Foday Sankoh is dead.
He was in custody, so it's not like it makes much of a difference; still, it means one scum-of-the-earth former dictator less (and, with Idi Amin apparently also on the way out, makes for a pretty good cleaning up of the detritus in and around Africa over the past weeks).
Of course, the big problem nowadays is Foday's buddy, Charles Taylor.
We know no one gives a shit about this part of the world (especially the jr. Bush's administration -- but who can blame them: no one seems to make a big deal about Clinton's failures re. Rwanda so massive carnage in Liberia obviously won't be held against him); still, maybe Foday's death will get a bit more press coverage for the situation in Liberia (and the crimes of Taylor) and bring some people to their senses (and get them to do something).
The jr. Bush had no problem making up excuses for why it was a good idea to invade Iraq (and why the UN wasn't suited for the tasks at hand there) -- but he wouldn't have to be nearly as creative in justifying sending some troops to Liberia.
The cost to the US versus benefit to the locals equation (which would presumably also translate into a great deal of pro-American goodwill) also looks to favour Liberian adventures rather than what they did (and are doing) in Iraq.
(The explanation for the unconscionable indifference (and the difference in approaches to Iraq and Liberia) of course lies solely in the substance that drives the jr. Bush administration, oil, and the misguided notion that Africa (and its dark-skinned citizens) don't matter to American interests.)
We've long been touting Ahmadou Kourouma's Waiting for the Vote of the Wild Animals -- one of the great recent African novels.
But Kourouma got even more attention for his more recent work, Allah n'est pas obligé.
(It's listed at both Amazon.co.uk and Amazon.com as ... being published in English in March, 2003 -- but, as the Amazon.com page states: "THIS TITLE IS CURRENTLY NOT AVAILABLE".
Literature in translation and from Africa ... what else can one expect ?)
Allah n'est pas obligé won the Prix Renaudot and got a lot of press (though other than us Foreign Policy (scroll down for review) seems to be the only English-language publication to pay much attention).
But it's pretty damn timely: it stars everybody's favourite West African scumballs, Foday Sankoh, Charles Taylor, and Prince Johnson.
This is the kind of book the American President (and the American public) should be reading, telling of what went on there in all it's child soldier horror.
(Yeah, Saddam and friends (and relatives) were cruel and inhumane (mis)rulers, but they'd be hard pressed to hold a candle to the doings of Foday and Chuck and the internationally destabilizing effects this coterie of killers had.)
We have no idea why Ahmadou Kourouma -- whose work is widely acclaimed in Europe, and popular too -- remains practically completely unknown in the US.
Of course, we don't know why the Americans didn't do the right thing and get involved in Liberia before things got to where they are.
(Recall that both sides in the conflict there have asked for the Americans to show up; it's just the jr. Bush that's playing the coy Southern belle who doesn't want to get the hem of her dress dirty (and, presumably, deal with the locals).)
Yeah, we know -- it's just Africa.
What difference does it make if the world's poorest country (currently a title apparently held by Liberia) is impoverished a bit more and another ten or twenty or thirty percent of the population goes the way of Foday (i.e. the eternal wayside) ?
(What difference ? A couple of suggestions, beside the sheer human toll (which should count for something, one would think): there's that pesky internationally destabilizing effect and the fact that lawless trouble-spots like this make for all sorts of unpleasant consequences (and tempting spots for terrorist training and subsidizing).)
Read Kourouma's Allah to get a sickening picture of what goes on in that part of the world.
Or learn more about Charles Taylor elsewhere: there's a new Interview with the bum at Newsweek Online (aptly titled: ‘Nobody Understands Me’ -- as he says: "Nobody, nobody understands Charles Taylor. I don’t know why.").
Choice rambling quote:
I beat some of Washington’s strongest friends when I won election fairly and squarely.
The wrong man won.
I fought the Marxist-Leninist leadership in Liberia and I will continue to fight them.
We did receive assistance from Libya, but the CIA knows that Libya has no influence on me.
I hold my own water on this African continent.
(From where we stand it looks like far from holding his water he's been incontinent all his life, pissing over all that African continent.)
From his arguments to how he expresses himself Taylor sounds like he and the jr. Bush could have a true meeting of minds if they ever got together.
See also this BBC profile of Taylor by Mark Doyle.
Kitabkhana has been following Ashok K. Banker's Ramayana-efforts even more closely than we have.
Among the points they made: that the sums bandied about regarding sales of that title (i.e. Banker's advances) didn't seem to quite add up to some of the claims that were being made.
Banker took more than offense -- in today's Kitabkhana entry a communication from the apparently disgruntled author is printed, with wonderful threats of lawsuits -- civil and criminal !
Apparently poor (or rather very (or very, very, very ?) rich) Banker felt defamed by these statements (or allegations or whatever one can call them).
Why the statements are "clearly libellious and defamatory on a number of counts" is beyond us -- but then we're not Indian legal experts.
Why Mr. Banker believes this course of action (threatening to sue) does his image less harm than claims that the book didn't reap some enormous advances (even if, in fact, it did) is also unclear: to us (but this is just our opinion) he looks considerably more the fool today than he did yesterday.
One would have thought that with his huge advances he would have employed the services of a PR firm (which certainly would have guided him to a wiser course of action).
Our favourite part of the communication: Banker's noble disinterest in "financial redressal" -- along with an emphasis (at least that's the way it sounds to us) on trying to twist the matter into "a non-bailable offense" (i.e. to get everyone involved with the Kitabkhana-stories behind bars).
Good going, Mr. Banker -- what a way to win friends and influence people.
We hope the Indian press picks this up and has the field-day that they should with it.
(Updated - 2 August): Mr. Banker apparently also took offense at the above posting and sent us an e-mail.
He writes: "This time, I don't even see the point in 'threatening' legal action" (neither do we, since we don't state anything that is actionable), but he does opine that we are "clearly anti-Hindu, anti-Indian and anti-writers" (how that follows from what we've written above and previously is a mystery to us, but then so are many other things).
He does make one good point: "And you certainly aren't Indian, whatever your names may be."
(Apparently, what with the typically Indian names we employ -- 'the Literary Saloon', 'M.A.Orthofer', 'Elizabeth Morier', etc. --, there has been some confusion about this point -- but we're glad to clear that up: no, we aren't Indian.
What we are curious about is: what does that have to do with anything ?)
The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary, as well as two books about ... well, as their subtitles have it: Flaubert and 'Madame Bovary' and Gustave Flaubert and Madame Bovary, Mario Vargas Llosa's The Perpetual Orgy and Dacia Maraini's Searching for Emma.
Both the commentaries are good complements to the original text, though it's certainly recommended that the novel is tackled before the essays.
So we've reviewed Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary now.
Somewhat to my embarrassment, I'd never read it before.
No matter how many books one reads (and I've only managed four or five thousand) there will always be gaping holes of classics (and contemporaries) missed; still Madame Bovary is a pretty big one.
I actually haven't done at all well with Flaubert -- except, of course, Bouvard and Pécuchet, a book of obvious attraction (and, indeed, long one my very favourites).
But no L'Education sentimentale, none of the letters (selected or collected).
Okay, Julian Barnes' Flaubert's Parrot -- but even that couldn't convince me.
(Though one book I've long lusted for is Jean-Paul Sartre's study, L'Idiot de la famille -- though more because of Sartre than Flaubert.)
Madame Bovary is one of those larger-than-life works, too: even without reading it one knows the book.
It's familiar from all the references, allusions, descriptions -- though it was a pleasant surprise to find that the book was also considerably more than what I "knew" of it.
(The only other book of similar stature that I only came to very late was, of all things, Hamlet, which I somehow managed to miss and/or escape reading (and even seeing) until I was in my mid-twenties (despite having read and seen pretty much everything else Shakespeare had written long before) -- making for quite the jarring experience when I finally did sit down with it.)
It's nice to know there are classics out there still that one hasn't gotten to -- saved up (so the possible excuse) for a rainy or some such day.
It's also frustrating: I really should have read Madame Bovary a while back .....
And I'm amazed by how many great (or at least well-known) works I haven't gotten around to yet: everything from most of Dostoevesky and Jane Austen to a few hefty Thomas Mann's I feel obligated to read ... some day.
Translation is sometimes an excuse (I can convince myself that one of the main reasons I haven't read Dante's Divine Comedy is because I can't settle on whose translation(s) to work my way through).
And then there are those I can't imagine ever managing -- Henry James for example (I've read two works by him: The Turn of the Screw (which just didn't do it for me) and the train-wreck of a book, Watch and Ward (an early work that it's probably not fair to judge him by -- though it is a perversely fascinating if deeply misguided effort))
But now that we have Madame Bovary under review there'll probably be some pressure to do his Sentimental Education too, and so at least one more classic will be ticked off the list.
A few days ago we mentioned a mention of American(s') difficulties with literature in translation (ranging from a distaste for it to a lack of ability to find many examples of it at local bookstores).
The Bookseller now reports that Arcade has bought the North American rights (beating out HarperCollins) for a surprising foreign success story in the UK: Lars Saabye Christensen's Nordic Council Literature Prize winner 2002, The Half Brother (The Bookseller article requires registration to be read -- so: no link).
Will it find success in the US ?
In one of the least enthusiastic (relatively speaking) of the British reviews Gerard Woodward wrote in the Telegraph: "The Half Brother is the kind of big, ambitious, panoramic novel of the sort we tend to think only Americans write these days."
Mr. Woodward does not, apparently, read widely -- but still, that's a promising description for the American market (one hopes).
And he is fairly impressed:
The pace slackens at times, particularly towards the end but, for the most part, the language has enough energy and inventiveness to carry us along. A big, rewarding read.
Others were considerably more effusive.
In The Guardian (24 May) Paul Binding writes:
The Half Brother -- translated into compulsively readable prose by writer Kenneth Steven -- is no mere interesting example of contemporary Scandinavian writing; it's a deeply felt, intricately worked and intellectually searching work of absolutely international importance.
Absolutely international importance !
You don't hear that said much !
(Not that we know what it might mean ... but still: if this doesn't convince you, what will ?)
Meanwhile, Anna Paterson takes some desperate measures in her efforts to get a readership for this book in her review in The Independent (14 June):
One of the things that Barnum -- probably Saabye Christensen -- hates most is lack of respect for creative independence, as in simple-minded and simplifying comments of the type, "It's like Rain Man meeting Autumn Sonata".
Still, knowing what I do about the market for foreign novels in English translation, it is worth trying anything to further the cause of this unique novel.
The Half Brother is like Paul Auster's The Book of Illusions meeting Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections.
We can see the blurb on the Arcade edition already .....
But she was obviously impressed, beginning her review:
This is a great river of a book.
The phrase came spontaneously as I was irresistibly carried along with the flow.
The Half Brother is magnificent: a roman fleuve within a single volume.
Presumably it won't be out in the US for quite a while (in time for Christmas maybe ?), but you can always get a copy via Amazon.co.uk.
Note also that Lars Saabye Christensen will be appearing at the Edinburgh International Book Festival on 12 August.
Few things bother us more than the attention lavished on books that aren't deserving of it (or rather the consequence of attention being lavished there -- meaning it's not available for deserving literature (like foreign fiction ...)).
The pointless heaping of words on and about Hillary Clinton's worthless recent mega-seller was annoying enough, but even that is trumped -- in waste, if not sheer mass -- by the attention lavished on the second volume of Jeffrey Archer's prison diaries.
Heavyweights like Will Self (in the Evening Standard, 28 July) and Robert McCrum (in The Observer, 27 July) actually bother with this Purgatory.
Sure, it -- and it's author -- are tempting, easy targets (and both Self and McCrum do have some good fun with them) -- but there are books out there, real books, starved for attention, that the public would be much better served being informed about.
Stripped of its wide margins and portentous typography, Jeff's diary is, at best, an over-inflated magazine article or, at worst, a diary item.
With a few more pictures, it might even have made a nice piece in Hello!
Which doesn't explain why it's being so widely covered.
(For those who are nevertheless (and unfathomably) curious about Archer's book, buy a copy at Amazon.co.uk.
No -- don't !
Buy a real book instead !
We thought Americans -- disliking "foreign" books as we're told they do -- might actually sensibly skip over the Archer-prison-sagas, but no, volume one is set to come out in the US in August (get your copy at Amazon.com).)
We've previously mentioned that Michel Houellebecq's Lanzarote is now available in the UK.
More reviews are now available, including Jason Cowley's in this week's New Statesman.
He suggests it is "something that might have been written by Alain de Botton in the immediate aftermath of a long night spent experimenting with alcohol and Viagra".
So now we don't mind waiting a bit longer until we get our hands on a copy.
Other reviews: in the Telegraph: here and here.
Time for the Zimbabwe International Book Fair again, which runs 29 July to 2 August.
See the official site, and this report by Hilary Siyachitema at Inter Press Service.
134 exhibitors are expected (almost double last year's total) -- "from Botswana, Cote d'Ivoire, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, India, Iran, Kenya, Lesotho, Malawi, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Sweden, Britain, Zambia and Zimbabwe".
Among the special events planned: a 75 Best Books Launch, "to celebrate Zimbabwe’s 75 leading scribes of the century".
Yesterday's issue of The New York Times has an article by Stephen Kinzer titled "America Yawns at Foreign Fiction" (sorry, we don't link to the registration-requiring The New York Times).
The focus is on literature in foreign languages -- i.e. requiring translation (foreign English-language literature -- from everywhere from India to England -- isn't addressed, though it should be noted that the picture here is complex too).
It's depressing reading (though much of it will be familiar to readers of this site).
The director of Northwestern University Press says they'll be cutting back their offerings of literature in translation (a major loss -- they have a nice selection and it would have been nice to see them add to it): "It's expensive and the sales aren't there."
Among the excuses offered by publishers: no staff editors who read foreign languages, the high cost of translation, and a concentration of ownership in publishing that leads to a blockbuster fixation that precludes publishing niche fiction such as that in translation.
Kinzer also writes:
Writers, publishers and cultural critics have long lamented the difficulty of interesting readers in translated literature
To which we say: a) it's hard to interest people in what isn't there (publish literature in translation and the readers will come ! -- well, we'd like to think so anyway), and b) don't blame the readers but rather the whole publishing-publicizing culture (or lack thereof).
You've heard these examples from us before, but they are well worth repeating:
- Irmtraud Morgner's The Life and Adventures of Trobadora Beatrice as Chronicled by her Minstrel Laura (published in a solid translation by the University of Nebraska Press a few years back) is one of the most significant and entertaining novels to come out of Germany in the past fifty years.
It's never been out of print in the nearly three decades since it first was published in German.
We're not exactly generous with our praise but we'll readily tell you that this is a great novel.
So how many major or minor newspapers or general interest or literary magazines covered it when it came out in English ?
Not a one.
A book that should have been a contender for best-of-the-year lists across the country, and no book review editors anywhere in the US appear to have taken notice.
- Ahmadou Kourouma's Waiting for the Vote of the Wild Animals sold over 100,000 copies in France and was rightly acclaimed as an important book (one of the top ten to come out of Africa in the past decade, we'd say).
The University Press of Virginia published an English translation in 2001.
Nobody (except us, pretty much) reviewed it.
Earlier this year Heinemann published a second translation in the UK -- and the book was promptly reviewed in, among others, the Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, The Independent, The Spectator, and The Times.
I.e. it was getting its due.
Commercial publisher Heinemann perhaps has an edge over a university press in getting the attention of book review editors, but this disparity in coverage is beyond comprehension.
(And it's not like the British are renowned for being thrilled by fiction in translation either .....)
So maybe a bit less blame should be put on readers, and a bit more on book review editors and others who should be making audiences aware of what is out there.
It's not like there is a lot that's out there anyway .....
We weren't as enthusiastic about Peter Carey's much praised and many-award-winning True History of the Kelly Gang as most, but his forthcoming novel, My Life as a Fake, sounds more to our liking.
It's apparently "based loosely upon the Ern Malley hoax", and the first reports are appearing about it in the Australian press -- see What's truth got to do with it ? (Jason Steger, in today's issue of The Age) and For my next trick... (Susan Wyndham, in today's issue of the Sydney Morning Herald).
Knopf is bringing it out in the US in mid-October (see their publicity page or pre-order at Amazon.com), while Faber will publish it in the UK in September (pre-order from Amazon.co.uk).
We'll certainly try to review it as soon as we can get our hands on a copy.
For additional information about the Ern Malley hoax, see Jacket 17 (the Hoax issue), which has a lot of good information (and some nice titbits, like Ern Malley’s last will and testament).
And note that it's a hoax that won't die: read about the legal fight that "has erupted over copyright to 16 poems written under Malley's name" in An old phoney and his sister return (Susan Wyndham, in today's issue of the Sydney Morning Herald).
Books Under Review has "compiled what we think is the largest collection of author-organized reviews (over 109,000 authors researched)".
Which sounds pretty damn impressive.
We always say: the more reviews, the better -- so such a huge new hoard looked like a real bonanza.
But this "collection of reader reviews grouped by author" looked a bit familiar -- and a comparison with Amazon.com shows that what is presented here are the customer reviews that readers publish at Amazon.com.
Except that the reviewers names (or pseudonyms) aren't given (as they are at Amazon.com) -- indeed, there's no attribution that would suggest who penned these reviews or where they might come from (though there are lots of convenient links to ... Amazon.com, of course).
Books Under Review assures us that Amazon.com is fine with this.
It's Amazon.com that holds the copyright to the customer reviews, but we can't imagine that the people who penned them are too pleased to be stripped of every last bit of credit for them here (but as long as Amazon.com says it's okay there's probably not much they can do about it).
Possibly this arrangement of reader reviews -- grouped by authors (and they do have a lot of authors) -- is of use to some.
We find it easier to navigate through Amazon.com itself (where there's generally also additional information about the books under review), but see for yourself.
Yesterday's issue of the Financial Times offers Night shifts -- "an edited version of the introduction to a six-volume edition of The Arabian Nights" by Marina Warner.
We have the Madrus-Mathers edition (four volumes) and the Edward Lane edition (four too) and we do want to eventually cover the Arabian Nights-variations -- but we probably won't until we get our hands on an unabridged set of Richard Burton's translation (not the embarrassment that is the Penguin Classics (mini-)edition).
Jozef Imrich published his book Cold River as an e-book last year, but wasn't satisfied with the results -- admitting that the book could use considerable editing.
He's taking an interesting approach to getting that done, publishing the book online (at http://coldwarriver.blogspot.com) where he's soliciting outside help to fix things up (join in !) -- as well as in this way allowing readers to track the progress and changes of this work-in-progress
Among the most unusual literary adaptations of recent years has now come out: the movie version (if one can call it that) of The Anarchist Cookbook (see the official movie site).
We admit we're amused by the mere idea of a cinematic adaptation of this very odd (and by now quite old) work -- though, like most film-adaptations we can't imagine it to be a great success (at least in terms of being faithful to the book itself -- which would, in this case, admittedly be quite a tall order anyway).
For some early reviews, see those collected at Rotten Tomatoes.
For more information about The Anarchist Cookbook itself, see the Anarchist Cookbook FAQ, or get your own copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
The most recent addition to the complete review -- entirely prematurely -- is our review of The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases.
Edited by Jeff VanderMeer and Mark Roberts, some sixty authors contributed to it, including such prominent names as Steve Aylett, China Miéville, Michael Moorcock, Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore, and Rikki Ducornet.
This pseudo-medical spoof is due out in October, at which time you'll no doubt hear a lot about it.
See also the official site for the book.
Everybody complains that there's no real money to be made in the book business, either in book publishing or in book selling -- but two recently reported success stories suggest otherwise.
In her Peter Olson profile in this Sunday's issue of The New York Times Magazine Lynn Hirschberg notes that Olson's biggest coup (and the one that landed him the precursor to what became his current job as head of Random House) was his purchase of a NY headquarters for Bertelsmann:
(H)e bought a building in Times Square for the bargain price of $ 119 million.
(The building may soon sell for more than $ 400 million.)
(That building is, we assume, 1540 Broadway -- see information here and here.)
Now comes the news (in a Mike McIntyre article in the 22 July issue of The New York Times) that Andreas Brown has finally unloaded the building housing the Gotham Book Mart in New York -- for $ 7.2 million ($ 500,000 less than the asking price, but still not bad for a used bookstore).
(For some Gotham information, see here.)
So that's where the money in the book business is nowadays -- in real estate !
And independent book sellers and publishers alike would be well-advised to buy, rather than rent, so that they too can one day hit the jackpot.
"John Walsh probes the latest piece of literary mischief", in Are you talking about me ?, another look at thinly disguised real people popping up in works of fiction in yesterday's issue of The Independent.
Amanda Craig is the offending author Walsh focusses on, and he offers a few good titbits, such as that:
David Sexton, the London Evening Standard's acerbic, saturnine literary editor (and a former beau of Craig's) threatened to sue the publishers over the character of Paul Pinsent, a bitchy critic, whom he felt to be a little too close to home.
We don't wish death upon anyone, but it's hard to get too worked up about the apparently imminent demise of one of the sorriest dictators of recent times.
Yes, the very big (reportedly tipping the scales at some 220 kg these days) and very bad Idi Amin Dada is on his way out.
We actually have a couple of books under review in which he figures, from Riccardo Orizio's Idi Amin encounter in Talk of the Devil (a book that's briefly discussed in an article by Louis Menand in this week's issue of The New Yorker) to fictional accounts of those uselessly miserable Dadistic times such as Rosa Shand's The Gravity of Sunlight and Moses Isegawa's Abyssinian Chronicles -- as well as the already classic Idi Amin novel, Giles Foden's The Last King of Scotland.
We can't imagine he'll linger long -- though it's amazing how long a body can last after moral decay originally set in (in Idi's case rotting away any semblance of humanity in that gross shell over three decades ago).
The obits will appear soon enough, and then you can be nauseated by all the details of his years of misrule.
We'd say: ignore him, forget him -- but you can't afford to.
Not when the Americans continue to let Charles Taylor play his little games (that would be in Liberia), not when some bozo named Fernando Pereira (so The Economist, 19 July) took over São Tomé e Príncipe last week (in a coup, not an election -- not that pretty much anyone except for a few oil executives (who are just worried about their contracts being honoured) seems to give a damn), not when the US is treating some of these new Central Asian mini-Stalinists (among others) as though they were legitimate leaders just because they're ostensibly on the right side in this war against terrorism somebody is pretending to be fighting.
Getting rid of Saddam Hussein put one Idi Amin imitator out of business (at least for the time being), but there are too many still eager to follow in that slob's footsteps -- don't forget that.
The admirable ArtsJournal site, which recently got a nice write-up in The New York Times, has added a few blogs to the site: see ArtsJournal Blogs Central for a full run-down and links.
For now there are four blogs:
In addition, there are threats of additional blogs -- one from somebody named Jan Herman is due up next, apparently.
All this is well and good, and some of these sound like they could be of some interest.
Still: what about literary coverage ?
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Chantal Thomas' Marie-Antoinette novel, Farewell, My Queen.
It won the French Prix Fémina in 2002 (now you're impressed, eh ?) and was apparently a great sales success in France too -- as the publisher's somewhat desperate news release puts it: "Over 130,000+ copies sold in France"
Interesting historical detail, for those who like that sort of thing -- Thomas knows her stuff.
Well, Jeffrey Archer will be let loose again, but The Guardian has a last bit of jailhouse fun with him, offering what are ostensibly "some edited highlights" from his prison diaries in First among sequels.
Would that all Archer's work had this amount of his actual input to them .....