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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 February 2006

1 February: Coetzee on translation | French reactions to BHL's American Vertigo | Index book
2 February: Another publisher weblog | TLS piece on Pamuk | Bilingual literature | Delibes review
3 February: Memoir/fiction/alternative | Handke interview | Forthcoming NYRB | Spacebloom review
4 February: Impressive lists | Limited publishing ? | Selecting covers | German-Arabic publishing discussions | The Promise of Happiness review
5 February: Words without Borders - Mexico | My Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother, Guard Your Eyes review
6 February: The King Never Smiles -- but he does block websites | Erotic avalanche ? | Anti-canon warning | NYTBR notes | The Attack review
7 February: CWP regional winners | Lagardère/Time Warner Book Group | More on Mahfouz and the censors
8 February: Without Title by Geoffrey Hill | Latin American literature update | Asian/African literary conference | The Book of Trouble review
9 February: 50 French books ... | Fiction hot in Shanghai ? | One city, one book - Vienna
10 February: Mahfouz's Children of the Alley, cont'd | Vote for Oddest Title | Devalued reviews | Murakami in Russia | Eagleton on Irwin | Borkmann's Point review

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10 February 2006 - Friday

Mahfouz's Children of the Alley, cont'd | Vote for Oddest Title | Devalued reviews
Murakami in Russia | Eagleton on Irwin | Borkmann's Point review

       Mahfouz's Children of the Alley, cont'd

       We've mentioned the fuss about the Al-Azhar-approved publication of Naguib Mahfouz's Children of the Alley (and specifically what asking for and getting such approval means) several times (most recently here).
       In this week's Al-Ahram Weekly several more pieces address the subject:

       - In A question of ethics Sayed El-Bahrawi argues why the book should be published in Egypt

       - In The fetters of faith Gamal Nkrumah looks at the whole controversy, wondering:
What is the Egyptian literary establishment coming to ? The controversy surrounding the publication of the nonagenarian Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz's novel Awlad Haritna has opened up a can of worms with intellectuals, writers, critics and politicians using the altercation for their own ends.
       Among the interesting quotes:
"I am against the sanctioning of any literary work by Al-Azhar. It is a dangerous precedent," warns novelist Gamal El-Ghitani. "I am also against the introduction by Ahmed Kamal Abul-Magd. I have nothing against him personally -- he is, after all, a widely-respected personality and scholar. What I am against is that a novelist of the stature of Naguib Mahfouz would only have his work published when it is sanctioned with an introduction by a religiously-commended Islamic scholar like Abul-Magd. That is a very dangerous precedent and I have expressed my opinion frankly to Naguib Mahfouz. I also understand his position and point of view."
       Usefully, then, they also offer extracts from said Ahmed Kamal Abul-Magd's introduction.

       Meanwhile, note also that Middle East Online reports that Naguib Mahfouz backs boycott over cartoons, writing that:
Egyptian writer and Nobel literature prize laureate Naguib Mahfouz has said a boycott of Danish products over caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed was "the only option" for Muslims to retaliate.

"A boycott may not be the best means of addressing what happened but under the circumstances it's the only option we have. The world only understands the language of force," he told the English-language Al-Ahram Weekly.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Vote for Oddest Title

       The finalists for the always entertaining The Bookseller's Diagram Prize for Oddest Title of the Year have been chosen, and you can vote for the winner: see Horace Bent's piece on the prize (and vote there).
       A nice selection -- and Bent also mentions a few titles that didn't make the cut, including Circumcisions By Appointment: A View of Life in and Around Manchester in the Eighteenth Century.
       The winner will be announced 3 March.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Devalued reviews

       In The Bookseller Damian Horner wonders whether publishers have been (self-)Sentenced to death ?, noting that:
The supreme irony of the publishing industry is that it is killing itself with words. The words that are used to describe every new book that comes onto the market.
       He notes:
Rave press reviews and gushing quotes adorn every single book sold. Yet the simple fact of the matter is that they can't all be great books. It should come as no surprise therefore that years of uncensored and thoughtless use have resulted in the language of press reviews being fundamentally devalued:
       It'll be interesting to see the extent to which literary weblogs and the like, with their generally very personal approaches, become seen as reliable arbiters (at least for their small (but growing) circles of readers). (Though we're always amazed that there are some titles we rip to shreds in our reviews, with barely a single good thing to say about them, and yet people still click-through to and purchase them .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Murakami in Russia

       In his Salon-column in The Moscow Times this week Victor Sonkin looks at the popularity of Murakami Haruki (and the appeal of Japanese/exotic-strange foreign literature) in Russia.
       Among the interesting points: that he's a relatively new discovery there -- and he wasn't discovered in print:
The change happened almost overnight, when in the late 1990s Dmitry Kovalenin published online his translation of A Wild Sheep Chase by Haruki Murakami.
       But how strong the hold is isn't yet clear:
However, it seems that the Russian infatuation with Japan is declining. Murakami remains a bestselling author, and Kovalenin has even published a book about him, Sushi Noir, which is selling pretty well. But the reading public has reached saturation point. "When I suggest reviewing a new Murakami for a glossy magazine, I get the reaction 'For crying out loud !'" the book reviewer Ksenia Rozhdestvenskaya said recently.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Eagleton on Irwin

       In the New Statesman Terry Eagleton reviews Robert Irwin's For Lust of Knowing: the orientalists and their enemies (get your copy at, describing it as a "book-length response to that flawed classic", Edward Said's Orientalism.
       Good fun -- and he makes the book sound fairly interesting too:
Irwin comes across as a genial, rather unworldly, upper-class English scholar, struggling to preserve his public-school values of fairness and decency in the face of what he sees as Said's barbarous slur on oriental studies.
       And we like the parenthetical aside:
(It was, one imagines, the idea of a smack at Said that attracted a mass-market publisher such as Penguin to this book, rather than the Cook's tour of obscure German philologists it has been landed with.)
       For a tour of obscure German philologists it seems to be selling pretty well for the moment .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Borkmann's Point review

       The flood of Scandinavian mysteries getting translated into English continues apace, and the next new name on the block is: Swede Håkan Nesser with his Inspector Van Veeteren mysteries. Borkmann's Point (from 1994 ... !) is not the first in the series, but the first to get translated -- and the most recent addition to the complete review is our review.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

9 February 2006 - Thursday

50 French books ... | Fiction hot in Shanghai ? | One city, one book - Vienna

       50 French books ...

       It's an impressive ambition: as French Book News explains:
The French Cultural Services and PEN American Center are inaugurating an ambitious new program of support for translations from French into English. The goal over the next three years is to create a series of fifty books, published in the United States, that will represent the very best of contemporary French writing in a number of fields.
       Fifty titles -- each supported by a grant of $6,000. Will that be enough to entice American publishers ?
       Impressive too that they're only considering titles first published in 2000 or later: 21st century French literature. Given that some books by the top names (Houellebecq and a handful of others) have already been translated, what does that leave ? (Sure, a lot -- but how much that's of real interest to American publishers ?)
       Anyway, you have until 15 February to apply for support. We hope they publish the list of titles that are submitted for consideration -- and we wonder whether there will even be fifty submissions.
       (See also Raphaëlle Rérolle's recent mention in Le livre français veut traverser l'Atlantique in Le Monde.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Fiction hot in Shanghai ?

       Not a very informative piece, but we like to hear about fictional success, so we'll mention that Xinhuanet report: Fictions most popular in Shanghai.
In 2005, fictions were most popular with Shanghai readers, while sales declined for Who Moved My Cheese type of parables, self-help guides and books on economics, finance and computer, the People's Daily reported Wednesday, quoting results of the survey conducted by the Shanghai Institute for Book Industry Development.
       Sounds like good news to us. But how is James Frey's book doing ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       One city, one book - Vienna

       For the fourth time Vienna is doing the Eine Stadt. Ein Buch.-thing (though we don't know why they skipped it in 2005). The book they've chosen is John Irving's Setting Free the Bears -- as fans will recall, Irving's early fiction was Austria-heavy, so it's not that far-fetched a choice. But somehow we don't think it's a coincidence that Irving's Bis ich dich finde just came out in German (clocking in at a phenomenal 1139 pages -- no fear of the thousand-page barrier among publishers there !).
       Impressively, however, they have certainly made an effort to rope readers into the 'One city, one book' activities -- by promising to give out 100,000 free copies of Setting Free the Bears. And they're handing them out everywhere -- including, in a nice touch, most of the major cafés.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

8 February 2006 - Wednesday

Without Title by Geoffrey Hill | Latin American literature update
Asian/African literary conference | The Book of Trouble review

       Without Title by Geoffrey Hill

       So a couple of years back, all the Geoffrey Hill titles were coming out in the US before they came out in the UK. He continues to spit them out at the rate of about a book a year, but it's not a US-first situation any longer: Scenes from Comus still hasn't shown up stateside, and now there's already a new collection out, Without Title (get your copy from (We were going to wait it out, but we don't think we can manage, and will go a'begging from UK publisher Penguin for a peek.)
       The reviews have been favourable and enthusiastic -- see:
  • Tim Martin's in the Independent on Sunday (though he worryingly does warn: "the poetry pays dividends that warrant the study; except, perhaps, in the case of the poem about Jimi Hendrix". Jimi Hendrix ?!??)
  • Nicholas Lezard's in The Guardian
  • Robert Potts' in The Observer
       And you can hear him read at Manchester Metropolitan University 16 February.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Latin American literature update

       In Boom town in The Telegraph Maya Jaggi offers a decent look at parts of the current Latin American literary scene.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Asian/African literary conference

       Starting 14 February they're holding an African-Asian literary conference in India, "Continents of Creation: Legacy, Identity, and Assertion" Sounds fairly interesting -- see reports by Ami Dalal (Literary conference in Delhi from Feb 14) and in The Asian Age (Asian & African writers to celebrate spirit of Bandung).
       One way to guarantee a let-down, however, is to begin a report like they do in 'Africa Asia Literary Conference' from February 14:
Three Nobel laureates from Africa -- Ben Okri, J M Coetzee and Chinua Achabe -- will not be there to lend a voice to people threatened with prospects of loss of identity and culture in a globalised world.
       And hundreds of Nobel laureates from elsewhere won't be there either. Too bad that of this particular African trio only Coetzee actually won the prize.
       Too bad, too, that they don't know how to spell Achebe's name, which might have something to do with his not coming -- though they have a different explanation:
"We had invited Mr Okri, Mr Coetzee and Mr Achabe for the meet, but due to pressing engagements they won't be able to make it," said Pavan Kumar Varma Chairman Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) under whose auspices the prestigious three-day literary conclave is to be held.
       Since we think the value of big-name presences is vastly overrated, we think it still holds some potential.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Book of Trouble review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Ann Marlowe's The Book of Trouble.
       This memoir is an early test-case of the Frey-fallout: it comes with a number of blurbs on the back cover, and the top-most one is by the master false-memoirist James Frey himself -- about as close to a kiss of death as a book can get nowadays. (Consumers hopefully don't have much faith in blurbs anyway, but surely this will lead quite a few of them to think twice about buying this thing.)
       The blurb was even featured in the 'Praise'-section of the Harcourt publicity page, but -- no surprise -- all traces of it have been removed (and we bet that if it makes it to a second printing that back cover will look different too). ((Updated): Gutsy move -- the blurb is back !)
       We were actually not aware of the Frey-endorsement when we tackled the book (the copy that fell into our hands is a blurb-less galley), and we wonder whether it would have changed our minds about bothering with it. Probably not: we don't pay much attention to blurbs anyway, and since we reviewed her previous work Marlowe had an inside track to getting reviewed (though we wouldn't have gone out of our way to cover it and, for example, didn't request a review copy from the publisher). But if this were an author we were not familiar with the Frey-praise might well have been enough to put us off it.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

7 February 2006 - Tuesday

CWP regional winners | Lagardère/Time Warner Book Group
More on Mahfouz and the censors

       CWP regional winners

       In very disorganised fashion, the four regional sections of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize have announced their winners (Best Book and Best First Book for each region) . Actually, two regions -- Caribbean/Canada and South East Asia/South Pacific -- let their winners slip out more than a week before yesterday's official deadline; see the official information pages here and here.
       Now there are several media reports about the Eurasia region winners -- primarily because Zadie Smith's On Beauty took the best book award (Lazy Eye by Donna Daley-Clarke was best first book). See, for example, Smith's On Beauty wins book award at the BBC.
       The Africa section hasn't done at all well in garnering attention -- though mention of those regional winners (The Sun By Night by Benjamin Kwakye for best book, Tropical Fish by Doreen Baingana for best first book) can be found in some of the Zadie-focussed reports -- see, for example, here.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Lagardère/Time Warner Book Group

       As widely reported, French conglomerate Lagardère -- who already own Hodder Headline, as well as Hachette Livre -- have bought up the Time Warner Book Group; see the official press release.
       Another European takeover of a big chunk of American publishing .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More on Mahfouz and the censors

       As we've mentioned, Naguib Mahfouz has apparently decided to seek official approval from the Egyptian censor, Al-Azhar, to allow his classic novel, Children of the Alley, to be published in Egypt (see also MoorishGirl's recent mention).
       Now Noha El-Hennawy writes more extensively about the whole affair in Egypt Today, in Publish and Perish ?.
       Anong the disturbing aspects: that some really believe in Al-Azhar's authority:
Abouel Hassan dismisses accusations that Al-Azhar impedes literary creativity.

"Why would [critics] bring accusations only against us and not against those who verify books for political and security reasons ?" wonders Abouel Hassan. "This is not a form of guardianship, but a right granted to specialists in order to monitor and regulate what circulates on the streets."

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

6 February 2006 - Monday

The King Never Smiles -- but he does block websites | Erotic avalanche ?
Anti-canon warning | NYTBR notes | The Attack review

       The King Never Smiles -- but he does block websites

       As Scott Jaschik reports in The King and Yale University Press at Inside Higher Ed (link first seen at Pathologically Polymathic; see also comment at Light Reading), the Thai government has blocked the Yale University Press website because of a book they're bringing out, Paul M. Handley's biography of Thailand's Bhumibol Adulyadej, The King Never Smiles (see their publicity page):
In Thailand, the assistant minister of information and communication technology, Kanawat Wasinsangworn, confirmed for the Associated Press that the Yale Press Web site had been blocked "following a request from the Royal Police Bureau, which deems the book is insulting to the king."
       It seems a slight over-reaction, to say the least -- especially since:
John Kulka, senior editor at the press, said that the Thai government had not contacted Yale about the biography and that he did not think it was possible that anyone in the Thai government could have seen a draft of the book.
       But unfortunately:
Kulka said Yale did not have any plans to try to get the Thais to change their minds. "Thailand has its own laws," he said. "Who is Yale University Press to dictate to the Thai government ? We’re about publishing books."
       It's not so much a question of 'dictating' to them -- but when people (or governments) do stupid things it seems well worthwhile to make them aware that they may have misjudged, overreacted, etc.
       There's an 'Official statement' from YUP on the publicity page -- and they repeat the same thing at their Yale Press Log. Unfortunately, so far that's all they offer at the weblog -- when this would be an ideal forum to air this very interesting case out. We hope it was just the weekend that kept them from commenting and debating the issue at greater length !

       Anyway, it should do wonders for sales of the book ....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Erotic avalanche ?

       In Highbrow Erotica: How porn got posh in The Independent Jonathan Brown promises:
The publishing world is poised to unleash an avalanche of torrid yet unstintingly highbrow erotica on the reading public this year as booksellers seek to exploit the growing demand for "posh filth".
       Unfortunately, his (or their) definition of 'highbrow' is gutter-level: he claims 'Melissa P.''s embarrassing 100 Strokes of the Brush Before Bed:
Has become part of the "Europorn" canon of works.
       Too bad -- we'd enjoy an avalanche of good erotica.

       The article also offers this depressing observation:
Rowan Pelling, former editor of the Erotic Review, fears the taste for fiction is in danger of being surpassed by the public's fascination with real people and real lives.
       We're just hoping that the Frey-fiasco has helped people realise that 'real'-people-accounts are, often as not, dubious if not outright worthless -- and that they'll stick with the good stuff -- i.e. fiction -- after all.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Anti-canon warning

       Last week we mentioned that some British authors had made some suggestions about what all school-children should have read by graduation. In Why I'm one of the great unread in The Times Carol Sarler says she's not convinced, admitting that her forced school reading has put her off books entirely.
       She notes that:
As admissions go, it’s up there with letting slip that you bathe but once a year -- or so it seems to judge by the reaction I get when I say that I don’t read books. Zip. Zilch. Zero. No Dickens, Austen, Joyce, James, Eliot, Defoe; no non-fiction and certainly no biography. Not one, ever.
       We have no problem with the "no non-fiction and certainly no biography" (indeed, we wholeheartedly endorse the policy) -- but doing without fiction ... ?
       Still, she has something approaching a point when she argues:
Still, if we are to give Mr Motion the benefit of all doubt and believe that he honestly seeks and finds pleasure in, say, James Joyce, then I shall say this: if you want fewer adults such as me, not reading books at all, you need fewer adults like him, stuffing them up the noses of children.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       NYTBR notes

       Not the usual complaint, though the 5 February issue of The New York Times Book Review isn't a great showing in either the translated or fiction department (two works originally not written in English are covered, but only in mini-review form, one in the ridiculous 'Nonfiction Chronicle', the other in the 'Crime'-round-up, while full-length non-fiction reviews outnumber full-length fiction reviews 8 to 5 ...).
       No, what's striking about this issue is that a lot of the full-length reviews are written by women (nine, as opposed to only four written by men -- and both the 'Crime'-round-up and the ridiculous 'Nonfiction Chronicle' are by women). Not only that, but a lot of the (full-length-)reviewed books are written by women: seven -- with an eighth edited by a woman.
       Sounds good, right ?
       It does ... except that, guess what:
       The four fiction titles by women (which include the titles: The Last of her Kind and Good Women) are reviewed by women, while the Stephen King book gets a man's treatment.
       The non-fiction titles ? Sex and the Seasoned Woman, Sandra Day O'Connor, a book subtitled 'A Memoir of a Divine Girlhood', and the female-edited I Married my Mother-in-Law all get the female treatment -- while male-authored books such as State of War: The Secret History of the CIA and the Bush Administration and the Martin Luther King jr. biography are left to male reviewers (as is an astrology book).
       The only apparent cross-over title is Stephen Breyer's Active Liberty: Interpreting our Democratic Constitution, which Sam Tanenhaus let Kathleen Sullivan review -- but we're pretty sure Sam considers Breyer a girlie-man, so that hardly breaks the pattern.
       What the hell is going on here ?
       Isn't this as problematic an approach -- clearly divvying up the books along these sexist lines -- as not giving enough women reviewers space (or books by women their due) ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Attack review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Yasmina Khadra's The Attack.
       This book made the long- and shortlists of several of the big French literary prizes last year, and is being brought out in English admirably quickly (it's due out later this spring). The subject matter -- suicide-bombing in Israel -- should help it attract some attention even hereabouts (and we're curious what they think about it in Israel).

       (It's coming out under the Nan A. Talese imprint at Doubleday, and we wonder how the prominent display of that Frey-tarred name will impact sales. Readers usually don't seem to care much about who publishes a book, and many publishers have been guilty of considerably worse crimes against their customers in recent years, but this is one disgraced name that readers might remember for a while, and it's hard to imagine they won't think twice about paying good money for any book with this particular label attached. It shouldn't matter in this particular case -- The Attack is fiction, after all -- but it'll be interesting to see whether there's any wider fallout across the Talese-line. (We don't believe much in this whole idea of publishers as reliable and trustworthy gatekeepers in any case (with a very few exceptions); we suspect most readers don't really either, but the whole Frey-mess certainly has done great harm to whatever 'reputation' the big players supposedly had until now.))

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

5 February 2006 - Sunday

Words without Borders - Mexico
My Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother, Guard Your Eyes review

       Words without Borders - Mexico

       The February issue of Words without Borders is now available, with a focus on Mexico. Francisco Goldman was the guest editor.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       My Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother, Guard Your Eyes review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of the forthcoming anthology of Uncensored Iranian Voices, My Sister, Guard Your Veil; My Brother, Guard Your Eyes.
       A solid list of contributors, including Azar Nafisi, Marjane Satrapi, Reza Aslan, Abbas Kiarostami, and Shirin Neshat.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

4 February 2006 - Saturday

Impressive lists | Limited publishing ? | Selecting covers
German-Arabic publishing discussions | The Promise of Happiness review

       Impressive lists

       Michael Moorcock begins his review of Zoran Živković's Hidden Camera with the observation:
It's conventional to mourn the dearth of good idiosyncratic publishers, but smaller presses are still turning out excellent work. In England these include Savoy Books, Menard Press, Persephone Books and PS Publishing, while Dalkey Archive, based in the US but publishing internationally, has one of the most impressive lists in the world, including Celine, Fuentes, Henry Green, Harry Mathews, Queneau, Gertrude Stein, Boris Vian and now Zoran Zivkovic.
       An interesting (and telling ?) selection from Dalkey's indeed impressive list -- but, hey, anything that gives them their due and points readers in their direction. But those British presses are probably also worth looking into .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Limited publishing ?

       So Jeanette Winterson has an interesting suggestion in her column in The Times: 'Let's stop publishing books that don't really need to be books'.
       She boldly states:
So here is my prediction. Books will go back to being art objects
       Certainly, some of her ideas seem spot on:
First, we stop publishing books that needn’t be books. People who don’t really read don’t really need books -- so let them have Jordan and Becks in lots of other ways. Audio, animated-audio, that is, audio with pictures -- is just about right for most celebrity publications
       And it's hard not to agree that:
Academic papers could also easily be stored as digital downloads. Most PhD theses will never be read, and that is probably no loss.
       (Though we'd like to argue: if a PhD thesis isn't going to be read, its author probably doesn't deserve the degree that goes with it .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Selecting covers

       The always worthwhile Iain Sinclair writes about helping to select images for covers for four Penguin titles in The Guardian in Cover stories. (See also the pictures.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       German-Arabic publishing discussions

       In Gaps to be bridged in Al-Ahram Weekly Rania Khallaf talks with two German publishers about the difficulties of bringing Arabic literature to a foreign audience.
       Meanwhile in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung Mona Naggar gives a German impression of the Cairo International Book Fair, in Viel Fussball und keine Zensur (link likely only very short-lived).
       Some intresting (and harsh) observations, including:
Und der Versuch der ägyptischen Kulturbeamten, der Buchmesse dieses Jahr einen Anschein von Professionalität zu geben, indem sie die ersten Tage für das Fachpublikum reservierten, erwies sich als Flop. Es gibt kein arabisches Fachpublikum. Der Handel mit Lizenzen ist unbedeutend. Raubdrucke und Raubübersetzungen sind an der Tagesordnung. Deutsche Verlage haben auch weniger denn je Interesse, übersetzte arabische Literatur herauszugeben. Moderne arabische Literatur ist im deutschsprachigen Raum zum Ladenhüter geworden.

(And the attempt of the Egyptian cultural authorities to give a professional flavour to the fair by reserving the first day for industry professional proved to be a flop. There are no Arabic industry professionals. Trade in foreign licenses is negligible. Pirated editions and pirated translations are the norm. And German publishers have less interest than ever in presenting translated Arabic literature. Contemporary Arabic literature has proved to be dea stock in the German-speaking area.)
       Also interesting:
Ägyptische Schriftsteller und Journalisten kritisierten in Diskussionsrunden und gegenüber der nach Kairo angereisten Präsidentin des Goethe-Instituts, Jutta Limbach, den mangelnden Einsatz deutscher Institutionen für die arabische Literatur. Vergessen schienen die grossen Versprechungen der Arabischen Liga aus dem Jahr 2004, Übersetzungen aus dem Arabischen zu fördern. Und es scheint sich unter arabischen Intellektuellen und Institutionen noch immer nicht die Einsicht durchgesetzt zu haben, dass sie sich in erster Linie selbst für ihre Kultur im Ausland einsetzen sollten.

(In discussions and in personal conversations Egyptian authors and journalists criticised the president of the Goethe-Instituts who had travelled to Cairo, Jutta Limbach, for the inadequate initiative of German institutions on behalf of Arabic literature. They appear to have forgotten the Arab League's empty promises of 2004 to subsidise translations from the Arabic. And Arabic intellectuals and institutions don't seem to have yet grasped that the primary initiative to present their culture abroad has to come from them.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Promise of Happiness review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Justin Cartwright's The Promise of Happiness.
       Like the reviewer for The New York Times Book Review, we hope that this book helps the deserving Cartwright conquer the American market -- though we can't help but think that the reason he hasn't had much success there is because America is the one thing he just can't seem to do well (despite supposedly having been raised, at least in part, there -- and trying oh so hard).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

3 February 2006 - Friday

Memoir/fiction/alternative | Handke interview | Forthcoming NYRB | Spacebloom review


       The debate about veracity in memoirs, etc. etc. is going on all over now, thanks to all the fuss about the ridiculous James Frey book.
       As we've mentioned, another interesting example recently hit American and British bookstores: Ruben Gallego's Soviet childhood-account, White on Black. It won the Russian Open Booker award -- a fiction prize -- but is pretty clearly being marketed as a memoir in the US. (Interestingly, there's been far less American review-coverage to date than we expected -- we wonder whether the Frey fray has put book review editors off this sort of title .....)
       In his review of the book in this week's issue of the New Statesman Edward Skidelsky offers one way to look at it:
White on Black belongs to a distinctively Russian genre, with no exact equivalent in the west. It is not reportage, but neither is it fiction. Perhaps the best word for it would be "witness". It is divided up into a series of short stories, each recounting a single incident. These stories make no claim to historical truth. Their target is essential truth -- pravda. They are icons of suffering and resilience, cruelty and kindness. This has nothing to do with "literature" in the western sense, with its omnivorous curiosity and surface polish, but it has a beauty of its own.
       (Don't let Frey know, or soon he'll be spouting off about his attempts to present "essential truth -- pravda" .....)
       Skidelsky also notes:
A book like this could never have been written by a product of the English care system. Gallego is hard and angry, but mercifully free of "issues".

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       Handke interview

       In Ich komme aus dem Traum in Die Zeit Ulrich Greiner interviews Peter Handke at considerable length -- good stuff.
       Just a few of the interesting bits:
ZEIT: Lesen Sie gegenwärtige Autoren ?
Handke: Ich lese gerne und bin neugierig. Ich bin zutraulich wie ein Tier, das zum Futtertrog geht, ich freue mich, wenn ich Joseph Zoderer lese oder Ralf Rothmann oder Walter Kappacher oder Florian Lipus. Das sind wertvolle Sachen. Wertvoll ist ein dummer Ausdruck, ich weiß, aber immer noch besser als das, was ihr Kritiker immer sagt, "wunderbar" oder "großartig". Solche Wörter müsste man euch verbieten.

(ZEIT: Do you read contemporary authors ?
Handke: I like to read and I'm curious. I'm trusting like an animal going to the trough, I'm delighted when I read Joseph Zoderer or Ralf Rothmann or Walter Kappacher or Florian Lipus. Those are valuable things. I know, 'valuable' is a stupid expression, but still better than what you critics always say, "wonderful" or "splendid". You shouldn't be allowed to use such words.)
       How many works by the authors he names are readily accessible in English ? (Of course, how much Handke is still readily accessible ... ?)
ZEIT: Sie haben viele Autoren entdeckt oder wiederentdeckt, Emmanuel Bove oder Hermann Lenz zum Beispiel.
Handke: Ja, das hatte eine große Wirkung, aber wenn ich heute einen solchen Autor in der SZ oder der ZEIT vorstellen würde, hätte das fast keine Wirkung mehr.
ZEIT: Warum ?
Handke: Die Aufmerksamkeit ist erschöpft. Die Hinweise auf vergessene Autoren, die Wiederentdeckungen sind Mode, und der Nutzen wird immer geringer. Auch habe ich nicht mehr die Stimme wie früher.

(ZEIT: You were responsible for discovering or re-discovering lots of authors, Emmanuel Bove or Hermann Lenz, for example.
Handke: Yes, that had a great effect, but if I presented such an author in the SZ or the ZEIT now, it would have almost no effect any more.
ZEIT: Why ?
Handke: Attention has been exhausted. Referring to forgotten authors, re-discovering them has become fashionable, and the utility becomes ever less. And I don't have the same voice I used to.)
       And also:
ZEIT: Korrigieren Sie viel ?
Handke: Sehr viel. Ich schreibe seit fünfzehn Jahren mit Bleistift -- außer die Theaterstücke, die ich mit der Maschine tippe. Wenn gesprochen wird, dann muss irgendetwas knallen. Die Prosa schreibe ich mit Bleistift, und da radiere ich viel. Die Gefahr, mit Bleistift zu schreiben, besteht darin, dass man in der Stille des Schreibens vergisst abzusetzen, also Absätze zu machen. Sie hinterher einzufügen ist nicht gut. [...} Es spielt auch eine Rolle, dass ich die beiden letzten dicken Bücher, Die Niemandsbucht und den Bildverlust, oftmals im Freien geschrieben habe. Im Freien haben sich mir immer wieder neue Räume gezeigt, die ich nur antupfen musste.

(ZEIT: Do you make a lot of corrections ?
Handke: A great deal. For the past fifteen years I've written in pencil -- except the plays, those I write on a typewriter. When there's speech, something has to bang. Prose I write in pencil, and there I erase a lot. The danger of writing in pencil is that one forgets to make breaks in the silence of writing, i.e. to make paragraphs. Putting them in afterwards isn't good. [...} It also plays a role that I often wrote the past two fat books, Die Niemandsbucht und den Bildverlust, out in the open. Outside new spaces constantly showed themselves to me, that I only had to dab.)

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       Forthcoming NYRB

       Good stuff in the 23 February issue of The New York Review of Books, including J.M.Coetzee reviewing Gabriel García Márquez's Memories of My Melancholy Whores (possibly eventually available here) and John Banville on Philip Larkin (possibly eventually available here)

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       Spacebloom review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of A Field Guide to Cosmic Xflora, Spacebloom.
       Definitely different -- but worth a look.

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2 February 2006 - Thursday

Another publisher weblog | TLS piece on Pamuk
Bilingual literature | Delibes review

       Another publisher weblog

       They keep sprouting, and the list keeps getting longer: the latest to jump on the literary weblog bandwagon is the University of Chicago Press, with The Chicago Blog, offering:
Publicity news from the University of Chicago Press including news tips, press releases, reviews, and intelligent commentary.
       As a bonus they also have a subsidiary weblog, the horribly titled Distributed Presses weblog, where they provide information from and about the many smaller presses whose books they distribute (which actually has the potential of being the more interesting weblog ...).

       We're pleased to see that the trend (towards publishers setting up weblogs) continues -- and are a bit surprised that a lot more haven't yet tried their hand at it.

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       TLS piece on Pamuk

       In the Times Literary Supplement Can V. Yeginsu writes on The trials of Orhan Pamuk and Turkey (link likely only short-lived), offering a pretty good overview of what happened and the situation Turkey finds itself in.
       Among the points made:
Pamuk should be tried as an ordinary Turkish citizen, before an ordinary Turkish Court, under ordinary Turkish laws. He was not. Instead, he was acquitted on a legal technicality at the discretion of a Government minister, bowing to international and domestic pressure. Turkey followed Rushdie’s reasoning and earned itself a Pyrrhic victory. Pamuk should have been kept waiting, subject to the law’s delay, subject to the rule of law.
       Yeginsu also notes that, while: "Calls to repeal Article 301, under which Pamuk could have been charged, seem sensible [...] Disposing of a shoddily drafted law is not a complete solution to a repressive penal code."

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       Bilingual literature

       In surprisingly monoglot America it's hard enough to get people to consider reading translated literature -- so what about books written and published in two languages ?
       One such book we've been meaning to get to for ages has gotten a couple of weblog mentions recently: Birgit Kempker and Robert Kelly's collaborative text, Scham / Shame. Written per e-mail, back and forth (the authors neither saw each other nor spoke during the nearly three years they put the text together), it is in both German and English. For the most part Kempker writes in German and Kelly in English, but they also switch languages, at least for short bits. More interestingly, the whole text is doubled, each original also translated -- Kempker translating Kelly's English into German, Kelly translating Kempker's German into English.
       Silliman's Blog (scroll down a bit) and This Space have tackled more of it than we have. It has also been twice-published, once by Urs Engeler (see their publicity page) and once by McPherson & Co. (see their publicity page). (The McPherson edition is apparently available, but it's not listed at any of the Amazons; the Engeler-edition (with the much less scary cover) is available from
       It's an interesting idea, because the text is meant to be in two languages, i.e. not just an original and a translation. We hope to have more to say about it, eventually .....

       Twice-presented texts of this and other sorts are far from the norm, but there are quite a few out there -- and coincidentally Andrea Lüthi reviews (link likely only short-lived) Oscar Peer's Akkord / Il retuorn in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung today. This one is presented in both German and the ever-popular Rhaeto-Romanic -- presumably in part because the audience for texts written solely in Rhaeto-Romanic is very limited, even in Switzerland. (Recall that we recently mentioned Swiss publishing statistics, showing that a total of only 34 Rhaeto-Romanic works were published there in 2005 (compared to 1370 in English, 1972 in French, and 5855 in German).)
       See the Limat Verlag publicity page, or get your copy from

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       Delibes review

       It's not available yet in English -- Overlook is bringing it out later this spring -- but definitely something to look forward to: the most recent addition to the complete review is our review of the great Miguel Delibes' Novel of the Inquisition, The Heretic.

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1 February 2006 - Wednesday

Coetzee on translation | French reactions to BHL's American Vertigo | Index book

       Coetzee on translation

       Very widely linked to already, but definitely worth a read: J.M.Coetzee on Speaking in tongues in The Australian -- what appears to be an excerpt (though it's nice and long) from his piece in the also interesting-sounding but not freely accessible online current issue of Meanjin, Tongues: On Translation. They say it will also be included in Translation and the Classics, forthcoming from OUP (no information at their site, or at yet).

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       French reactions to BHL's American Vertigo

       Bernard-Henry Lévy's American Vertigo has been getting incredible amounts of (not always flattering) coverage in the American press. The book has not yet come out in French, but it's interesting to see what they think of his American publishing adventures -- apparently a pretty big story there.
       See, for example:
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       Index book

       Here's a German non-fiction book that stands a good chance of getting published in translation: Hubert Wolf's just-published Index: Der Vatikan und die verbotenen Bücher (see the Beck publicity page or get your copy from -- about the infamous Index librorum prohibitorum.
       Wolf was granted access to various Vatican archives, and is apparently a top expert on the Catholic Church's attempts (and successes) in outlawing various books. His research has also been well-funded: in 2003 he was awarded a Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz-Preis -- to the tune of 1.55 million Euros (making fellowships like Guggenheims and even MacArthurs look like small change ...).
       His undertakings have received English-language attention, too: Tom Heneghan wrote about it in America last year (only opening paragraph freely accessible), while more recently Christiane Jacke's article, Vatican opens up secrets of Index of Forbidden Books made the rounds (here at Monsters and
       For additional information, see also Ketzerei auf Papier, in Die Welt.
       Not any real review coverage yet, but we'll keep an eye out for it.

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