Of all the books published in the UK, only 3 to 4 per cent are translations.
Whatís the matter with us ?
Donít we like to look at anything but ourselves ?
Are we so vain ?
Do we simply not care, not want to know whatís happening in the literatures of the rest of the world ?
Itís embarrassing. Itís like a terrible leftover of imperialism.
So anyway: Len Rix's translation of The Door by Magda Szabo won.
It's published in the UK by Harvill; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.co.uk (or, as an expensive import edition, at Amazon.com).
Now, what's interesting about The Door by Magda Szabo -- which isn't a particularly old work -- is that Len Rix's isn't the first translation into English.
Stefan Draughon translated it about a decade back, and it was published by Columbia University Press; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com.
Somebody want to tell us what the hell happened there ?
(Recall: it's rare for books to be translated once, much less -- except for in the case of older (i.e. out of copyright) classics -- twice.)
So now Peter Handke has now turned down the prize they weren't going to give him .....
See our previous mention for a run-down of how it got to this; basically, the jury awarded Handke the Heine prize, but the city council had to ratify the prize to make it official -- and they said they were going to refuse to do so.
Amazingly little English-language coverage, still, even of this latest turn of events (though The New York Times did have a small note on it yesterday); DeutscheWelle's Pro-Serbian Author Turns Down Disputed German Prize is about as good as it gets for now.
They do offer some nice quotes from Handke's letter turning down the prize:
"I am writing to you to spare you and the world from the upcoming sitting of the city council in which they will decide not to give me the prize," Handke said in the letter.
"Also to spare myself ... and above all to spare my work, which I do not want to become an endless target for the vulgar insults of party politicians."
He suggested that the council meeting be cancelled and its members sent into nature to breathe fresh air, "for example to have a picnic on the banks of the Rhine."
Well, the fuss was fun while it lasted -- and the aftereffects should resonate quite a while longer.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Yuri Olesha's Envy -- which, by the way, has got to be in the running for the 20th century prose work with the most different translations into English (apparently an amazing seven !).
He gets them, and they're named after him .....
As Mitteldeutsche Zeitungreport, Wole Soyinka will receive the Weilheimer Literaturpreis -- not that much cash, but he will receive the prize (on 13 June) from the hands of the German president, Horst Köhler.
(An interesting prize, its jury is made up of high school kids.)
Meawhile, you may recall the Daily Independentreported on the first Wole Soyinka Prize for literature, for African writers.
At that time they wrote of a deadline of 28 February 2006 for submissions, but apparently these haven't exactly been flowing in: now Vanguard makes a Call for entry.
(The winner is set to be announced 5 August, which doesn't really leave very much time ....)
I like to say Iím the least authentic person I know.
All my life Iíve either been too brown or too white for somebodyís tastes.
Iíve never been in the business of selling the image of an authentic Asian culture, or British Asian culture, or Indian culture.
We finally got our hands on a copy of Irène Némirovsky's much-praised Suite Française, and our review is now available.
There's a lot to say about it (and, besides, it is a sort of two-in-one book ...), leading to one of our longer reviews (just shy of 3000 words) and numerous links and other review-excerpts -- though it hasn't been quite as widely covered as we expected.
(No doubt, we've missed a couple, but there are still quite a few publications which we expect(ed) to cover it that haven't yet.)
(It has a "metascore" of 95/100 at Metacritic.com -- putting it tops among all the works of fiction they've covered to date.)
The book has received a great deal of publicity because of its textual history.
It's the sort of thing that usually drives us nuts -- we prefer attention to focus on the text proper --, but in this case even we can't ignore it.
And it is a 'good' story.
(For the few of you who haven't heard it: Némirovsky was working on a five-part novel about World War II until practically the day she was arrested in France in the summer of 1942; barely a month later she had perished at Auschwitz.
Her orphaned daughters kept the manuscript in a suitcase and saved it through the war and beyond -- but never really looked at it closely.
Finally, one of the daughters brought it to light, finding the first two parts of the larger work essentially complete.
These were finally published, as Suite Française, in France in 2004 to much critical and popular acclaim, and the book went on to win the prestigious prix Renaudot.)
So it's a text -- and a damn good one, as almost everyone agrees -- that appeared practically out of the blue, and offered a stunning picture of the conditions nearly seven decades ago.
There's a lot more to be said about the book and its reception, its author, and its history, some of which we discuss in the entries below.
Translated fiction does notoriously poorly in the United States, and there have been years when not a single work of translated fiction breaks onto The New York Times' bestseller list.
Suite Française came with some decent buzz, that great story, and the promise of the reader-attracting World War II/Auschwitz connexion (sadly, always a selling point in the US).
Knopf announced a first printing of 75,000 copies; we didn't receive our copy until a few weeks ago, and it was already the fourth printing (of a book published 31 March) -- i.e. Knopf appears to have seriously underestimated demand.
Amazingly, Suite Française has made some bestseller lists, including that of The New York Times (squeaking in on the 4 June list for the third time).
It actually tops the most recentSan Francisco Chronicle-bestseller list -- despite the fact that, as best we can tell, that newspaper has not yet reviewed the title.
And it even has made it on the USA Today list -- though its peak position there is only 86th.
All in all: very, very impressive -- and this does throw a bit into question the whole idea that translated fiction can't sell well.
Addendum: the USA Today list offers brief descriptions of the titles on it.
About Suite Française they write:
The Ukrainian-born author, who had fled to Paris to escape the Nazis, was deported and killed at Auschwitz; this novel, set in the 1940s, examines what happens to people under similar circumstances
This is both wrong and misleading.
She did not flee to Paris to escape the Nazis -- her family had, in fact, fled to Paris decades earlier (to escape the Bolsheviks).
Like some of the characters in her book, she fled from Paris when the Nazi threat loomed .....
And while her novel does examine what happened to people in circumstances similar to hers (and everybody else in France at the time ...), no one is deported or killed in a concentration camp.
The story of how the novel came into being, and how it survived -- and the fate of its author --, have become essentially inseparable from the text.
Every reviewer tells the story (though most tell only that story, rather than the more complete and complicated backstory (see more below)), and the publishers have milked that for all it is worth: the American (and apparently also British) edition comes both with the Preface that appeared in the French edition (shockingly edited -- more on that below, too !), as well as two appendices.
The appendix with notes from Némirovsky's notebooks, offering some of her thoughts while writing Suite Française, and her plans for the next part(s) is valuable, but the second appendix, with correspondence from 1936 to 1945 from Némirovsky, her husband, and friends and acquaintances shifts too much attention back to Némirovsky's terrible fate.
What happened to Némirovsky is a tragedy and an outrage and does deserve attention, but to harp on it here (and in the reviews, and in all talk about the book) does the novel (and, ultimately, her) a great disservice.
For one, while Suite Française is set in World War II, and features many Nazis, it is very far and different from the WWII literature we have grown accustomed to.
The Germans are the enemy, but they are not the incarnation of evil; in many respects they aren't even the bad guys in her novels.
Real life took a very different, shocking turn, but the novel stopped short of that.
Unfortunately, because of the way the book has been presented it has become almost impossible to think of Suite Française without thinking of Auschwitz, while there's nothing of Auschwitz in the fiction itself (it's not even in the air).
The almost inevitable outcome is a reaction like Dan Jacobson's in his review in the London Review of Books (11 May 2006; not freely accessible online), who addresses the context-issue and notes:
For my part I confess that nothing in either part of Suite Française moved me as much as that last letter from Némirovsky to her family, or the frantic letters her husband wrote in trying to 'trace' his murdered wife's whereabouts.
(It should be noted that, unlike most reviewers, he didn't think either (fictional) part of the book worked "satisfactorily as a novel".)
It's an almost offensive comparison -- surely everyone finds her personal tragedy to far outweigh any fiction, and is more moved by it (if not necessarily by those particular words) -- but also completely beside the point.
Or at least it should be.
(Jacobson's expectations are also entirely misplaced: is 'being moved' the test of the novel ?
Was that even Némirovsky's intention ?
(Our view ? Emphatically: no.))
Fiction simply can't compete with real life in this way -- and it shouldn't be asked to.
(But if Némirovsky's tragic fate is fair game, then so is her background, and almost across the board the reviewers fail on that account as well .....
See also more below .....)
Several reviewers do mention that Némirovsky was a successful and popular author in the 1930s.
Indeed, several of her novels were translated into English (among many other languages) and David Golder has been filmed twice.
It's clear, however, that almost none of the reviewers are familiar with any of her work (yours truly of course are, but then you expected nothing less, did you ?).
(The only reviews we've come across that adequately introduce her and at least give some idea of her work are David Coward's (of the French original) in the Times Literary Supplement (14 January 2005; not freely accessible online) and Alice Kaplan's in The Nation (29 May 2006), both of which we recommend highly.)
Némirovsky was even well-reviewed in The New York Times Book Review way back when (admittedly sometimes only in the columns devoted to foreign-language titles -- at a time when they still had something like that ...).
Charles Cestre was a big supporter, writing in the NYTBR (26 July 1936):
Madame Nemirowski is one of our first-rank novelists.
And (6 October 1940):
Irène Némirovsky has won one of the first ranks among the younger French novelists by half a dozen works remarkable for the life-likeness of the characters, concreteness of the settings, truth of observation, dramatic force and quality of style.
And in her review of A Modern Jezebel in the NYTBR Dorothea Kingsland wrote (7 March 1937):
This is a brilliantly sophisticated novel.
The author is out to kill, and yet she kills kindly.
All of this is of interest for two reasons.
The first it is that is much more sensible and revealing to consider Suite Française in light of her previous work, rather than as the work of someone who wound up being killed in Auschwitz (which, tragic though it is, has next to nothing to do with the work she wrote).
Indeed, one of the remarkable things about Suite Française is how very much it is a society novel in the vein of her earlier work.
Secondly, her one-time popularity begs the question: what the hell happened ?
Why was she, until Suite Française resurfaced, a novelist entirely forgotten in the English-speaking world, and not exactly widely known elsewhere (including France) ?
(As best we can tell, the only other work of hers to appear in English after World War II was her biography of Chekhov.)
(For some of the answers (and questions), see Alice Kaplan's review in The Nation -- and our discussion below.)
The one indispensable online-accessible review of Suite Française is Alice Kaplan's in The Nation.
(Sure, ours is worth a look too, but perhaps more useful for the bigger picture -- the links and review-summaries .....)
Specifically, Kaplan brings up some of the complicating facts surrounding Némirovsky -- including details shockingly excised from Anissimov's Preface in the American edition.
(She's not the only one, but among accessible reviews, it's the most comprehensive regarding these issues):
That book [David Golder] became a well-known film in the 1930s, but it also made Némirovsky the darling of the anti-Semitic right, who celebrated her portrait of a Jewish profiteer and lauded her for her "pure" prose style (this detail, gleaned from an admiring review by the virulently anti-Semitic writer Robert Brasillach, is cut from the English-language version of Anissimov's original French preface).
Némirovsky seems to have traveled in the wrong circles, all of her own volition: Among her closest friends were right-wing Frenchmen who became notorious Nazi collaborators and champions of Vichy France.
In a way one can't blame Knopf for wanting to present only a very specific image of Némirovsky (as victim, of course) -- and the generally ignorant reviewers of course go along with it -- but this is surely highly problematic (and yet also, once again, doesn't have that much to do with the damn books, which is where the focus should be).
Kaplan also notes:
And during this time, she published short stories under various pseudonyms in Gringoire, one of the most violently anti-Semitic newspapers of the occupation era.
That the editor of the paper was loyal to her may say something good about him; that Némirovsky was willing to be published in its pages is troubling.
And perhaps the question most worth considering is:
Who knows what might have happened if Némirovsky had survived the camps and had tried to publish Suite Française in 1946 ?
It's quite possible she would have been censored by the Resistance for her contributions to Gringoire.
Other writers were blacklisted for less.
Even if she hadn't been included on an official Resistance blacklist, her vision of France in Suite Française was so critical, so dark, the novel would have been a slap in the face to Gaullist France, with its vision of an eternal French republic untouched by Vichy.
The manuscript might have been refused publication, or at least poorly received.
Context, context -- how much does it matter ?
And, of course, what's fascinating in this case is how context is shaped to present the book in a particular way (especially in the US).
We can't help but be glad so many have bought the book and that it thus potentially could reach the large audience it deserves, but it's still disappointing that at least some have surely been, in a way, manipulated into making the purchase.
Even publishers are getting in on the football (soccer) World Cup act in Germany: Rowohlt have set up a pretty elaborate site, Dichter Ran, with lots of author-involvement.
('Dichter Ran' is a play on words, as Dichter is the German for 'poet' as well as 'to move closer' (as in: that defender should move closer to the striker or the ball or whatever ...).)
Could be some fun.
The Literaturmuseum der Moderne ('Museum of Modern Literature') opened yesterday.
Sometimes it seems there's a literature-museum on every German street-corner, but this one does look fancier than most -- and they do seem to have a pretty impressive collection.
See also the AP report, or Fridtjof Küchemann's Denken Sie an Marbach ! in the FAZ.
Hebrew Book Week starts today, and runs through the 17th (yes, that's not a week ... but presumably 'Hebrew Book Eleven Days' just wasn't as catchy).
In conjunction with HBW, the Jewish National and University Library of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem offers the hard numbers of books published in Israel last year: 8405 New Israeli Titles Published in 2005:
Most of the books are in Hebrew: 5,788 titles.
The next common languages are English, 567 titles; and Russian, 183 titles.
This year, 92 new Arabic titles were recorded.
Last year only 62 Arabic titles were recorded.
The rise in the number of Arabic books is due to strengthening ties between the National Library and publishers who publish in Arabic.
(So really it's a list of the books recorded in 2005, not necessarily the actual number published -- though presumably serious undercounting only affects the Arabic publications.)
Meanwhile, at Ha'aretz Shiri Lev-Ari reports that even in Israel it's Less about literature, more about the books:
Hebrew publishing is business, in every sense of the word -- a competitive branch of the entertainment market that is developing and becoming more professional.
The big money flowing into the industry has altered not only the atmosphere in which publishers and editors work, but also their list of priorities.
'Professional' -- ha !
Most decision-makers in publishing in Israel today are directors of publishing houses who do not come from the world of literature but from the world of management, marketing, and finance.
In an interview in Der Spiegel (not freely accessible online) best-selling German author Daniel Kehlmann -- whose Measuring the World is due out in the US in a few months -- sang the praises of the animated TV show, The Simpsons.
ORF.at quotes him:
"'Die Simpsons', das ist die Synthese von Disneyscher Buntheit und Tolstoischer Charakterzeichnung, von Voltaires Schärfe und der massenkompatiblen Präsenz von Pepsi, Starbucks und Burger King", so Kehlmann.
("The Simpsons, that's a synthesis of Disney's colourfulness and the way Tolstoy drew his characters, of Voltaire's sharpness and the masses-compatible presence of Pepsi, Starbucks and Burger King", so Kehlmann.)
Der Standard titles its report: Die Simpsons sind Weltliteratur ('The Simpsons are world literature'), quoting Kehlmann as saying it is among the most 'intelligent and vital artworks of our time'.
Meanwhile, UK rights to Measuring the World have gone to Quercus Publishing; no publication date set yet.
We shouldn't demand too much of ourselves.
In the long run, we could contribute to changes in people's consciousness.
Take, for example, the process of enlightenment in Europe.
Authors like Voltaire or Diderot were censored at first, and their works became accepted in different countries and different regions only after a long time.
In some regions of Europe, enlightenment has still not taken place.
It's a slow process of making changes.
But, on the other hand, I am very skeptical about setting the goal of making things better.
Usually, it's ideologues who come and say "There is a goal in the end -- the satisfied man, the socialist man, the American way of life," i.e. happiness through consumption.
That's all ideological distortions, that I don't want to hold onto.
(The headlines sum up one of the main problems we have with book prizes, or at least how they are treated (by the media and the public alike): it's a book prize, and surely the emphasis should be on the book, not the author.
On Beauty won, not Zadie Smith.
But presumably a bound pile of paper isn't quite as sexy as flesh-and-blood-Zadie .....)
At The Quarterly Conversation Scott Esposito has surveyed a variety of folk to try to determine what might be some of the best works of fiction since 1990.
I was among those who turned in a top-ten list, with five of the books I selected getting at least one other vote (plus one title slipping in on the author-coattails).
Part of the difficulty of selecting ten titles is, of course, how little one has read.
I suspect I would have chosen, say, Infinite Jest too, if I had read it.
(On the other hand, I suspect I would not have chosen Underworld, even if I had read it.)
A few of the titles are a bit of a surprise, but it certainly makes for a decent "starting point for discussion", as Scott hoped for.
I actually listed my top-10 in order of (vague) preference -- and my top three did not make the cut (i.e. nobody else had them on their lists).
The one that surprises me a bit is Harry Mulisch's The Discovery of Heaven, one of those big career-books that actually seems to have done quite well in the US market (it's still pretty easy to find in bookstores).
The other two choices' failure to garner support is less surprising, as they have not done nearly as well sales- and review-coverage-wise.
However, I think the case for The Marx Family Saga by Juan Goytisolo is particularly strong: admittedly a very European text, it's a rare successful piece of political fiction -- and probably still the best collapse-of-communism novel written to date.
(The other choice, Amélie Nothomb's brilliant Loving Sabotage, is just a personal favorite.)
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Geoff Nicholson's look at The Secret World of Consumers, Connoisseurs, Curators, Creators, Dealers, Bibliographers, and Accumulators of "Erotica" in Sex Collectors.
In the Daily Sun Henry Akubuiro talks with Ngugi wa Thiong'o, who explains How Chinua Achebe inspired me (and much else).
Among the observations of interest:
Asked to comment on the state of African literature after his own generation, Ngugi is delighted by the African writers who have taken up the challenge to write in indigenous languages, and he sees it as the most important movement that is unfolding in African literature.
"To me, thatís the most important movement taking place in Africa today," he admits.
"It may not be visible.
It may be in nascent form, but thatís where to look forward to, for the future of African literature -- not in English, not French, not Portuguese, but I African languages," he maintains.
And he also insists:
"Itís very important we write in Africa languages, whether in Igbo, Yoruba, Hausa, Gikuyu or Zulu.
But we must go to the next stage of having our works translated either into English or French or, to me, even more important, having works in different African languages being translated directly because, note, for instance, the Bible was originally written, presumably, in Hebrew or Greek, but not many Africans know Greek or Hebrew, but we read the Bible through translation," he notes.
Rock 'n' Roll is a subtle, complex play about ways to resist 'systems' and preserve what is human.
See also the Faber publicity page, or get your copy from Amazon.co.uk (no Amazon.com listing yet).
We hope the nice people at Faber are good enough to send us a copy; we'll review it as soon as we can get our hands on a copy
The prize is the New Writer's Award, launched by Random House Kodansha Co., a fifty-fifty joint venture between Tokyo-based trade publisher Kodansha Ltd. and New York-based Random House Inc., the largest trade publisher in English.
Announced on April 19, the award aims to find a talented Japanese author who will appeal to readers worldwide.
The winning work will first be published in Japan, then translated into English.
The translated work will be published by Alfred A. Knopf
Well, pretty much every and any effort to make foreign literature accessible to English-reading audiences is appreciated, so we have no complaints.
And if you'd like to submit a title, check out the application information page.
Clever programmes tell potential buyers at bookseller-sites what other people who bought book X also bought, suggesting additional titles of possible interest -- but without the human touch that can lead to some awkward matches.
So now again at Amazon.co.uk, where Scotland on Sunday reports that Amazon in Dunblane gaffe over gun books.
Yes, Sandra Uttley's Dunblane Unburied -- about the school-shooting a couple of years back -- is linked to some unfortunate titles under People who bought this item...: The Ultimate in Rifle Accuracy by Glenn Newick and Gun Digest by Ken Ramage (editor):
One of the world's largest online retailers has been forced to remove pages from its website after it linked the Dunblane tragedy with books for gun enthusiasts.
Amazon last night admitted its mistake and pledged to remove the offending links from its website.
Amazingly, when we checked last (3:00 GMT, 4 June) the page had still not been removed.
You'd think they'd take care of this immediately.
Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk made a plea Thursday for freedom of expression in Turkey on the mass killings of Armenians carried out under the Ottoman Empire, calling on his country to become "free and more open."
"Whatever happened to Ottoman Armenians, we in Turkey should be able to talk about.
It is first a Turkish issue, an issue of freedom of speech, democracy and liberal society rather than an international political issue," Pamuk said in Moscow.
No doubt, charges against him will filed any day now .....
In Book Clubbed in Slate Daniel Gross looks at how BookScan stats -- the only (semi-)publicly available data about actual unit book sales -- are handled by the media.
There's an etiquette to BookScanning.
You BookScan your enemies to take joy in their failure or to aggravate the agony you feel at their success.
You don't BookScan your buddies, your colleagues, or your editors.
That's partly to protect the BookScanned from the embarrassment of having others know that the project on which they labored for five years racked up sales in the middle three digits.
And partly to protect the BookScanner from the embarrassment of knowing just how successful the guy who sits in the next cubicle has been.
What's disappointing, of course, is that the numbers -- for the most part, except for the occasional examples (as offered here too) -- are kept from the public:
In general, the publishing world treats money the way old-line WASPs once did -- as a subject that genteel people simply don't discuss.
The only question considered to be more indelicate than how much one was paid to write a book is how many copies it has sold.
Yet we are constantly being reminded -- as an excuse for all the crap publishers put out -- that 'publishing is a business', etc. etc.
If so, then why not share with the public the data on the million-dollar-advance-books that only sold a few thousand copies, etc. etc. ?
Organizers of one of Italy's top literary prizes are gearing up to run a new Europe-wide version of the award .
All 25 EU states are going to be able to play along -- though it sounds like it will be quite a challenge.
But the original Premio Strega has fared quite well over the years, and the list of winners covers many you'd expect.
The Europe-wide reach obviously has some appeal -- especially since there's nothing comparable (well, the Nordics do their Nordic Council thing -- multi-lingual, but still only regional).
But the difficulty is, of course, in what books get to be considered .....
Certainly the intentions and ambitions are good:
The hope is to encourage the translation of works from other parts of the continent, and thus help Europeans know each other better and develop stronger bonds.
The ultimate aim is to form a "cultural alliance of spirits" to revive the process of European integration, organizers say
As widely reported, the Whitbread Book Awards are now officially the Costa Book Awards (identical to the Whitbread site -- down to a number of the links, which still are labeled and lead to Whitbread pages -- i.e. a slapdash facelift, so far).
It's the Costa Coffee chain that is taking over, changing the name and, apparently, little else.
It'll be interesting to see whether the name-recognition carries over .....
They've been handing out the Príncipe de Asturias prizes, and Paul Auster has been awarded the Premio Príncipe de Asturias de las Letras for 2006.
Chosen from 27 candidates (he's been up for it before), he'll get "50,000 Euros, a commissioned sculpture donated by Joan Miró, a diploma and an insignia."
To put the prize in perspective: last year's winner was Nélida Piñón -- no doubt also a worthy winner, but we'd be surprised if even one in ten of our very literate readership recognises that name.
Okay, very few of you likely have the least bit of interest in this, but we've been waiting for part two of the great Karl Mickel's Lachmunds Freunde for fifteen years.
Not really complete (he died before he was able to put the final polish on it), but a whole lot better than nothing.
Beatrix Langner reviews it in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung today, and we hope we'll be able to cover it soon too.
See also the Wallstein Verlag publicity page, or get your copy from Amazon.de (though apparently no one has yet ...).