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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 January 2007

11 January: Krasznahorkai's Satan Tango | The Three Investigators rights-debate
12 January: Bestselling French novelists | The Tibetan Book of the Dead a dud ? | Poetry judging | Nooteboom praise | Book warnings | Paz Soldán reviews
13 January: Prize submission games ? | Czech translation | Macintyre on (literary) feuds | Arabic literature in translation overview | Reza reviews
14 January: New translations, pro and con | Fiction packing less power ? | Political pulp fiction
15 January: New Korean book (and spelling ... /) | Adichie interview | NYTBR notes | The One from the Other review
16 January: Amis answers readers' questions | Kolakowski to get Jerusalem Prize | The Top Ten x 125 | Krasznahorkai interview | Julia en het balkon review
17 January: LBC WInter 2007 Read This ! selection | Mini-book museum | Endangered words rescue effort | Most Expensive Books Of 2006 | Hutch Crossword Book Awards shortlists preview | The Little Book of Plagiarism review
18 January: Weinberg on Dawkins | Coleridge's Faust-translation
19 January: NIN prize to Basara | CIBF | Menzel's latest Hrabal adaptation | Venture capital writing support
20 January: Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist | Borges review in FT | Hrant Dink murder | Long books and reviewers ? | Al Alvarez profile | Himmich reviews

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20 January 2007 - Saturday

Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist | Borges review in FT | Hrant Dink murder
Long books and reviewers ? | Al Alvarez profile | Himmich reviews

       Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist

       At The Independent Boyd Tonkin introduces the 20-book-strong Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist, selected from 86 submitted books. (Recall, by the way, that last year's Man Booker was selected from a mere 95 submitted titles (plus 17 called-in ones) ....)
       As usual, this is one of the rare book prizes where we actually have quite a few of the titles under review:        (More to follow, too.)
       Tonkin also notes that they were all very enthusiastic about Irène Némirovsky's Suite Française, but left it "hors concours: above the battle, outside the competition and in a class of its own."

       See also Kadare heads foreign fiction prize longlist by Richard Lea at The Guardian.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Borges review in FT

       We were very excited when we heard about the publication (alas, only in Spanish) of Borges by Adolfo Bioy Casares, a mammoth 1,663-page collection of Bioy Casares's Borges-notes (see the Destino Ediciones publicity page, or get your copy at; indeed, it sounded to us like its publication was clearly the book-event of the year.
       The publishers declined to send us a copy, but we're glad to see that the Financial Times managed to get their hands on the book, offering the first English-language review we've seen, Angel Gurria-Quintana's Superior in his solitude, who writes:
This extraordinary volume sheds light on Borges’ omnivorous intellect while exposing his unbridled snobbery. He was a man of forceful, though inconsistent, opinions
It is not through his highbrow witticisms but through his unguarded comments that we learn most about him.
       Apparently (and not too surprisingly) it's not an entirely flattering picture:
He was, in any case, an equal-opportunity supremacist: "I was asked if I liked Brazil. I said no, because the country is full of negroes. They didn’t like that at all. One can’t say anything against negroes. Their only merit is to have been mistreated and that, as Bernard Shaw remarked, is no merit."
       But Gurria-Quintana concludes:
The book is a remarkable glimpse into an equally remarkable literary friendship. It is, perhaps, as close as one can get to Borges the writer and, especially, to Borges the man.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Hrant Dink murder

       As we've frequently mentioned, prosecutors in Turkey have been using the obscene Article 301 (which, for example, makes it a crime to insult the nation) to go after authors (including recent Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk). Among the more prominent targets of misguided nationalists was journalist Hrant Dink, and after they couldn't get satisfaction in the courts they (it seems unlikely anybody else would go this far) shot and killed him yesterday -- which is more of an insult to Turkey and all its people have achieved than anything any author could come up with. Admirably, there have been large-scale protests against this outrage; arrests have apparently been made (though the killer(s) escaped the scene of the crime).
       For early reports, see Benjamin Harvey's Vocal Turkish-Armenian Journalist Slain (AP), Paul de Bendern and Thomas Grove's Turkish-Armenian editor shot dead in Istanbul (Reuters), the BBC's Obituary: Hrant Dink, and Ellen Bork's Hrant Dink, 1954-2007 (The Weekly Standard).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Long books and reviewers ?

       Newsweek's Malcolm Jones offers up an odd non-review of Vikram Chandra’s Sacred Games in the web-exclusive A Book Reviewer's Dilemma.
       He gave up on it after a hundred pages -- not because it was terrible, but because he didn't feel it was worth his -- and your -- while.
       He also suggests:
Most reviewers get invested in the books they review, one way or the other. So the books are either panned outright or praised. The praise isn’t necessarily over the top, but it is praise. The reviewer has an investment now. He or she has spent a lot of time reading this book. Can’t just say, oh, it was OK. So you wind up with positive reviews that lack something -- heart, maybe ?

I’ve done this myself. I think it’s unavoidable. But not always. And not when the book is more than 900 pages long. Nothing like a 900-page book to make me stand up for what I believe in.
       We can't really condemn him -- there are, after all more than enough books to go around, and if he isn't spending his time reading this one he presumably is reading (and reviewing) others. Still, the it's-too-long excuse sounds pretty lame.

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       Al Alvarez profile

       An Al Alvarez collection, Risky Business, is coming out (in the UK; get your copy at, occasioning Lee Randall's profile, Lifelines worth betting on, in The Scotsman.
       Of particular interest: how he's abandoned reading poetry:
"I can listen to music and look at art, but it doesn't seem to happen to me with poetry. Poetry is my great passion and I still write it, but I can't bring myself to read it anymore."
Alvarez reckons the "ear" may have its own lifespan.

"I'm sure you lose it. One of the reasons I gave up working for the Observer was because I haven't been able to see the really good new poets. The new poetry just leaves me absolutely cold. And I don't know why that is."

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Himmich reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two historical fictions by Moroccan author Bensalem Himmich:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

19 January 2007 - Friday

NIN prize to Basara | CIBF
Menzel's latest Hrabal adaptation | Venture capital writing support

       NIN prize to Basara

       As B92 reports, the NIN roman godine has gone to Svetislav Basara for his novel Uspon i pad Parkinsonove bolesti ('The Rise and Fall of Parkinson’s disease'). Basara isn't entirely unknown in translation -- his Chinese Letter was brought out by Dalkey Archive Press (see their publicity page); we expect to get to it eventually.
       B92 writes:
The NIN literary prize is awarded by an expert jury that convene to select the best work of literature in the previous year. The NIN award has grown into one of the most important literary awards in Serbia in the field of contemporary domestic literature.
       Throw in Yugoslavia before everything split apart, and they seem to be right -- just look at the impressive list of previous winners, which includes translated authors: Miroslav Krleža (see, for example, our review of his The Banquet in Blitva), Meša Selimović (who won for his great Death and the Dervish), Borislav Pekić (see, for example, our review of his How to Quiet a Vampire), Danilo Kiš (see, for example, our review of his A Tomb for Boris Davidovich), Aleksandar Tišma, Milorad Pavić, Dubravka Ugrešić, Vladimir Arsenijević, and David Albahari (see, for example, our review of his Götz and Meyer).

       For this year's award Basara beat out another author possibly familiar to American audiences, Zoran Živković (whose Hidden Camera is also a Dalkey-title).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -


       The Cairo International Book Fair starts 23 January, and in My friends from Italy at Al-Ahram Weekly Rania Khallaf writes about what to expect in this year when the guest of honour is Italy.

       The official CIBF site is also conducting a poll about "What category of books you prefer ?" -- and disappointingly the current results (with an impressive 135,346 votes in, last we checked) had 'Literature' in fourth and last place -- topped even by 'Miscellaneous readings'. Yes, people apparently even prefer miscellaneous readings (i.e. presumably any random crap) to fiction .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Menzel's latest Hrabal adaptation

       Czech director Jiří Menzel made his first and lasting mark with his 1960s adaptation of the great Bohumil Hrabal's Closely Watched Trains, and now he's tackled yet another Hrabal-title, I Served the King of England. (New Directions is coming out with a new edition of the book in May; pre-order at; British publisher Vintage was quicker and their new edition is already available (get your copy at See, for example, the Cineuropa information page on the new film.
       Steffen Silvis reviews Menzel's film in The Prague Post, and as the headline -- Ill serving a sage of Czech literature -- suggests, he's not bowled over. Nevertheless, the film might still prove to be a great success, since what he sees as a negative many cinema-goers might instead be quite enthusiastic about:
The primary problem, perhaps, is the intrusion of Menzel's fetish for breasts.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Venture capital writing support

       In the Boston Globe Chris Reidy reports that "Literary venture capitalist" picks author. Previously they've 'invested' in a couple of book projects, but this is the first time they've subsidised an author:
Literary Ventures, whose motto is "Investing in literature one book at a time," has selected Thomas O'Malley as the first recipient of an investment from its new Writers Fund, one of several foundation initiatives for promoting worthy fiction, nonfiction, and poetry
       Unfortunately they offer no hard numbers:
Literary Ventures declined to disclose how much O'Malley is receiving but said the amount should let him write for a year without distractions.
       There's also no word on whether or how much of a cut LVF get on his future profits .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

18 January 2007 - Thursday

Weinberg on Dawkins | Coleridge's Faust-translation

       Weinberg on Dawkins

       We reviewed Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion a while back, but almost as interesting as the book itself have been the reactions to it -- especially the many reviews that haven't bothered grappling with the book on its own terms.
       The TLS review of the book is now available; it's by Steven Weinberg and he at least takes issue with some of the review approaches:
I find it disturbing that Thomas Nagel in the New Republic dismisses Dawkins as an "amateur philosopher", while Terry Eagleton in the London Review of Books sneers at Dawkins for his lack of theological training. Are we to conclude that opinions on matters of philosophy or religion are only to be expressed by experts, not mere scientists or other common folk ? It is like saying that only political scientists are justified in expressing views on politics. Eagleton’s judgement is particularly inappropriate; it is like saying that no one is entitled to judge the validity of astrology who cannot cast a horoscope.
       (That's only the tip of the iceberg of our review-objections, and though almost nothing tops Eagleton's bizarre approach, H. Allen Orr's review in The New York Review of Books (a frequent Weinberg-venue) is another of the glaringly wrong-track approaches worth a mention ("The most disappointing feature of The God Delusion is Dawkins's failure to engage religious thought in any serious way" he claims, rather than engaging with Dawkins' book in the way it deserves (or rather: demands).)
       Weinberg at least takes a different tack, finding fault elsewhere:
Where I think Dawkins goes wrong is that, like Henry V after Agincourt, he does not seem to realize the extent to which his side has won. Setting aside the rise of Islam in Europe, the decline of serious Christian belief among Europeans is so widely advertised that Dawkins turns to the United States for most of his examples of unregenerate religious belief.
       But even he manages, in his conclusion, to redirect attention away from the book's central point (that whole 'god'-hypothesis thing), valid though the point may be:
Dawkins treats Islam as just another deplorable religion, but there is a difference. The difference lies in the extent to which religious certitude lingers in the Islamic world, and in the harm it does. Richard Dawkins’s even-handedness is well-intentioned, but it is misplaced. I share his lack of respect for all religions, but in our times it is folly to disrespect them all equally.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Coleridge's Faust-translation

       The story of the attribution of a translation of Goethe's Faust to Samuel Taylor Coleridge has been getting considerable news coverage; see, for example now Arifa Akbar's Sex and drugs and English literature: Coleridge and a Faustian pact in The Independent:
Professor McKusick used a computer analysis called "stylometrics", a system that suggests every writer uses a characteristic vocabulary, to compare the anonymous translation with Coleridge's body of works, as well as writings of other leading contenders for its authorship, including Soane.

With the help of the mathematics department at his university, he examined the use of functional keywords in the Faust translation and Coleridge's play Remorse, and found they showed a nearly exact match. Results from other authors whom academics believe may have been responsible for the translation did not even come close on the stylometrics system, he said.
       While we think it would be cooler if he'd called it style-o'metrics, it's still fairly cool.
       The Oxford University Press edition is due out in September -- though at a staggering £85.00 (pre-order at But the publicity page for Faustus: From the German of Goethe Translated by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, eds. Frederick Burwick and James C. McKusick does promise: 27 engravings and 10 graphs -- and:
- Reprints, with introductory headnotes, five contemporary translations (de Stael, Soane, Anster, Boileau, Levinson-Gower)
- Gives the stylometric evidence of Coleridge's authorship using state-of-the-art computer-based analysis
       Sounds pretty good.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

17 January 2007 - Wednesday

LBC WInter 2007 Read This ! selection | Mini-book museum
Endangered words rescue effort | Most Expensive Books Of 2006
Hutch Crossword Book Awards shortlists preview | The Little Book of Plagiarism review

       LBC WInter 2007 Read This ! selection

       The LBC Winter 2007 Read This ! selection has been announced -- and there will be discussions about all three nominated titles over the next few weeks. Well worth following at the LBC site. (Local barkeep M.A.Orthofer is part of the LBC.)
       (See also our review of the winning title.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Mini-book museum

       In The Baku Museum of Miniature Books at Right of Choice Emin Akhundov profiles Salahova Zarifa Teymur and the impressive-sounding (if awkwardly named) The Museum of Miniature Book she's assembled. Pretty cool.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Endangered words rescue effort

       At Deutsche Welle they report on Bodo Mrozek's (German) word-rescue effort, in Berlin Word Doctor Puts Unused Vocab on Life Support:
Bodo Mrozek, a 38-year-old author from Berlin, has taken on the Sisyphean task of rescuing endangered words and even trying to reinstate some of them into modern German speech.
       There's a website -- Lexikon der bedrohten Wörter -- covering his efforts (and where words can be submitted -- "25,000 words have been submitted, 800 of which have made it to Mrozek's so-called Red List of endangered words"). (Naturally, he's also parlayed it into two published books -- get your copies of volumes one and two at
       We particularly like this idea:
For those words that can't be resuscitated, a graveyard could be constructed, said Mrozek. It would have to be in an endangered area, such as in a derelict town in eastern Germany or a run-down industrial park in western Germany. And the craftsmen, whose professions are likewise endangered, would use endangered tools to fashion gravestones for the words that have passed out of the standard vocabulary and into word heaven.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Most Expensive Books Of 2006

       At Forbes Elisabeth Eaves reports on The 10 Most Expensive Books Of 2006 -- of which five were ... atlases (but a volume of Rimbaud's Une saison en enfer also made the list).
       See the top ten -- but be warned: it's presented in slide show-fashion (i.e. incredibly annoying).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Hutch Crossword Book Awards shortlists preview

       The shortlists for the Hutch Crossword Book Awards -- the big Indian literary prize -- will be announced tonight, but in Do prizes work as reader`s guides ? Nilanjana S. Roy previews them, noting:
There is, sadly, a great deal of middling fiction -- the longlist is compiled as a collection of all eligible titles, barring children’s books, that might qualify as literary fiction, rather than as a selective list. The 20-odd decent contenders on this year’s list of 49 rise fairly quickly to the top.
       See, presumably, the Hutch Crossword Book Award for the shortlists when they become available.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Little Book of Plagiarism review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Richard Posner's The Little Book of Plagiarism.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

16 January 2007 - Tuesday

Amis answers readers' questions | Kolakowski to get Jerusalem Prize
The Top Ten x 125 | Krasznahorkai interview | Julia en het balkon review

       Amis answers readers' questions

       Even poor Martin Amis has been reduced to such humiliations as participating in The Independent's Martin Amis: You Ask The Questions, writing in to answer readers' questions.
       At least he treats the questions with the respect they deserve -- for example:
Whats the worst thing that's ever happened to you ? NESA GARDEZI, by email

One day I returned home from a book tour in the US, and I noticed that the leading edge of the toilet roll in the bathroom wasn't folded into an inviting V -- as it was in all those American hotels.
       And he treats the questioners with the due respect as well:
The phrase "horrorism", which you invented to describe 9/11, is unintentionally hilarious. Have you got any more ? JONATHAN BROOKS, by email

Yes, I have. Here's a good one (though I can hardly claim it as my own): the phrase is "fuck off".
       All of which leads one (or at least us) to wonder what the point of this exercise is anyway. But readers apparently love these glimpses of the person behind the books, the feel of a connexion posing a question and getting a response gives them .....
       And, yes, there are bits of interest to be found -- like how much Tibor Fischer's devastating dismissal of Amis' unfortunate Yellow Dog still rankles. And that, now that Bellow is dead, he thinks the top three living American authors are, in order: Updike, Roth. and De Lillo.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Kolakowski to get Jerusalem Prize

       They'll be handing out the bi-annual Jerusalem Prize for Literature on 18 February, at the Jerusalem International Book Fair, and at Ha'aretz Shiri Lev-Ari reports that Leszek Kolakowski gets Jerusalem Prize for Literature.
       See also the list of previous recipients.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Top Ten x 125

       Critical Mass points us to Lev Grossman's article in Time about a new book edited by J. Peder Zane, The Top Ten: Writers Pick Their Favorite Books. Yes, 125 of "the world's most celebrated writers" ('world's' meaning almost exclusively from the English-speaking world (since most in the US recognise no other ...)) pick their top ten.
       Sounds fun -- we'll probably try to get our hands on a copy. There is even an official site, which also lists all the books named, as well as the contents and contributors. (Get your copy of the book itself from or
       Of the top ten top ten (i.e. the most named titles), we have three under review: Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (2), Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov (4), and Middlemarch by George Eliot (10).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Krasznahorkai interview

       hlo now offer an interview with Krasznahorkai László:, "There isn´t anything anywhere any more"
       If we didn't know better it would probably have scared us off with statements such as:
László Krasznahorkai burst through the front door of the Hungarian literary scene without bothering to knock first, and his powerful, autonomous entrée instantly raised the temperature of the literary public to feverish heights.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Julia en het balkon review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Maarten Asscher's novelle in eenentwintig bedrijven, Julia en het balkon.
       Are we wasting our time covering this sort of book ? We haven't read anything else by him, but we will; his role at publisher Meulenhoff, and as a translator, suggest at least an agreeable literary bent and even if he's unknown in English, maybe there's something to what he's done and doing.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

15 January 2007 - Monday

New Korean book (and spelling ... /) | Adichie interview
NYTBR notes | The One from the Other review

       New Korean book (and spelling ... ?)

       Given how little is translated from many foreign languages, including Korean, one is at least grateful for longer book-review articles describing recent untranslated works -- as in Seo Dong-shin's report in The Korea Times, New Book Weaves Korean Politics From Jewish History and Christianity.
       The information about the book itself is interesting enough, but what's perhaps most striking is an inadvertent indication why some foreign authors might have trouble catching on abroad -- or catching the attention of foreign publishers and agents: the author's name is given as Lee Mun-yeol. Unfortunately, you're only likely to have heard of him as Yi Munyol (or Yi Mun-yol; see also, for example, our review of his Our Twisted Hero). Ah, yes, the wonders of transliteration ..... (And recall -- or let us tell you -- Yi (Lee) is probably the most popular (and widely translated) contemporary Korean novelist !)
       The new book does sound a bit nutty ("In Lee's story, Christ is reincarnated in the body of a boiler mechanic in a run-down slum in Seoul"), but it's at least interesting to hear what he's up to -- and we are intrigued:
Now his latest three-volume novel, Homo Executans published late last month, marks a peak in his political statements made through literature. The Latin title places an emphasis on nature of humans as executors, he says.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Adichie interview

       In the Nigerian Daily Sun Henry Akubuiro interviews Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie -- and it's better than the silly headline (My love life) suggests.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       NYTBR notes

       Usually we just make summary observations about The New York Times Book Review (mainly regarding their limited fiction and books-in-translation coverage), but with the 14 January issue we feel compelled to say a bit more. (For the record: there is, for once (or at least the first time in ages), almost as much fiction coverage as non, and at least one translated title (though that's an Isabel Allende novel ...).)
       Maybe Ed is right in his succinct dismissal [updated: or could that be succinct approval ?]: of William T. Vollmann's review of Exit A. by Anthony Swofford (find it here at the IHT), but we can't resist an additional comment or two.
       What struck us -- what shocked us -- was to read:
I hate to write reviews like this. I especially hate to disparage the work of someone who, like Swofford, has put his life on the line for the ostensible purpose of preserving my freedoms and civil liberties, such as they are.
       Why these qualms ? All we want from a reviewer is that s/he judge the book. The fact that the author has done admirable (or terrible) non-literary things shouldn't have any bearing on the reviewer's approach to the text. (Yes, yes, sometimes there is a connexion between personal history and the text, but Swofford's putting his life on the line certainly has nothing to do with this book.)
       Admittedly Vollmann has a hang-up about 'authenticity' (found, apparently, mainly in and translated from life experience): writing about Swofford's Jarhead he enthuses: "This expert knowledge is precisely what makes the book believable, valuable", and he goes so far as to admit bafflement "about this lifeless failure of verisimilitude" when Swofford uses (poorly) what are apparently autobiographical elements in Exit A.. The idea that maybe the guy only had the one book in him seems to occur to Vollmann -- "In other places, Jarhead gets not so much reworked as recycled" -- but he doesn't take it to it's natural and obvious conclusion. Indeed, instead of acknowledging Swofford may well and likely be a one-hit wonder, he ends his review with the ridiculous encouragement:
I hope and believe that Swofford, who has many books ahead of him if he chooses to write them, can achieve true greatness on a future occasion.
       What the hell kind of statement is that to put in a review ? Every author -- hell, every human being -- has many books ahead of them if they choose to write them. The issue, of course, is whether or not they should write them (sure, what the hell, is our attitude) -- and whether those books might be worth reading (generally: not likely). But everything that Vollmann writes here about Swofford's two books suggests this guy was one-and-done (as so many, many authors are -- and no shame in that). Where does he get the idea he'll be able to achieve "true greatness" ?
       ((Updated - 17 January): For additional reactions to this review see, for example, Steve Clackson's (and the many comments) and BookFox's.)

       Sam Tanenhaus has all sorts of excuses about why there's so little coverage of fiction in the NYTBR (including that there's supposedly more, and more important non-fiction coming out (both of which are debatable)), but the 14 January issue (and many others) almost read like nothing so much as attempts to prove fiction is worthless -- or at least worth less than non. Sure, there's the obligatory and unavoidable review of Martin Amis' House of Meetings (we'll get to that as well, when we get our hands on a copy), but who the hell chose the rest of this line-up ? Okay, the Allende adds some much-needed international flavour (and, as a person-focussed 'historical fiction' (it's about the woman who founded Santiago, Chile), is certainly fiction of the sort that seems to appeal to Tanenhaus) and may be worth a mention, but we don't think we'd have bothered (and the reviewer concludes: "as a work of fiction, her portrait of Inés is hit-and-miss" -- but then again for Tanenhaus how a work of fiction works "as a work of fiction" hardly seems of interest ...). Then there's Richard Lourie on Leslie Epstein's The Eight Wonder of the World ("All he really consists of is a single, endlessly repeated verbal tic", Lourie writes about the protagonist, and offers up at least one "stupefyingly unfunny attempt at comedy" from the book). There's the Swofford slam, and Neil Genzlinger doesn't seem very amused by "Tim Sandlin's new comic novel". Indeed, the most enthusiasm any of this week's fiction reviewers can muster is Bliss Broyard on a sounds-like-a-chick-lit-novel by Patricia Marx -- and what telling praise some of it is: "Marx's novel made me laugh so hard that I kept trying to read lines aloud to my boyfriend, who -- looking up from The Magic Mountain -- wasn't persuaded".
       Maybe the Amis-novel filled the 'serious' (or at least heavy) literature quota for the week (or month) at the NYTBR -- and maybe it's such a downer that they figured they had to fill most of the rest of the space with coverage of light and 'comic' fiction -- , but it remains disappointing that Tanenhaus finds it so hard (or is so unwilling) to engage with so much of the fiction out there (and it's actually quite stunning how he manages it: there are so many books out there, and this is the stuff he wastes our time with ...).
       [Updated: see also Levi Asher's Reviewing the Review.]

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The One from the Other review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Philip Kerr's The One from the Other. A welcome return of his Bernie Gunther (the hero of his first three novels), after many, many misguided efforts .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

14 January 2007 - Sunday

New translations, pro and con | Fiction packing less power ? | Political pulp fiction

       New translations, pro and con

       In The Australian Peter Craven looks at what's Lost in translation in new translations of classics -- taking Richard Pevear's new translation of The Three Musketeers as a starting point:
You can hear the gradations of emotion and the precise locutions of a man of power talking in Sudley's version. It's not simply that Pevear has, on occasion, hideous infelicities, such as his description of the "sumptuosity" of Milady's furnishings where yesterday's translation simply speaks of "the greatest luxury", it's that the Englishman's translation, done after the war, is consistently more polished and more colloquial. It sounds freer but in the tight sense favoured by St Jerome, whereby the translator should proceed meaning by meaning rather than word by word (except in cases of mystery).

It doesn't actually suggest someone who knows less French, just someone who knows more English, or at least more about letting it flow and purr

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       Fiction packing less power ?

       In the Sunday Times Rod Liddle wonders: Has fiction lost its power ? Using Updike's Terrorist as a starting point is probably less than ideal ... and he finds:
Literary fiction, it seemed to me, had stopped doing what literary fiction does best: getting beneath the skin of a subject, to the viscera, without even always intending to so do. It had started being like every other form of mass entertainment, aiming wide and broad, hoping to alienate nobody.
       We're not too sure about that -- though given how little contemporary American fiction (which he finds particularly wanting) we read and cover we're probably not well-positioned to judge.

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       Political pulp fiction

       The IHT has an AP report, China's political taboos feed market for unofficial books on scandal:
China's secretive leadership bans public dissent and censors most sensitive political news, keeping the public largely in the dark over what's really going on in the highest echelons of power.

That vacuum of information feeds a lively "alleyway news" grapevine of political gossip, nurturing a small but lively market in political pulp fiction

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13 January 2007 - Saturday

Prize submission games ? | Czech translation | Macintyre on (literary) feuds
Arabic literature in translation overview | Reza reviews

       Prize submission games ?

       We've been complaining about this for years, and we're glad to see a bit of attention being paid elsewhere: in Eyes on the prize at the Guardian-weblog Lemn Sissay wonders whether publishers play games with their literary-prize-submissions:
I've just finished judging the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for Fiction, which had me reading 45 books in three months. When I got talking to novelist Mandy Sayer at a literary festival, she surprised me with an account of how some books get on longlists. Apparently agents can collude with publishers to guarantee, through publishing deals, that certain authors are put forward for specific prizes.
"I heard of this practice, especially when we administered the Booker prize," says Tarryn McKay at the charity Booktrust, which now runs the Orange prize. "But I don't know too much about it personally."
       But the problem isn't guarantees -- since publishers can promise they'll submit any title, but there's no way of proving they actually did for many of these prizes, most notably the Man Booker. (I.e. it's more likely empty promises are the industry norm.)
       As we've mentioned many, many times (most recently when the 2006 longlist was announced), the Man Booker's ridiculous rules and policies particularly lend themselves to ridiculous games. It's easy for publishers to promise authors (and their agents) anything: since the list of books submitted is never revealed, publishers can always fall back on the claim that they submitted title X but it just didn't make the longlist (the first stage at which the titles of some of the submitted titles are made public). Because the jury can always 'call in' titles (in 2006 17 of the 112 books in contention were called in, i.e. not originally submitted by publishers) there's no way of knowing whether or not a publisher really did submit a title if it didn't make the longlist (even if two other titles -- the official submission-quota -- from the publisher appear on it, they can claim at least one of them was called in ...).
       The 2006 Man Booker prize jury considered a mere 112 titles for the prize -- an absurdly low number (especially since many of those titles were presumably from small presses -- filling their two-book quota -- that never stood a chance). As we've long called for: let's get some openness and have all these prizes reveal what books are actually in contention for the prize !

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       Czech translation

       The Elegant Variation points us to Steffen Silvis' interview with translator Mark Corner in The Prague Post, Translating the Czech Golden Age.
"The years of the First Republic, 1918-1938, were the golden years of Czech culture, particularly in literature," translator Mark Corner says over coffee at the French Institute's café. "It's the Capek Age, though many of the writers were never translated for English audiences. The double blow of the Nazis and the communists saw to that."
       Nice to see someone taking this on -- and having some success with it:
His translation of Jirotka's Saturnin quickly sold out its first print run of 3,000 copies, and has inspired its publisher, Charles University's Karolinum Press, to launch translations in German, Italian, Spanish and Chinese.
       But, of course:
"It remains a battle," Corner states firmly. "English publishers are only interested in the latest literary sensation in Czech, not of 'dead' authors. They don't get it. Perhaps Charles University and I can help."
       (Actually, as best we can tell, English -- or at least American -- publishers don't care much about the latest literary sensations in Czech either .....)

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       Macintyre on (literary) feuds

       We recently mentioned that a long-lasting literary feud between Gabriel García Marquez and Mario Vargas Llosa has apparently come to an end, but in The Times Ben Macintyre is disappointed by this turn of events, arguing: Bury the hatchet ? How very boring:
Public figures are no more tolerant of one another than they ever were, but in an age of false politeness and fake amity, the old-fashioned blood feud is increasingly rare. Only a few staunch figures still cultivate their enemies with proper care

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       Arabic literature in translation overview

       This sounds like a book we really should get out hands on: in Al-Ahram Weekly Jeanette Atiya argues that Salih Altoma's Modern Arabic Literature in Translation is Long overdue:
Salih Altoma's book is a feat of literary scholarship: it not only includes a comprehensive bibliography of modern Arabic literature in English translation but serves as an indispensable guide to translations into English of fiction, poetry, and drama published between 1947 and 2003.
       See also the Saqi publicity page, or get your copy at or

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       Reza reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two books by Yasmina Reza:
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12 January 2007 - Friday

Bestselling French novelists | The Tibetan Book of the Dead a dud ? | Poetry judging
Nooteboom praise | Book warnings | Paz Soldán reviews

       Bestselling French novelists

       Le Figaro offer their annual round-up of the bestselling French novelists in 2006 -- not the bestselling titles, but the bestselling authors. See the chart of Le top 10 des ventes de livres (warning ! dreaded pdf format !), as well as the accompanying article Dix romanciers, huit millions de livres. (See also our mention of the 2005 list.)
       Despite all the to-do about Jonathan Littell's chart-topping and prize-winning book, he only had the one to rely on (and that only came out in August), so it's no surprise that, for the year, he only made it to nr. 8 on the list (with a still-impressive 504,000 units sold).
       The top five authors were perennial favourites (yes, the same five as in 2005, though in different order):
  1. Marc Levy - 1,723,000
  2. Fred Vargas - 960,000
  3. Bernard Werber - 830,000
  4. Anna Gavalda - 824,000
  5. Amélie Nothomb - 792,000
       What's particularly interesting is that most of the top-selling authors did considerably worse than in 2005, when Levy sold over 2.3 million books and Werber, Nothomb, and Gavalda all topped the million-mark.
       (They also consider something too often ignored with book-sales: gross revenue instead of units sold, which puts Littell and his expensive book (25 euros) at second place, at over € 12,000,000.)
       Also fun: they note that there are some die-hard authors that continue to sell, in Camus, Saint-Exupéry, Gary, toujours vivants !. Yes, Albert Camus continues to sell well year in, year out -- he was the 18th best-selling author in 2006, with 200,000 units sold. That's not much of a surprise -- but what about the fact that Romain Gary (134,000 books) outsold Proust (133,000), who in turn barely sold more than Boris Vian (121,000) ? Not necessarily the old standards one (or at least we) would have expected to fare so well. (There's been some Vian-activity in the US recently, but is there even any Gary-in-English left in print?)

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       The Tibetan Book of the Dead a dud ?

       Last month in The Observer it was their 'Paperback of the week', with Olivia Laing calling the Penguin Classic edition of Gyurme Dorje's The Tibetan Book of the Dead a sequence that's: "Magical and overwhelming", but in his review in the New Statesman this week, Temple of unreason, Mark Bearn doesn't have quite the same opinion -- beginning his review:
W H Auden claimed that bad books wither and vanish like dead leaves, and critics shouldn't waste their energies on them. The strangely enduring role in western culture of the Tibetan Book of the Dead suggests that he was wrong.
       As to this version:
This edition does nothing to make the book less weird, or to clarify its enduring popularity, but it does trail an army of new devotees.
       (See also the Penguin publicity page, or get your copy at or

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       Poetry judging

       In the New Statesman there's yet another insider account, as Sean O'Brien -- chair of the judges for this year's T.S.Eliot prize -- writes about the whole judging process.

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       Nooteboom praise

       A few months back we mentioned the neat-sounding (and looking) Cees Nooteboom volume, Tumbas, on the graves of writers and thinkers. (Leaf through it at the impressive Schirmer/Mosel publicity page.)
       Now there's a review of the book in the NZZ which caught our eyes -- because it's so enthusiastic ("The volume electrified me, inspired me. (...) I've never encountered a reader as enthusiastic as Nooteboom") as well as due to the fact that the review is translated from the Hungarian. How often does one find a book review in an American daily commissioned in a foreign language and then translated ? The occasional op-ed, maybe, but a book review ?
       But what then also struck us was the author of the review -- László F. Földényi, a name that sounded familiar. Oh yes, Alberto Manguel recently brought him up at the TLS in their Books of the year-feature:
The most remarkable book I’ve read this year was recommended to me by Cees Nooteboom: a fifty-page-long essay by the Hungarian scholar László Földényi
       No wonder Földényi is praising Nooteboom as an enthusiastic reader every chance he gets. We're just a bit surprised he got this particular chance (though the Nooteboom may well be as good as advertised ...).

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       Book warnings

       Always fun when a newspaper runs a piece on Books you shouldn't bother to read, as The Times does today. Fairly clever and amusing (and certainly a set of books -- save possibly the Austen -- we'd avoid in any case).

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       Paz Soldán reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two novels by Bolivian author Edmundo Paz Soldán (yet another foreign author teaching at an American university -- Cornell, in his case -- but still (for now ?) writing in his mother tongue):
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11 January 2007 - Thursday

Krasznahorkai's Satan Tango | The Three Investigators rights-debate

       Krasznahorkai's Satan Tango

       At hlo Tim Wilkinson writes about Krasznahorkai László's Sátántangó ('Satan Tango') in The devil has all the good tunes:
One difficulty of writing for an English-speaking public about foreign-language books that have not (yet) been published in English translation is that it is usually hard to find information (in English) about even such basic aspects as the plot. Let me try to remedy that at least for one major work by László Krasznahorkai that has not (yet) made it into English, though it is likely to be the third, after The Melancholy of Resistance and War and War, to do so.
       We should, of course, get to the available novels before we concern ourselves with this one (and we will), but we do hope it gets translated soon. It is, actually, probably his best known work -- since it's the basis of Tarr Béla's epic (450 minute) film of the same name (see, for example, the IMDB page).
       Wilkinson concludes:
One can see why Hungarian critics were so enthusiastic: this is a marvellous piece of philosophical storytelling.

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       The Three Investigators rights-debate

       The Three Investigators is one of those series that has a bit of a cult folowing -- see sites such as The Three Investigators and The Three Investigators Headquarters -- but has sort of faded from view. Started up in 1964, there hasn't been much activity in the US in recent years -- but it turns out that the series is still going very strong in Germany (where it is called Die drei ???), where they continue churning out new adventures. So strong, in fact, that there's apparently a big copyright dispute between Kosmos Verlag and Sony BMG (who contend that the audio-book rights they bought entitle them to all related rights).
       Robert Arthur started the series, and Kosmos has now claimed that his will has finally turned up, proving that he left all literary rights to his alma mater, the University of Michigan -- and that his daughter, Elizabeth Arthur, had no right to sell any rights .....
       Far from settled, the next court date is in September .....
       (See also reports in Der Tagesspiegel (Die drei ??? und das Testament) and the FAZ (Überraschende Wende im Streit um Die drei ???).)

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