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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 31 January 2008

21 January: Literature in Context | New Bayard book | How international we are, updated | The Diving Pool review
22 January: The Atlantic freed up ? | Portuguese publishing consolidation
23 January: Urdu translation issues | Day wins Whitbread Costa Book of the Year | Amazon-reviewers | Dead at Daybreak review
24 January: Against promotion | Turkish confusion | Dutch bad sex | The Vanishing review
25 January: Independent Foreign Fiction Prize long list | Another approach to reviewing | New Bookforum | 'Books at Berlinale' | Why are the Arabs not Free ? review
26 January: Finnish literary success abroad | More unwritten books | Amis' MU salary | Chinese lit. | RALPH's stinkers | Schmitt and Lehr review-overviews
27 January: The Torontonians, rediscovered | Tariq Ali on Anthony Powell | The Pornographers review
28 January: Indian writing (not) in English | 'Fifty States of Literature' | Salmonella Men on Planet Porno - the action figures
29 January: Cairo International Book Fair off to a bad start | Jaipur commentary | Jasmine and Stars review
30 January: International Prize for Arabic Fiction shortlist | More critical commentary | ? | Weiss' Inferno finally premieres ... | Amis conversation | SWR-Bestenliste | Dantec review-overviews
31 January: Kehlmann interview -- and Franzen project | Bookforum ? | Peter Theroux profile | Kolkata Book Fair mess | Grossman lecture | Albahari reviews

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31 January 2008 - Thursday

Kehlmann interview -- and Franzen project | Bookforum ? | Peter Theroux profile
Kolkata Book Fair mess | Grossman lecture | Albahari reviews

       Kehlmann interview -- and Franzen project

       Perlentaucher points us to an interview by Anne-Catherine Simon in Die Presse with Measuring the World-author Daniel Kehlmann.
       Among the points of interest: he mentions the different reactions to the book in different countries (something we'd like to hear more of, from other authors too): that it spent 35 weeks on the Taiwanese bestseller lists, that it did very well in France but flopped in Spain, where they apparently like their humour much broader, etc.
       Also interesting: he's apparently become buddies with Jonathan Franzen (who you may recall also had a cameo in Kehlmann-friend Thomas Glavinic's Das bin doch ich), and he mentions that they've teamed up on a project:
Mit Jonathan Franzen, der ja Germanist ist und Karl-Kraus-Verehrer, versuche ich gerade ein absurdes Büchlein zu machen, eine Übersetzung von zwei Kraus-Essays. Absurd, weil wir den Fußnotenapparat ziemlich postmodern halten wollen, mit unwissenschaftlichen Erklärungen, Gesprächen zwischen uns, allem, was uns dazu einfällt.
       An 'absurd little book' around a translation of two Karl Kraus essays -- absurd because they're apparently taking great liberties with the critical apparatus (footnotes, etc.). Could be amusing .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Bookforum ?

       At Publishers Weekly Craig Morgan Teicher reports that 'Bookforum' to Revamp Following Banks Departure, and as ReadySteadyBlog and The Books of My Numberless Dreams have already pointed out, this sounds absolutely terrible.
Eric Banks, Bookforum's editor since 2003, will leave the magazine in March, after closing the April/ May issue, and with his departure Bookforum publisher Artforum International has decided to act on a long-discussed plan to include current events coverage in a move to boost circulation. It has hired Congressional Quarterly editor Chris Lehmann to edit the new section, and will slightly restructure its masthead.
       It's too bad Banks is leaving, as he's done a very nice job there. As to these plans -- well, they strike us as just plain nuts.
"We all felt that in order to really have an increased circulation, we needed to cover current affairs in some way," said McConnell. "We're waiting to see how it evolves." Bookforum's current circulation is about 40,000, up 10% over one year ago.
       This ridiculous notion of thinking they'll be more successful if they try to appeal to a larger audience by offering current events coverage seems seriously misguided. How many current Bookforum readers/subscribers leaf through their copies and sigh, 'If only they had more current events coverage' (or sports coverage, or whatever) ? Surely almost none.
       The reason they're successful is because they do book coverage very well -- and because they have so little competition (i.e. there's almost nothing else out there that does what they do). Current events ? We think that's pretty well-covered elsewhere .....
Banks noted that there really aren't many other publications doing pure books coverage: "I think we were filling a niche that the New York Review of Books used to -- [books are] not the emphasis at the New York Review the way they once were."
       Sounds like he's not too happy with the new direction either.
       What's wrong with niche coverage ? Is circulation-maximization really the be-all and end-all ?
       We are often tempted to comment on current events, too (these days: Suharto's death, the stolen election in Kenya and the aftermath, the Fed cutting interest rates, etc.), and maybe if we did we'd attract a few more readers -- but too many of our regulars would surely be annoyed by the dilution of our content. Just like when they pick up Bookforum, when they come here all they want is literary coverage.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Peter Theroux profile

       In the Washington City Paper Britt Peterson profiles the Theroux-who-translates-from-the-Arabic, Peter, in Found in Translation.
       Theroux's most recent publication is his translation of Elias Khoury’s Yalo, which has been getting decent attention.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Kolkata Book Fair mess

       They had this problem last year, too, only they were a bit better prepared: they 'organised' the Kolkata Book Fair but they knew they were on shaky ground as far as the locale where they wanted to hold it was and, conveniently at the very last minute, the court handed down their decision and said they'd have to hold it elsewhere. Except that this year they have nowhere to go. See, for example, the Times of India report, Kolkata Book Fair banned:
Less than 24 hours before its inauguration, Calcutta High Court has banned the 33rd Kolkata Book Fair from being held on the Park Circus maidan on environmental grounds. The fair was to be held from January 29 to February 10.

The verdict forced the Publishers and Booksellers Guild to do a rethink on the issue and came as a major embarrassment to Kolkata Municipal Corporation, which had taken the initiative to allow the fair to be held at the Park Circus maidan. It was also a blow to the state government, which gave tacit support to the entire effort.
       With guest authors (including Paul Theroux) and publishers all assembled they're holding a very, very 'virtual' fair for now .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Grossman lecture

       Very late notice, but we hope at least that there will be some reports about it: Edith Grossman is giving the first of three lectures on ‘Why Translation Matters’ at Yale today (at 16:00). Scroll down here (to '‘Why Translation Matters’ to be explored in lecture series'):
Award-winning translator Edith Grossman will deliver three lectures this semester as part of the “Why Translation Matters” lectures series at the Whitney Humanities Center.

The inaugural lecture in the series, "Why Translation Matters," will be given on Jan. 31 in Rm. 208; the second talk, titled "Translating Cervantes," is scheduled for Feb. 28 in the auditorium; and the final lecture, "Authors, Translators and Readers Today," will take place on March 27 in Rm. 208. All three talks will begin at 4 p.m. and are free and open to the public.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Albahari reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two David Albahari books:        And our review-overviews of two more:        We mentioned Pijavice a while back, and are surprised it hasn't been translated into English yet -- the glowing German reviews continue apace, with quite a few calling it his masterpiece.

       Speaking of Albahari, also worth mentioning again: here's yet another author who does a lot of translation -- Saul Bellow, Robert Coover, Thomas Pynchon, for example. As he says in this interview:
When you translate, you have to transform yourself. You have to become the writer whose work you’re translating in order to find the best solutions in your own language. You have to at least try to understand how his mind worked, how he dealt with the problems of structure, how he chose his words, how he developed his story and tied the narrative strings together. In other words, when I work on a translation, it’s like listening to a lecture on creative process. You do learn things that otherwise you would miss -- things about the importance of the rhythm of language, the construction of sentences, the little tricks you can use for your own beginnings and endings… When you translate, you simply become more aware of the power of language to create, and sometimes to destroy, the world.
       So we suggest again to those wannabe authors out there: rather than that creative writing MFA, why not try your hand at translation ? First of all, there's so much that needs to get translated into English. And second of all, you might learn a lot more doing that then, say, studying under Martin Amis .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

30 January 2008 - Wednesday

International Prize for Arabic Fiction shortlist | More critical commentary ? | Weiss' Inferno finally premieres ... | Amis conversation
SWR-Bestenliste | Dantec review-overviews

       International Prize for Arabic Fiction shortlist

       They've announced the shortlist for the new International Prize for Arabic Fiction, six titles chosen from 131 entries from 18 countries.
       Hard to get much of an idea about the finalists from what's available at the site (or elsewhere) currently -- but they do look like they have grander ambitions at the site, so we hope more information will appear between now and the naming of the winner.
       Meanwhile, the best coverage is found at the Daily Star, where Kaelen Wilson-Goldie writes that Six finalists named for first 'Arabic Booker'. Among the observations:
Though the prize is committed to discovering "new" writers and marginalized voices, the jury hasn't quite translated new as young. Most of the short-listed authors were born in the 1930s and 1940s. But at least one of the selections is daring. Khaled Khalifa's In Praise of Hate, published by Amisa, is set in Syria in 1982 amid the army's brutal and comprehensive shelling of Hama, where members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other opposition groups were agitating against Hafez Assad's rule. The novel is banned in Syria.
       Also of interest: prize-administrator Joumana Haddad's comments that:
"Most of [the Arabic fiction that] is being translated now is only deepening the cliches," she explained, "and concretizing the exoticism of the Arab world instead of showing it as it is. You know what I mean, the Not Without My Daughter style. I think Arabic contemporary literature should be able to survive in the world without these stereotypes."
       Amen to that.

       (Updated): Conveniently Khaled Khalifa is a recent Iowa International Writing Program-participant, and a good-sized sample (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) of his novel is available at the IWP-site (translated by Marlin Dick, and here under the title 'A Tribute to Hatred').

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More critical commentary

       Another entry into the state-of-the-book-review debates, as Prospect devotes good space (and makes it freely accessible online) to William Skidelsky's Critical condition, where he finds, among much else, that:
A battle for authority is being waged between the printed and the digital word, and this explains both the chippy, combative tone of many bloggers, with their talk of "people power" and it being "our turn now," and the defensiveness of many print journalists
       Usefully, he tries to look at the larger picture -- and so ranges farther than most, suggesting, for example:
There is a third, perhaps less obvious reason for the diminishing importance of book reviews: the declining authority of academic criticism.
       And he finds:
As I've already noted, one reason for the relative robustness of British newspaper book reviewing is the success it has had in co-opting new trends such as book groups and blogging. This is clearly the right way forward, but remains risky. Much of the bloggers' sting may be drawn by welcoming them into the family; but there is also a danger of print journalism disappearing into the new commentariat's forbiddingly capacious -- and often angry -- maw.
       Certainly worth a look -- and presumably this, too, will lead to much weblog-commentary .....

       (And, yes, we're pleased to see he thinks: "Lively literary websites -- or online magazines with literary sections -- do exist, especially in the US: Salon, Slate, the Literary Saloon.")

       (Updated - 31 January): Among the early reactions is this at The Reading Experience -- suggesting, for example:
If Skidelsky were to, say, click onto a few of the litblogs listed on the right (I'll gladly give him some recommenations if he'd like), he would in fact discover that his assertions are thoroughly without foundation in reality.
       Indeed, we should have also noted that Skidelsky is just wrong in asserting:
One thought that should console the upholders of print journalism is that while blogs make a great deal of fuss about being where the action is, they contain little decent criticism. It is rare to encounter good critical writing on the internet that didn't start life in print form.
       In fact, there seems to us a good deal of it, and while much often has its origins in reactions to print-criticism there's also a great deal that's original. Indeed, many of the most interesting and eye-opening literary discussions we've come across in the past years have been online, rather than in print -- and while they are not always as neatly argued or presented (such is the nature of dialogue and the exchange of ideas ...), they have certainly been useful to us.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       In The New York Times Motoko Rich reports that 'New Literary Program to Make Its Home Online' (reluctantly linked to at that registration-requiring site here), as:
Daniel Menaker, who left his post as executive editor in chief of the Random House Publishing Group in June, is moving online in March to be the host of a new Web-based book show.

The show, to be called "Titlepage," will feature a round-table discussion between Mr. Menaker, 66, a former fiction editor at The New Yorker, and a group of four authors. The first episode will be streamed online at on March 3. The idea is to take advantage of the fact that it’s much easier to post video online than to get a show on television.
       Not much information available at the, beyond the tag-line 'Passionate conversations about books', but it certainly has some potential.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Weiss' Inferno finally premieres ...

       Sure, we're hardly objective regarding Peter Weiss, regarding him as one of the 20th century greats, both for his fiction and his drama, but he has a pretty decent reputation, and some of his plays are still pretty popular (Marat/Sade, anyone ?). So how is it that when a posthumous play finally gets published a couple of years back -- and even reviewed by the likes of us -- there isn't a staging frenzy ?
       Instead his Inferno only made it to the stage in opera (!)-form, and only now -- yes, this week -- has the play had its world premiere (staged at the Badische Staatstheater Karlsruhe; see their publicity page, and an early review at the Frankfurter Rundschau).
       Let's hope that this is just the start .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Amis conversation

       Yet another Martin Amis conversation: this time it's Johann Hari who talks to him (at considerable length) in The Independent, in The two faces of Amis.
       We're not sure Amis' admission that he defiled dated innocent young Muslim lasses in his university days will win him any friends in that community, but it's some of the other nonsense he spouts that it really worrisome. So, for example:
Martin has waded deepest into Kingsley territory when he chooses to promote the writings of a Canadian former disc jockey called Mark Steyn, whose recent book America Alone is a guidebook to a continent called Eurabia in the year 2020.
Amis says Steyn is "a great sayer of the unsayable". Muslims are indeed reproducing at a faster rate than the rest of us, he says, and they will eventually outbreed us and become a majority: "One of the mathematical beauties of democracy is that you can look at the figures and be pretty sure how it's going to fall out. It's not PC. It's so saturated in revulsions that people can't go near it. [But] we should go near it... Just because there have been horrible abuses based on this [way of thinking] doesn't mean that it's not worth considering, or that it's so radioactive that you don't dare go near it. That is the defeat of reason."
       Unfortunately reason already looks to have been routed, at least when the demographic arguments are brought up (as Hari fortunately also notes): extrapolating from current data is a dangerous business (after all, at current trends Japan will have a population of zero in a century or two -- and if you believe that will ever happen then we have a bridge we'd like to talk to you about), and even just a closer look at the data shows a much more complicated picture. Indeed, as the Middle East Times noted just a few days ago, Mideast fertility rates plunge, and, in fact, fertility rates decline with education, wealth (personal and national), and, of course, empowering women. So even a supposedly absolutist nation like Iran suddenly finds itself with a fertility rate (reportedly 2.0 -- below the ca. 2.1 necessary for natural replacement) that is almost 'Western'. (Sure, in some backward Middle East countries -- notably the most intellectually retarded of them all, Saudi Arabia and Yemen -- the fertility rate is through the roof -- but toss in a few women's rights and those will collapse just like everywhere else.) Similarly, the relatively small Muslim populations already in Europe may have higher fertility rates than the 'natives' for now -- but give them access to decent education and jobs and that too will change. (By the way, for a good overview of the latest demographic data, see the most recent Population Reference Bureau report (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) -- but keep the numbers away from Marty, or he'll realise the real threat is from that exploding sub-Saharan population, right at Europe's doorstep, ready to flood in .....)
       Armed with his ignorant creative look at the figures Amis has different delusions ideas:
He then drags Steyn's arguments into a whole other swamp of reaction. "He doesn't even dare say it actually," he says, "but his thesis is that when you allow women to choose [through contraception and abortion], you will face demographic disaster, because they won't choose to have the necessary amount of children. The reason that America is the only First World country with a non-declining birth rate is because of all those things we hate about it, you know -- [it's] patriarchal, church-going. I'm going to take this up because I think it's such an enormous question -- has feminism cost us Europe ?"
       This, of course, is presumably the argument they use in Saudi Arabia when radical ideas like allowing women to drive cars are discussed: look at Iran, they presumably say, where women have so many rights -- and aren't having enough kids ! we can't have that happen in our kingdom !
       But it's become nearly pointless debating Amis' points, given how poorly reasoned his arguments and how poorly founded his claims are.

       Still, if you haven't had enough of Amis' opinions ....
       No, no one out there ?
       Well, just for the record, 'Martin Amis also talked to Johann Hari about a range of other subjects', and Here are his comments ....
       Of particular interest: when he talks about being a creative-writing teacher, and his students:
"They're nice. Very appealing. It's been really nice. It's not really a heavy load. I don't look at any of their creative stuff.
       Yes, god forbid he'd look at any of the creative stuff .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -


       The National Book Critics Circle should be announcing their next round of critic-recommended titles (they get hundreds of their members and prize-winners to each name a recent fiction, non-fiction, and poetry title, and they'll figure out which are the most popular of these) at Critical Mass sometimes soon; meanwhile the Germans offer a similar list, based on the votes of 30 top literary critics (one category, each critic can name several titles, in order of preference). The February SWR-Bestenliste is now out, and it's a pretty impressive list -- from the languages the books were written in that are represented (English, Romanian, French, Russian, German) to the range of titles.
       The new Handke, Die morawische Nacht (our review should be up in a week or two), easily took top honours, and with 143 points had more than twice as many as the runner-up. A Richard Yates collection came in third, followed by a Mircea Cărtărescu novel, and then Vasily Grossman's Life and Fate. Sounds impossibly high-brow, doesn't it ? But that's what the book reviewers there are recommending .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Dantec review-overviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our review-overviews of two Maurice G. Dantec novels -- the rare foreign science fiction that is actually translated into English.
       Of course it helps that Babylon Babies is being made into a movie, to open this summer: directed by Mathieu Kassovitz, and starring Michelle Yeoh, Gérard Depardieu, and Charlotte Rampling (and Vin Diesel) it has some blockbuster potential (the movie is titled Babylon A.D. -- as will be the mass-market paperback edition of the novel coming out at the same time ...).
       Riding on those coattails is the newly translated Cosmos Incorporated (with another apparently to follow).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

29 January 2008 - Tuesday

Cairo International Book Fair off to a bad start
Jaipur commentary | Jasmine and Stars review

       Cairo International Book Fair off to a bad start

       It's time for the 40th Cairo International Book Fair, but with the authorities continuing to meddle things aren't going as smoothly as they should: as AFP reports, Egypt censors book fair (see also the slightly fuller French version).
Egypt has banned a number of Western and secular books from the 40th Cairo International Book Fair, including works by Czech author Milan Kundera and Morocco's Mohamed Choukri, publishers said on Monday.
       Other authors whose works were seized include Hanan al-Sheikh and Elias Khoury.
       It remains to be seen whether these are actual bans, or the books are just being held up for a while ... but in either case, it doesn't look good.

       (Updated - 31 January): And, indeed, it seems just to have been much ado about ... generating bad press, as AFP now report Egypt about-turn on book fair censorship. Apparently the authorities just like throwing their weight around, as they make no effort to un-muddy the waters:
As with the seizure of the books on Monday, no explanation was given as to why the authorities had now allowed the books to be put on display.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Jaipur commentary

       The 'star-studded' Jaipur Literature Festival has gotten a decent amount of coverage, and at Mrinal Pande now writes about Writing in the age of best-sellers.
       Of particular interest: her comments on the 'Translating Bharat' efforts:
When you flick through the list of big-time writers in Indian languages, you are struck dumb by the numbers of those that were not. Not during their lifetime. And not just Hindi, but Bengali, Marathi, Tamil, each major language has a long list of astoundingly brilliant writers who achieved fame posthumously. And an even longer list of those who went on to be translated during their lifetime, but are now all but forgotten. How much can one rely on the choice of commissioning editors from English language publications here, most of whom have had no live interaction with the Indian vernaculars ?
       Of course, she doesn't inspire confidence when she writes about "a well-known translator such as Max Brod" and his Kafkaesque errors; Brod's sins against literature were many, but (mis)translating Kafka into English was not among them.
       Still, interesting to consider:
Actually, the central folly in sessions like Translating Bharat is that they unconsciously confer upon the act of translating from Indian languages into English the aura of a Hindu sacred thread ceremony, out of which arises a fully Sanskritized Twice-born Brahmin. This may easily tempt some translators and editors to indulge in a bit of literary priest-giri and present the work to the world as though it is largely they who have crafted a Kohinoor out of a rock lying in the Natives’ basement in Indeah.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Jasmine and Stars review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Fatemeh Keshavarz's look at Reading More Than Lolita in Tehran, Jasmine and Stars.
       Yes, the book is very much a response to Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran -- and useful enough as that. But we would have preferred a clinical dissection -- the 'personal touch' is all well and good, but, boy can it get in the way of a good argument .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

28 January 2008 - Monday

Indian writing (not) in English | 'Fifty States of Literature'
Salmonella Men on Planet Porno - the action figures

       Indian writing (not) in English

       Not much new, but good to see some coverage, as AFP report that English threatens Indian literary heritage:
Regional Indian authors hoping for more readers are abandoning their mother tongues to write in English -- a trend that threatens the country's rich polyglot literary tradition, experts say.

The only way authors -- especially new ones -- can be encouraged to keep writing in their own languages is if there is more translation of their works into English and other globally spoken languages, they say.
       Really ? Surely the greatest incentive would be if there was an audience for their works in their own languages -- i.e. they didn't need that validation-through-translation, but rather could enjoy local success (and, presumably, build on that).
       But this need for this sort of validation seems to be all the rage -- we just mentioned it re. Arabic writers two weeks ago .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       'Fifty States of Literature'

       At The Columbia Spectator they've started a new series, offering a tour of the Fifty States of Literature, Starting With Alabama.
       As Melanie Jones explains:
The Spectator here supplies you, free of charge, the first of a list of 50 books that we think capture the essence of each state
       Sounds like it has some potential.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Salmonella Men on Planet Porno - the action figures

       The Vertical weblog points us to these unlikely action figures, based on Tsutsui Yasutaka's story-collection, Salmonella Men on Planet Porno.
       Maybe the book is big enough in Japan that there's a market for these things .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

27 January 2008 - Sunday

The Torontonians, rediscovered | Tariq Ali on Anthony Powell
The Pornographers review

       The Torontonians, rediscovered

       In the Toronto Star San Grewal offers The story of a local literary gem, lost and found, Phyllis Brett Young's 1960 novel The Torontonians, which was apparently quite successful in its day but then fell completely into oblivion. (The fact that it was published under different titles -- as Gift of Time in the US and The Commuters in Australia -- can't have helped .....)
The Torontonians was the first internationally read novel that both chronicled and celebrated the city's demographic transition, a provincial British town opened by the arrival of Greeks, Italians, Portuguese, Polish and other Europeans.
       McGill-Queen's University Press recently brought out a new edition; see their publicity page and their publicity-weblog mentions, or get your copy at or

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Tariq Ali on Anthony Powell

       In November Tariq Ali gave the inaugural Anthony Powell Annual Lecture, and The Guardian now prints his invitation to Come dancing.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Pornographers review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Nozaka Akiyuki's The Pornographers (which seems, by today's standards, almost quaint).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

26 January 2008 - Saturday

Finnish literary success abroad | More unwritten books | Amis' MU salary
Chinese lit. | RALPH's stinkers | Schmitt and Lehr review-overviews

       Finnish literary success abroad

       In Finding an audience elsewhere the Helsinki Times looks at 'International breakthroughs in Finnish film and literature', noting that:
In the field of literature, Finland has long struggled to gain a wide audience for its writers. It has been said that the Finnish environment and mentality have been major obstacles to international renown. There have, however, been a number of global breakthroughs.
       We have some of the more recent successes under review, but one you might have forgotten about (and an author we haven't gotten to) is:
Another major milestone for popular Finnish literature was written in 1945 and translated into 40 languages. That book, Mika Waltari’s historical novel The Egyptian (Sinuhe egyptiläinen), was a quantum leap forward in putting the country’s literature on the world map. It is by far the most famous Finnish novel ever
       You can get your copy at or -- and the Amazon page claims:
First published in the United States in 1949 and widely condemned as obscene, The Egyptian outsold every other novel published that year
       And it apparently really was a phenomenal success: a Time-review of his next novel notes:
Last year, U.S. readers got their first taste of the treatment in The Egyptian, a story of how a local fellah made good with the ladies in the 14th Century B.C. It sold more than 500,000 copies, held first place on bestseller lists for over three months, and still ranks in the top dozen or so.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More unwritten books

       Taking George Steiner's My Unwritten Books -- "describing in tantalising detail the seven books he never got round to writing" -- as a cue, John Walsh gets ten writers to reveal 'their works that never made it into print' in Greatest stories never told.
       Mainly juvenilia, but still good fun.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Amis' MU salary

       As Yakub Qureshi reports in £3,000 an hour for Amis in the Manchester Evening News, Martin Amis is raking in the big bucks for his teaching-gig at Manchester University:
Amis -- who was signed up last year to teach creative writing -- is receiving an £80,000 salary but is only committed to working there about 28 hours a year.
       This at a university that:
has recently been forced to shed up to 750 jobs -- including lecturers' posts -- to get itself out of £30m of debt.
       But surely Martin Amis is the very definition of a loss leader -- so also, we're fairly sure, regarding the advances he gets for his books, which we'd be stunned to learn he ever earns out. And given the press and other coverage Manchester University has gotten for this signing it sounds like it's paid off. Not in educational terms, but then how much education goes on at contemporary universities anyway ?
       The only shocking thing is, of course, how few students get to benefit from his presence (though the obligatory public appearances make up for a bit of that). But given that "his subject is not assessed, meaning he is not required to carry out any marking of students' work" surely his classes should be open to all (students) .....
       See also Francis Gilbert's take at The Guardian's weblog, A Premier League salary for a premier league writer.

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       Chinese lit.

       In his A Week in Books-column this week in The Independent Boyd Tonkin has a look at some Chinese literature, which seems to be the thing to do these days (the literary Olympic prep ?).

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       RALPH's stinkers

       More review sites should do this: at The Review of Arts, Literature, Philosophy and the Humanities -- i.e. RALPH -- they promise: "Every few days, we list here new titles that have come to us that drive us bananas". So check out their Real Stinkers.

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       Schmitt and Lehr review-overviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our review-overviews of two foreign-language titles that haven't been translated into English yet:
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25 January 2008 - Friday

Independent Foreign Fiction Prize long list
Another approach to reviewing | New Bookforum
'Books at Berlinale' | Why are the Arabs not Free ? review

       Independent Foreign Fiction Prize long list

       In The Independent Boyd Tonkin introduces the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize long list, seventeen titles "selected from almost 100 submissions of translated fiction by living authors published in the UK during 2007".
       As usual, we do have a couple of the titles under review:        But what really struck us about the list is the UK/US disparity: by our count eight -- almost half -- of the titles have not been published in the US, with five of them (The Moon Opera, The Model, Shutterspeed, The Way of the Women, Gregorius) so off-the-charts that they're not even listed at (which lists UK editions for many titles, including often ones not, or not yet available in the US -- as is the case with the remaining three titles (though at least one is also listed as 'currently unavailable')).
       The IFFP is (pretty much by default) the leading English-language foreign-language literature prize going (the other contender, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award also considers works originally written in English ). Maybe it'll help bring US publishers' attention to these other titles -- after all, the 2006 winner, Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson certainly seemed to do pretty well once it came out in the US .....

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       Another approach to reviewing

       In his Salon-column at The Moscow Times this week Victor Sonkin describes what sounds likes a fairly amusing literary exercise:
In a recent book, Roman Kats achieves every book reviewer's dream. He wrote a whole collection of reviews without opening any of the novels -- or at least that's what he claims. His reviews are allegedly based just on the titles and covers of recent literary bestsellers. (Photographs of the covers are therefore a vital component of the publication.)
       But, as Sonkin notes:
Kats laughs at his fellow critics and at authors -- but the literary landscape he describes is quite recognizable. Try as he might, he does not get very far from the real idiosyncrasies of today's literary scene.
       Sonkin also mentions that excerpts are available at, which turns out to be a sort of Russian version of Nextbook (i.e. a literary site with a Jewish focus) and well worth a look (well, for those with some Russian, at least).
       The Kats-pieces can be found here and here (and even if you don't read Russian you can enjoy the cover-pictures from a variety of recent Russian publications).

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       New Bookforum

       As widely noted, the February/March issue of Bookforum is now up and all the content is readily accessible.
       You have to check it out for yourself, but among the highlights is an excerpt from Roberto Bolaño's Nazi Literature in the Americas and a look at translator Edith Grossman's library.

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       'Books at Berlinale'

        Optioning books to film-production companies has always been a great way to increase revenue, and at the Berlinale film-festival they're facilitating this at a "Breakfast & Books"-event; see the official press release:
Organised by the Berlinale in cooperation with the Frankfurt Book Fair for the third time, the event "Breakfast & Books" enables representatives from publishing houses, literary agents and producers to meet for a pitching session, followed by breakfast together.
       No word on how successful the previous two go-rounds have been -- and we wonder about the priorities when the way they arrange the ten selected titles is to have them: "listed alphabetically by publisher or literary agency introducing the material".

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       Why are the Arabs not Free ? review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Moustapha Safouan's look at The Politics of Writing in trying to determine Why are the Arabs not Free ?

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24 January 2008 - Thursday

Against promotion | Turkish confusion
Dutch bad sex | The Vanishing review

       Against promotion

        In The Times Ben Hoyle reports that Doris Lessing attacks the ‘harmful’ promotion of young authors.
       We're not all that nostalgic, but some things certainly were better in the good ol' days:
Lessing, 88, told an audience at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London that in the 1950s her publisher apologised for suggesting that she do publicity work.
Training her gaze on the modern literary scene she said: "The writer has become more and more a personality. Literary festivals (for example) are enormously enjoyable but when you go into one it’s got nothing to do with your writing.
       Good for her -- not that it'll do much good. Personalities are just much easier to sell than books (or rather, personalities are much more likely to sell books than, say literary quality ...).

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       Turkish confusion

       If it weren't so serious it would be funny .....
       First there's the report from Today's Zaman, that Court of Appeals reverses local court ruling on Pamuk case, as:
The Supreme Court of Appeals yesterday nullified a local court ruling that dropped a civil suit against Nobel Prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk for his controversial remarks about Armenian allegations of genocide that were published in a Swiss magazine in 2005.
       So apparently these nuisance-suits (and that's all they are) can go ahead -- and what a mess that might become:
The court ruling has opened the way for thousands of families of martyrs to file cases against Pamuk. The lawyer of the plaintiffs, Kemal Kerinçsiz, who is a well-known ultranationalist, said earlier that all the families of martyrs would file cases against Pamuk and take away his Nobel Prize money if the Supreme Court of Appeals nullified the local court ruling.
       ('Martyrs' ? Dear lord .....)
       But at least Pamuk can feel a bit safer, as Reuters, for example, reports Turkish police detain 30 in explosives cache probe:
Turkish police have detained 30 people, including former military personnel and lawyers, in connection with an investigation into a cache of explosives seized last year, Istanbul's governor said on Tuesday.
       This group, calling themselves 'Ergenekon', apparently also had a hitlist of people they wanted to get rid of -- including Pamuk.
       And guess who was among those rounded-up:
It said those detained included well-known nationalist lawyer Kemal Kerincsiz, who came to prominence over his support for free speech-related prosecutions, such as that against Nobel prize-winning novelist Orhan Pamuk.
       (See also Fehmi Koru's Smiling at my executioner in Today's Zaman; he was also on the hit-list.)

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       Dutch bad sex

        De Papieren Man makes us aware of 'De Slechte Seks Prijs', the Dutch version of the Bad Sex award -- and at Humo they offer (in Dutch) the contenders for the slechtst geschreven seksscène van 2007.
       (But 'seksscène' (for sex-scene) already sounds too artsy, doesn't it ?)

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       The Vanishing review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Tim Krabbé's The Vanishing.
       The film -- actually films: the Dutch original and the Hollywood remake -- are probably better-known, but here's a book with some translation issues, too. Originally published in the US in 1993 in Claire Nicolas White's translation, it came out in a new translation by Sam Garrett in the UK in 2003 -- leading us to wonder already back then what was up.
       Since then Krabbé has gone on the record as saying: "the first English translation of The Vanishing was 'horrible' ".
        It should be noted that Claire Nicolas White is also responsible for another very prominent translation from the Dutch, of Harry Mulisch's The Assault (another book with a famous film version) -- a translation about which Anthony Paul has written (in 'Dutch Literature and the Translation Barrier' in Something Understood: Studies in Anglo-Dutch Literary Translation (1990)):
The Assault exemplifies on every page linguistic and stylistic flattening, the loss of cultural context and the blunting of meaning, the reduction of literature to non-literature.
       And about Ms. White:
The translator of De aanslag lacks the first two qualifications of a translator: she is neither a good reader not a good writer. (...) Her knowledge of Dutch is shaky
       And, finally and most devastatingly:
The Assault may have been some kind of success; De aanslag remains untranslated
       So maybe they'll get around to a new translation of that, too .....

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23 January 2008 - Wednesday

Urdu translation issues | Day wins Whitbread Costa Book of the Year
Amazon-reviewers | Dead at Daybreak review

       Urdu translation issues

       We mentioned the two-volume The Oxford India Anthology of Modern Urdu Literature a few weeks back -- and noted Khushwant Singh's less than enthusiastic review in Outlook India.
       Now Outlook India give Frances W. Pritchett lots of space to respond to Singh's review -- and to his attitude towards translation -- and the resulting piece on what is Lost In Translation is worth a look.
I want to talk about a few of that review's particular complaints, and then move on to a project actually invited by the review itself: a comparative examination of two poems by Iqbal that have been translated in significantly different ways.
       (Her faculty page (and projects) are also worth checking out.)

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       Day wins Whitbread Costa Book of the Year

       The Whitbread Costa Book of the Year has been awarded to A.L.Kennedy's Day; see the official press release.

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       At Slate Garth Risk Hallberg looks at 'Amazon's Top Reviewers and the fate of the literary amateur', in Who is Grady Harp ?, finding:
As I explored the murky understory of Amazon's reviewer rankings, however, I came to see the real Web 2.0 as a tangle of hidden agendas -- one in which the disinterested amateur may be an endangered species.
       But surely this only applies to the nuts who value whatever 'status' being a so-called 'top reviewer' appears to confer on them. In fact, the impossibility of competing (if that's the proper word) against the multiple-book-a-day-reviewers might actually lead more Amazon-reviewers to provide thoughtful reviews of books they actually care about (and have read), since they must realise that even sheer volume-reviewing won't be enough to catch up to the head of the pack.

       (Way back in the day, when we were only starting up, one of the then top-ranked reviewers managed to 'review' so many titles by simply cutting and pasting parts of our reviews and passing them off as her own (eventually moving on to cutting-and-pasting from various other media reviews, including The New York Times and the like); the current top-ranked pack presumably don't resort to these techniques (as was the case back then: it's just to easy to get caught out), but we can't take them any more seriously, either.)

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       Dead at Daybreak review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Deon Meyer's Dead at Daybreak.
       A solid, Ian Rankin-like thriller from South Africa, it was originally written in Afrikaans. The copy we read was the American mass-market paperback edition (aside: why can't all books be published in this handy size ... ?); shockingly there is no mention anywhere in the book that it is a translation (or that Madeleine Van Biljon translated it). They do note that it was published in both English and Afrikaans in South Africa in 2000, but that's as close as they get to admitting it was originally published in a foreign language.
       What's the problem ? Why the coyness ? Are they really that afraid that it'll scare off readers ?
       More surprisingly, the hardcover edition does seem to acknowledge it's a translation -- do the publishers for some reason believe that those who will shell out more money for the book are more willing to accept that it's a book in translation ? (Hey, maybe there have been marketing studies to back that idea up .....)
       Note also that in a profile in the Mail & Guardian:
"The novels are meant to be read in Afrikaans," Meyer says. "The Afrikaans versions will always have the best context and colloquialisms."
       Also interesting: the mass-market paperback comes with quite a few review quotes from online sites (BookLoons,, etc.) -- so that apparently is good enough for potential readers (i.e. they're not afraid praise from such sources might seem not to be good enough, or unreliable, etc.).
       And, finally: we will never understand the bizarro world of American publishing. Here is a book that was available and published in English translation way back in 2000 (in South Africa), but which was even published in a French translation before they finally brought it out in the US .....

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22 January 2008 - Tuesday

The Atlantic freed up ? | Portuguese publishing consolidation

       The Atlantic freed up ?

       In The New York Times yesterday Richard Pérez-Peña reported on The Atlantic apparently freeing up its online material starting today, in 'A Venerable Magazine Energizes Its Web Site' (reluctantly linked to at that registration-requiring site here), as:
Readership will get another boost starting Tuesday, when will abolish the fire wall that has allowed only subscribers to the print magazine to see most of its articles online. It will make its archive accessible, too.

Executives hope that a rise in traffic brings to The Atlantic, one of the nation’s oldest publications, something it hasn’t had in many years: a profit.
       Sounds good -- though, of course, it all depends on how far they go. But they certainly have worthwhile literary coverage, and we'd love to see that made readily accessible.
       Interesting also:
Mr. Smith said The Atlantic had long done a poor job of selling ads online but is hiring more ad sellers, and Goldman Sachs will sponsor the elimination of the fire wall, buying all the ad space this week.

"The magazine is still in the red, in the $3-to-$5-million range," he said, but he hopes to be in the black in five years.
       (Oh, how we'd love to be able to get away with losing money at that rate .....)

       (Updated - 23 January): And, indeed, it looks like they've gone through with it; see their Editor's Note.

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       Portuguese publishing consolidation

       In Verlagskonzentration in the NZZ Thomas Fischer writes on what sounds like the pretty disturbing concentration of Portuguese publishing, as Miguel Pais do Amaral has been buying up publishing houses in Portugal left and right, most recently Dom Quixote (which he apparently bought from Spanish group Planeta), António Lobo Antunes' publisher. He's bought at least five others, too, including, most surprisingly Editorial Caminho, Saramago's publisher -- and a house apparently linked to the Communist party (but, hey, everybody's a capitalist nowadays, willing to sell out ...) --, as well as Gailivro, Edições ASA, and Edições Nova Gaia.
       He's also apparently looking to expand abroad, with high hopes for Africa.
       The Portuguese-language market is, of course, a peculiar one, with Brazil (with nearly twenty times the population of Portugal itself) the big prize -- and, for now, also an alternative for disgruntled Portuguese authors who can't or don't want to deal with the Amaral-empire.
       For a Portuguese report see, for example, Pais do Amaral compra Dom Quixote at Jornal de Notícias.

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21 January 2008 - Monday

Literature in Context | New Bayard book
How international we are, updated | The Diving Pool review

        Literature in Context

       It still seems to be in the development-stages, but Literature in Context looks like it's going to be a valuable resource -- and already offers considerably more than how they describe the site:
The website Literature in Context presents European literatures in context for the 19th and 20th century -- for the moment especially the reciprocity between Dutch and German literature on the basis of Dutch, Flemish, German and Austrian writers.
       The site design means one has to maneuver the drop-down lists to get anywhere, but there are quite a few layers of information, readily accessible once one gets the hang of it.

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       New Bayard book

       Pierre Bayard's How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read, now also out in the UK, has certainly been getting a lot of review-attention (see our review for links to and quotes from many of them), but he has a new book out in France already, and after tackling Agatha Christie (in Who Killed Roger Ackroyd ?; see the New Press publicity page) now takes on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, in L’Affaire du chien des Baskerville (see the Éditions de Minuit publicity page, or get your copy at -- though this looks like a safe bet to get translated, eventually).
       Now he's profiled by Philippe Lançon in Libération -- and among the 'shocking' revelations there we learn that:
Bayard lit un ou deux livres par jour. Quand il enseignait dans des lycées du Nord, deux heures de train lui permettaient d’épuiser un livre à l’aller, un au retour : «Deux heures, c'est le temps qu’il faut pour lire un Simenon.»
       (Yes, he admits to actually reading a book or two a day -- his train-commute lasting long enough to polish off a Simenon .....)

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       How international we are, updated

       Another hundred reviews under our belts -- 2000 total, now --, and so we update our list of the 'Language of origin of books reviewed' at the complete review once again.
       English continues to lead the way, and with 29 out of the last 100 was the top language of origin again, but there's certainly been a shift: of the first thousand titles we reviewed, books written in English made up 685 of them, of the second thousand only 385.
       French continues to be a strong second -- so also among the last 100 (15.5) -- and has picked up over time, too: 74 of the first thousand were books in French, but almost twice as many (138) of the second thousand.
       German and Dutch coverage has remained fairly steady over time, but some languages have been much better covered recently: only ten titles written in Japanese were among the first thousand reviewed, while there were 55 among the second thousand, and there were no reviews of any Arabic or Norwegian titles among the first thousand but 34 and 23, respectively, among the second thousand (putting both languages in the overall top-10, surprisingly ahead of Russian).
       Overall, the majority of books reviewed were originally written in English, but the percentage is down to 53.3 and will surely fall below the 50-per cent mark by 2009.

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       The Diving Pool review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Three Novellas by Ogawa Yoko, The Diving Pool.

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