Yesterday's issue of The Los Angeles Times excerpts a Primo Levi essay On translating and being translated.
Not particularly exciting stuff, and some of his ideas are downright worrisome, e.g.:
The translator is the only one who truly reads a text and reads it in its profundity, in all its layers, weighing and appraising every word and every image and perhaps even discovering its empty and false passages.
Sure, the exercise of translation forces the reader-translator to consider the text particularly closely (at least that's the idea -- it's not always the case), but to suggest that other, common readers aren't capable of reading the text "in its profundity" etc. is ridiculous.
(We didn't translate the Levi's essay and yet still believe we found an "empty and false passages" -- see above.)
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Philipp Blom's To Have and to Hold, an intimate history of collectors and collecting.
It came out a few months back in the UK (where it received fairly nice -- and fairly many -- notices) and is just out in the US.
We actually have long had another Blom-work under review, his 1995 novel The Simmons Papers.
Despite a TLS-review -- and also being published in German translation -- this books seems to have left not a mark.
The American publishers of To Have and to Hold don't even bother mentioning its existence in their publicity material or in the author-biography on the back flap.
It isn't a great novel, but it is enjoyable, and it comes to mind in picking up To Have and to Hold.
Blom's new book is a decent one, filled with interesting anecdotes and pictures, and tied together with some clever thoughts.
But it seems, largely, pointless -- not much more than Sunday supplement columns in book form.
These stories aren't new -- we knew what seemed like most of them -- and there's not sufficient added value from Blom's presentation.
The only exception is Blom's stories about his great-grandfather, Willem Eldert Blom.
He would have been worth a book, but instead readers are offered this assemblage of material.
To Have and to Hold is filled with wonderful potential novel-material, and over and over again we found ourselves wishing these stories and anecdotes had been shaped in different form -- as fiction.
The Simmons Papers wasn't a great success, but it is certainly interesting (and memorable) in its failure; To Have and to Hold is entirely adequate, and will no doubt enjoy decent sales (many times over what the novel managed, one imagines), but it is the far less interesting work -- and never convinces as a book that in any way needed to be written, published, or read.
Perhaps Blom wasn't up to writing any more fiction after his first attempt (and the lack of resonance thereof), but likely he was merely persuaded by publishers (or vice versa) that a non-fiction book about collecting was a safer thing to write.
It's too bad: Blom's novel-exercise suggested some talent, and one can only dream how he might have shaped some of the material he wastes in To Have and to Hold in story-form.
There's little doubt: the results would have been far more exciting.
Our only hope: that he earns enough with this book that he's willing and able to give fiction another try.
There aren't many book reviewers out there right now that deserve to be taken very seriously, but James Wood's reviews are always worth reading (see, for example, his LRB reviews).
Now the critic offers his much-anticipated (at least by other reviewers) fiction-debut, The Book Against God (at least in the UK; the US edition is expected in June).
We do hope to review it (the title sounds very promising), but will probably only get around to it in the summer -- but at least one review is already out: William Skidelsky's in this week's issue of the New Statesman.
The Book Against God is an interesting and entertaining debut, but in contrast with the superb fluency of his criticism it is timid and awkward.
As Andrew Darby reports in today's issue of the Sydney Morning Herald, New Zealand author Lloyd Jones won "Australia's richest literary award", the Pacific Region Literary Prize for fiction (elsewhere also called the Tasmania Pacific Region Prize) for his 2000 (!) novel, The Book of Fame.
The prize had gotten some press because numerous authors had pulled out consideration:
The $40,000 award was boycotted by Peter Carey, Tim Winton, Richard Flanagan, and Joan London in protest against continued logging of old growth forests in Tasmania.
Jones said he had considered pulling out when he learnt of the controversy over the State Government's forest policies.
However, as a New Zealander he felt remote from the argument.
Well, with the $40,000 award he can at least hire a press agent who might make sure that when he gets quoted in the papers it doesn't sound quite so callous.
We're familiar with Mr. Jones' one title that made it beyond Oceania, the 1993 Enver Hoxha novel, Biografi (pretty much out of print, but you can try to get it from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk); a good piece of work (which we unfortunately do not have under review).
The Book of Fame sounds worthwhile too -- see, for example, Jason Steger, in his 10 June 2002 article in The Age:
Every so often a book sneaks up on you, catching you completely unawares.
It gets no fanfare yet when you read it you wonder why.
Lloyd Jones' spare and poetic novel The Book of Fame is one such.
It is about the first New Zealand rugby tour of Britain in 1905.
But in this starkly beautiful book he tackles the origin of myth, the creation and nature of man-made beauty, and the sense of self New Zealanders have both as individuals and as a nation.
It was also the winner of the Deutz Medal for Fiction at the 2001 Montana New Zealand Book Awards, and was nominated for the 2002 IMPAC Dublin Literary Award.
Chances of getting your hands on the book outside of the New Zealand-vicinity ?
It's listed at Amazon.co.uk -- but it's a Penguin NZ edition, so don't count on them having it.
(See also the feeble Penguin NZ publicity page.)
But maybe its prize-winning status will attract some American or English publisher.
We've been eager to read more by the obviously talented Biografi-author since we came across that book; we hope to be able to do so eventually.
Yes, there's another longlist to enjoy, the 18-book strong one for the BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction.
What was eligible ?
"The prize is open to any non-fiction book as long as it's published in English and in the UK", they claim (though we're guessing there are also some restrictions as to when the book appeared).
We only have a single longlisted title under review (Jenny Uglow's The Lunar Men) -- but, as Boyd Tonkin notes in his comments at the end of this article about the prize in today's The Independent: there were numerous other titles "which engaged and delighted (or sometimes outraged) legions of readers" which have one thing in common: "Not one appears on the long list for this year's Samuel Johnson prize" (including Martin Amis' Koba the Dread -- though that's a tough book to make a good case for).
Ian Burrell also notes in The Independent that: "The list of 18 nominated authors contains a record 11 women writers."
(A record !
For a prize established in 1999 !
On a purely personal note: Google does a nice job of covering our site -- most new reviews (and Literary Saloon stories) appear within a couple of days of being posted, and sometimes actually within a day.
But sometimes things go missing -- so, recently, our review of João Magueijo's Faster than the Speed of Light.
It was listed at Google until recently -- and while it was proved (bizarrely) to be one of the most popular reviews at the complete review.
Now it's disappeared.
Without the Google link not nearly as many people find it.
A couple of other reviews are missing as well -- but the most recent ones are all there.
There seems no rhyme or reason to why some pages should suddenly disappear -- but we mention this ... well, largely in the hope that Google picks it up on its next troll through these pages (see, this cleverly allows us to mention the link again, which their spiders might follow ...).
But it's also a reminder that even great Google is not infallible.
(Oh, and our mention of the Magueijo review isn't solely self-serving: we have added a few new links.)
(Updated - 31 March): Well, that seems to have worked: two days later and the review is listed once again .....
Max Hastings finds comfort in G.A. Henty: so he writes in this week's issue of The Spectator.
We've never read any Henty, so we can't judge (or engage in the fastidious sneering Hastings says he is subject to).
But we're not sure we'd find comfort here:
The books are relics of an era of unshaken national self-confidence.
Henty could create his tales with the assurance that his readers shared a common attachment to Empire, pluck and the merits of cold baths and canings.
We actually prefer national self-confidence to be nicely shaken (regardless of the nation in question) -- and aren't familiar with the merits of cold baths and canings, preferring to avoid both.
The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two James M. Cain classics, Double Indemnity and The Postman always Rings Twice.
(Random House is bringing out an Everyman's Libraryedition that includes these and more Cain in a few months.)
Good stuff, and Cain's crisp style and clipped dialogue in particular impress.
No surprise that they (especially Double Indemnity) translated well onto the screen; see also Derek Malcolm on Billy Wilder's Double Indemnity, and a Classic Screenplay Review by Christopher Wehner.
Here we are, complaining, complaining, complaining about the lack of translations of foreign literature into English when occasionally news does come that very much brightens our day !
A few days ago we mentioned a recent David Albahari novel, Goetz and Meyer, that was getting nice write-ups in the German and French press but is unavailable in English translation.
But Bait-translator Peter Agnone informs us that there is an English translation.
Well, almost (a little more patience is required): Ellen-Elias Bursac's translation will apparently be published this spring by Harvill Press in England.
Our faith in the publishing industry is (ever-so briefly, no doubt) restored !
We hope to be able to get our hands on a copy (and maybe round-up Tsing and Bait at the same time); we'll let you know.
Here's a story we like: the Globe & Mailreports (26 March) that the jury for the new Trillium Book Award for Poetry (part of the Trillium Book Award family of awards couldn't even come up with a shortlist, much less a winner (link first seen at Arts Journal).
Apparently only ten books were submitted -- that's all that met the stringent criteria of being "a first book of poetry by a poet resident in Ontario for three of the last five years" -- and apparently those just weren't very good.
(Question: do these criteria mean that the poets had to live elsewhere for two of the five years ?)
Anyway, "Poetry fans are circulating a petition protesting" all this (so the G&M), but we think the jury deserves thanks and praise -- for not settling on a shortlist (or winner) which wasn't truly worthy.
Good for them !
(Updated - 29 March): Alex Good has another take.
A worthy prize-winning book, as we 've mentioned on many an occasion, is Samantha Power's "A Problem from Hell".
Not surprisingly, it's been honoured once again.
The prize of the week this week is the J. Anthony Lukas Book Prize (see also the AP report, here at USA Today).
We have no idea what it is, but hey, it's another ten thousand bucks for Ms. Power, and another honour to include on the blurb of the paperback (coming soon).
Good for her.
This week's New York Press offers their first annual 50 Most Loathsome New Yorkers list.
Noteworthy: how well-represented writers are.
Jonathan Franzen (49), Rick Moody (26, "Author, Grant Applicant"), Candace Bushnell (7), and Jonathan Safran Foer (5, "One-Hit Wonder") all make the list.
Aside from these more or less literary figures there are quite a few other part-time authors: Ethan Hawke (37), Patti Smith (24, "Musician, Poet"), William Safire (10), Ann Coulter (4), Michael Moore (3), and Keith Blanchard (1).
One can understand that the ideologues (Safire, Moore, Coulter) irritate, but it's nice to see that plain ol' writers can also be considered significant enough that people actually bother to loathe them !
Adam Kirsch wonders Why is Dante hot all of a sudden ? in yesterday's Slate (link first seen at Arts Journal).
Seems to us Dante has always been fairly popular, but the near-flood of recent translations is somewhat surprising.
(We'd prefer: more translations of other works -- possibly even ones that haven't been translated into English at all .....)
The Divine Comedy (at Electronic Literature Foundation) -- features three full editions of the Divine Comedy online: the original Italian text, and English translations by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Rev. H.F. Cary.
The excellent New York Review Books-series has released two long out of print (in the US) Raymond Queneau-titles, Witch Grass and We Always Treat Women Too Well (both translated by Barbara Wright, and the latter with an introduction by John Updike).
We have a number of Queneau-titles under review, and we hope to eventually cover these too.
Meanwhile this week's issue of The Village Voice offers a brief review of Witch Grass by Joshua Clover.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Emmanuel Dongala's Little Boys Come from the Stars.
Dongala, one-time dean of Brazzaville University, is from the other (though similarly troubled) Congo (i.e. not the Belgian Congo/Zaïre one that's been so much in the news over the past few years)
He currently teaches at Simon's Rock of Bard College (the same college where Nigerian author Chinua Achebe has long been) -- but he writes in French..
Granta 81 -- the much-discussed decennial "Best of Young British Novelists" issue -- is now available.
After the initial fuss about the selection there hasn't been that much coverage of the contributors (or their contributions), but Erica Wagner reviews the volume in today's issue of The Times.
She's not exactly bowled over.
Another day, another shortlist.
This time it's for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (or, as more ambitious abbreviators conveniently refer to it, the IIMPACDLA).
See their news release.
It's an odd list, but one has to give them credit for looking nicely far afield (three of the eight works were written if foreign languages, and even the English-language contenders are geographically diverse).
We only have two of the titles under review -- Per Olov Enquist's The Royal Physician's Visit and Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections.
For those curious what acronymous sponsor IMPAC is, see the company site (where they tout themselves as "The World's Leading Specialists in Management Productivity Improvement").
Publishers Weekly had a report yesterday on American paperback sales last year.
In 2002 there was a single trade paperback title with sales of over a million copies; in 2000 there were nineteen.
Despising the trade-paperback format as we do we can only hope this is a sign of its ultimate and complete collapse as a viable book format.
(Unfortunately, that probably isn't the case.)
Meanwhile there were five titles in the much preferred and handy mass market paperback size that topped sales of two million.
(J.R.R. Tolkien did particularly well in all formats.)
(Donna per Caso), his first novel, which sold a feeble 272 copies in hardback when it was published in the UK in 1987, is now at the top of the Italian paperback bestseller list.
It just goes to show: a book must find its own time -- as well as its place on the map.
Some decent anecdotes and examples, but not much insight or analysis.
The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of A.S.Byatt's Still Life (part two of the Frederica Potter tetralogy -- of which we have now reviewed all but the first volume) and the two-novella book, Angels & Insects.
We've also added an A.S.Byatt-author page -- a start, at least; we hope to soon expand on it, as we add more reviews of Byatt-titles.
Trendy and allegedly "literary" American author Don DeLillo's newest opus, Cosmopolis, is now available (at least in the US; lucky UK readers won't have to worry about it until 9 May).
This isn't a book we're ever likely to review (we've waded through considerable amounts of DeLillo and never found it an enjoyable experience), but for those who are interested, the first reviews are out.
The Kakutani reviews it in today's issue of The New York Times, and generously finds it:
to be a major dud, as lugubrious and heavy-handed as a bad Wim Wenders film, as dated as an old issue of Interview.
She closes her review by calling the main character's crosstown trip (i.e. the plot): "a long day's journey into tedium".
Meanwhile, in this week's issue of The New Yorker (dated 31 March), John Updike reviewsCosmopolis, and thinks:
This farce of extravagant wealth and electronic mysticism might feel more authentic from the pen of Kurt Vonnegut or that of Paul Auster, to whom Cosmopolis is dedicated.
Nouveau roman meets Manhattan geography, under sci-fi moonlight.
And Ron Franscell writes (Chicago Sun-Times, 23 March):
DeLillo is pushing the hidebound limits of fiction in 2003 much the same as Joyce did 80 years ago.
For that he deserves praise.
Cosmopolis is nothing if not challenging, thought-provoking and utterly different.
One hopes DeLillo wrote it as a comedy, too.
One hopes he wrote it as a comedy ?
One can't tell ?
Other reviews can also be found at Booklist and bookmunch.
And for those who really need to get their hands on this thing, it can be purchased:
We've mentioned the impending The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (which, of course, is nothing of the sort: it's a foreign-fiction-translated-into-English prize) before.
In today 's issue of The Independent Boyd Tonkin introduces the shortlist (offering brief comments on each of the "half-a-dozen immensely varied novels" contending for the prize) and also has a few words about translation, including:
So we need talented translators more than ever.
By great good fortune, we have many of them, based in this country and in North America.
Read these great books and marvel at our luck.
We would note that it's probably not a dearth of capable (or at least acceptable) translators that limit what foreign fiction is made available in the English-speaking countries -- it's the incompetence of publishers, who don't know a good thing when they see it (especially when they only see it in a foreign language).
There's a nice write-up of a 1998 David Albahari novel, now available in German translation as Götz und Meyer, by Andreas Breitenstein in the 20 March Neue Zürcher Zeitung.
Actually Breitenstein, who isn't that much given to effusive praise, is in awe, concluding:
Die Holocaust-Literatur ist um ein schockierendes Meisterwerk reicher, der Glaube an den Menschen ärmer geworden.
(Holocaust literature has been made one shocking masterpiece richer, and faith in mankind poorer.)
The book is also available in French, as Goetz et Meyer, and, for example, impressed Jean-Baptiste Harang (Libération, 23 May 2002).
(See also a brief write-up in Le Courrier des Balkans.)
Meanwhile -- hey, this comes as a big surprise -- English-language readers are left without the opportunity to peruse this title.
That's right: it hasn't been translated.
(Updated - 28 March): It turns out we were a bit premature (or rather: almost too late) in our complaint: as we report above, a translation is on the way !
Okay, Albahari writes in Serbian, which isn't the most fashionable language du jour.
But the guy (born 1948) has lived in Canada (!) for nearly a decade now -- and he's apparently even translated some of his own stuff (see, e.g. My Husband in Shine).
He's also not a complete unknown: two of his titles have been published in English, in the Northwestern University Press' wonderful Writings from an Unbound Europe-series (see their pages for his Bait and Tsing).
(Admittedly, these titles don't seem to have done phenomenally well.)
All of that hasn't gotten him much review- or other coverage (see, at best, Anderson Tepper's review of Bait (The Village Voice, 8 - 14 August 2001), or a Wendy Wallace profile), much less (so it seems) raised publisher-interest in more recent titles
Maybe, eventually ....
Meanwhile, to purchase what titles there are available:
We've mentioned many mentions of Michael Hofmann's translation of Joseph Roth's What I Saw: Reports from Berlin 1920-33 (see here, etc.); everyone who's anyone seems to be covering this title.
The latest review: Neal Ascherson's in the 10 April issue of The New York Review of Books.
Another good overview.
As to Hofmann's contribution, Ascherson opines:
Michael Hofmann's translation is vigorous and imaginative, and he provides a masterly introduction to give the reader an idea of 1920s Berlin and to explore Roth's underlying attitudes.
While most of his footnotes are helpful, some are intrusive; if lines from Rilke or Sylvia Plath strike Hofmann as close to a thought of Roth's, he should keep his comments for a book review.
Is "imaginative" something we want of translations ?)
The 10 April issue of The New York Review of Books also offers an article by Doris Lessing on what's become of Zimbabwe under the miserable Bobby Mugabe (it's been "ruined, dishonored, disgraced").
The international community's attention is currently probably focussed elsewhere, but the article is still of interest.
(Though it would also be nice if some other places being driven to ruin by manmade strife and misleadership got more coverage (as Zimbabwe does get more than its share) -- the Ivory Coast, for example.)