.)
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Stallabrass on Computer Fictions

       Julian Stallabrass writes about Computer fictions in the March issue of Prospect. A pretty decent overview, and some interesting ideas. But an odd mix of the obvious and the (modestly) insightful:
Clearly, computer games are not mindless -- even the simplest of them require co-ordination and spatial awareness, and the more complex involve puzzle-solving, immersion in narrative and even extensive reading. They do, however, encourage a particular mindset, geared to conformity of action and the purely instrumental use of objects and characters. The important question is how much liberty a player is granted to explore, and how much the constraints on choice imposed by a game are essential to its structure.
       (See also our review of his High Art Lite.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Dante Club information

       A book that's been getting a lot of publicity (and which we've also asked Random House for a review-copy of) is well-educated youngster Matthew Pearl's The Dante Club, an entertaining-sounding mix of pseudo-historic novel and mystery story.
       The book has its own official site (a bit too fancy -- arghh, Flash ! -- for our taste, but with useful information and many useful links, somewhere in there (skip intro !)).
       Pearl's Ivy League education also pays off with coverage in his alma maters' dailies -- in both the Harvard Crimson and the Yale Daily News

       Other links of possible interest:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



21 February 2003 - Friday

Gilman's Glory | New Atlantic Monthly

       Gilman's Glory

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Rebecca Gilman's play, The Glory of Living. (Equally importantly: it finally moved us to update our review-links and information about the better-known Spinning into Butter.)
       The Glory of Living is the earlier play, and had a solid (and award-winning run) in London in early 1999, and then a prominent one in the fall of 2001 in New York (directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman, and starring Anna Paquin). It's a solid piece of drama -- managing to avoid being sensationalistic, and pretty much keeping the melodrama in check too --, and Lisa is a great role (though surely one that's tough to pull off).

       (The Glory of Living doesn't seem to be playing anywhere right now, but you can catch Spinning into Butter in an Alliance Repertory Theatre Company production (the "Central Jersey Premiere" !) playing through 1 March.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       New Atlantic Monthly

       The March issue of The Atlantic Monthly is now available online, with some decent book coverage:

       - Most prominent: eminent Victorian (or at least Victorianista) Gertrude Himmelfarb reviews A.N. Wilson's The Victorians -- just the person for the job !

       - Christopher Hitchens writes more generally about The Perils of Partition.

       - Meanwhile, Benjamin Schwarz at least offers a brief mention (scroll down for it) of Alasdair Gray's The Book of Prefaces (see also our review) -- which, given how the book has been largely ignored by any and all major American publications, is at least something. (Other than an even briefer mention in The New Yorker there doesn't seem to have been any real review coverage stateside.) It's now out in paperback in the US (as it has been in the UK for a while), and perhaps a few publications will use that as a reason to have a look at it after all.

       Finally, there are also short reviews of William Boyd's Any Human Heart and Will Self's Dorian -- both on this page (scroll down for them). (See, of course, also our reviews of Dorian and Any Human Heart.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



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