Azar Nafisi weighed in last week, and now a second judge from the Man Booker International Prize, Alberto Manguel, has published an article about "Judging the Man Booker International Prize" -- unfortunately in the not-entirely-freely-accessible-online The Spectator (issue of 11 June).
First thing to note: while he acknowledges about winner Ismail Kadaré: "not all of his many books have been translated into English (and, of those, only a few are still available)", he too fails to address the twice-removed translation issue (i.e. the fact that what works are available are generally translations from the French translations).
We can't understand why no one is even mentioning this (it seems to have escaped all the journalists covering the prize -- not that there were very many reports); see our earlier mention and, in particular, David Bellos' very useful discussion of The Englishing of Ismail Kadare: Notes of a retranslator, for more information.
Of particular interest in Manguel's discussion of the judging procedure is the fact that non-availability in English knocked so many authors out of the running:
Today it means that from the list of first-rate authors we wished to propose we had to delete Peter Handke, Antonio Lobo Antunes, Michel Tournier, Rachid Boudjedra, Mohamed Choukri, Christoph Ransmayr, Fernando Vallejo, Nguyen Huy Thiep, Pascal Quignard and Christa Wolf -- all of whom have either not been translated into English or were once upon a time translated but have since been allowed to fall out of print.
This is a pretty wild list -- and appears to be UK-based.
Quite a few Antonio Lobo Antunes titles have been published in the US in the past few years (by Grove) -- and a whole load are forthcoming (from Dalkey Archive Press and W.W.Norton).
Surely a few Handke titles are still floating around in print ?
And Christa Wolf, too -- not just the newly published In the Flesh .....
The cut-off line re. available titles obviously wasn't too high: two, as far as we can tell: that's all that's available by finalist Tomás Eloy Martínez, after all.
How hard were they looking ?
(We note that we have titles by quite a few of these near-misses under review: Wolf, Handke, Tournier, and Quignard.)
It's good of Manguel to hammer home the point re. translated literature (emphasis added):
The only favourites dropped (for extra-literary reasons) were the writers we thought of first-rate importance but who were currently not available in English.
Today, if you speak Spanish or French or Italian or German or any of a dozen other languages and walk into your local bookshop, you are likely to find a fair sampling of most of the important books written anywhere in the world.
You can find out what is being imagined in China, what stories are being told in Korea, how the novel is being re-invented in Spain and in the Scandinavian countries, what literature is being written in the Balkans today.
If you speak nothing but English, your choice is limited to a handful of publications brought out by a few resilient publishers still eager to make discoveries beyond the frontiers of their language, a breed much diminished since the removal of Christopher Maclehose and the gelding of Harvill.
Thanks to the imposition of supermarket rules on the publishing industry, the English-speaking reader is deprived of the vast majority of good books written in languages other than English.
Frame that, send it to your favourite publisher, or just read it and weep.
We'd like to think the Man Booker International Prize might serve to remind readers again what a world of fiction is out there (and how little of it English-reading readers are exposed to), but the limited coverage of the prize so far (easily overshadowed in the past week by the Orange Prize for Fiction coverage) does not bode well.
In additional Man Booker International Prize news, Victor Sonkin reminds us that, in best communist tradition, Ismail Kadare attended the pre-eminent Creative Writing MFA programme (or rather: approximation thereof) outside the US -- with a longer tradition than Iowa -- the Gorky Literary Institute.
Unfortunately, this success will probably only be of limited use to them for advertising purposes:
So can the Russian literary establishment bask in the rays of Kadare's newfound fame ?
Probably not, because the writer's comments on his Russian education are far from flattering: "I had an entirely negative training, and that's probably the best kind there is: My formal literary education was, 'I will never, ever write like that.'"
(Sounds like a lesson all MFAs could learn .....)
But they do already make mention of alumnus Исмаил Кадаре's success -- albeit only in Russian
Incredibly and disappointingly, as reported in The Guardian (and elsewhere), the Evening Standard: "has paid undisclosed compensation to publisher Jonathan Cape after the newspaper broke an embargo and threw the release of its star author Ian McEwan's latest novel into chaos."
Publishing an interview with Ian McEwan on 17 January, two weeks before the scheduled release of Saturday, apparently really messed up Cape's plans, and they pushed up the publication date, incurring additional costs.
Since the Evening Standard had apparently signed a document agreeing not to publish anything prematurely there certainly was the risk that they would be liable if it went to court, and:
At one stage the publisher threatened to take the paper to court over compensation, which could have led to a test case on the legal status of press embargoes, an untested concept in law.
We still find it hard to believe that any newspaper or magazine would actually sign a document agreeing to hold back coverage -- as if anything other than extracts from celebrity-memoirs (which are a slightly different matter from reviews and puff-profiles) could possibly have any effect on paper-sales.
But it's apparently a hot topic: The Philadelphia Inquirer's book editor, Frank Wilson, participated in an embargo-panel at BEA and reports on it at his weblog, Books, Inq.
He doesn't have much of a problem with them -- unless the same rules don't apply to all.
We think editors should tell publishers where they can stuff their embargo-demands -- though, admittedly, we've never been offered one.
(An oversight, perhaps .....)
In May, the UK book market grew by 7.7% in volume terms and by 6.4% in value terms year-on-year (BookScan).
No other part of the retail scene is demonstrating anything like this rude health: May's BRC figures show sales down 2.4 per cent like-for-like, while JP Morgan is predicting average like-for-like falls of up to 3.7% among Britain's retailers.
Book sales a bright spot in retailing ?
Who'd have believed it.
They give a number of reasons, but the most obvious (and strongest contrast to the US market situation) seems:
Fifthly, books are getting cheaper.
Adjusting for inflation, the real selling price of books is down by about 4% year-on-year.
Discounting at this level must be stimulating demand.
Recall that in the US prices have actually gone up (and sales, not surprisingly -- at least on a year-to-year basis -- have fallen sharply).
a second novel I represent, published in April, subbed fewer than 200 copies in the UK.
The author's first novel had been respectably reviewed and this one has received equally good, if not better, reviews (in the Observer, Sunday Times, Daily Telegraph, TLS, Guardian -- so far).
We're not quite sure about the fancy bookspeak-terminology -- the verb 'to sub' we understand to mean 'substitute', but it seems like he means that only 200 copies were sold.
Which is pretty incredible, given the review coverage.
Or not: review coverage doesn't seem to mean that much.
He does blame the fact that it's not readily available, but even so ...:
The literary editors wanted to bring it to the attention of their readers. But the main buyers in chain bookshops won't stock the title centrally,
The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two works by Per Olov Enquist, his recently translated novel, Lewi's Journey, and the untranslated non-fiction collection, Kartritarna.
We're shocked by how completely Lewi's Journey has been ignored by the American reviewing establishment.
Now out in the UK too, it is at least getting some attention there.
Because the censorship system relies on titles, it is often rather arbitrary.
Literature professor Ferial Ghazoul said the censor banned three of four books in her Gender and Literature course in the mid-nineties.
She suspects that he picked out Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Alice Walker’s In Love and Trouble, and Assia Djebar’s A Sister to Scheherazade because the titles mentioned the word "love" or referred to an Arab tradition of sexually explicit literature
Interesting also the "reserve"-system at the library:
Like the campus bookstore, the library submits its packing slips to the censor’s office.
The censor then reviews selected books and orders some to be banned.
In a compromise worked out about three years ago, after a national scandal over teaching of the Moroccan autobiographical novel For Bread Alone, the library keeps banned books on reserve so that they do not circulate but can be used in the library.
The computer database specifically states that books may not be photocopied.
Currently seventy-eight of the library’s 400,000 volumes are on reserve.
Examples include classic literature, such as Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov; contemporary Arabic literature, such as Cites of Salt by Abdelrahman Munif; books on contemporary politics, such as Israeli-Egyptian Relations 1980-2000 by Ephraim Dowek and For the Future of Israel by Shimon Peres and Robert Little; and works on Islam in general or in contemporary society, such as Islam, A Concise Introduction by Neal Robinson and No God but God: Egypt and the Triumph of Islam by Geneive Abdo.
Between February 2003 and May 2005, the library added eleven additional books to its reserve list.
The additions included eight duplicate copies and three new titles -- The Black Book by Orhan Pamuk, The Body in Islamic Culture by Fuad I. Kuhri, and Invisible Life: A Novel by E. Lynn Harris. While new books were added, none was removed from the list during that time.
Golestan Gallery owner Lili Golestan criticized the recent plan of the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance to evaluate and categorize Iranian writers and poets, saying, "Who dares to classify artists ?!"
Another of the books that was in the running for the first Litblog Co-op Read This ! selection has been revealed, Laila "Moorish Girl" Lalami's choice, Marjane Satrapi's Embroideries.
(See also our review.)
We recently received a copy of Slightly Foxed (from the publishers), "the real reader's quarterly", and can report that it is an appealing and useful little journal.
The issue we received was number five (spring, 2005).
In it they offer (as they presumably do in each issue) reviews and discussions of an eclectic and interesting variety of books -- just the sort of stuff, in fact, that readers of the complete review likely would like.
There's coverage of several titles we've reviewed -- a Simon Gray round-up, including Fat Chance and The Smoking Diaries, and a brief discussion of Yamada Taichi's Strangers (which continues to get far more British coverage than it ever did in the US) -- and many we haven't but that certainly tempt us.
And what's particularly nice is that they review older titles -- and not just re-issues.
Miklos Banffy's trilogy, for example, or two Thomas Love Peacocks.
(Anyone who reviews T.L.Peacock has pretty much already won us over .....)
Discussions tend to be more personal than analytic -- readers sharing their view, more than critics doing their duty is the impression one gets.
And some of the approaches are fairly creative, such as Ranjit Bolt's rhyming take on Byron's Don Juan, "Admirin' Byron".
There's an official website, but it's essentially contentless (impossible even to figure out what books are discussed in the various issues from the descriptions).
And the subscription-price for the print version is (well, for some of us) prohibitive: £32 annually (four issues) in the UK, £42 in the US.
But if you have the spare cash it is well worth getting your hands on: like we said: if you like the books the complete review covers, you'll like and appreciate what they do.
Indian writers seem to offer the write combination: foreign exoticism, but they write in English.
At NDTV Maya Mirchandani writes that Indian writers transcend barriers, offering depressing quotes such as:
"I think the market is now familiar with South Asian writers and Indian writers.
There isn't a barrier if there ever was one to a new writer.
The American market is extremely xenophobic, so you will see very few books in translation, very few books from France, really very few books from other non-English territories.
"So to have authors coming from English speaking cultures to a certain extent and writing in English makes it much easier to be embraced by North American readers anyway," says Eric Simonoff, Literary Agent for Jhumpa Lahiri and Vikram Chandra.
What is it with Americans and translated literature ?
So, we're always complaining how The New York Times Book Review doesn't bother reviewing literature in translation.
This week something new: we get to complain about how the NYTBRdoes cover literature in translation (which is, in fact, not much better than how they don't cover it).
Lots of reviews in the 5 June issue -- even a fair number of fiction reviews -- even a fair number (five) of full-length reviews each devoted to an individual fiction title.
Amazingly, there is even some translated-work coverage, too: all fiction, not surprisingly, but a pretty decent selection.
In fact, we have four of the five titles under review: Georgi Gospodinov's Natural Novel, Patrik Ourednik's Europeana, Julio Cortázar's Diary of Andrés Fava, and Enrique Vila-Matas' Bartleby & Co..
So what's the problem ?
All five titles are reviewed in a single, half-page (!) 'Fiction Chronicle'.
(There's a 'Non-fiction Chronicle' too, also covering five titles (all originally written in English, of course), but even that gets over three-quarters of a page.)
Sure, token coverage is better than no coverage -- but when it's this token (less space per books than usually found in the 'Crime' or 'Science Fiction' round-ups) .....
Returns are the dark side of the book world, marking not only failed expectations, but the crippling inefficiencies of an antiquated business.
And things aren't getting any better:
In 2003, 34 percent of adult hardcover books were returned to publishers, compared with 28 percent in 1993, says Albert N. Greco, a professor at the Fordham Graduate School of Business and a leading industry statistician.
It's a fascinating business problem, with no workable solution in sight.
USA Weekend asks "six hot writers" what books they'd like to see on the big screen in Books to box office.
Our favourite response: Lynne Truss wants to see Samuel Richardson's Clarissa made into a movie.
In 1965, after The Man in the High Castle won Dick his only Hugo award, I contacted his agent on behalf of the publisher I was advising.
The agent said we could have any four Dick titles for £600, and an option to buy the next four at the same price.
The publisher, perhaps believing books that cheap couldn't be any good, passed.
I wrote to Dick saying he was being undersold.
Dick, notoriously his own worst enemy, did not, as I suggested, change his agent
This is how the publishing business 'works' ?
(Sadly: apparently so.)
Dominique de Villepin has never contested any election -- but he is a poet.
Good enough -- in France -- to get him appointed Prime Minister.
In The Times Ben MacIntyre contrasts American and French styles in When Rimbaud meets Rambo:
These are the polar extremes of poetry, Rimbaud in one corner and Rambo in the other: the French patron saint of sensitive, tortured adolescents alongside the monosyllabic American action man.
It sure took us by surprise (we had him at 100 to 1 and were certain: "He won't get the prize" !), but the Man Booker International Prize has announced its first winner, and it really is Ismail Kadare (Ismaïl Kadaré).
What we figured worked against him was the translation-factor: as we wrote in our piece on twice-removed translations: "If there's a poster-child for twice-removed translations it's Albanian author Ismail Kadare" -- and that's why, when setting our odds, we judged: "No way can the judges push these books on an unsuspecting public, no matter how deserving Kadare actually might be."
But now we wonder whether the MBI judges weren't sending a message when they announced that additional award for translation, suggesting the significant role it had played in his works (possibly including for the reason that so many people were involved in it ...).
And now it gets real interesting, as Kadare has to decide whether he gives all the translation-prize-money (which is his to divvy up as he sees fit) to the translator who played the most significant role in making the books available in English -- despite not actually translating any of them into English: Jusuf Vrioni (an impressive number of Kadare's titles include the acknowledgement that they are not translated from the Albanian, but: "Translated from the French of Jusuf Vrioni").
(Even from the French, Kadare has been ... roughly served by translators, with an incredible number having a go at his work.)
The only Kadare-appreciation available yet is Julian Evans' 'His voice is unique' in The Guardian.
The rest of the press coverage so far basically amounts to little more than re-wordings of the press release -- but if your're interested, check out:
Unfortunately, we have nothing by Kadare under review (those double-translations are very off-putting), but for additional information see also Ismail Kadaré at books and writers, and Ismail Kadare at Albanian literature.
(Updated - 4 June): See now also one of the judges, Azar Nafisi, writing about the difficulties of judging such a competition.
Unfortunately: not a word about the translation issues (beyond the very depressing note that many authors didn't make the cut because they are not -- now and in some cases ever -- available (in English)).
Pierre Boulle isn't that well-remembered any longer, but two of his books certainly are -- The Bridge over the River Kwai and Planet of the Apes -- and quite a few other works were also published in English translation.
Dead over a decade now, he's faded a bit from view -- but resurfaces now with the publication of a newly discovered manuscript, L'Archéologue et le mystère de Néfertiti (see the Cherche Midi publicity page, or get your own copy at Amazon.fr).
Not much coverage yet, even in France, but in Libération Frédérique Roussel talks with his niece about the discovery of the manuscript, and in Le Fiagro Olivier Delcroix also writes about it, in Pierre Boulle, les fleurs d'une malle .
(For additional information about Boulle, see also the books and writers page.)
There's a new Thomas Mann translation out, for those who want to be particularly ambitious in their summer reading.
John E. Woods' rendition of Joseph and His Brothers weighs in at 1536 pages; see the Everyman's Library publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
We prefer it when Woods spends his valuable time tackling Arno Schmidt's work, but he's been going through the Mann novels at a good clip so maybe he can get back to Schmidt now .....
(Joseph and His Brothers was, of course, previously available, in a translation by Helen T. Lowe-Porter from 1948.
We have no idea about the comparative merits, but if you're a Mann fan (and we know that -- somewhat to our surprise -- some of you are) the Woods is probably worth lugging around.)
The film version of Nobel laureate Imre Kertész's Fatelessnes didn't exactly wow the audiences at its film festival screenings earlier in the year, but Kertész gamely continues to speak to pretty much any interviewer who wants to talk about it (though offering mild defences -- the music isn't that bad, he thinks, etc. -- rather than wholehearted endorsement), such as now in Der Tagesspiegel.
Meanwhile, the critical reactions don't get any better: now Heike Kühn weighs in at the Frankfurter Rundschau, finding:
Der Film ist nicht zynisch genug, um dem radikalen Roman gerecht zu werden.
(The film isn't cynical enough to do justice to the radical novel.)
A fair number of literary webloggers in The Litblog Co-op are converging on New York and can be found at The Slipper Room tonight from 18:00 to 20:00.
(The Literary Saloon's own barkeep should also be in attendance.)
Drop by, congratulate (or berate) the LBCers for their first Read This ! title, suggest books they should consider, etc.
Jacques-Pierre Amette's prix Goncourt winning novel (in 2003) La Maîtresse de Brecht is now available in English -- at least in the UK (see the Hesperus publicity page or get your copy from Amazon.co.uk), and so it's getting a bit of attention.
In his weekly World of Books column in the Telegraph A.N.Wilson observes that:
It has since been translated into 38 languages -- every language you could think of except German.
This is for the simple reason that the book reveals Brecht to be a monster of duplicity and brutality to women; and, as far as politics are concerned, a complete fraud, a Marxist Tartuffe who kept the code for his secret Swiss bank account in his pocket.
There really is no German translation -- and none planned, as far as we can ascertain.
(But note that the situation isn't much better in the US at the moment -- the Hesperus edition isn't available at Amazon.com.
In desperation we've finally picked up a French edition .....)
Wilson also finds:
What is so clever about the book is that, seeing the character of Brecht so clearly, Amette never once loses sight of the fact that the man was a genius -- perhaps the greatest genius of the 20th century theatre in any language.
It is understandable if the Germans don't want to face the demons raised in Amette's book -- but a pity.
It is indeed.
And while we love the writer like few others (Wilson forgets to mentions that he's one of the greatest German poets of the 20th century as well), we don't really see what the problem is.
And we'd figure someone would take a chance on it -- surely the sensational subject-matter would make for decent sales.
Or are German publishers really such honourable folk that they wouldn't sully the name of one of the all-time greats for a few euros ?
But today, it stands homeless and on the verge of collapse.
Not a single course is currently running, and the academy has just been forced to vacate its offices in Birmingham, following a collapse in funding.
Nobel laureate Elias Canetti's memoir of his English years, Party in the Blitz (which we reviewed when it came out in German) is finally set to appear in English in a couple of weeks (in the UK; US readers will have to wait until September).
In preparation, John Bayley has gone on the offensive, and Chris Hastings' article in The Telegraph, John Bayley defends Iris Murdoch against memoir by former lover (link first seen at Maud Newton) is surely only an early salvo.
(There were a few articles in the British press when the book came out in German, but it made for only a moderate literary storm; availability of the full text in English should lead to more widespread interest.)
Understandably, Bayley defends his wife -- who really doesn't come off very well in the book -- but we disagree when he states:
"I do not think it is worth paying any attention to what this man says about Iris," he said.
"I certainly do not recognise her from his description.
I think people who know what sort of man he is will not be surprised by what he says about her.
They will put it down to his pathological conceit and his jealousy."
He's got it half right: even if one doesn't believe a word of what he says (about Murdoch or anyone else) what Canetti does say surely is revealing -- about himself, if no one else.
And Canetti is an interesting and important enough figure in his own right that even a distorted self-portrait is of some value.
(Canetti obviously has a recognition-problem: in the UK Iris Murdoch is extremely well-known and her work very popular; Canetti -- Nobel prize notwithstanding -- apparently not so much so.)
That Bayley doesn't "recognise her from his description" is no great surprise -- but that doesn't mean it isn't an accurate account.
(We're kind of hoping it isn't -- the sex-scenes really are rather off-putting .....)
Readers should note that while Canetti devotes more space to Murdoch than most of the people he discusses, these section still only make up a relatively small portion of the book -- there's considerably more to it than this, and it is worthwhile.
We look forward to the British critics weighing in (and hope it doesn't get to be too much of a for-or-against-Iris thing).
We missed this when the NEA announced it two weeks ago, but they announced a Literature Translation Initiative, with: "Greece to be first partner country".
It's not a lot of cash, but better than none:
To support increased access to quality foreign literary work in translation, the National Endowment for the Arts has initiated the NEA International Literature Awards
See the application (due 15 June, so get cracking !).
Greece isn't a bad first choice -- certainly underrepresented (even we don't have a single contemporary Greek work under review, though two are in the eventually-to-be-reviewed pile).
What we like about stories like this is that it leads us to dig around a bit, and so we stumble across the Greek National Book Centre site, which offers some decent information, and -- even better -- the almost brand-new Ithaca Online, which follows in the footsteps of many national book sites and introduces (monthly !) a selection of contemporary literature in English.
Since it's pretty hard to find out about the Greek literary scene otherwise, this is a welcome new source; we'll certainly be checking in every few months.
In The Seattle Times Chris Hewitt offers a brief look at some books and why they haven't made it to the screen yet (though some of these will, soon).
He's sure that we'll never see the film-adaptation of Hollywood-hating Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye.
We might never, but it certainly will make the big (or, by that time, maybe hand-held) screen sometime -- at the latest (our guess) the year the copyright protection runs out.
But it wouldn't surprise us if his literary estate -- as literary estates are prone to do, regardless of authors' dying and other wishes -- sells out long before then (at the latest (our guess) a year before copyright protection runs out ...).
In the London Review of Books Peter Campbell writes about an exhibition coming to the V&A, celebrating "70 Years of Penguin Books" (oddly, no real information about the exhibit at the museum site itself).
He notes that:
When Hans Schmoller first saw a copy of John Berger’s Ways of Seeing -– the book was published in 1972 -– he hurled it across the room.
But correctly observes:
Schmoller’s anger was misplaced.
He might have loathed the look, but here at least was a book which was all of a piece.
In 1972, the battle for the visual integrity of Penguin paperbacks was already long lost; the insides and outsides of many, if not most of them had stopped speaking the same language.