Nomadics makes us aware of the forthcoming bilingual edition of The Complete Poetry of César Vallejo (edited and translated by Clayton Eshleman, with a Foreword by Mario Vargas Llosa, and an Introduction by Efraín Kristal) -- something to very much look forward to !
(See the University of California Press publicity page, and pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)
As Nomadics also notes, there will be a book launch at the Cervantes Institute in New York on 14 November.
Jean-Philippe Toussaint (see, for example, our review of his Monsieur) has a new book coming out, on the disgraced footballer from this summer's World Cup, Zidane, La Mélancolie de Zidane.
(See the Les Éditions de Minuit publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.fr -- where it's doing very well, with a sales rank of 75 last we checked.)
What's most noteworthy about the book is how little there is to it -- at least page-wise.
As Pierre Assouline puts it at La république des livres:
Mais je ne suis pas sûr que cela fasse vraiment un livre, 17 petites pages, et mème un peu moins si l’on en soustrait les citations de Starobinski, Bachelard et Freud, et les pages de présentation.
Un article au fond, et encore, un petit.
Mais si poétique…
Seventeen little pages ?
Does that still count as a book ?
The text can hardly be more than magazine-article-length .....
Nigerian Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka has called on the world to shut its doors on the government of Sudan for "genocide" in Darfur.
Soyinka, who won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1986 and is known for his outspoken political views, was also critical of President Robert Mugabe’s running of Zimbabwe which he compared to Adolf Hitler’s tactics in Germany.
In the Fall issue of Salmagundi Nancy Huston writes on Michel Houellebecq: The Ecstasy of Disgust.
She has some valid arguments -- but doesn't make it easy for the reader to give her much benefit of a doubt, beginning with a note at the beginning of the article that:
Among Michel Houellebecq's novels available in English translations are Elementary Particles, Platform, and Lanzarote.
Houellebecq published another novel in the fall of 2005 but, having read and intensely disliked virtually everything he had written up to that time, I chose not to read it.
An interesting critical approach .....
The unnamed 2005 book is The Possibility of an Island, and not only has she not read it, she manages to avoid mentioning the title here or anywhere else in her piece .....
(It must be said, however, that she could still reach all her conclusions, even if she had taken The Possibility of an Island into account.)
Huston also writes:
In 1994, at thirty-six, Houellebecq published his first novel: Extension du domaine de la lutte (Extension of the Field of Combat, as yet untranslated), which was already a succès d'estime.
The problem here being that Extension du domaine de la lutte was, of course, translated back in 1999 (on the heels of the success of Elementary Particles), published under the admittedly different-sounding title Whatever.
And then there's her overview of Houellebecq the man, which she begins:
What do we know about Houellebecq's childhood ?
On his Internet site we learn that he was born in 1958 in the island of Reunion -- a tiny fleck of France off the east coast of Africa, thousands of kilometers away from Europe.
Here is what he has to say about his family: [...}
And after quoting his words she notes:
In this thumbnail sketch, several traits are conducive to the adoption of a nihilist outlook
What she doesn't remind readers of is that she is relying on Houellebecq's own narrative -- the picture he has put in the world which may or may not be accurate but certainly is how he wants to be seen.
His Internet site, and what he has to say about his family surely are subjective (not objective) extensions of his fiction and his philosophy -- and while they are certainly worth mentioning surely must be considered in that light .....
As we say, she does, however, offer some interesting observations -- but to our minds goes far too far in her conclusion:
It is a rather dizzying sleight of hand, when you think about it: Houellebecq's readers, galvanized by his theoretical and pseudo-scientific flights of oratory, feel intelligent and superior, not to say revolutionary; this solid ego stance then allows them to revel guiltlessly in pure violence or pure provocation, rather in the way four-year-olds revel in the use of dirty words.
Surely it's possible to read Houellebecq -- and get something out of his books -- without any such feelings of intelligence and superiority (indeed, we've always felt part of the appeal of his work is that he does acknowledge -- to greater and lesser extents -- the silliness of much of what he proposes).
Even the entirely wrong-headed can have literary and intellectual appeal.
The piece is worthy of a closer look and discussion, but Huston digs herself some pretty big holes in trying to make a convincing case .....
Dutch author Cees Nooteboom is well-known both for his fiction and his travelogues.
Among his most recent works is a volume about the graves of writers and thinkers -- not a brand-new idea, but he probably does it pretty well.
We're not even sure this is out in Dutch yet, but there is a German version, Tumbas, with 135 photographs by Simone Sassen; the Schirmer/Mosel publicity page let's you 'leaf through' the book (use your mouse) and it looks pretty cool.
(Get your copy at Amazon.de.)
Rainer Schmitz seems to have come out with a German version of Disraeli's Curiosities of literature: Was geschah mit Schillers Schädel ?, a 1828 page (!) collection of ... literary curiosities that sounds fairly amusing.
See also the coverage at Stern, or get your copy at Amazon.de.
One worrying sign: at the Eichborn publicity page they misspell Poe's name -- though at least not in the usual way (they have it as: 'Edgar Alan Poe') ....
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Multatuli's 19th century Dutch classic, Max Havelaar or The Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company.
As D.H.Lawrence puts it in his introduction to the 1927 translation: "to this day it remains vaguely in the minds of foreigners as the one Dutch classic", and as far as 19th century works that probably still holds true (how many more can you name ?).
It is available in the Penguin Classics-series, but doesn't seem to have really made (or kept) its mark -- and is an interesting example of a book that is clearly a 'classic' but that might be a tough sell.
Certainly, it's a must-read for anyone interested in Dutch literature -- not only because of its 19th century significance, but because of the lasting influence it's had -- comparable to, say, Dickens in English literature: familiarity with it is something that's practically taken for granted through much modern Dutch literature.
It's also, in part, really, really good -- but it's also very much a national book, arising out of historical (and colonial) circumstances, the specifics (or even generalities) of which many readers will be unfamiliar with.
We're glad and relieved we finally got around to it, but then we read a fair amount of Dutch literature .....
On a purely literary level, too, it seems worthwhile -- but given that one can only read so many books, is this really one that belongs on the must-read list ?
We just don't know.
Last Thursday at Columbia a large audience attended Literature and Citizenship: A Conversation with Arthur Danto and Orhan Pamuk.
We didn't even try to go, figuring it would be well-covered elsewhere (and being extraordinarily lazy).
So where is the coverage ?
Yes, there's a report at the lounge, but that seems to be about it -- in English.
But somebody has to explain to us why the only newspaper report we've found is Jordan Mejias' thorough Literat, wie hast du's mit dem Staat ? in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.
What the hell ?!?
(We don't have the time to translate any longer sections from it, but it sounds like it was a fascinating evening, and he does quote Pamuk as saying: "Possibly art and politics aren't compatible.")
A big one-two punch on Monday as the winners of the two biggest French literary prizes, the Goncourt and the Renaudot, were named.
Les Bienveillantes by Jonathan Littell took the Goncourt (getting seven out of ten votes), while Mémoires de porc-épic by Alain Mabanckou took a hotly contested Renaudot (six votes to five (for Marilyn, dernières séances by Michel Schneider) in the tenth (!) round of voting).
(As always, the best place to keep up to date on all the latest French prize happenings is at the excellent Prix-Litteraires: Le blog.)
The Littell is coming out in English in early 2008 -- but you'll be able to get a taste of Mabanckou (though not the prize-winning title) earlier: as Soft Skull note at their weblog, they're bringing out African Psycho in a couple of months.
(See also their publicity page and pre-order your copy from Amazon.com.)
For other prize coverage, see Winner of Prix Goncourt shuns spotlight by Alan Riding (The New York Times, here at the IHT), and UCLA Visiting Professor Wins Prestigious French Book Prize by Meg Sullivan at UCLA News.
And for good French coverage, see Littell haut la main by Pierre Assouline at his weblog, La république des livres.
The shortlist won't be announced until 4 April 2007, and the winner will only be named 14 June, but it is the start of the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award season, as they have announced the longlist.
138 novels, including (a feeble) 28 in translation.
As usual, it's an incredibly mixed bag, which includes some real crap as well as quite a few very good books.
We have an astonishing number of longlisted titles under review:
2006 has seen a couple of books with both literary aspirations and popular appeal make quite the impact.
No Harry Potter or The Da Vinci Code this year, but rather fare like Jonathan Littell's Les Bienveillantes, Kertész Imre's memoir K. dosszié, the forthcoming Pynchon.
(There's also that Grass-memoir, but interest in that seems almost entirely due to non-literary reasons.)
So is there any clear favourite for book of the year ?
Oh, yes !
Borges by Adolfo Bioy Casares, just out from Ediciones Destino (see their publicity page).
1664 pages of longtime Borges-friend and -collaborator Bioy Casares' notebook entries devoted to their many-decade-spanning association.
It's only available in Spanish for now (get your copy at Amazon.com), but we pray they're already hard at work on the translation (and we pray even harder that whoever bought/buys the English-language rights doesn't cut a word in translation (as they are wont to do ...)).
This is what Borges-fans (and isn't that everyone who can read ?) have been waiting for for ages.
Bioy Casares (who died in 1999) wrote some pretty good fiction himself, but it's these records that promise to offer new insight into the master himself.
(El País offers a decent overview of the book.)
Not surprisingly, Borges-widow María Kodama -- Joycean (i.e. Joyce-heir-like) in her controlling manner -- has condemned the publication and apparently considers it a stab in the back (see, for example, this ABC-article), but as far as we can tell Bioy was better for Borges than she has been, so her opposition further recommends the book to us.
Our Spanish is very, very feeble, but we do hope to get our hands on a copy and very slowly work our way through.
All 1664 pages.
It definitely sounds like it's worth the trouble.
Last September, the Vietnam Record Books awarded him the title "the most prolific and fastest translator".
He deserves the honor, having translated the 550 page The Scaffold by Soviet writer Chinghiz Aitmatov in 10 days, Soviet Anatoly Naumovich Rybakov’s Children of the Arbat which is over 1000 pages in three months, and Yulian Semyonov’s 300-page Seventeen Instants of Spring in only 10 days.
Lots of people have trouble just reading at this pace .....
Of course, something may be lost as he races along -- though occasionally that may be for the best:
In 1983 alone, he managed to translate all 50 volumes on economics, which the Soviet Union donated to the Ho Chi Minh City government.
This later served as a guideline for state economic policy at the time.
The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of three Naguib Mahfouz books, two early pharaonic novels -- Khufu's Wisdom and Rhadopis of Nubia -- as well as a new collection of Life's Wisdomfrom the Works of the Nobel Laureate.
As the publishers waved their chequebooks, the line-up of actors, pop stars, sportsmen and politicians must have seemed irresistibly bankable.
Now they are counting the cost after this summer's push of celebrity stories turned into some of publishing's most expensive flops.
But there are still some making excuses for them:
Publishing commentator Danuta Kean said that for many publishers, celebrity memoirs were something of a loss leader; it was important to show they were in the market for such books when other authors come along.
There's a theory -- but is it really advisable to signal so clearly that you're willing to overpay for crap (as long as it comes with a celebrity label) ?
Sure, the authors and their agents appreciate that there are suckers like these publishing companies willing to give them way more money than they deserve -- but wouldn't a better business plan be to pay an appropriate amount -- and actually get a return on investments ?
(Recall, these are the publishers who constantly whine that "publishing is a business" and use that excuse to avoid putting out literary fiction (and literature in translation) -- despite the fact that this could be had (and marketed) much more cheaply .....
Sure, the occasional celebrity-hit could make publishers a load of money -- but if they're this bad (and it looks like they're awful) at guessing what will work and what won't then it just seems more advisable to stick to safer stuff.)
Ms Kean said: "Publishers may make some dodgy judgements but they can do the maths and know how to operate in a tough market.
So Jonathan Littell's Les Bienveillantes took the Grand Prix du Roman de l'Académie Française and US and UK rights have now been sold (for undisclosed amounts) -- but has the phenomenon peaked ?
The book made the final cuts of an astonishing number of the big French literary prizes -- but most of these juries don't like to award their honours to a book that has gotten the nod elsewhere.
Indeed, after the Grand Prix-announcement the Prix Renaudot -- probably the second most prestigious, after the Goncourt -- immediately took itself (or rather Les Bienveillantes) out of the running by not naming the book in its dernière sélection
More significantly (and ominously) the backlash appears to be growing.
James Mackenzie's Reuters-report, U.S. author's Holocaust novel splits French critics, is still pretty tame, but The Economist's review (issue of 4 November, not freely accessible online yet) is headlined: A bad case of over-excitement and concludes:
At the Frankfurt book fair last month, publishers made frenzied bids for the foreign rights.
They may be in for a pasting.
The review also notes:
Mr Littell's research is meticulous. (...)
But the novel founders under the weight of its own detail. (...)
As the Third Reich crumbles, so Les Bienveillantes falls apart.
There have also been several pretty harsh German judgments -- most recently Jörg von Uthmann's scathing Littell Favorit für den Prix Goncourt in Die Welt -- though he may be going overboard in part:
Wie so oft, hat der buchhändlerische Erfolg mit der literarischen Qualität nichts zu tun.
Man darf sogar vermuten, dass die meisten Kritiker, die das Buch rühmten oder gar -- wie der Nouvel Observateur -- mit Tolstois Krieg und Frieden verglichen, es gar nicht vollständig gelesen haben.
(As so often, the sales-success has nothing to do with literary quality.
One can even surmise that most of the critics who praised the book or even -- like the Nouvel Observateur -- compared it to Tolstoy's War and Peace didn't even read the whole thing.)
But some of his critcism sounds plausible (and is echoed in other reviews, including that in The Economist):
Littell kennt den Zweiten Weltkrieg nur aus Büchern.
Das merkt man dem Roman an.
Er ist im Kern eine durch die Figur des Max Aue lose zusammengehaltene Folge von Lesefrüchten.
Littell hat sich ersichtlich Mühe gegeben, seine Kunstfigur mit menschlichen Qualitäten auszustatten.
Herausgekommen ist aber leider nur ein Klischee: Der SS-Mann, der seinen Kant und Hegel intus hat und zwischen Mondschein- und Hammerklaviersonate rasch ein paar Juden abknallt, ist uns schon früher begegnet.
Wo das Klischee aufhört, beginnt die Karikatur: Aue ist nicht nur schwul und leidet unter drastisch geschilderten Verdauungsstörungen.
Er hat auch ein inzestuöses Verhältnis zu seiner Schwester und erschlägt seine Mutter und seinen Stiefvater.
(Littell only knows the Second World War from books.
One can tell from his novel.
It is essentially a loose collection of observations picked from books, held together by the figure of Max Aue.
Littell clearly made an effort to give his creation human qualities.
But all he managed to make of it was a cliché: the SS-man who knows his Kant and Hegel and guns down a few Jews between Moonlight and Hammerklavier-sonatas is someone we've already encountered.
Where the cliché ends, caricature begins: Aue isn't just gay and suffers from drastically described digestive problems.
He also has an incestuous relationship with his sister and killed his mother and step-father.)
It does sound pretty ridiculous ... but we still have to admit we're curious about the whole thing.
Choueiri is the director of the glass-walled Librairie al-Bourj bookstore on the ground floor of the An-Nahar Building in Downtown Beirut.
It is a Thursday afternoon and he is outlining a project he set up in late September to help address what he describes as a potential literacy gap opened by the war in Lebanon this past summer.
"There's also a couple of unpublished novels in this collection, they're both incomplete, but they're substantial, ... there's also some unknown works represented included some manuscripts and, as well as that, there's drafts of poems, some of which have not been previously known about."
The papers of Patrick White have been the El Dorado of Australian libraries since the 1960s.
Many had asked for them.
All had been rebuffed.
The old bastard.
Patrick White told the world over and over again that none of this existed.
"Don't bother hunting for drafts and manuscripts," he snapped when I asked years ago.
"They've all gone into the pit."
Stuffed into cupboards and drawers in his house on the edge of Centennial Park was more literary treasure than anyone has unearthed in this country for decades.
He kept drafts and sketches of novels, stories, plays and speeches. He kept an abandoned novel.
Every word of every draft of the memoir Flaws in the Glass was there when he died.
And 10 precious notebooks crammed with jottings, research and verse going back to the 1930s.
The Nobel laureate with more than a dozen books in print earned less than $7000 in royalties in the six months before he died.
And that's Australian dollars !
But if even a Nobel laureate, with a full catalogue of books, can't earn more than this off royalties .....
Anyway: this is among the best literary news of the year, and we can hardly wait for the published results.
(Marr is presumably already at work on a new White-biography in light of all this material .....)
Prof Ngugi Wa Thiong'o jetted into the country, launched a controversial novel and as silently as he arrived, departed with only a few Kenyans getting a whiff of the book launch.
As the professor of comparative literature sat behind a lonely table for the launch of the second instalment of Murogi wa Kagogo, he must have wondered what was wrong with Kenya's reading preferences.
There were not as many book enthusiasts to receive the novel he had worked on for years, as was the case when the English version was launched abroad.
The usual overview (i.e. you could substitute almost any country-name (developed or un-) for 'Kenya'), but still of some interest.
Among the observations:
After printing, most publishers do not bother to market them.
Instead, they pile the books in bookstores, hoping that readers will stumble on them somehow.
"You can't light a lamp and leave it covered under the bed," argues Munene.
"We saw how the publisher of the controversial novel Da Vinci Code even stage managed a court drama to push its sales up. Why can't Kenyan publishers wake up ?"
He mainly writes for a Kenyan audience, so I wondered how the book was received when it was published there in Gikuyu.
"In Kenya we don’t have Gikuyu newspapers, so there are no reviews.
What you get is oral reviews, word of mouth.
You read it and tell someone else. And by that method word has been very good, even without the press."
We've been touting Daniel Kehlmann's novel Measuring the World for the past year, but now it's finally set to hit the US, and the first mass-media review we've seen is Tim Rutten's very favourable one in The Los Angeles Times (link likely only very short-lived at that silly site).
The November/December issue of World Literature Today is now available online; see the table of contents (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) and click through to the various articles.
Lots of Orhan Pamuk coverage, as well as:
Roberto Bolaño's Advice on the Art of Writing Short Stories ("7. Short-story writers customarily brag about having read Petrus Borel (Joseph-Pierre Borel). In fact, many short-story writers are notorious for trying to imitate Borel’s writing. What a huge mistake ! Instead, they should imitate the way Borel dresses.")
And of course the usual selection of reviews of international and foreign-language literature.
Yeah, yeah, we know we shouldn't waste your (and our) time with this sort of stuff, but we're just too curious (and keep hoping one of these book will turn out to be ... adequate).
Besides, how many works of Brazilian non-fiction do we get a chance to review ?
So, the most recent addition to the complete review is our review of The Diary of a Brazilian Call Girl, Raquel Pacheco's (aka 'Bruna Surfistinha''s) The Scorpion's Sweet Venom.
Yes, another book by a call-girl who parlayed her weblog into an international literary sensation.
Or at least into a third-rate book .....
Tom Stoppard's day-filling trilogy, The Coast of Utopia (see also our reviews of the individual pieces; Voyage, Shipwreck, and Salvage) is in previews in New York, and so there are a variety of preparatory pieces out.
Highly recommended: the special issue of the Lincoln Center Theater Review.
For simpler reading: in New York Boris Kachka does 'The Coast of Utopia' by the Numbers.
And see also Keith Gessen's piece about Alexander Herzen -- "the worldly idealist at the heart of Stoppard’s Coast of Utopia" -- in The New Yorker, The Revolutionist.
Meanwhile, not surprisingly, our review of The Coast of Utopia was among the most popular of the reviews on our site in October -- but, bizarrely and inexplicably, it was our review of Enter a Free Man that was the most popular of all our Stoppard reviews last month .....
At The Guardian's book blog Kathryn Hughes writes: After a good review ? Ask your publisher, arguing that publishers are trying a bit too hard to tell reviewers what to think (and write) about new books.
Our wish is, of course, for blank slates across the board, but that ain't going to happen -- but we find it hard to believe that many reviewers (even Internet amateurs ...) are influenced by the publicity-crap that accompanies most review copies.
(And -- as in her example -- the over-the-top efforts make for fun material to comment on .....)