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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 September 2008

11 September: First Goncourt longlist | Nike shortlist | Malay literature | Indignation review
12 September: French fiction in English | French prizes: longlist summaries | Interviews: Philip Roth - Wolf Haas
13 September: Mahmoud Darwish in Hebrew | (Australian) Prime Minister's Literary Awards | Philip Roth interview | Publishing in ... Iran | Voices review
14 September: David Foster Wallace (1962-2008) | Paul Theroux Q & A | Philip Roth profile | Literature in the digital age
15 September: David Foster Wallace - appraisals and appreciations | The end of the book business ? | Reading in ... Uganda | Writing in ... India | Second-hand in Sweden | Tranquility review
16 September: Islamic pop fiction ? | Vaclav Havel profile | 'Inventing the Past' panel | Translating Japanese fiction into Vietnamese
17 September: José Saramago, blogger | New World Literature Today | Jameson gets Holberg International Memorial Prize | The future of book reviewing ? | Reasonable Doubts review
18 September: German Book Prize shortlist | French fall season | De Niro's Game review
19 September: Neustadt Symposium | Focussing on reprints | Books to avoid ? | FT&GS Business Book of the Year Award finalists | Ian Rankin profile
20 September: Arnaldur Indriðason profile | 50 greatest villains in literature ? | Alasdair Gray on Rodge Glass' biography of him | The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges' Library of Babel review

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20 September 2008 - Saturday

Arnaldur Indriðason profile | 50 greatest villains in literature ?
Alasdair Gray on Rodge Glass' biography of him
The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges' Library of Babel review

       Arnaldur Indriðason profile

       In The Times Doug Johnstone profiles Icelandic crime writer Arnaldur Indriðason -- who notes:
"Iceland is a very exciting place to set a crime novel," Indridason says. "In the past 20 years it has opened up to all kinds of business and tourism and we have our own history to deal with. We've changed from being a very poor peasant society to a very rich modern society. Many people were left behind and aren't at all happy with the new situation."
       See also our reviews of his novels Voices and Jar City.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       50 greatest villains in literature ?

       List-mania continues. This week The Telegraph claims to have determined who the 50 greatest villains in literature are.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Alasdair Gray on Rodge Glass' biography of him

       We've mentioned Rodge Glass' Alasdair Gray: A Secretary's Biography, and now, in The Guardian, 'Gray gives his reaction to reading his life in print', in 'Be my Boswell' -- without really having much to say except for correcting a few minor and one (to him) major point.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges' Library of Babel review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of William Goldbloom Bloch's The Unimaginable Mathematics of Borges' Library of Babel.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

19 September 2008 - Friday

Neustadt Symposium | Focussing on reprints | Books to avoid ?
FT&GS Business Book of the Year Award finalists | Ian Rankin profile

       Neustadt Symposium

       In The Oklahoma Daily Natasha Goodell reports that Neustadt winner to 'grace' OU campus.
       Neustadt what ?
       As she reports:
Rhea, a World Literature Today intern, said he thinks the Neustadt Symposium events are well-kept secrets at OU.
       Not just at OU, unfortunately. We reported that Patricia Grace would be honoured with the Neustadt International Prize for Literature when they announced it several months back, but it hasn't proven to be headline news; indeed, hardly anyone seems to have noticed. Prestigious the prize may be, but even now, on award-weekend, when they hold the Neustadt Symposium (see the programme (warning ! dreaded pdf format !)), there hasn't been much coverage.
       Well, at least The Norman Transcript also reports on the goings-on, in Banquet to honor winner of the Neustadt Prize.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Focussing on reprints

       In The Los Angeles Times Charles Taylor finds that Reprints are king in parts of book world, highlighting "the main purveyor of reprints", New York Review Books (see what we have under review), and Hard Case Crime (see what we have under review).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Books to avoid ?

       In The Times Richard Wilson offers 'his definitive list of books that just aren't worth the bother', in 10 Books Not To Read Before You Die; we don't agree with most of his choices, and find his explanations pretty unconvincing.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       FT&GS Business Book of the Year Award finalists

       The six finalists for the ridiculously named Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award (it doesn't even abbreviate well -- the FTGSBBotYA ?) have been announced, and in the Financial Times Andrew Hill explains how they winnowed down the choices, and who the finalists are, in Best books shine through in worst times.
       Not too much for work for the judges here, as the 200 entries were slashed down to a manageable 16 "with the help of recommendations from FT staff and the judges" before the panellists even got together
       Of course, the current turmoil on Wall Street, etc. is where all the action and excitement is, but:
The cut-off publication date will delay consideration of most books on the current state of the market until the 2009 or even 2010 awards. But one such book did make it to this year's final: Mohamed El-Erian's When Markets Collide -- offering investment strategies for the age of global economic change. "A globalisation book by one of the real pros," in the words of one fan.
       We don't have any of the finalists under review, but we did just get a copy of Lawrence Lessig's Remix, and we will be covering that.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Ian Rankin profile

       In The Independent Boyd Tonkin profiles Ian Rankin, as his first post-Rebus title, Doors Open, is just out (in the UK), in Ian Rankin: 'This is my Ocean's Eleven'.
       The book has US-roots:
The caper began as a 15-part serial for the New York Times Sunday magazine. Orion, his UK publisher, asked if the episodes might grow into a full-length novel. "So when I got the chance to let the characters breathe a little, and the heist breathe a little, I jumped at it." Yet the tale changed not just its dimensions, but its hue. "It just naturally grew darker -- maybe that's just me; maybe I just couldn't sustain it as a light novel."
       But in the US it's the last Rebus, Exit Music, that's only coming out now (get your copy at, and it'll be a wait for Doors Open (but get your copy at

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

18 September 2008 - Thursday

German Book Prize shortlist | French fall season | De Niro's Game review

       German Book Prize shortlist

       They've announced the six-title strong shortlist for this year's German Book Prize.
       No surprise that Uwe Tellkamp's Der Turm is on it; it just came out this week and has been getting resoundingly good reviews; we just received our copy, but it'll be a bit before we get our review up (it is 973 pages long ...). As we noted, it's already picked up the Uwe-Johnson-Preis, so it'll be interesting to see whether the jury is willing to heap on more prizes.
       Also good to see the Dietmar Dath (Die Abschaffung der Arten) on the list; we expect to get a copy in the next weeks and are looking forward to it. Not much of a surprise also to see Adam und Evelyn by Ingo Schulze -- though English speaking readers are already two books behind in his prodigious output, with the translation of Handy still a ways away, while John E. Woods' translation of New Lives -- surely something to look forward to -- is due out at the end of October (pre-order your copy at or
       As they point out in the press release, the FAZ has set up a decent-looking reader-forum dedicated to information about the shortlisted books (much like they have at the Man Booker site ...); it looks fairly promising. They also let readers vote for their favourites, with Dath the early favourite ahead of Tellkamp in the poll (a bit silly, since readers are unlikely to have even read most much less all of these titles yet).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       French fall season

       At France 24 they offer an Overview of Fall '08 publishing season. Not much new information, but it is in English .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       De Niro's Game review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Rawi Hage's IMPAC-winning novel, De Niro's Game.
       We weren't quite as taken by it as the folk in Dublin were.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

17 September 2008 - Wednesday

José Saramago, blogger | New World Literature Today
Jameson gets Holberg International Memorial Prize
The future of book reviewing ? | Reasonable Doubts review

       José Saramago, blogger

       Yes, Nobel laureate José Saramago has started to blog, with the first few entries already up at his new weblog, O Caderno de Saramago. (There's supposed to be an English version too, but it doesn't seem to be accessible yet.)
       Good to see that even at his age he's willing to have a go at this -- though we assume the kids in Andrew Cowan's creative writing courses at UEA (see our previous mention) will still be smirking .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       New World Literature Today

       We should have mentioned this sooner, but the September/October issue of World Literature Today is now available, and a limited part accessible online -- including, at least, Jeremy Mercer taking A Journey to Actes Sud Bookstore.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Jameson gets Holberg International Memorial Prize

       They've announced that Fredric R. Jameson will get this year's Holberg International Memorial Prize.
       With a fairly interesting list of recent winners -- Ronald Dworkin, Shmuel Eisenstadt, Jürgen Habermas, Julia Kristeva -- and a very big pot of money (about US$ 900,000, depending on the exchange rate) it's hard to overlook -- but we mention it mainly because we're big Ludvig Holberg admirers and he certainly deserves more attention than he gets.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The future of book reviewing ?

       Philip Roth's Indignation officially came out yesterday, and so there have been a ton of reviews (with many more to follow; see our review, with links to and quotes from most of the others), and in The Village Voice they at least took a slightly different approach to it, as Cartoonist Ward Sutton Reviews Philip Roth's 25th Novel. Is this the future of book reviewing ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Reasonable Doubts review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Gianrico Carofiglio's (Italian) legal procedural, Reasonable Doubts.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

16 September 2008 - Tuesday

Islamic pop fiction ? | Vaclav Havel profile | 'Inventing the Past' panel
Translating Japanese fiction into Vietnamese

       Islamic pop fiction ?

       In Inside Indonesia Amrih Widodo writes about 'Piety and consumption in popular Islam' in Writing for God, using an incredibly successful Indonesian novel by Habiburrahman El Shirazy as a case study:
By February 2008, the novel Ayat-Ayat Cinta (Verses of Love) had been republished 30 times since its launch in December 2004. It has sold more than 400,000 legitimate copies and an unknown number of pirated ones. In 2005, The Muslim women’s weekly Muslimah chose it as Indonesia’s ‘Favourite Book’ of the year, defeating the latest Harry Potter volume by four votes.
Politicians from Islamic parties and Muslim leaders of all leanings, members of various Islamic prayer groups, students belonging to various Islamic organisations and ordinary Muslim teenagers in urban areas have not escaped the Ayat-Ayat Cinta fever either. They have declared the film and the novel a must-see and must-read for Indonesian Muslims. It seems that if you haven’t read it, and if you didn’t cry when you saw the movie, then there must be something wrong with you as a Muslim.
       Interesting to learn that:
The profile of Islamic book sales has changed a lot in Indonesia over the decades. While translations of Arabic language scholarly texts used to dominate the market, now there are also huge sales of popular, everyday, mass-produced and entertaining books, comics, stories and magazines. The last ten years especially have witnessed the explosion of self-help and ‘chicken-soup for the soul’ type books written from an Islamic perspective.
       See also a review of Ayat-Ayat Cinta at ContemporaryCaliph.Com, as well as the official movie site; no word yet about any English-language translation .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Vaclav Havel profile

       Vaclav Havel's Leaving is having its English-language premiere at the Orange Tree, and in The Times Alan Franks profiles him, in Vaclav Havel: life after revolution.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       'Inventing the Past' panel

       Sounds like an interesting panel tonight at 18:00 at The Mercantile Library: Inventing the Past: Perspectives on the Novel from Angola, France and Portugal, with José Eduardo Agualusa (author of The Book of Chameleons), Philippe Grimbert (author of Memory (the film version of which just came out in the US, as Secret)), and José Luís Peixoto (author of The Implacable Order of Things, which we don't have under review yet, but should be getting to).
       We look forward to reading some reports of the event.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Translating Japanese fiction into Vietnamese

       Thanh Nien News continue their good coverage of translation in Viet Nam, as Viet Quynh profiles Luong Viet Dung, translator of Japanese literature into Vietnamese, in Choosing his words.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

15 September 2008 - Monday

David Foster Wallace - appraisals and appreciations | The end of the book business ?
Reading in ... Uganda | Writing in ... India
Second-hand in Sweden | Tranquility review

       David Foster Wallace - appraisals and appreciations

       We are in no position or condition to comment on David Foster Wallace's suicide, but there seems to be a great deal of interest among users coming to the site, so here a set of links of early appraisals and appreciations [updated - 18 September]:        See also Levi Asher's Reviewing the David Foster Wallace Obituaries at Literary Kicks, and numerous authors and others offering their thoughts in Remembering David Foster Wallace at Edward Champion's Reluctant Habits, as well as a brief summary of Tributes for US novelist Wallace at the BBC; see now also another selection of brief tributes at Slate in Finite Jest.

       Surprisingly few foreign-language tributes so far -- except from the German-language press, where coverage includes:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The end of the book business ?

       Yes, it's time for the obligatory annual the-end-of-publishing-as-we-know-it article in New York magazine; this year Boris Kachka does the lengthy honours in the predictably titled The End.
       Lots of material and fodder for discussion, and it'll be cited and picked apart in many of the literary weblogs in the coming days.
       Our favourite part ? The list of Books Gone Bust, the books that have:
attained the status of legendary flop, the kind of object lesson in the dangers of literary hyperventilation that too many presses still ignore
       With (extrapolated and rumoured -- i.e very soft) hard numbers.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Reading in ... Uganda

       It's National Book Week in Uganda this week, so the Sunday Monitor devotes a few articles to reading, and offers an editorial arguing Why we need to read those books, as:
Most people in Uganda stop reading books the moment they finish, or drop out of, school.

Actually, that is an exaggeration because many schools lack libraries and all that students read are shoddily written and spiral-bound pamphlets. So it is not stretching the point to say that there are people in Uganda today who have completed university without ever reading a book cover-to-cover.
       See also Do you take time to read ? in which 'Dennis D. Muhumza asked some people about their love of reading and what they think of the event'.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Writing in ... India

       At Express Buzz Meena Kandasamy wonders about A talent hunt for Indian-English writers ?, a decent overview of the current situation with some sharp observations, including:
there is no denying the fact that a book’s selection is driven by the author’s profile. (Consider your novel-in-progress booked if you belong to one of more of the following categories: IIM/IIT graduate, NRI with an MFA, or young and sexy female blogger).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Second-hand in Sweden

       Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind points us to Michael Gove's piece on The mystery of the Swedish bookshop in The Times, as he's surprised that in second-hand bookshops in Sweden:
the author who seemed to have the greatest purchase on the Swedish soul was Agatha Christie. There were yards of Olde English whodunnitry stretching far further into the recesses of the shop than any collection of bleak Nordic dramaturgy.

Indeed, the deeper I delved, the more Swedish and English literary tastes seemed to intertwine. For both countries the detective novel is the defining national genre.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Tranquility review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Attila Bartis' Tranquility -- another recent Hungarian title (like György Dragomán's The White King (which we'll be getting to too ...)) by an author who was part of the Hungarian minority in Romania and then moved to (and found success in) Hungary.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

14 September 2008 - Sunday

David Foster Wallace (1962-2008) | Paul Theroux Q & A
Philip Roth profile | Literature in the digital age

       David Foster Wallace (1962-2008)

       As widely reported, Infinite Jest-author David Foster Wallace hanged himself Friday; see, for example, The Los Angeles Times' report.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Paul Theroux Q & A

       In this week's Small Talk-column in the Financial Times Anna Metcalfe talks with Paul Theroux.
       Among the responses:
What do people think of you ?

Judging by reviews, people think I’m cantankerous and ill-natured. But actually I’m hobbit-like, optimistic and have a lovely nature.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Philip Roth profile

       With Indignation coming out, it's: another day, another Philip Roth profile, this time by James Marcus in The Los Angeles Times
       Among the interesting points:
"Fifty years ago," he says, "the serious writers -- the best writers -- were not terribly engaged by the immediate present. That was left to competent journeymen: Herman Wouk, Leon Uris, Allen Drury. But now the situation has changed. I would use 9/11 as an example. People feel challenged by it. How can they do it, how can they work it in ?"

He is quick to add that he hasn't actually read the crop of post-9/11 novels. Indeed, he rarely reads much fiction at all. "I read history and politics and biography. I do go on small binges of reading writers who meant a great deal to me a long time ago. But I haven't kept up with my younger contemporaries."
       At least he doesn't do a Naipaul and write off the younger generations without having read them -- but what's the deal with this widespread reluctance to keep up with contemporary fiction ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Literature in the digital age

       So in the Independent on Sunday they ask: Can intelligent literature survive in the digital age ?
       Odds and ends of moderate interest, but particularly amusing (and worrying) are Andrew Cowan's responses in the section at the end of the article, 'What's the word ? Eight experts predict the future'.
       Cowan is "an author and senior lecturer in creative writing at UEA" who talked to his students about this subject, and:
"Ahead of this interview, I talked to them about digitisation and not one of them had heard of Twitter, and they were all hostile to the idea of e-books.

"They're not immersed in digital fiction, either -- some have been published online, but feel it's second-best; they're concerned about the lack of editorial control on the Net and only pursue it because there is a dearth of [print] outlets for short stories.

"None of them keeps a blog, though one admitted sheepishly that she'd started one, and the others were all smirking about it. This is the new generation of writers."
       None of them have heard of Twitter ? They're all hostile to e-books, and think keeping a blog is something deeply embarrassing ?
       Sorry, Professor Cowan: this is not the new generation of writers, this is a generation so out of touch that it's almost impossible to imagine any of them ever becoming any sort of writer.
       But it's certainly more evidence that 'creative writing'- and MFA-programmes have little to do with the real (or writing) world.
       It is also amusing when Cowan claims:
"The touchstone authors my students, mainly in their twenties, are referencing are still the traditional ones. It's Nabakov, Joyce, Austen.
       Let's highlight that, shall we ?
       "It's Nabakov, Joyce, Austen. "
       Good old Vlodimir, right ?
       So here we have a four word sentence that contains both a grammatical and a spelling mistake. And the creative writing students are worried about: "the lack of editorial control on the Net" ? How about some editorial oversight in print ? (Note that: "Interviews by Kate Burt", who presumably at the very least shares in the blame (though a copyeditor should have caught this).)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

13 September 2008 - Saturday

Mahmoud Darwish in Hebrew | (Australian) Prime Minister's Literary Awards
Philip Roth interview | Publishing in ... Iran | Voices review

       Mahmoud Darwish in Hebrew

       In Haaretz Yael Lerer -- "the founder of Andalus Publishing, an independent publishing house that specializes in the translation of Arabic literature into Hebrew" -- writes about translating and publishing Mahmoud Darwish in Hebrew, in He wrote for us too.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       (Australian) Prime Minister's Literary Awards

       They've announced the winners of the cash-rich (Australian) Prime Minister's Literary Awards.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Philip Roth interview

       Another Philip Roth interview, as Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg talks to him about his new novel, Indignation, in the Wall Street Journal, in Philip Roth Goes Back to College.
       Among the exchanges:
WSJ: The other day I bought a copy of Evergreen, a literary publication from the 1960s filled with work by authors such as Henry Miller and Jack Kerouac. Do you think American culture will ever take writers as seriously as it did then ?

Mr. Roth: Probably not. It wasn't a golden moment but it was a pretty good moment. I remember that magazine. They published the avant-garde at the time. But too many things have happened to stand between literature and culture for it to be the same. The technological revolution has absorbed the attention of what used to be a readership. Print culture is dying out. To be more specific, readership is dying out. Other things are taking its place. The literary moment has come and half-gone.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Publishing in ... Iran

       The MNA headline reads: Inflation eliminates books from families' baskets: author, but from the sounds of it Yunes Tarakomeh isn't convinced that that's the whole story behind the terrible numbers:
"In a society where the population is over 70m and has a high number of literates, every new book comes out only in 1000 or 2000 copies," he said, adding, "This tragic condition must be taken into serious consideration."
       And surely it's a dig at how stingy and slow-to-issue the authorities are with their publishing permits when he mentions:
"If we compare recent literary festivals with previous editions, we would notice the number of books on display was in triple digits, while in the past two years, there have been only 20 to 30 new titles of literary books."

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Voices review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Arnaldur Indriðason's Voices.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

12 September 2008 - Friday

French fiction in English | French prizes: longlist summaries
Interviews: Philip Roth - Wolf Haas

       French fiction in English

       In The Guardian Alison Flood wonders if Muriel Barbery's The Elegance of the Hedgehog in particular and French fiction in general is Too spiky for British readers ? -- arguing "Fiction in translation is not an easy sell to us Brits, and French fiction is perhaps the hardest sell of all" (though we'd figure French is among the easiest sells ...).
       As we've noted ad nauseam, the Barbery has sold incredibly well in France, but:
The book's translator Alison Anderson, a novelist in her own right, is largely in agreement. "It's popular in France because this is a story where people manage to transcend their class barriers. The general attitude in France is that people feel very stuck there, they don't feel energised, [so] to see the way that Renée manages to overcome her background and be very educated and erudite is important to French people ... In England, it's hard to say. The Francophiles will love it, and it does take the piss out of the French, [but] a lot simply won't get it."
       Indeed, Americans might find the class-aspect particularly silly -- though it will reinforce the ingrained stereotype of the French they have.
       Flood also notes:
The prolific and multiple prize-winning Belgian writer Amélie Nothomb, and Anna Gavalda's crime novels (her latest La consolante is number six in France) have also failed to find a wide UK readership. "My biggest surprise is that some of the major French writers are not translated into English -- Pierre Mérot, Jean-Marie Laclavetine, Patrick Modiano," says Paul Fournel from the Institut Français du Royaume-Uni.
       'Anna Gavalda's crime novels' ? Sounds like Flood is conflating her with Fred Vargas, since Gavalda's purview is a rather different one (see our reviews of her I Wish Someone were Waiting for me Somewhere and Someone I loved ).
       We're also surprised that Laclavetine hadn't been translated (see our review of his Première ligne), but there is at least one Mérot out there (see our review of Mammals) -- though we're also surprised there aren't more --, and Modiano gets translated fairly regularly. We're more surprised there aren't more of Fournel's own books available in translation -- though see our review of his Need for the Bike.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       French prizes: longlist summaries

       So the first longlists for the four top French literary prizes -- Goncourt, Femina, Médicis, and Renaudot-- are now out, and at Prix-Litteraires: Le blog (where you can follow all the action) they usefully tally up all the titles in Premières sélections 2008: le tableau .
       No title swept the longlists, but three authors did go a decent three-for-four: Mathieu Belezi, Michel Le Bris, and Olivier Rolin. As far as publishing houses go, Gallimard led the way with 15 nods for 11 of its titles, while Grasset got 12 for 7 titles.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Interview: Philip Roth

       With his new novel, Indignation (see our review), about to appear, the Philip Roth publicity tour is set to start; surprisingly the first big profile is in a British paper, John Freeman's in The Independent, Philip Roth: America the dutiful

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Interview: Wolf Haas

       trans forum, the publication of the Austrian Cultural Forum New York, has some interesting content, so one can almost excuse the bizarre presentation. Currently on offer: Pauline Rigaudeau's interview with Wolf Haas, I'm glad that most books are boring.
       Among the exchanges:
Your most recent novel, Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren, is a love story in the form of an interview between a female literary critic and the (fictitious) author Wolf Haas about his (fictitious) new work. Occasionally, it is referred to as a meta-novel. How did you arrive at this new form of writing ?

First I wanted to write the story in a totally normal style. But I kept falling asleep. I just happen to have a predilection for books that not only interest me in terms of content, but also have a certain attraction on a linguistic or formal level. Not all of the arts are as conservative as literature, where this kind of demand appears so unusual. In visual art it's taken for granted that young artists are no longer painting in an Impressionist style and that rather every generation attempts to reinvent the wheel.

       Note also that they had an interesting-sounding event planned for the 29th at the ACFNY, 'A conversation with Wendelin Schmidt-Dengler and Fatima Naqvi' on Why We Need Austrian Literature; unfortunately Schmidt-Dengler -- "the doyen of Austrian literary criticism" -- passed away on Sunday.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

11 September 2008 - Thursday

First Goncourt longlist | Nike shortlist
Malay literature | Indignation review

       First Goncourt longlist

       The French literary-prize-season is just getting warmed up: today they'll announce the first round of longlists for the Renaudot and Femina, while they've just revealed the fifteen titles that made the first longlist -- the première sélection -- for the biggest one of them all, the prix Goncourt.
       Hard to judge at a distance, with some pre-selection favourites (or at least better-known names) not making the cut. Among the notable selections: Jour de souffrance, Catherine Millet's new and much discussed book, as well as Un chasseur de lions by Olivier Rolin (with Libération already figuring that now Olivier Rolin favori pour le Goncourt). The most interesting choice, at least at first sight: Syngué Sabour, the first novel Afghan author Atiq Rahimi has written in French (after writing several in Dari, two of which have been translated into English); see also the P.O.L. publicity page.

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       Nike shortlist

       A reader kindly reminds us that they've announced the shortlist for the biggest Polish literary prize, the Nike; see also coverage in English here.
       A mixed bag -- especially since the prize mixes genres, so there are fiction, non-fiction, and a poetry title here -- and the only name that is likely familiar abroad is Olga Tokarczuk, whose Bieguni was one of the shortlisted novels. Paweł Huelle and Jerzy Pilch both had works on the longlist, but they didn't make the final cut

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       Malay literature

       At Sun2surf Bissme S. interviews Lim Swee Tin on Global Malay writing -- an interesting perspective, since practically all the fiction from Malaysia that makes it to the US or even UK was written in English.
What changes would you like to see taking place in the Malay literary scene ?

In recent years, I have found the Malay literature scene stagnant. There has not been much progress. Our literature is far behind that of the (rest of the) world. We need to shake things up so our literature scene will move at a fast pace and we will catch up with the rest of the world.

But some Malay novels have been selling more than 200,000 copies. Isn’t that a good sign ?

I agree that the popular commercial literature is doing very well. But not the serious Malay literature.

Why do you think serious Malay literature lags behind literature in other languages ?

We are stagnant in terms of new ideas. And it is not enough just to have new ideas. It is also important to present these new ideas in a way the world’s readers can relate to them. It also boils down to your writing technique and presentation.

Malaysian writers writing in English such as Tash Aw (Harmony Silk Factory) and Rani Manicka (The Rice Mother) are on the right track. They have somehow perfected the art, presented their ideas so world readers could relate to them. It is not surprising that western journals feature them and their books. At the same time, I also find there are not enough writers producing serious Malay literature. We can count them on our fingers. One particular young writer I am really impressed with is Faisal Tehrani. I see a lot of potential in him.
       And he argues:
We need to translate more of our books into English and other languages so they will be more marketable overseas. But translation is a minor reason. What we really need is the support and people who have the experience to distribute and market our books to overseas markets.
       The Nobel-obsession -- common though it is -- is a bit worrying, however:
It is not easy to get a Nobel prize nomination... it is a different ball game. First, someone has to nominate your work. This someone must be a scholar of literature and must be well-known worldwide. The Nobel prize committee will then check on the background of the person who nominates the writer ... (also) the background of the writer who is nominated.

So the first thing we should do is to translate our books into many languages and promote them in the world market. Then a scholar of high reputation will be able to see these works. When the scholar is impressed with the work, he or she will nominate it. But how many of our books have been translated into English and other languages ? How many of our books have we sold overseas ? But it is not too late for us to do that. We have young writers such as Anwar Ridhwan whose work we can promote to the world and still win a Nobel prize.
       (The Swedish Academy explains How Nobel Laureates in Literature are chosen, and the nominating procedure does allow some other avenues -- notably nominations from former laureates, as well as from the presidents of local authors’ organisations. In any case, lack of international visibility probably isn't the biggest barrier to getting Nobel-consideration.)

       (Remember also that you can always keep up with the latest Malaysian literary news at Bibliobibuli -- who of course linked to this when it first came out months ago, when we should have first noticed it !)

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       Indignation review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Philip Roth's new novel, Indignation -- and it's not just us, as quite a few reviews have popped up in the past day or two (with a flood to follow soon).
       A very odd book, and it'll be interesting to see how seriously it will be taken. It certainly allows for a lot of interpretation -- and criticism. Also: this seems to be one of those late-in-an-author's-career works that's so loaded with the author's tropes and tricks that those familiar with most of his output -- as so many readers and reviewers are in the case of Roth -- might well or easily be overwhelmed and/or fatally distracted by that feeling of being in an enormous echo-chamber. (We never really caught the Roth-bug and have only read what amounts to little more than a sampling; that seems to have helped here.)

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