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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 30 November 2005

21 November: Welt-Literaturpreis for Yasmina Reza | NYTBR notes | A Perfect Pledge review
22 November: Experience Gao Xingjian | Iran crackdown ? | FT&GSBBotY Award | The Sea review
23 November: IMPAC longlist (?) | More Nobel painters | White Teeth review
24 November: Pinter will lecture but won't dine | IMPAC notes | Book endings | Nabokov manuscript
25 November: Bookforum online | Rumanian authors in France | After Dark by Murakami
26 November: Wylie on Google etc. | Triple the prize money, triple the respect ? | Bouvard and Pécuchet review
27 November: Rosenzweig's The Star of Redemption | Flashman on the March review
28 November: More Google fears | Books v. movies | Christopher Okigbo | Mr. Brecher's Fiasco
29 November: Ali Smith story | Perloff on Celan | Slovenian book sales | Bad Sex in Fiction award
30 November: David Irving in Austria | Precocious Japanese authors | Prize as albatross ? | Kehlmann reviews


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30 November 2005 - Wednesday

David Irving in Austria | Precocious Japanese authors
Prize as albatross ? | Kehlmann reviews

       David Irving in Austria

       As fairly widely reported, Holocaust-denier David Irving is sitting in a a prison cell in Austria, up on charges relating to his Holocaust-denial spiel -- a case that hasn't quite garnered the same free speech support that nation-denigrator Orhan Pamuk (set to go on trial in a couple of weeks time) has gotten -- despite the fact that Irving has already been deprived of his freedom (he was denied bail) while Pamuk is, for now, still free. Obviously, Irving is the far more unsympathetic defendant (except in ultra-nationalist -- Nazi and Turkish, respectively -- circles) but the free speech issues are fairly similar. Arguably, Nazi-support of the sort Irving is charged with (paragraph 3g of the Verbotsgesetz; see the relevant Austrian statutes (in German)) is of a different moral order than the denigrating-the-Turkish-nation charge against Pamuk (though apparently at least one Turkish prosecutor takes that really seriously too) -- especially in Austria, which travelled down this road once before -- but it's surprising there hasn't been more discussion about it (or intervention from PEN ...).
       Ian Traynor has been reporting on this for The Guardian, and a recent dispatch is headlined: Behind bars, but liberals defend Irving -- though, again, the defending isn't very vociferous. He notes:
Whether Irving is still the Holocaust denier so clear from the 1989 speeches may emerge in court in Vienna in January. That he is guilty as charged is inarguable, his lawyer admits. But it is the outdated law that is the problem.
       Earlier reports include: 'Repentant' Irving to plead guilty but must stay in jail (26 November), where he writes:
At yesterday's custody hearing the magistrate dismissed Mr Irving's lawyer's request for bail on the grounds that he might disappear or that Britain would refuse to extradite him back to Austria for trial because the alleged crime is not an offence in the UK. (...)

He is to be tried under a 1947 Austrian law banning Nazi revivalism and criminalising belittling or justifying the crimes of the Third Reich. No trial date has been set. The case should be heard in January. Irving faces a jail term of one to 10 years if found guilty.
       Points of interest that don't seem to appear to have been as widely noticed:
  • The law may be old (originally promulgated in 1947) and outdated, but the Austrians seem to like it: it was last revised (and hence also revisited) in 1992, and they were obviously pretty adamant about keeping it on the books. So it's not just some ancient statute they applied because that's all they had; indeed, prosecutions under it are apparently still fairly common.

  • The charges against Irving were originally filed in 1989, and a warrant has been outstanding since then (hence presumably also the categorical denial of bail: if they couldn't get him on the warrant previously (as long as he was outside of Austria), they presumably couldn't be sure of getting him back for trial if he left the country). Traynor's article from 23 November, Holocaust denial charges against Irving, isn't really clear about this, ambiguously noting (or, rather, quoting): "A charge was filed in relation to two speeches in 1989", which doesn't really make clear that the charges were actually first filed way back then, and that the arrest was only a matter of executing an outstanding warrant.
       The circumstances surrounding Irving's arrest -- his trying to keep a low profile in travelling to and in Austria, and his concerns about being followed -- suggest he knew exactly what he was up against. (The circumstances also suggest that the Austrians may have a point and that this may be about more than just someone trying to express his opinion: a lot of people went through a lot of trouble to keep this hush-hush for a supposedly innocent and harmless speech .....)

       Anyway, this is a case that does deserve considerably more attention -- though, like lots of others, we're a bit reluctant to tread here (in our case also because it's a pretty convoluted mess and requires more time than we can devote to it). Still, a couple of things have come to our attention in the German-language press which seem worth a mention. (Both originally from the Austrian News, which unfortunately has a ridiculous and essentially unusable web-presence.)
       First, there's the claim by Irving that he visited Austria in 1993, when there was already the warrant out for his arrest; see the report in Die Presse. According to the report, they held him up at the border for a while, but after a few phone calls waved him through. (Yes, an investigation has been launched .....)
       Secondly, and rather amusingly: when he was first arrested he was locked up in the Justizanstalt Graz-Jakomini -- and was thrilled to find two of his books in the prison library. In the original News-report he claimed he autographed both copies at the behest of the authorities; a Kleine Zeitung-report now has the warden insist that Irving signed the books of his own accord -- and that the books have now been removed from the library. (We wonder who took them home .....)

       (Updated - 3 December): It took a while, but the British papers finally caught onto this (last) story: see Nazi apologist finds his works in Austrian prison (Luke Harding in The Guardian) and Nazi historian Irving finds his books in Austrian jail library (Kate Connolly in the Daily Telegraph).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Precocious Japanese authors

       We mentioned that 'Natsu Minami' won the Bungei Prize a couple of months back. Now Richard Lloyd Parry reports on the Land where writers are over the hill if theyíve left school in The Times (link first seen at the Vertical blog)
       Ah, yes:
Since winning the Bungei Prize two months ago, Machineguns of the Heisei Era, Miss Minamiís novel about the murderous fantasies of a lonely schoolgirl, has aroused intense literary excitement.

Critics have praised the novelís long, rhythmic sentences and cool treatment of the themes of school bullying and violence. Next week it will be published nationwide with an initial print run of 20,000, high for a first novel.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Prize as albatross ?

       It's not the greatest name for a literary prize -- the Albatross ?!? (well, 'der Alabtros', as it is in German) -- but the €40,000 prize-money is nothing to sneeze at. That's what the Günter Grass Stiftung will be offering every other year, for literature in (German) translation: €25,000 for the author and €15,000 for the translator.
       The first one will be awarded on Monday, 5 December. Jurors include: Immacolata Amodeo, Michael Hulse, and Wilfried Schoeller.
       See (German) reports in taz and Der Standard.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Kehlmann reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two books by Daniel Kehlmann:        We don't feel quite so bad about foisting two more reviews of not-available-in-English works (making a total of seven by Kehlmann alone we have under review ...) because the English-language rights to the Gauss-Humboldt novel have been sold and Carol Brown Janeway is apparently working on a translation and it should soon (or eventually) be accessible -- perhaps as 'Surveying the World' (the title we currently favour).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



29 November 2005 - Tuesday

Ali Smith story | Perloff on Celan | Slovenian book sales | Bad Sex in Fiction award

       Ali Smith story

       There's an Ali Smith short story, True short story, in the new Prospect.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Perloff on Celan

       In the November/December issue of the Boston Review, now available online, Marjorie Perloff writes about several Paul Celan-translations in A Poet's Hope.
       (We have his Romanian Poems under review.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Slovenian book sales

       The Slovene Press Agency reports that Flat Tax Would Be Fatal Mistake for Slovenian Literature:
The proposed flat tax would constitute a fatal error regarding the Slovenian language, culture and art, a public panel agreed in Ljubljana on Tuesday, 22 November.

The panel, entitled "Tax on Books - Tax or Books", therefore called on the government to carry out suitable analyses, and debate on possible solutions with cultural workers.
       While the tax question is of some interest, the article also offers information about the state of Slovenian publishing, including:
Slovenia lacks a developed book trading network and other ways to distribute literature, causing high book prices.

Zupancic added that the consequence is a drop in book sales, while borrowing is on the rise. A Slovenian on average buys three books a year, including school textbooks, while he borrows nine.

According to him the Slovenian publishing market is worth around EUR 100m annually, with the two largest publishers controlling just under two thirds (Mladinska knjiga 44% and DZS 21%).
       Rather than blaming taxes or lack of a book distribution network (though those presumably exacerbate the situation) what about considering the effect this total market dominance these two publishers have has on prices ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Bad Sex in Fiction award

       In The Guardian Michelle Pauli notes that there is Stiff competition for Bad Sex award -- an they also print the contending passages for the Literary Review Bad Sex in Fiction award.
       We have three of the works in the running under review: Shalimar the Clown by Salman Rushdie, Memories of my Melancholy Whores by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and Blinding Light by Paul Theroux.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



28 November 2005 - Monday

More Google fears | Books v. movies | Christopher Okigbo | Mr. Brecher's Fiasco

       More Google fears

       The Times continues to run opinion-pieces voicing concern over Google's ambitions to -- as they apparently see it -- take over the world: after Andrew Wylie's piece (see also our comments), now it's Pickering & Chatto-publisher William Rees-Mogg who yelps: Help, we've been Googled !.
       While interesting to hear from this kind of publisher ("This is not a bookshop market. It is largely a postgraduate library market, which means it is quite small.") we're not entirely sure what his point is. While he argues:
The question concerns books that are still in copyright and will remain so for 70 years or more. If Google can scan these books, without the permission of the publisher, and include them in its database, then most libraries will not need to buy them. And if librarians do not buy them, they cannot be published. The whole world of learning will be damaged, and academic publishing will cease to be a viable business.
       But then he goes on to point out that the digital format is very different from the print one -- suggesting that there might still be room for the printed version.
       (In addition: doesn't this get rather circular rather fast ? If "they can't get published", guess who can't scan them .....)
       (Still, we wish him all the best: anybody that publishes ten volumes of Eighteenth-Century British Erotica (see the publicity pages for set I and set II) is certainly a publisher we hope stays in business a long time.)

       There are now what seems like dozens of articles on this issue daily: see, also, for example John Heilemann on Googlephobia in this week's issue of New York.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Books v. movies

       At Time they compare six books and the movie versions in that ever-popular debate of Books Vs. Movies.

       Meanwhile, in the Daily Independent (Nigeria) Chux Ohai describes: Wanted: A marriage of the print and screen.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Christopher Okigbo

       In Vanguard (and previously in NewsAfrica) Patrick Tagbo Oguejiofor writes about Christopher Okigbo in The poet who died at crossroads ...., disappointed that:
Almost 40 years after he died on the Biafran battlefield, the man whose haunting and prophetic verse continues to inspire generations of poets, remains virtually unknown outside literary circles. Although he deserves equal footing with fellow Nigerian muses such as Chinua Achebe and Wole Soyinka, successive governments have allowed him to fall into obscurity. Even his home state of Anambra has declined to name a street, school or cultural centre after him.
       See also our reviews of Okigbo's Labyrinths and Ali A. Mazrui's The Trial of Christopher Okigbo.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Mr. Brecher's Fiasco

       A couple of years ago we reviewed Martin Kessel's Herrn Brechers Fiasko (and thought very highly of it indeed). Now it's finally available in an English translation, from the University of Wisconsin Press, as Mr. Brecher's Fiasco; see also their publicity page.
       The only problem ? The price-tag: $60.00. (It's only available in hardcover.) What audience do they expect to reach at that price ? What casual book-buyer is going to shell out that kind of money ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



27 November 2005 - Sunday

Rosenzweig's The Star of Redemption | Flashman on the March review

       Rosenzweig's The Star of Redemption

       Yes, there's something a bit wrong in the world when we learn about a new English translation (published by an American university press) of a fairly significant 20th century German title through a review in ... the Asia Times. But such is the case with Franz Rosenzweig's Der Stern der Erlösung, now available in Barbara E. Galli's new translation from the University of Wisconsin Press; see their publicity page, or get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk (or the original from Amazon.de).
       'Spengler' titles his review in the Asia Times: Indispensable handbook for global theopolitics -- and seems just as surprised that essentially no one else has taken notice. (The closest we could find was Mark Lilla's omnibus review that included William W. Hallo's older translation, in The New York Review of Books (5 December 2002).)
       He's certainly a fan of the book, and recommends this version highly, despite serious reservations about the translation ("It is not merely that Galli does not know German culture; she does not know German"). Of course, he thinks fully appreciating Rosenzweig isn't easy under the best of modern circumstances:
Sadly, it is easier for today's readers to consume Homer in the original than to read Rosenzweig. First, he cannot be translated into English, for there is no scholar active today with a command of language commensurate with one of the sublime masters of German letters. Secondly, even if well translated, Rosenzweig no longer can be understood, for his 1920 volume refers to a cultural realm long since annihilated. Thirdly, even if Rosenzweig were understood, he is rather unwelcome.
       We're certainly tempted -- though we'll probably opt for the German original.

       (Updated - 30 November): A reader alerts us to an earlier review -- A Theory of Everything by Jay Michaelson, in Forward (13 May).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Flashman on the March review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of George MacDonald Fraser's Flashman on the March.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



26 November 2005 - Saturday

Wylie on Google etc. | Triple the prize money, triple the respect ?
Bouvard and Pécuchet review

       Wylie on Google etc.

       Controversial but high-powered literary agent Andrew Wylie believes: "This is an interesting time in which to address the subject of authorsí rights in the 21st century", and weighs in on recent threats/advances from Google, Amazon.com, Random House and others in an opinion piece in The Times, Read the books, five cents a page.
       Some valid and interesting points, but he drives us nuts with misbegotten arguments such as:
In the United States, a few years ago, if an authorís recently published novel sat on a library shelf, and was borrowed and read five times in the course of the year, the financial cost to an author was negligible: Retail price of book $25 x 15% royalty x 4 copies (the library paid for one) = $15. But what if that novel became popular all of a sudden, and was assigned to 2,001 students ? Then the loss to the author would be: $25 x 15% x 2,000 = $7,500. There are very few authors who would like to mail that royalty cheque to the founders of Google. Is that whatís in store for us all ?
       Let's go over this piece by piece, shall we ?
       First: the economic concept of 'financial cost' is an appealing but ridiculous one. What Wylie means and wants to convince the reader of is the idea that but for the availability of that one library copy the author in his example would have made $15 and $7,500 respectively.
       Granted, at a stretch, one may consider this a 'loss' of sorts to the author -- at least in the $15-example: it is (possibly) money s/he did not get -- but it is certainly not a cost.
       By his reckoning, the fact that the latest Martin Amis novel isn't required reading in every college English course in America is a 'financial cost' to Amis (and his agent) of millions and millions (not to mention the 'financial cost' to us of not having won the lottery last week ...).
       Why Wylie feels obligated to dress this up as a 'financial cost' is unclear -- except that that makes it sound like the author is truly suffering. But surely no one buys this ? And suggesting there's a royalty cheque involved (which for some reason the author, of all people, should send to Google) is simply misrepresenting everything he's talking about.
       Next: what (arguably) goes for his first example (five students) doesn't for his second (2001 students). That's part of his point -- he's talking about new technologies and the opportunities they offer -- but if that's what he's talking about then he should tailor his example to that, and not mix apples and oranges. Taking his example as it stands it's ridiculous: if the book were assigned to 2001 people, a single library copy would not suffice (think about it: even stretched over the entire year, that would still mean almost 5.5 students checking out the book each day; if it's assigned reading the time-frame would likely be a much shorter one, with all the students clamouring for it at roughly the same time.) Guess what ? The library would order more copies. Guess what ? Some students would opt to purchase the book to have ready and constant access to it. And so on.
       It's unfortunate that his example is such a warped one, because the fundamental thing he's getting at -- that the 2001 students will likely soon have ready access to the text in electronic form (which is, it should strongly be noted, a different beast entirely from a bound book) -- is true, and the consequences of that are well worth exploring. But if this is how people are going about exploring them ... god help us all.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Triple the prize money, triple the respect ?

       In a bid to (re-)join the literary prize big leagues the James Tait Black Memorial Prizes -- the UK's oldest literary awards -- have more than trebled the prize money on offer: winners were collecting a mere £3000 each in the two prize-categories (Fiction and Biography). From now on winners will collect £10,000 apiece. Still no Большая книга award (see our previous mention), but not bad.
       See also Phil Miller's article in The Herald, £20,000 to open new chapter

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Bouvard and Pécuchet review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of a new translation (by Mark Polizzotti) of Gustave Flaubert's Bouvard and Pécuchet, just out from Dalkey Archive Press
       If you don't have it, get it.
       Or try to win a copy: FrenchCulture offers an opportunity to win it and three other books from Dalkey (including the very worthwhile The Company of Ghosts by Lydie Salvayre) all for the cost of an e-mail (as long as you're "over 18 years of age (...) and have a US mailing address"). You have until 15 January to enter !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



25 November 2005 - Friday

Bookforum online | Rumanian authors in France | After Dark by Murakami

       Bookforum online

       The new Bookforum (see also our previous mention) is now available online, with a more generous than usual selection of pieces accessible -- though not the centrepiece, "The Sentence seeks its form" by "William H. Glass" (sic -- and ouch !).
       But lots of worthwhile (and correctly spelled) stuff, including James Gibbons on Perec, Perloff on Canetti, and a Vikram Seth interview (okay, nobody needs that, but still there's a lot of good stuff).
       And don't forget Eric Banks' talking to NYU press director Steve Maikowski about the almost too good to be true The Clay Sanskrit Library (volumes of which we will be reviewing ... soon, we hope).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Rumanian authors in France

       A pretty cool author/foreign literature promotion programme in France is Les Belles Étrangères -- this year starring twelve Rumanian authors. They send them out on tour all across the country (30 venues) and publish a book-sampler -- with DVD ! -- (12 écrivains roumains; get your copy at Amazon.fr) Of course, it helps that works by most of these authors gets translated into French anyway -- though Mircea Cartarescu's Nostalgia is the rare Rumanian fiction that's actually also going to appear in English: it's forthcoming from New Directions shortly (and we hope to review it fairly soon as well).
       See also the Le Figaro coverage, and the Le Temps review of three newly translated (into French) Rumanian titles (including a more recent work by Cartarescu.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       After Dark by Murakami

       A year ago the Germans were still complaining about getting their Murakami Haruki novels second-hand (via the English translation, instead of directly from the Japanese), but now they've jumped ahead of the English-language versions, his recent novel, After Dark, now already available there (and, as if to prove that it's not translated from the English, ridiculously titled: Afterdark). See the DuMont publicity page, Sibylle Berg's review in Die Zeit, or get your copy at Amazon.de.
       Wikipedia claims: "The English version of his latest novel, After Dark, is to be released in 2010", but that seems unlikely; Jay Rubin is apparently already working on it -- and discussed his translation with a class at the University of Washington, where Ted Mack taught a class on the book (the Japanese version).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



24 November 2005 - Thursday

Pinter will lecture but won't dine | IMPAC notes
Book endings | Nabokov manuscript

       Pinter will lecture but won't dine

       The Nobel Foundation has announced that 2005 literature laureate Harold Pinter will be skipping the award ceremony and the banquet on 10 December -- but, oddly, he's still coming to Stockholm and plans to give his Nobel lecture on 7 December.
       What the hell is that about ?
       We hope it's for a good reason -- like he refuses to don the obligatory and excessively formal banquet attire, or that he doesn't want to have to shake the hand of the local monarch (who hands out the medals, etc.)

       (Updated - 25 November): Just to clarify: we get the official "health reasons"-excuse, we're just not buying it. Sure, it would be taxing for an obviously ill man -- but surely far less so than delivering the lecture.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       IMPAC notes

       Not that much fuss about the recently announced longlist for the International IMPAC DUBLIN Literary Award.
       We have quite a few of the titles under review (17, including 8 of the translated novels) -- see yesterday's (updated) mention.
       Quite a few impressive works -- and some shockingly bad ones, including 'Melissa P''s 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed.
       While we like the international flavour, there are obvious problems with the local-library nominating system -- especially the fact that so many seem unaware of any non-local literature (or rather are misguided flag-waving 'patriots' of the worst sort). The Icelandic library picks Arnaldur Indridason, the Sri Lankan one three authors from Sri Lanka, the Trinidad and Tobago one V.S.Naipaul, etc. etc. Chile picks ... Isabel Allende (though in their defense: so did an English library). Six (!) Canadian libraries pick Miriam Toews, but not a single other library does ..... (And guess where the library that picked 'Melissa P''s pile of crap is ?)
       Suggestion for a new rule: libraries can't pick hometown (i.e. home-country) authors. Sure, that's what they know best, but it makes for a very distorted list. (Bonus points, of sorts, for the Germans, who overlooked all the native talent -- with the consequence that there's not a single title originally written in German among the 132 books .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Book endings

       In the Telegraph Philip Hensher writes about The end. At last., arguing that:
First lines are great fun. But they aren't really as important to a novel as the last lines. From a terrible first line, a novel may recover; the last line is what it leaves a reader with.
       Some fun thoughts and examples, including:
I love Junichiro Tanizaki's The Makioka Sisters but, even allowing for cultural differences, it has to have the most peculiar final sentence in all literature: "Yukiko's diarrhoea persisted through the twenty-sixth, and was a problem on the train to Tokyo." That is not the way one wants to finish a book before giving a happy sigh and putting the light out.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Nabokov manuscript

       Worth a much closer look: Ron Rosenbaum pleads: Dear Dmitri Nabokov: Donít Burn Laura ! Let Draft Gather Dust in The New York Observer, arguing for the preservation of Nabokov's mysterious last work in progress.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



23 November 2005 - Wednesday

IMPAC longlist (?) | More Nobel painters | White Teeth review

       IMPAC longlist (?)

       They say the longlist for the International IMPAC DUBLIN Literary Award has been announced, but we haven't been able to access it (and none of the few media reports we've come across have been willing to list the whole 132-title strong list). The website claims: "The full long list of eligible titles for the 2006 award and details of the members of the judging panel will be made available on Tuesday 22nd November 2005" -- but 'made available' apparently does not mean to Internet users ......
       Frustratingly, too, the first media reports are of the nauseatingly nationalistically-obsessed sort -- Six Irish authors on IMPAC longlist and TóibŪn and Ahern among Irish authors on Impac longlist and 11 Canadian books on long list for Impac Dublin award (which immediately if unfairly leads us to hope that the award-winning book is not by an Irish or Canadian author).
       What we can glean from the media reports so far: 132 novels were nominated (last year there were 147), of which 31 ((updated): we earlier had it incorrectly as 32) were translated works (pathetic, but a considerable improvement over last year's 29 (from a larger pool), and the translated works represented 15 different languages (same as last year).
       We assume we have quite a few of the longlisted titles under review, but the only ones we know about are those mentioned in the media reports:        We'll update this information when we finally get access to the whole list.
       The short list is due out 5 April, the winner will be announced 14 June (yes, this is one drawn-out affair).

       (Updated): Another article on the longlist -- Longlist for literature's richest prize announced by Michelle Pauli in The Guardian -- lets us fill in a few more longlisted titles we have under review, but the list itself remains elusive (people are linking to http://www.impacdublinaward.ie/2006/longlist.htm, but the site won't appear for us and there's still nothing at the .com mirror-site):        Of the known (to us) titles, the Echenoz is our clear favourite.

       (Updated - 24 November): So we finally got a peek at the list (at http://impacdublinaward.ie/2006/longlist.htm) and find quite a few more titles we have under review:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       More Nobel painters

       Yesterday we mentioned our surprise that Nobel Prize-winning author Gao Xingjian was also a painter -- but it turns out quite a few laureates picked up the brush.
       In fact, 1992 winner Derek Walcott has an exhibit in New York at this very moment: Another Life at the June Kelly Gallery (18 November through 30 December). Check out some his paintings here.
       Others in this club: 1913 winner Rabindranath Tagore (see Rabindranath Tagore ..... as a Painter at at Indian Art Circle), 1946 winner Hermann Hesse (click on pictures on the right side here) and ... 1953 winner Winston Churchill (read Winston Churchill the Painter by The Lady Soames, D.B.E. -- or get your own Stitch Knit kit (!) of The Paintings by Sir Winston Churchill).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       White Teeth review

       So we've finally reviewed White Teeth -- but, this being the complete review, the novel we reviewed is Okot p'Bitek's 1953 Acholi (Acoli) work, not the recent Zadie Smith title.
       Probably the only Acholi (or Lwo (Luo)) work we'll ever get to (or find) -- well, unless we tackle some other p'Bitek (his Song of Lawino, for example).

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22 November 2005 - Tuesday

Experience Gao Xingjian | Iran crackdown ? | FT&GSBBotY Award | The Sea review

       Experience Gao Xingjian

       Who knew ? Well, you probably did, but we weren't aware of it: 2000 Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian is one of those writers who dabbles in the visual arts. And now there's an exhibit -- yes, the Gao Xingjian Experience (okay, maybe it's just titled 'Experience' ...) -- at the Singapore Art Museum, "Featuring 60 ink works with 10 new works to be unveiled," (See also exhibit pages at iPreciation and the SAM; it runs 17 November through 7 February 2006.)
       See some of the art on display here, or check out the links at the Gao Xingjian Collection at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.
       And Jonathan Lynn reports on the exhibition in: Nobel author scores with painting exhibit.

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       Iran crackdown ?

       Iran has a reputation for not being very free speech/ expression-friendly, but for a while now there's been some interesting arts-activity -- but it looks like the new regime is ready to crack down again.
       An AFP report (here at the Daily Star) is titled Iran cracks down on cinema, theater and newspapers considered to be un-Islamic, but it affects books and publishing just as much:
Iran's new culture minister has said he is purging his ministry of officials he views as having failed to protect Islamic values, the student news agency ISNA reported. "Books published in Iran should not attack our religious values," said Mohammad-Hossein Saffar-Harandi. He also complained that under Iran's former pro-reform government, the regime's team of literary censors had lacked the "will" to block offending texts.
       Is there any sadder sign for a religion than that it needs mere mortals to 'protect' its values ? We don't get the whole god-concept, but you'd figure that if there is such a higher being, he/she/it would be able to take care of these things him/her/itself. Apparently not.
       At The Washington Institute Mehdi Khalaji also looks at Tehranís Renewed War on Culture, noting:
Book publishing. The process of issuing permission to publish books of literature and the human sciences has practically ground to a halt. All books, even Qurans, must receive official permission for publication from the culture ministry. Writers and publishers say that the censorship regulations have become stricter since Harandi took over the ministry. The young writer Hossein Sanapoor, for example, opted not to publish his planned book of short stories because censors asked him to eliminate four stories that, taken together, represented the majority of the book.
       Very disappointing.

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       FT&GSBBotY Award

       We mentioned it previously, so we feel obligated to inform you that the winner of the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award has been announced. (Also: no one else seems to give a shit -- even the Goldman Sachs page doesn't mention it ...... Come to think of it, neither do we; damn that sense of obligation.)
       Anyway, a book called The World is Flat by Thomas Friedman took the prize -- though we note that it is a distant fourth in the reader-poll (or was, last we checked).
       But the Andrew Hill piece does have the authors of the shortlisted titles list "their own favourite business books".
       Also: Hill states:
One test of whether the panel has chosen well will be whether managers adopt the winning title as a useful guide to doing business in the modern world and whether it endures to become one of the great business books of the early 21st century.
       We're not holding our breaths -- but we do hope they follow up in a couple of years and check whether the book has passed the test .....

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       The Sea review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of John Banville's Man Booker Prize-winning novel, The Sea.
       Supposedly a surprise choice -- and one that elicited some very heated reactions (notably from Boyd Tonkin, who called it: "the worst, certainly the most perverse, and perhaps the most indefensible choice in the 36-year history of the contest") -- we were a bit surprised to note how many rave reviews it had received. In fact, so far, critical opinion is fairly evenly split on it -- though it tends towards the extremes: critics really loved or really hated it.
       We like Banville -- and we were impressed by the book -- but we did lose considerable respect for him after reading his stupid comments in Sarah Lyall's 2 November profile in The New York Times:
     "Frankly, I am gratified to see myself vilified, and the jury being vilified," he said happily over lunch recently. "It cheers me up. I must have done something right to annoy so many people."
       It's pathetic to find validation in being put down (or having one's work put down) by others, much less to take pride in that (or be gratified). His logic is faulty: true crap also annoys many people, and its creators don't have to do anything right to accomplish that. (Or is this the line Dean Koontz, Danielle Steel, James Patterson, Dan Brown, and their ilk use ?)
       Still, it's interesting to note that the bad reviews seem to have drowned out the very many good ones, at least in public discourse. (Of course, it sounds like Banville is playing up the part of being the victim too.)
       (We're reminded again: the less that is heard from authors, the better. Let the work speak for itself, eh ?)

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21 November 2005 - Monday

Welt-Literaturpreis for Yasmina Reza | NYTBR notes | A Perfect Pledge review

       Welt-Literaturpreis for Yasmina Reza

       Yasmina Reza picked up the 'WELT-Literaturpreis 2005' last week, and there's now a decent amount of (German) information up from and about the event, including (all at Die Welt):        It's a pretty decent prize, with an unusual winners' list (last year Amos Oz took it, and recent winners include Bernhard Schlink, Kertész Imre, Pat Barker, Leon de Winter, and ... Jeffrey Eugenides).

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       NYTBR notes

       Regular visitors will know we frequently complain about the extremely limited coverage of books originally written in foreign languages at The New York Times Book Review, but for once, with the 20 November issue, we can't complain -- too much.
       Really: some credit is due -- at least as far as the foreign language coverage goes we only have some quibbles, and for the most part are quite impressed.
       After weeks in which the token foreign language title they deigned to review in the NYTBR (aside from some very short crime-title coverage) was almost inevitably by a major prize winner -- books by Nobel laureates Canetti and García Márquez and Man Booker International winner Kadare -- there's actually a bit more variety and reach.
       Amazingly, there's even a non-fiction title originally written in a foreign language (so was Canetti's Party in the Blitz, which they reviewed a few weeks back, but this isn't even by a Nobel laureate). But what counts are the fiction titles: two covered in the 'Fiction Chronicle' (i.e. mini-reviews; The Elagin Affair by Ivan Bunin and The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers) and two full- (though not entire-) page reviews (The Sing-Song Girls of Shanghai by Han Banqing and Cosmos by Witold Gombrowicz). Which is like more than they usually cover in a month's worth of issues.
       The main objection is that three of the four fiction titles covered are by dead people -- the very conservative Tanenhaus apparently finding it hard shake his distrust of contemporary foreign language fiction, and choosing to save face by falling back on what's stood some test of time (he's shown a predilection for dead folks' works over contemporary stuff -- at least as far as foreign language literature goes -- previously).
       (There's also -- admirably -- a Jonathan Lethem essay on Italo Calvino on the last page of the NYTBR, but he's yet another dead author .....)

       More problematic in the NYTBR is the continuing non-fiction favouritism. We've been meaning to mention this the past few weeks, and by now it's looking really bad. Consider:
  • 6 November: 5 full-length fiction reviews (plus 4 in a Crime-round-uo) versus 17 (!) full-length non-fiction reviews
  • 13 November: 4 full-length fiction reviews, 1 full-length poetry review (of sorts), versus 9 full-length non-fiction reviews and one 2-book non-fiction reviews (plus 5 in a 'Nonfiction Chronicle')
  • 20 November: 4 full-length fiction reviews (plus 5 in a 'Fiction Chronicle'), 1 full-length comic book review, 1 full-length poetry review versus 12 full-length non-fiction reviews (plus 6 in a 'Nonfiction Chronicle') -- as well as one review that covers 2 non-fiction titles and 1 poetry title
       So the ratio of all fiction titles covered to all non-fiction titles covered is:
  • 6 November: 9 fiction / 17 non-fiction
  • 13 November: 4 fiction / 16 non-fiction
  • 20 November: 9 fiction / 20 non-fiction
       And the ratio regarding full-length reviews is considerably worse. But in any case: this is ridiculous.

       And it doesn't end there: fiction appears to be getting literally pushed to the back. In the 20 November issue there are thirteen (13 !) reviews before one hits the first fiction review (on page 21). The 6 November issue isn't quite so bad -- four reviews before one hits a fiction review (García Márquez). And the 13 November issue almost looks good -- the first review one comes across is of a fiction title -- but it's Barbara Boxer's (and Mary-Rose Hayes') thing, which it would be embarrassing to call a book in the first place (and seems to serve Tanenhaus' purpose of demonstrating that fiction isn't worth his or your while ideally well -- hence the prominent placement).

       Anyway, we are very pleased to see the more extensive foreign language coverage, and we hope it marks a permanent shift, not a bone tossed to the (we hope) thousands of you who have been barraging the NYTBR with complaints about how they've been neglecting foreign language literature.
       But we do hope Tanenhaus gets over his non-fiction fetish; it's a waste of good space that could be put to far better use covering fiction.

       Note: we were amused to see that Walter Moers' somewhat unlikely (and massive) The 13½ Lives of Captain Bluebear was being published in the US -- but a closer look shows that it already came out in the UK way back in 2000 !

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       A Perfect Pledge review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Rabindranath Maharaj's A Perfect Pledge. -- a book that every reviewer feels compelled to compare to V.S.Naipaul's A House for Mr. Biswas.

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