Cicero has published its annual list of the 500 most influential German-speaking public intellectuals.
Only the top-ten are freely accessible online, with the Pope coming in tops (up thirteen places from last year).
Writers continue to figure prominently, with Grass, Handke, Jelinek, and Martin Walser all figuring in the top ten.
They're all in a tizzy in Germany about a rumour that Stanford University might buy into illustrious Brecht- and Hesse- (among many, many others) publisher Suhrkamp (which has been in a bizarre free-fall of ownership and editorial disputes for the past year or two)
It looks more like a misunderstanding of intentions (Stanford does seem interested in being more involved in one of the Suhrkamp-imprints) than an actual (partial) take-over bid, but they're so desperate for the ownership-dispute to sort itself out that this has gotten blown far out of all proportion.
Still, another fun chapter in what has become a very bizarre publishing saga.
For German coverage, see, for example:
Iranian authors Goli Taraghi, Moniru Ravanipur, and Shahriar Mandanipour participated in a panel hosted by Robert Silvers.
Taraghi has lived abroad, in Paris, since 1979.
She reported that, like so many, she was a supporter of the revolutionary sentiment, joining her students on the streets in 1979, only soon to be disillusioned by the catastrophic turn the revolution took.
What she guessed would be one year abroad has turned into decades -- though she now returns to Iran once or twice a year.
What she emphasised was the "cultural hypocrisy" she sees in contemporary Iran, where everyone acts one way in private, at home -- a lifestyle very similar to that in the (decadent) West ... -- and another way (veiled, the sexes segregated, etc.) in public.
Moniru Ravanipur, speaking in Farsi, also spoke of a duality, of two people writing in her, as her background is from a part of Iran where belief in magic and the supernatural is still widespread, a place of water-worshippers, etc.
All complained of an increased crack-down in Iran, as it has been harder to get the necessary licenses to get their books published.
Ghosting-author and Independent Foreign Fiction Prize juror Jennie Erdal offers a pretty feeble look at translation in The Guardian, in Let there be light, looking ahead to the awarding of the IFFP on Tuesday.
Still, better than nothing.
In the Financial Times Abdulrazak Gurnah takes a look at four recent African novels in Post-nation depression, and concludes:
These four novels, in their very different ways, describe how African nations have failed their citizens.
They do not all tell the same story.
And perhaps these are not, despite appearances, uniquely African stories.
The details of each are important in grasping the complexity of these disasters.
But the intelligence and the courage of the writing make it clear that the betrayals and the bullying will not go on forever.
African writing has not lost its critical and moral engagement with events.
At The Guardian weblog Jonathan Morrison reports from the London Book Fair, and offers this very depressing quote:
Sam Edenborough from the International Literary Agency, concludes:
"We've seen a narrowing of openings.
Whereas we used to make 80% of the money from 20% of the books, it's now 90% of the money from 10% of the rights.
The mid-list is getting harder to sell, and literary fiction simply doesn't get picked up first time.
Things don't slow down over the weekend, as Saturday also offers a full programme again.
Among the highlights: Robert Silvers moderates a panel on Voices From Today’s Iran, the event you're most likely to find us attending (12:00).
Surprisingly, foreign-language-literature-phobic NYTBR-editor Sam Tanenhaus (though he offers reviews of not one but two Hungarian-written titles in this Sunday's issue ...) gets involved with some foreign authors, as he moderates Mixing Art and Politics (also 12:00):
New York Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus talks with Festival authors about whether political writing really changes people’s minds and, if so, asks whether it can still be art.
That should be fun too -- and given Tanenhaus' lack of respect for fiction it should be interesting to see whether he allows for much debate on the issue.
The Per Petterson and Marilynne Robinson event -- moderated by Radhika Jones (managing editor of The Paris Review) and introduced by Philip Gourevitch (editor of The Paris Review) was rather odd.
We obviously have no sense of literary celebrity and star-power: we figured Petterson would be a huge draw (Graywolf just brought out Out Stealing Horses, and Picador have just brought out In the Wake in paperback), with leading American talent (Pulitzer, NBCC Award, etc.) Robinson drawing in those who might not be thinking so globally.
But the Walter Reade Theater wasn't even half-full .....
The event was videotaped, and so they'll be putting it up at the PEN site and you can see for yourself what was said.
Both authors did offer interesting accounts about their lives and their writing, but they seemed a mismatched pair, and it was all a little aimless.
Unwilling to hog the spotlight, each offered tantalizing bits but not their whole stories.
And because it wasn't really an exchange between the authors, there wasn't any sense of a real continuing dialogue.
Both authors -- and the audience -- would have been better served with individual showcase events .....
But -- to much applause -- Robinson did acknowledge that she is working on another novel.
For all those publishers and authors who submit titles to us for review and then are disappointed when we don't get to them immediately, note that we received our (unsolicited) copy of The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi from Alfred A. Knopf on 3 December 2000.
Some 2300 days later, we finally got around to reviewing it .....
(And while circumstances put it top of the heap, the fact is it has always remained on the heap all these many years, i.e. was always at least in the vicinity of finally getting reviewed.
As are, still, many other titles.)
Another full day of action at the PEN World Voices Festival on Friday.
The highlight for us -- and the event we hope to report from -- is the conversation between Per Petterson and Marilynne Robinson, moderated by Radhika Jones (17:00, Walter Reade Theater, Lincoln Center).
We have several of Petterson's book's under review (In the Wake, To Siberia, and Out Stealing Horses), and though we don't have any Robinson under review, she seems to have a pretty good reputation too .....
Also of interest, two Indian heavyweights as Kiran Desai and Vikram Chandra talk with Rachel Donadio (18:30, at the Morgan Library).
The Morgan Library also hosts: Black & Blue: Mediterranean Noir, with Massimo Carlotto, Yasmina Khadra, and Carlo Lucarelli (books by all of whom we have under review) (20:00).
But those are only a few of the events: check out the whole programme, and you're sure to find ... probably far more of interest than you can manage.
A pretty sparse turn-out, but Arthur Japin put on a pretty good show in conversation with me last night.
Originally an actor, he came to writing -- at least on a large scale -- fairly late, but retains the theatrical chops, as he showed in reading several of the passages from the two books currently available in English, In Lucia's Eyes and The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi.
He noted that he spent some ten years working on that first big project, The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi -- and that he continues to re-work the material, as radio-play, stage-play, and now as opera (the world premiere of Kwasi and Kwame will be this fall).
Both novels fit right in this year's festival-theme of 'Home and Away'.
Based on historical fact, they both feature protagonists for whom the Netherlands is the 'away' -- an interesting choice for a Dutch author (i.e. one for whom Holland is 'home').
But it's their outsider status that he said attracted him to the material, allowing for a reflection of his own experiences.
He notes that even famed Dutch tolerance perhaps no longer is quite what it was, after several prominent murders (Theo van Gogh, Pim Fortuyn), but even in these novels he notes a difference between tolerance and acceptance -- as, for example, expressed in In Lucia's Eyes:
It was some time before I realized a thing assumed among the Dutch: Tolerance is not the equal of acceptance.
Indeed, the two are more nearly opposites, the former sometimes serving as a subtle means of repression.
To accept another is to embrace him unconditionally, now and always.
But to tolerate him is to suggest in the same breath that he is rather an inconvenience, like a nagging pain or an unpleasant odor demanding temporary forbearance.
Japin speaks a fluent English, and so I was interested in the translation issues, and he admitted it was difficult, after so carefully choosing every word and turn of sentence in the original, to accept the compromises that had to be made in the translations.
Still, he said he's generally had fairly good experiences -- though something does seem to have gone wrong (and much lost) in one of the Spanish translations .....
Someone from the audience asked whether he had ever tried writing a novel in English (apparently something he is often asked, but only by American audiences -- read into that what you will), and while he has written film-scripts and other material in English, he said that he wouldn't with a novel, with its much more exacting requirements.
Two more books are due out in translation, with De droom van de leeuw -- his Fellini-novel -- to be published as Director's Cut (not, as originally planned, as The Lion Dreaming).
Among the admirable efforts to bring literature in translation to the attention of potential readers in the US is Reading The World:
Now in its third year, Reading The World is an exciting collaboration between booksellers and publishers interested in bringing international voices to the attention of readers like you.
The titles that the participating publishers have chosen are now listed at the official site, and we'll run down which ones we have under review as RTW-time approaches (June and beyond seems to be this year's time-frame).
The Al Majidi Ibn Dhaher Blue Metropolis Arab Literary Prize will be awarded annually for a lifetime of substantial literary achievement by an Arab writer working in any genre (poetry, fiction, etc.) in Arabic or another language.
The winner will be chosen by a jury appointed by Blue Metropolis Foundation and chaired by the Artistic Director.
The prize is sponsored by the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage and has a value of $2,000.
The first winner: Elias Khoury.
Still: small potatoes when compared with the Blue Metropolis Literary Grand Prix, which offers $10,000 "to acknowledge a lifetime of literary achievement".
This year's winner: Margaret Atwood.
The first event I've managed to get to was Ilija Trojanow and Amitava Kumar discussing Postcolonial Writing in a Globalized World.
A somewhat disappointing turnout (maybe 50 people) and probably far too broad a topic, but certainly bits of interest.
For one: that Der Weltensammler is being translated into English (among about a dozen other languages) -- though no word on a due date.
Trojanow read from the novel, in both German and English, while Kumar offered two other pieces -- including part of what Maud Newton usefully reproduces at her site in Kumar on post-colonial writing in a globalized world.
Among the major points they did get to: the perhaps very American and certainly misguided belief that globalization is something that is new.
Indeed, they argued that especially cultural transmission has often been easier in earlier times
Trojanow's ultra-multikulti background -- Bulgarian-born, moved to Germany as a child, grew up in Kenya, lived some five or six years in Bombay (Mumbai), writes in German etc. -- is certainly almost an extreme of the international author in this day and age.
As to the postcolonial-idea (as in 'postcolonial writing'), there wasn't much enthusiasm about that specific term: neither was ready to embrace it or think it particularly fitting.
Substituting for Eduardo Lago, I'll be the one in conversation with Arthur Japin tonight at Housing Works, 126 Crosby St., from 18:30 to 19:30.
Two of Japin's books are available in English.
We don't have them under review yet, but can offer (p)review coverage (with everything but our own reviews) now: see In Lucia's Eyes and The Two Hearts of Kwasi Boachi.
For additional information, see also Japin's own official site.
Die Zeit is apparently set to print another 'defense' of Günter Grass, as publisher Klaus Wagenbach has dug up notes for a monograph he was going to write in the early 1960s in which Grass clearly acknowledged his SS past (as opposed to recent claims that he's hidden it for all these years).
Wagenbach isn't the first to say he heard about Grass' SS-past from Grass long ago, but the physical evidence makes it seem a bit more convincing.
Nevertheless, not everyone is impressed: in Früher war er nicht so in the FAZ Edo Reents thinks it's a misguided effort -- after all, Grass himself has admitted keeping quiet about this blot on his past for sixty years .....
(Actually, that would be a pretty fun twist: if Grass were shown to be lying about covering up his Nazi-past .....)
See also Der Tagesspiegel's report, Doch kein spätes Bekenntnis ?
And just wait until the English translation of Grass' memoir comes out, and everybody rehashes all this nonsense yet again .....
In Divine comedy in Prospect Julian Gough wonders why 'tragic' novels get so much more respect than comic ones:
Yet western culture since the middle ages has overvalued the tragic and undervalued the comic.
We think of tragedy as major, and comedy as minor.
Brilliant comedies never win the best film Oscar.
The Booker prize leans toward the tragic.
The PEN World Voices programme gets into full swing today, with more events than we or any single person can attend.
Fortunately, it looks like there will be considerable weblog coverage: MetaxuCafé will bring together reports from several sites (including this one), and numerous others will be reporting as well (The Elegant Variation looks to have particularly grand ambitions, and GalleyCat will no doubt also be keeping up with things).
The Wednesday programme-events that sound most interesting to us begin with History and the Truth of Fiction, with a panel that includes former MoorishGirl Laila Lalami and Arthur Japin, and will be moderated by Colum McCann (13:00 to 14:30 at Hemmerdinger Hall at NYU).
At Home in Europe is at the same venue 15:00 to 16:30, Jane Kramer moderating a panel that includes Geert Mak and Ilija Trojanow.
Trojanow (see our review of his Der Weltensammler) then heads uptown to the one event we expect to cover: Postcolonial Writing in a Globalized World at the Goethe-Institut (18:00 to 19:30), where he'll be in conversation with Amitava Kumar (subbing for the original conversation-partner, novelist and UN under-secretary Shashi Tharoor).
At more or less the same time the French Institute hosts Yasmina Khadra in Conversation with Emmanuelle Ertel (see our review of, for example, Khadra's The Attack).
And the most star-studded event is the Town Hall Readings: Writing Home at 20:00.
A Nobel laureate, Man Booker winners, even Steve Martin .....
The classic books lying untouched on the shelf are becoming nothing more than interior decor.
No word on where they get the numbers, but if even close to accurate they'd be troubling indeed:
Statistics indicate that only 5 percent of Chinese read books, and the percentage of people reading literature in their spare time is decreasing in recent years.
In contrast, the number of university students on campus has rocketed from 6 million in 1998 to 17 million in 2005.
Nigerian author Wole Soyinka, the first African to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, argued that the Arab section of Sudan must confront its past and acknowledge its role in the violence in Darfur instead of remaining in a "state of amnesia."
In a speech last night called "Darfur: Anything to do with Slavery ?" Soyinka addressed the ongoing violence that has resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths and millions of displaced refugees.
Surely a story that deserves better than this sound-bite:
Jacqueline Bhabha, executive director of the University Committee on Human Rights Studies, called the speech "brilliant."
"He did an excellent job of contextualizing the problem within a broader context," Bhabha said.
Among the pieces from the 10 May issue of The New York Review of Books that are online is Hermione Lee's Storms Over the Novel, in which she tackles quite a few books on the novel, from Kundera's The Curtain to the Moretti-edited two-volume The Novel, drawing also on her experiences as chair of the Man Booker judges last year.
We should have noticed this earlier, but it hasn't attracted much attention (and they haven't even bothered to mention it at the official site): French poet Yves Bonnefoy wins Franz Kafka Award.
Given that in 2004 and 2005 they gave this award to the eventual Nobel-winner (Jelinek and Pinter, respectively), and last year they gave it to Murakami Haruki, they have a pretty good track record.
Bonnefoy can certainly use the attention -- though FSG has a new collection out, and have some Bonnefoy-related entries at their one-month weblog, The Best Words in Their Best Order.
MJ Iles apparently isn't that concerned with the fate of book reviews (see above), and at The Guardian wonders: "But where can you turn if you've lost faith in the critics ?" in Seeing past the critics.
Exciting times for anyone in the New York area interested in (international) literature this week, as PEN World Voices is back, with an impressive programme.
(Presumably among the few not interested: Sam Tanenhaus, whose 22 April NYTBR strongly suggests the 15 April all-translated-fiction issue (see our mention) was a token effort (and aberration): this time around 19 books receive the individual full-length review treatment and not a one was written in a foreign language, of the 11 other titles covered in the 'Nonfiction Chronicle', 'Crime'-roundup, and one two-for-one review a single mystery title was written in a foreign language .....)
This year's PEN theme is Home & Away, as writers will:
discuss their relationships to their own and each others’ homes; the political and social implications of concepts like homelands; and how literature helps us negotiate the divide between the familiar and the strange, the mundane and the exotic.
Far more events of considerable interest than one could possibly attend (especially since some take place concurrently), but it's hard to complain about this wealth of choices.
(And note that they do a good job of putting material online: keep an eye out on the Audio library, which should be filling up with this year's events too.)
It begins with a manageable two events on Tuesday, and we'll be reminding you of what might be of particular interest as the week continues.
Note also that local barkeep M.A.Orthofer is a last-minute stand-in for Eduardo Lago and will be in conversation with Arthur Japin on Thursday; we'll be previewing that later in the week too.
Elfriede Jelinek's Greed is just out in the US (from Seven Stories Press, see their publicity page, or get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), but her most recent German work is appearing chapter by chapter and only online: see chapters one and two of the 'Privatroman' ('private novel') Neid ('Envy')
It's getting considerable attention in the German press: see Dieses Buch ist kein Buch in the FAZ and Jedem das Meine -- Elfriede Jelinek online in Die Welt.
And it should attract more attention as the project continues -- an author of her prominence publishing online-only is still a rarity.
(Of course, with her Nobel winnings she can afford it, too.)
households spent an average of only 7,902 won a month to buy books or magazines, less than the average book price of 11,545 won, indicating that many households do not even purchase one book a month, the office said.
But at least they're still spending a good amount on cigarettes.
There's a bizarre disconnect here -- James Patterson, a writer's anti-writer if ever there was one, joins in the A Life In Books-fun at Newsweek and claims that among the five most influential book he's read are not only García Márquez and Ulysses but Our Lady of the Flowers by Jean Genet.
And as far as 'A Certified Important Book you haven't read' he suggests ... Are You There, God ? It's Me, Margaret.
Good to hear that John Calder's books have found what sounds like a good home, bought out by Oneworld Classics, "an independent publisher with offices in London (Richmond) and Oxford. Launched in 2007 by the directors of Oneworld Publications and Alma Books".
(Any publisher with its own translation prize -- in this case the Oneworld Classics Translation Prize -- is okay with us.)
See reports by The Literator (in The Independent) and Joel Rickett (The bookseller, in The Guardian, third item).
The latter reports:
They'll keep his eponymous imprint running, with the irrepressible Calder still commissioning books himself, and they've also guaranteed the future of his bookshop and theatre near Waterloo.