The very fine Indian (Malayalam-language) author Ootupulackal Velukkuty Vijayan passed away Wednesday.
We only have his The Legends of Khasak under review, but hope to eventually cover more of his work.
In The Telegraph Nicholas Blincoe briefly (and somewhat lazily) writes about the new Man Booker International Prize (see also our odds on the field).
He notes "a strong crossover with the Nobel Prize" but writes that only four of the authors under consideration are Nobel laureates -- though there is, in fact, a fifth, Günter Grass who he goes on to mention in the next paragraph.
(Is there no newspaper with a basic fact-checking department any longer ?)
He also argues that:
As the Nobel exists to reward these sorts of novels, there is a case to be made for an anti-Nobel.
For slighter or slyer authors: for British-ish authors, those few who are loved by both the British and the rest of the world are a rum lot.
One thinks of Conan Doyle, P G Wodehouse, Evelyn Waugh, Ian Fleming, Roald Dahl or Douglas Adams, writers linked by a wilful sense of humour, most effective when it is closest to being downright silly.
Only one writer on the short list embodies these virtues: Muriel Spark. I hope she wins.
We knew Cynthia Ozick isn't quite so well known in the UK, but has she really made so little of a mark ?
Last week we noted a critic called her a New Hampshire novelist, now comes Lewis Jones' review of her The Bear Boy (i.e. Heir to the Glimmering World) in The Telegraph, who admits:
Until a few weeks ago, when she was shortlisted for the inaugural Man Booker International Prize, which is reportedly intended to reward "the world's greatest living novelist" for "a body of work" (tricky criteria to meet on a frequent basis, surely), I confess I had not heard of Cynthia Ozick, who is now pitted against titans such as Philip Roth, Muriel Spark and Gabriel García Márquez.
She is a 76-year-old American, deeply concerned with the history of Judaism.
We've reported the problems Orhan Pamuk has had in Turkey because he dared suggest Armenians and Kurds had suffered more in Turkey a while back than is popularly acknowledged there.
The fuss hasn't died down; the latest twist would be hilarious if it weren't so tragic.
Kurdish Media report Turkey probes official who ordered novelist’s books destroyed.
Yes, it seems this guy really was upset by what Pamuk said:
Furious at the remark, deputy governor Mustafa Altinpinar of Sutculer in the Mediterranean province of Isparta, issued a circular ordering all copies of Pamuk’s books to be confiscated from local libraries and bookstores and destroyed.
Pretty outrageous and terrible, right ?
Unfortunately, his plan didn't work out too well: it turns out:
A search of local bookshops and libraries, however, failed to produce a single copy of Pamuk’s books, newspapers said.
So he wasn't successful -- but for all the wrong reasons.
How can it be that a whole province doesn't have a single copy of Pamuk's books available either for sale or in a library ?
And what is more depressing -- the fact that a government official wanted to destroy all these books, or that none of them are available in that province in the first place ?
In much of Europe book prices are still fixed -- no discounting allowed -- but the pressure is on: as Swissinfo report, Competition Commission bans book agreement.
Yes, the net book agreement (which applied only to German-language books in Switzerland, not the smaller French and Italian markets (don't ask)) has been voided by the Swiss Competition Commission (the anti-trust authorities).
It's not the final nail in the coffin (the agreement is dead, but publisher/bookseller price-fixing might still be possible), but it sure looks bad.
The relatively small Swiss market is, of course, not what counts, or what really worries publishers and booksellers -- it's that this will again put pressure on the Germans to abolish their equivalent of the NBA -- see, for example, Jürg Altwegg's (German) discussion of the implications in the FAZ.
(He notes that getting rid of fixed prices had disastrous effects in Sweden, and led to a bestseller-boom in the UK.)
Sounds interesting, if you're in the neighbourhood: Paul Michael Lützeler (Broch-editor, and author of a Broch-biography, among much else) will lecture on "From an Atlantic to a Global Charter: The Future of Literary and Cultural Studies in the United States" at 18:00 tonight at Michigan State University.
"The lecture will address the consequences of globalization for literary studies today"; see the official press release for additional information.
Kid lit is doing -- sort of -- well.
See, for example, Dina Rabinovitch on The greatest stories ever told in The Guardian -- though she does acknowledge:
The market share for children's literature is stuck at 15%. What is happening is that a few (a very few) children's authors are selling loads.
And loads they are -- see Mark Sanderson's Literary life-column (second item):
The latest annual sales figures from Nielsen BookScan reveal why so many authors are taking up writing for children.
The top five authors, according to the amount of money their work made in 2004, were Jacqueline Wilson (£8,347,573), J.K. Rowling (£5,392,239), Julia Donaldson, creator of The Gruffalo -- (£4,797,459), Lemony Snicket (£4,633,296) and Philip Pullman (£3,964,892).
As widely reported, the 2005 Commonwealth Writers' Prizes have been awarded -- books by Andrea Levy and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie won (and in both cases there probably isn't room on the covers any longer to list all the prizes they've taken).
The new Deutscher Buchpreis -- the German Book Prize; see the comprehensive English-language version of the official site (well done !) -- is rolling along: 9 April is the closing date for nominations.
Sadly, in best ManBooker-fashion, they opted for ridiculous eligibility requirements -- i.e. restricting nominations to two per publisher.
Sure, the jury can request "additional titles that it considers to be suitable" -- but that should hardly be much comfort to authors.
(The prize will be awarded 17 October, at the Frankfurt Book Fair -- 25,000 for the winning book, 2500 for the other shortlisted titles.
The twenty-title strong longlist will be announced 24 August, the six-title shortlist 21 September.)
Chekhov's Mistress points us to Robert Gray's Fresh Eyes-weblog and his mention of the "extremely exciting promotional effort that will be coming in May", Reading the World, focussed entirely on literature in translation.
It's probably a bit premature to be discussing this, but what the hell -- an admirable idea, with a nice variety of publishers and books (he lists them all).
Something to look forward to !
Some unusual choices -- Farrar, Straus, & Giroux goes old-school (their most modern selection is Alexander Solzhenitsyn's One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich) and Knopf goes big-name (Murakami Haruki's Kafka on the Shore, Orhan Pamuk's Snow, and Nobel laureate Kertész Imre's Liquidation (the latter finally getting a little publicity-push)) -- but overall a decent balance.
We already have a couple of the other featured titles under review (and will have even more by May), and we'll certainly have more to say about all this.
As mentioned at numerous weblogs (link first seen at Booksquare), Joanne Kaufman profiles "Amazon.com's most prolific reviewer" Harriet Klausner at the Wall Street Journal.
8,649 reviews as of mid-March -- and a four-book-a-day pace that makes us feel even lazier than we thought we were.
We finally get around to a brief discussion of Pascale Casanova's fascinating The World Republic of Letters.
It certainly deserves a closer look; we'll probably get back to it sometime in the near future.
A few months ago we reviewed the new Modern Library edition of Emile Zola's The Kill by Arthur Goldhammer (see their publicity page) -- a long overdue contemporary translation.
Apparently they weren't the only ones who thought it was time for a new translation: Oxford World's Classics have now also brought out a new translation, by Brian Nelson (see their publicity page).
(Neither edition has received adequate critical coverage, though the OUP edition did get a translation-focussed TLS-review (11 March).)
Given how little foreign literature is translated into English it seems an unfortunate waste of resources.
Still, two translations are better than none.
(Updated - 31 March): We overlooked ReadySteadyBlog's recent mention that there are also two brand new translations of Zola's The Dream.
What is going on here ?
At Payvand Pejman Akbarzadeh interviews Richard Jeffrey Newman about his new translation of Saadi's much-translated Golestan (also: Gulistan, or The Rose Garden); see also the Global Scholarly Publications publicity page.
Of particular interest: Newman's comments about whether he thinks this translation might be as popular as recent Rumi-translations:
Barks’ vision of Rumi, which is as a result the default vision of Persian culture and literature that most people in the US have, is one that in many ways strips Rumi of his Persianness.
Barks in fact states explicitly in the introduction to his The Essential Rumi that this is his goal.
(I have a Persian friend who has produced an English translation of some of Rumi’s ghazals who complains that he does not recognize any of Rumi’s poetry in Barks’ translation.)
As a result, Barks’ Rumi is highly westernized and therefore very comfortable for western readers to deal with.
As a result, I think a translation such as mine, which insists on the Persianness of the original work while trying to make that work accessible in English, will have a hard time making room for itself in people’s minds next to Barks’ Rumi.
It may be hard to believe, but 41.4m female readers cannot be wrong.
Scottish women might think their men are about as attractive as a plate of cold porridge but in America, a man in a kilt is the most exciting thing since Mr Darcy hung his frilly shirt on a tree and went skinny dipping.
The results are in for the Sunday Star-Times Top 50 books survey, Iain Sharp reporting that, in New Zealand as most everywhere else, The Lord of the Rings is the most popular book (out of some 2800 titles readers nominated).
The only Australians on the list are Bryce Courtenay, who was born in South Africa, and Colleen McCullough.
The only New Zealanders are Michael King and Keri Hulme.
Very impressive, and we'll certainly try and cover more of his works.
He does not appear to have been translated into English, and we'd certainly suggest to publishers that they might want to have a look: of all the untranslated authors we've ever covered this is the first time since Amélie Nothomb (several of whose works have been translated in the meantime) we've found an untranslated author who looks to have serious commercial-literary potential.
(We tend to harp on literary stuff of admittedly likely limited appeal -- Peter Weiss' The Aesthetics of Resistance, Durs Grünbein, Volker Braun, even A.F.Th. van der Heijden -- but Hermans offers very accessible serious fiction.)
The fact that he's been dead a decade might make him a harder sell, but he's in the Harry Mulisch-class (high praise from us), and if Mulisch's books sell reasonably well (we're not so sure they do) in the US and UK, then Hermans' should as well.
So, come on publishers -- have a look.
We're sure the admirable NLPVF-folk can help you out with whatever you need.
For once The New York Times Book Review considers some works of foreign fiction -- but again shows how much (or rather: how little) they value it: six titles covered in a one-page chronicle (actually consisting of only about two-thirds of a page of text).
No surprise that no brownie points are awarded in this week's Tanenhaus Watch.
Meanwhile, the Book Babes report from the NBCCs that:
New York Times Book Review head honcho Sam Tanenhaus, who participated in the NBCC panel discussion "Reviewing Politics and the Politics of Reviewing," admitted that he's been patterning the NYTBR after the Los Angeles Times book section, an ironic turn of events given the rumor that higher-ups want the L.A. Times book section's guru Steve Wasserman to pattern his product after Tanenhaus.
Ah yes, the wonderful world of publishing: in New York Emma Rosenblum reports that:
After the success of Curtis Sittenfeld’s novel, Prep, publishing has sensed a new trend: the boardingroman written by people with ambisexual (Curtis is female) "family" names.
As if one book weren't enough, three Hotchkiss alums have "quit their day jobs to write a four-book series about a fictional school."
Apparently: "the pain of not being understood by non-boarding-school America is for them very real."
We know we should know better, but the subtitle was just too tempting: Europe, America, and Politics Without God.
Sure, we understood the author probably held a different position than we do (preferring his politics with god), but we're curious about what people consider to be the pro-arguments too, so we had a look.
Yes, the most recent addition to the complete review is our review of George Weigel's The Cube and the Cathedral.
This is the book that was reviewed in Kirkus (issue of 15 January), leading James Bowman to complain about anonymous reviewing practises.
(See also Beatrice's comments on that.)
The Kirkus review wasn't even that bad (if you want to read a really bad review of the book, read ours) -- and concludes:
Sure to be much discussed -- and possibly to be remarkably influential.
That idea -- much like the book -- baffles us, but we are curious to see how others react to this book.
A woman, looking to do more than sit and read books at her $82,789-a-year job with the State Liquor Authority, has settled her federal court lawsuit against the state and will move to a new job with the state Department of Motor Vehicles.
Peter Handke is, as the Kurier nicely puts it, "preismüde" ('prize-weary'): he's let it be known that he'd rather not get any more prizes for the time being (see also the report in the Berliner Morgenpost).
The announcement comes because his play Untertagblues was up for the prestigious Mülheimer Dramatikerpreis and he decided he'd rather not be part of the competition.
A few points of interest: not wanting to sound too cynical, but with Elfriede Jelinek's Nobel-win last year it's pretty clear that fellow Austrian Handke won't get it, and that's probably the only prize he really had left to aim for.
Amusingly, last year's Mülheimer Dramatikerpreis went to ... that's right, Elfriede Jelinek (really, she had quite a reputation even before the Nobel-folk picked her).
Even more amusingly: Handke has been up for that prize five (5 !) times and never won, so one can understand his reluctance to play along again.
Also: he got the biggest German literary prize, the Georg-Büchner-Preis, in 1973 -- but gave it (and the prize money -- though apparently without interest) back ... in 1999 (don't ask).
Which probably didn't endear him among prize-committees, i.e. made it a whole lot less likely that he'd be honoured anywhere anyway.
There's a new volume in George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman-series (see, for example, our review of the first volume), Flashman on the March -- available in the UK (though Americans will have to wait until November).
In The Times Keith Blackmore reviews it, finding that:
He is back to his worst and his best.
This is the most enjoyable instalment in the series since Flashman and the Redskins
An Arab book that's gotten quite a bit of attention, as we've mentioned previously, is Alaa Al-Aswani's The Yacoubian Building (see the AUC publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
In this week's issue of Al-Ahram Weekly Yasmine Fathi has a look at the real Yacoubian building (well, the one the book focusses on; there are apparently others, too), and registers The lodgers' discontent.
The success of the book -- and a film deal -- hasn't pleased everybody; indeed: "Abdel-Malek and the Khela brothers are already in the process of having El-Aswani prosecuted for libel".
The previous profound words and phrases now come to life as vivid, comic pictures.
Also, new elements have been injected into the characters, allowing them to be closer to our modern life.
Who could resist ?
Well, we could -- considering:
The heroine of A Dream of Red Mansions, Lin Daiyu, is originally portrayed as a very fragile girl who always hides behind a book and is awash in sentimental feelings.
However, the new edition brings readers a very cool, trendy girl whose hair is dyed purple.
Aren't there laws against this sort of blasphemy ?
Madame Bovary with purple hair would be less of an outrage .....
(In any case, isn't purple the wrong colour for a character who is the incarnation of the Crimson Pearl Flower ?)
Rather than waiting for authors to come up with book ideas, Trident's Russian operation generates its own, secures the participation of Russian sources and locates Western authors to produce the books for a Western audience.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Tim Krabbé's Delay, which Bloomsbury is bringing out in an English translation in the UK in July (no US publication date appears set yet).
Irène Némirovsky, dead over six decades, made a splash last fall by winning the Prix Renaudot in France for her Suite française -- but she was pretty famous in her time.
We haven't gotten to that now bestselling novel yet, but the two most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two of her early works, David Golder (1929) and L'affaire Courilof (1933), both of which have just been re-published in France.
David Golder was actually translated into English way back when (well, 1930) -- not that we could find a copy anywhere.
There have also been two films based on it, including the Edward G. Robinson-vehicle when he was out of favour in the US (My Daughter Joy, aka Operation X (1950)).
Knopf/Vintage have apparently bought the rights to a bunch of her books, including these two novels, and will eventually publish them (along with Suite française, presumably) in the US.
It'll probably be a while, though.
Now that Cynthia Ozick's novel Heir to the Glimmering World has appeared in the UK (as The Bear Boy) the British reviews are appearing -- many noting that Ozick generally isn't that well-known in Britain.
Indeed, some of those writing about the book don't seem that familiar with her work or person -- so, for example, Tom Aitken, who begins his review in the Times Literary Supplement (11 March):
The much-admired New Hampshire novelist Cynthia Ozick is puzzled
She's not the only one.
We've never heard of any New Hampshire-connexion with Ozick; indeed, we can hardly imagine her even venturing there.
We're not really sure why Aitken feels the need to make a regional writer of her, but surely if one has to pinpoint her geographically then she is a New York (New York city, to be more specific) writer through and through.
(Even Aitken notes about the book: "She puts before us the sights and sounds of the less prosperous parts of New York City and State during the Depression.")
So: New Hampshire ?
What was this guy thinking ?
At Arab News Mohammed T. Al-Rasheed writes that Ministry Should Concentrate on Culture, Not Banning Books, suggesting that "the indomitable Ministry of Information" -- now under new leadership (Iyad Madani, formerly in charge of the Haj-Ministry, is the new minister) -- should change its ways.
The ministry should shed its perceived and actual role as censor at large, and it should concentrate on culture and art.
The article also includes some fun examples of the MOI ways, including the fact that "there are books approved to be sold in the Kingdom in English but banned in Arabic" and that books written by authors who have the misfortune of having the first name of 'Sharon' are apparently summarily confiscated (though it sounds like pretty much all books are summarily confiscated in the wonderland that is Saudi Arabia).
They haven't banned any new books in a while (last year just two reprints were disallowed), but not treating a Maoist slogan with due respect was enough to get Yan Lianke's new novel banned in China.
As widely reported (see, for example, Stuff):
Censors found the plot, in which a peasant soldier provides sexual services to his commander's young wife, insulting to the dead leader's motto.
The novel was set during the chaotic 1966-76 Cultural Revolution when Mao was deified.
The soldier and the commander's wife enjoyed sex more after smashing statues of Mao -- a crime punishable by death then and viewed today by some as subversive.
See also a fuller report (and synopsis of the book) at EastSouthWestNorth -- who also link to what is apparently the Chinese text (so much for censorship in the age of the Internet ...).
Pierre Assouline reported on this at his la république des livres weblog last month, but now there's also Matthew Campbell's report in the Sunday Times, Literary lion says non to stuffed shirts.
As we mentioned last year, Alain Robbe-Grillet was elected to the Académie Française -- but there's been some delay in properly inducting the immortal and giving him his rightful place on fauteuil 32.
The point of contention ?
He refuses to wear the silly outfit that is traditionally worn for the induction ceremony -- an "embroidered green costume, plumed hat and an épée".
The matter appears now to have been resolved -- Robbe-Grillet gets to wear his similarly silly "trademark white polo neck sweater" ("white polo neck sweater™" ?) after all, and they might actually get around to inducting him in ... November.
The Leipziger Buchmesse (Leipzig Book Fair -- more reader-friendly than Frankfurt, but also less foreign-friendly, as their woefully out of date English-language information pages suggest) ran 17 to 20 March.
Heidi Sylvester reported on it in the FAZ in Reading fever hits Germany (and there was extensive German-language coverage).
Among our favourite coverage: the Literatur-Café-weblog from the fair -- something we hope to see much more of for future book fairs the world over.