We should have mentioned this previously, but, honestly, we're so flabbergasted by all this nonsense that we're close to speechless.
Fortunately, it's gotten considerable (if not a great deal of useful or informative) attention: as you've presumably heard, Asra Q. Nomani wrote a piece in the Wall Street Journal earlier this week, revealing that apparently You Still Can't Write About Muhammad, as a few months ago Random House decided its Ballantine imprint wasn't going to publish Sherry Jones' The Jewel of Medina after all.
There is now an official Random House Publishing Group The Jewel of Medina statement (which, incredibly, manages to avoid naming the author of the work in question), where they claim:
After sending out advance editions of the novel THE JEWEL OF MEDINA, we received in response, from credible and unrelated sources, cautionary advice not only that the publication of this book might be offensive to some in the Muslim community, but also that it could incite acts of violence by a small, radical segment.
Nomani writes that it was Denise Spellberg's (an associate professor of Islamic history at the University of Texas, Austin)
reaction that was the death-knell for the book, and that:
In an interview, Ms. Spellberg told me the novel is a "very ugly, stupid piece of work."
The novel, for example, includes a scene on the night when Muhammad consummated his marriage with Aisha: "the pain of consummation soon melted away.
Muhammad was so gentle. I hardly felt the scorpion's sting. To be in his arms, skin to skin, was the bliss I had longed for all my life."
Says Ms. Spellberg: "I walked through a metal detector to see 'Last Temptation of Christ,'" the controversial 1980s film adaptation of a novel that depicted a relationship between Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
"I don't have a problem with historical fiction.
I do have a problem with the deliberate misinterpretation of history.
You can't play with a sacred history and turn it into soft core pornography."
As a historian invited to "comment" on the book by its Random House editor at the author's express request, I objected strenuously to the claim that The Jewel of Medina was "extensively researched," as stated on the book jacket.
As an expert on Aisha's life, I felt it was my professional responsibility to counter this novel's fallacious representation of a very real woman's life.
The author and the press brought me into a process, and I used my scholarly expertise to assess the novel.
It was in that same professional capacity that I felt it my duty to warn the press of the novel's potential to provoke anger among some Muslims.
The novel provides no new reading of Aisha's life, but actually expands upon provocative themes regarding Muhammad's wives first found in an earlier novel by Salman Rushdie, The Satanic Verses, which I teach.
Disappointingly, Spellberg does not in any way indicate how Jones' book presents a: "fallacious representation"; the admittedly silly deflowering scene surely hardly qualifies.
And to suggest similarities to "provocative themes" from Rushdie's fatwaed-novel without specifying what those might be goes beyond being irresponsible (and begins to look like nothing more than a very cheap fanning-the-flames stunt).
Without more detail it's hard to judge this case on any merits -- on these facts alone it could just as well have been Random House grasping for any reason to dump a book they realized wasn't very good.
We certainly can't judge -- though, for the record, (as if you couldn't have guessed) since we have no respect for any religion or any religious figures, and complete respect for fiction (and are firm believers that as far as fiction goes, anything goes) ... well, you get the idea.
Galleycat's Friday post offers a bit more information, and Sherry Jones has started her own weblog, the unfortunately named Author! Author!,
though she hasn't revealed a great deal there yet either.
Stay tuned, though; this story is presumably far from over.
Interestingly, the book is still listed at all the Amazons -- pretty hopelessly at the American one, but it has an impressive sales rank of 464 at the British one, and Amazon.ca even promises: "This title will be released on August 25, 2009. Pre-order now!" (and many people have, as the sales rank there was 510, last we checked).
did well enough in Hungary but, undeservedly, failed to raise any particular storms.
It took a German audience to come and throw laurels amid the waves of the lake. Over the past months, directly after its publication in German translation, the book was lauded in superlatives by the most prestigious dailies and literary forums.
There are several things worth mentioning about this season's list.
First, the traditional hegemony of the novel seems to be a thing of the past: There are several collections of short stories on the list and two nonfiction books.
Second, a fashionable trend seems to be the foray of literary critics into literature.
After the success of Lev Danilkin's "The Man with an Egg" and Alexander Arkhangelsky's "Cut-off Price," the critic Pavel Basinsky also made his fiction debut with "Russian Novel, or The Life and Adventures of John Polovinkin," a picaresque work set in the 1990s.
Finally, the award committee decided to make all the contenders' work available online and even set up a separate Internet voting, which would produce its decision independently of the jury.
With ever-rising book prices, this decision is a godsend to anyone wishing to keep abreast of modern literature, especially far from the big cities, where most of the shortlisted books are unavailable.
It's that last part that really catches our eye: they make all the contenders' work available online !
(And, indeed, they more or less do -- though they could work on their presentation (avoiding, where possible, those dreaded pdf files, among other things) -- click through on the titles of the shortlist-page.)
Not an innovation we can expect from the Man Booker anytime soon, alas.
Le Figaro is looking at 'ces romanciers qui ont marqué leur époque' of the past forty years (the French ones, that is), and this week Amélie Nothomb is up, as Jean-Claude Lamy looks at her debut, the still untranslated Hygiène de l'assassin in Amélie Nothomb, contes et légendes
Kano State Censors Board is asking all writers including literary associations and movie producers, actors and actresses in the state, through a hot head who goes by the name of Abubakar Rabo, the Director General of the Censors Board, to register with the board to authenticate their works or have their rights to publish, produce or display anything in Kano taken from them.
Sounds pretty outrageous and ridiculous and unfortunate -- and, as he asks:
What would have happened to the likes of Chimamnda Ngozie Adichie who won the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction for her second novel, Half of a Yellow Sun (2006), the young novelist, who stated that she had been writing stories since she was old enough to spell, if she were from Kano ?
So he finds:
It is painful watching events in Kano unfold, as the state and the writers battle it out like a bunch of armed neighbourhood gangs.
The mood among Kano people and others who are following this descent to darkness is one of despair and gloom, tinged with embarrassment and occasional shame.
On the other hand, check out the official site of the Kano State Censors Board -- with its festive promise of 'coming soon !!!' and a great scissors-logo.
But it doesn't seem they have their act entirely together yet.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Antonio Muñoz Molina's A Manuscript of Ashes, finally available in English.
It's good to see that this early work (1986) of his is now also available, but it's outrageous how much else still has not been translated.
Come on, people, get to it !
They've announced the shortlists for the somewhat controversial (Australian) Prime Minister's Literary Awards -- controversial because PM Kevin Rudd has the final say on who gets the awards.
We actually have one of the shortlisted titles under review, Cliver James' Cultural Amnesia, from the non-fiction list.
Note also that the fiction list was culled from 91 entries (and the non-fiction list from 103 works) -- not that many fewer eligible titles than they had for the Man Booker .....
We're eagerly anticipating Tibor Fischer's Good to be God, but it's not out yet (pre-order your copy at Amazon.co.uk) and we haven't gotten a copy yet -- but early reviews are now up, at the Budapest Sun and at revish.
Pre-Frankfurt Book Fair, Orhan Pamuk is a sort of writer-in-residence at the Salzburg Festival, and the literature program (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) (information in both German and English) looks pretty interesting -- especially the 10 August conversation with Pamuk and David Hare, moderated by Edward Mortimer and introduced by Robert Silvers, which "will focus on the question whether artists can react to political circumstances and how these inform their work".
Lots of coverage in the German/Austrian press around Pamuk, including a solid profile in Die Presse (headlined: 'The world must recover from Bush !').
Among the titbits of interest:
He plans two more autobiographical volumes to go with Istanbul
Among German authors he admires Stefan Zweig, but the four great novelist for him are: Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, Proust, and Thomas Mann (followed by the 'almost as good' trio of Borges, Calvino, and Nabokov)
Asked to name a Turkish author he admires he again goes for Ahmet Hamdi Tanpinar
(We're very much looking forward to the Archipelago fall release of Tanpinar's A Mind at Peace (see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) -- though of course the book we want to get our hands on is that translation of The Time Regulation Institute.)
"While we romance with English due to our exile situation, our counterparts in Tibet have been taking Chinese language to greater heights," writes Tenzin Tsundue, a political activist and writer living in exile in Dharamsala, India.
"Tibetans are recording history and writing poetry and stories on love, religion and culture in Chinese.
They are singing in Mandarin.
The Chinese cannot but regret they gave the Tibetans their tongue."
We have the first fifteen volumes or so of the fantastic Clay Sanskrit Library -- and are deeply embarrassed that we still haven't gotten around to covering them (in part, certainly, merely because of the intimidation factor: we want to do them justice, which is asking a lot).
Fortunately this great undertaking gets the occasional love in other publications, including, this week, in The New Republic, where David Shulman writes about it in The Arrow and the Poem -- noting, for example:
The sheer awfulness of most earlier translations from Sanskrit can help to explain the profound ignorance of Sanskrit literature among Western readers.
What is not easy to explain is why the standard of acceptable translation was, from the very beginning, set so low -- in marked contrast, for example, to translations from classical Chinese and Japanese.
A part of the trouble no doubt stems from the particular difficulties of Sanskrit -- its forbidding morphology, its fondness for extraordinarily lengthy nominal compounds, its vast lexicon, its daunting syntax, and above all its somewhat exotic, or in any case distinctive, world of thought and imagination.
Sanskrit may always have attracted just the kind of fussy, pedantic minds that make for the worst possible translators.
(Is he kidding about the classical Chinese translations ?
Has he looked at some of those ?)
But there is one disturbing piece of information we were not aware of in the piece:
Lately there has been some talk of closing down the Clay series after the publication of the fiftieth volume, scheduled for next year.
This would be a disaster, leaving many masterpieces languishing, unfinished or unpublished.
We must hope that a way will be found to allow this visionary enterprise to go on.
For a whole library, a whole literature, hot off the press, is now at last open and available to readers of English.
Say it ain't so !
(And we'll do our best to get to those reviews and try to drum up some more interest -- this really is one of the great publishing ventures of the new millennium, and fifty volumes isn't nearly enough !)
The August issue of Words without Borders is now available online, focussing on: 'The Influence of Anxiety: Writings on Psychiatry'.
Too many good pieces to link to: just check out the knock-out line-up for yourself.
I am selling 6 shares (of 10% of the U.S. royalties of my second novel) for $2000 per share.
For each share you own you will receive 10% of the U.S. royalties of my second novel.
This includes all U.S. serial, reprint, textbook, and film (and other performance) royalties.
Shareholders will receive checks (and copies of the royalty statement from my publisher) in the mail every 6 months after the book's publication (probably Fall, 2009 or Spring 2010).
Shares can be resold at any price at any time, I will facilitate trading and promote it on my blog if that is what a shareholder wants.
I accept Paypal.
Somewhat less reassuringly, the author also writes: "I promise I will not kill myself within 5-10 years" (though surely a ghastly demise would -- by again drawing attention to the name -- only help sales, at least in the short term).
Of course, it would be a lot more fun if he were selling smaller-unit shares, which would be more likely to trade (offering shares of 0.1% of royalties at $20.00 a pop, for example)
But he seems to have achieved his
goal (and he certainly got more publicity for the book than he likely would otherwise).
They've announced the winners of the (South African) Sunday Times Literary Awards, and Blood Kin by Ceridwen Dovey took the Sunday Times Fiction award.
(They also awarded the Alan Paton award for Non-Fiction.)
See Tymon Smith's report, Sunday Times Literary Award Winners announced.
Given that among the other shortlisted titles for the fiction award were Diary of a Bad Year by J.M.Coetzee (one of our favourite books of 2007)
and The Song Before it is Sung by Justin Cartwright, that's pretty impressive.
It is a title we've been meaning to get to.
See also Dovey's official site, or get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Bezalie Uc-Kung, executive director of New Day Publishers is also upbeat: "There is a growing patronage for locally published books.
A growing number of Filipinos who write and of publishers who publish them are complementing each other."
This month's issue of the Literary Review at The Hindu has several pieces dedicated to translation in India, as well as surveys of various local literatures, beginning with Rita Kothari's Divided by translation.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Aharon Appelfeld's memoir Under the Light of Jerusalem, A Table for One.
(Shockingly, the paperback edition of this book, from The Toby Press, makes no mention anywhere that this book was not originally written in English, or that Aloma Halter translated it.)
Several of the Man Booker judges have now published post-longlist pieces, though they haven't revealed very much: Alex Clark offers what are supposedly Confessions of a Booker judge in The Telegraph, while Louise Doughty notes And the nominations aren't ... at The Guardian weblog.
We've learnt that the 13 titles were selected from 112 entries, of which: "103 were submitted for the prize and nine were called in by the judges".
But, disappointingly, no clues as to which books were entered but fell short (and thus also no clues as to that much more interesting catgory: who wasn't even in the running).
And no mention, either, of whether any of the called-in titles made the cut.
The chair of the judges, Michael Portillo, hasn't updated his Chair's Blog, but back in May he noted as to what titles get considered for the prize:
Past winners are automatically considered, as are those short-listed in the past ten years.
On top of that list, each publisher can submit two books.
In addition, publishers can suggest other titles -- that were not submitted -- which the judges can 'call in'.
The judges are obliged to call in between 8 and 15 extra titles.
That is not easy, as we have to rely on publisher's blurbs, supplemented by reviews and the 'on dit'.
So you can fill in a couple of blanks as to who was in the running but didn't make the longlist based on the past winner/short-listed criteria -- but
we were disappointed to learn that this is the basis for how the judges decide what to call in.
Relying on publisher's blurbs ?
Is this any way to run a literary competition. ?
We're still baffled by this secrecy surrounding what the original 112 titles were -- and completely baffled why no one else seems to care.
As, for example, The Portugal Newsreports, João Ubaldo Ribeiro has been awarded the Premío Camões, the most prestigious Lusophone author-prize (and worth 100,000 euros); see also, for example, a (Portuguese) notice at the Instituto Camões.
Previous winners include all the expected names, including: António Lobo Antunes (last year), Rubem Fonseca (2003), José Saramago (1995), and Jorge Amado (1994).
Several of Ubaldo Ribeiro's works have been translated into English, but not much attention has been paid to his work for quite a while now (i.e. the books seem all to be pretty far out of print).
As Cathy Rose A. Garcia reports for The Korea Times, Novelist Lee Cheong-jun Dies.
Fortunately, our worldly and super-literate audience (yes, you !) of course knows that whenever Korean names come into play, care must be taken.
Lee who ? others might ask -- but you (who remember how to pronounce South Korean president Roh's name, right ? No ?) -- know the question is: Yi who ? or Yee who ? or ... well, you get the idea.
So, for example, we of course have the recently deceased's Your Paradise under review -- but spell his name the way publisher Green Integer does: Yi Ch'ongjun.
(Yes, really, it's the same guy.)
Or you could get a copy of his collection The Prophet and Other Stories from the estimable Cornell East Asia Series (see their publicity page, or get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) -- if you remember that they spell his name: Yi Ch'ông-Jun.
So the options are:
So pity the poor soul who goes to a Barnes & Noble and tries to get one of his books -- or looks for information about this worthwhile author on the Internet.
(And remember: this is Korean, where the family name goes first, so it should be filed under L -- or Y --, just to further confuse book-buyers.)
May we suggest that this should be the first and highest
priority of all the efforts by the Koreans to market and sell their authors and books abroad: that they agree on one uniform Western-language/Roman-alphabet spelling for at least the author-names ?
(Same goes for the Arabic world, by the way.)
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Guo Xiaolu's Twenty Fragments of a Ravenous Youth.
This is a version of the first novel she published in Chinese, in 2000.
Translated into English (by two others translators), she then reworked that version into something "completely different".