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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 30 September 2007

21 September: Review section praise | Muldoon new poetry editor at The New Yorker | Amis-Banville-Self event | Tom McCarthy attention | English Korans | Hornets' Nest review
22 September: PFD collapse | Pamuk apartment
23 September: Mobile-phone novels | New Swedish Book Reviews | Philip Roth guide | Fire in the Blood review
24 September: Updated Man Booker finalists sales figures | Sacred Defense lit. ? | Another book review panel ... | Bok & Bibliotek | Demise of the hyphen ?
25 September: Reviewing Némirovsky | Bolaño story | Publishing in Kenya | Men in Space review
26 September: Translation Prizes | Being 'right' in Finland | Naipaul reactions | Nobody's Home review
27 September: No mosque-reading of The Satanic Verses -- for now | Robert Harris' The Ghost | Ice review
28 September: What happened to the translation of Kurkov's The President's Last Love ? | Banana-mania in Italy | Dr.Seuss in Russian | Vietnamese authors embrace the Internet
29 September: FT review of Maroufi | José Eduardo Agualusa interview
30 September: Patricia Grace awarded the Neustadt International Prize for Literature | Girls of Riyadh translation issues | Writing tips | The Bad Girl review


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30 September 2007 - Sunday

Patricia Grace awarded the Neustadt International Prize for Literature
Girls of Riyadh translation issues | Writing tips | The Bad Girl review

       Patricia Grace awarded the Neustadt International Prize for Literature

       No mention at the official site yet (last we checked), but in The Norman Transcript Julianna Parker reports that Maori writer this yearís Neustadt International Prize winner.
       Actually, New Zealand author Patricia Grace is next year's winner, since she will only receive the prize (which is handed out every other year) in 2008. She is the 20th laureate, and beat out (yes, it's a head to head competition -- of sorts), among others, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, Michael Ondaatje, Jacques Roubaud, Murakami Haruki, E.L.Doctorow, and Yoel Hoffmann.
       She'll pick up $50,000 and get some well-deserved attention.
       For additional information see, for example, the New Zealand Book Council Patricia Grace page.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Girls of Riyadh translation issues

       A few days ago we wondered What happened to the translation of Kurkov's The President's Last Love ?, and now we learn about another shocking translation-case. In a letter to the editor published (scroll down) in the 28 September issue of the TLS the credited co-translator (along with the author) of Rajaa Alsanea's Girls of Riyadh, Marilyn Booth, explains what happened to that book:
When I submitted the translation to Penguin, complete except for Saudi vernacular terms with which the author had promised to help me, I was informed that the author intended to rewrite it, and thereafter I was kept entirely out of the process. The resulting text, with its clichéd language, erasures of Arabic idioms I had translated, and unnecessary footnotes, does not reflect the care that I took to produce a lively, idiomatic translation conveying the novelís tone and language, which are crucial to its critique of (globalized) Saudi society. Of course, my decision to retain my name on the title page (the only decision about the textís final shape that the publisher allowed me !) means that I remain partly responsible for a work that I was given no authority, ultimately, to craft.

It is unfortunate that a novel which works partly through humour, punning and multilingual wordplay has been "cleaned up" by the Arabic textís author.
       Very disappointing -- and none of this is good for books in translation or for efforts to reach larger English-reading audiences. Publishers' short-term thinking -- which seems in both the Kurkov and Alsanea-cases to have led to versions being sold to the public that were not as good as they could or should have been -- can easily come at a long-term cost, turning readers off of translated fiction (because of sloppy writing, hackneyed word-choices, etc. etc.). As if translated literature doesn't have it hard enough already .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Writing tips

       We've mentioned the dismal sales figures of most of the Man Booker finalists, and there's been a lot written in the last week about the fact that some ghostwritten piece of crap has outsold them all put together. Today, for example, Stuart Kelly thinks everyone is over-reacting, as he writes in Scotland on Sunday that Sheer twaddle has its rewards so don't despair as Jordan outsells Man Booker shortlist.
       For us the issue isn't how much this Jordan-pseudo-book sells: it's a shame people waste good money on such drivel, but it's their shame -- but what is shocking is how few copies of most of the Man Booker finalists have been sold, especially given the publicity, reviews, etc. they've received.
       Kelly seems to think otherwise:
In my experience, there is a healthy, well-informed audience who wants proper literature and the critical debate that goes with it.
       The few thousand copies sold of everything but the McEwan doesn't sound much like there's much of a 'healthy' audience to us .....
       At least in The Observer Carole Cadwalladr has some fun in What Price a blockbuster ?, suggesting what writing tips the Man Booker finalist-authors could take from the Jordan-book so that they too might sell more of their books. The tips include:
  • Don't read books. It's a waste of time. Katie Price admits that she doesn't bother with fiction. Or non-fiction, for that matter. Although occasionally, she might dip into a bit of 'true crime'.
  • Employ a ghostwriter. Only losers write their own books. But make sure that you don't give them any credit or mention their name. A former journalist called Rebecca Farnworth is the actual 'Katie Price' in question and has, so far, written two autobiographies and two novels, with another autobiography and two further novels on the way.
       And, of course, there's that basic rule of fiction:
  • Cocks should be always be 'rock hard'. This, possibly, is where Ian McEwan falls down with his tale of marital night nerves on Chesil Beach. As Crystal advises: 'No one wants a party sausage inside them.'

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       The Bad Girl review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Mario Vargas Llosa's The Bad Girl.
       This is one of the few major fall releases we were really curious about, and we have to say we were disappointed. There's something to be said for Vargas Llosa's modern Flaubert-variation, but the experiment seems to us to have failed.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



29 September 2007 - Saturday

FT review of Maroufi | José Eduardo Agualusa interview

       FT review of Maroufi

       Our review of Abbas Maroufi's Symphony of the Dead has been up since 2000, but the book has only recently been released in English translation. In these days of very differing book-review priorities it should almost come as no surprise that the first English-language review we've come across is ... Adrian Turpin's in, of all places, the Financial Times.
       It really isn't that much of a surprise: the Financial Times' book coverage is solid (a notch above the more non-fiction obsessed The Economist's, as well as that at the registration-requiring Wall Street Journal, two more finance-oriented publications that have apparently found that their demographics appreciate decent literary coverage) -- and the selection of titles they cover is surprisingly broad. And they made most of their archival book coverage freely accessible earlier this year, so it really is a good resource, and worth checking in on every weekend.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       José Eduardo Agualusa interview

       Words without Borders' current Lusophone focus has yielded quite a few interesting pieces, and we particularly enjoyed Paulo Polzonoff jr.'s interview with Independent Foreign Fiction Prize-winning author José Eduardo Agualusa, whose The Book of Chameleons we really would like to cover at some point. (Get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



28 September 2007 - Friday

What happened to the translation of Kurkov's The President's Last Love ?
Banana-mania in Italy | Dr.Seuss in Russian | Vietnamese authors embrace the Internet

       What happened to the translation of Kurkov's The President's Last Love ?

       In his Literary life column this week Mark Sanderson reports (second item) that:
Andrey Kurkov's latest novel, The President's Last Love, is billed as being translated by George Bird in Harvill Secker's catalogue and as being edited by him on Amazon.co.uk. However, Mr Bird's name does not appear anywhere in the copies now in the shops.
       What happened ?
The Russian author, perhaps best known for Death and the Penguin, has, it seems, fallen out with his long-term collaborator or, as a spokesman for Harvill put it: 'There were some differences of opinion between the author and translator about the chronological order of the book.'
       Hmmm.
       Some of the early reviews have noted that this has led to some problems with the book, with Tim Martin writing in his review in The Telegraph:
Or perhaps something got lost in the translation. And here's the other problem with The President's Last Love, one that has nothing to do with its author and one which no author deserves. Kurkov's habitual translator, George Bird, is conspicuous by his absence from the credits this time: instead, the unattributed translation seems to be the work of at least two people of wildly differing degrees of talent.

That much of the book is fine only makes the bad bits more noticeable. Pages and pages of boisterous and idiomatic backchat will pass frictionlessly by, then a turn of the page sends the reader sprawling among misspellings and un-Anglicisms.
       And in the New Statesman Hugh Barnes notes:
The overall effect isn't helped by the poor quality of the uncredited translation, with its broken syntax and sloppy punctuation.
       (See also reviews in The Guardian (Tibor Fischer) and The Independent (Barry Forshaw).)
       Given the difficulties translated titles already have in the English-language markets it's particularly disappointing that something like this could happen -- whatever exactly it is that happened here .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Banana-mania in Italy

       In the Daily Yomiuri Kazuki Matsuura reports that Italians go bananas over Yoshimoto, as "Japanese novelist Banana Yoshimoto has become one of the best-selling writers in Italy":
Up to now, 15 books written by Yoshimoto have been published in Italian at a pace of about one book a year, and every book sells between 300,000 and 400,000 copies. It is rare that a book sells this well in Italy, a country where reading is allegedly less popular than in other European nations.
       That's about twice as many of her titles as have been translated into English -- and sales that are much, much higher than in the US and UK.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Dr.Seuss in Russian

       At Russia Profile Anna Arutiunova offers a detailed article on children's literature in Russia and the forthcoming Russian translations of some Dr.Seuss titles, in Horton Hears Privyet.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Vietnamese authors embrace the Internet

       At Viet Nam News they note that the local Literary scene flourishes online at new blog sites:
As many as 100 writers and literati have enrolled in the site vnweblogs.com to allow public access to their blogs, offering online stories and literary discussions for wide and frequent readerships.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



27 September 2007 - Thursday

No mosque-reading of The Satanic Verses -- for now
Robert Harris' The Ghost | Ice review

       No mosque-reading of The Satanic Verses -- for now

       Günter Wallraff's continuing efforts to read Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses in a Cologne mosque have been dealt another unsurprising setback: yes, at least for now, DeutscheWelle report that German Author Barred From Reading Satanic Verses in Mosque:
Wallraff, famous for his undercover investigations, announced in July that he wanted to read the novel at a Turkish-speaking mosque in Cologne.

The request posed a dilemma for the Turkish-Islamic union DITIB, an Ankara-funded religious foundation: If the group members denied Wallraff's request, they would be seen as not being liberal, but granting permission would anger a large number of their members.
       Wallraff is doing his best to keep a dialogue going in Cologne, where plans to build a huge new mosque have made for considerable tension and discussions. And, at least on a small level, he seems to be having some success -- at least in spreading the Rushdie-word;
"I have read the book aloud at home to Muslims and they actually laughed at parts that didn't mean anything to me. You can see that this book's place is in a Muslim context," Wallraff said.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Robert Harris' The Ghost

       Robert Harris is getting considerable attention for The Ghost, his new book about a successful British PM and his ghostwriter that pretty obviously has a lot to do with Tony Blair.
       There's yet another interview with him about it, this time in The Guardian, where Aida Edemariam talks to him in 'I think Tony Blair would see the joke'.
       See also the official book site, the Simon & Schuster publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

       (Updated - 28 September): See now also Melissa Benn's profile in The Independent.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Ice review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Vladimir Sorokin's Ice.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



26 September 2007 - Wednesday

Translation Prizes | Being 'right' in Finland | Naipaul reactions | Nobody's Home review

       Translation Prizes

       Every year in the UK they announce the winners of a whole bunch of translation prizes at the same time, with the TLS usually having a brief piece about the winning works. The prizes get handed out at a get-together where they also hold the annual 'Sebald Lecture on the Art of Literary Translation' . The press coverage for these things is dismal, but there is now some information available about who won what this year at the Literary Translation site.
       So: Marina Warner will be giving the Sebald Lecture, on 'Stranger Magic: True Stories and Translated Selves'.
       And the prizes were awarded for translations of these books:
  • The Vondel Prize for translation from Dutch: My Fatherís Notebook by Kader Abdollah
  • The Schlegel-Tieck Prize for translation from German: The Swarm by Frank Schätzing
  • The Scott Moncrieff Prize for translation from French: Just Like Tomorrow by Faïza Guène (published as Kiffe Kiffe Tomorrow in the US)
  • The Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize for translation from Arabic: The Lodging House by Khairy Shalaby
  • The Premio Valle-Inclán for translation from Spanish: The Sleeping Voice by Dulce Chacón
       Interesting to note that these aren't really very 'literary' titles, by and large -- The Swarm ! wow !
       The award ceremony and lecture will be held 8 November.

       Meanwhile at Literary Translation we also learn that Ilmar Lehtpere has won the Corneliu M. Popescu Prize for European Poetry Translation 2007 for his translation of Drums of Silence by Kristiina Ehin; see also the Oleander Press press release, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk. (With an Amazon.co.uk sales rank, last we checked, of 2,607,675 it seems safe to say that the prize has not yet had a significant impact on reader-interest.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Being 'right' in Finland

       At Helsingin Sanomat Esa Mäkinen reports that The right is still wrong in Finnish art.
       Apparently artists must hide their right-wing leanings if they want success (or at least government grants):
"It would be a suicide by self-immolation", says the startled author on the other end of the phone line.

I had called to ask if he would like to speak publicly about his own political convictions as an artist of the political right.
The answer is a resounding no.
       Of course it would be useful if it were made clear what it means to be right-wing in Finland. Rocker Tuukka Temonen's simplistic left-right differentiation surely doesn't convince:
For Temonen, a right-wing philosophy entails a respect for work, honesty, and diligence. Temonen says that he tries to promote these values in his own work.

"Rightist thinking also means that youíre open to all ideas at the beginning", he says.
       So obviously that's very different from what is considered right-wing in the US ..... Though you have to admire the subtle implication that lefties are dishonest, lazy, and all want to be on welfare, as well as being close-minded (since, presumably, the left is the antithesis of the right).
       Still, if artists feel they have to hide their political beliefs something is obviously very wrong here.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Naipaul reactions

       V.S.Naipaul was interviewed on the BBC's Today, and there have been quite a few reactions to it. At The Guardian they have a long comment-thread in Pride and prejudice ?, while Zoe Williams also takes him on in arguing The novel is not dead yet.
       We haven't heard the interview, but much as we enjoy much of his work have found it impossible to take Naipaul's pronouncements on literature seriously since that Reuters interview we mentioned a few months back (now only available here, as best we can tell), where:
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.
       As we said back then: that claim (or admission) immediately disqualifies him entirely from the debate . You only get to moan about the death of the novel or the death of literature if you really can't find any life-signs -- but you have to be open to possible life-signs: you can't just shut the book(s) before even seeing what is being done in them.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Nobody's Home review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Dubravka Ugrešić's Nobody's Home.
       Here again is an example of why the publishing industry confounds us: you may recall that Nobody's Home is slated to be the inaugural volume in the promising-sounding Open Letter-venture. Due out in the US ... in the fall of 2008. Nevertheless, here we already sit with an attractive paperback edition, and many of our readers can find a copy at their local bookstore (and all of them could purchase a copy via the Internet) -- as Telegram has already published it in the UK.
       Confounding too is the lack of interest the UK press has mustered in the book so far. Ugrešić has gotten a reasonable amount of British review-coverage for most of her titles, but no one seems to have noticed this one yet. And that despite Ugrešić making an appearance in Clive James' recent Cultural Amnesia; see Slate for an edited version of James' essay on her. [(Updated - 27 September): Okay, maybe we are a bit impatient -- the book did just come out, and at least some coverage should be forthcoming in the coming days and weeks.]

       Meanwhile, in an odd coincidence, we received an e-mail from Ugrešić just as we were getting set to post the review, alerting us to her new official site -- something more for you to check out. (We particularly like the typographical solution to the diacritical marks in her last name there.)
       

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



25 September 2007 - Tuesday

Reviewing Némirovsky | Bolaño story
Publishing in Kenya | Men in Space review

       Reviewing Némirovsky

       We put up our review of Irène Némirovsky's Fire in the Blood a few days ago, and there are now already quite a few other reviews out (see ours for links, etc.).
       Admittedly, this novel, like her Suite Française, has a dramatic back-story (at least as far as the manuscript and its very recent (re)discovery goes) -- and they keep bringing that up in the reviews. We like to consider texts simply as texts, but a bit of this naturally seeps through into the reading-experience, no matter how hard you try to keep it out. Still, does one have to go as far as Yvonne Zipp now does in her review in the Christian Science Monitor, where she actually writes:
The novella's strength comes from its identity as a newly published novel by Irène Némirovsky
       Is she serious ? Is it even possible to think of a book in these terms ? (Unless, of course, one is merely thinking of it as an object, of historic interest and value as such, and leaves the actual content completely aside.)
       She does discuss the novella (and its literary merits) -- a bit -- and finds:
And there's enough of Némirovsky's intelligence and caustic powers of observation to make Fire in the Blood more than a mere curiosity. For those who loved Suite Française, the existence of this quiet, melancholy story is good news.
        But even if one considers the novella on these terms, why isn't Zipp asking the harder (and far more interesting) questions -- as Heller McAlpin does in her review in The Los Angeles Times, pointing out, for example:
It is noteworthy that of her prolific output, about a dozen novels and many short stories, the two books first offered to American readers in the 21st century are not only previously unpublished but also her most purely French in subject matter and setting: no Russian or Jewish characters, and no hint of the stereotyped "hook-nosed," "frizzy-haired" Jews that populate her earlier work, including her 1929 French bestseller, David Golder.
        (As we've noted repeatedly, Némirovsky was a popular and available-in-English author before World War II -- but those books (some of which will be available in the Everyman's Library omnibus we mentioned when we posted our review) aren't at all nice, painting a very ugly picture of much of mankind.)
       McAlpin also points out the uncomfortable fact that:
But looked at more closely, Suite Française is almost as remarkable for what it doesn't include as for what it does: There is no mention of anti-Semitism. This, despite the fact that while writing it, Némirovsky was subjected to increasingly hideous restrictions [...]

Writing about the fall of France without mentioning the Jewish plight is akin to writing about Hurricane Katrina without mentioning New Orleans' impoverished. One has to wonder about Némirovsky's self-censorship. Was it aimed at self-preservation ? Was it an attempt to distance herself even further from the religion of her birth (but never her practice) than her earlier fiction and her expedient conversion to Catholicism in 1939 already had done ? Did she hope that her omission would enable her to publish her work and keep supporting her family despite the interdictions ? Did she want to prove herself, once and for all, as a French novelist ?
       If you can't leave the author out of it, then McAlpin's approach is certainly the preferable one. (And, of course, part of the problem with Fire in the Blood is that it is a decidedly minor work, so writing about the dramatic author-story is much more tempting than focussing on the book .....) Still, we'd prefer if the focus remained squarely on the text itself, here and almost everywhere.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Bolaño story

       The current issue of The New Yorker does have a few fiction reviews (by Menand and Updike), as well as James Wood's first effort in his new staff-position (wasted on Robert Alterís translation of the Psalms) -- but Hermione Lee's talk with Philip Roth isn't available online (though given how much Roth-coverage there already has been, and likely will be in the weeks to follow, consider yourself spared).
       The highlight of the issue, however, is surely the Roberto Bolaño story, The Insufferable Gaucho.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Publishing in Kenya

       In Business Daily Africa Wanjiru Waithaka wonders: Is it time to change the way books are marketed in Kenya ?
       The publishing industry has done fairly well there in recent years -- but almost entirely due to spending on schools-texts. So:
But while publishers celebrate, for many creative writers publishing remains a labour of love with little to show by way of royalties and getting published is still a very long process that discourages many potential authors.

So who is to blame for this state of affairs ? Authors fault publishers for not promoting creative works, instead concentrating on school texts.

Publishers say the problem is that Kenyans donít read and they are just putting their efforts where the market is. Publishers also say that potential authors do not write stuff that is relevant for the Kenyan reader leading to rejection of numerous unsolicited manuscripts.
        Somewhat amusing: the somewhat circular problem they seem to have. EAEP editorial manager Kiarie Kamau says:
Kenyans donít prioritise buying books outside of the school system and have a preference for foreign books. "The Kenyan psyche of believing that everything foreign is good is a big problem.

You can see it even in the clothes people buy, which is why traders make suits in Luthuli Avenue then brand them with foreign labels," he says.
       Ironically then:
Authors also come in for a fair share of the blame here says Ms Garland. "They should write stories with the audience in mind. But 90 per cent of manuscripts we receive are written as though for a foreign audience.
       Kenyans want to read foreign books, and Kenyan authors write as though for a foreign audience -- sounds like that should work out, doesn't it ?
       But finding what the locals might enjoy is apparently as hard here as it is everywhere else:
A related issue is whether publishers are churning out material that Kenyans want to read.

"People who say Kenyans donít read are not right but very few publishers do market research to find out what will sell. They publish then hope it sells. This is a challenge for publishers to take up. We should take a little money from the revenues textbooks generates and invest in other areas," says Mrs Karimi.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Men in Space review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Tom McCarthy's Men in Space.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



24 September 2007 - Monday

Updated Man Booker finalists sales figures | Sacred Defense lit. ?
Another book review panel ... | Bok & Bibliotek | Demise of the hyphen ?

       Updated Man Booker finalists sales figures

       A few weeks back Nigel Reynolds reported on the dismal UK sales-figures for five of the six Man Booker finalists, through 18 August (which were also noted again by Mark Sanderson in his Literary life column last week ). While the Ian McEwan was selling fairly well, closing in on 100,000 back then already, even the better-selling other finalists were not faring particularly well: Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist had sold 1,519 copies and Lloyd Jones's Mister Pip a mere 880 copies.
       Now, in Why Jordan is better read than Ian McEwan, Adam Lusher offers some updated Nielsen BookScan figures -- and the picture still isn't pretty. McEwan is up to 110,615, but The Reluctant Fundamentalist has only reached 2,918, with Mister Pip closing ... fast (?) with 2,802 sold.
       Indeed, leaving aside the McEwan:
The other five [...] can between them manage only 10,155 sales
       This is really pretty shocking, and, as the article points out, is something of a challenge to 'literary fiction' -- especially since these titles aren't really all that 'literary' fiction, with Mister Pip seeming to us downright a crowd-pleaser (and one that got a lot of review coverage, a lot of it very good). The only other title we've read, The Reluctant Fundamentalist, may sound like a somewhat tougher sell, but it also got a lot of review attention -- and quite a bit of praise. So if titles like these -- that have now gotten additional publicity because they were long- and then shortlisted for what is supposedly the premier English-language novel prize -- fare so poorly, what hope is there for real serious fiction ... ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Sacred Defense lit. ?

       Generally we think more attention should be paid abroad to Iranian literature -- far too little of which is translated into English -- but we're not too thrilled with Majid Qeisari's call that, as reported by MNA, Iranian writers should embrace war genre. Interestingly, the war he's hung up on is the Iran-Iraq war -- and while it certainly did go on for a while, it also ended almost two decades ago, and you'd figure there would be more pressing issues (even right there in that neighbourhood !) to be concerned with. Still: if the trauma of the so-called 'Sacred Defense' lingers on this deep and long, that should tell you something too (though we're afraid it probably won't tell deaf, dumb, and blind US policy-makers (i.e. the whole lot of them) anything).
        Qeisari says:
"All over the world, cinema and literature have made use of war events to create a distinctive genre. In order to find out whether our literature of Sacred Defense (the term Sacred Defense applies to the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war) has been successful over the past years, we must wait for the future generation to reply."

Qeisari continued, "As soon as the war began and located its soldiers and commanders, the literature of war found its writers. Though many writers entered into this field, the great masters of our literature are still missing."
       And:
"The most imperative factor is that any gifted individual should take the first step and start writing. I think we must provide support for newcomers in this field and increase our tolerance so that every one feels free to create Sacred Defense literary works," he concluded.
       Interestingly, we mentioned a couple of years back a Doulatabadi project, with Mahmud Doulatabadi planning to: "devote the rest of his life to writing a story about the 8-year Sacred Defense." Of course, that probably is a deeply personal choice: see, for example, the last paragraphs of this article from The Washington Post. And, of course, if anybody can pull 'Sacred Defense' lit. off, you'd figure it would be this guy. (Recall also that a novel of his has finally been translated: Missing Soluch, brought out by Melville House Press (see their publicity page) -- which we will also be getting to eventually.) [(Updated - 26 September): As Missing Soluch-translator Kamran Rastegar has kindly made us aware of, the now-crossed out lines and link above in fact refer to a different person, not the author. He also writes that he does not believe that Dowlatabadi is working on a 'Sacred Defense' project at this time.]

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Another book review panel ...

       Yes, another week, another book review panel: Critical Mass alerts us to the Authors Guild Foundation panel discussion tonight in New York, Book Reviews: In Print, Online, and In Decline ?.
       Moderated by Roy Blount jr., it has an impressive group of panelists: NYTBR-head-man Sam Tanenhaus, Sara Nelson, Jane Ciabattari, and Lizzie Skurnick.

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       Bok & Bibliotek

       The Göteborg Book Fair -- "the largest book fair in the Nordic Region" -- runs 27 to 30 September, with Estonia as the 'in focus' country.

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       Demise of the hyphen ?

       Pathologically Polymathic points us to Finlo Rohrer's BBC article, Small object of grammatical desire, noting that the hyphen appears to be going out of fashion:
The sixth edition of the Shorter Oxford English Dictionary has knocked the hyphens out of 16,000 words, many of them two-word compound nouns. Fig-leaf is now fig leaf, pot-belly is now pot belly, pigeon-hole has finally achieved one word status as pigeonhole and leap-frog is feeling whole again as leapfrog.
       Hyphen-mad as we are here (we even have one in our URL !), we'll miss the little buggers. But, apparently, the trend is inexorable:
Data drawn from a wide range of publications taken in 1961 and 1991 suggested a 5% decline in hyphen usage over the three decades. He thinks e-mails may be part of the answer.

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23 September 2007 - Sunday

Mobile-phone novels | New Swedish Book Reviews
Philip Roth guide | Fire in the Blood review

       Mobile-phone novels

       In The Japan Times Yoko Hani reports on the phenomenal success of Mobile-phone novels in Japan. Yes, keitai shosetsu (ケータイ小説) are all the rage :
Amazingly, in fact, out of the top 10 bestselling fiction works in the first half of 2007, five began life as keitai novels, according to Nippan. And with average book sales of about 400,000 copies each, these bestsellers are breaking entirely new ground in the book industry.
       It's easy to make fun of these things, but the sales figures are phenomenal. Just compare them to English-language attempts to make books out of weblogs, etc.
       Obviously in part it's a cultural (as well as technical) thing:
Mobile-phone book editors attribute the novels' popularity to the fact that they fit the lifestyle of high-school girls and women in their 20s. This demographic not only habitually communicate by typed keitai messages, but also read on their small screens while on the train, at home or anywhere. As well, keitai-novel sites have become the nodes of a community by making it possible for users to have interactions together and access a huge number of titles. Writers, too, can have easy access to readers' responses and then draw on them to further develop their stories.
        So: any chance of a variation on the theme making it big in the US/UK ? Will the iPhone revolutionize writing too ?

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       New Swedish Book Reviews

       They didn't update the Swedish Book Review site for a couple of years, but we'd faithfully check in once a month or so -- and finally we've been rewarded, as a backlog of issues has been posted.
       They only make part of the content accessible online, but there are still a few of the sort of articles that we find particularly interesting -- such as:
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       Philip Roth guide

       In the Sunday Times Stephen Amidon offers A guide to Philip Roth.

       (Updated - 25 September): See now also The (Near Complete) Roth Reader, a guide to the 'indispensable, the significant, the disposable, and everything in between' in New York.

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       Fire in the Blood review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of another newly discovered Irène Némirovsky novel, Fire in the Blood, just published in France earlier this year, and now out (more or less) in the US and UK.
       It's only the second Némirovsky to appear in the US since her rediscovery, though what we're looking forward to are the new translations of some of her previously available (in French and, in a few cases, English) work. We have long had David Golder and The Courilof Affair under review, but only the former is available -- and only in the UK -- in Sandra Smith's new translation. Lucky Brits will also soon be able to read Le Bal (yes, they kept the French title; get your copy at Amazon.co.uk), which sounds like the black fun that Némirovsky is best at.
       Meanwhile, American audiences will have to wait until January, when there will be a Everyman's Library collection that brings together David Golder, The Ball, Snow in Autumn, The Courilof Affair; see also the Random House publicity page, or pre-order at Amazon.com. We can hardly wait.

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22 September 2007 - Saturday

PFD collapse | Pamuk apartment

       PFD collapse

       Yes, we're finding it quite entertaining to watch mega-agency PFD fall apart -- though we are surprised by the amount of coverage the story is generating.
       In The Times Stefanie Marsh offers a good overview of the whole mess, in The pot boils over, while in The Independent Ciar Byrne reports Literary agency PFD faces fight to hold on to stars after agents threaten to quit -- with an added bonus of a list of some of the 'top' literary agents and their 'shark ratings' at the end of the article.
       We never believed in the synergies this sort of agency supposedly offered -- indeed, one of the first posts at the Literary Saloon addressed those very Enigmatic Synergies .....

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       Pamuk apartment

       Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk spends a semester each year teaching at Columbia, and now he doesn't have to rely on university housing any longer: as Max Abelson reports at The New York Observer: Sold ! His Name Is Orhan: Nobel Novelist Pamuk Buys on Riverside for $1.8 M. .
       The apartment at 355 Riverside Drive set him back more than his Nobel winnings, but apparently he can afford it. Sounds like a nice pad, too.

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21 September 2007 - Friday

Review section praise | Muldoon new poetry editor at The New Yorker
Amis-Banville-Self event | Tom McCarthy attention
English Korans | Hornets' Nest review

       Review section praise

       We've repeatedly noted our disappointment with the thin (The New York Review of Books) and non-existent (The New Republic) coverage of fiction in the print media over the past few weeks, but it's good to see that a decrease in book reviews -- and fiction coverage, in particular -- is not a universal trend.
       We've mentioned a few times how impressed we are by The New York Sun's book coverage, but for the most part that's a once-a-week pleasure: their book coverage is concentrated on Wednesdays, with usually only an occasional review finding space in one of the other weekday issues. This Wednesday's coverage was typically far-reaching, including reviews of the new Philip Roth, as well as books by Rupert Thomson, Félix Fénéon, and Richard Russo (as well as a fair amount of non-fiction coverage too). What a pleasant surprise then to find on Thursday even more far-reaching coverage: the review of the new Andrea Barrett might be expected, but there's also a review of Jacques Poulin's Spring Tides, an older French-Canadian title recently released by Archipelago (see their publicity page, or Cormorant Books'; we hope to get to it fairly soon) and a review of Klas Östergren's Gentlemen, which we reviewed a while back but hasn't been getting much attention. We just hope they can keep up the impressive work !
       Meanwhile, The Spectator also again shows the American magazines how it can be done (except that they seem to have forgotten most of the by-lines this week ...): the 22 September issue's book coverage includes reviews of everything from the new Jonathan Coe and Ondaatje's Divisadero (see also our review) to a variety of non-fiction. But where they knock out the competition is in giving space to Viktor Shklovsky's Energy of Delusion, just out from Dalkey Archive Press and one of the publishing events of the season (we should be getting to it sooner or later, too). See also the Dalkey Archive Press publicity page, read an excerpt, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

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       Muldoon new poetry editor at The New Yorker

       As widely noted, Paul Muldoon will be taking over as poetry editor at The New Yorker.
       As Motoko Rich reported in The New York Times (here at the non-registration-requiring IHT), Pulitzer winner to take over as New Yorker's poetry editor:
Alice Quinn, the poetry editor of The New Yorker, is stepping down after 20 years and will be succeeded in one of the most influential posts in the poetry world by Paul Muldoon, the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet.

Muldoon, 56, will remain chairman of the Princeton University Center for the Creative and Performing Arts. An Irish-born poet who has published 10 volumes of verse, he will also continue to write and teach at Princeton.
       It seems like an awful lot of hats to wear, but what do we know ?

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       Amis-Banville-Self event

       At the University of Manchester they're all excited that: Literary superstars launch Centre for New Writing, as:
Three of the world's most famous writers are to give the public an unprecedented chance to hear their views on the state of literature.

Leading authors Martin Amis and Will Self will join Man Booker winner John Banville to launch the Centre for New Writing at The University of Manchester, where Amis begins his university teaching career next week.
       Billed as a 'Martin Amis public event' (there will apparently be four of them over the course of the year, in addition to his bi-weekly classes) Writing in the 21st Century does have some potential -- though they seem to be trying too hard to build it up:
Leading British novelist and critic Martin Amis will be joined by Man Booker winner John Banville and leading UK author Will Self for a debate on the state of the art in the 21st century. Expect spirited discussion, contrasting views -- and possibly fireworks !
       Anyway, we do look forward to hearing reports of the event (which is taking place on Monday, the 24th).

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       Tom McCarthy attention

       It's pretty clear that Tom McCarthy has broken through given the attention suddenly being paid to him as his new book, Men in Space appears in the UK. (We were very pleased to receive our copy, and expect to cover it fairly soon; meanwhile, see our review of his Remainder.)
       Just in the past few days there has been a two-part interview at ReadySteadyBook with Mark Thwaite (here and here), and today Boyd Tonkin profiles him in The Independent.
       We've heard it from McCarthy in other interviews, but it's still worth repeating:
"In the UK, the mainstream publishing industry has almost purged itself of what should be the 'literary' in literature," he says. "Most mainstream houses are publishing competently written, ultimately quite banal, middlebrow books, nicely packaged, that maybe ask the odd question and make us think a bit. The mode of experiencing literature has moved elsewhere: into the art world."

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       English Korans

       Eric Walberg offers a lengthy look at the Quran in English in Reading Islam's holy book in Al-Ahram Weekly, noting, for example, that:
As a result of the availibitiy of multiple translations and commentaries on the Internet and the revolution that blogging has brought about, there is a rising tension between the traditional guardians of Muslim orthodoxy and a new crop of secular educated Muslims. But that is another story.
       (One we'd love to hear .....)
       His advice is pretty general and traditional:
So which to choose from ? This depends on your purpose. Downloading from the Internet is no substitute to having your own personal copy. And translations are only interpretations, so if you want to have the definitive experience in reading the text, you must read it in Arabic. In that case, your choice would be a bilingual edition where the English is as literal as possible, striving to provide a neutral, accurate translation with good tafsir (however patriarchal). In fact, a literary translation gets in the way of the Arabic novice's efforts.

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       Hornets' Nest review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Brazilian author Edyr Augusto's thin, fast thriller, Hornets' Nest.
       Last month we mentioned hearing about Aflame Books for the first time -- and liking what we saw (indeed, two of their first publications were translations of books we had previously reviewed, Symphony of the Dead by Abbas Maroufi and Jaime Bunda, Secret Agent by Pepetela), and this is the first other title of theirs we've come across. We certainly expect to be covering more in the future as well.

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