A glimmer of hope in the Arabic world ?
We're very excited (and wonder again why nobody ever tells us about this stuff and we have to stumble across it ourselves).
Yes, the countdown to the launch of كلمة -- Kalima, or, in full: the Kalima Translation Foundation -- continues apace: see their official site.
And we're very curious to see what is unveiled on 21 November.
In Gulf News Rayeesa Absal reports on this Turning the pages of world literature for Arab readers, as:
A non-profit translation initiative to be launched in the capital soon aims at opening doors of knowledge for Arab readers, with the translation of classic and contemporary works of literature.
The project titled Kalima plans to bridge the gap between global works of literature and Arab readers by translating, publishing and distributing renowned works.
It sounds almost too good to be true -- especially the ambition that:
This year, the Kalima initiative aims at translating and publishing 100 titles, the names of which would be announced at the launch of the initiative on November 21.
But we're keeping our fingers crossed, figuring that this would be an enormous boon to literary culture in the Arab world, and consequently also greatly benefit the local writers (with a trickle-down effect, years from now, when their work maybe starts appearing in translation abroad ...).
See also the interview with Karim Nagi, the executive president of the project, at Qantara.
We've been waiting for this for a while, but Elizabeth Winter's annual summary-article about the TLS Translation Prizes that were handed out on Thursday has now appeared in the TLS, in The rough and the smooth.
Admirably, too, Richard Lea writes that this Raft of awards spotlight translation in The Guardian -- quoting, for example, the Society of Authors' awards secretary, Paula Johnson:
"These prizes celebrate the best of the world of literary translation," she said, "and at the same time generate further interest in translated books and literary translation."
Great to see some coverage, which is what's really needed to generate further understanding, etc.
Now if only someone told us how Marina Warner's Sebald-lecture turned out .....
Apparently there's been a break in the case of Rabindranath Tagore’s stolen Nobel Prize medal, and The Little Magazine-editor Antara Dev Sen uses that occasion to write about the Elephant in the backyard at Sify -- focussing specifically on the cross-border literary exchange (and lack thereof) between Bangladesh and Bengal (India), noting:
the exchange of literary ideas has not been vigorous enough to keep up with the dynamic literary scenario of the two Bengals.
Bangladeshi books and writers do not have the hungry market in India that some Indian writers in Bengali have in Bangladesh, and since demand largely determines supply, we do not get, in India, enough Bengali literature from Bangladesh.
This may not have much to do with literary value, there have been enough excellent writers in Bangladesh -- from the late Shamsur Rahman or Akhteruzzaman Ilias, to contemporary masters like Syed Shamsul Haq or Selina Hossain -- who should rank among South Asia’s best.
But we live in an age of marketing hype and lost mother tongues, which narrows our world to the quick and handy.
We being who we are, we immediately want to know why we haven't come across the latest books by Syed Shamsul Haq and Selina Hossain, and though we remain frustrated at least we came across the very helpful Bangladeshinovels.com-site.
Yes, the Internet can be a wonderful thing.
Ill-dipsosed as we are towards the prevailing cult of the cult of personality, especially regarding authors, we'll link to most any article denouncing it -- and so today we get to link to Jeanette Winterson on the cult of personality in The Times.
We half-agree that: "the work should be there long after the PR people have gone home" -- though our real wish is that the PR-folk are left out of it in the first place.
(We know, we know: dream on .....
It is, indeed, a PR-firm driven world we live in.)
They're going to announce the winner of the first Man 'Asian' Literary Prize tomorrow, and in the IHT Donald Greenlees thinks that means Belatedly, Asia's literary scene comes of age.
(As we will continue to say until we're blue in the face: it's a farce that a prize that excludes writing from so many Asian nations can call itself an Asian literary prize, however worthy (or not) it may otherwise be .....)
He begins with Xu Xi.
She soon discovered that being published in English by a small printing house in her hometown, Hong Kong, did not ensure the interest of the handful of companies based in the United States and Britain that dominate global English-language publishing.
But now she's a M'A'LP-finalist (never mind that this is a brand-new prize (i.e. somebody just invented it), with no track record whatsoever, its major claim to any fame being that "Man"-part ...), and so:
But when she and four other authors were named as finalists for the Man Asian Literary Prize, international publishers suddenly took notice.
The prize, which recognizes Asian novels unpublished in English, is to be awarded for the first time Saturday.
"Since I made the short list three publishers have called my agent -- one from New York, one from London and one from Australia," she said.
But her reaction was: "This is nice; isn't it about time ?"
Many writers of Asian fiction, who have struggled for years to be acknowledged outside small audiences in their own countries, would endorse that sentiment.
Is she kidding ?
Doesn't she realise that these phone calls have nothing to do with her writing (which may well be superb) and everything to do with the 'seal of approval' of being a M'A'LP-finalist -- and that despite the fact that the M'A'LP is completely unproven ?
"It's about time ?" she thinks ?
Alas, far too frequently (like all the time ?) publishers seem just to pay attention when there's some way they can justify the purchase of the book in a way that even the beancounters can understand, and: 'Hey, it was a M'A'LP -- as in "Man", as in "Man Booker", you know ? -- finalist' is apparently an easier sell to corporate headquarters than actually having read the book and seen whether or not it was any good.
Sure, a literary prize makes for another screening process (though, again: the M'A'LP obviously still has something (anything !) to prove), so presumably the real crap will have been weeded out.
Still, all this also sheds another light on the ongoing debate about this year's M'A'LP-judges not being 'Asian' enough: that surely is a major selling point to the Western publishers who are just thinking about sales and prefer their judges to have Western sensibilities and a sense of what Western audiences will buy/put up with, since it sure looks like M'A'LP is just a different platform on which to auction foreign rights .....
Still, the article does offer some interesting observations:
"Until recently, you would have been hard-pressed to identify what I call a literary industry in Asia," said Peter Gordon, the editor of The Asian Review of Books and a publisher based in Hong Kong.
"But there are indications the industry has developed and now exists.
There comes a moment where a number of distinct points gel into what you call an industry."
The consequences will be an increasing volume of works of fiction coming out of Asia in the years ahead amid an expanding market within Asia for fiction in both English and local languages.
We'd love to see more books coming out of Asia (right now it's really just a trickle), but we have our doubts.
More likely another M'A'LP finalist
is closer to the mark:
Like writers elsewhere, most aspiring Asian novelists can look forward to the demoralizing combination of anonymity and financial hardship, said Jose Dalisay, a Filipino author.
(He, of course, also got "calls from international publishers after his darkly comic book, Soledad's Sister, made the short list" -- god, what a pathetic bunch of herd-animals without the slightest bit of imagination the whole lot seems to be.)
Why is this site necessary, given that the present administrators also have a site ?
There is some dissatisfaction with the present administration on a number of grounds.
But instead of attacking the administrators for their shortcomings, as one might, some persons thought it wise instead to offer to augment what they offer by providing what is missing on a wholly voluntary basis.
(Admirable, though among what is missing remain all the writers from the many Asian countries deemed unworthy of participating in the prize.)
At this point we're cynical enough about this whole thing that we're ready to believe it's all one big publicity stunt: the 'controversies' have certainly garnered a lot of media (and weblog) attention for such an untested and new prize .....
(We were made aware of this latest M'A'LP-fun by this post at Bibliobibuli.)
In Syria, a book tour by Finnish author has been cut short after her novel stirred an angry response from Muslim leaders.
Bad news all around -- not least because among Syria's few redeeming qualities was that the government never much cared for what the Muslim leaders had to say, but it apparently has now followed in Saddam's 1990s footsteps and is currying favour in such a craven way in the hopes of shoring up their pathetic regime (yeah, that's going to work out well -- these religious types tend to be such level-headed types, you know (and what level-headed person wouldn't make a fuss about a book translated from the Finnish which may well have reached (and corrupted) an audience of ... dozens in Syria ?)).
About a month ago we mentioned that Alaa Al Aswany's Chicago had come out in France, and now in Al-Ahram Weekly Rania Khallaf writes about the book and author in Greater than sales, noting that:
Alaa El-Aswany's second novel, Chicago -- a 450-page tome set in the histology department of the university where Aswany earned his phD in that American state many years ago -- has been even better received than The Yaqoubian Building
The Yacoubian Building was apparently a big hit in France -- 160,000 copies sold, Al Aswany says.
As for the new book:
Chicago has sold over 75,000 copies in Egypt since January, but I am getting negative reactions all the time.
Even more surprising," Aswany added sadly, "is the complete absence of writers from this event."
The Whitbread Costa Book Awards start up in a few weeks, so to get some media-coverage
the Costa-folk commissioned a survey about UK re-reading habits: see now their press release -- which they really did title: Oops ... I read it again !:
New research released today by Costa, the UK's fastest growing coffee chain, reveals that 77% of UK readers have enjoyed a book so much the first time that they've gone back to read it again.
Wow ! Research !
But since they're willing to jump to conclusions so readily they're not really impressing anyone (are they ?) -- who says re-readers are doing so because they enjoyed the book so much ?
Maybe they didn't understand it the first time around, or wondered why everybody likes it so much and they hated it, etc. etc.
Anyway, they list the top 20 re-reads they found.
(Note also the explanation: "Total sample size was 2,034 adults.
Fieldwork was undertaken between 9th - 11th October 2007 and carried out online."
Fieldwork carried out online ?
Sounds very reliable ......)
In The Moscow Times Marina Kamenev finds that Dostoevsky Rocks, as
Crime and Punishment has been made into an opera (at least on CD).
See also a (Russian) interview with the composer at Российская газета -- and presumably there will eventually be more information about the project at the Electroshock-site.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Rebecca Gillieron and Catheryn Kilgarriff's The Bookaholics' Guide to Book Blogs -- which we presume will be getting a lot of book-blog attention in the coming months.
We can't really tell you to go out of your way to have take a look a them -- we couldn't really say they are works of particular note -- but what really is worth mentioning is that you don't have to go that far out of your way to find them if you are interested.
Which is saying a lot.
African literature can be a pain to find in the US and UK, beyond the few big names (who, more likely than not, do not reside in Africa: from Achebe, Soyinka, Ngugi on).
There used to be the Heinemann African Writers Series, but nowadays little makes it off the continent from sub-Saharan Africa.
(This is not unique to Africa: even a great deal of Australian and New Zealand literature, as well as books published in English everywhere from Singapore to India don't seem to travel easily.)
But The Deadly Ambition, in particular, suggests a more promising future.
It seems extremely unlikely that The Deadly Ambition would have ever found a traditional American or British publisher, and that's understandable -- it it doesn't have the makings of a book that would sell many copies there.
But there is a readership for it, and the likes of it -- us, for example: we're fascinated by 'popular' African literature (and, inexplicably, have a particular soft spot for Ugandan fiction), and would have certainly gone out of our way to get our hands on this.
The Deadly Ambition is published by Mallory, headquartered in the UK.
As it turns out, the copy we received was basically a print-on-demand copy, manufactured in Tennessee just for us.
It's one of several that Mallory have brought out in association with the British Council; see, for example, their mention, as well as the Mallory-site.
And even if the covers all look similar, it's an attractive book, of similar quality to any store-bought trade paperback.
A bit pricey at $17.95, but that's probably cheaper than most books shipped over from Africa -- and the publishers probably can earn more off of it this way.
Here is yet another great use of print-on-demand, with the potential to really make the world smaller.
Leaving us dreaming of what else will soon be much more readily accessible to us ... or maybe already is.
Young Chinese author Guo Jingming earns more than any other writers in China, according to the latest list of writer millionaires.
The annual list, which triggers controversy every year among both authors and readers, is based on interviews with major bookstores and publishers throughout the country. The 24-year-old Guo tops this year's list with 11 million yuan (US$1.48 million) in copyright royalties.
Or see also 2007 Wealthy Writers List unveiled.
None of the English-language coverage has the full list, but you can find it here (along with additional commentary) and here.
So apparently there is some money to be made with writing in China.
So Amélie Nothomb's Ni d'Eve, ni d'Adam didn't score a Goncourt-upset; at least it's now won the Prix de Flore -- awarded for a promising young talent .....
(Yes, the criteria are: "l'originalité la modernité et la jeunesse", and yes, it's a bit of a stretch, but we'd give her passing marks across the board.)
Hey, Houellebecq won it, back in the day (for recent winners, see here) -- though the only winning title we have under review is Pierre Mérot's recently translated Mammals.
Mercifully restricted to weekend broadcasts, it is quite possibly the worst channel in the US -- worse than the KKK phone-ins and home-made comedy shows on cable access, worse even than C-Span, the non-stop live feed of all the men and women in Congress striving so selflessly to improve the lot of the rich.
He's talking, of course, about BookTV -- and he does have a point when he complains about their almost complete avoidance of the only books that matter (i.e. fiction):
The programmers appear to have a weird, puritanical aversion to make-believe, a Gradgrindian faith in facts, and are out to prove that BOOKS ARE SERIOUS -- something they do by being mercilessly dry, ruthlessly academic, and aggressively tedious.
It couldn't compete against the French one-two punch of Goncourt and Renaudot (see our previous mention), but the Dutch handed out their big literary prize on Monday too, the AKO Literatuurprijs, with A.F.Th. van der Heijden's mammoth Het schervengericht taking the prize.
(And you can watch the awards-announcement on YouTube .....)
For English reports, see Prison novel wins Dutch literature award by Philip Smet at Radio Netherlands or Van der Heijden wins AKO Literature Prize at Expatica.
Note that while in the English-speaking world the limitations they set on most prizes means that rarely are much more than 100 titles even eligible for the prize -- but the AKO this year considered 374 titles (see the full list (warning ! dreaded pdf format !)), and in that range seems to be the norm for that prize (leading also to quite a few authors having more than one title in contention).
The AKO has only been around since 1987; we have two previous winners under review: The Great Longing by Marcel Möring (1993) and Phantom Pain by Arnon Grunberg (2000) -- and Grunberg was up for the prize this year as well.
Apparently he and van der Heijden had a bit of a tiff, too, with Smet reporting about the eventual winner:
He refused to spend the evening in the same room as Arnon Grunberg, one of the other six nominees, due to a vicious battle of words between the two in the lead-up to the ceremony.
Alas, tensions did not remain at this level:
Once the award ceremony was over, Van der Heijden was clearly delighted. Not only with the prize, but also with a handshake from Arnon Grunberg, who ended up congratulating him after all.
We hope that Grunberg -- who regularly blogs at the Words without Borders blog as well as at his own site (and who really gets around) -- sheds some more light on the spat, and the prize-ceremony.
We're admirers of van der Heijden and have several of his books under review, with more to come; indeed, De Movo Tapes (see the NLPVF information page) just arrived on our doorstep -- quite a heap at 700+ pages, but nothing compared to the 1051 pages of Het schervengericht, which is another volume in the 'Homo duplex'-series that starts with
De Movo Tapes.
The NLPVF information page calls this 'transatlantic tragedy': "A great American novel from a European point of view", and suggests the title of 'Judgement by Shards' (yeah, that'll really fly off the Barnes & Noble shelves ...)
You can see the short ad for the book at YouTube, or see also the fancier official site.
And see also van der Heijden's official site.
We are fans, but have to admit his commercial prospects in the US/UK probably aren't that good -- with his multi-volume sagas a lot of his work is quite a commitment, and it doesn't surprise us that no one seems to have picked him up yet.
But someone will; he is that good.
Meanwhile, these national prizes are also of interest because they help point to other works and authors from these countries.
Grunberg is well-known (and widely translated) into English, and his shortlisted title, Tirza, sounds pretty interesting (see the always useful NLPVF information page) -- and he shouldn't have much trouble getting it published in English.
Meanwhile, you can watch the boektrailer at ... YouTube.
Then there's another finalist, Frank Westerman's Ararat (yes, see the NLPVF information page) -- which has already been bought by Harvill Secker (and, indeed, you can already pre-order it from Amazon.co.uk, though you'll have quite a wait).
And, yes, there's a ... boektrailer at YouTube (but see also his useful official site).
In the Kuwait Times Nawara Fattahova reports that it's almost time for the Kuwait Book Fair next week, which is scheduled to run from 13 to 23 November.
It's the 32nd time they're holding this, with 538 publishing houses from 23 countries participating.
The fair will contain 11,891 book titles including 9,995 Arabic books, 713 books in other languages, 837 Arabic books for kids, and 364 books for kids in other languages," noted Sa'ad Al-Mutairi, the fair's general director.
But hold on one moment -- in this part of the world they still have a special way of preparing for book fairs and the like, one that means that maybe less than 11,891 titles will ultimately make it, as the Kuwait Times also reports that 230 books banned.
Officials at the books censorship committee issued a decision banning the exhibition of 230 books scheduled to be exhibited at the 32nd Kuwait Book Exhibition which will be inaugurated next Tuesday.
They said that the committee banned the books after reviewing 560 new books
Unfortunately no details about the offending titles yet.
It's only open to the trade, but it sounds like it will be very interesting, and we hope there will be reports from some of those participating: in Miami (in conjunction with Miami Book Fair International) tomorrow they're holding a 'A World Literature and Translation Summit', The Translation Market
Check out the schedule of events and participants.
More great translation-related events tomorrow, as they'll be handing out a variety of translation prizes and Marina Warner will be delivering the 2007 Sebald Lecture on the Art of Literary Translation at the South Bank Centre.
Readings from the winning translations will start at 18:00, the lecture follows at 19:45; see here for additional information.
See also our previous mention for the titles of the winning translations.
TLS-editor Peter Stothard will be handing out the prizes -- and maybe will offer a report on the event at his weblog .....
Cyprian Ekwensi, one of the grand old men of African fiction -- and one of the few who made the transition from Onitsha-market-pamphlet-fiction authors to one with at least something of an international reputation -- has passed away.
We don't have any of his works under review at this time, but expect to at some point.
For additional early reports, see;
The two biggest French literary prizes, the prix Goncourt and prix Renaudot, were awarded yesterday, and ultimately it's only the titles and names that will be remembered, but what a weird way they went about selecting them.
First to the winning titles: Alabama Song by Gilles Leroy took the Goncourt.
We've expressed our doubts about this Zelda Fitzgerald novel, but it was four-for-four in making the first cut of the top prizes and so you had to figure it would win something.
Last we checked, however, it's Amazon.fr sales rank was only 6.
Meanwhile, the Renaudot went toChagrin d'école by Daniel Pennac (several of whose books we do have under review).
Last we checked, it was the bestselling title at Amazon.fr.
For some English-language coverage, see, for example, French awards deliver twin surprise at The Guardian and Zelda Fitzgerald novel wins top French literary prize from the AFP.
There's surely going to be a more thorough piece on what brought us here in the near future, but as best we can piece together the backstory on these awards is:
It took them 14 (!) rounds of voting to declare Alabama Song the winning book -- it winning a pathetic four votes in the final round (to two
for the Olivier Adam-book), with four jurors not bothering to participate any longer ((Updated - 9 November): only two abstained in the final round -- and the Nothomb did get one of the remaining votes).
In the FAZ over the weekend Jürg Altwegg reported that Michel Tournier plant den Goncourt-Putsch, claiming that former Goncourt-winner and current juror Tournier was planning to mount a coup of sorts and get them to give the prize to Amélie Nothomb's Ni d'Eve, ni d'Adam -- quite a feat considering it wasn't one of the remaining finalists.
But apparently he had two other jurors lined up, for three votes -- but he couldn't convince anyone else, and so ultimately the prize fell to Leroy (see also Altwegg's follow-up report, Gilles Leroy erhält Prix Goncourt für Alabama Song).
(Oddly the (German) FAZ reports are the most detailed about these behind-the-scenes machinations; we haven't found much French coverage, though Pierre Assouline discusses more Nothomb-related happenings at his weblog.
It looks like it's going to take a while to sort all this out and get the story straight.)
Meanwhile, the Renaudot jury apparently liked the winner-out-of-nowhere idea and gave the prize to a book they had left off their final, five-title shortlist.
Imagine if the Man Booker folk pulled a stunt like that !
(Kudos to the FAZ literary coverage by the way: not only does their Goncourt-coverage easily beat anything you'll find in any English-language paper, but they even take note (as did we) of the Spanish publication of a French book that hasn't appeared in German yet,
Jonathan Littell's Les Bienveillantes.
Not only did they publish a German translation of Littell's interview with Jesús Ruiz Mantilla
from El Pais
but they also have a piece looking at the Spanish critical reactions to the book, Paul Ingendaay's Der Roman ist hinreichend böse.)
Yes, they've announced the longlist for the 2008 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award, a fairly rich (though far from the richest in the world) book-prize for which any book available in English (originally written in or translated into) is eligible.
(There are some issues regarding the nominating procedure, but compared to something as limited as the Man Booker -- two titles per publisher, with limited exceptions -- it's a wonderfully open award.)
137 novels were nominated, by 161 libraries in 121 cities.
The 137 novelists come from 45 countries, and the books -- 27 of which are translations -- were written in 15 different languages.
As usual, this is one prize where we actually have some of the titles under review.
Quite a few, actually:
The November issue of Bookslut is up, and it includes An Interview with Paul Verhaeghen by Martin Riker.
We're glad to see the forthcoming Omega Minor get some attention; we really think it has a chance of catching on and becoming something of a breakout-hit, appealing both to the usual Dalkey Archive Press audience and also far beyond it.
LitKicks' Levi Asher has been looking at book-pricing and publishing in hard v. paperback editions, and at Picador (UK) they've apparently been thinking over the issue too: as Katherine Rushton reports at The Bookseller, Picador makes paperback move:
Picador has unveiled plans to launch its new fiction in dual hardback and paperback editions, in a bid to combat the ailing market for hardback literary fiction.
The move raises serious questions about the future of the hardback literary novel, which Picador publisher Andrew Kidd described as a "moribund format".
From spring 2008, "the majority" of new titles from the literary imprint of Pan Macmillan will be released in limited, high-end hardback editions and B-format paperback editions simultaneously.
Meanwhile, in The Buffalo News Jeff Simon writes about onetime IWP-participant Orhan Pamuk, in Nobel laureate's stand causes an uproar, with Pamuk offering a look at what his time there was like:
Back when he was previously a visiting writer at the famous writing school at the University of Iowa, "I locked myself in my room and began writing Black Book.
I was not very social.
I was 32.
This was the first time I was out of Turkey in so many years.
I was also socially shy -- not like I am today.
Each night there was a dinner invitation.
And THAT would upset me -- meeting so many people.
I was very asocial in Iowa. (Pause).
But I wrote very well."
The Neue Zürcher Zeitung has long had excellent literary coverage, though after their most recent site re-design a few months back it has become irritatingly difficult to find it at their site.
Now they've added even more: a monthly literary supplement to their Sunday paper; they apparently started last month but the November issue is the first we noticed.
Unfortunately Bücher am Sonntag is only available in the dreaded pdf format, but it looks like it might be worth the hassle -- 26 pages of fairly interesting coverage.
The daily coverage at the NZZ also continues to be good -- see, for example, Richard Wagner's fascinating look at the resurrection of and debates about 1930s Rumanian fiction -- novels that never stood a chance with the rise of fascism and then communism -- in contemporary Rumania, Der Imperativ der Diskontinuität.
In Barthelmania in New York Sam Anderson 'reviews' -- "with apologies to Donald Barthelme" -- the new collection of uncollected short stories of Donald Barthelme, Flying to America.
See also the Shoemaker & Hoard publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
The bestselling Russian author Boris Akunin, the driving force behind an unprecedented mystery boom in his homeland, was recently awarded the 16th Noma Prize for the Translation of Japanese Literature.
The award is a belated tribute to Akunin's translations into Russian of works by Yukio Mishima.
Akunin, 51, devoted years during the Soviet era to what for him was a labor of love.
Also interesting: his new project:
His latest project is a hybrid called "roman-kino."
These "novel-movies," which fuse cinema and the printed word, reflect his persistent desire to break new ground.
The characters in the books are based on favorite actors, and as the plot proceeds, the action is interspersed with scenes from movies in which the actors have appeared.
The first work is due out in December.
Not much more detail available about this роман-кино idea; he discusses it a bit in this (Russian) interview at RIA Novosti, but that's about all we have been able to find.
Swiss author Hugo Loetscher isn't exactly a household name in the English-speaking world, so it was a pleasant surprise finding an interview with him at, of all places, The Hindu: see Gowri Ramnarayan's Points of return.
Quite a few reviews for Pierre Bayard's How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read
have appeared by now (see our review for links, quotes, etc.), and Martin Levin's in The Globe & Mail is among the many that tries to have it both ways:
In keeping with the challenge residing so invitingly in the title, I decided not to read the book before writing this.
Most reviewers must be similarly tempted; some will succumb.
I'm told Alberto Manguel wrote two reviews of the French edition, one before reading it, one after.
But then, perhaps out of the very fetishistic guilt that Bayard bemoans, perhaps out of a sense of obligation to provide anxious readers with a literary Kevlar vest, I did read the book and modified this column accordingly.
But by how much -- and whether the actual reading conferred any additional insight -- will remain my little secret.
All games aside: we strongly recommend the book (and we strongly recommend reading, and not just talking about it ...).
The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two new books tackling the whole 'god'-question:
Antonio Monda has Conversations on God and Religion with everybody from Jane Fonda to Spike Lee, Paul Auster to Salman Rushdie (and a handful of Nobel laureates) in Do You Believe ?
Meanwhile A Mathematician Explains why the Arguments for God just don't Add Up in John Allen Paulos' forthcoming Irreligion
Do You Believe ? is an odd sort of 'book originally published in a foreign language' -- the interviews were surely all conducted in English, but the book actually first came out in Italian, over a year ago (as Tu credi ?), -- and Ann Goldstein gets a translation credit .....
We really should stop covering this stuff (and publishers should stop thinking up new variations on this same by now very old and very tired theme ...), but it's hard to resist.
"If you can make other people laugh, you have touched their spirit, where it is the most important.
There's no more powerful weapon.
And I love whatever is kitsch, a bit away from what is consensual good taste."
We're not familiar with the works of Israeli author Ram Oren -- some of which have been translated into English, but don't appear to be readily available in the US -- but apparently he's enormously popular back home.
In Oren 'Tempts' Israeli readers and defies critics in The Jewish Journal Avner Hofstein profiles him
We're always curious about domestically popular literature abroad, and Oren sounds like an interesting example -- though we can imagine that the books aren't that ... fine:
Judging by his two latest books, HaRamatkal and The Oath, both released last year, his readers like stories based on factual events that feature lots of surprises and a somewhat flat, almost journalistic language with very few wisecracks and minimal metaphors.
And he's only semi-reassuring when he says:
"I wasn't influenced by Grisham or Clancy, but rather by the Israeli realm," Oren said.
"I think my style is mostly Israeli, and even when the story occurs overseas it reflects my Israeli agenda.""
In the NZZ Jörg Plath offers an interesting profile of Rumanian author Mircea Cărtărescu, in Bukarest leuchtet.
(And, yes, we will get around to reviewing Nostalgia -- the only one of his works currently available in English, though that should change; meanwhile, get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
At Eurozine Zimbabwean author Chenjerai Hove writes about A journey without maps.
He notes that he was "already in internal exile" before he left Zimbabwe -- before finally going into: "external exile, geographically but not emotionally".
So, exile can be an inspiration because of the desire it creates in the writer.
But it can also be a destructive force depending on how the exile himself or herself treats it.
Exile can be a place of tears, but it can also bring new joy as one creates new smiles and new characters in the texts.
In Nobel cause in Al-Ahram Weekly Nahed Nassr takes the awarding of the Nobel Prize to Doris Lessing as an occasion to ask 'the local literati about the position of Arabic literature in the world today':
In contrast to Orhan Pamuk's widely debated Nobel last year, the award of "that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny" -- as the Swedish Academy described Lessing -- has generated little reaction in literary circles.
Rather, it reignited questions about the place of Arabic literature in the world today, whether any Arab other than the late Naguib Mahfouz, who received the prize in 1988, would be granted the honour, and to what extent the worldwide commercial success of Alaa El-Aswany's The Yacoubian Building can be seen as a gauge for the future.
Some interesting (and some odd) responses, and quite a variety of opinions.
There's Afaf El-Sayed, for example:
That Lessing is lesser known is due simply to the fact that she has not been translated into Arabic -- a function, in turn, of popular taste: "The most famous books are not necessarily the best."
And nowhere is this truer, says El-Sayed, than in the translation of Arabic literature into languages that would place its crop on the "international" bookshelf.
In this context many of our best writers, she adds, are systematically marginalised.
This is partly to do with corruption and nepotism, partly to do with the chaotic nature of translation initiatives, with "anyone doing anything and takeaway writers who present tabloid writing as fiction" -- an allusion to Aswani ? -- getting the lion's share.
Meanwhile: "Novelist Sahar El-Mougy has issues with translations not only from but into Arabic", and:
At the local level, official bodies responsible for translation have proved by and large ineffective: "The National Translation Project has produced not a single book since it was founded by General Book Organisation."
Initiatives by European cultural institutions and the American University in Cairo, on the other hand, have no clear selection criteria, making them problematic, and the same holds true for Arab literary prizes, which increasingly afford translation into European languages as well as financial rewards.
Aswani's success is no indication of anything beyond the fact that the way in which "he manages to flaunt our flaws" has turned out to be in demand in the West.
Generally speaking, it seems that there are more and more good translations being made of Korean literature, even though it remains true that very few publishers in the English-speaking world show any interest in them.
Among the November issues now out: the new Open Letters, with Sam Sacks' review of Fire in the Blood by Irène Némirovsky (see also our review), as well as our favourite feature, their 'Peer Review', where this month ... Sam Sacks looks at the critical reactions to Philip Roth's Exit Ghost.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Yan Lianke's Serve the People !.
It turned out to be a pleasant surprise -- banned in China, it's not (just) the sex that made it impossible for the Chinese authorities to look the other way.
Franco-American author Jonathan Littell's much-discussed, mega-best-selling, and Prix Goncourt-winning novel, Les Bienveillantes, is apparently still a ways away from appearing in English, but a Spanish edition of Las benévolas is now out
from RBA -- though we hope they weren't as careless in translating it as they are in their catalogue, where they consistently refer to the author as 'Jonathan Little' (see, for example, the book publicity page).
The recent publication of the book has led to considerable Spanish-language coverage -- though apparently Littell has grown pretty tired of all the publicity demands: the interview with Jesús Ruiz Mantilla
at El Pais is a decent, lengthy one, but he notes that: "Repetir esta entrevista 30 o 40 veces ..." (i.e. he's said it all before -- many, many times).
He also talks about trying hard not to win that damned Goncourt ("Hice todo por evitarlo pero, por desgracia, sí, me lo dieron"
), as well as adding his two cents about the current state of Russia ("Rusia, definitivamente, se ha convertido en un Estado fascista. Es evidente. La ideología oficial es racista hasta los huesos.") -- which, since he lived there for five years (including two in Chechnya) he's in a pretty good position to.
Still, if he's already so testy here, what's he going to be like on the US book tour (where he'll have to answer questions about becoming a French citizen ...) ?
They're only awarded every three years, but perhaps to make up for that
several prizes are awarded in each of the seven categories (which include: 'medium-length novel'), and this year they handed the Lu Xun awards -- among China's most prestigious -- out again; see CCTV's Writers honored in the name of Lu Xun in Shaoxing.
(Unfortunately, we have not been able to find a complete winners' list yet.)
In Schreibwut revisited in the taz Jan Süselbeck tries to convince readers that Karl Gutzkow's mammoth (2920 page) 19th-century novel Der Zauberer von Rom is well worth their time and effort -- and he makes a pretty good case for it.
Of course, he's hardly the first -- he quotes Arno Schmidt (who helped bring Gutzkow back into the public eye), who called it the: "unvergleichlich beste Schilderung der katholischen Welt, die es gibt" ("incomparably best portrayal of the Catholic world in existence").
It's out in a new three volume (plus CD) edition from Oktober Verlag (see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.de).
For those who aren't certain whether or not they want to commit, there's a fabulous Editionsprojekt Karl Gutzkow online, which makes the text available -- though we're sorely tempted by the print edition: it sounds absolutely fascinating, and, looking at some of the online text, the writing is pretty good too.
As we mentioned a couple of weeks ago, we've been deciding which of our magazine-subscriptions to renew, and The New Republic is one of the publications we decided we could do without -- in no small part because of the lack of review-coverage of fiction titles, which has been an issue for several months now.
The 5 November issue just arrived, and gives us no reason to regret our decision: three reviews, not a one for a fiction title.
Which leaves one issue left on our subscription, and we wouldn't be surprised if we'll come up empty one last time.
It's too bad, because they tend to offer what we consider good reviews, both of fiction and of non -- more good and thoughtful (and in-depth) reviews than not (though some terribly misguided ones do pop up regularly).
If they were running two fiction-reviews in every issue of the same standards as what they're running now (all non-fiction) we'd certainly stay on board.
But, alas, they've chosen a different, fictionless direction to sail off in -- and hence: without us.