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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 May

11 May: Verb-less novel | Tony nominations | Review of The Manchurian Candidate | More Freudenberger
12 May: Non-fiction translations | Clinton finishes memoirs |
13 May: English-language domination | Cercas review | Book sales down | Roland Emmerich on Shakespeare | Wolff Translator’s Prize | New YRB | Kunderian Lightness
14 May: The Pornographer's Poem in the US | Breaking the Real Axis of Evil review | Impossible to avoid this autumn ?
15 May: Paul Auster as (political) songwriter ? | Fuentes v. Huntington | This week's The Guardian Review | Arab/Frankfurt update
16 May: Commonwealth Writers Prizes | Frayn's Demokratie in Germany | Yet more Freudenberger | Glavinic review
17 May: Translation success | Andrew Taylor interview | Schröder novel ? | Chinese literature losing its edge ? | The Virgin Suicides review
18 May: Perrotta cover issue | Soyinka protests | Danuta de Rhodes ? | Iain Sinclair Q & A | NSW Premier's Literary Awards
19 May: Another Auster interview | Adair's The Dreamers | No more Amis interviews ?
20 May: Nothomb enthusiasm | Cloud Atlas review | Still sexist

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20 May 2004 - Thursday

Nothomb enthusiasm | Cloud Atlas review | Still sexist

       Nothomb enthusiasm

       Amélie Nothomb's The Book of Proper Names has now come out in the UK (the US edition is due in August).
       There have been a few reviews so far. Jasper Rees was relatively non-committal in his review in the Telegraph, but Samantha Boyce raved in Scotland on Sunday (9 May). Given that we thought The Book of Proper Names to be far from her best (that's still, no contest, Loving Sabotage) even we were a bit surprised by Boyce's enthusiasm:
Amélie Nothomb is such an utter astonishment, the shock of reading her for the first time is like realising you have inadvertently missed a whole movement, or a century, in the scheme of things. Comparisons founder.
       But we certainly agree with her closing question:
Only one question remains: after 13 novels, multiple prizes, bestseller status and translations into 30 languages, what on earth has British publishing been doing all this time, instead of bringing her to our attention ?
       (Even American publishers have done a better job: New Directions brought out her one true masterpiece, Loving Sabotage, while St.Martin's has published a handful of the others -- but she doesn't seem to have made much of an impact (yet).)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Cloud Atlas review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas (already available in the UK, due out in the US in late August).
       The British reviews were generally very favourable -- but then his two previous novels, Ghostwritten and number9dream, garnered similar (if generally not quite such enthusiastic) praise. We enjoyed his first two, but Mitchell has made strides: Cloud Atlas is considerably better, a more sustained effort where both the pieces and the whole work better.
       It's already being touted as a Man Booker-favourite this year, which seems premature (as many of the potentially eligible titles haven't been published yet), but given the critical reception (and the fact that his last one already made the shortlist) it seems a fairly safe bet that the book will be in the running. (As we understand the rules, as a recently shortlisted author Mitchell is automatically at least nominated for the prize (already a big hurdle to clear).)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Still sexist

       A while back we wondered: How Sexist are We ?, noting the preponderance of books written by men among those reviewed at the complete review. With another batch of a hundred books done (as we pass the 1200 books reviewed mark) it's time to update our tally -- and things are still not looking good. With only 14 out of the last 100 titles reviewed (reviews 1101-1200) written or edited by women we upped the percentage among all reviews a mere .03 per cent, to 13.71 per cent. (It's not much consolation to leaf through the most recent TLS (14 May) and find a similar percentage -- only 7 out of 45 reviewed titles written or edited by women.)
       Shockingly, we've now also reviewed 25 books in a row without a one being by a woman, which has got to be one of our worst streaks ever. (How is that even possible ? we wonder.)
       Looking at the piles of books around us most likely to get reviewed next it also doesn't look very promising -- a few women's names peek out, but only a few. So it doesn't look like this will be chick-lit central anytime soon.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

19 March 2004 - Wednesday

Another Auster interview | Adair's The Dreamers | No more Amis interviews ?

       Another Auster interview

       A few days ago we mentioned a Paul Auster interview in the Hamburger Abendblatt. As he continues his European tour he continues to get interviewed -- now by Irene Binal in yesterday's issue of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.
       Politics is, of course, inescapable, both generally and specifically. Auster maintains:
Vieles in meiner Arbeit hat ganz direkt mit Politik zu tun. Music of Chance zum Beispiel ist mein politischstes Buch, eine Parabel über die Macht. Ich denke viel über diese Dinge nach.

(Much in my work has to do with politics directly. Music of Chance, for example, is my most political book, a parable about power. I think a lot about these things.)
       Interesting also this:
     Welche Verantwortung haben Sie als Autor für sich definiert ?
     Wenn man ein Journalist oder ein Sachbuchautor ist, liegt die Verantwortung darin, die Wahrheit zu sagen. Ist man ein Romanautor, liegt die Verantwortung ebenfalls darin, die Wahrheit zu sagen. Das ist das Allerwichtigste. Ich habe eine grosse Verantwortung als Autor, die besten Sätze zu schreiben, die ich schreiben kann, der Realität gegenüber treu zu bleiben, die ich in meinen Büchern zu beschreiben versuche, und nicht zu schwindeln.

     (What responsibilities have you defined for yourself as an author ?
     If one is a journalist or a non-fiction writer, then the responsibility is to tell the truth. If one is a novelist, the responsibility is also to tell the truth. That is the most important thing. I have a great responsibility as an author: to write the best sentences I can, to be true to the reality I try to describe in my books, and not to cheat.)
       And there are also the obligatory comments on the current situation in America:
Ich lehne die Regierung ab, die wir haben, und ich glaube, sie hat nicht nur uns betrogen, sondern alles, wofür Amerika steht. Wir hatten noch nie eine derart ideologische Regierung. Sie lebt in einer Phantasiewelt der Theorien.

(I reject the administration that we have, and I believe it not only double-crossed us but everything for which America stands. We have never had such an ideological administration. It lives in a fantasy-world of theories.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Adair's The Dreamers

       As we've mentioned previously, Gilbert Adair re-wrote his novel The Holy Innocents (see our review) after Bernardo Bertolucci made the film The Dreamers based on it, and the resulting novel -- also titled The Dreamers -- is now available. We haven't been able to convince Faber to send us a copy so we could review it, and it doesn't seem to have been widely reviewed elsewhere (or practically anywhere) -- but there is now a review at 2Blowhards.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       No more Amis interviews ?

       In his Literary life column this week (second item), Mark Sanderson notes that the press release accompanying the forthcoming (3 June) paperback edition of Martin Amis' Yellow Dog (see our review):
ends with the bald statement: "Martin Amis is the author of nine novels, two collections of short stories and six collection [sic] of non-fiction . . . He is not available for interviews."
       An interesting about-face, considering how many interviews Amis was up for when the hardcover came out: there didn't seem to be anyone he wouldn't or didn't talk to, from identity theory to, The Guardian to The Oxford Student, from The Stranger to an Off the Page Q & A at The Washington Post
       Clearly, Amis being talkative did little for book-sales; of course, the fact that it wasn't a very good book probably also played a role.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

18 May 2004 - Tuesday

Perrotta cover issue | Soyinka protests | Danuta de Rhodes ?
Iain Sinclair Q & A | NSW Premier's Literary Awards

       Perrotta cover issue

       In this week's issue of Newsweek Malcolm Jones reports on the latest book-cover uproar, in New Snack Attack. It seems that the cover of Tom Perrotta's new novel, Little Children, includes (fairly prominently) pictures of two goldfish-crackers. As it turns out, these aren't, of course, merely 'goldfish crackers', but rather Goldfish® baked snack crackers ("The snack that smiles back®") -- intellectual property (!) that its owners won't let just anybody use. And so, in this age of copyright-overprotection insanity, the inevitable happened:
The folks at Pepperidge Farm, in particular, were unhappy -- not with the book but with its cover, on which their Goldfish crackers were prominently displayed without the company's permission. According to Dori Weintraub, associate director at St. Martin's, Pepperidge Farm insisted that "those fish were their fish."
       (Note that Pepperidge Farm is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Campbell Soup Company -- yes, the same folks whose soup-cans were immortalised by Andy Warhol. But there's fair use, and then there's fair use, apparently .....)
       Jones reports that now (after six printings and 95,000 copies) St.Martin's has replaced the cover; etc. don't have an image up yet, but the CD-cover shows the new art-work (chocolate chip cookies -- home-made, to avoid legal entanglements (but whose recipe did she use ? -- maybe they'll sue too)). They haven't managed to replace the cover at their publicity page, however.
       The registered Goldfish® are big business: they have their own (Flash-requiring) site, and, in a company press release (announcing that "90 percent of the Goldfish cracker line will be transitioned to zero transfat by May 2004"), one can learn that:
Almost half of all U.S. households with children under 18 purchase Goldfish products annually, with more than 85 billion Goldfish crackers consumed each year. In fact, over 3,000 Goldfish are produced by Pepperidge Farm bakeries every second.
       The idea that permission is required to use these little things (no matter how valuable the brand) for book-cover art-work strikes us as ludicrous, but presumably it's a case of it being easier to print a new cover than to fight it out in the courts.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Soyinka protests

       Andrew Meldrum reported in yesterday's issue of The Guardian that Soyinka promises more protests after his arrest. Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka was reportedly among those tear-gassed and arrested in protests.
       The situation in Nigeria is disturbing (the recent Christian-Muslim clashes have been particularly troubling), and the government certainly needs fixing. But at least there's something of a free press, at least to judge by the reports of this incident.
       Wale Okinola describes the events in some detail in Sunday's Vanguard, in Pro-democracy rally in Lagos: Police arrest Soyinka.
       In Sunday's issue of This Day Ndubuisi Ugah reports: Police Teargas Soyinka, Gani, Others. Official reaction included: "in a swift reaction last night, Inspector General of Police, Mr. Tafa Balogun, said Soyinka was never at any point arrested.". And:
The IG, according to [Assistant Commissioner of Police Taiwo] Lakanu, not only holds Soyinka and the eminent Nigerians involved in the rally in high esteem, he could not have done anything that would be seen as circumscribing the rights of citizens.
       But somehow these guys don't come across as the most sincere and convincing in the world.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Danuta de Rhodes ?

       Bookmunch has the first review we've seen of a book titled The Little White Car by a certain (or uncertain) 'Danuta de Rhodes'.
       It seems a safe bet that Dan Rhodes, recently anointed as one of the Best of Young British Novelists 2003, is behind this title and name -- though maybe he'll pretend he isn't soon enough, as Bookmunch suggest:
If this is a book by Dan Rhodes, then it's shocking, awful, a contemptible waste of talent, time, money and effort.
       We never really got the whole Dan Rhodes thing -- we didn't much appreciate his Anthropology, and we have a tough time with household-pet fiction, hence we haven't been able to tackle the admittedly all-abouts much praised Timoleon Vieta Come Home. Still, given how few writers recognise their limitations, we were thrilled to hear of a writer who'd decided, early on, that he'd had enough, or done all he could do (see Dan Rhodes Quits or this interview at 3 AM). Apparently, our joy was premature.
       It'll be a few months before the book is available (next month in the UK -- pre-order at --, and September in the US -- pre-order at, so you'll have to wait for a while to judge for yourself. Don't count on us to bother with a review.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Iain Sinclair Q & A

       Iain Sinclair finally got around to answering the e-mail questions posed by readers of The Guardian; see the exchanges here.
       (We're very eager to review his new Dining on Stones, but no one will send us a copy ..... Granta always did, but he's moved on to a bigger publisher .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       NSW Premier's Literary Awards

       The Australian NSW Premier's Literary Awards were announced yesterday. Brian Castro's novel Shanghai Dancing was awarded the prestigious Christina Stead Prize for Fiction, beating out not only Christina's niece, Elizabeth Stead, but also Janette Turner Hospital and a guy who had recently picked up another fairly prestigious prize, J.M.Coetzee.
       Publishers -- who, as we know, always know a good thing when they see it and are literary arbiters we gladly (or at least necessarily -- they're the ones who decide what we can buy, after all) always defer to -- largely missed the boat here (what a surprise !).
       Jason Steger reports in The Age that this Much-rejected book takes top awards: Shanghai Dancing won both the Stead and the (less remunerative) Book of the Year award -- oh, right, and it also picked up the Victorian Premier's Award last year.
       Similarly, Malcolm Knox reports in the Sydney Morning Herald that: "Two years ago Brian Castro's novel Shanghai Dancing could not find a publisher", in Shanghai surprise.
       We hope all those publishers who turned the book down give themselves a pat on the back for yet another job well done. But we expect nothing less -- and certainly never anything more -- from them.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

17 May 2004 - Monday

Translation success | Andrew Taylor interview | Schröder novel ?
Chinese literature losing its edge ? | The Virgin Suicides review

       Translation success

       In yesterday's issue of the San Francisco Chronicle Heidi Benson shows some success can be Found in translation, even in the US. Grove/Atlantic apparently shows it can be done. Not that the piece really makes this point well. The logic at work is more of this sort:
Reading a book in translation isn't foreign to most folks. In fact, half the books on the German best-seller list are translations. "In Europe, everyone is so close together, everyone is bilingual at least," said Morgan Entrekin, president and publisher of Grove/Atlantic,
       Surely, if everyone is bilingual, one would imagine the works on the bestseller list wouldn't be translations -- since so many people could read the originals .....
       Unfortunately the American successes (and hopefuls) that are cited tend to have one common element, as they include: The Sexual Life of Catherine M. by Catherine Millet and One Hundred Strokes of the Brush Before Bed by "Melissa P.", described as the "sexual memoir of a 16-year-old Sicilian girl". Too bad there's no mention of the fact Grove/Atlantic actually puts out a good deal of other worthy if less sensational works in translation. But then:
"Most of the translation published over the past 40 years was more esoteric," says Entrekin. "High modernism through the 1940s to the 1990s in Europe resulted in some pretty dense novels that were pretty boring." But now, "younger people are writing more accessible books in more genres."
       We won't even get started on that comment .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Andrew Taylor interview

       Andrew Taylor seems to be doing pretty well with his recent novel, An Unpardonable Crime (previously published in the UK as The American Boy; see our review). Robin Dougherty talks to him in yesterday's issue of the Boston Globe, in Reviving Poe and his spirit.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Schröder novel ?

       Deutsche Welle reports on German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder's Literary Aspirations. He has bigger plans than just penning his memoirs when he's done running the country: "He's apparently thinking about writing a crime novel about the Iraq war".
       He certainly won't be lacking in plots, crimes, and villains to choose from.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Chinese literature losing its edge ?

       In a six-minute audio-feature at NPR Rob Gifford reports that "as China opens up to the west, literature is losing its political role, and critics say, its edge".

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Virgin Suicides review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Jeffrey Eugenides' 1993 debut, The Virgin Suicides.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

16 May 2004 - Sunday

Commonwealth Writers Prizes | Frayn's Demokratie in Germany
Yet more Freudenberger | Glavinic review

       Commonwealth Writers Prizes

       The Commonwealth Writers Prizes have been announced: Caryl Phillips' A Distant Shore won the Best Book prize, and the Best First Book prize went to Mark Haddon's The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
       See also Jason Steger's report in The Age.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Frayn's Demokratie in Germany

       Michael Frayn's latest play, Democracy, was fairly well-received in the UK, and has now opened in Germany (a US production is slated for the fall; we'd love to review it but haven't been able to get our hands on a copy of the text yet).
       The Renaissance Theater production has gotten mixed reviews; we'll spare you links to all the German-language reviews. But the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung does offer Gerhard Stadelmaier's in English; too bad he finds: Frayn's Democracy lacks real drama

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Yet more Freudenberger

       Yes, there is yet more Nell Freudenberger news to report. For one, her book Lucky Girls is now also available in German translation (get your copy at Only one review so far, apparently: Wolfgang Schneider's in yesterday's issue of the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, not yet available online.
       There's also yet another Indian review: Manjula Padmanabhan's in Outlook India.

       Padmanabhan -- like Carrie O'Grady (who reviewed it in yesterday's isue of The Guardian) -- expresses the widespread preference for the four similar girl-in-exotic-locale-tales, finding the last story a less comfortable fit:
Letter from the Last Bastion did not work for me, as it attempted to stitch too many disparate elements together. Even so, like the other stories, it showcases a precocious talent.
       We were among the few -- Sophie Ratcliffe in the Times Literary Supplement was another notable exception -- who found the last the most interesting. It's rougher than the others, in some ways, but it's by far the most interesting piece from a literary perspective, the only piece where she shows any daring. The other stories suggest that she can write sentences just fine, the last story suggests she might actually be able to write a complete work of fiction (story or novel).
       O'Grady also finds the stories particularly feminine -- a different sort of chick-lit, apparently, but chick-lit nonetheless. We wonder how much the reader's sex has to do with appreciation of the texts (most of the reviewers have been female, though reactions even on that basis alone haven't been entirely consistent).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Glavinic review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Thomas Glavinic's new novel, Wie man leben soll.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

15 May 2004 - Saturday

Paul Auster as (political) songwriter ? | Fuentes v. Huntington
This week's The Guardian Review | Arab/Frankfurt update

       Paul Auster as (political) songwriter ?

       Reports about an interview Paul Auster gave to the Hamburger Abendblatt have been making the rounds in the German press. Auster offers the usual (author) party-line (the Europeans love this stuff, and it seems obligatory for American authors visiting there to repeat it):
Wo ich herkomme interessiert man sich nicht dafür, was Autoren zu sagen haben. Hier ist das offenbar anders.

(Where I come from one isn't interested in what authors have to say. It's apparently different here.)
       But what everyone is all excited about is something else Auster said:
Als im vergangenen Jahr der Irak-Krieg ausbrach, war ich so wütend, dass ich einen Anti-Bush-Song geschrieben habe. Er ist ebenso gewalttätig wie lustig. Auch der hat Wim sehr gefallen und kommt vielleicht in den Film. Ich bin politisch sehr stark engagiert, aber wir befinden uns in einem sehr dunklen Moment der amerikanischen Geschichte. Seit Bush 2000 die Wahl gestohlen hat, werden wir von verrückten Leuten regiert. Ich hoffe, er verliert die nächste Wahl, und ich tue alles dafür, dass das auch passiert.

(When the Iraq-war broke out last year, I got so angry that I wrote an anti-Bush song. It's as violent as it is funny. Wim also liked that one a lot, and maybe it'll be in the film. I am politically very strongly engaged, but we find ourselves in a very dark moment in American history. Since Bush stole the election in 2000 we're being governed by crazy people. I hope he loses the next election, and I'm doing everything I can that that happens.)
       (Wim refers to film director Wim Wenders, who is using a song by Auster's daughter's band in an upcoming film.)
       (Updated - 17 May): Maud Newton mentioned Auster's song a few weeks back (we assume it's the same song); it's called King George Blues, with music by One Ring Zero; the lyrics can be found at their site.

       (Auster does have a point about Europeans taking authors more seriously, by the way -- not necessarily about politics, but generally. Besides his own, interviews of American authors in large-circulation German-language newspapers we've come across recently range from Paula Fox speaking with her German translator in today's issue of the Swiss Neue Zürcher Zeitung (where a few days ago they spoke to Tajjib Salich (Tayeb Salih)) to Jeffrey Eugenides speaking with Bettina Balàka in the Austrian Die Presse (4 May).)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Fuentes v. Huntington

       One-time novelist Carlos Fuentes seems more concerned with politics than fiction nowadays, too. In the spring issue of New Perspectives Quarterly he takes on "Samuel P. Huntington, the tireless voice of alarm with respect to the menace that the idea of the "other" represents for the foundational soul of white, protestant, Anglo-Saxon United States of America" in Huntington and the Mask of Racism (link first seen at Arts & Letters Daily).
       Nothing wrong with being political, though generally we prefer talent and energy to be expended on more creative endeavours (fiction !). (Though Fuentes' latest ventures in that area haven't exactly bowled us over.)
       At least he closes with a small literary flourish:
An idle question: Who will become the next Moby Dick of Captain Ahab Huntington ?
       (Updated - 16 May): See also reviews of Huntington's new book, Who are We ?, (which sounds godawful) in The New Yorker (where Louis Menand tears it to shreds) and The Washington Post.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       This week's The Guardian Review

       Is it the last remaining source of solid literary coverage in English-language newspapers ? Maybe not quite yet, but this week's The Guardian Review is full of more good stuff than can be found in half a dozen other 'leading' newspapers put together (and we aren't just saying that because Nicholas Clee mentions our Andrew Wylie post in his column).

       Highlights include:        And there are reviews, too, of course -- including Carrie O'Grady's of Nell Freudenberger's Lucky Girls (more on that tomorrow).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Arab/Frankfurt update

       Al-Ahram Weekly offers yet another of their periodical (and generally depressing) updates on preparations by the Arab countries (and lack of preparation by the Arab League) for the Frankfurt Book Fair (where they will be the guest(s) of honour), in Weakness in unity
       Novelist Gamal El-Ghitani is quoted:
"It's becoming clear to me now that, in dealing with the Arab League, which does not possess a strong enough authority with which to impose a certain vision on Arab states, the Germans made a mistake. Had their dealings been undertaken individually with each state, perhaps a kind of competitiveness would have ensued -- something that Arabs don't tend to achieve when they work together."

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

14 May 2004 - Friday

The Pornographer's Poem in the US | Breaking the Real Axis of Evil review
Impossible to avoid this autumn ?

       The Pornographer's Poem in the US

       A review by Zachary Houle at PopMatters informs us that Michael Turner's The Pornographer's Poem (see also our review) is finally coming out in a proper US edition, from Soft Skull Press. (Not that there was anything wrong with it being an Arsenal Pulp publication, as several of his other titles still are, but the Canadian imprint wasn't always as readily available in the US.)
       Worth a look.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Breaking the Real Axis of Evil review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Mark Palmer's book on How to Oust the World's Last Dictators by 2025, Breaking the Real Axis of Evil.
       It's an intriguing and not entirely unrealistic idea; unfortunately, the current American administration isn't consistent in its support for democratic advances, admirably supporting some, especially in Africa, but willing to overlook the (grave) shortcomings of supposedly vital allies, including (currently) Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.
       Palmer's approach -- focussing on the non-violent, and making it clear to all dictators that they are not wanted -- is certainly worthy of greater support (or at least discussion).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Impossible to avoid this autumn ?

       In The Bookseller Benedicte Page warns that: "Susanna Clarke's massive début novel, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (...) is a book that will be impossible to avoid this autumn", in Spellbound in super-England.
       David Smith already warned of it in The Observer (22 February), and the publicity machine seems to be revving up.
       We're glad we don't know what all this publishing-speak means, as for example when Page notes that: "P.o.s. to include shelf wobblers, banner poster and dumpbin". (We could use dumpbins for a lot of the review copies we get hereabouts -- and shelf wobblers sound fun too.)
       Bloomsbury has sold the rights to numerous foreign markets (including, in Japan, to "Sony Magazines"). See also the Bloomsbury publicity page, or pre-order your copy at or

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

13 May 2004 - Thursday

English-language domination | Cercas review | Book sales down
Roland Emmerich on Shakespeare | Wolff Translator’s Prize
New YRB | Kunderian Lightness

       English-language domination

       Pierre Lepape's article in this month's issue of Le Monde diplomatique, Lost without translation, has been widely linked to by other literary weblogs but is worth a closer look -- unfortunately not for all the right reasons. Lepape tackles a bit much in his article, and isn't as careful as he should be in marshalling his arguments:
       He writes: "Of the 14,000 books published in Britain each year (twice as many as in France), only 3% are translations." This is either a typo, or he's not explaining clearly enough what he means by "books"; later he claims: "60,000 titles were published in 2001" in Spain, and surely no one imagines that more than four times as many books are published in Spain as are in the UK (and some eight times as many as in France) -- unless, of course, "titles" are something different from "books" .....
       Possibly he meant 140,000 books were published in the UK (that's generally about how many newspapers report being published) -- but it could also be the smaller number, referring only to trade-fiction or some such smaller segment of the market (which would be sensible, since a large part of the book market, ranging from how-to manuals to school textbooks, doesn't figure in the usual literary or semi-literary discussion).
       Lepape also writes that: "No translated works in any field have made the US bestseller lists for years. The same is true in Britain," In fact, neither is true (though he's pretty close): in the past twelve months Gabriel Garcia Marquez has managed to put two books on The New York Times' Bestseller List: his memoir, Living to Tell the Tale, managed a total of at least four weeks in the top fifteen, while Oprah-selection One Hundred Years of Solitude was on the paperback bestseller list for at least nine weeks. Over in the UK Asne Seierstad's The Bookseller of Kabul -- a Richard & Judy pick -- also made the bestseller charts. (Those were the only ones we could recall; possibly there were no others.)
       The fact that two of these titles needed the publicity boost that a TV-book club provides to push them onto the bestseller lists does reinforce much of Lepape's argument -- but the willingness of American and British audiences to pick up these titles (as they had another Oprah-selection several years ago, Bernhard Schlink's The Reader) suggests that this supposed aversion to translated texts is far from complete.

       Among Lepape's most interesting claim is that:
Theorists support this new landscape of international publishing, claiming that it fulfils the important criteria of free trade, unchecked competition between idea-carriers, and a free market governed entirely by demand. The job of the writer, editor and publisher, or any cultural worker, is to examine, interpret and satisfy public demand, constantly adapting to its whims.
       While he carefully footnotes the hard data (even if he appears to get it wrong, at least in the first case), he doesn't offer a clue who these "theorists" might be. We would love to know -- publishing as an example of efficient markets is an idea too absurd to believe (the incredible marketing boost Oprah and Dick & Judy can provide to any title they choose is just one example of how the market can be manipulated). And if the book-market were "governed entirely by demand" then maybe we could find some of the books we're interested in at our local bookstore (or, indeed, anywhere) -- usually we can't.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Cercas review

       With all the good reviews Javier Cercas' Soldiers of Salamis has gotten -- and the Independent Foreign Fiction prize it recently won -- we decided to review it too, and our review is now available.
       We weren't quite as enthusiastic as most. Also interesting -- given that the Independent prize honours the translation as much as the work (and Anne McLean gets half the prize-money) -- is that several of the reviewers thought some of the translation (especially the long sentences, faithfully rendered the same as in the Spanish original) less than ideal. And recall that in his 25 July 2003 NB-column in the TLS J.C. suggested Cercas could give the Bulwer-Lytton writing contest a run for its money, quoting a line from the book and offering:
If you find a longer, more turgid sentence than this in any book published this century, you will win our Javier Cercas Fiction Contest:
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       Book sales down

       It's in all the papers: Hillel Italie's AP report (here at the San Francisco Chronicle) that a New study shows big drop in books sold. Yes, books sales in the US 2003 were down 1.02% over 2002:
       (Updated - 13 May): When we initially reported this we stated the decline was 9.36% -- based on a decline from 2.45 billion books to 2.22 billion (the numbers originally cited in the AP report we cut and pasted from (below)). Those numbers have now been changed -- to "2.222 billion books, down from 2.245 billion" (we've also corrected them below) -- so the decline isn't anywhere near as bad. We should have noticed -- after all, they say the decline was (only) 23 million, but we used the other figures to calculate the decline. Sorry ! (And thanks to Ron from Beatrice for making us aware of the discrepancy.):
23 million fewer books were sold last year than in 2002, according to a report issued Wednesday by the Book Industry Study Group, a non-for-profit research organization. Sales fell to 2.222 billion books, down from 2.245 billion in 2002. The decline was in both hardcovers and paperbacks, in children's books and general trade releases.
       This despite a few incredible blockbusters (the latest Harry Potter, the Clinton book). Amazing.

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       Roland Emmerich on Shakespeare

       Director Roland Emmerich -- best known for big-budget crap like Independence Day and Godzilla (and a movie that sure looks like it has crap written all over it, The Day After Tomorrow) -- is reportedly taking on Shakespeare. Not an adaptation, but an historical drama: The Soul of the Age, based on a screenplay by John Orloff, which explores the question of who wrote Shakespeare's plays .....
       See the reports Emmerich vs. Shakespeare ! at FilmForce and and Emmerich Directs Literary Drama at Empire Online.

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       Wolff Translator’s Prize

       As mentioned by Golden Rule Jones, the Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator’s Prize for Outstanding Translation from German into English 2004 has been announced: Breon Mitchell wins for his translation of Morenga by Uwe Timm.

       (We only had two of the nominees under review: Christoph Hein's Willenbrock and Arno Schmidt's Radio Dialogs II).

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       New YRB

       A new issue -- Spring 2004 -- of the Yale Review of Books is finally up. Books like Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello (see our review) and Carey's My Life as a Fake (see our review) only get the in brief-treatment, and it's a bit on the thin side, but still worth a look.

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       Kunderian Lightness

       In USA Today Jacqueline Blais reports on The unforgettable 'Lightness of Being'. Apparently everyone is all excited about the 20th anniversary of the English-language edition of Milan Kundera's classic, with both Faber (in the UK) and HarperCollins (in the US) bringing out special editions.

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12 May 2004 - Wednesday

Non-fiction translations | Clinton finishes memoirs |

       Non-fiction translations

       In his Literary life column this week Mark Sanderson wonders about how little non-fiction is translated into English. (We think fiction is the much higher priority, but this too is worth a mention.) He notes:
While plenty of novels by French and German authors are translated into English, works of non-fiction by their fellow countrymen are generally ignored -- unless they concern the Nazis or sex.
       (We do take issue with the idea that plenty of French and German novels are translated .....)
       One sad pseudo-explanation:
"French and German non-fiction is written in a much less accessible, much more academic style to ours," Richard Beswick, the Publisher of Abacus books, told me.
       Yeah, there's a helpful generalization .....
       Another publisher is completely baffled that this is even an issue:
"Why should we publish more foreign non-fiction ?" demanded Patrick Janson-Smith at Transworld Publishers.
       Without some sex he can't see much reason to bother with it, certain that the book-buying public couldn't possibly be interested in continental non-fiction (at least not enough to make it worth his while).

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       Clinton finishes memoirs

       It's official: former American president Bill Clinton has finished his memoirs. An AAP report at The Age informs us:
"The writing was completed late last week, and right now we are finishing up the editing process," said Alfred A Knopf spokesman Paul Bogaards.
       Glad to see they've left an adequate amount of time for the editing (and fact-checking ?) process.
       See also the AP report (here at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel), the Knopf publicity page -- or, if you really must, pre-order your copy at
       (Note: don't expect a review hereabouts.)

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       Another literary site has been brought to our attention:, "an independent book review website devoted to reviewing the very best books in literary fiction, poetry, history and philosophy".
       Still relatively small, they do cover the sort of books we like -- and offer some additional literary content, such as author-interviews (see, for example, their (too brief) conversation with David Albahari) and commentary (see, for example, a piece On Tim Krabbé).

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11 May 2004 - Tuesday

Verb-less novel | Tony nominations
Review of The Manchurian Candidate | More Freudenberger

       Verb-less novel

       In the Telegraph Kim Willsher reports 'Fictitious' author publishes the first book without verbs (link first seen at Languagehat). An author writing under the pseudonym 'Michel Thaler' has published a novel titled Le Train de Nulle Part (get your copy at which contains no verbs. Of course:
Perhaps inevitably, critics have commented unfavourably on the lack of action in Michel Thaler's work, The Train from Nowhere, which runs to 233 pages.
       But the author is pretty sure of himself and his grand achievement:
"My book is a revolution in the history of literature. It is the first book of its kind. It's daring, modern and is to literature what the great Dada and Surrealist movements were to art," said Mr Thaler
       See also brief French reports at and

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       Tony nominations

       The nominations for the "American Theatre Wing's 58th Annual Tony Awards®" (they've apparently finally given up on the less catchy "Antoinette Perry"-designation) have been announced.
       The only work we have under review is Tom Stoppard's Jumpers, nominated in the 'Best Revival of a Play' category (and up against two Shakespeare plays).

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       Review of The Manchurian Candidate

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Richard Condon's 1959 novel, The Manchurian Candidate.
       The 1962 John Frankenheimer film version (with the impressive cast of Laurence Harvey, Frank Sinatra, Angela Lansbury, and Janet Leigh) based on the novel is now considered a classic, but there's a new film version coming out later this year, directed by Jonathan Demme and starring Liev Schreiber, Denzel Washington, and Meryl Streep.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More Freudenberger

       We recently mentioned that Lucky Girls-author Nell Freudenberger is on book-tour in India. One more report on it: Devyani Onial writes From Delhi, With Confusion in the Indian Express, a slightly more interesting profile than most.

       (Updated - 12 May): And now Marianne Brace has reviewed Lucky Girls in The Independent.

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