Perlentaucher alerts us that the first biennial Siegfried Unseld Preis, named after the legendary Suhrkamp Verlag head was awarded to Peter Handke on the 28th (Unseld's birthday).
Given the way German literary prizes operate, it was announced way back in February that Handke would be getting this thing (see, for example, this report from the NZZ, 9 February), so that part wasn't a surprise.
Now the Frankfurter Rundschau offers a slightly edited version of Unseld-widow (and new, if somewhat controversial, Suhrkamp head) Ulla Unseld-Berkéwicz's laudatio.
They also describe the award more closely: for example: the jurors (no mention of how many) consist only of Suhrkamp authors -- plus, of course, Ms. Unseld-Berkéwicz.
Particularly odd, too: the awards-ceremony was held "unter Ausschluss der Öffentlichkeit" -- closed trial terminology, meaning the common folk (i.e. the general public) was excluded.
Fun games they're up to (needless to say, prize-winner Handke -- whose newest, Don Juan, we recently reviewed -- is one of the grand old Suhrkamp authors).
Thing is: at 50,000 this is one of the biggest prizes out there .....
Looking for more information about the Siegfried Unseld prize (see previous story) at the Suhrkamp site we came across this page on their 33-volume Jubiläumsprogramm.
Described as the "wichtigsten und erfolgreichsten" ('most important and successful') paperback volumes from the 33 years their Suhrkamp Taschenbuch paperback line has been available, it doesn't really seem to consist of either -- though a lot of top titles are there.
(Presumably they chose a representative volume published in each of the 33 years, limited to one per author (otherwise Hesse, Brecht, and Frisch would completely dominate).)
The list does, however, provide sales figures.
We love sales figures !
And it's interesting to see what's been successful -- and how successful some of these books have been in Germany.
We only have two of the titles under review: Cees Nooteboom's Rituals (323,000 copies sold -- probably more than all his American book sales combined) and Brecht's Stories of Mr. Keuner (a mere 297,000).
The really big sellers aren't that surprising, but the sales-volume is: Frisch's Homo faber at 4.1 million, Hesse's Siddhartha at 2.9 million (and note that both of these authors have a number of other titles which have racked up similar sales but weren't included in this 33-volume series).
These -- and Ulrich Plenzdorf's classic, The New Sorrows of Young W. (2.4 million) -- certainly benefit from being school-reading, but the totals are still staggering.
And how to explain a book by Chingis Aitmatov selling 990,000 copies ?
(We assume his American publishers would be happy with sales of one per cent of that.)
German books used to generally include not only edition information but exact print runs; for example, our 1979 paperback edition of Buddenbrooks says:
403.-423. Tausend Oktober 1978
424.-443. Tausend April 1979
It was a good way to keep up with how books were doing (and especially how classics were holding up), but unfortunately they seem to have stopped including this information.
In the US, of course, publishers often announce initial print runs, but we're told these are often not very accurate (publishers being untruthful ? Amazing but true !).
(Fortunately, the trend of independent book sale tracking looks to eventually make all this data accessible again.)
(Note: much as we're impressed by the sales data on the Suhrkamp list, we figure they confused their 'millions' and 'thousands' when claiming that they've shifted 102 million copies of Inoue's book.)
A few days ago we mentioned the difficulties the Germans were having in interesting English-language publishers in German writing, with one person complaining:
A huge problem is that most of the American editors don't speak German and rely on sample translations which have to be provided first,
That presumably goes for most, if not all languages.
The Internet now offers another way of raising awareness and showing off samples of foreign-language work in translation, and it will be interesting to see how much of a difference enterprising authors and fans can make.
A recent example is Kirk McElhearn's efforts on behalf of French science fiction writer Pierre Bordage.
As McElhearn explains at Kirkville:
In presenting an English translation of two chapters of Pierre Bordage's novel The Warriors of Silence, I am tossing a message in a bottle out into the vast sea of the Internet, hoping that an editor or publisher will stumble on this text and be curious enough to want to find out more.
I have translated these two chapters from French, with the collaboration of the author, who has reread them and approved the translation.
The translations are available here.
Similar efforts -- from national book sites devoted specifically to trying to get foreign publishers to buy the rights to works to translators showing off their goods -- do already exist, and it'll be interesting to see whether this approach ever proves to be an effective one.
(We would imagine more of a sales pitch -- precise information about domestic success (sales figures !) as well as an explanation why the book in question might succeed in the American/British market -- would help, but the ways of American publishing are such a mystery to us that we're reluctant to make any suggestions.)
We recently mentionedKirkus' new pay-for-review programme.
Just yesterday, we got an e-mail detailing another service hapless unreviewed authors can turn to: GetBookReviews offer quite a few variations, including the In-House Book Review With Promotion.
Slightly undercutting Kirkus at a bargain $275.00 they promise:
We read your book.
We write a review for the book.
We distribute the book review to various media groups including newspapers, magazines, tv, radio and book review media.
We post the review online at several book review websites.
And they also offer a Find a Reviewer-service: "$100 for 2 reviewers + $33 for each additional".
Yes, they'll actually hunt down reviewers for you -- though, to their credit: "If you don't like any of the reviewers, you owe us nothing."
We're fascinated by attempts to make money off of book reviewing -- though this is a pretty good twist.
Still, though we know authors are desperate, we can't imagine that this is very tempting.
After all, if your publisher couldn't convince the TLS or The New York Times Book Review or Time to review your book, or Oprah to pick it for her Book Club, these guys aren't likely to either.
Meanwhile, second-tier local media seems as likely pay attention to an author's own approach as one from an outfit like this, while the many Internet book review sites are also probably more receptive to an author or publisher query than this (we can't imagine anyone convincing us to review somebody's book this way).
But maybe the whole reviewing-industry has gotten so big and varied that it's easier for a company like this to get the book into the right hands.
We imagine the publishing-business-focussed weblogs will have more to say on this, and can perhaps relate some of the success (and/or) failure stories (this organisation has apparently been at this for a while, though the web-presence is new).
(We are, however, a bit concerned by the proliferation of bought reviews.
They say they write a review for you and "post the review online at several book review websites".
We have no idea what these sites might be, but aren't thrilled by the idea.
True, we always remind you that you should be suspicious of any and all book review sites (including the complete review), but money really muddies the waters -- especially if it's not clear whether or not a review has been paid for by the author.
At $ 275.00 per review -- more than is paid for reviews in many actual print publications -- there is a great incentive to make the author a very happy customer (so that s/he'll recommend your services, as well as come back with the next book): not a good basis for honest reviewing.)
(Of course, you can ascribe our opposition to jealousy: at $275.00 per review we would have cleared fifty grand each of the past couple of years (we also read your book ! we write a review for the book ! and we try to link to all other available reviews of the book, which ain't a bad service) -- which is about fifty grand more than we did clear last year.
Of course, if we were covering the kinds of books where the author has to pay you to review it, we would probably only have a fraction of the audience (and even less credibility) than we do now. )
So after some small tinkering, the new-look version of The New York Times Book Review is apparently set to be unveiled.
The New York Times has issued a press release, and at Publishers Weekly Steven Zeitchik has a look at the changes and this Sunday's issue (story and second link first seen at Poynter.org and GalleyCat)
The press release promises, among other things:
A twenty-five percent increase in space to cover a wider variety of books, including more reviews of intellectual and historical titles and more attention to commercial fiction, mysteries and romance novels.
You can imagine how we love the sound of that .....
We particularly like the idea of "commercial fiction" -- what, exactly, is non-commercial fiction ?
The free give-aways The New York Times offered this summer ?
(Note that even lots of so-called 'popular' fiction doesn't sell well-- but the test of whether a book is commercially successful almost always only comes after the reviews are out.)
Zeitchik offers a bit more detail, at least as far as the cosmetic changes.
Content-wise, well, we'll have to wait and see.
But Tanenhaus has been shaping the content for a couple of months now, and we haven't exactly been awed.
The director of the Muscat Book Fair in Oman, Muhammad Ali Hassan, explained why censorship was necessary.
"Our societies have their specialties and traditions that need to be respected," Hassan said.
"Everything that attacks Arab society or creates turbulence should be forbidden.
Our societies still need protection," he told Deutsche Welle.
Ah, the paternalistic state.
Might be a bit more convincing if the kids were turning out better.
Meanwhile, IslamOnline.net promises to keep and update a special folder of relevant stories and links:
With this special folder, IslamOnline.net aims at representing the different debates that have been provoked by the Arab participation in the fair, as well as providing interviews and background information about Arabic literature and topics focusing on trends in literary translation.
The folder will be updated with new articles before and during the fair with more relevant background information and direct coverage of the event itself.
So far nothing you haven't seen here or at Moorish Girl, but maybe they'll add some stuff of interest.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Patrick Marber's 1997 play, Closer.
It has now also been made into a film, directed by Mike Nichols, which will be released in December in the US and early 2005 in the UK; see, for example, this article from New York magazine.
An interesting cast: Natalie Portman plays Alice, and it will be interesting to see whether she can pull it off (she's got the looks and can presumably do the innocence, but the desperation looks to be a bit of a stretch); it certainly could be a liberating career move after her Star Wars-turn (hopefully she got that out her system with Garden State, and gets serious here).
Julia Roberts plays Anna -- she seems to glamorous for the role to us, but it might work.
Jude Law sounds like a good fit as Dan, while the most interesting thing about Clive Owen playing Larry is that he played Dan in the original London production.
It'll be tough to live up to the 1999 Broadway production (Anna Friel, Natasha Richardson, and Rupert Graves, directed by Marber), but Nichols sounds like the right director.
Interesting also to see how it'll be presented: in the play only the four characters appear, and most of the scenes are one-on-one; hard to imagine they had the guts to do that in the film version.
We're big B.S.Johnson fans.
We're big Jonathan Coe fans.
So you'd figure we'd be eager to cover Coe's biography of Johnson.
Boy, were we ever -- but it took us until now to get our hands on a copy (which we did not receive from publisher Picador ... ).
Our review of Like a Fiery Elephant is now available.
It did not disappoint -- it's easily among the best biographies of a writer we've come across.
Any chance of US publication ?
(Come to think of it: whatever happened to the New Directions plans to re-publish some of Johnson's work in the US ?)
But we'd guess the German translation will appear before any US edition.
Deutsche Welle report that German Literature Gets Bad Rap Abroad.
Amazingly, the top two markets for translations of German titles are China and (South) Korea, both with over 600 titles per year recently (mainly non-fiction, but also a considerable amount of children-literature).
Meanwhile, English-language interest is positively pathetic:
In the United Sates, which together with the rest of the English-speaking publishing world accounts for only a small segment of German foreign licensing -- in 2004 English ranked sixth behind Polish, Spanish and Czech markets for purchase of translation rights -- works of contemporary German authors have a difficult time finding fans.
We are trying our best to get US-Americans interested in German literature.
The US market definitely sets the tone and is therefore an important one.
Americans are still conspicuously reserved towards German fiction, often considering it too profound and too German-orientated
And such fine excuses are given:
"A huge problem is that most of the American editors don't speak German and rely on sample translations which have to be provided first," Stock explained, while adding that funding for translations is often hard to find.
But German is still in the top half-dozen of foreign languages with the most speakers in the US; imagine the situation for the authors writing in languages which truly few people in the US are familiar with .....
Meanwhile, even before the Frankfurt Book Fair, the Germans continue to try to stir up literary interest, with the fourth annual International Literature Festival in Berlin this week.
A damn impressive line-up, with authors from near everywhere imaginable (Chechnya ! Iraq !) and a very solid US line-up (including Eliot Weinberger and Jonmathan Franzen).
Why haven't we read anything about this anywhere ?
Why doesn't anyone report on this stuff ?
We mentioned Carlos Fuentes' odd-sounding alphabetical manifesto-memoir, This I Believe -- and now there's another review out: Adam Mars-Jones' in The Observer, who finds it's probably Lost in translation.
A to Zs are hard to translate anyway, but the problems here apparently go much deeper.
Some of the trouble must be due to Kristina Cordero, the translator.
It's possible Fuentes writes a hideous Spanish which she faithfully renders into hideous English, but it seems more likely that he's an old smoothie as a stylist, which is how he can get away with so much vacuous preening in the original.
He probably has a point:
It's eccentric for Fuentes to quote Wittgenstein twice on one page -- the same sentence -- but zany for her to translate it two different ways.
Bad enough for an author to repeat himself without the translator seizing the chance of another stab at a possible meaning.
Oh, those zany translators and their fun word-play !
We only received our copy of the 17 September TLS yesterday, and it was the first we heard of this year's BCLT Translation Days, culminating on the 20th with the five 2004 Translation Prizes and the NESTA Sebald Lecture ("formely the St Jerome Lecture") -- given this year by ... you guessed it: the inescapable Carlos Fuentes.
Nice to see that Ian Monk won the Scott Moncrieff Prize (for translation from the French), for a Daniel Pennac translation (not one of the ones we have under review).
Other winners include Anne McLean getting the Premio Valle Inclán for her translation of Javier Cercas' Soldiers of Salamis, and Martin Chalmers who won the Schlegel-Tieck Prize for translation from the German, for his Viktor Klemperer translations.
Unfortunately, we haven't seen any online press reports of the festivities.
From 25 September through 2 October the American Library Association celebrates (if that's the right word) Banned Books Week.
So go ban a book !
No, no: that's not right: read a banned book and show your opposition to all banning efforts.
Numbers two and three on the most challenged books in the US in 2003 are the Harry Potter books and Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, so you can start there.
In The Guardian today John Mullan writes about T.S. Eliot at Faber (another 75th anniversary piece), while the The Independent has an obituary of Nigel Nicolson, the co-founder of Weidenfeld and Nicolson who died on Thursday.
French author Françoise Sagan, best known for the work she published as a teenager (and whose title they didn't even bother translating), Bonjour Tristesse, died yesterday.
There's an obituary in the Daily Telegraph, and a BBC report.
See also the Françoise Sagan page at books and writers.
Just two days ago we mentioned that Amos Oz won a literary prize (the cool-sounding Ovidius prize).
Now he's also won the 10,000 WELT-Literaturpreis 2004. See also the English DPA report at Ha'aretz.
Previous winners of this relatively new prize are: Bernhard Schlink, Imre Kertész, Pat Barker, Leon de Winter and Jeffrey Eugenides.
MoorishGirl mentions and comments on Brian Whitaker's article in The Guardian, Language barrier, which discusses the difficulties specifically Arab-language literature has in the English-speaking world.
The usual complaints and statistics.
A few weeks back we mentioned a new Carlos Fuentes title that was apparently supposed to be published in Spanish and English in August called Contra Bush; the Spanish edition appeared, about the English edition we've heard nothing.
Now it has appeared in French, too, as Contre Bush; the first review we've seen is Bruno Corty's at Le Figaro.
We're still shocked how little attention this title has received in the US, but at least Edward M. Gomez rounded up (scroll down) Spanish-language reactions at SF Gate.
Among the entertaining nuggets:
Dubbing Bush a "perverse idiot," Fuentes describes what he calls the "Marxism-Darwinism" of the Republican president and his neoconservative policy makers.
They're Marxist, he said during his book tour, "in the sense that history is fundamentally determined by economic interests and economic infrastructures."
Calling Bush a Marxist -- what a low blow !
And calling him a Darwinist won't play well down south either !
(We wonder: when will the MoveOn.org ads quoting Fuentes appear ?)
Related: check out the list (at République des Lettres) of the incredible number of Bush, Kerry, and US-politics-related titles being published in French (mostly translated from the English) this fall season.
As will, no doubt, be widely noted, this week's column from the 'Book Babes' is on Blogging for Books, arguing: "The Internet is changing the way we talk about literature".
(See, for example, comments at GalleyCat.)
No doubt some good discussion is going on, and literary weblogs have helped to bring together folks with similar interests -- but we always wonder just how limited the circle is.
It's hard for us to judge even just what influence we might have -- though the Literary Saloon differs from most of the weblogs since it's just a small part of a site dedicated specifically to book reviews (of the old-fashioned sort, more or less).
User-interest in the weblog remains very small when compared to that of the reviews-part of the site, and how much help any part of the site is in raising awareness of titles remains a mystery.
(As best we can tell we've had a non-trivial effect on sales for certain in only one case, with perhaps a dozen more titles where we believe we have.
Though given the tiny sales of some of the titles we have under review, it's possible there are significantly more -- i.e. if say some book sold ten copies last year, and we were the deciding influence on three of the purchasers.)
What does surprise us are publishers' and publicists' attitudes towards us.
Many show an interest, but the vast majority of those who approach us and suggest material that they believe might be of interest want to foist books on us that obviously aren't a fit for the site or our interests.
And we're still surprised by how hard it can be to convince many publishers to provide us with review copies -- often it's like pulling teeth, and there are quite a few publishers who can't be convinced to provide us with anything.
(Our favourite (and all too frequent) experience is requesting a specific title that's an obvious fit for the site -- say the newest novel by someone we already have under review -- and instead receiving something completely different (and entirely inappropriate).)
Still, we have developed good relationships with most of the publishers (and their marketing people) of the books of greatest interest to us, and so we are able to cover most of what we'd like.
And we like to think that we're of some help in making information about these titles available to interested readers -- though we're fairly certain the reviews are much more useful in this regard than the weblog.
Another two weeks until the Frankfurt Book Fair starts up, and the German papers are growing fat with coverage.
Best in field so far is in this week's Die Zeit, where they have an apparently 48-page literary supplement devoted to the Arab world as guests of honour at the fair.
Reviews, interviews, surveys.
Alas, all just in German .....
After many months without new material being posted at their site, we are now treated to the the double pleasure of the book review sections from two issues of the Review of Contemporary Fiction: Vol. XXIV, no. 1 and Vol. XXIV, no. 2.
The usual interesting selection of titles (many of which we have also covered, which means we'll be spending the weekend updating our review pages by adding links to their reviews ...).
Another day, another prize: Amos Oz has been awarded the Romanian Writers' Union's Ovidius (i.e. Ovid) prize; see for example the AP report (here at the Jerusalem Post).
Hey, it's $ 10,000 -- and a great honour, no doubt.
Oz is in Bucharest today or so we guess (our Romanian is rusty, to put it mildly): scroll down for information here.
Remember Imre Kertész, Nobel laureate in 2002 ?
Knopf (and affiliated paperback-line Vintage) snapped up the English-language rights to his books, and now they're finally set to make some of the author's work available to English-speaking audiences -- though this is the most under-whelming roll-out we've come across in a while.
First up, and most significant, is the Knopf publication of Liquidation, in a translation by Tim Wilkinson (we relied on the French and German translations for our review from ages ago); pre-order your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
The timing -- it's due out in a couple of weeks, just as they'll be announcing the next Nobel laureate -- is less than brilliant (but Knopf probably figures they're on a roll and that this one, too, will be one of their authors).
Knopf actually seems entirely befuddled about how to present this title: see their less than inspiring (or informative) publicity page (and how much pre-publication publicity have you come across ?)
More interesting are the two fall publications: Fatelessness (pre-order at Amazon.com) and Kaddish for an Unborn Child (pre-order at Amazon.com).
Sound familiar ?
That's right: these are re-titled re-translations (Tim Wilkinson -- keeping busy -- also did both of these).
You might recall that Northwestern University Press had published the only two available Kertész titles until now, as Fateless and Kaddish for a Child Not Born (and made a mint off them after the Nobel was announced two years ago).
We'd heard that Kertész was less than thrilled by the Christopher and Katharina Wilson versions, and he apparently felt so strongly about it that he convinced the Random House folk to presumably buy out the rights, and then re-translate the books.
(Wilkinson mentions both Wilson translations in his survey-essay, A Quiet Revolution: Hungarian Fiction since 1975, in Context, but pointedly does not include them in his suggested reading list, mentioning: "Damagingly weak translations have been deliberately ignored."
Draw your own conclusion.)
We wonder how that will work out -- will consumers buy the new versions ?
(Presumably, after all, all those interested in this stuff bought the Northwestern UP editions).
They are being published as paperback originals (though at $ 12.95 and $ 13.95 list they ain't cheap), but we still have our doubts.
(Ironically, we will be among the few coming to the material entirely fresh: since Northwestern UP dismissed our entreaties and chose not to provide us with review copies of the Wilson translations, this will be the first we'll see these titles (if Vintage lets us have a look ...).)
We are disappointed, however, that Knopf isn't bringing out more of the previously unavailable material -- there's a ton of it, and it's very good.
Interestingly, while there's no publicity material for Liquidation -- which is being published first -- Vintage does have some information about both Fatelessness (though they forgot to mention who translated it) and Kaddish for an Unborn Child.
Meanwhile, Kertesz is finally coming to the US; he was scheduled to come last year, but that was put off, apparently to time it with at least one of his new titles being available in the US.
First stop is the 92nd Street Y in New York, where they offer a reading and a talk on 19 October at 20:00.
There's also a Kertesz-introduction of sorts by Gary Adelman in the New England Review, where he offers a piece Getting Started with Imre Kertész (link first seen at Nipposkiss).
Since he relies on the Wilson translations, only discusses those two books (hey, we have English-language coverage of A kudarc (which will presumably be translated as Fiasco) that he could have consulted), and doesn't seem to have much of a sense of what else Kertesz has done this really is little more than "getting started" with the author.
(It has to be said that English-language coverage of Kertesz has been absolutely terrible -- so much so that this inadequate piece is actually among the most useful and extensive.)
In addition, see also Wilkinson's piece in The Hungarian Quarterly, Kaddish for a Stillborn Child ?
A final note: the Nobel-folk didn't make a mistake: Kertesz is a damn good writer.
Keep Liquidation, and whatever other Kertesz titles pop up, in mind.
His works are definitely worth reading (and, for what it's worth, he's a remarkably sympathetic man).
I began trying my hand at a few, but rewrite and start over as I might, I consistently came up with generally disappointing results.
All the problems I had encountered when trying to translate other medieval Persian poets seemed compounded, and then, as it were, distilled and essentialized, in trying to translate Hafez’s ghazals, and my frustration set me to thinking about just what those problems are.
This essay is a result of those ruminations.
We noted the British reactions to David Hare's new play, Stuff Happens, after it opened in London.
We're pleased to see that there have also been some timely American reactions: Ben Brantley reviewed it for The New York Times, and now John Lahr covers it for The New Yorker.
Lahr goes so far as to say:
Now, in his best political play yet, Stuff Happens (at London’s Royal National Theatre), he brings us an exhilarating account of the genesis of the current war in Iraq.
We wonder if Blair took Iyad Allawi to catch a performance when he was in town .....
an exceptionally rare and extraordinary 97-page pamphlet largely written by the Haitian dictator "Papa Doc" Duvalier which denounced Greene as a "racist, a perfect ignoramus who vomits his Negrophobia, a liar a cretin, unbalanced and a drug addict".
His ire was prompted by Greene's novel The Comedians, which was unsparing in its depiction of Duvalier's brutal regime
It's nice to see a politician take a writer so seriously that he'd bother contributing to such a thing (though Duvalier wasn't much of a politician, statesman, or anything else.)
Bild, Germany's most popular tabloid, is jumping on the newspaper-book-publishing bandwagon, offering its Bestseller-Bibliothek (Bestseller library), twenty-five titles of so-called world-literature.
Börsenblatt offers the whole list -- even if you don't know German you can figure out most of the titles, since almost all the books were originally written in English.
Not exactly what we consider world literature -- and, at 4.99, not even that cheap.
See, low standards are near-universal.