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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 June

11 June: Fortress Besieged | Chechen books
12 June: Foreign mysteries | Estermann review
13 June: Korea - Frankfurt | Literature v. media studies ? | NYTBR foreign coverage
14 June: Madame Bovary gets vanity approval | Iain Sinclair interview | Wang Wen-Hsing reviews
15 June: Coe's Johnson bio wins BBC4SJPfNF | Israeli book stats
16 June: IMPAC Award | Peter Weiss' Inferno | Márai reviews | More on Kadare
17 June: Cairo Review of Books | IMPAC coverage | Female orgasm fun and aggravation | Two Lives, sight unseen | EIBF tickets on sale
18 June: Assia Djebar becomes an immortal | Post-apartheid lit. | University library dumps books | Five Modern Japanese Novelists review
19 June: Macbeth in Malaysia | Reviewers and booksellers
20 June: Atwood profile | Ken Saro Wiwa decennial | Incendiary review

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20 June 2005 - Monday

Atwood profile | Ken Saro Wiwa decennial | Incendiary review

       Atwood profile

       In The Herald Rosemary Goring offers a long Margaret Atwood profile, in The hard lady of literature .

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Ken Saro Wiwa decennial

       Yes, it's been ten years since they executed Ken Saro Wiwa.
       In Vanguard Tunde Sesan reports on the "Ken Saro Wiwa stampede" in Nigeria.
       Meanwhile, note that there's a Remember Saro-Wiwa-site -- and that you have until 30 June to get in your submission for the Living Memorial.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Incendiary review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Chris Cleave's forthcoming novel, Incendiary.
       Apparently, this is one of those semi-highly anticipated debuts scheduled to appear this summer -- though we'd never heard of it (or at least no mention of it captured our attention) until we actually came across the book (not that that means much). Not a book we would have requested a review-copy of, but a copy pretty much fell into our laps, and the idea -- woman who loses loved ones in a terrorist attack writes letter to Osama bin Laden -- was intriguing enough for us to have a look. We're not sure how much of a fuss there is going to be about this thing -- though Knopf claims an: "Announced first printing: 100,000 copies" (which translates into what ? actual first printing of 30,000 ?) -- but, despite the premise (letter to Osama !) likely enticing enough unsuspecting readers, this is one poor piece of work (and American readers will likely especially be baffled (and put off) by the whole class focus).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

19 June 2005 - Sunday

Macbeth in Malaysia | Reviewers and booksellers

       Macbeth in Malaysia

       Author Edward Carey is in Malaysia, working on an interesting-sounding Pusaka Shakespeare adaptation, Macbeth in the Shadows
       Sharon Bakar reports on the Writer who draws out books, noting that:
Carey has always drawn the characters he writes about and each of his books has a separate art project running alongside it.
       Carey also recently appeared at the British Council in Malaysia.

       (This story also leads us to Sharon Bakar's weblog, Bibliobibuli -- the first Malaysian literary weblog we've stumbled across.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Reviewers and booksellers

       Stephanie Merritt weighs in on the recent reviews-aren't-helping-to-shift-books discussion in The Bookseller (which we previously discussed) in Selling out.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

18 June 2005 - Saturday

Assia Djebar becomes an immortal | Post-apartheid lit.
University library dumps books | Five Modern Japanese Novelists review

       Assia Djebar becomes an immortal

       Assia Djebar is the newest member of the Académie française, taking over fauteuil 5. Recall: there are only 40 members -- including some pretty illustrious company. That said: the guy she beat out was Dominique Fernandez (16-11 on the second ballot (14-9 on the first)) .....
       For (French) press reports (like an English-language publication would cover this sort of stuff ...), see reports in :        For additional Djebar information, see the books and writers page.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Post-apartheid lit.

       In the Financial Times (hence: link only very short-lived) Justice Malala writes about post-apartheid literature in South Africa, in Write the Beloved Country.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       University library dumps books

       An always popular -- and far too frequently encountered -- newspaper story: Duncan Campbell reports that a University library dumps rare books in The Guardian:
The Octagon library at Queen Mary, University of London, in Mile End, east London, is in the process of refurbishment and decided that it would have to dispose of its surplus books.

These have now been dumped in skips outside the library
       Heads, we hope, will roll.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Five Modern Japanese Novelists review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Donald Keene's introduction to Five Modern Japanese Novelists.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

17 June 2005 - Friday

Cairo Review of Books | IMPAC coverage | Female orgasm fun and aggravation
Two Lives, sight unseen | EIBF tickets on sale

       Cairo Review of Books

       Al-Ahram Weekly once again offers a Books Supplement -- see this month's issue -- providing useful and extensive coverage of Arabic-related titles (including books written in Arabic, English, and French). It's part of a semi-ambitious redesign, which includes calling the monthly supplement the Cairo Review of Books: see Hani Shukrallah's Letter from the editor explaining what they've done.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       IMPAC coverage

       As we mentioned yesterday, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award has been announced -- leading, of course, to widespread coverage.
       Now we know that this is just 'arts' coverage, and one probably can't expect the innumerate folk assigned to write the copy for these reports to get more that the names right, but come on, this reporting-stuff isn't so hard (and some of the places could surely afford fact-checkers).
       The problem ? Far too many publications are calling this: "the biggest prize in literature for a single work" (so the AFP report), etc.
       As we've mentioned previously, this just isn't true -- the Premio Alfaguara de Novela, for example, is a single-work prize worth $175,000.
       The exact and proper phrasing is occasionally found: Emily Beament's PA News report, for example, explains that it's: "the world’s largest literary prize for a single work of fiction published in English". Simple, isn't it ? It even catches the information that the book doesn't have to be written in English, only published in English (i.e. translations qualify).
       Contrast that with The New York Times' Brian Lavery, who keeps moving further and further off the mark. On 9 March he maintained: "The Impac Award [...] still retains its status as the richest prize for a single work of fiction, with a 100,000-euro ($133,000) purse". Not satisfied with that misstatement, he manages to get it even more wrong on 16 June, flat-out calling it: "the world's richest literary prize", without a qualification in sight (never mind the Nobel or anything like that ...).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Female orgasm fun and aggravation

       Elisabeth A. Lloyd's The Case of the Female Orgasm discusses numerous studies of the female orgasm -- and points out the weaknesses of many of the conclusions scientists have drawn from them (in particular regarding the idea that the female orgasm is an adaptation, i.e. a trait that has "evolved to serve a particular fitness-enhancing role").
       Now there's a new study out, and it's fascinating to read the media reports, which show many of the same mistakes and misinterpretations being made. Too bad: it's a fairly interesting study (especially compared to some of the ones Lloyd describes in her book), and it does provide valuable insights -- just not necessarily the ones claims are made for in some of these reports.
       Lloyd discusses all this in a Philosophy of Biology-entry -- addressing, in particular, the article in The Guardian by David Adam, Female orgasm all in the genes. They really should make reading her book mandatory before anybody is ever again allowed to comment or speculate on the female orgasm (and specifically on why (some but not all) females have orgasms).
       (Additional information about the study is also available at New Scientist (Genes blamed for fickle female orgasm, Rowan Hooper) and The Economist (Twin peaks).)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Two Lives, sight unseen

       Vikram Seth's new book, the apparently much-anticipated Two Lives, is due out in the fall, and the publicity machine is starting up. In The Bookseller Benedicte Page reports on it in Chancing and gossip.
       The reported £1.4 million advance is bad enough (sure, A Suitable Boy sold a million copies in the UK, but the guy's most recent book, An Equal Music was surely a great disappointment (sales- and quality-wise)), but truly shocking is the news that:
Seth, with a profound aversion to revealing anything of his text before the first draft is complete, sold the novel, through his agent [the late Giles Gordon], entirely sight unseen.

"Although I'd written about two-thirds of the book when I sold it, I didn't want anyone -- not my agent, not my family, no one, to see it," he explains, interviewed on a visit to Time Warner's London offices before heading off to Sorrento as a guest at the Waterstone's managers' conference.

"Even Giles, who wrote rather a tempting synopsis, had only a discussion with me about it. When I met potential publishers, I placed the text on the table and said, 'This is what I have written, but I'm afraid you can't read any of it.'
       We hope at least some of those potential publishers told him where he could stuff it .....

       (Readers who want to pre-order Two Lives (sight unseen) can do so at or

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       EIBF tickets on sale

       Tickets for the Edinburgh International Book Festival (running 13 - 29 August) apparently go on sale today, which has led to tons of media reports -- before any programme information is available at the official site.
       We continue to be amazed and baffled by how organisations use their websites: why do they allow the media to provide information before they themselves make it available ? Whose interests -- other than the media's -- is served by this ? Surely the consumer/customer should be king (or queen) -- but the media (obviously and predictably) don't provide very useful information, and so the poor eager book-lover who wants to know what's really on visits the official site ... and finds even less information.
       Sure, in a day or two -- perhaps even by the time you read this -- some (or all the) information will be available at the site -- but why does the media get the 'scoop' that properly belongs to the official site ?
       For tantalizing suggestions what you might find at the EIBF, see, for example, Rosemary Goring's article in The Herald, which notes:
The umbrella theme of Nations Unlimited that defines this year's festival is represented by writers from 30 countries, with particularly strong contingents from Canada, Spain and Russia. Lockerbie made a point of saying that in 2005 the festival is "more international and more Scottish" than ever, emphasising that the increased presence of foreign writers goes hand-in-hand with her commitment to those closer to home.
       Or see Brian Ferguson's article in the Evening News, noting:
More than 500 authors are lined up for the world's biggest literary festival, with more than 30 countries due to be represented in the 650 events which are planned.
       Despite reading these and a dozen other articles appearing today, we haven't been able to learn the names of more than a few dozen of the authors scheduled to appear (Salman Rushdie, big deal) and a handful of the countries. Pathetic -- but apparently that's how modern PR works (or doesn't).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

16 June 2005 - Thursday

IMPAC Award | Peter Weiss' Inferno | Márai reviews | More on Kadare

       IMPAC Award

       Another day, another literary award: this time it's the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award that has announced its winner (The Known World, by Edward P. Jones).
       See also coverage at BBC and PA News.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Peter Weiss' Inferno

       Peter Weiss' Inferno, first published just a few years ago, has now had its world premiere -- in an opera-version by Johannes Kalitzke at the Bremer Theater.
       See (German) reviews at Deutschlandfunk, taz, and Die Welt.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Márai reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two titles by re-discovered Hungarian author Márai Sándor, Casanova in Bolzano (published in the UK as Conversations in Bolzano) and the last volume of his diaries, Napló 1984-1989.
       There's stil a ton of Marai's fiction that hasn't been translated, but we haven't exactly been won over by the two available-in-English examples. The diaries, on the other hand, were a real surprise -- and not just because they show Marai isn't congenitally prolix, but rather is capable of both getting to the point and showing some restraint (both to good effect).
       A decent chunk of this final diary-volume is available in Tim Wilkinson's translation in The Hungarian Quarterly, as American Journal -- but the excerpted presentation takes away from much of the power of this volume. Generally, we're strong supporters of fiction over non, but before they bother bringing out another of Marai's early novels his American and British publishers really should consider offering the diaries.

       Also: a while back we explained why we write Japanese names Japanese-style -- surname first --, despite the fact that Western publishers invert the names (writing 'Haruki Murakami' instead of (as we do) 'Murakami Haruki') -- though they generally don't bother doing that with Chinese or Korean names. Several readers pointed out that if we want to be consistent (as we claim to), then we should also write Hungarian names with the family name first, since that's what they do in Hungary -- Kértesz Imre rather than 'Imre Kertesz', etc. So, in the interests of consistency (though admittedly at the cost of confusing many readers not familiar with the practise) that is what we'll now do (hence: 'Márai Sándor') -- though it'll probably take a while to make all the adjustments on existing pages.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More on Kadare

       They have almost four weeks between announcing that Ismail Kadare won the Man Booker International Prize and actually handing over the cash and trophy (on 27 June). The ceremony will be held in Edinburgh -- but, as Tim Cornwell reports in Literary prize winner will grace capital, not everyone is exactly fully prepared yet:
However, publishers yesterday were in a frantic race to get any of his works into the city's bookshops after a casual inquiry by The Scotsman revealed that none were on sale.

The situation proved to be barely better in Glasgow, where just two copies of Ismail Kadare's novel Broken April were available in city-centre branches of Waterstone's.
       And impressively:
Every shop assistant reached yesterday had to ask how to spell his name, and most said they did not normally stock his books.
       Impressively, sales-ranks of Kadare-titles at suggest increased reader interest there. Less so at (though Arcade had a nice sign reminding visitors that he'd won the MBIP at BEA ...) -- indeed US media coverage has been pathetic. Maybe when the awards-ceremony rolls around there will be more .....

       Meanwhile, David Bellos (who penned the informative The Englishing of Ismail Kadare: Notes of a retranslator) adds some background information about Chronicle in Stone at House of Mirth. (The never-ending fun that is translation-issues !)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

15 June 2005 - Wednesday

Coe's Johnson bio wins BBC4SJPfNF | Israeli book stats

       Coe's Johnson-bio wins BBC4SJPfNF

       We're fans of B.S.Johnson, we're fans of Jonathan Coe, and we very much enjoyed Coe's Johnson-biography, Like a Fiery Elephant -- so we're pleased to see that it has won the BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction. (it would be great if this helped give the book an added little push in the US, where it has just appeared ... !)
       For early press reports, see:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Israeli book stats

       Hebrew Book Week (which, inexplicably, runs for longer than a week) starts today, so there are articles like Michael Handelsaltz's Acting as if the book were important (in Ha'aretz).
       Of particular interest: the information about the number of books published in Israel, and some additional details. (Handelsaltz notes that -- as far as real books goes -- "for the past 15 years or so, only about 4,500 books have been published annually in Israel -- a magical number of sorts, which remains constant despite all the vicissitudes of time" -- in contrast to the US, UK, etc., where more and more books get published.)
       The JNUL statistics he mentions are also available at the Jewish National and University Library site. Of particular interest: the languages books were published in, with Hebrew obviously dominating: 5,183 titles -- with, surprisingly, only 11 % translated from other languages (an almost American percentage !).
       Truly sad: titles published in Arabic number a mere 62 -- far behind English (616) and Russian (114). (Note that only titles submitted to JNUL are counted; legally, all books published should be, but it wouldn't be surprising if some -- and possibly many -- Arabic books don't get registered.) Also pretty stunning: a mere 4 Yiddish titles were published (looks like that's getting ever closer to becoming a dead language) -- one behind even Amharic and far fewer than Romanian (26).
       Compare these statistics also to the 2003 ones -- where there were 103 Arabic titles and 13 Yiddish ones.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

14 June 2005 - Tuesday

Madame Bovary gets vanity approval | Iain Sinclair interview | Wang Wen-Hsing reviews

       Madame Bovary gets vanity approval

       Bookworm on the Net (only updated Sundays, but worth the weekly visit) points us to a fun story out of France: as Adam Sage reported in The Times, Paper pulls classic hoax on vanity publishers:
Vanity publishing houses in France have been accused of gross incompetence after apparently failing to recognise the manuscript of one of the greatest French novels -- Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert.

Believing it to be a new work, they offered to print it at a cost to the author of up to €4,800 (£3,200). The newspaper Le Figaro sent a copy of the 19th-century masterpiece to five of France’s biggest vanity publishing companies. It changed the title and names of the main characters. None identified the novel
       The original article is (for now) still available at the Le Figaro-site, Mohammed Aïssaoui's Edition à compte d'auteur: le leurre et l'argent du leurre, which offers more fun details.
       He concludes with the obvious: "L'autoédition, c'est tellement plus simple, et beaucoup moins cher" ("Self-publishing is a lot simpler, and a lot less expensive").

       Considering the whole eagerness-to-get-published Le Figaro also commissioned a poll, describing the results here. They find that 23 % of those surveyed (the French) have written or thought of writing a book (interestingly, considerably more women than men have: 26% v. 19%). (Compare this with a much-quoted American survey -- commissioned by a publisher with an interest in as many people as possible wanting to tell their stories -- that suggested 81 percent of Americans want to write a book (see, for example, Shashi Tharoor's The Write Stuff).)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Iain Sinclair interview

       Widely linked to already, Londonist has an interview with Iain Sinclair (we are, of course, big fans: see also our Iain Sinclair page).
       The most interesting titbit: a new book is forthcoming ! lists it -- as Journey Out of London, despite the fact that the cover-image clearly shows the new title (as Sinclair mentions in the interview), Edge of the Orizon.
       The publication date is listed as 29 September; we can't wait.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Wang Wen-Hsing reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two novels by Taiwanese author Wang Wen-Hsing, Backed Against the Sea and Family Catastrophe.

       We like to think that we're pretty on top of foreign literature published in the US, but are always surprised by learning about yet more books and publishers we were unaware of. So also in this case, where the Cornell East Asia Series (also at Cornell, but not to be confused with Cornell University Press) contacted us (to get on our list of publishers-links). We'd never heard of them, and the books aren't the kind you'd stumble over in your local bookstore, review pages, or even (unless you're looking for something specific) on the Internet. Their list consists of pretty specialised stuff, but among it are some literary works (such as one of the Wang Wen-Hsing novels -- or, for example, Yang Gui-ja's forthcoming Contradictions). Fantastic !
       Commendable -- indeed, near unbelievable -- also their pricing policy, at least for Backed Against the Sea: an $ 8 paperback !
       (Family Catastrophe is published by the University of Hawai`i Press. Their 'Fiction from Modern China'-series we'd been familiar with -- but is also worth a mention.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

13 June 2005 - Monday

Korea - Frankfurt | Literature v. media studies ? | NYTBR foreign coverage

       Korea - Frankfurt

       In The Korea Herald Yang Sung-jin reports:
Korean Organizing Committee for the Guest of Honor at Frankfurt Book Fair 2005 unveiled details about a series of events that will be provided not only at the exhibition site but also in museums and other institutions in Frankfurt and throughout Germany.
       It all sounds fairly promising -- but no word on how things are going with getting the North Koreans involved.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Literature v. media studies ?

       In The Independent Sarah Cassidy reports that Literature pushed out by media studies:
Increasing numbers of students are analysing soap operas and television commercials rather than studying classic novels, according to a report by the Government's exam watchdog
       Note that that's increasing numbers -- literature still dominates. But still .....
       Not much additional information available at the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority site, unfortunately.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       NYTBR foreign coverage

       The past couple of weeks we've been giving The New York Times Book Review and its foreign-phobic editor, Sam Tanenhaus, a hard time about their pathetic coverage of books originally written in languages other than English -- so, in all fairness, we give them a pat on the back this week for a job reasonably well done.
       Yes, the 12 June issue has full-length reviews of one novel and two non-fiction titles (non-fiction ! particularly impressive !), and a shared full-length review of two works of fiction originally written in a foreign language. Most of these books are pretty hard to ignore -- Eco, Pamuk, Fuentes, Marjane Satrapi -- but, given recent history, nothing would have surprised us. So let's see this every week !
       Bonus points also for Lila Azam Zanganeh's essay on Francophone African literature !
       (But: we can't resist pointing out: 15 non-fiction titles each get their own full-length (more or less) review (plus a three-for-one), while only 4 fiction titles do (plus a two-for-one, a five-title 'Chronicle', and a four-title 'Crime' round-up). Come on .... !)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

12 June 2005 - Sunday

Foreign mysteries | Estermann review

       Foreign mysteries

       In The Observer Louise France offers an introduction to several non-English writing mystery authors.
       She notes:
Traditionally, British readers have a horror of translated novels. (...) Yet according to Maxim Jakubowski, owner of Murder One, the specialist crime bookshop on London's Charing Cross Road, sales of translated European crime fiction have increased fivefold in the past four years.
       It'll be interesting to see whether the trend holds -- and how it translates to the US market. (There's also considerable growth-potential -- Germany, for example, is currently awash with Nordic crime fiction, with what seems like every mystery written in any Scandinavian tongue, dozens and dozens of authors' work, getting published.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Estermann review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Alfred Estermann's study of Der Philosoph und seine Verleger, Schopenhauers Kampf um sein Werk.
       A documentary-essay on Schopenhauer's relationship with his publishers, and his attempts to ensure that his work was presented to the public as he thought it should be, it's another fun example of how poorly authors understand publishing-reality -- and how ugly publishing-reality can be. The sales-figures (abysmal) are also a good reminder for all those who mourn the passing of the good old days when so many more people supposedly actually read important works etc. .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

11 June 2005 - Saturday

Fortress Besieged | Chechen books

       Fortress Besieged

       In The Guardian Julia Lovell sees a Great leap forward with the inclusion of Qian Zhongshu's Fortress Besieged in the Penguin Modern Classics-series.
       It's neat to see this title -- published by New Directions in the US -- get so much attention (it's been fairly widely reviewed -- TLS, The Independent, The Spectator, etc.). Is it the Penguin-imprint that makes the difference ? It certainly didn't attract this much attention when Indiana University Press brought out the same translation a quarter of a century ago .....
       The fact that it is still the same translation bothers Lovell (and others). She writes:
What is disappointing, is that -- despite expending a good deal of trouble on producing a beautiful-looking book, fronted by an original Chinese print -- Penguin has used an old (1979) and uninspired translation by Jeanne Kelly and Nathan K Mao.
       Similarly, in the Asian Review of Books Peter Gordon writes:
This makes one think that if the work was worth republishing, surely it was worth republishing in a more up-to-date and fluent translation.
       Hey, we figure you gotta be pleased that it's available at all, in any form .....
       Get your own copy at or

       (See also our reviews of some of the Chinese titles mentioned at the end of The Guardian-article: Cao Xueqin's The Story of the Stone and the Lovell-translated A Dictionary of Maqiao by Han Shaogong.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Chechen books

       Arlen Blyum tells a too-familiar story of the persecution, banning, and destruction of, in this case, Chechen-related literature under the Soviets in How Chechen Books were Persecuted at New Times -- and aside from being interesting it made us aware of the existence of New Times, which is "a monthly digest of russian weekly Новое Время".

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

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