There are few titles that we really, really look forward to getting our hands on -- among the current crop: Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year (still not out in the US ...), the new Alasdair Gray (in the mail as we write) -- but among the most feverishly longed for is Roberto Bolaño's Nazi Literature in the Americas.
We're not completely caught up in Bolaño-mania -- we liked The Savage Detectives, but have had some reservations about it and what else of his work we've seen -- but Nazi Literature in the Americas sounded like it would be right up our alley -- and the 29 February publication date impossibly far away.
Thank god for galleys -- and thanks to New Directions for sending us one, which arrived in the mail yesterday.
We've only lingered over it for a bit, but it looks like it's exactly what we had hoped for.
First of all, it comes with an epigraph by Augusto Monterroso (see, for example, our review of his Complete Works & Other Stories), which already goes a long way in winning us over.
The book itself is a sort of mock-encyclopedia of imagined author-lives, complete
with an extensive bibliography (a closing section titled 'Epilogue for Monsters').
At just over two hundred pages it looks the right size not to be too wearing, and this seems exactly the sort of thing Bolaño's talents are suited for.
We're not going to be able to restrain ourselves from reading and reviewing the book ... practically immediately, so we'll have more to tell you soon.
Meanwhile, see the publicity pages at New Directions and
Editorial Seix-Barral, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
And for a taste, check out the excerpt at the VQR.
Three Percent point us to a profile of ... them and their Open Letter publishing venture, in Jenny Leonard's Found in translation: New press brings world literature to English readers in the University of Rochester's Currents.
As you can imagine, we're very excited about their all-in-translation list and can hardly wait for them to start churning out the books.
The article helpfully gives a brief description of the first batch, which will be published next fall -- and we actually already have two of the titles under review: Dubravka Ugresic's Nobody's Home (which will, however, appear in slightly different form in the US edition) and Jan Kjærstad's The Conqueror.
Slate is taking on fiction all week in their annual look at the novel, and it looks pretty good so far.
Beside some good book coverage they offer divertissements such as asking a whole bunch of contemporary authors to reveal The Great Novel I Never Read (and also: "What's your guiltiest pleasure ?").
It definitely looks like it will be worth stopping by there over the next few days.
We didn't recognise the name -- and with his apparently greatest claim to fame his role as translator (into English) of Pope John Paul II's poetry
he doesn't seem, at first glance, to be an author of great interest.
But it pays to look more closely, and The Timesobituary for Peterkiewicz, who died a couple of days ago, suggests a bit of attention should be paid to both the man and his work.
For one -- and this already counts for quite a bit -- he was married to one of the more interesting post-war British authors, Christine Brooke-Rose.
And then he apparently also had quite a reputation a while back:
In 1964 a long article in The Times, described Peterkiewicz as having "established himself securely among the leading British novelists of his generation with a series of strange, unclassifiable books whose elements of the thriller and picaresque adventure mingle fascinatingly and disturbingly with fantasy and the supernatural".
What happened ?
We can't recall ever having seen a book of his .....
Forgotten master (or at least curiosity) or not, it's always nice to have some bizarre personal information about an author as well, and this titbit is hard to beat:
After an operation in the mid-1960s his digestive system rejected protein, and from then onwards he lived almost entirely on boiled potatoes and champagne.
A few days ago we mentioned an article from The Economist about a Chilean government-programme to give up to nine books to 400,000 of the poorest families in the country.
At The Lede weblog (at The New York Times) Mike Nizza takes that as his starting point as he asks readers If You Had to Pick Nine Books ... -- "If you had to fill a box with nine books that everyone ought to have, what would they be ? What if you had to pick just one work of literature ?" -- and has been getting tons of responses.
Inexplicably the Caine Prize for African Writing -- an admirable enough little prize, but limited to short stories published in English -- is touted as the 'African Booker', and the Commonwealth Writers' Prize -- limited to Commonwealth country-citizens, and entries originally written in English -- also gets quite a bit of coverage even for its Africa-region award, but surely there should be no question: the leading African literary prize is the The Noma Award
for Publishing in Africa, "the Pan-African annual $10,000 prize for an outstanding book published in Africa".
It's not the money that matters, it's who is in the running -- and they're actually willing to consider books written: "in any of the languages of Africa, both local and European."
(Hey, there's an idea !)
Maybe because they'll consider any book for the prize -- fiction, non-fiction, children's -- they have something of an identity problem (we'd sure prefer it if all they focussed on was all that mattered -- i.e. (adult) fiction), but even so it's embarrassing how little coverage this prize gets.
So also this year, as they have announced that Strife, by Zimbabwean author Shimmer Chinodya, took the prize.
(Coincidentally, we've been preparing reviews of a few Chinodya titles -- maybe we'll hold off and try to get our hands on this one, too.)
As you can see from the list of previous winners, there are some pretty decent titles here.
(We only have one under review at this time, Triomf, by Marlene van Niekerk.)
But what impresses us is the variety of entries -- which also tells you something about the state of African publishing (since submitted titles have to be published in Africa).
So, for example:
107 titles, from 66 African publishers, in 12 countries, in 5 languages, were submitted for the 2007 competition.
105 titles, from 63 African publishers, in 15 countries, in 8 languages, were submitted for the 2006 competition.
90 titles, from 50 African publishers, in 12 countries, in 9 languages, were submitted for the 2005 competition.
93 titles, from 56 African publishers, in 13 countries, in 6 languages, were submitted for the 2004 competition.
113 titles, from 71 African publishers, in 15 countries, in 8 languages, were submitted for the 2003 competition.
94 titles, from 56 African publishers, in 18 countries, in 6 languages, were submitted for the 2002 competition.
The five languages (and only twelve countries) this year is a bit disappointing, but at least a decent number of publishers were involved, and it seems to cover quite a bit of the continent.
As far as Strife goes, see the publicity pages from Weaver Press or the U.S. distributor, or get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
(With an 'Amazon.com Sales Rank' of 3,667,655 it doesn't look like the prize has swayed a lot of American book-buyers yet .....)
And see also the review in the Mail & Guardian.
Penguin (India) is celebrating (only) its 20th anniversary (and, given the attention they're getting for that, have chosen an unfortunate time to announce: "We are upgrading our site and will be back shortly with a completely new look !" ...).
Among the odd ways they've chosen to celebrate the anniversary is to hold the first Penguin Lecture (tonight) -- or rather, to have Thomas Friedman deliver it; see the press release.
But they have grand ambitions:
The annual Penguin Lecture Series is being launched as part of Penguin India's twentieth anniversary celebrations.
The lecture series will feature some of the world's most respected leaders, thinkers and writers and build on Penguin India's commitment to bring the finest thinking in the world to Indian audiences.
It is the first annual lecture to be organized by a publishing house in India and is set to become one of the most important cultural events on the calendar.
In The East African David Kaiza finds that, in Uganda and apparently most other places, Women writers rule.
It seems like a pretty silly 'debate' to us, but at least there are some points of interest here, as when Sunday Vision columnist Ernest Bazanye notes:
"Whether men or women, there are just aren’t enough opportunities for getting published if you are living in Uganda," Bazanye says.
"These are just two prizes and they published on their own right as writers, not because they were women. Femrite is nothing."
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review-verview of Carmen Laforet's classic, Nada.
The new translation has been getting lots of good reviews.
We were, however, a bit surprised by Alberto Manguel's.
Here's about as bookish a guy as you'll find, we always thought, but in his review (The Guardian, 23/6/2007) he wrote:
First published in 1944, barely five years after the end of the civil war, it now appears in English for the first time, in a fluid translation by Edith Grossman.
Pretty much everywhere else what we've read is that it won the Premio Nadal in 1944 -- as an unpublished manuscript --, and that winning the prize then guaranteed publication, which then came about in 1945.
Regardless -- the far stranger slip is Manguel missing the fact that Nada has been translated twice (!) before.
That's not hard to discover; indeed, the US edition even calls Edith Grossman's "a new translation" (on the cover, no less), suggesting there had been at least one old translation .....
The slips also suggest that Manguel didn't check out some of the earlier reviews (which one can't fault him for) -- certainly not Jonathan Yardley's (The Washington Post, 18/2/2007), which admirably (and accurately) relates the history of the text.
In The Harvard Crimson, back in 1970, Charles M. Hagen wrote about a re-issue of G.V. Desani's All About H. Hatterr:
With its republication it has returned above ground.
Whether it will remain there, like the works of Jorge Luis Borges and Malcolm Lowry, similarly once-lost-but-now-redeemed, is still to be seen.
It deserves to stay with us; our stock of important literature will be diminished if this book goes under for the second time.
In fact, the novel keeps going under -- and then popping back up, most recently (as best we can tell) in the 1986 McPherson & Co. edition.
Now it resurfaces yet again, in a New York Review Books Classics edition (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) -- and fortunately they have a solid enough reputation that that leads reviewing-folk to have another look, starting yesterday with Ben Ehrenreich's review in The Los Angeles Times.
Not that this book hasn't gotten good attention previously: hell, Time (!) has reviewed it twice (but don't hold your breath for the trifecta ... times have changed).
In 1951 they called it: "an extended verbal jag that has already set London highbrows searching vainly for similes", and:
Fun in some spots, frantic in others, flat in a few, All About H. Hatterr takes up where Kipling left off.
Then Christopher Porterfield wrote about the 1970-re-issue:
Some books make the reviewer want to shout; others, to weep; still others, to pontificate.
All About H. Hatterr makes one simply want to point at the words on the page.
When a novel speaks for itself with such a bizarre and delightful voice as this one does, to paraphrase would be travesty.
In his unique and cheerful way, Author Desani is a one-man tower of Babel, a cultural carpetbagger who hawks the flotsam and jetsam of at least five civilizations and three continents, with odd lots of Latin, Shakespeare and the Bible thrown in.
His peculiar comic note derives not only from this exotic mixture, but also from his sweet-tempered narrative of sour experiences.
The punning jumble that results might be called a cracked hymn to the Joyce and sorrows of life.
Amardeep Singh also gives a good introduction/overview when he tried Re-Introducing All About H. Hatterr a few years back; fortunately NYRB should now be keeping it in print for at least the foreseeable future.
In Unaware of Gold in The Telegraph (Calcutta) Ashok Mitra speculates that 'Asian writers in the West know little of their traditional literatures'.
He may well be right that:
It is more than possible that many of these writers of south Asian extraction, famous and rich on either side of the Atlantic, do not have even a nodding acquaintance with what goes on in the field of literature in the languages their migrating families were born in.
But it is all speculation: maybe all these writers know them very well .....
Still, the article does serve a purpose in reminding readers of Bengali author Manik Bandyopadhyay and Urdu-writing Sadat Hasan Manto.
As he points out:
Both Manik Bandyopadhyay and Manto died more than half a century ago in dire penury.
They continue to be unrecognized in international literary circles.
In their own countries too, only a limited number of copies of their works get sold every year. Most of their output remains untranslated into English or any other important foreign language. Whatever is not available in such translations is reckoned as not worthy of being considered as great literature.
And he maintains:
Bandyopadhyay and Manto were without question two of the greatest writers of the 20th century; obiter dictum or no, the statement can be defended even after account is taken of the output in the world’s major languages.
Only smatterings of their work have been published in English translation -- but that doesn't seem to have done them many favours.
In a review of Manik Bandyopadhyay's Wives and Others at SAFAR Sagaree Sengupta finds:
Given Manik's qualities as a writer, it is regrettable that Bardhan's translations in Wives and Others are mediocre at best.
Manik's deft, powerful blending of literary Bengali with colloquial freshness is only dimly reflected in Bardhan's jumble of idioms
Meanwhile the Verso edition of Sadat Hasan Manto's Kingdom's End and Other Stories (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) was actually reviewed, back in 1988, in The New York Times Book Review (unimaginable under the current Tanenhaus-administration -- where yesterday's 28 October issue of the NYTBR includes: 17 full-length reviews of individual titles, plus 10 books reviewed in brief (in the 'Chronicles') and the only book originally written in a foreign language that gets 'reviewed' is ... a book by Alexandre Dumas (!) that gets covered in all of 37 words (!) ...).
Ken Kalfus wrote:
In making Manto's work available to English readers for the first time, Khalid Hasan has rendered it into wooden, obscure prose that is studded with anachronisms.
But even after this is taken into account, Western readers accustomed to sharply focused plots and economy of literary effect are likely to find Manto's stories amateurish and predictable.
We'll just have to hope that more work becomes available in (better) translation to get a proper sense of these authors.
The National Poetry Series announced that Marilyn Hacker has been awarded the 2007 Robert Fagles Translation Prize.
Ms. Hacker's project, King of a Hundred Horsemen, is a translation of French poet Marie Étienne, and will be published in 2008 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux.
Poet Robert Hass served as judge for this year's award.
The official site (predictably ?) had no information, last we checked, but the original is titled Roi des cent cavaliers (see the Editions Flammarion publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.fr) -- and see this page for biographical information about both Hacker and Étienne, as well as a sample from the text (both the original and Hacker's translation).
We were unaware that R.K.Narayan formed his own publishing house, Indian Thought Publications, to bring out his books in India -- but Sheela Reddy tells the story of this unlikely success in Vanity As Necessity in Outlook India:
All of 65 years after he set up India's first self-publishing house, Narayan's uncharacteristically pompous-sounding Indian Thought Publications has proved such a golden goose that his grandaughter Bhuvaneswari, who has inherited the imprint with her brother, hopes they can pass on the booming business to their children as well.
"It's a legacy he passed on to us and we naturally want to keep it alive for as long as there is interest in his writing," she says, admitting that turnover has more than doubled since Narayan's death in 2001.
While profits can't compare with royalties from abroad, each of Narayan's self-published books sell a whopping 5,000 to 20,000 copies a year.
Not bad -- especially considering the size of the list (he wrote quite a few books).
It's amusing to note that even way back then publishers were too short-sighted to try and foster this author's work -- which seems to have worked out brilliantly for him:
Within three years of publishing his first book under his own imprint -- Malgudi Days, a collection of 19 short stories that no publisher in the UK wanted to touch -- he was already on his way to a financial security that few writers in India could have dreamt of then or even now.
His books began to be prescribed as university textbooks, a financial asset for any writer, but for a self-published writer like him, a veritable bonanza.
You've probably heard by now that Canadian author Yann Martel keeps sending PM Stephen Harper books:
For as long as Stephen Harper is Prime Minister of Canada, I vow to send him every two weeks, mailed on a Monday, a book that has been known to expand stillness.
That book will be inscribed and will be accompanied by a letter I will have written.
The Prime Minister is probably like a lot of us when confronted with a novel by August Strindberg or Gabriel Garcia Marquez -- we admire it, lay it aside making a mental note to read it at some point in the future and then never pick it up again (though I did labour through Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude, which is about how long it took to read the damn thing).
But Martel's offerings really aren't all that rarefied -- we'd have really been impressed if he had sent the PM a Strindberg-novel, but, in fact, he only sent him one of the plays, Miss Julie (suggesting also that Ivison doesn't seem to have even looked at the book-list closely before dismissing it out of hand).
After three preliminary rounds the Prix Goncourt is finally down to its shortlist, with the winner to be announced 5 November.
See the mention at Prix-Litteraires: Le blog, where they also have a reader-poll: only 67 votes last we checked, with Olivier Adam's A l'abri de rien (31%) and Philippe Claudel's Le rapport de Brodeck (30%) the neck and neck reader-favourites.
But we haven't found any French (or other) betting shops taking bets yet .....
Robert McCrum's We've got a ticket to read in The Observer is pretty much a throwaway-piece (examining: 'What exactly do Parisians read on the metro on their way to work ?'), but at least offers a few interesting observations, including:
Another distinct sign of the times: the dominance of mainstream English language culture in the subterranean heart of la Belle France.
About a third are reading a book translated from English, notably Harlan Coben and Douglas Kennedy.
An underexplored theme of European book publishing is the degree to which some English writers do especially well in European markets.
For instance, William Boyd is a bestselling author in France.
Tom Sharpe sells exceptionally well in Spain.
Paul Auster, too, is treated by French readers as a national treasure.
Almost as telling, we met some readers cheerfully tackling the English text.
Several readers are model new Europeans: at home in French, Italian and German.
You don't find too many French novels on the Piccadilly Line.
For all the contrasts, these French readers are strangely familiar: they are only too happy to lose themselves in a novel and they will pick up one of these good-value entertainments wherever they can find them.
They are indifferent to literary fashion and devoted to the European classics.
Their paperback books are, moreover, still wonderfully portable and supremely reader-friendly.
Ah, yes, properly-sized (and hence wonderfully portable) paperbacks: how we long for them too (as we instead find ourselves almost always stuck with the horrific trade-paperback format).
Italian publisher Edizioni e/o have already done a great job of entering the English-language market with their off-shoot American version, Europa editions, and now they've
announced the launch of Sharq/Gharb, "la prima casa editrice italiana che pubblica in arabo".
Yes, they think the time is right to start publishing Arabic-language books.
There's been a lot of global consolidation in the publishing industry, with the big European and American houses (or their media-holding-parent-companies) buying up or opening publishing houses wherever they can, but, with relatively small exceptions, everyone seems to have pretty much steered clear of the Arabic world until now (even Chinese publishing seems to have more foreign involvement ...).
And while we're generally for things getting done locally, the difficulties domestic publishers have in many of the Arab-speaking countries (given the ... unpleasant governments and lack of infrastructure/distribution/etc.) maybe this will help change things.
Sure, it's a bit self-serving -- as they'll presumably rely heavily on the Edizioni e/o list, at least at first.
But the AKI report gives reason for hope:
The publishing house will also expand its operations into translating other important European literary works into the Arabic language, and will nurture Arab writers who experience censureship in their own countries.
There are certain things I’d rather write in English, certain things I’d rather write in Turkish.
English, to me, is a more mathematical language; it is the language of precision.
It embodies an amazing vocabulary and if you are looking for the "precise word," it is right out there.
Turkish, for me, is more sentimental, more emotional.
If you are talking about the past, Turkish provides a stronger basis because it has two past tenses, unlike English.
So I feel connected to the two languages in different ways.
As a writer it is amazing experiment for me to try to find my literary voice in another language, in an acquired language.
She also mentions a number of Turkish writers whose work she enjoys:
Instead I will tell you a few names in general, old and young, whom I love to read and respect a lot, starting with Selim İleri, Hasan Ali Toptaş, Feridun Zaimoğlu, İhsan Oktay Anar and Yekta Kopan.
How many of their books are we able to find in translation ... ?
In Let them eat KafkaThe Economist reports on
Chilean president Michelle Bachelet's efforts to improve the reading habits of the local masses:
To do so, she has come up with a scheme to give 400,000 of the poorest families a maletín literario or box of up to nine books each.
After much pencil-chewing, a jury of literati this month selected a list of 49 works, from which officials will then choose those books they think appropriate for each family (each will get an encyclopaedia and/or a dictionary).
The list comprises fiction and poetry for both adults and children.
It ranges from Chile's Ms Allende and Pablo Neruda to J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye and Franz Kafka's Metamorphosis.
This is unexceptionable fare.
But is the book box the best way to achieve Ms Bachelet's laudable aim ?
See the full list here (warning ! dreaded pdf format !).
Pretty eclectic -- from Asterix to One Hundred Years of Solitude.
The Chilean picks (Allende, Manuel Rojas, etc.) are understandable, but there are a couple of real head-scratchers.
Viktor Frankl ?
Tim Burton's The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy ?
Not that they're necessarily bad choices, but how did it even occur to them to include these
And, of course, not everybody thinks this is the way to go:
But critics see the book box as a populist gesture.
"It's like dropping bank notes out of the sky," complains Verónica Abud of La Fuente, a charity that promotes reading.
"Who says that a plumber in a poor district of Santiago will actually want to read Kafka ?"
Haman said Kundera has written a letter of excuse to Culture Minister Vaclav Jehlicka, saying that health reasons prevent him from going to the Czech Republic to personally accept the prize.
Kundera's recorded speech will be presented during the prize-giving ceremony in Prague's Czech Museum of Music on Thursday.
Meanwhile, several articles have also noted the complicated relationship Kundera has with his homeland and readers there.
At Radio Praha Rob Cameron 'spoke to literary critic Michal Prochazka, and asked him whether Czechs still considered Kundera to be a Czech writer', in Kundera to receive state prize, but ties with homeland remain strained -- asking, for example:
I want to talk about that relationship.
So much is made of the love-hate relationship between Milan Kundera and his homeland.
One newspaper commentator described that relationship this week by saying "people will curse Milan Kundera as long as the Czech planet turns."
What explains this level of vitriol and hatred aimed at Kundera from the Czech people ?
"Having to copy books today is way worse than during communism," Pavel said angrily.
"Back then we had to transcribe them because communists did not like Kundera.
Now we have to because Kundera does not like us."
The laureate, residing in France since 1975, is perhaps the best-known -- but by no means the only -- Czech communist-era emigre whose comeback to his former homeland has gone awry.
He was welcomed by a wall of distrust and envy, while some of his readers were hurt by his switching from writing in Czech to penning his works in French.
They've announced the finalists for the first Man 'Asian' Literary Prize (which, as we've mentioned repeatedly, can hardly be considered a truly Asian prize, given how many countries from the continent are ineligible for it); see the (feeble) press release (warning ! dreaded pdf format !), where Chair of the judges Adrienne Clarkson is only quoted as saying:
"The diverse and outstanding finalists for the Man Asian Literary Prize are a revelation of fiction today in Asia. With an entrancing psychic geography, they challenge readers to an exhilarating discovery of ethical and imaginary worlds."
(We must presume this statement was originally made in an Asian language (as would be entirely appropriate) and was then translated (almost) into English.)
As a prize for unpublished (in English) fiction we have no idea whether they've done well or not in what works they've chosen, but fortunately several of them will be eventually be coming out in the UK and US.
For more details, see, for example Michelle Pauli's Burmese author beats censors for place on prize shortlist.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Samuel Rawet's collection of stories, The Prophet.
It's published as part of the hitherto unknown to us Jewish Latin America series from, of all places, the University of New Mexico Press.
Ilan Stavans seems to be the driving force behind the series, which has put together a pretty decent-looking list; certainly, there are a number of other titles here that we're curious about.
The November/December issue of World Literature Today, with a focus on 'Women and War', is now available -- but unfortunately only a few bits are available online, and a lot of the good parts -- including, most significantly, the review-section -- aren't.
We do hope they continue to make their reviews available online: with the Review of Contemporary Fiction not posting the reviews from their most recent issues either two of the major sources of English-language coverage of international literature have now drastically limited access to it -- and it's much missed.
Still, Mr. Updike’s reviews feel like what they are: hackwork.
They’re diligent, they’re interesting, they’re dispensable.
Don’t take my word for it; take Mr. Updike’s own.
After noting that reviews have displaced the brief fiction that made his reputation, he writes: "These reviews demand a kindred spurt of energy and strive for somewhat similar harmonies and resolutions, so that I may be fooled in to thinking a short story is what I have written. But only I am fooled.
Reviews, even the most earnest of them, are contingent and dispensable, whereas short stories, even the slightest of them, aspire to be timeless and self-contained -- human matters crisply packaged and preserved for keeps."
As so often in reading him, just when you’re about to shut the door and lock it, there’s Mr. Updike with a grin and the key.
What, then, is for keeps in Due Considerations ?
The extraordinarily vivid autobiographical fragments that dot the book.
Meanwhile, John Freeman pays homage to the master, in Great review for a great reviewer (here at The Guardian's weblog) -- and Updike himself contributed to the NBCC's ongoing series listing "five books a critic believes reviewers should have in their libraries" here.
While also admirers of Updike's earlier non-fiction collections we're not sure we're up to tackling this one as well (in part because a lot of it isn't new, familiar from the various publications these pieces were originally published in).
A very limited number of articles from the November issue of Prospect are now available online, among them William Skidelsky's two-for-one take on the new novels by Philip Roth and J.M.Coetzee, Masters of disgrace.
Roth and Coetzee have more in common than is often realised.
They are equally stubborn and intolerant of fools.
Both have hard visions of life and, though liberal in outlook, are sceptical about the possibility of social or political progress.
Moreover, the paths of their fiction seem to be converging.
Their latest novels, certainly, are strikingly alike.
He also invites readers to comment at First Drafts - The Prospect magazine blog.
(See also our review-overview of Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year -- still not out in the US .....)
As reported in the Daily Star Iraqi poet (of Assyrian descent) Sargon Boulus has passed away.
We're unfamiliar with his work, but he led an interesting life -- and translated quite a bit into Arabic, from Ho Chi Minh's Prison Diary to works by Allen Ginsberg, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams, John Ashbery, Sylvia Plath, and Anne Sexton.
See also the profile at the Poetry International Web.
Some of the major prizes that reward fiction in translation get some decent press coverage -- The Independent's Foreign Fiction Prize, for one -- but those that focus solely on translation really don't.
In The Guardian they surprisingly devoted some space to Richard Lea's Arabic translation takes £2,000 award yesterday but, alas, it's typical for newspaper coverage of translation prizes -- and no, that's not praise.
The prize in question, the Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize for translation from Arabic, was in fact announced a month ago -- and we told you that back then.
So why did The Guardian 'run with it' now ?
Well, presumably they got the press release (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) from the nice Banipal Trust-folk -- or rather, they finally had a look at it (it's dated 5 October (i.e. wasn't released in a particularly timely manner either)) and had some space to fill yesterday .....
Among the problems with this lazy-ass reporting (sorry, that's what it is (and it's found on too many literary weblogs, too, who just rely on AP-summaries and the like for a 'story')) is that this was just one of a whole set of translation-prizes announced at the same time (yes ! the translation of The Swarm by Frank Schätzing was named winner of the Schlegel-Tieck Prize for translation from German, for example) and they will all be honoured at the 8 November ceremony -- and Marina Warner will be giving the Sebald Lecture, on 'Stranger Magic: True Stories and Translated Selves', too.
Because the lazy-ass article in The Guardian relies only on the press release from the Banipal Trust folk (who don't mention any of this) readers who rely on it (many more than rely on, for example, this site, we assume) may be led to believe that while: "Both Farouk Mustafa and Khairy Shalaby will be in London on November 8 for a ceremony at the South Bank Centre" that that is also all there will be to see/hear that night.
(The Guardian can still make up for its failures here by providing proper coverage of the 8 November event when that rolls around, but we probably should just be glad that they bothered mentioning any of these prizes at all .....)
Limited-to-non-existent coverage of translation prizes is more rule than exception.
Particularly disappointing: the 'coverage' of the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize, which they awarded in June (to Michael Hofmann for his translation of Durs Grünbein's Ashes for Breakfast).
We mentioned it back then -- and were confident that at least this would get some coverage: with The Observer literary editor Robert McCrum among the judges we were sure he'd at least mention it in part of a column, if not devote a whole one to some aspect of the prize (surely, after all, one of the reasons for having a literary editor on your judging committee is for him or her to mention that in whatever rag (or fine periodical) they control ...).
Amazingly, as best we can tell, McCrum doesn't seem to have discussed it in The Observer's pages -- and essentially no one else seems to have either.
(Last year's Ali Smith-comments -- still up at the official site -- at least got re-printed in a newspaper, but beyond the few words of praise by McCrum currently on view at the official site there's hardly any information about what went down in June this year .....)
There are many low-profile literary prizes, but the translation prizes are pretty close to no-profile.
We hate to say it, but it's time to invest in some PR work .....
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Jens Peter Jacobsen's classic, Niels Lyhne.
Perhaps the great 19th century Danish novel it never really seems to have made that much of an impact in the English-speaking world.
The blurbs on the cover of our edition certainly suggest the book did have some fans (we'll add more quotes to our review-page, once we can find proper attribution).
Rainer Maria Rilke saying: "Of all my books, I find only a few indispensable ... the Bible, and the books of the great Danish author Jens Peter Jacobsen."
Stefan Zweig describing it as: "the Werther of our generation".
Ibsen saying: "Jacobsen's book is a fine work of literature in every respect; yes, I dare say it is among the most exceptional that our time has produced."
There's also praise from Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, Sigmund Freud .....
Okay, a lot of Germans in the lot (though they also suggest Joyce and Giraudoux were fans), but still .....
Admirably, Penguin has re-issued this -- the 1990 translation by Tiina Nunnally.
We have that original edition, volume 2 of the 'Fjord Modern Classics.'
We're not sure Fjord is still in business (no website that we could find), but that was a pretty cool idea too, and the list of titles at the back of our copy -- not very long and about half translated by Nunnally (and quite a few more by fellow Fjord-editor Steven T. Murray) makes our mouths water.
It almost sounds like a group of translators-from-the-Scandinavian got together and set up a publishing house just so they could have an outlet for the books they wanted to translate.
They seemed to have hoped for considerable attention and maybe a bit of scandal with the publication of Alain Robbe-Grillet's new novel, Un roman sentimental,
which finally came out last week, but it seems to have all fallen a bit flat.
Oh, sure, people are still expressing their outrage and disgust, but they don't seem to be nearly as excited about it as one might have expected.
Coming out so late in the season the novel had the advantage of less competition -- but even dangling it in front of the foreign crowds in Frankfurt didn't seem to raise its profile much.
Published in a shrink-wrapped protective cover, the pages uncut, with a warning (of sorts) on the cover, and no preview copies for the press they certainly went to great lengths to keep the contents (literally) under wraps -- perhaps, so the general thinking, because of the pedophilic aspects of the story (which are apparently the main aspects of the story) and concerns that interfering politicians might want to set another example (as one who has since risen to greater prominence did with another book a few years ago ...); see, for example Jacques-Pierre Amette's account in Le Point.
Yes, it's apparently pure (young teen-)porn: in Alain Robbe-Grillet: Rosse Bonbon in L'Express Baptiste Liger thinks it's shocking, filled with:
une série de scènes de barbarie nauséeuses difficilement descriptibles, dignes de Sade ou de Restif de la Bretonne.
[a series of nauseating barbarities that are hard to describe, worthy of de Sade or Restif de la Bretonne.]
(Apparently the de Sade and Restif de la Bretonne-comparisons are not complimentary .....)
Few abroad seem to have taken much notice, either, but Julia Emcke did tackle it -- and tear it to pieces -- in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, in Er will doch nur spielen, where she sees it as pretty much the definitively last nail in the coffin of the Nouveau Roman.
There is some debate about it -- witness the 849 'commentaires' at La république des livres in response to Pierre Assouline's blog-comments, but last we checked the Amazon.fr-sales-rank was a pretty unsensational 1.087.
See also the Fayard publicity page.
The number of Danish novels reaching foreign bookshelves has risen dramatically this year.
A successful effort by publishers to market translations of Danish books in Britain is being followed by an equally effective Spanish campaign, reports Urban newspaper.
Her most recent book is Shall We Meet in Tokyo at Four in the Morning ? in which she explores her own roots.
It has been published first not in French but in Japanese in a collaboration with Richard Collasse, head of French fashion house Chanel in Tokyo.
There have already been many reactions to Man Booker chair Howard Davies' remarks (see our mention), and now Jason Cowley weighs in in The Observer, arguing A cosy circle of critics ? Nonsense.
He notes that in the UK at least:
We are fortunate in this country, too, in that our great national newspapers dedicate so much space to book reviews and literary essays.
And also finds:
More seriously, absent from any of last week's responses to Davies's speech, or, indeed, from Mr Davies himself, was recognition of the vibrancy of literary debate and discussion that is taking place online, of the passionate energy and creativity of the best of the new literary bloggers, who are seldom timid and never inhibited.
And he thinks there are far better targets:
So, a culture of critical complacency ?
Of cowed and complacent critics ?
Instead of criticising the critics, Mr Davies would have been far better served turning his fire on the decline of bookselling in Britain.
He should have bemoaned the diminishing range in the chain bookshops, the bullying of their buyers, the ruinous discounts they demand, the absence of risk, daring and choice on their shelves, and of the way the same few Richard and Judy-endorsed titles dominate each and every shop you enter.
It's not news that The New York Timesbest seller lists do not always include the titles that are actually selling best, even in the limited sample they rely on, but it's good to see The New York Times' own 'Public Editor' note that this is a pretty weird (and somewhat questionable) way of doing things as Clark Hoyt did in yesterday's column, Books for the Ages, if Not for the Best-Seller List.
Yes, they weed out older titles that continue to sell and sell -- Elie Wiesel's Night was one recent example -- to make room for new books.
Rather than actually letting readers know what are the most popular titles, they have their own ideas:
Why banish a book just because it has been around a long time ? The Times wants a list "that’s lively and churns and affords new authors the opportunity to be recorded," Hofmann said.
(That's Deborah Hofmann, the editor of the best-sellers list.)
But, as Hoyt points out:
A standard like this has a commercial benefit for the newspaper.
Publishers tend not to advertise titles that are perpetual-motion strong sellers, like Night, To Kill a Mockingbird and The Catcher in the Rye.
Clearing them off the list creates room for new books that publishers will advertise.
Hofmann and her boss, Janet Elder, editor of the news surveys department, said they are considering the creation of a classics list, which would include the perennial best sellers.
Because there aren't enough bestseller lists at The New York Times now .....
We're definitely with Hoyt on this:
For my money, if the main list is a best sellers list, it ought to reflect what’s selling best, classics and new books alike.
Gass knows that his fiction is not interesting for readers who want plot-driven, easy narratives.
It's not destined for the best seller list: "I usually take 10 years to sell 10,000 copies."
The Tunnel took seven years to translate into French, but when Gass went to Paris for its publication, he was interviewed dozens of times.
"I even made Elle," he says, noting as he has in the past that French and German readers are often more sophisticated than American readers are.
"It is hard not to see Isabel and Martin in the leading characters, which makes the sudden twist in the plot quite devastating," a close friend of the couple who has seen the manuscript tells Mandrake.
"I have always taken it as read that the two of them are blissfully happy, but the whole book is written in a way that one can only describe as knowing."
Eyeing an opportunity for lots and lots of free pre-publication publicity Alison Samuel, "Miss Fonseca's editor at Chatto & Windus", doesn't miss the chance to fuel the fire:
"I suppose," she adds, "that any novel is inspired by one's life.
This is Isabel's first novel and, clearly, you expect a novelist to rely on their experience."
How well do you really know the people you love ?
How well do you know yourself ?
What constitutes the examined life -- the only kind worth living ?
A bold and brilliant fictional debut that takes the lid off marriage and looks into the head of a wife and mother coming face-to-face with betrayal, the empty nest, fading parents, men who don't grow up, sexual boredom and sexual excitement: the unpredictable fallout of ordinary life.
Jean, an American, is author of a health column but she misdiagnoses the acute pathologies in her own life.
She and her British husband Mark, a successful advertising executive, have escaped to an idyllic island, but even there the real world finds them.
The twin demons of sex and illness reach in to jolt Jean out of her comfortable existence.
She finds a lump on her breast, opens an erotic email attachment intended for her husband ... and is drawn into a curious double life.
Illusions about her perfect marriage are shattered but, at the same time, the discovery allows her a new kind of licence.
A professional watcher, Jean suddenly wants to be part of the action.
Back in London, she takes unprecedented risks -- a brief fling with her husband's friend and busine
We're pretty sure we're going to take a pass on this -- though the chatter about the book will presumably be hard to ignore in the coming months.
(And we have to admit we are impressed by the sheer volume of gossip Amis continues to generate.)
Brooklyn's books are like toys, meant to excite and give pleasure and challenge a little bit.
In Canada, we are the oatmeal of world literature.
We are on the cutting edge of blandness.
Among Marche's arguments and complaints:
Setting is everything in Canadian fiction.
Plots don't matter much.
There are only a few plots anyway: recovering from historical or familial trauma through the healing power of whatever (most common); uncovering historical or family secrets and thereby achieving redemption (close second); coming of age (distant third place).
The characters are mostly the same: The only thing that changes is the location of the massacred grandmother, what kind of booze the alcoholic father drinks himself into fits with, what particular creed is being revealed, in deft and daring ways, as both beautifully transcendent and oppressive.
Innovation, whether in language or form, is a dirty word.
We're not really that excited by 'Brooklyn'-lit, either (the only author mentioned by Bukiet we appear to have under review is ... Paul Auster), but we certainly look forward to what the general Canadian response will be to this -- and we imagine there will be a lot of response .....