Yes, most of the fuss about Günter Grass' public appearances this week in New York has been about the US-publication of his SS-past-acknowledging memoir, Peeling the Onion, but fortunately that wasn't all he was here to talk about.
Yesterday at the Goethe-Institut he, translator Breon Mitchell, and Helmut Frielinghaus discussed what may well be of more lasting literary significance: the new translations -- retranslations in ten languages -- of Grass' The Tin Drum, planned for publication in time for the 50th anniversary of the book's publication, in 2009.
As we've mentioned before, Grass gets his translators together upon the publication of each new book, to discuss the book and the translations; he recounted how he started the practise with Der Butt (The Flounder) when he found himself in a position to dictate terms to his publisher before signing his contract.
Ever since, he's had these roundtables -- week-long seminars, actually -- and he also convened one for the new translations of The Tin Drum.
Appropriately enough it, was held in Gdansk (Danzig), so that the translators could even visit many of the locales from the novel -- something Mitchell, one of ten translators who attended, said was especially valuable.
(For a brief German discussion of the 2005 meeting, see, for example, Günter Grass und seine Übersetzer in Gdansk.)
I hope there were few translators in attendance at the Goethe-Institut, as they would have turned green with envy.
One hears so much about the difficulties of getting anything in translation published in the US, of many translators doing literary translation only 'on the side', given how difficult it is to support oneself through it, of translation being a lonely labour of love.
Here, however, was what must be every translators' dream being described.
As Mitchell explained, translators are often reluctant to ask too much from authors (by mail and e-mail), and authors, likewise, not always particularly open to dealing with translators' requests.
But at the Grass-meetings the work and the translations are essentially the only order of business, with Grass open to any and all questions -- and the translators also benefitting from the issues and problems some of the other translators raise.
Mitchell described how they worked page by page from 9:00 to 17:00, with Grass reading the pages in question and picking out things to remark on, while the translators would then come with their own questions.
Grass would also read aloud each day, and Mitchell mentioned the particular value of that as a key to the rhythm and melody of the text -- something he found to be an inspiration.
There is also a written transcript of all the points that are raised for each such get-together -- with 2300 different points raised at that meeting.
There was also quite a bit of discussion about the reasons for wanting/having a new translation of The Tin Drum.
Clearly, Grass finds the Ralph Manheim version at the very least inadequate, but nobody was really willing to put it down.
Mitchell spoke of reading it while a college student when it came out in 1962, and how much the experience meant to him, and he acknowledged that "it was an immense effort" (but how much does an 'A for effort' count in translation ?) -- though he did also call it "a beautiful translation".
Nevertheless, Mitchell noted that already in the 1970s Grass was badgering Helene Wolff about the possibility of revising the translation, or commissioning a new one, suggesting there is more wrong with it than just the usual signs of aging.
(But English-speaking readers still seem to have been considerably better off than especially those from more Catholic countries such as Spain and Italy, where sections were actually cut in the original translations.)
Among Grass' main complaints: that Manheim chopped up his long sentences.
Despite pleading with him, Manheim wouldn't give in, saying that American audiences couldn't handle Grass' sentences -- while Grass noted that this destroyed the rhythm of the text, especially where he used a short sentence or sentences after a long one for effect.
(Mitchell -- one-third finished with his translation -- has more faith in American readers, so expect considerably longer -- and closer to the German original -- sentences .....)
Grass then read two passages from The Tin Drum -- a longer around Oskar's birth, as well as a shorter summing up from the end -- and Mitchell read his translations of these passages (noting that it's still a work in progress -- as, for example, the final passage repeats words and sentences from earlier in the text which must be properly echoed).
A few of the translation-issues raised by these passages were raised, Mitchell noting for example that there is a longer riff on the drum-theme in it, and that Grass had told the translators to take more liberties with that, adjusting it to use the languages it was getting translated into since some of the German expressions might not translate literally as well (or at least without losing some of the drumroll effect he was looking for).
A problem that recurs at several points in the text is Grass' use of East Prussian dialect, as when Oskar's mother says she knew it would a boy, even though sometimes she had thought it would be a girl, using a dialect-form of the word 'girl' at that point.
Mitchell had it as 'girl' in the version he read -- for now, he noted, still not satisfied with it --, explaining that he had tried 'lass' but then when reading it aloud found that "a lass" sounded too much like "alas" .....
He also noted that Manheim had also been aware of the problem -- though his solution had been 'kitten' (A for effort, but boy o boy ...).
(I'd be tempted by 'lassie', though that also has some wrong connotations.)
Obviously, they could have talked for hours about this, but as an introduction/overview presented in the space of about an hour they did a good job.
A more detailed look at a shorter passage -- perhaps with reference to Manheim's choices, too -- would have been interesting, but even without that it was an afternoon well-spent.
Though we hope Mitchell writes a nice long piece about the translation-process at some point.
The 19 July issue of The New York Review of Books looks pretty damn impressive, with a good deal of the good content accessible online (check out, for example, Francisco Goldman's review of Roberto Bolaño's The Savage Detectives).
The absolute highlight, however: the excerpt from J.M. Coetzee's forthcoming (but only in the winter !) Diary of a Bad Year.
"Tell me first, what sort of book is this going to be ?" it concludes, and the excerpt sure suggests that Coetzee has taken yet another step into that world bridging fiction and non-fiction.
With this peek this book obviously shoots up to the top of our most-desperately-anticipated list.
You can pre-order it at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Simon Gray's Little Nell ('based on The Invisible Woman by Claire Tomalin') -- see the production publicity page -- is opening, so he's getting more attention again.
In The Guardian he writes about smoking (and not giving up smoking, etc.) in The fag end, while in The Times Alan Franks profiles him in Blaze of glory.
Canongate is apparently reissuing the great Alasdair Gray's great Lanark yet again (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk) and that's reason enough for William Boyd to Return to Unthank, where he also writes about reviewing it when it came out for the TLS.
See also Gray himself on How Lanark grew (which Boyd mentions), as well as the poem Biblical themes, also in The Guardian today.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Dalkey Archive Press anthology in which American Writers Respond to Their French Counterparts, As you were saying.
An impressive list of contributing authors: Marie Darrieussecq, Rick Moody, Camille Laurens, Robert Olen Butler, Jacques Roubad, Raymond Federman, Lydie Salvayre, Rikki Ducornet, Grégoire Bouillier, Percival Everett, Philippe Claudel, Aleksandar Hemon, Luc Lang, and John Edgar Wideman.
As widely reported, The Spectator apparently assigned Sarah Bradford to review Tina Brown's The Diana Chronicles but then refused to print the resulting review.
(Unfortunately, we haven't found any official statements explaining why they refused to run it.)
The Guardian "couldn't resist" picking it up then ... though even they only printed an abridged and edited version.
We're baffled that anyone would bother reviewing this thing in the first place, but apparently
at The Spectator they felt it was so important to provide a review for their readers that they actually assigned the book for review again -- and this week, in the 30 June issue, published Sarah Standing's review.
A comparison should give you some idea about what The Spectator
was looking for (or should we say: demanding).
Where Bradford thinks:
Really there is only one blonde in this story and it's not Diana.
By the end, I got the impression that Tina Brown didn't have much time for her subject, inserting herself into the text whenever she could, if possible in conjunction with a famous name.
Standing, meanwhile, finds:
Reading this incisive yet sympathetic book 10 years after her death is unexpectedly poignant.
Through the telling of this vast soap-opera of human fallibility and placing it in a cultural context Tina Brown reminds us of the way we were and what we have subsequently become.
We're not fit to judge -- it's simply impossible for us to take what Tina Brown and her publishers have packaged here seriously as a 'book' -- but are impressed by the review-attention, and the lengths to which these publications go .....
We've mentioned that
Günter Grass is on an impressive publicity-tour in New York this week (and we've also mentioned that Max Biller had a story in The New Yorker and a Q & A at their site).
So far, however, the coverage in the American media has been ... limited.
Yes, Gary Shapiro offers a look at Authors Grass, Mailer Discuss Nazi Ties, America at Library in The New York Sun -- and no doubt there will be more articles at least about that NYPL event (Günter Grass and Norman Mailer on stage together, for heaven's sake !) -- but it hasn't exactly been headline news.
Compare that with the German coverage, which has been nearly wall-to-wall.
For just a sampling (!), check out Jordan Mejias' articles in the FAZ as he reports on each of the big events: Beim Verlesen der Zwiebel (about the event at the 92nd Street Y) and Der Gipfel der alten Kämpfer (Grass and Mailer at the NYPL) -- just check out the length of these reports !
What about Grass at the Union Square Barnes & Noble ?
Ina Hartwig can report in Der Olivetti sei dank in the Frankfurter Rundschau.
And Hartwig manages to bring in that other big German-author-appearance -- Max Biller's in the pages of The New Yorker -- which also elicited much commentary all over: see, just for example, Maxim Biller schmäht 'The Great German Novel' in Die Welt and Biller in New York bei Andreas Schäfer in Der Tagesspiegel.
Sure, the circumstances are special -- their biggest literary export-success Grass is on what might be a make-or-break-his-reputation tour, while Biller seems to get on everyone's nerves no matter what he does (meaning also they keep an eye on what irritating thing he is up to next), and, yes, it is New York and The New Yorker, which are easy to take seriously -- but still: very impressive literary coverage.
La Milanesiana runs 24 June to 10 July, with an interesting line-up (from Orhan Pamuk and V.S.Naipaul
to ... Lou Reed).
At Reuters Ian Simpson has something of an interview with Naipaul.
We'd figure someone who makes grand pronouncements about the end of the novel so frequently would be keeping up with all the latest fiction (to see if anyone might have found a way to keep things going ...), but no, he has no problem admitting:
Naipaul, who sometimes needed assistance in walking at the event, told Reuters he had no favourites among current writers.
"I stopped reading contemporary writing with the last generation of writers, you know, the Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene kind of generation," he said.
Doesn't that automatically disqualify him from the debate ?
They've announced that Amos Oz has won the 2007 Prince of Asturias Award for Letters (Paul Auster took it last year).
(There are eight category-winners for this thing: Al Gore and Bob Dylan are among this year's other Prince Asturias winners -- but you'll have to wait until September to find out who wins in the sport-category.)
In The New York Sun Benita Eisler considers L'Affaire Némirovsky again, in a decent overview/introduction to the author (though not making quite enough of the fact that several Némirovsky-titles -- including David Golder -- were translated into English in the 1930s); see also our review of Suite Française.
"I was invited by the Iranian embassy to discuss the matter and we both came to mutual agreement that it would be beneficial to both countries if the film was not shown," festival director Chattan Kunjara na Ayudhya said today.
"It's a good film, but there are other considerations."
Beneficial to both countries ?
They both come off looking silly, pathetic, and weak -- the Iranians perhaps coming off looking a bit stronger since they show they can make the Thai authorities dance like puppets on a string even when they make absurd demands.
MNA also offer a different quote:
"The ambassador has requested that we reconsider the screening of Persepolis, and since this could affect international relations, we have decided not to show the film," stated Chattan Kunjara Na Ayutthaya of the Tourism Authority of Thailand.
Not exactly literary -- though in the Boston Globe Tom Russo callsLa jetée "this great experimentalist's most direct exploration of fiction narrative" -- but certainly worth your attention: the Criterion Collection DVD of Chris Marker's classic La jetée and Sans soleil is out (see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com).
As Steven Dollar writes in The New York Sun about
La jetée: "For anyone who hasn't seen this futuristic postcard from the past, the Criterion version will be an epiphany".
See also Nathan Lee's review in The Village Voice.
It's always good to see a writer not forcing the issue and continuing to churn out stuff just because they've been labeled a 'writer', so we were intrigued by the small New York item by Daniel Asa Rose suggesting Legendary Writer Retires: Dillard's Done.
Unfortunately, it sounds rather wishy-washy -- "she says The Maytrees, her first book in eight years, will probably be her last"
-- and more like a reaction to the crap publishers (and booksellers and readers) demand from authors (beside books ...):
"Iím tired," declared the 62-year-old Dillard, who says that she wonít be doing any more touring, public readings, blurb writing, or letter answering.
"I worked so hard all my life, and all I want to do now is read.
Iím glad to go out on this book," she says.
The New Yorker has a story by Maxim Biller this week (The Mahogany Elephant), and there's also a Q. & A. with him and Willing Davidson online.
Biller has been getting a lot of press because of the protracted legal problems surrounding his recent novel, Esra, and Davidson does ask about that.
Also of interest:
Which American writers do you think should be read more in Germany ?
Denis Johnson is still not as well known in Germany as he should be.
Everybody talks about Philip Roth and Thomas Pynchon, but the real No. 1 -- Johnson -- is still only a writerís writer in my country.
The July-August issue of World Literature Today
is now available, with much of the content accessible online; see and click-through from the table of contents (warning ! dreaded pdf format ! -- and so is all the content !)
The focus is 'Inside China' -- but what we like best are, of course, the reviews (though we actually have a couple of these titles under review, such as César Aira's How I Became a Nun and Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games (and we have a review-overview of Jonathan Littell's Les Bienveillantes)).
In Submissions invited for translation prizes in the Khaleej Times Habib Shaikh reports on the very well-endowed Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Award for Translation.
Yes, those 500,000 Saudi Riyals apparently translate into about $133,000, which ain't bad for any kind of literary award and sure sounds good for translation .....
Five categories -- two each for translations into Arabic and two out of Arabic, plus one for institutions.
The guidelines are nice and loose -- very few restrictions -- and we hope that isn't just window-dressing (this being ultra-repressive and conservative Saudi Arabia, we do harbour a few doubts as to what they'd tolerate ....).
Habib Shaikh notes:
Badriya Al Bisher, a short story writer, and one of the participants, stressed the need to translate Saudi literature into other languages in order to promote Saudi culture for the rest of the world that sees us only as terrorists.
So we're curious as to how this all works out.
And for all you translators to and from the Arabic: there's still time to enter !
Michael Pye is doing his best to spread the word about Willem Frederik Hermans, bless him: in quick succession there's his review of Beyond Sleep (just out in the US), while in The Scotsman he reviews both that and The Darkroom of Damocles (just out in the UK, coming stateside next year).
Decent introductions to the great author -- and not that much overlap (i.e. not just your usual recycled review).
"The book clubs are not about giving people choice," she says.
"They are actually narrowing it.
We can offer recommendations that are targeted at our customers, bearing in mind local preferences rather than picking out a few books for the whole nation."
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Lloyd Jones' Mister Pip.
So this is where we want to tread carefully.
Some books are more vulnerable to expectations than others, and Mister Pip is one of those books that might be ... fragile in this way.
We don't want to build it up too much, because it isn't really in any obvious way spectacular -- no pyrotechnics here --, and we don't want to leave prospective
readers picking it up only to wonder what the big deal is about.
(If you give it a chance, and just accept it on its own, subdued-appearing terms, it should soon be pretty obvious ..... )
So: it's hard to restrain our enthusiasm, but we don't want to trample this subtle creation with it .....
Let's put it this way: we hope you don't take our grading system too seriously, but it does give a general idea of our enthusiasms and opinions, and we rated Mister Pip an 'A+'.
There have been some close calls in the meantime, but the last book we rated an A+ was 1292 books ago .....
It didn't necessarily sound that promising -- lessons from a literary classic (Great Expectations) in an obscure corner of the world ? haven't we had enough variations of that idea ? -- and we had our doubts (though at least the main locale, PNG, is about as obscure as it gets), but Jones easily swept those aside.
Forget what the book seems like it might be when you pick it up in the bookstore (or even when you read our or other reviews), forget about the huge advance (if you heard about that ...) and the literary prizes (it picked up the Commonwealth Writers' Prize a couple of weeks back, and should be well in the Man Booker running as soon as that starts up).
Just take a chance on it.
If you're worried about our occasionally rarefied tastes, don't be.
This should have near-universal appeal.
It is a fairly 'easy' read -- but it is also one of the most effective and affecting fictions we've read in quite a while.
There are few books we'd recommend unhesitatingly, but here we go: if you're in the UK (where it just came out), we'd urge you to go get yourself a copy.
If you're in the US, we'd urge you to reserve your copy at Amazon, your local bookstore, or the library (it's due out 31 July).
Also: Lloyd Jones is a writer from New Zealand.
We've been on the look-out for his books since his Biografi -- a very enjoyable book about Albanian dictator Enver Hoxha's double -- but for some reason, despite reasonable success back home, his books haven't washed up on British or American shores for a while -- since the early 1990s, in fact, when Biografi came out.
(We've been hoping for the much-praised The Book of Fame
for ages .....)
On the basis of
Biografi and Mister Pip -- and what we've read about The Book of Fame -- it would seem obvious that everything of his should be readily available in the entire English-publishing world.
But apparently the UK/US break-through will only finally come this year .....
We would have thought it would have come in 1993 and 1994, when Biografi was published (and received a decent amount of attention) in the UK and US.
It's been a while since then, but apparently that not only wasn't a break-through, it didn't even leave that lasting an impression, as already two of the British reviews of Mister Pip have called the new novel his British debut:
"Lloyd Jonesís new novel, which has just won the Commonwealth Writersí Prize, is the first of his works to be published in Britain" wrote Michelene Wandor in the TLS
"Lloyd Jones, a New Zealander previously unpublished in Britain", wrote Melissa Katsoulis in The Times
But we don't think anyone will be forgetting Mister Pip any time soon.
How the book ends up looking and how I might describe it now could be two very different beasties.
I will say that my intention is to write a bicultural novel, where Japanese perspectives are given an equal weight to Dutch/European perspectives.
It's the most demanding thing I've ever tried to do.
The research is a trackless swamp, and the book wishes to be written in ways that historical novels are not usually written in.
It feels as if I am having to invent its "cinematography" as I go along.
I decided very early on that my new novel must be set in a nearby parallel universe -- one where global history is the same as ours, but the local history of Nagasaki is one of my own invention.
This gives me the license I need to create my own cast, plot and locations, and frees me from having to spend the next two or three years as a researcher of vanished minutiae.
By the time I did my ICA cut-up project, Iíd finished writing my novel Remainder.
But no mainstream press would touch it, deeming it "too literary".
Eventually the art publisher Metronome Press distributed a limited edition through art venues; the literary press picked up on it; then the editor-in-chief at Vintage in New York decided to do a mass-market US edition -- at which point a couple of the mainstream British publishers who had rejected it changed their minds and started making offers.
Unimpressed, I let a good, new independent, Alma Books, do the mass-market UK edition -- a publisher that, maybe not coincidentally, also prints books by and about artists.
Dzanc is aware of the exciting writing that has been trickling from Africa to the States.
Sadly, though, it has been a trickle and from everything we hear and read there are many wonderful African writers whose work is not being made available beyond the borders of Africa.
We'd like to see publishing efforts in Africa itself, too, but the thought that more might be available stateside certainly wins us over.
So if you have any ideas or contacts, get in touch with them !
In the New Straits Times Johan Jaaffar argues that Translations help broaden our horizons -- pointing out also the peculiar difficulties of translation in a country where so many are bilingual
We're also pleased he mentions the great Clay Sanskrit Library (titles from which we wil be getting to !), though we're not quite sure about all his examples:
Another example of how Asian classical literature is being promoted in the West through translation is New Yorkís Clay Sanskrit Library, created to introduce classical Sanskrit literature to international readers.
After all, literature in Sanskrit has been around for thousands of years.
Two great national epics of India -- the Mahabharata and the Ramayana -- are now reaching new readers in English.
Actually, those epics -- in various, generally more accessible forms -- have long been reaching readers in English; it's the other stuff that they're bringing out that will be new to most .....
Börsenblattreports on what
sounds like it was a lively discussion at the Frankfurter Literaturbiennale, about the value of German book prizes -- especially in foreign markets.
As one participant noted, the success seems to speak for itself: the German Book Prize has only been handed out twice so far, but the 2005 winner, Arno Geiger's Es geht uns gut, has been licensed in 39 countries (though for the life of us we can't find whether there have been any US or UK takers), while 2006 winner Die Habenichtse by Katharina Hacker has already tallied 14 foreign sales.
Still, not everyone was favourably inclined, concerned such prizes were too much of a marketing tool (rather than truly literary honours), etc.
Critical Mass points us to Critical Compendium, which offers: "A daily dose of book reviews from around the world".
Looks very promising -- especially if they really seek out reviews "from around the world" (even if they stick to just English-language reviews, there are a lot of publication beyond the familiar US/UK mainstays to choose from ...).
(They might also want to rethink their attitude towards weblogs, where one can now often find some pretty good review-coverage .....)
Certainly a site we'll be checking out frequently.
In Le roman d'Une saison en enfer in L'Express Jérôme Dupuis tells -- at some length -- the story of the most expensive French book, the recently auctioned-off (for over half a million euros) copy of Rimbaud's
Une saison en enfer inscribed to Verlaine.
Everyone is (or will be) having a lot of fun with this one: Pierre Jourde wrote a novel based on his dad's tiny hometown (i.e. ultra-provincial nest) and his unflattering portrait led -- after a while -- to some unpleasant scenes when he showed up in the neighbourhood again.
So now we have headlines such as: French writer savaged by his characters, as Angelique Chrisafis reports in The Guardian:
It's every urban writer's dream: setting up in a stone cottage in rural France and describing life among the local eccentrics.
But when the natives take umbrage at their literary personas and turn violent, things can go terribly wrong.
Five farmers from the Auvergne countryside appeared in court yesterday for attacking the writer Pierre Jourde over his novel inspired by their tiny village.
Carpentaria, by Alexis Wright, has been named the 2007 Miles Franklin Literary Award winner.
In the Sydney Morning Herald Susan Wyndham reports that:
The judges made a "unanimous and fast" decision to award the $42,000 prize to Wright's 500-page epic about indigenous Australia
No UK or US editions available yet -- and even in Australia it is
relatively small Giramondo that took the chance on this thing.
But there should be some pretty decent foreign-rights money thrown at it now: the Miles Franklin may not mean much to US or UK book-buyers, but should serve as adequate validation for publishers to go along with all the review-enthusiasm that's been there all along.
Check out reviews in:
The only Cloud over prizewinner's celebration (as Deborah Bogle has it in The Advertiser) is that the other headline of the day is John Howard's draconian paternalistic meddling in those Northern Territories.
See, for example, Rod McGuirk's Outback ban on porn and alcohol for Aboriginals in The Independent -- and check out all the Australian newspapers for endless coverage on all aspects of and reactions to these policies.
Some twenty-five years ago they even published a volume of Csáth Géza's stories in the fine Penguin series of 'Writers from the Other Europe' (get your used copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), but one hasn't heard too much about him since.
At hlo they now offer a profile of him, in The stray rider -- and think that he: "has been rediscovered in recent years".
(One would figure the more sensational aspects of his biography -- his drug addiction, the fact that he murdered his wife -- would help keep people more interested .....)