Literary Saloon

the literary
weblog at the
complete review

the weblog

about the saloon
support the site

buy us books !
Amazon wishlist




to e-mail us:

literary weblogs:

  Arts Journal
  Books, Inq.
  Brandywine Books
  Collected Miscellany
  Critical Mass
  Elegant Variation
  Laila Lalami
  Maud Newton
  NewPages Weblog
  Reading Experience
  ReadySteady Blog
  Three Percent
  Waterboro lib blog
  Yahoo !

  La Feuille.
  La Muselivre

  Arts & Letters Daily
  Golden Rule Jones
  The Litblog Co-op
  Old Hag
  The Page
  This Space
  The Valve
  wood s lot

  See also: links page

saloon statistics

the Literary Saloon at the Complete Review
opinionated commentary on literary matters - from the complete review

The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 31 August 2007

21 August: Classical Tamil texts | Boston Review articles on Aira, Bolaño, Buarque, etc. | Pyramid Texts | Bookselling in Burma | Jonathan Coe profile
22 August: Qurratulain Hyder (1927-2007) | Greatest travel books ? | Wolves of the Crescent Moon build-up | Still looking for the the Great Malaysian Novel | Cuban cultural wars ? | Against the trade paperback ! | Murder in Amsterdam review
23 August: Rentrée previews | Javier Calvo | More cover talk | Omega Minor review
24 August: Yasmina Reza's book on Sarkozy | 'Writer' sues Ebadi | Genre fiction goes pure in Korea ? | Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year | Canal Grande review
25 August: New (and new-look) World Literature Today | Laziest review ever ? | Mumbai to Mecca review
26 August: Amitav Ghosh profile | James Tait Black Memorial Prizes | Publishing boom in India ? | Hawes' Speak for England for TV
27 August: On James Wood's move | Saramago profile | Chavarría reviews
28 August: Czech and Polish canon-series ? | Nooteboom enthuses about Character | Turkish authors at ilb | Edward Seidensticker (1921-2007) | Gregorius review-overview
29 August: Moses K. Nagbe interview | Books in Kurdistan | Nicholas Mosley profile | Books left in (UK) hotel rooms ... | Diary of a Bad Year enthusiasm | Hwang Seok-yong talk | MIBF | I'jaam review
30 August: More Bolaño coverage | Ilan Stavans' first efforts | Another lost-book book ?
31 August: Laurens v. Darrieussecq | The Confidence-Man | Not reading in ... Bulgaria | Bolaño poem | How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read review

go to weblog

return to main archive

31 August 2007 - Friday

Laurens v. Darrieussecq | The Confidence-Man | Not reading in ... Bulgaria
Bolaño poem | How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read review

       Laurens v. Darrieussecq

       In one of the nuttiest author-disputes we've come across, French author Camille Laurens has accused Marie Darrieussecq of ... well, let's say a different kind of plagiarism. In 1995 Laurens published a book called Philippe about a personal tragedy, the death of her new-born. Now Marie Darrieussecq has published a novel called Tom est mort (see the POL publicity page) which involves the death of a child, and Laurens has taken it very, very personally -- and gone after Darrieussecq very publicly and very harshly. Apparently she feels a "plagiat psychique" has been committed; we don't even know how to translate it but you get the idea (and we can already see some American authors' eyes light up as they draft the court papers for their own lawsuits ...).
       Patrick Kéchichian offered a good overview of the controversy in Tom est mort, la polémique in Le Monde, but the controversy hasn't died down. See, for example, Truismes et vacheries by Philippe Lançon in Libération, and Le Figaro wondering Plagiat psychique ? (yeah, they're not really convinced that concept will fly either).
       As if the mere dispute weren't enough fun, it turns out the ladies have the same editor, Paul Otchakovsky-Laurens, who heads P.O.L., and he's now published his response in Le Monde, finding Non, Marie Darrieussecq n'a pas "piraté" Camille Laurens -- and noting that he no longer wishes to nor feels able to be Laurens' publisher.
       We hope there's some French Oprah-like show the two authors (and their editor) can go on to resolve their differences .....

       (As it happens we have titles by both Laurens (In His Arms) and Darrieussecq (Pig Tales and a few others) under review.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Confidence-Man

       It's not like there aren't half a dozen or so editions of The Confidence-Man in print, but it's still nice to see the Dalkey Archive Press re-issue (of the 1967 H.Bruce Franklin-edited edition) getting some review attention. This week it's The Spectator that covers it, Jonathan Mirsky writing You have been warned.
       He argues:
Moby-Dick, more than any other book I know, is often referred to as either unreadable or as a Big Book that one really must get around to reading some time. Well, let me tell you something. Moby-Dick is to The Confidence Man as Neighbours is to King Lear. Written in 1857, The Confidence Man almost finished off Melville’s already shaky reputation. It is easily the most difficult book I’ve ever read and if it weren’t by Melville I think I would have laid it down after 50 pages.
       We loved Moby-Dick, but The Confidence-Man (which we hope to add a review of eventually ...) was one of those all-too rare jaw-dropping reading experiences where everything was both perfect and surprising; indeed, it still strikes us as the main contender for the title of the great American novel. Definitely worthwhile -- and not nearly as difficult as Mirsky makes it out to be.
       See also the Dalkey Archive Press publicity page, get your copy at or, or see The Confidence-Man Hypertext .

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Not reading in ... Bulgaria

       The usual complaints and shocking survey-results, this time from Bulgaria -- but at least they express the proper outrage in heading the article: Total Goofs: Bulgaria Youth Hate Books, Best Versed in Pop Folk. So says the Sofia News Agency -- and the findings are, indeed, pretty ugly:
About one in every three Bulgarians, aged under 19, does not know what it means to square a number, while a whopping 40% say they have never heard of the creator of the theory of evolution Charles Darwin and another 20% have no idea what the mathematical constant "pi" stands for.
       And, of course, reading isn't high on the list of priorities:
In sharp contrast to these huge gaps in school knowledge, almost everyone of the respondents knows well the famed Roma gay and popfolk star Azis and about 40% of them consider reading books to be a meaningless waste of time.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Bolaño poem

       They haven't put much of the fall issue of The Threepenny Review online -- so we'll have to check out the print-edition to read what Mark 'The Elegant Variation' Sarvas has to say about Tom Stoppard's Lord Malquist & Mr. Moon -- but among the short offerings is yet another Bolaño sighting. A poem, this time: Self Portrait at Twenty Years.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Pierre Bayard's How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read.
       It's almost a shame that the US and UK publishers have been so untypically efficient about getting this book out in translation (it's due out around the beginning of November), as it has already attracted inordinate attention -- and, of course, led to a lot of talk about this book which most people hadn't read ..... It would have been fun to see how far that could go.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

30 August 2007 - Thursday

More Bolaño coverage | Ilan Stavans' first efforts | Another lost-book book ?

       More Bolaño coverage

       The Bolaño-phenomenon continues: this week's entry is Benjamin Kunkel's In the Sonora in the London Review of Books, in which he takes on three Bolaño-titles (of which we only have The Savage Detectives under review) in order to offer his overview-introduction.
       It's safe to say that Bolaño is the biggest foreign 'literary' discovery (i.e. grabbing attention (and praise) in all the predictable literary periodicals (LRB, The NY Review of Books, Bookforum, etc. etc.)) since Sebald, and we figure Bolaño-mania will rage unchecked at least through the publication of 2666 (at which point the backlash might hit). (It won't hurt that the next book due out in translation isn't 2666 but rather Nazi Literature in the Americas (see the New Directions publicity page); that's certainly the title that most intrigues us.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Ilan Stavans' first efforts

       Ilan Stavans writes about Forverts and I in the Forward, on the occasion of the newspaper's 110th anniversary.
       It's amusing to learn that he "first heard of it from one of my teachers at the Yidishe Schule in Mexico" -- and what kind of an impression it made:
I took an immediate interest. Soon I began to write in Yiddish. My first literary pieces were inspired by what my teacher gave me, and by other wonderful stuff I stumbled upon in general libraries: Edgar Allan Poe, Jorge Luis Borges, Fyodor Dostoyevsky. In my senior year of high school, I wrote a play, again in Yiddish, inspired by the work of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Another lost-book book ?

       Fairly recently, Stuart Kelly offered up The Book of Lost Books, a great idea that unfortunately didn't quite live up to its title.
       Now we hear there's a book coming out in German, Die Bibliothek der verlorenen Bücher ('The Library of Lost Books') by Alexander Pechmann that looks like it covers much of the same territory. Not much information about it available yet -- the Aufbau Verlag publicity page drops a lot of names (suggesting it is more focussed on relatively recent literature) but doesn't reveal very much else. We're curious what his take is.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

29 August 2007 - Wednesday

Moses K. Nagbe interview | Books in Kurdistan | Nicholas Mosley profile
Books left in (UK) hotel rooms ... | Diary of a Bad Year enthusiasm
Hwang Seok-yong talk | MIBF | I'jaam review

       Moses K. Nagbe interview

       In Running Africa there's an interview with Moses K. Nagbe, Call for a national publishing house in Liberia, offering some interesting thoughts about the literary situation in Africa (and, especially, Liberia).
       So, for example:
RA: European countries and America want us to read their literatures and all other literary works. But they don't read ours. How do you feel ?

PN: It is a natural tendency to dominate, once you feel you have the opportunity and the resources to dominate. Realistically, what should a European or an American care about our literature if there is little of it to be read in their societies ? In a larger sense, Europeans and Americans have the economic resources to produce a lot more books of their literatures and flood the markets of those societies that do not have the capacity and drive to produce their very own literatures. But there is another part to it. As far as Europe and America are concerned, there is little to learn from us (Africans). Conversely, they believe there is more to learn from them. So learn from them we must—at least, that is their operating mind.
       Yes, that's all a bit simplistic and, in part, off target. Still, if this is what it takes to elicit a reaction (in the form of actual action, rather than just complaints -- or, as he puts it, "speeches and cocktails") we don't mind that much -- and Nagbe tries to be constructive, pointing in a possible direction:
We in Liberia, for instance, have to rise up to the challenge. Our government needs to provide institutional resources. Better still, our leaders need to encourage banking and related institutions to provide institutional resources. After 160 years of speeches and cocktails, is there any plan in the foreseeable future for the Republic of Liberia to establish a national publishing house ? Such publishing house could for the first five or ten years be subsidized by government. Thereafter, it should be able to support itself by encouraging a reading nation. I should add quickly that by publishing house, I don't mean a print shop, even as important as such shop might be. I mean an institution that gathers and gleans manuscripts, process the manuscripts through the editing trail, craft images that explain selected manuscripts, print and market the finished products. That institution too will seek to show a continuous correlative between book production and national development. A nation that does not write and read cannot evolve important national conversations that will speed up national development.
       Sounds good to us; let's hope he can convince the powers that be.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Books in Kurdistan

       In Ha'aretz Zvi Bar'el offers a somewhat unfocussed look at the book-market in Kurdistan (and, sort of, the Arab-speaking countries in general) in Lost without translation. Lots of sort-of facts, but enough for some sort of general impression -- and a few interesting observations:
"Novels do well," says the merchant, as he lifts several titles from the pile. "So do sex books.

"Everything is translated. We still don't have authors for this sort of literature.
        Oddly, the story veers from this everything-is-translated to the complaint that nothing is translated -- but at least there's some hard data of interest to go with that:
Publishers also claim they cannot pay translators more because of the minimal numbers of books that they sell. For example, an Arabic translation of My Name is Red, by Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk sold only 2,000 copies in Syria, as opposed to 70,000 copies in South Korea. Translated plays and poetry books are rare because of the limited number of readers.
       The conclusion also sounds a bit petty:
It appears that in Arab nations, as in Kurdistan, pornography, software and self-help are the only genres that will continue to occupy translators.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Nicholas Mosley profile

       In Beyond good and evil in Prospect Edward Skidelsky profiles Nicholas Mosley (see, for example, our review of his Inventing God), finding: "This interdependence of good and evil is central to all Mosley's work."

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Books left in (UK) hotel rooms ...

       The British media are having a lot of fun with hotel chain Travelodge's new list of the ten books most often left behind in hotel rooms, with Alistair Campbell's The Blair Years at number one. See, for example, Campbell book most likely to be left behind at the Daily Telegraph.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Diary of a Bad Year enthusiasm

       As expected, there's been a steady flow of reviews for J.M.Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year; see our constantly updated review-overview for all the ones we can find.
       The reviews have been fairly mixed so far, but now comes one that is very positive indeed: Peter Craven's, in The Age. Okay, maybe he gets a bit too fawning by the end -- "In his smallest jotting on the page Coetzee is a master we scarcely deserve" -- but we'd like to think that this is how we'd react to the novel too, that what Coetzee does and how he does it (that tri-partite scheme) really works. But we still have to wait and see, not having gotten our hands on a copy of the book yet .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Hwang Seok-yong talk

       In The Korea Times Lee Hwan-hee reports that Hwang Seok-yong Sees Hope for Korean Literature, reporting on an appearance by the novelist. (See also our review of his novel, The Guest.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -


       The 28th Manila International Book Fair -- "the undisputed book exhibition in the country for almost three decades" -- opens today.
       Quite a few events -- some of interest, like the booklaunch of If a Filipino Writer Reads on Don Quijote (we'd love to know more about that) and the National Book Awards, some of concern (all those 'Dianetics Introductory Lectures' ...). And we're not too sure about that concluding event, billed as: "Read or Die / Literary Death Match" .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       I'jaam review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of An Iraqi Rhapsody by Sinan Antoon, I'jaam.
       The title refers to the clever idea behind the book, but we wonder how off-putting it is to English-speakers. (Not too off-putting, we hope: it's a small book, but worth a look.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

28 August 2007 - Tuesday

Czech and Polish canon-series ? | Nooteboom enthuses about Character
Turkish authors at ilb | Edward Seidensticker (1921-2007) | Gregorius review-overview

       Czech and Polish canon-series ?

       CTK report that German president praises Czech literature project:
Readers in German-speaking countries have the so far most coherent collection of 33 important Czech literary works that were published gradually within the Czech Library project the completion of which was celebrated in Berlin's Bellevue chateau, the presidential seat, Friday.
       The project has its own official site, and we generally find these series of some interest, as they give a good idea of what at least one group of people thinks are the representative works of a particular literature -- though we have to say the thirty-three titles aren't exactly the way we would have gone. Still, as far as an overview goes, you could do worse.
       From there we find our way to another, similar Robert Bosch Stiftung-funded project, the Polish Library, completed in 2000, where they selected fifty titles. Again, a more eclectic selection than we would have expected, but of some interest.
       (We do assume that especially with recent works there may be rights issues that complicated the selection process, keeping them from including all the works they wanted to because some other publisher already brought them out .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Nooteboom enthuses about Character

       We've been meaning to cover Ferdinand Bordewijk's Dutch classic, Character, for a while, and when we came across Cees Nooteboom's re-appreciation of it in Die Welt we finally plunked down for a copy; previously the Ivan R. Dee 1999 reprint (get your copy at had simply been too off-putting, the blurb on the back cover beginning:
This affecting story is the basis of the Academy Award-winning film Character, named the best foreign film of 1998. In reviewing the film, Roger Ebert called the tale "dark, bitter, and fascinating -- about hatred so deep that it can only be ended with a knife [...]
       etc. etc., the full Ebert quote taking up about half the blurb -- god forbid they'd quote what anyone had said about the book .....
       Anyway, signandsight now offer an English-translation of Nooteboom's piece from Die Welt, A masterpiece of character.
       Our coverage may be a while, but we'll get to it .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Turkish authors at ilb

       In Today's Zaman Musa Igrek finds that Literature may serve as antidote for prejudice, Turkish writers say, as:
Turkish literature will make a good showing in Europe in the coming days, not in terms of quantity, but with its quality: Three important writers who have become popular in recent years -- Hasan Ali Toptaş, Elif Şafak and Aslı Erdoğan -- will represent Turkey at the 7th International Literature Festival Berlin to be held Sept. 4-16.
       As he notes, it will also be a sort of dress-rehearsal, as Turkey is the guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair next year.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Edward Seidensticker (1921-2007)

       Noted translator from the Japanese Edward Seidensticker has passed away. Besides his translation The Tale of Genji (1975), he apparently translated more than 100 contemporary literary works, notably novels by Kawabata and Tanizaki.
       See obituaries in The Asahi Shimbun and The Japan Times.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Gregorius review-overview

       Hjalmar Söderberg's Swedish classic Doctor Glas continues to inspire, and while we haven't been able to get our hands on the book itself yet, we do now have a review-overview of Bengt Ohlsson's award-winning Gregorius.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

27 August 2007 - Monday

On James Wood's move | Saramago profile | Chavarría reviews

       On James Wood's move

       In the Boston Globe Christopher Shea profiles The elegant assassin, writing about: 'How an Englishman in Somerville is becoming the most feared man in American letters'. Yes, apparently James Wood's move from The New Republic to The New Yorker is bigger news than we had thought -- or at least being puffed up into bigger news.
       Among the fun questions (and responses):
But what does it mean that the most storied magazine in American history has aligned itself with a critic who essentially rejects the premises of a broad swath of contemporary American fiction ?

"I think he just doesn't get America," says Lindsay Waters, executive editor for the humanities at Harvard University Press, invoking the argument that a messy, sprawling country demands comparable novels.
       (Since we're not really all that big on American fiction either we never really considered this .....)
       Since we generally read both magazines it doesn't make much difference to us where he publishes (and, after all, even while 'at' The New Republic he published reviews in The New Yorker), but he does have a point -- or at least Shea makes it parenthetically -- that there is at least one major difference:
Wood says he wants to influence literary culture on a grander scale (The New Yorker's circulation is 1.1 million, compared with 62,000 for The New Republic), and also felt a creeping staleness. "I did have the sense I was reviewing the same authors again and again -- Rushdie, Roth, Updike," he said
       We do have to say we are left more than a bit uneasy by his wish to: 'influence literary culture' (and that on a grander scale ... !). Is that what a critic is supposed to do ? Have we completely missed the boat -- is that what we should have been trying to do all this time with our reviews ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Saramago profile

       Grudgingly linked to at that registration-requiring site, in The New York Times Magazine Fernanda Eberstadt profiles the great José Saramago in The Unexpected Fantasist.
       (And, yes, we will eventually get around to covering his books .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Chavarría reviews

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our coverage of two Daniel Chavarría titles:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

26 August 2007 - Sunday

Amitav Ghosh profile | James Tait Black Memorial Prizes
Publishing boom in India ? | Hawes' Speak for England for TV

       Amitav Ghosh profile

       In A writer beyond borders Devarakshanam Govinden profiles Amitav Ghosh at the Mail & Guardian.
       (See also our reviews of his novels The Calcutta Chromosome and The Glass Palace.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       James Tait Black Memorial Prizes

       They've announced the winners of the James Tait Black Memorial Prizes (though not yet at that official site ...). As, for example, Lucy Christie reports in Scotland on Sunday, The Road by Cormac McCarthy took the fiction prize, while some biography by Byron Rogers took the biography prize.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Publishing boom in India ?

       In the Hindustan Times Anamika Chatterjee and Kirti Mehta report on an apparent Book boom in India:
As Thomas Abraham, CEO, Penguin India puts it, "Every day publishing houses here take three steps forward and two steps back, but we're still growing.
"A few years ago, Shobha De would sell 20,000 to 25,000 copies and Vikram Seth 10,000 to 15,000. But now, the figures have gone up to 60,000 for De's hardcover book. Big brands have become bigger."
       (But the bigger sales probably still aren't enough to get De published in the US/UK .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Hawes' Speak for England for TV

       In The Observer Vanessa Thorpe reports that BBC's drama king turns to satire of a lost England, as:
Andrew Davies, the most influential creative force in British television drama, adaptor of some of the biggest critical and ratings hits of recent years, including the award-winning serialisations of Bleak House and Pride and Prejudice, has decided to bring Hawes's latest novel to television. Davies's decision will transform the fortunes of the 47-year-old author who, since his 1996 debut novel, A White Merc with Fins, has been hailed as a comic genius in France but has yet to find real fame in Britain.
       We'd never realised Hawes was so big in France, but have enjoyed his work -- though the book to be filmed, Speak for England, is the only one we have under review. A very enjoyable book, it definitely has TV-potential, too.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

25 August 2007 - Saturday

New (and new-look) World Literature Today | Laziest review ever ?
Mumbai to Mecca review

       New (and new-look) World Literature Today

       The September-October issue of World Literature Today is now available online, and of course we're pleased to see that they've finally moved away from presenting it in the dreaded pdf format. Unfortunately, the alternative they've chosen is only a marginal improvement: now the pages are available in jpg format -- i.e. they're pictures of the pages (with little thumbnails on top to navigate with ...).
       Still, the content is available, and that's what counts: a lot on endangered languages this time around, but the main section of interest is of course: World Literature in Review.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Laziest review ever ?

       Yes, we understand it's August and they probably can't find anyone to write anything, so they're desperate for every bit of filler, and obviously the editor is on vacation (because we can't imagine an editor accepting this), but still .....
       Javier Cercas' The Speed of Light (see also our review) is just out in paperback in the UK, and so it's getting a quick mention in a couple of the local papers. We understand that these brief reviews can't tell you everything about the book, but the ones in The Independent and The Observer (scroll down in both instances) are adequate, giving both an idea what the book is about, as well as how impressed (or not) the reviewers were. But what was Christina Koning thinking in her longer review in The Times ?
       All right, she gives you some idea what it's about, but in a stunning display of avoidance doesn't let on what she thought of it -- offering instead the closing paragraph:
Cercas is a fine writer, and Anne McLean’s translation admirably conveys his lucid style. "A dark, engrossing, satisfying book," The Bookseller said when the work was first published in English last year and other reviewers were no less complimentary.
       Generally, we're all for letting readers know what as many reviewers as possible thought of a title (that's what we do here !) but surely not in the middle of -- and, in fact, instead of -- our review ..... And she doesn't even say whether or not she agrees with these judgements .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Mumbai to Mecca review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Ilija Trojanow's account of A Pilgrimage to the Holy Sites of Islam, Mumbai to Mecca.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

24 August 2007 - Friday

Yasmina Reza's book on Sarkozy | 'Writer' sues Ebadi | Genre fiction goes pure in Korea ?
Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year | Canal Grande review

       Yasmina Reza's book on Sarkozy

       No question: the most anticipated book of the fall in France is Yasmina Reza's insider-look at recently elected French President Nicolas Sarkozy, L'aube, le soir ou la nuit (get your copy at -- where it is, of course, the bestselling title). Reza, best known for her plays, was allowed to tag along with Sarkozy for much of the last yeatr, and this is the result.
       It's big enough news that there's even a lot of English-language coverage: in Vain, self-obsessed and cruel in The Times Charles Bremner finds:
Her close-up of Sarko confirms what France already knows, or suspects, of its hyper-driven leader. He is perpetually impatient, contemptuous and sentimental. He feigns interest in public appearances that bore him stiff.
       See also Elaine Sciolino's Playwright sees actor in Sarkozy in the IHT and Angelique Chrisafis' Playwright's portrait paints Sarkozy as a vain, childlike egotist in The Guardian.

       Meanwhile, French coverage is, of course, wall-to-wall. In Le Nouvel Observateur Jérôme Garcin talks with Reza, while they also offer excerpts.
       For other coverage, see also:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       'Writer' sues Ebadi

       Larry Neumeister reports for the AP that Author Sues Nobel Peace Prize Winner:
A Canadian author sued Nobel Peace Prize winner and Iranian human rights activist Shirin Ebadi Thursday, saying she reneged on getting a publisher for a book they had written after she was warned that the book's publication might spoil sales of her other books.
       Yes, Shahir Shahidsaless wants at least $1.3 million -- but will find it hard to find much sympathy with claims such as:
The lawsuit said Shahidsaless has lost at least $1 million because the book was not published and because he has not received the fame and notoriety that would have enabled him to publish other books.
       We're not sure his new-found fame and notoriety -- as laughingstock -- will help much either. But maybe he's working on a guide to frivolous lawsuits. At least he seems to be aware of his own limitations: the way we read this, he is freely admitting that the only way his book could possibly sell is on the back of a well-known name, and that it is worthless without it .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Genre fiction goes pure in Korea ?

       Way too little recent Korean fiction is available in translation, but at least some newspaper articles give an idea of some of what is going on: at The Dong-A Ilbo they write Genre Literature In Pure Fiction and give some idea of recent trends and works -- including the fact that:
Mystery novels, science fiction, fantasy, chick-lit, horror stories, and others are all categorized as "genre literature." Previously considered popular novels for pleasure reading, they were classified as non-mainstream, but recently they have been mixing with pure fiction. It is because young writers have employed characteristics of genre literature to their pieces.
Meanwhile, in the Korean literary circles, some say that as the desire to write creative novels has increased, so has the efforts to introduce various genre-like contrivances to enhance the solidity of plots.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year

       It's been out for a month in Holland, but Elizabeth Lowry's (in the TLS) is the first major English-language review we've seen, and though it's a bit early yet we've now put up a review-overview page for J.M.Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year. We figure there will be a flood of UK review links and quotes to add in the coming weeks -- and if we ever get our hands on a copy (US publication is still months away ...) we'll add our own review too.
       (Lowry's review certainly makes us even more eager to get our hands on this .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Canal Grande review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Hannu Raittila's Canal Grande.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

23 August 2007 - Thursday

Rentrée previews | Javier Calvo | More cover talk | Omega Minor review

        Rentrée previews

       The big French book avalanche -- the so-called rentrée littéraire -- is almost upon us (well -- them). Over 700 new titles will flood the market, and the preview articles have begun to appear. So, for example, Le Figaro points to Les vingt livres qui feront la rentrée, while there are overviews of what else to expect at Libération and La République des Lettres.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Javier Calvo

       None of Javier Calvo's novels have been translated into English yet, but English-language rights for his Mundo Maravilloso were apparently recently purchased and that should be out in 2008.
       An earlier novel, El dios reflectante, apparently made a huge splash when it was published in Spain a few years ago, the critics falling over themselves in praising it and calling it ground- (or at least tradition-) breaking. But it just came out in German translation and one of the first reviews is Oliver Jungen's in the FAZ -- and it's about as devastating as a review can get: "rarely do you come across a 395-page novel that is 395 pages too long" and: "This book subjects the reader to unfathomable torments of boredom from the first line to the last", etc. (At Deutschlandradio Roland Krüger is kinder, however.)
       Calvo has translated a lot from the English -- including works by J.M. Coetzee, Ezra Pound, Richard Rorty, David Foster Wallace, W.H. Auden, Ted Hughes, and Terry Pratchett, which just makes us more curious what his own work is like. (The only English example of his work we could find is the Simpsons-inspired short story Ned Flanders (at The Barcelona Review) .)
       Still, maybe there's a reason Mundo Maravilloso will be the first of his books to be translated, not El dios reflectante .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More cover talk

       Yet another article about book-jackets, as Helen Brown looks at What's behind the cover (and we don't mean the book) in The Telegraph.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Omega Minor review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Paul Verhaeghen's Omega Minor, forthcoming from Dalkey Archive Press.
       This actually would seem to have some break-out-sales potential; we're very curious to see what the popular and critical reactions to it will be.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

22 August 2007 - Wednesday

Qurratulain Hyder (1927-2007) | Greatest travel books ?
Wolves of the Crescent Moon build-up | Still looking for the the Great Malaysian Novel
Cuban cultural wars ? | Against the trade paperback ! | Murder in Amsterdam review

       Qurratulain Hyder (1927-2007)

       We happened to mention Urdu author Qurratulain Hyder -- and her classic River of Fire -- last week, and now we learn that she passed away yesterday; see notices at the BBC and in the Daily Times.
       You could do worse than pick up River of Fire -- and maybe some more translations will be forthcoming .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Greatest travel books ?

       Condé Nast Traveler have put together a list of The 86 Greatest Travel Books of All Time, and even if such exercises are dubious at best they did get a pretty decent selection of writers (forty-five of them) to play along and name:
their favorite nonfiction travel titles -- the ones that changed the way they considered a certain culture or place or people, that inspired them both to write and to get out into the world themselves.
       And for good measure they also throw in a list of Bookstores Worth a Trip.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Wolves of the Crescent Moon build-up

       Yet another piece praising Yousef al-Mohaimeed's Wolves of the Crescent Moon, as Andrew Hammond writes that Saudi writer wins plaudits with harsh Bedouin tale for Reuters:
When Yousef al-Mohaimeed published Wolves of the Crescent Moon four years ago, he never imagined it would stoke much interest in his native Saudi Arabia, never mind the West.

But the novel has put Saudi Arabia at the forefront of Arab literature usually dominated by Egypt, an unusual position for a country seen as a cultural backwater, and found an audience in English and French translations.
       We can't imagine it has found too much of an audience in English translation yet -- yes, the marvelous American University in Cairo Press has brought it out (see their publicity page), but American readers (and us) will apparently have to wait until Penguin brings it out in December (pre-order at Still, we are looking forward to it.
       And the article is interesting as well, including:
Acknowledging state censorship and self-censorship, Mohaimeed says the main challenge for Saudi writers today is to get over the sensitivities surrounding social and religious issues to focus attention on the art of writing itself.

"If we can get to the point where all subjects are written about openly, then we can move on to the more important question of how we say these things," he said.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Still looking for the the Great Malaysian Novel

       In The Star Umapagan Ampikaipakan offers his two cents on Finding the Great Malaysian Novel.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Cuban cultural wars ?

       In Granma Deisy Francis Mexidor interviews the head of the Culture Department of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of Cuba (the CDCCCPC ?) in The cultural war on this country is a daily and palpable reality.
       Not too much information, beyond that they've ramped up capacity and could now apparently churn out a lot of books if they wanted to -- but at least some testy compaints:
Is there talk of a strong and alive literature in terms of Cuban literature abroad ?
Well, in relation to abroad, results are generally marked with a political imprint; in other words, the more you say, the more you get. The classic case is that of Amir Valle Ojeda, a really minor writer who left the country, remained in Germany, began to say terrible things about the Revolution and was suddenly hailed as a great writer. He has won prizes, not for the quality of his work but because of his posture against the Revolution. The same thing is happening in the case of Zoe Valdés. But really, those names do not merit further comment.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Against the trade paperback !

       As readers may recall, one of our biggest pet peeves is the trade paperback format, an unwieldy, over-priced book format that drives us nuts -- give us mass-market paperback size every time ! So we're glad to link to those who rail against them, as Alex Remington does in The Problem with Pricey Paperbacks in The Huffington Post.
       He notes:
Nowadays, however, more and more literary books are foregoing the mass-market format for what's known as a "trade paperback," creamy, beautiful, variable in size, and at least twice as expensive as mass-market. Those books are very likely to hold up for your great-grandson to read, but they come at a price that excludes most casual readers looking to purchase on a whim, and all readers who can't afford to pay $15 for a novel. Undoubtedly, the higher price and higher cache of these books support sales models that work out to the financial advantage of the publishers, despite the readers lost at the lower end. But this means that the democracy of the least expensive books, once a mix of high and low and the one place where Jonathan Kellerman and John Updike could sit side by side, is fast becoming the exclusive province of genre fiction. High literature now comes exclusively at high prices.
       We agree that the pricing-problem is a major one, but it's the comfort-level -- portability and ease of use -- that are the major reasons why we so prefer the smaller size. Don't tell the publishers (not that they'd listen anyway), but given the choice we'd actually pay more for the same book in mass-market size than in trade .....
       (We were thrilled to recently find a 1965 Ballantine edition of Nikos Kazantzakis' Freedom or Death (cover price 95 cents ...) -- so much easier to deal with than the 'Touchstone' Kazantzakis-editions (and considerably more durable too, by the way: the Touchstone spines always crack on us, and the pages begin to fall out ...).)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Murder in Amsterdam review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of what is now subtitled Liberal Europe, Islam, and the Limits of Tolerance, Ian Buruma's Murder in Amsterdam.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

21 August 2007 - Tuesday

Classical Tamil texts | Boston Review articles on Aira, Bolaño, Buarque, etc.
Pyramid Texts | Bookselling in Burma | Jonathan Coe profile

       Classical Tamil texts

       We'd love to see more modern Tamil texts in translation as well, but, as widely reported in the Indian press (here at The Hindu), it's also good news that at least 'Centre to release classical Tamil texts next year':
A set of critical edition of the classical Tamil texts were being given final shape by the union government and would be produced before the end of the current year, Union Minister for Human Resources Arjun Singh said today.
       The article doesn't even bother to say what the forty-one selected classics are, but fortunately there's more information at the curiously named Centre of Excellence for Classical Tamil (we're wondering whether there is a corresponding 'Centre of Mediocrity for Classical Tamil', etc. too ...) , specifically the list of Definitive Editions of Ancient Tamil Works. (And they're also working on definitive English editions.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Boston Review articles on Aira, Bolaño, Buarque, etc.

       The July/August issue of the (partially) new-look Boston Review is up, and there's some fine literary coverage:
       - Aura Estrada writes on Roberto Bolaño's Amulet and César Aira's How I Became a Nun -- and it's especially good to see Aira get the attention since he hasn't caught on anywhere near as much as Bolaño but is, to our minds, no less interesting (see also our reviews of An Episode in the Life of a Landscape Painter and the as-yet untranslated (but forthcoming from New Directions) Varamo) -- and note that he is far more under-translated than Bolaño ...).
       Estrada suggests:
Slim, cerebral, witty, fanciful, and idiosyncratic, Aira’s novels draw strength and meaning from many traditions, including Eastern and Central European existentialism: from the Polish Witold Gombrowicz, the French Raymond Russell, the Russian Mikhail Bulgakov, the Czech Bohumil Hrabal, and even the Austrian Thomas Bernhard -- without the anti-nationalist anger.
       - In Brazil's Dreamer Scott Saul writes about Chico Buarque (two of whose novels we should also be getting to sooner rather than later).
        - Roger Boylan writes about Nabokov’s Gift.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Pyramid Texts

       Gamal al-Ghitani's Pyramid Texts (see our review) get's a nice write-up from Mirella Hodeib in the Daily Star.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Bookselling in Burma

       In The Myanmar Times Nyunt Win reports that Books on Myanmar history sell well among foreigners:
Books on Myanmar written in English are attracting an increasing number of local readers but the overwhelming majority of buyers are foreigners, say retailers in Yangon.

They said a new market for the books was emerging among Myanmar academics conducting research on the country’s culture and traditions and those interested in such subjects, tour guides, diplomats and those going overseas to work.
       We'd be more interested in what the locals buy that's written in Burmese (or even just what's available in Burmese ...), though it's good to see the booksellers are doing some business. (Still: it seems safe to assume that, for example, Thant Myint-U's The River of Lost Footsteps is something that still has to be bought abroad ...).
       Somewhat disappointing also:
U Maung Maung Lwin said a few Myanmar readers enjoyed Myanmar fiction written or translated into English.

"Some buy the English-language Myanmar novels of (say) Kyawt Maung Maung Nyunt," he said.
       It makes sense that the locals would prefer their Burmese fiction in Burmese -- but the more of a market there is for English translations locally, the better likelihood that we could actually find some abroad .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Jonathan Coe profile

       In What a turn-up in the Sunday Times Andrew Holgate profiles Jonathan Coe.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

previous entries (11 - 16 August 2007)

archive index

- return to top of the page -

© 2007 the complete review

the Complete Review
Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links