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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 January 2004

11 January: Project Gutenberg interview | Fewer books ?
12 January: Fischer's Voyage in the US | Harry Mulisch mention
13 January: Joseph Roth bandwagon | Jim Crace review | More BORI turmoil | Marginalia
14 January: Foreign reactions | More on James Laine's book
15 January: French consolidation | Review explanations | Rhodes 101 | More fewer books commentary | Kantian celebrations
16 January: Chantal Thomas book | Tzvetan Todorov book
17 January: William Gibson | Nell Freudenberger sighting | Laine book and Sambhaji brigands
18 January: NC-17 Dreamers | Arno Schmidt's 90th | Judging translation
19 January: French Politics | Fischer reactions | New Aylett
20 January: Yellow Dog - review and re. blurb

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20 January 2004 - Tuesday

Yellow Dog - review and re. blurb

       Yellow Dog - review and re. blurb

       We, too, have now reviewed Martin Amis' much-reviewed (and maligned) recent novel, Yellow Dog.
       Points of interest: Yellow Dog was an embargoed title, i.e. the publishers didn't want (and, officially but unenforceably, didn't permit) review-coverage before the UK publication date. However, as we reported last August, one reviewer and publication broke the embargo: Robert Douglas-Fairhurst's review appeared in the 24 August issue of The Observer -- a full week before any other review we could find. We have no respect for embargos (and not much for publishers either, especially when they try to manipulate readers in this way by controlling even more of how a book is presented to the public), and so we were fairly pleased by this damn-the-embargo-and-risk-our-relationship-with-the-publisher attitude. Now we're a bit less comfortable with it.
       As it turns out, Robert Douglas-Fairhurst's review is the only one we've come across that is unequivocal in its praise. "Mind-tinglingly good", he calls it, and goes on to find only words of praise for it. (Other opinions ranged from a handful offering more muted praise to several that find the book to be simply abyssmal.)
       No doubt, it's simply a coincidence that the one review that gets published ahead of all others (leaving aside Tibor Fischer's earlier opinion piece) is the one review that praises the book and Amis to the skies. Still, it almost makes one wish for a more level reviewing playing field, with a variety of reviews appearing at roughly the same time -- as would have happened if the embargo had held. (No, we don't really mean that: we can't support embargos in any form.)

       More of interest regarding Robert Douglas-Fairhurst's review. A quote from it is the only blurb appearing on the back cover of the American first edition (published by Hyperion subsidiary Miramax Books); see image here. Since most of the other reviews only appeared a week and more later -- and were generally so devastatingly bad that even the best PR folk couldn't wrench a blurb twisted all out of context from them -- it is perhaps understandable that they relied only on this one (god forbid they'd offer prospective book-purchasers representative examples from reviews ... but at least we do that for them). What's interesting, however, is that in their desperation they both misquote and garble Douglas-Fairhurst's words:
       First: the blurb says: "mind-startlingly good". Maybe that's the expression he used in the print edition (or the first draft they hastily e-mailed to Miramax), but the review available online definitely says: "mind-tinglingly good" ..... (Or maybe the PR-folk changed it, knowing American readers probably prefer their minds to be startled rather than tingled ?)
       Second: the blurb reads: "Mostly this because, like all great writers (...)". Publishers apparently now can't even afford proof readers for their blurbs, and no one noticed the missing "is" -- though it can be found in Douglas-Fairhurst's review: "Mostly this is because, like all great writers (...)".
       This blurb presumably appears on the entire print run of the first edition (surely ten or twenty thousand copies, at least -- though we wonder if the Amis-name can sell that many). Somebody actually got paid to put this on the back cover, a job one would like to think a child could handle. And this is the result. We know publishers don't bother with editors much any more -- people who decide what books to publish based on quality, and who actually edit an author's manuscript (obviously neither happened in the case of Yellow Dog, a book surely published in this form almost solely on the basis of the Amis name) -- but we thought that they focussed all their energy on marketing now, and that they tried to do that well. Garbling blurbs so sentences in them are no longer grammatically correct does not strike us as good marketing. (Admittedly, we have little understanding of marketing, and maybe it was all done on purpose, some sort of in-joke that focus groups suggested would appeal to potential Amis-book-buyers.)
       We didn't notice the blurb mistakes until we were finished with the book (we don't read blurbs before picking up a book, and -- as this again shows -- you'll only be misled (and your intelligence insulted) if you do), but we hope those prospective purchasers who did read it guffawed and did the only thing one can do: put the book back on the bookstore shelf..
       Publishing -- you gotta love it. And there are people out there who tell us publishers actually deserve a tiny smidgen of respect. Unfortunately, they've smudged even that smidgen. (Okay, Miramax is a hard-to-treat-seriously imprint anyway, and we have no idea how Amis got mixed up with them (okay, we do -- Tina Brown and the fact (or rather our assumption) that they pay him more than his books make), but still .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

19 January 2004 - Monday

French Politics | Fischer reactions | New Aylett

       French Politics

       Adam Thirlwell's much-discussed Politics (see our review) has now also been published in French, in a translation by Marc Cholodenko, as Politique.
       It's getting good review coverage, as several of the major dailies covered it last week -- see reviews in L'Express, Le Figaro, and Libération. They're generally along the same lines as British reactions -- Politics isn't about politics, "Adam Thirlwell est un masturbateur littéraire" (Manuel Carcassonne in Le Figaro), etc. -- and quite favourable.

       Note that Politics has also just come out in Germany, though there don't seem to be any reviews out yet. It isn't called Politik there, but rather Strategie (yes, that means what you think it means). We're not sure why.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Fischer reactions

       Tibor Fischer's Voyage to the End of the Room (see our review) got some American review-attention over the weekend.
       In The New York Times Book Review Jay McInerney writes about it -- and can't resist starting off:
The British novelist Tibor Fischer seems to have calculated, quite correctly as it turns out, that a spectacularly nasty review of a more celebrated writer would garner a great deal of attention for his own simultaneous offering. (Sorry, I tried, but I couldn't ignore the elephant in the room.)
       (We're blue in the face from repeating it so often, but we'll nit-pick once again: Fischer's piece, Someone needs to have a word with Amis, was an opinion piece and not a review. But he is right about the proportions this piece has taken on.)
       Elsewhere: Gavin McNett reviewed it in The Washington Post.
       And Amanda Hurley gives it one of the more favourable reviews ("a fiercely clever and entertaining black comedy") in The Washington Times.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       New Aylett

       With the publication of Karloff's Circus, Steve Aylett's Accomplice series is now available in its four-volume entirety. We don't have it under review yet, but hope to soon; you can get your copy at

       We also mentioned Aylett's CD, Staring Is Its Own Reward (available at CD Baby), a while back. We see there's a fuller review available now from Padraig O Mealoid at The Alien Online.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

18 January 2004 - Sunday

NC-17 Dreamers | Arno Schmidt's 90th | Judging translation

       NC-17 Dreamers

       Holy Innocents ! Fox Searchlight, who are distributing Bernardo Bertolucci's new film, The Dreamers (based on Gilbert Adair's novella, The Holy Innocents; see our review), in the US have accepted what is widely considered the box-office kiss of death, the dreaded "NC-17™" (or, as it is apparently fully known and trademarked as: "NC-17:NO ONE 17 AND UNDER ADMITTED™") designation.
       We're thrilled, because it means they have decided to release the film as is, and not in some cut-to-shreds version, as originally feared (see our coverage here, for example). The Guardian quotes Fox Searchlight president Peter Rice:
By releasing the film as Bernardo intended we are following in the footsteps of classic films like Midnight Cowboy and Last Tango in Paris. We believe that NC-17 is the appropriate rating for The Dreamers, given that this is not a film for children under 17. It is an audacious and original film for intelligent critics and discerning adult audiences.
       (See also coverage at
       The film will gets its American premiere at the Sundance Film Festival (20 January); more information can be found here. The UK release date is 6 February, while it will then open in limited release in the US 13 February.

       This is the first film in some five or six years to open with the NC-17™ scarlet letter. It'll be interesting to see how big a flop it is.
       To learn more about America's peculiar rating system, check out the Motion Picture Association of America information pages. Jack Valenti assures visitors there: "Contrary to popular notion, violence is not treated more leniently than any of the other material." Funny, then, how the MPAA generally has no problem with allowing scenes of bullets, knives, or other objects penetrating say a woman's body to be shown to under 18's, but showing the perfectly natural (and much more pleasant) act of a penis penetrating a woman's body is strictly a no-no. Pathetic !
       Anyway, the full official guideline-definition for NC-17™:
This rating declares that the Rating Board believes that this is a film that most parents will consider patently too adult for their youngsters under 17. No children will be admitted. NC-17 does not necessarily mean "obscene or pornographic" in the oft-accepted or legal meaning of those words. The Board does not and cannot mark films with those words. These are legal terms and for courts to decide. The reasons for the application of an NC-17 rating can be violence or sex or aberrational behavior or drug abuse or any other elements which, when present, most parents would consider too strong and therefore off-limits for viewing by their children.
       As we also reported previously, this film is based on Adair's novella, The Holy Innocents, -- but Adair has decided to essentially re-novelize the film, in a book which he will publish as The Dreamers. Originally scheduled to appear in November, it now has a 19 February publishing date -- and we desperately hope that Faber will provide us with a copy, so that we can review it for you. See also the Faber publicity page, or pre-order your copy at

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Arno Schmidt's 90th

       Alas, he's not here to celebrate it, but today would have been Arno Schmidt's 90th birthday.
       Some German periodicals have pieces in his honour to celebrate the anniversary: Alexis Eideneier offers "Ein Tribut zum neunzigsten Geburtstag Arno Schmidts", Unsterblich die Phantasie, in the current issue of, while Lothar Müller writes a thank you letter to the master, Der Meistertitel, in yesterday's issue of the Süddeutsche Zeitung (latter link first seen at Perlentaucher).
       We hope to have most of his work under review by his 100th birthday celebration. Meanwhile you can check out what books we do have under reviews -- the highly recommended The School for Atheists, Radio Dialogs I, and Radio Dialogs II (all translated by John E. Woods). A good deal of the other fiction has, admirably, also been brought out by the Dalkey Archive Press; see their publicity page -- worth a look (actually: worth a lot more than that).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Judging translation

       Looking to see whether there've been any more reviews of Arno Schmidt's Radio Dialogs II we found that the nominations for The Ninth Annual Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize 2004 had been announced. It's a convenient list of what German literature has been translated into English over the past year (okay, there are probably a couple of more titles somewhere out there, but these are usually the most significant ones).
       John E. Woods' translation of Schmidt's pieces was, as expected, on the list (as was one other title we have under review, Philip Boehm's translation of Christoph Hein's Willenbrock). Another nominee: Krishna Winston, for her translation of Günther Grass' Crabwalk.
       What's noteworthy about the nomination of Woods and Winston (who have both previously won this award) ? They are two of the five jurors that decide who gets the prize.
       We hesitate to utter the suggestion ... conflict of interest. We're sure the decision will be a well-considered one. Certainly, both Woods and Winston have the experience and knowledge to make good judges. Still, it doesn't seem quite right to us: how does this jury judge fairly ? For Winston and Woods to recuse themselves from judging their own works puts these -- probably very deserving ones -- at an unfair disadvantage; for them to support them doesn't seem quite right either.
       We're not that familiar with Winston's work, but Woods is certainly among current translators-into-English we most admire (the English-speaking world should be eternally grateful for his work in the service of Schmidt's work alone -- and he's done considerably more). Still, it's yet another sign of the sad state of affairs of literature in translation in the US, that there apparently isn't even a large enough pool of adequate potential jurors for such a translating-prize to choose from to prevent such situations from arising.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

17 January 2004 - Saturday

William Gibson | Nell Freudenberger sighting | Laine book and Sambhaji brigands

       William Gibson

       William Gibson is featured in the 'Speaking Volumes'-column in yesterday's Financial Times. He tells Ravi Mattu, regarding American politics: "It may be that it has finally become so grotesque and so peculiar that it's become part of my territory."
       He also mentions that he "has been catching up on the enigmatic novelist Haruki Murakami". Among the books listed as being on his reading shelf, two are ones we have under review: Jorge Luis Borges' Selected Non-Fictions and Michael Turner's Hard Core Logo.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Nell Freudenberger sighting

       Nell Freudenberger (of Lucky Girls and attendant fame) publishes again -- but it's just another non-fiction piece, in the new Granta, Over There: How America Sees the World. In her contribution she recounts how she: "makes a mistake in Laos and learns that 'ignorance is no excuse'". (Hey, at least there's an exotic locale.)
       See also Ian Jack's introduction to the issue, How much does imperious America know of the world it wants to shape ?. Other contributions include Paul Theroux's account of his days in African captivity (a piece that was also made available at The Guardian-site 12 January, as My weakness and arrogance had sent me straying into their world from my own).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Laine book and Sambhaji brigands

       We can't always follow up on search queries that bring users to the site (so the recent MSN search for "depressing pictures of depressing things", for which the Literary Saloon is, remarkably and not very sensibly, the top "of about 70513" results). But when there are specific subjects that bring a considerable number of users to the site we try and oblige and continue covering them (Nell Freudenberger !). The hot topic of the past week has definitely been James Laine and his book, Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India, and the outrageous actions of the so-called Sambhaji Brigade, ostensibly in response to his findings and how he expressed them. (Our previous coverage and mentions can be found here, here, and here.)
       One reason that so many users find their way here when looking for information about the catastrophic vandalism at the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (Bori) and the continuing outrage surrounding the perpetraitors (sic) and Laine's book is that there's been astonishingly little coverage to be found elsewhere. The US and UK press have almost completely ignored it (with, unfortunately, the most prominent of the few mentions (in the Chronicle of Higher Education and The LA Times) inaccessible to unregistered Internet users).
       There have been isolated blog-mentions, but only Kitabkhana and Ryan's Lair appear to be following it more closely. (Both blogs are worth following anyway, if you don't already.)

       We aim to please (or at least satisfy your curiosity), so here is some of the latest news: Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee admirably spoke out against the book-ban and in favour of constructive criticism. Yesterday's issue of Sify reports Banning books not correct: Vajpayee, quoting him:
There is rising opposition to books these days and it is not correct. If you do not agree with the content of a book, you could write a better one. There should be a debate on the facts, but banning a book is not correct.
       In yesterday's issue Mid-Day they report PM not happy with ban on book on Shivaji, quoting him as saying: "If you do not like anything in a particular book then sit and discuss it."
       Meanwhile, in The Hindu, Arunkumar Bhatt reports: Vajpayee frowns on banning of books:
Paying rich tributes to Shivaji, Mr. Vajpayee recommended that the book be read and understood. He could understand criticism of books but not ban or boycott. He preferred discussion to such actions and recommended that people could come out with well-written and better-researched books by way of reply. "If you want to make a line appear short, do not erase it but draw a longer one beside it."
       Whatever he said, it's a much-needed sensible and rational take on the issue. One can only hope his wise words will be heeded -- but don't count on it. As the Times of India reports today: PM shoots from the hip, upsets Shiv Sena, NCP. So, for example:
The Shiv Sena, an ally of the BJP, did not seem pleased with the PM's statement. Sena sources said it was politically incorrect on Vajpayee's part to oppose the ban in view of the sensitivities involved. "He should have kept mum, especially since elections are round the corner," a senior Sena leader present at the function told TNN.
       (Politics -- gotta love it ! As to who should keep "mum", you can guess our opinion .....)

       Other coverage includes Mahmood Farooqui's Mid-Day piece, Historical cycle of virtue, and Radha Rajadhyaksha's Times of India report, ‘Govt has opened door to terrorism’. Rajadhyaksha's article notes that the book-ban has at least "upset concerned citizens". Writer Dilip Chitre -- apparently a marked man, as one of the thirteen thanked by Laine in the foreword to his now banned book -- is quoted:
"With the decision to ban the book, the government has abandoned constitutional responsibility," says Mr Chitre. "It has opened the door to domestic terrorism. These very people could well capture booths tomorrow. They’ve terrorised the president of the sahitya sammelan, they’ve terrorised writers -- what do we have left in the name of civilisation ?"
       What indeed ?

       Still, not everybody is taking this sitting down; Neil Pate reports in the Times of India today that Chain e-mail calls for silent protest on Republic Day. Apparently:
A chain e-mail that is gathering support on the Internet is urging citizens to assemble at Bori at 9 am on January 26 to participate in silent protest.
       We wish them great success with that -- and urge all those that can to lend their support.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

16 January 2004 - Friday

Chantal Thomas book | Tzvetan Todorov book

       Chantal Thomas book

       Chantal Thomas' novel, Farewell, my Queen (see our review), available in the US for a while now, has now also made it to the UK. Early reviews include Hilary Mantel's enthusiastic one in the 19 January New Statesman and Helen Falconer's in the 10 January issue of The Guardian.
       Meanwhile, don't forget Thomas' fascinating earlier volume -- an interesting documentary companion-piece to the novel -- The Wicked Queen (see our review)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Tzvetan Todorov book

       We don't have Tzvetan Todorov's newly translated (by David Bellos) Hope and Memory under review, but he's certainly an author we admire -- and the book has been getting good notices in the UK.
       Daniel Johnson has some reservations (Sunday Telegraph, 4 January), but finds:
This moral confusion is a pity, because the bulk of the book is an admirably clear exposition of totalitarianism.
       In today's issue of The Independent John Gray is considerably more enthusiastic:
Hope and Memory is a book with wisdom on every page. If you want to understand the 20th century and be forewarned against the 21st, you must read it.
       The book came out last fall in the US (from Princeton University Press; see their publicity page), but doesn't seem to have attracted much notice at that time; maybe that new introduction struck the American press as a bit too direct .....

       We're not sure we'll get to this title (though we certainly would like to cover some of Todorov's works eventually); interested readers can order it from or (or get the original, Mémoire du mal, tentation du bien: Enquête sur le siécle, from

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

15 January 2004 - Thursday

French consolidation | Review explanations | Rhodes 101
More fewer books commentary | Kantian celebrations

       French consolidation

       Another of the independents sells out, as consolidation sweeps the French publishing world too. Éditions du Seuil has agreed to be taken over by fast-growing publishing conglomerate La Martinière. The official announcement describes La Martinière as the "leader sur le marché international du livre illustré"; together the new entity will be number three among publishers in France. It leaves only one major independent left, Gallimard.
       As usual, we don't understand the publishing world -- and mixing in mergers and acquisitions maths leaves us only more confused. Staid publisher taken over by high-flying newcomer (La Martinière came into being in 1992) is not a new story, but still: Seuil has the larger turnover, but La Martinière gets two-thirds control of the combined companies ..... Who does these sums ? It makes us think we could try for a leveraged buy-out of The New York Review of Books ..... (Of course, among La Martinière's first big international acquisitions was the purchase of American publisher Abrams in 1997 -- when it was only one-third the size of the company it took over.)
       French coverage of the takeover can be found in Le Monde (Alain Salles' article is a useful overview; note that the article will be freely accessible only for a limited time), Libération, and L'Express.
       Also of interest, German coverage in the Süddeutsche Zeitung (link first seen at Perlentaucher), where Johannes Willms reports on these events. He mentions that among those with a major stake in La Martinière are the Chanel-owning Wertheimer family, as well as the American Tribune Company. (Note, however, that La Martinière is not listed among the Tribune Company's corporate investments, so we're not exactly sure of the nature or extent of their involvement -- though we'd sure like to know.)

       (Note: this is the sort of story we'd usually find the inside scoop about at MobyLives; alas, as so many Internet users will have noticed by now, the whale is temporarily beached -- and sorely missed (and not just because it means more work for us, covering some of these stories that they'd usually handle much more quickly and adeptly). We hope for a speedy return !)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Review explanations

       This link has already popped up at numerous weblogs, but we only stumbled across the article now: Benjamin Schwarz explains Why we review the books we do in the January/February issue of The Atlantic Monthly.
       It's always interesting to read these sorts of mission statements -- though in this case it looks suspiciously like space-filler, as though they didn't have enough reviews to fill the usual New & Noteworthy space and thus went for this instead. (Much as we like explanations of reviewing philosophy, what we much prefer is actual reviews ....)
       Schwarz offers something of an explanation about why The Atlantic Monthly doesn't review that much foreign fiction:
We tend to focus on prose style in our assessment of fiction. It's obviously far more difficult to do so when reviewing literature in translation, because both the reviewer and the reader of a work encounter not the author's writing but the translator's rendering of it. Hence we run fewer pieces on translated works than do comparable book-review sections
       We're not really sure what the "comparable book-review sections" might be, but we suspect The Atlantic Monthly actually doesn't review fewer pieces (at least as a percentage of total reviews); indeed, the current two-month issue seems dominated by foreign fiction discussions.

       All in all we can't complain too much about The Atlantic Monthly's book-coverage (though we're still on the fence about Christopher Hitchens' place there) -- except, of course, that there's too little of it. The magazine now only appears what ? ten times a year ? and between the brief N & N mentions and the very few long reviews (two or three per issue) it doesn't add up to very much (though of that at least a good amount is freely accessible on the internet, which we greatly appreciate).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Rhodes 101

       We haven't yet been able to get our hands on a copy of Dan Rhodes' recent Timoleon Vieta Come Home (which apparently helped make him one of Granta's Best of Young British Novelists 2003), but we recently did come across his first book, Anthropology (which consists of 101 stories of 101 words each).
       Our review of it is now available.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More fewer books commentary

       A few days ago we mentioned that UK publishers were planning on cutting back the number of titles they publish in 2004. Mark Sanderson now also offers his commentary in his weekly Telegraph column. He believes (and he's unfortunately probably right) that:
Not many discerning readers will complain if there are fewer celebrity memoirs or copycat tales of wizardry. However, these genres are the least likely to suffer. Literary biography and fiction will probably be the endangered species.
       He also gets some insider commentary:
Patrick Janson-Smith, Transworld Publisher, told me that he and his colleagues would also be cutting back over the next few months. "Publishers have to become more business-like and learn to say 'no' more often. Alas, there's no magic formula for success, but savvy marketing and publicity, coupled with editorial passion and push, are now more important than ever."
       'Savvy marketing and publicity' ? "Passion and push' ? Yeah, that's what consumers need -- to be hoodwinked by 'savvy marketing' and the like (we don't even want to imagine what publishers imagine that to be.) Well, at least he's a true representative of this near-hopeless profession, proving once again that publishers are completely oblivious to the one thing that should matter -- quality.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Kantian celebrations

       In his Telegraph column this week A.N.Wilson tackles the 200th "bicentenary of the death aged 80 of Immanuel Kant".
       The official date is 12 February, so you still have time to prepare; all we can offer at this time is our review of Manfred Kuehn's biography, Kant. More background information can be found at the useful Kant on the Web site, while books and writers offers a simple overview.
       The Germans are, of course, going absolutely nuts about this (which we find sort of endearing -- hey, it's better than when they get all excited about Nietzsche, isn't it ?). The coverage in Der Spiegel Wilson mentions is no longer freely accesible on the Internet, but check out Acht Antworten auf die Frage: Was ist Aufklärung ? (eight varied answers to the question: what is enlightenment ?) in Die Zeit -- and look for more coverage as the big day approaches. (We'll probably remind you when the time comes.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

14 January 2004 - Wednesday

Foreign reactions | More on James Laine's book

       Foreign reactions

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Christian Gailly's short novel, An Evening at the Club.
       It's been out for close to a year now, and seems to have been greeted with the typical indifference with which translated literature is met in the US. Published by Other Press, who are making a valiant stab at offering contemporary French literature to American audiences, the translation appears to have been reviewed by ... pretty much no one. Yes, there's that review in the Review of Contemporary Fiction, but that looks to be pretty much it.
       This isn't a great book, but it's an interesting one, and one that one imagines would have a reasonably wide appeal (jazzy romance, decent writing, etc.) -- as it did in France and Germany. The Times Literary Supplement thought it review-worthy (15/2/2002) when the French original came out, and it did win two middling French literary prizes (the Livre Inter and the Grenette).
       A German edition came out in the fall of 2003, and pretty much all the major dailies picked it up (along with a few smaller sites). Why no such interest in the US ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More on James Laine's book

       As we angrily discussed yesterday, reports about the trashing of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in Pune (and the destruction of a considerable number of irreplaceable and historically important works) keep getting twisted around and blame keeps getting put on James W. Laine's controversial book, Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India.
       The thinking (ha, ha) apparently is that what he wrote is so upsetting and insulting that it somehow justifies the hoodlums' actions. Even if Laine were simply a fabulist, and his only intention had been to stir things up we would have problems with this sort of argument. But, in fact, Laine appears to be a serious scholar whose book is solidly founded on historical evidence. Criticism of the book seems entirely based on a visceral and not intellectual reaction -- unacceptable when the matters at issue are of historical fact.
       So what has happened now ? Today's Times of India reports: Govt bans book on Shivaji, draws flak. Yes, even though Oxford University Press India had already withdrawn the book from the Indian market (a huge mistake, we think) Maharashtri home minister R.R. Patil:
said that all copies of the book would be seized under the criminal procedure code. "My department has sent a proposal to the general administration department and we are expecting a reply by tomorrow," he said. A day earlier, the government had already registered an offence against Laine and the book’s publisher, Oxford University Press, under Sections 153 and 153-A of the Indian Penal Code.
       It looks like another case of a small-minded government tackling a problem from the completely wrong end. It's the hooligans and vandals that have to be taken to task, not Laine and OUP. (Someone might also want to remind them that censorship has never proven to be a very effective weapon. It looks like this will come as a costly lesson to them.)
       The crackdown really does seem limited to Laine and OUP. In yesterday's issue of Mid-Day there's a report that OUP asked to shut Pune office.
       Asked ?
(A)ctivists of the Maharashtra Rickshaw Sena and other allied organisations of the Marathas (...) told the employees there that because the controversial book Shivaji: Hindu king in Islamic India by James Laine was published by Oxford Press had derogatory remarks against the Maratha king, they should down their shutters or else face consequences.
       Why these goons don't face consequences is unclear to us.

       Laine's book appears to still be available outside India: get your copy from or -- and see the OUP publicity page.

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13 January 2004 - Tuesday

Joseph Roth bandwagon | Jim Crace review | More BORI turmoil | Marginalia

       Joseph Roth bandwagon

       In this week's issue of The New Yorker, Joan Acocella jumps aboard the ever-growing Joseph Roth bandwagon with European Dreams. She notes that: "As the new translations have come out, Roth has been the subject of long, meaty review-essays" (see, for example, The Main Course by Nadine Gordimer in The Threepenny Review (Spring/2003)). Acocella follows in that tradition.
       She offers a decent (if derivative) introduction and overview -- and writes:
In the past few years, I have made a point of asking literary people what they know about him. Most have not read him; many say, "Who ?"
       While we're not really sure what "literary people" might be, it seems to us that anyone who doesn't know this author can hardly be considered 'literary'. Of course, our standards are impossibly high, and we generally probably wouldn't consider ourselves of that ilk either (though not on this particular count).

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       Jim Crace review

       The British edition of Jim Crace's new novel is titled Six.
       The American edition is titled Genesis.
       Once again, the infinite wisdom of publishers defeats us. No doubt, in-depth marketing surveys were conducted on both sides of the Atlantic to determine which title audiences would be most receptive to -- indeed, we're almost surprised there aren't regional titles throughout the US, designed to appeal to local interests (maybe Genesis is the Bible Belt title ...).
       We would have thought the differing titles would just be confusing and irritating and pointless -- that's what we think they are, but then we're just ignorant consumers and readers. The publishers -- this is their business after all, and we know how good they're at it, raking in the big bucks -- must know something we don't.

       Whatever you want to call the book (and by now we have a few more suggestions), our review is now available.

       (After we'd posted the review (and written the above rant, though not yet posted it) a visitor pointed us to Crace's own discussion of the two titles (scroll down for Two looks, one book, from The Author, fall 2003). It's an explanation, though not exactly a reassuring one.)

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       More BORI turmoil

       We recently mentioned the outrageous ravaging of the Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute in India by a mindless mob. It is so upsetting that there is really little to add -- or so we thought, until now. This clear-cut case of wanton hooliganism is simply inexcusable and indefensible, and initial reports suggested the reaction in India was the sensible one of almost universal condemnation.
       Now we learn -- as also mentioned by Kitabkhana on Sunday -- from a Hindustan Times Press Trust India report from 10 January, that Case lodged against UK author over remarks on Shivaji.
       Get this:
The police have registered an offence against the British author James W Lane and the printer and publisher of the Oxford University Press in connection with the objectionable writings in the book Shivaji: The Hindu King in Islamic India, police said on Saturday. The offence was registered under section 153, 153(A) and 34 of the Indian Penal Code for the writings which hurt sentiments of people, police said.
       Why hold the real criminals responsible when you can blame the victims (Laine and OUP India in this case standing in for freedom of expression and scholarly and intellectual freedom) ?
       First, we like the fact that the author's name is misspelt (it's Laine).
       Second: "writings which hurt sentiments of people" ?
       As Laine keeps pointing out, nobody has offered actual textually-based criticism of his text -- like pointing out facts that may be in dispute, or similar faults. The goons responsible are simply whiny playground toddlers who claim their feelings have been hurt. Amazingly, there are some who apparently take them seriously (instead of sending them off to bed without supper and with a stern lecture of what it means to participate in society and civilisation).
       To get a better idea of who these buffoons are, consider spokesman Shrimant Kokate's tempered words at a Sambhaji Brigade (that's what this gang calls itself) press conference, as reported in this 11 January Times of India report, Brigade warns of more attacks, threatens media. BORI was apparently a "centre of cultural terrorism" and apparently thus worthy of destruction (we're surprised they didn't ask George jr. Bush and his coalition for help). Also:
"In fact, scholars should be happy that Bori is still intact," he remarked. Kokate said that the brigade was "most unhappy" that scholars who had helped Laine were "still alive" and demanded that they face an inquiry or be handed over to the Brigade. Kokate expressed his displeasure about the fact that the media had labelled them as goons. "We will deal with the media later," he threatened. When media persons challenged him, Kokate tendered an apology.
       Yeah, they should hand over the scholars to this so-called Brigade; it sure sounds like they'd get treated fairly. And see what manners he has -- he actually tenders an apology when he realises that threatening the media at a press conference is a bad PR move.
       So these are surely the most pathetic beings imaginable, a blot on the great culture that is India, and no sane person could possibly support these misguided souls, right ? Unfortunately, tragically: no. Today's Times of India reports: Maratha opinion divided over attack on premier institute. Apparently:
The controversy over James Laine's book on Chhatrapati Shivaji is driving a wedge between the different Maratha organisations in the city. Maratha community leaders are in two minds -- whether to welcome or condemn the attack on Bhandarkar Oriental Research Institute (Bori), especially in view of the forthcoming elections.
       Ah, yes ! What do principles (and common sense) have to do with anything when there are elections to be won ? And so they're tempted to pander to the lowest common denominator (and it doesn't get much lower than what these Sambhaji brigands espouse).
       It's a sickening spectacle -- and it's disappointing that the international community has not been more vociferous in its condemnation. (Media mentions have been few and far between -- The LA Times and the Chronicle of Higher Education are among the few US publications to have reported this story; see also this AP report.)
       Amazing, also, how the focus keeps returning to Laine's book -- without really returning there, since nothing either substantive and reasonable against it have been proved (or even claimed). It's not shoddy scholarship they're attacking, but simply the expression of views they don't like. And the attacks are of a completely unacceptable mob-mentality sort: this isn't where or how this battle should be fought.
       At least Court dumps plea against remand order, as reported in today's issue of the Times of India:
The court upheld the order passed by the lower court, remanding 72 members of the Sambhaji Brigade to police custody till January 14.
       But this is far from over, and it looks like it's going to get a lot uglier.

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       BookFilter points to an interesting recent MetaFilter thread, Marginalia and Other Crimes -- and the Cambridge University Library pages that suggested it. (The CUL pages are perversely fascinating -- and the thread offers a couple of fun library experiences too.)

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12 January 2004 - Monday

Fischer's Voyage in the US | Harry Mulisch mention

       Fischer's Voyage in the US

       Tibor Fischer's Voyage to the End of the Room (see our review) has now made it to the US. We're curious to see how widely reviewed it will be -- and whether there will be much interest in the title. (There's always hope that hope that William Deresiewicz gets the assignment from The New York Times Book Review; his 29 October 2000 dismissal of Fischer's Don't Read This Book if You're Stupid -- "So devoid are these pieces of any literary merit, it's a tribute to Fischer's lingering reputation that they got published at all" -- as well as pretty much everything else Fischer had done is in the Dale Peck-class of complete author eviscerations.)
       Fischer is going on a promotion-tour, voyaging (according to the Counterpoint site) to Miami (20-24 January), New York (KGB, 25/1), Boston (Wordsworth, 26/1), D.C. (Chapters, 27/1), and back to NY (Astor Place Barnes & Noble, 29/1). (We're not exactly sure why he's spending so much time in Miami, but apparently he's wintering there -- in a 30 August 2003 interview in The Guardian he responds to Tim Wapshott's query, "Where do you want to go next ?", with: "Miami, for the winter.")
       The book does not seem to have done particularly well in the UK, mentioned generally only as an aside in discussions of Fischer's infamous piece on Martin Amis' Yellow Dog (as both books were scheduled for release on the same day in the UK).

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       Harry Mulisch mention

       We like the title of the Morning Edition report that ran on NPR 8 January, Harry Mulisch: The Best Author You've Never Heard Of -- though we trust many of our readers have heard of him (since we often enthuse over author and work; see also our Harry Mulisch page).

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11 January 2004 - Sunday

Project Gutenberg interview | Fewer books ?

       Project Gutenberg interview

       At UPI Sam Vaknin spoke with Michael Hart and Greg Newby about the eminently worthy Project Gutenberg.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Fewer books ?

       In his column today, Robert McCrum discusses the Unhealthy bounty of books being published, noting that The Bookseller recently reported that several British publishers were cutting back on the number of titles they were planning on publishing this year. While fundamentally in favour of this, he has his doubts about their resolve:
The truth is that not only is a modest cut in production a good idea, it is also inconceivable that Britain's publishers will stick to their new year's vow of abstinence for longer than it takes to say Net Book Agreement.
       And he can't help stating the obvious:
But there is a solution. The problem British publishers could start by adopting far higher levels of discrimination in the books they commission.
       As if there were a chance in hell of that.

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