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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 June

11 June: Sayonara, Gangsters review | Forced exoticism ? | Ulysses, Bloomsday, etc.
12 June: Asturias Prize for Magris | Yemeni literature | Saudi literary culture | Transmission
14 June: Comics review | James Wood in New York ? | American authors in the Independent on Sunday | Sinful Woman review
15 June: West response to Coetzee | Aventis Prizes | British publishing
16 June: Samuel Johnson Prize | Bloomsday specials | German bookselling | Baggott review
17 June: Another Coe review | Foreign Affairs reviewing | This year's Friedenspreis | The Half Brother
18 June: Simon Sebag Montefiore and Stalin | Awards: IMPAC - Miles Franklin
19 June: Handke a Milosevic defence witness ? | Slate on bestseller lists | A.B.Yehoshua coverage | Aylett CD
20 June: EIBF Enlightenment Award | First Clinton book sightings

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20 June 2004 - Sunday

EIBF Enlightenment Award | First Clinton book sightings

       EIBF Enlightenment Award

       The Edinburgh International Book Festival has invented yet another literary award. As Alan Taylor describes it in the Sunday Herald:
The EIBF Enlightenment Award will be given annually to a writer who has made a distinguished contribution to world literature and thought.
       This year's recipient, the very first, will be Muriel Spark.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       First Clinton book sightings

       Despite a strict embargo, Bill Clinton's forthcoming book, apparently much anticipated in certain circles, has found its way into the hands of evil, leaking journalists. The Associated Press got their hands on a copy and have reported on the contents (see, for example, the report at USA Today) -- though the wimps apparently didn't dare actually quote from the book --, while John M. Broder reported at greater length on the book for The New York Times yesterday (see the article at, for example, the non-registration requiring The Register-Guard), claiming: "A copy was obtained by The New York Times from a bookstore."
       Of greater interest was the accompanying article in The New York Times by David D. Kirkpatrick, reporting: "Publisher Tries to Stop Leaks From the Clinton Memoir". Clinton publisher Knopf apparently immediately sent a letter to the AP, "arguing that the news organization had violated copyright laws and demanding that it stop." Fortunately: "The A.P. rejected the contentions."
       The copyright case doesn't look very promising -- though Knopf has apparently vowed to: "press its claims". A spokesman is quoted as saying:
     "We are going to vigorously pursue any person or organization making public disclosures in violation of the embargo"
       We have no respect -- and little understanding -- for embargos. Surely they should sow more doubt than raise expectations -- after all, if a book is any good what difference could an early review or the publishing of some key quotes or anecdotes make ? Surely only a bad book needs to be protected from prying critical eyes (though in the case of Clinton's book it looks as though nothing could kill this juggernaut).

       We do hope that those who will review My Life will at least take their time, and not repeat last year's embarrassing race to the bottom, when countless bleary-eyed critics raced to submit their Harry Potter-reviews after marathon speed-reading sessions.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

19 June 2004 - Saturday

Handke a Milosevic defence witness ? | Slate on bestseller lists
A.B.Yehoshua coverage | Aylett CD

       Handke a Milosevic defence witness ?

       Several German newspapers report that among the 1631 witnesses Slobo Milosevic hopes to call in his defence in his trial before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (Case No.: IT-02-54) is Austrian author Peter Handke, who gained some notoriety and lots of bad press for his consistent support of Serbia since the collapse of Yugoslavia. As Der Standard reports (quoting from a forthcoming report in the Austrian weekly News) Handke has not yet been subpoenaed, but isn't disinclined to testifying.
       The German (and especially the Austrian) press is focussing largely on Handke, ignoring the 1630 other potential witnesses. Given who else is apparently on the list this seems a bit odd: as the Voice of America reports, quoting Milosevic:
"[Former U.S. President Bill] Clinton has to appear here. [German Chancellor Gerhard] Shroeder has to appear here. [British Prime Minister Tony] Blair too, and others," he said. "They were heads of state. I was a head of state. You're trying me here as a head of state."
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Slate on bestseller lists

       The link seemed to be almost everywhere: at Slate there was a piece by Sean Rocha on bestseller lists. It sounded like fun, and we'd have loved to read it, but every time we clicked the provided link all we got was a page telling us: "The page you are trying to reach has moved" and suggesting: "Try searching our Archives at left."
       Only eventually did an explanation pop up:
On June 17, a "Gist" on best sellers by Sean Rocha was posted before it had finished being edited and was subsequently removed from the site. The unfinished version contained several errors in fact and interpretation. We expect to publish a revised version of the piece next week, along with an itemization of the factual errors in the original.
       Errors in interpretation ! Cool.
       Anyway, we look forward to the revised piece -- but think it might have been more useful if they had posted the 'correction' on the page where the story used to be.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       A.B.Yehoshua coverage

       In the current issue of The Nation Jonathan Shainin reviews the works of A.B.Yehoshua.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Aylett CD

       Steve Aylett lets us know that he has a new CD out: Lord Pin, available from CD Baby. A couple of tracks can be sampled there, probably worth checking out.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

18 June 2004 - Friday

Simon Sebag Montefiore and Stalin | Awards: IMPAC - Miles Franklin

       Simon Sebag Montefiore and Stalin

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Simon Sebag Montefiore's book on The Court of the Red Tsar, Stalin (published to wide acclaim in the UK last year (and just out in paperback there) and recently published in the US).
       Two asides:

       1) We have no idea whether the author's last name is "Sebag Montefiore" or simply "Montefiore". Some reviews refer to him by one name, others by the other.
       In his Acknowledgements SSM thanks his father, a "Stephen Sebag-Montefiore", which would suggest the longer variation -- except that the son omits the connecting dash. He also thanks his wife, "Santa Montefiore", which would suggest the simpler version We remain confused (and have index-entries under both names).

       2) The publisher's author-description also notes that Simon Sebag Montefiore has also written two novels -- but they don't name these (and don't include them among the books listed as "Also by Simon Sebag Montefiore" at the beginning of the book). The one we have heard of, however, is surely of some interest: his second, the 1997 novel My Affair with Stalin.
       We've never seen the book, and it doesn't appear to have done that well. But a TLS review by Simon Beesley (19 September 1997) suggests it was ambitious -- and, in light of what SSM has gone on to do since then, is certainly of some interest:
Simon Sebag Montefiore's second novel handicaps itself from the start with the germ of an idea that is outwardly promising, yet turns out to be quite unworkable. Eleven-year-old William Conroy is bullied at an English preparatory school in the 1970s. By identifying himself with Joseph Stalin, he attracts followers among his schoolmates and climbs to the top of the schoolboy power-structure. My Affair with Stalin is remorseless in its historical accuracy. Conroy persuades his gang to re-enact every stage in Stalin's trajectory: Politburo intrigues, the creation of a secret police, show trials, the defence of Stalingrad, and so on.
       Things apparently didn't go well:
(T)he more the boys persist in using Stalinist nomenclature and jargon -- the more doggedly the author insists on the viability of his conception -- the more leaden, or indeed Stalinist, the writing becomes. The book regularly hits the wrong note with a succession of dysfunctional similes and metaphors, and off-register pastiches.
       As best we can tell, none of the reviewers of Stalin: The Court of the Red Tsar made mention of this earlier variation on the theme, despite its obvious significance. (Presumably those even aware of it couldn't find a copy.) We're certainly going to be on the look-out for this title, and hope to be able to review it at some point.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -


       The International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, the bizarre (and among the worst-named) but nicely international prize was awarded to This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jelloun this year. (Moorish Girl offers a useful overview.)

       See also The New Press publicity page, or get your own copy at or
       We were curious how this vaguely obscure prize might influence sales of the book, and so we were going to see whether there was a discernible rise in its Amazon-sales-rank in the days to come, but a first check already suggests an answer: at the American the book languished at a rank of 455,489 at 21:00 GMT on the day they announced the prize, but by 2:00 today (five hours later) was up to a sensational 257. At the British -- despite the fact that it appears to be an import-volume (i.e. there's only the American New Press edition on offer) it was already at 648 by 21:00, and 390 five hours later. Wow.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Miles Franklin

       The Miles Franklin Literary Award, Australia's most remunerative -- and with a stellar short-list this year -- was awarded to The Great Fire by Shirley Hazzard this year.
       The Australian reports (with The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald obnoxiously becoming registration-requiring we have to shift to other sources), and notes that, while the Miles Franklin may be the most prestigious prize Australia has to offer, that's not enough to convince even the finalists to show up. Hazzard couldn't be bothered (celebrating "the occasion with friends on the isle of Capri") -- but she wasn't the only one:
Unfortunately, taking further gloss off the evening, three other contenders for the prize could not make it either
       (Note that many prizes, the Man Booker among them, require nominated authors to commit to attending the awards ceremony; the Miles Franklin does not appear to have the clout to do so.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

17 June 2004 - Thursday

Another Coe review | Foreign Affairs reviewing
This year's Friedenspreis | The Half Brother

       Another Coe review

       Jonathan Coe's B.S.Johnson-biography, Like a Fiery Elephant, continues to be widely (and well) reviewed -- now by Robert Winder in the New Statesman. He writes:
Coe has produced a glorious hybrid: a gripping and absorbing novel posing (for appearance's sake) as a life.
It might even be possible that this biography is the book B S Johnson was born to write -- the vindication of his life and the climax of his career. It is earnest, dazzling, elegant, full of perceptions and, most important of all, true (especially when it comes to acknowledging the limits of what we can ever know).
       (It appears that Picador has chosen to ignore our requests for a review copy, so sadly it will probably be years before we manage to review this book.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Foreign Affairs reviewing

       Who'd have thought that the biggest reviewing-controversy of the year would be at Foreign Affairs. Kenneth Maxwell resigned on 13 May, and now Jeremy Adelman, who was to take over that position, has decided against taking that position (as reported by Diana Jean Schemo in yesterday's issue of The New York Times).
       A good overview of the initial dispute can be found in Scott Sherman's The Maxwell Affair (The Nation, 3 June), and Jack Shafer brings things up to date in Kissinger's Con (Slate, 16 June).

       Maxwell's contentious review can be found here (in the November/December issue of Foreign Affairs), while William D. Rogers response and Maxwell reply can be found here.

       (Updated - 25 June): David Glenn sums up the whole sordid affair in the Chronicle of Higher Education, in 'Foreign Affairs' Loses a Longtime Editor and His Replacement in Row Over Editorial Independence.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       This year's Friedenspreis

       The Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels (Peace Prize of the German Book Industry) is among the most prestigious the Germans offer. Last year Susan Sontag (controversially) received it; now they've announced that this year Péter Esterházy will be honoured. (The prize is only handed over 10 October, but they like to give folks time to prepare .....)
       Esterházy's Celestial Harmonies, recently published in English translation, has been getting considerable review coverage (we expect to get to it eventually too).
       Additional (brief, German) reports can be found in the NZZ and FAZ. Longer articles wil no doubt follow.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Half Brother

       We were very impressed by Lars Saabye Christensen's The Half Brother, which finally made it to the US a month or two ago. Ever since we've been impressed by how widely ignored it has been by the American press. Finally another review appears -- Elissa Elliott's in Christianity Today.
       She finds:
The Half Brother is reminiscent of Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections -- but more engaging and better crafted.
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

16 June 2004 - Wednesday

Samuel Johnson Prize | Bloomsday specials | German bookselling | Baggott review

       Samuel Johnson Prize

       Bill Bryson didn't do the double (see yesterday's prize-mention), as Anna Funder won the BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction for Stasiland.
       No surprise: the official site had no information when we last checked, but there were already newspaper articles:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Bloomsday specials

       Yeah, we're not too big on all this Bloomsday stuff (it's today, by the way, in case by some miracle you haven't been reminded often enough), but this sort of impressed us: the German daily die tageszeitung (taz) is publishing a special issue, with eighteen taz-writers taking on the eighteen chapters of Ulysses. And they offer a free copy of Joyce's Ulysses to any new subscriber who signs up for a ten-week subscription. (What English-language newspaper could get subscribers with a Ulysses-giveaway ?)
       The French and German language press has been going all-out with Bloomsday-coverage, by the way, with special sections and articles galore. American coverage looks positively indifferent by comparison (which ain't all bad ...).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       German bookselling

       Moorish Girl points to a dpa article on a German case where Court bans Internet cut-price book sale yesterday.
       A Berlin journalist sold some review copies on Ebay, only getting an average of a measly 6 Euros for them (generally far below the mandatory retail price). Only 48 books were at issue (though it sounds from some of the other reports that he was considerably busier than that), but the court upheld a lower-court judgement that a seller of this type was bound by general bookselling laws -- which, in Germany still means: no discounting.
       This is a murky area, and obviously at some point online sales are going to be one giant headache for the German bookselling industry. But price-fixing (that's the law in Germany: fixed prices, no exceptions) is hard to justify, and presumably it will fall even there, sooner rather than later.
       Other reports about the case can be found (in German) in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung: Claudia Bröll writes Buchbranche punktet gegen Preispoker im Internet, and the decision is outlined in Auch online gilt der Ladenpreis. But there's going to be a lot more discussion about this decision.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Baggott review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Jim Baggott's book on Modern Physics, Philosophy and the Meaning of Quantum Theory, Beyond Measure.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

15 June 2004 - Tuesday

West response to Coetzee | Aventis Prizes | British publishing

       West response to Coetzee

       Rake's Progress mentions that "The latest Harper's is lit-packed", but focusses on "J. Robert Lennon's parable-like short pieces". Worthy, probably (honestly, we haven't made our way there yet), but what struck our eyes in the July issue was Jennifer Souza's review of J.M.Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello (see also our review) -- and, even more exciting: Paul West's comments on the book. West, you might recall from the book or discussions thereof, makes a cameo appearance in Elizabeth Costello, as the title character attacks his novel The Very Rich Hours of Count von Stauffenberg.
       What fun -- and we hope to consider all this in more depth at some point (we still have to digest it all). Unfortunately, Harper's' web-presence is among the sorriest magazine sites out there (but hey, no registration requirement ...), and so you can't find any of this online.

       So: the literary coverage at Harper's impressed us. But, since we already mention this issue, we have to point out an egregious (if entirely un-literary) error we found, a mis-statement of the sort that drives us absolutely nuts. On page 78, in an article on "Blood for Oil", Luke Mitchell writes:
Harry Truman promised King Ibn Saud of Saudi Arabia -- the largest producer of oil on earth then and now
       Even we, ignorant pseudo-literary buffoons, have enough general sense of geopolitical reality to know that, from the end of World War II until the so-called "oil crisis" of the early 1970s, one country was far and away the world's biggest oil producer -- the United States. We couldn't find the statistics going back to Truman's day, but a table of World Crude Oil Production, 1960-2002 shows that American production dwarfed Saudi production even past 1970. Even as late as 1970, American production was well more than twice Saudi production. (The US remains a major oil producer; in 2003 it was still and again the world's second largest producer, just after the Saudis.)
       It just can't be that hard to get facts straight, can it ? (Getting them wrong unfortunately undermines the rest of what is found in the article, and Harper's generally: this is the sort of thing even we can catch -- so what about all the stuff we're actually in no position to judge ?)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Aventis Prizes

       The Aventis Prizes for Science Books 2004 have been awarded (though at the time we write this this information is, predictably, not yet available at the official site).
       Bill Bryson won the "General Prize" for his book, A Short History of Nearly Everything. (There's also a junior prize, which even half the press reports ignored: Nick Arnold and Tony De Saulles won that, for Really Rotten Experiments.)
       Early press reports include:        Bryson is also up for the Samuel Johnson Prize 2004, which will be announced today -- catch it live (21:00-22:00 GMT)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       British publishing

       Even the Swiss think the British publishing industry is more interesting than their own (or the German/French/Italian industries): in yesterday's issue of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung Georges Waser writes about the Bestseller-Fieber im britischen Verlagsbuchhandel ("Bestseller fever in British publishing"). A lot of anecdotes that we've heard over the past few months, focussing on the take-over by so-called "literary-agents" and the focus on big sellers rather than quality. It's depressing in any language.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

14 June 2004 - Monday

Comics review | James Wood in New York ?
American authors in the Independent on Sunday | Sinful Woman review

       Comics review

       Tireless cartoon-lit defender Bookslut will no doubt rip into this piece (choice quote to raise her ire: "The reader can pick and choose as the mood takes him or her (no, that should just be him)"), but it's nice to see someone argue that all this talk that comics should be taken seriously has gone too far, as Martin Rowson does in his review in the Independent on Sunday of McSweeney's 13 - The Comics Issue, edited by Chris Ware.
       He notes:
Cartoonists aren't the only group of artists who moan ceaselessly about the neglect and ingratitude the towering edifices of their genius suffer at the hands of editors, publishers and the public; poets, obviously, are just as bad. It's just that cartoonists do it better than anyone else.
This is yet another sally in that old, old struggle to get comics to be taken seriously and recognised by the adult world in general as "respectable". Except that comics aren't and shouldn't be respectable.
I wish he and the rest of them would accept that, in the ecology of culture, comics flourish where they are for a reason, and so he should stop pushing against an open door into an empty room.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       James Wood in New York ?

       New York magazine, under new ownership, is undergoing considerable editorial changes. Still, it was a surprise to find ... James Wood in its pages -- in a section now (ambitiously ?) called the "New York Magazine Book Review", no less. But there he is this week, with a piece titled Prize of the Yankees, on the new Man Booker International Prize (see our previous mention -- from, note: 12 days ago).
       He starts out well enough:
Prizes are the new reviews. Prizes now do the old business of literary selection and evaluation, the croupier’s rake that sorts the winners from the losers. We are choking on prizes
       But otherwise this is a pretty disappointing piece of tossed-off journalism -- James Woods writing down to New York standards, rather than raising them to his. A reader unfamiliar with the new Man Booker couldn't even tell from Wood's description that this isn't a prize like most of the others, since it is awarded to an author, for a body of work (while the others he mentions, including the traditional Man Booker, are awarded for a single book).
       Still, if they let him actually review books, Wood's presence in these pages would certainly be welcome.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       American authors in the Independent on Sunday

       Two pieces of some interest on American authors in yesterday's issue of the Independent on Sunday:

        - Beyond sensation, in which Jonathan Heawood considers -- at considerable length -- the current Henry James-enthusiasm

        - Slightly nettled, in which Justin Cartwright describes sitting next to John Updike at a banquet

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Sinful Woman review

       It was a paperback original back when it was first published in 1947, which meant, at that time, that reviewers considered it beneath them to even consider covering it, but we have now reviewed James M. Cain's Sinful Woman.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

12 June 2004 - Saturday

Asturias Prize for Magris | Yemeni literature | Saudi literary culture | Transmission

       Asturias Prize for Magris

       Italian author Claudio Magris has been awarded the prestigious Premio Príncipe de Asturias de las Letras 2004 (the Prince of Asturias Prize for Letters). See also the AP report.
       A decent introduction to the author can be found in this report by Eric Solsten at the Library of Congress site. We have none of his works under review, but the ones readily available in English -- Danube (get your copy at or and Microcosms (get your copy at or -- do sound of some interest.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Yemeni literature

       Sorry, it's in German, but Günther Orth offers a good introduction to Yemeni literature in today's issue of the Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Orth has just published a translation of Yemeni stories, and, among other things, describes the difficulties of obtaining specific books in a country without any organised distribution system. But it does sound like there is at least some literary culture: writers at work, and something of an audience.
       Orth also notes a shift from the short-story to the novel as the main form of fiction there (which a professor at the University of Sanaa explains as a counter-balance to an increasingly urbanized, specialised life-style, with readers seeking more comprehensive, far-reaching works rather than the quick, succinct stories that used to be enough ...).
       Among the authors he mentions is leading author Muhammad Abdalwali (Mohammad Abdul-Wali), who died in 1973. The University of Texas Press published his They Die Strangers a few years ago and even kindly sent us a review copy -- it's a book we've been meaning to review but (like so many others) haven't gotten too yet). See their publicity page, or get your copy at or

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Saudi literary culture

       Presumably they're mainly school textbooks, but it's still depressing: in Arab News Somayya Jabarti reports: Students’ Contempt for Books Reveals Deeper Malaise.
       Ah yes, the summer is here and so:
As the academic year draws to an end, dumpsters are overflowing with school books of every description, some torn, some in mint condition, in a vivid expression of how Saudi youth feel about their education.
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -


       We haven't gotten to Hari Kunzru's much-lauded debut, The Impressionist, but we have now reviewed his recently published Transmission.
       The reviews have almost all been very good, though quite a few credit it with more substance than we found (though we also didn't think it was quite as trifling as Walter Kirn found it). Certainly, it's good entertainment. In fact, this is exactly the sort of book we'd hope to find at the airport bookstore: a good, quick, engaging, entertaining read. Solid popular fiction.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

11 June 2004 - Friday

Sayonara, Gangsters review | Forced exoticism ? | Ulysses, Bloomsday, etc.

       Sayonara, Gangsters review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Takahashi Genichiro's 1982 novel, Sayonara, Gangsters, now available in English -- yet another interesting offering from Vertical.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Forced exoticism ?

       Interesting note in Krishna Dutta's review of Amitav Ghosh's new novel, The Hungry Tide, in today's issue of The Independent:
Strangely, postcolonial Indian writers like Ghosh feel the need to insert the local bhasa (tongue) and cultural anthropology for authenticity, whereas their predecessors -- such as Anita Desai and RK Narayan -- did not. They were confident enough to transport readers to a different society using brilliantly executed English. Their works are still read fairly widely, whereas Ghosh can expect a limited readership -- however interesting his theme may be.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Ulysses, Bloomsday, etc.

       Everywhere you turn there are articles about "Bloomsday" and James Joyce's Ulysses. We've done our best to avoid linking to them, but can't hold back any longer. Particularly annoying -- though deserving a longer response than we have the patience or time to offer -- is Tim Cavanaugh's Ulysses Unbound, wondering Why does a book so bad it "defecates on your bed" still have so many admirers ? in Reason.
       The Economist also weighs in this week, wondering Is the fuss over James Joyce's Ulysses greater than the book ?

       Meanwhile, there's a new French translation out -- see, for example, Natalie Lesvisalles' review in yesterday's issue of Libération, or get your own copy at

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

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