In The Japan Times Donald Richie reviews the new Akutagawa collection in The unique voice of Ryunosuke Akutagawa (see also our previous mention, with some more useful links).
He's fairly enthusiastic about the Akutagawa part, but doesn't seem to think having Murakami Haruki do the introduction was a particularly good idea:
The Haruki Murakami introduction is, on the other hand, 18 pages long.
And best-selling author though he is, Murakami is not much interested in the author he is writing about.
He lets us know that the Akutagawa influence got to him only in third place "at some distance," after Soseki and Tanizaki.
Murakami also has a "problem" with Kawabata's works and shows that he has no interest in Shimazaki Toson or Shiga Naoya (an Akutagawa favorite).
He instead goes on to compare the Japanese author to F. Scott Fitzgerald, a Murakami favorite.
But, of course, the reason Murakami got to (or was begged to) write the introduction wasn't because anyone thought he might be the best person for the job, but simply for the name-recognition factor.
It won't be out in the US for a few more months, but it's hitting UK bookstores now: Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games -- which perhaps proved too long to make the Man Booker longlist .....
Amazingly, none of the 10 question Sheela Reddy puts to him at Outlook India (directly) addresses the snub -- though Reddy does ask:
Are literary prizes silly ? The notion of listing books in a hierarchy is ridiculous. And prizes are the ultimate list.
See also Adams Mars-Jones' review in today's issue of The Observer.
Michael Kruger, a hugely respected German publisher, said that 50 per cent of the books he takes on are translated from other languages.
In Britain however, only 2 or 3 per cent of the novels in the shops are originally written in languages other than English, and this despite many publishers being owned by German conglomerate Bertelsmann.
Given how close we are to Europe, this is not only disappointing, it's disturbing; it means we don't really know what the neighbours are thinking.
The longlist for the German imitation-Man Booker, the German Book Prize (now in its second year), has been announced (hoping to attract foreign attention (yeah, right ...), they considerately provide this and other information in English, as well).
With 120 nominees and a 21-book strong longlist, they (slightly) out-do the Man Booker folk (112/19).
Among the surprise omissions is one of the books we're most interested in, Thomas Glavinic's Die Arbeit der Nacht (get your copy at Amazon.de; we have his previous titles under review).
For additional (German) information about the prize, see the interview Felicitas von Lovenberg über die Longlist 2006 at Börsenblatt, and Wieland Freund's commentary, Wirkungsvoller Pragmatismus at Die Welt.
No word whether the betting shops have set odds yet .....
But while Saqi's books have always showed a fierce concern for worlds of conflict, they now find their own fates tied more directly to war and bombings.
Saqi's warehouse is in Beirut, and at the time of writing the publishing house has just received word that the warehouse has been bombed: its ceiling collapsed, its iron door melted.
A few days ago there was a much reprinted AP report about John Irving coming to the support of Günter Grass regarding the revelations about Grass' past (see our previous mention, etc.).
He had apparently sent an e-mail of support to AP, from which they quote.
In the meantime, Frankfurter Rundschau asked him for an interview about the case, but after going through translations of much of the German press coverage he declined, and instead sent a long letter to editor Martin Scholz; they've now reprinted a slightly edited (and translated-into-German) version
Yes, it's a subject that deserves closer attention, but given all the stuff floating around we'd really prefer to avoid it until the dust settles.
But it's inescapable.
So, our contributions for the day:
Not much of a surprise, publisher Steidl pushed up the publication date by two weeks and -- what a surprise ! -- they can't shovel the book out of stores fast enough.
The Handelsblatt article-title really understates it: Grass-Autobiografie verkauft sich gut ('Grass autobiography sells well'), as they report that the book went on sale on Wednesday and by Thursday morning 130,000 copies of the 150,000 first print run had been sold -- and a second printing of an additional 100,000 copies was already in the works.
Nor surprise, either, that it's ranked number one at Amazon.de .....
(As we've stated repeatedly: the whole thing smells way too much like a publicity stunt to us, and given these figures it's pretty hard to argue that the proof ain't in the pudding .....)
Meanwhile, we continue to be fascinated by the whole admission/denial aspect.
Certainly, Grass himself also sees this as a sort of 'coming out' -- but the evidence continues to suggest that there wasn't much denying going on.
As we've mentioned, Der Spiegel has reported that Grass Admitted SS Role in 1945 -- and those documents were accessible to anyone who asked (but no one did).
Now people are also coming forward wondering what the big deal is: Der Spiegel has an interview with (Jewish -- and we cringe that we have to add that description) author Robert Schindel, who recalls Grass recounting these very facts to him and other authors twenty years ago.
He also mentions that he has since learnt that Peter Turrini (an Austro-leftie with Jelinek-like anti--Nazi fervour) also learnt of Grass' SS past some two decades ago.
Well, maybe all these writers stick together .....
Sure, there's a difference between private and public confession -- but it is interesting to note that no one he did spill the beans to thought it worth making any sort of fuss about.
The German past is a complex, ugly thing, but it's striking that people like Schindel and Turrini didn't turn on Grass (though admittedly he is such a dominating figure in German letters that it's hard to imagine challenging or standing up to him, further complicating the whole issue ...).
We're afraid this will be far from the last we have to say on the matter .....
Le Monde is on a roll with their quirky literary anecdotes: Philippe Djian -- a very popular writer, though only Betty Blue (thanks to the film) seems to have made any sort of impression stateside -- digs back to the mid-1980s and comes up with J. D. Salinger une extraordinaire lumière, recounting the time he rented a house from then Boston Celtic Bill Walton in Cambridge (MA) and was almost introduced to J.D.Salinger.
(The big redhead apparently came (or stayed) with the house ...).
There's been quite a lot of talk (and astonishment) about US president George jr. Bush recently reading Albert Camus' The Stranger (see, for example, Stranger and Stranger by John Dickerson at Slate).
The University of Nebraska Press has just re-issued Henri Alleg's 1958 The Question -- and we've just reviewed it --, the controversial true-life account of Alleg being tortured by the French authorities.
Usually we are all for choosing fiction over non, but maybe Georgie boy would have been better off having a look at this little book, especially since he's such a fan of doing whatever it takes (including tweaking the Geneva Convention and re-interpreting international human rights norms to suit his purposes) .....
We haven't looked into the whole story far enough, but in a new introduction to the book James D. Le Sueur notes that:
Alleg's case galvanized French activists and intellectuals (Albert Camus was a glaring exception).
No wonder the American president turned to one of his works then .....
See also Peter Brooks' Slate piece from January, Bush vs. Camus, which also mentions Alleg's book, noting:
Camus was himself famously unable to take a clear stance on the French colonial war in Algeria -- he was, after all, French and Algerian.
The Fall is, among other things, an expression of anguish about the difficulty of making any claim to innocence.
The repulsive figure of Clamence wants to implicate the whole of humanity in his own guilt—just as President Bush seems to want to implicate the American people in the decision to torture.
Camus offers no clear or satisfying message in response to Clamence's insinuating vileness.
Brooks also writes:
The French complicity in torture eventually was publicly exposed and denounced in La Question, a firsthand account of his torture at the hands of the French army written by Henri Alleg, editor of the newspaper L'Alger Républicain.
La Question was published in February 1958 and quickly banned by the French government -- but not before it made its mark.
No longer was it possible for the French public to refuse to see what was going on.
It was the French equivalent of the New Yorker photos of Abu Ghraib and exploded upon the French conscience in much the same fashion.
Maybe we're missing something, but as best we can tell Americans' consciences (with (relatively) very few exceptions) don't seem much bothered by Abu Ghraib and all the other outrages still being conducted in their name (and -- ostensibly -- for their sake).
At least they certainly don't seem to be doing much to stop any of it.
There's been an incredible outpouring of commentary re. the Günter Grass admission that he was in the SS (see also our previous mention).
We haven't kept on top of all of it, but, as expected, signandsight offer a good (English) overview, while the FAZ have collected all their useful (German) articles.
We still think that at least the timing of the revelation was a publicity stunt, though it obviously went horribly wrong (for Grass).
Yes, the labels 'Nazi' and 'SS' are still considered the ultimate in black marks, no matter the circumstances (not the worst attitude, to our minds -- though we wouldn't mind if military participants on quite a few other sides and from other conflicts were similarly roundly and soundly condemned ...).
We'd love to deal with some of the really silly stuff, like the call to revoke Grass' Nobel prize, but just don't have the time.
Still, a few observations:
- The book Grass is trying to sell, his forthcoming memoir Beim Häuten der Zwiebel (pre-order your copy at Amazon.de), was embargoed (even before this all began) by his publisher, Steidl (see their publicity page): they sent out copies, but there's a strict no-comment/no-quote policy in force until publication (presumably 1 September, though you'd figure they'd want to capitalize and would flood the market with copies as soon as possible).
The wimpy German press is actually holding back from quoting from the text or even revealing very much about what Grass writes, which we find very disappointing -- and which means we still don't have the full story.
- Grass acknowledged he was in the SS to the Americans right after World War II, and the paperwork was even publicly accessible -- but no one ever asked to see it !
(Great work by the biographers .....)
As Klaus Wiegrefe reported in Der Spiegel, Grass Admitted SS Role in 1945.
Grass was taken as a prisoner of war (ID number 31G6078785) on 8 May 1945 in Marienbad, and released 24 April 1946 -- and his discharge form "which includes Grass's signature, lists the author as a marksman for the 10th SS Tank division 'Frundsberg.' "
- Finally, we wonder how this will impact on the forthcoming new translation of The Tin Drum (by Breon Mitchell).
Surely all that American readers will remember about this whole affair is: Grass was in the SS -- and that just can't be good for sales.
He is so elusive a writer that he makes Harper Lee appear a socialite.
He gives no interviews and shuns all photo opportunities.
Thomas Pynchon, cult figure of American prose, is a nightmare for his publicists.
Surely, he's a dream for publicists: they don't have to do any work, as all the media-folk come to them begging for any scraps, and there are no reading tours to arrange, no interviews, nothing.
And we just wonder why all authors can't stay in the background like this -- though in Pynchon's case it has all backfired too, the focus again being on personality over the writing (which may well have been his intent).
Ahead of 50th anniversary of Brecht's death, the Academy of the Arts in Berlin and its Brecht Archive announced that Brecht's manuscripts, which were discovered in Switzerland several years ago, have been added to the archive's collection.
This is the largest expansion of the internationally renowned archive since its founding in 1956.
It doesn't sound like Jiang Zemin's three-volume collection of "203 speeches, articles, letters and decrees" will be an international bestseller, but apparently they're flying off the shelves in China.
We haven't been able to find out what the print run was, but the local totals various articles list are impressive enough.
Jonathan Watts writes that Jiang Zemin books a place in history in The Guardian, noting:
It is a book promotion that puts Harry Potter in the shade: rave reviews, front-page headlines, lead stories on TV and a must-buy recommendation by the president of the world's most populous dictatorship
And it helps having a captive audience:
Seventy-five thousand copies of the first print run were reserved for the military.
The newspaper of the People's Liberation Army said: "Officers and men were absolutely elated to receive their elegantly bound copies ... and one after another vowed to diligently study it in order to fully grasp its spiritual essence."
As everybody has mentioned, the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2006 longlist has been announced.
You have to hand it to them, they certainly know how to maximize publicity for this thing (the timing -- mid-August, when nothing is going on -- helps, too, though they must be pissed as hell at Günter Grass for his clumsy publicity-seeking for his new book (see our previous mention).)
So, they've selected 19 titles, out of 112 entries.
We only have three under review:
None really seem prize-worthy to us, but the Carey and Mitchell are better than some of the titles that have taken this prize recently (including Carey's own True History of the Kelly Gang) -- though we also think Mitchell's three previous novels are better than this one is.
Of the other titles which we have some awareness of only Kalooki Nights by Howard Jacobson really tempts us, but maybe we'll get to a few others as well before the list gets pared down.
As to the titles that didn't make the longlist, the most mentioned is House of Meetings by Martin Amis, though that presumably fell foul of the eligibility requirements and probably wasn't even one of the entered titles (it's apparently a novella and two stories, and the rules clearly only allow a "full-length novel" that is "a unified and substantial work").
There's also some mention of Irvine Welsh's The Bedroom Secrets of the Master Chefs, but we can't believe anybody seriously thought that would be in the running.
Perhaps the one big surprise is that Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games fell short.
(Of course, one never knows whether the publisher bothered to submit it for consideration.)
As we've complained incessantly, the full list of entered titles (112 this year) is kept completely secret, so we don't know what books were really passed over and which weren't even in contention.
We're pretty amazed that there were a mere 112 titles to pick from -- though that's three more than were entered last year.
And they hit an all-time low (well, for recent years -- we can't find the older statistics) of publisher-submitted titles (95), while a whopping 17 titles were called in (suggesting publishers didn't do a great job of submitting their top titles -- or, alternately, did a great job in manipulating the system).
(Since publishers are only allowed to submit two titles the strategy is, of course, not to submit your strongest titles but rather the longshots, relying on the judges to call in those unoverlookable top titles .....)
Here the stats for the past few years:
We'd certainly like to see more titles in the mix (total entries, not necessarily the longlist), but it's hard to argue with the Man Booker formula for success (ridiculous though it is).
We're very much enjoying Ngugi wa Thiong'o's Wizard of the Crow, and our review should be up within a week or so.
Yesterday Ngugi appeared at the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and Rosemary Goring reports in The Herald.
Ngugi certainly does not know how to sell his book to a translation-phobic audience:
Ngugi wa Thiong'o held up his 700-page novel, Wizard of the Crow, with a smile like a crescent moon.
"The most beautiful sentence in this novel," he said, opening it at the title page, "is 'A translation from Gikuyu by the author.'"
We understand where he's coming from, and we sympathise, but that's not the thing to tell any potential reader.
It's like saying the highlight of a book is the Acknowledgements.
(It should be almost irrelevant that it's a translation ... the book's the thing !)
But on the other hand we're glad that he shines such a light on fiction in translation -- as when he says:
"Marginalised languages should become part of the global conversation," he continued.
"English is universalising itself.
Whereas my project was to reject the universality of English.
What we need is to elevate the practice of translation so that we can make visible the genius of every language and culture, as opposed to the present trend where we are losing languages and the culture contained in those languages."
Amen to that !
Meanwhile, see now also Tom Adair's review in The Scotsman, as well as Stuart Kelly's profile in Scotland on Sunday.
"Unfortunately, we witness inappropriate and wicked manifestations in society today ...
But now, you have my word that we will purify the cultural atmosphere," he said in a speech carried live by state radio.
"In the near future, we will not witness an unhealthy cultural product among books, movies, shows, music, etc."
Books on the Secretary General of Lebanon’s Hezbollah Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad were acknowledged as the two best-sellers at this year’s Syrian Annual Book Fair.
Director of ’Al-Ketab Al-Arabi’ Publishers, Valid Nasif, said that a book titled A Combatant From the South is about Hassan Nasrallah and another book titled A Man at the Heart of Storm is about President Ahmadinejad, reported ISNA.
Well, SS boy, at least.
We didn't think much of the story when it broke -- it just sounded like one of these pseudo-revelations made to stoke interest in a forthcoming book publication (in this case Grass' memoir, Beim Häuten der Zwiebel; pre-order your copy at Amazon.de), but apparently it's caused quite the stir.
What happened ?
Well, in an interview in the FAZ Grass admitted that as a teenager during World War II he was a member of the SS (he'd tried to join the submarine division, but hadn't made it).
There's no English translation of the interview yet (though it sounds like the kind of thing signandsight might offer in a few days), but see, for example the summary at Der Spiegel, "I Was a Member of the SS".
Among the reactions is Frank Schirrmacher's Eine zeitgeschichtliche Pointe, and the Sunday Times revels in it in The last man they expected to have an SS secret.
We haven't yet gotten our hands on Nell Freudenberger's new novel, just out, but look forward to reviewing it as soon as we do (meanwhile, recall our piece, Whoa Nelly, as well as our review of her Lucky Girls).
Quite a few reviews have already appeared:
In The Village Voice Hua Hsu finds:
(A)s a sketch of human folly set amid a similar kind of collision, The Dissident is a charming, breezy read: Yuan's idiom-heavy speech and the clipped, almost-racist things people say in reply testify to Freudenberger's skill at shading in these eclectic situations.
But her characters, while inviting, rarely feel complicated enough to respond to her story's delicately layered conceit -- or guard its not-so-jarring secret.
In the San Francisco Chronicle Elizabeth Rosner writes:
The Dissident offers readers a profusion of reflections and insights that will linger long after the book has been read.
Unfortunately, there is also a clutter of derivative images that prove distracting and less than engaging, "types" who remind us that original artistry is not an easy art to master.
And in The Los Angeles Times Susan Kandel writes (link likely only short lived):
That Freudenberger ties up so many disparate narrative strands is a testament to careful planning, to be sure.
But it also suggests a certain timidity, which plays out not only in her adherence to the conventions of plotting but also in her propensity for stock situations.
As Critical Mass notes, the longlist for the Man Booker Prize 2006 will be announced on Monday,
There haven't been that many preview articles, but in The Times today Michael Holroyd writes that All shall not have prizes, offering some anecdotage, etc.
Among the titbits he offers:
Our committee was criticised for appointing more men than women judges, resulting, it was alleged, in more male winners (which led eventually to the creation of the Orange Prize).
I can reveal, however, that more women than men refused to be judges, less from temerity, I believe, than good sense.
And he claims:
Our most radical decision was to move the judges’ final meeting to the day of the prize dinner.
The winner had been announced two or three weeks before the dinner, which seemed rather a second-hand affair full of funeral baked meats.
What Holroyd unfortunately does not discuss is some of the more questionable rules (which he apparently had a hand in shaping) -- specifically the ridiculous one that limits publishers to submitting two (2 !) works for consideration (with some very limited alternative routes to slip in a few additional titles) .
(Also not touched upon: the dubious secrecy rule which means the public is never told what (few) books were actually in the running for the prize -- meaning also that authors who don't make the longlist never know whether or not their publisher actually submitted their book for consideration .....)
But maybe the inherent unfairness of it all really is what makes for the prize's appeal .....
Also at the newsletter, they note: Germany - rights business on the up and up.
Not to the US, however: South Korea and China topped the list of rights deals in 2003 and 2004, but in 2005 Poland bought the most German titles, followed by the Czech Republic.
There was a decline in demand for fiction which ranked third with a share of around twelve per cent.
Dutch and Italian take the most rights and licences for literature.
The evening was a celebration of excellence and creativity.
It be spoke of the coming of age of African writing.
In attendance were writers of note, eminent literary scholars, politicians and lovers of literature including the celebrant himself
What they don't make very prominent mention of is the fact that Sefi Atta did not (or could not) show up herself; her mom accepted it in her stead .....
He's an imaginative and perfectly competent and often entertaining author (the work of John Irving is probably the closest American counterpart) -- and he has some American connexions (for god's sake, he's a Adjunct Fellow at the Hudson Institute !) -- so why hasn't more of his work been translated ?
There are certainly others we'd put ahead of him (more Willem Frederik Hermans, some A.F.Th. van der Heijden just for some Dutch examples), but it's still surprising there isn't more of his work available in English.
(Apparently, he's more obsessed with movie-making; can't really blame him -- a lot more money there.)
We're not that good at remembering anniversaries, but it's now been four years exactly since we started the Literary Saloon (the complete review is over seven years old by now ...).
This is the 4492nd post -- an average of just over three a day, and we hope at least the occasional one is of interest to you (we assume so, otherwise you would have given up on us ages ago).
Things still seem to be going pretty well, and we expect to continue much as always.
See you tomorrow .....