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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 30 September 2008

21 September: French criticism | European cartoonists | Profiles: Tom Stoppard - Philip Roth - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie | W.G.Sebald conference report | Infinite Jest in German | Report on Myself review
22 September: Alan Ayckbourn profile | Houellebecq & "BHL" | Tindal Street
23 September: Career-stoppers | Anti-book-prize sentiment | 'Reading Burma' benefit | The Book of Murder review
24 September: Cesare Pavese at 100 | international literature festival berlin | Three Eritrean Plays review ... | ... and the African Books Collective
25 September: Les Misérables translations | Irène Némirovsky exhibit | Catch-22 redux in Hebrew | Book-focussed book festival ? | The Hitler Salute review
26 September: More Machado de Assis | Early Philip Pullman | Q & As: Nancy Huston - Ceridwen Dovey - Amélie Nothomb
27 September: Tibetan conditions ? | More Sacred Defense books ? | Best subtitles ? | Dubravka Ugresic Q & A | Interview with Margaret Atwood
28 September: The Jewel of Medina -- too hot to handle after all ? | National Book Festival
29 September: Nobel Prize countdown | Göteborg Book Fair | Richard Price and Junot Díaz on NYC
30 September: Translation Prizes 2008 | German Book Award shortlist information and excerpts | The New York Sun (2002-2008) | The Pets review

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30 September 2008 - Tuesday

Translation Prizes 2008 | German Book Award shortlist information and excerpts
The New York Sun (2002-2008) | The Pets review

       Translation Prizes 2008

       Last night in London they handed out six translation prizes and Louis de Bernières gave the Sebald Lecture on Literary Translation; we only learnt who most of the winners were when our copy of the current TLS arrived (alas, only with yesterday's mail, too late for us to remind you of the event).
       The TLS do a decent spread on the awards (though -- unlike last year -- the information is not freely accessible online, as it surely should be) -- Adrian Tahourdin gets a full page (updated which is now available online) to discuss the six winning titles, while there's also a nice half-page advert/announcement, listing all the various winners (and runners-up, and a few commended titles) -- but they really do have to do a better job on getting the word out on these things. For one, it's still unclear to us who 'they' is -- i.e. whose awards they are, and what they're even called. The advert/announcement merely has 'Translation Prizes 2008' in big letters, and then states:
The Times Literary Supplement, together with the Translators Association of the Society of Authors, is pleased to announce the winners of this year's Translation Prizes.
       We realise it's sort of an umbrella-designation -- the six prizes do come with their own names and/or sponsors -- but it still seems way too vague to us.
       A bit more publicity couldn't hurt either: yes, sites like the Translators Association of the Society of Authors have some information (though none about this years winners, last we checked ...), but for the most part you're hard-pressed to find any. They seemed to have a nice poster for the event too -- but the only place we could find it depicted was here, in that tiny size.
       As to media coverage -- well, surely some of the UK newspapers will give it a mention [updated: indeed, The Guardian now has some nice on-site coverage with Alison Flood's Awards bring translators out of 'darkened rooms' ], and maybe de Bernières' lecture will pop up in print somewhere, but we're not expecting much. We hope there were a few literary webloggers in attendance -- and, of course, we hope that TLS-front man Peter Stothard, who presented the prizes, will offer the lowdown from behind the scenes and on the stage at his weblog [(Updated - 2 October) which he now has, in his post The 2008 Translation Prizes].

       Meanwhile, since no one else seems to want to provide you with the prize-information online (as we've noted, the TLS has all the information, but you need to pick up the paper edition for it, at least for now) we'll do our best to oblige.
       So, to the prizes and winning titles:
  • The one prize that was announced a while back and that did get some attention was the The Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize for translation from Arabic, which went to Fady Joudah for his translation of Mahmoud Darwish's poetry collections in The Butterfly's Burden. See also the publicity pages at Bloodaxe and Copper Canyon Press, or get your own copy from or

  • The Scott Moncrieff Prize for translation from French went to Frank Wynne for his two-for-one translation of Holiday in a Coma & Love Lasts Three Years by Frédéric Beigbeder. See also the Fourth Estate publicity page, or get your copy at

  • The Schlegel-Tieck Prize for translation from German went to Ian Fairley for his translation of Snow Part by Paul Celan. See also the Carcanet publicity page and the Sheep Meadow Press publicity page, or get your copy at or

  • The Hellenic Foundation for Culture Translation Prize for translation from modern Greek went to Roderick Beaton for his translation of A Levant Journal by George Seferis. See also the Hellenic Foundation for Culture announcement and the Ibis Editions publicity page, or get your copy at or

  • The John Florio Prize for translation from Italian went to Peter Robinson for his translation of The Greener Meadow by Luciano Erba. See also the Princeton University Press publicity page, or get your copy at or

  • The Premio Valle-Inclán for translation from Spanish went to Nick Caistor for his translation of The Past by Alan Pauls. See also the Vintage publicity page, or get your copy at
       As Tahourdin noted in beginning his piece: "Poetry dominates this year's translation prizes" -- and we were pleased to see that three of the winning titles were bilingual editions (the Celan, Darwish, and Erba).

       Also worth noting -- at least to us: as readers may have noticed, we are modestly interested in covering translations and we cover a decent number of them, yet not one of these titles has come our way (indeed, including the runners-up and commended titles, only two have found their way to us). Sure, we're not that efficient in dealing with poetry; sure, we're based in the US and several of these titles have only been published in the UK (but then that's the case with several dozen of the titles we have under review); sure, we try to ward off unsolicited review copies. Still: no e-mails asking whether we might be interested, etc. etc. And certainly in the case of the Beigbeder and the Pauls we can't imagine we wouldn't have covered them .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       German Book Award shortlist information and excerpts

       Admirably, have posted English information about the six finalists for the German Book Award, with links to information about the books and authors, as well as English-language excerpts from the shortlisted titles (well, five out of the six, anyway).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The New York Sun (2002-2008)

       Word everywhere is that today's issue of The New York Sun is the final one; they couldn't raise the cash to keep going. (Sadly, that's no surprise: in the current climate it appears hard enough to raise capital for a business that actually makes money, much less one that bleeds it.)
       Their arts coverage will certainly be greatly missed by us, and we hope that their reviewers find other outlets that allow them to continue their fine work.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Pets review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Bragi Ólafsson's The Pets, the second offering from Open Letter.

       With two finished copies in hand now -- Dubravka Ugrešić's Nobody's Home just came out and The Pets wil hit bookstores in about two weeks -- a few words about the Open Letter look and presentation. Summing up: we like. The books are distinctive: with their bold-coloured covers (perhaps too bold in the way colour dominates the covers, but it does make them stand out, and there's been some effort to play with the presentation of the titles and other printed-on-the-cover information), without dust-jackets, they'll line up nicely on a bookshelf. (Admittedly, we're suckers for imprint uniformity -- our ideal is the French model -- but they seem to have struck a nice balance here.) And the pricing is within the realm of the reasonable, US$ 14.95 for The Pets, which is barely more than what most publishers would demand for a trade paperback of the same size.
       What counts most, of course, is content, and so far that's looking particularly good (we are a bit ahead of the game, the next two volumes -- Rubem Fonseca's The Taker and Ricardas Gavelis' Vilnius Poker -- already in hand, and Jan Kjærstad's The Conqueror already tackled a while back).
       So far, definitely so good.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

29 September 2008 - Monday

Nobel Prize countdown | Göteborg Book Fair
Richard Price and Junot Díaz on NYC

       Nobel Prize countdown

       Nobel Prize season is almost upon us, and with the announcement of when the 2008 Nobel Prizes will be announced -- starting next Monday, 6 October (Physiology/Medicine) -- it's time to start wondering about who will get the Nobel Prize for Literature -- the one prize for which the announcement-date has not been set.
       Traditionally the announcement comes on a Thursday; given the fill of prizes to be announced in the week of the 6th (and the fact that final deliberations -- discussion of the five or so finalists the Swedish Academy's Nobel committee have selected (see the Academy's information page) -- apparently only begin in October) the 16th seems the most likely date at this point.
       None of the London betting shops seem to have set odds yet, and there hasn't been too much speculation elsewhere -- but look for lots of (completely uninformative) articles -- usually pretty much copies of last year's (and the year before's, etc., ad nauseam), with minimal changes -- to start appearing by the end of this week.
       The World Literature Forum has some Nobel Prize in Literature 2008 Speculation from much earlier in the year, but that seems to have died down -- but will surely shortly revive, there and elsewhere.
       We have no clue or idea who might get it, but we look forward to the speculation and will probably weigh in with our thoughts at some point; note that our record with regards to these sorts of things is spectacularly bad: we were sure Pamuk wouldn't get the Nobel yet when he did (certain they'd think he was still too young) and we loudly proclaimed that there was no way they could give Ismail Kadare the Man Booker International Prize (because the vast majority of the English versions of his books were doubly translated (from the Albanian into the French, and only then from the French into English)).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Göteborg Book Fair

       The Göteborg Book Fair ran 25 to 28 September, with Latvia as guest of honour.
       Stockholm News report on the Booklovers gathered in Gothenburg, as:
With almost 1000 exhibitioners, just over 100 000 visitors and about 1200 journalists, the book fair in Gothenburg has become a huge literary festival since a few enthusiasts started it 24 years ago. The fair is second largest in Europe, after the Frankfurt book fair, and has nowadays outgrown its local since there is plainly no capacity to host all interested exhibitors.
       No word on whether there was any good Nobel gossip floating around .....

       Interesting, however, to hear that the Scandinavian crime wave rages on locally (meaning the translations will continue to flood the US/UK market) -- and that:
The genre has however evolved tremendously. From being all about more or less depressed detective with some alcoholic problems and a foretaste for classical music, the crime story of today do not really have any limits or borders.
       Well, one can hope for some new variations ... there is a wearying sameness to a lot of the currently translated crop.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Richard Price and Junot Díaz on NYC

       New York magazine celebrates New York at 40, and the main literary contribution is: 'Two New York novelists' -- Richard Price and Junot Díaz -- In Conversation.
       You can understand that they want a young hip author, but given that Díaz starts off: "When I arrived in New York, in 1994" you figure they might have wanted to find someone who not only was at least 40 but had actually spent a larger portion of those years in NYC.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

28 September 2008 - Sunday

The Jewel of Medina -- too hot to handle after all ? | National Book Festival

       The Jewel of Medina -- too hot to handle after all ?

       The self-fulfilling prophecy regarding Sherry Jones' 'controversial' prophet-bride novel, The Jewel of Medina, has come to pass: in Britain a gang of misguided fools and boors have tried to firebomb the home (and office) of the UK publisher of the novel; see, for example, David Leppard's Muslim gang firebombs publisher of Allah novel, Martin Rynja in the Sunday Times or Jamie Doward and Mark Townsend's Firebomb attack on book publisher in The Observer.
Scotland Yard's counter-terrorist command yesterday foiled an alleged plot by Islamic extremists to kill the publisher of a forthcoming novel featuring sexual encounters between the Prophet Muhammad and his child bride.

Early yesterday armed undercover officers arrested three men after a petrol bomb was pushed through the door of the north London home of the book’s publisher.
       At this time its unclear whether the attack was on aesthetic or moral-philosophical grounds; in either case these (fortunately very amateur) nutcases deserve the book thrown at them. And, no doubt, former American publisher Random House -- who refused to publish the book out of fear of exactly this sort of thing happening -- is crowing: 'We told you so.'
       Sadly, of course, it's all the press attention rather than the book itself (which surely these morons hadn't read, seeing as it hasn't been published yet) that led to this outrageous act; sadly, it forces the entire literary community (and, one hopes, everyone else) to rally around what sounds like a pretty mediocre and forgettable piece of writing (at least if the limited excerpts available online are anything to judge by). But the principle is far, far more important, and while there are apparently some who believe this dead-for-over-a-thousand-years lady's virtue is worth defending at all costs, no one should buy that. We're hard pressed to suggest you should buy the book instead -- though you can pre-purchase it at or -- but publishers Gibson Square (in the UK) and Beaufort Books (in the US, where they have, we hope, beefed up security) deserve and should get everyone's full support; they certainly have ours.

       (Updated - 29 September): Additional commentary and reports of interest:
  • John Bingham reports that Radical Islamic clerics warn of further attacks after publisher is firebombed in the Sunday Telegraph, as: "the radical cleric Anjem Choudhary said the book was an insult to the Prophet Mohammed's honour, something he said would warrant a "death penalty" under Sharia law." (We'd have thought he'd like to be familiar with the actual content of the book before pronouncing such judgements (especially since this particular judgement -- a death sentence ! -- is surely not something that should be thrown about lightly), but it would appear that he considers any fictional depiction of Mohammed and his lady-friends beyond the pale. Of course, what do we know ? we don't get this whole 'blasphemy' and 'honour' concept in the first place -- if you believe in one of these god-stories, surely your preferred godly figure (and by extension, you) couldn't and shouldn't be bothered by any mere mortal insults to him/her/it and any associated prophets, etc. etc., standing completely above and beyond it, all-mighty, all-knowing, blah blah blah .....)

  • Kenan Malik warns 'Rushdie's critics lost the battle to ban his book but they have won the war' in Self-censor and be damned ! in The Times, noting that: "In the past, free speech was viewed as an inherent good, to be restricted only in exceptional cases. Today it is seen as an inherent problem, because it can offend as well as harm, and so has to be restrained by custom, especially in diverse societies. These days not only do publishers drop books deemed offensive, but theatres mutilate plays, opera houses cut productions, art galleries censor shows, all in the name of cultural sensitivity."

  • GalleyCat reports that Sherry Jones Reacts to UK Jewel of Medina Firebombing, as: " "The planting of that bomb is Martin Rynja's letterbox was not about my book," Jones said, noting that the novel was not yet available in Britain. "It's not about the content of my book. It's not about the ideas in my book. It must be about the rumors and innuendos... [This is] obviously a response to the misinformation." "

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       National Book Festival

       They held the National Book Festival in Washington D.C. yesterday; apparently the first lady did not read from American Wife.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

27 September 2008 - Saturday

Tibetan conditions ? | More Sacred Defense books ? | Best subtitles ?
Dubravka Ugresic Q & A | Interview with Margaret Atwood

       Tibetan conditions ?

       China View reports that White paper: Tibet in most favorable time for literary, art creation.
       Yes, after "the peaceful liberation" (i.e. military occupation) of Tibet by China in the 1950s:
literature and art workers from different ethnic groups went into the thick of life in Tibet to explore and inherit the fine aspects of the ethnic literature and art tradition, it said.
       Yes, apparently:
Tibet is enjoying the most favorable time for literary and art creation, said a white paper issued by the Information Office of the State Council on Thursday.

Traditional Tibetan art has been continuously updated and developed in combination with modern art, said the white paper titled Protection and Development of Tibetan Culture.
       And. of course:
The white paper stated that in old Tibet, there were no cultural establishments for the ordinary people. Today, however, a fairly complete network of public cultural facilities has taken shape in Tibet.
       Sounds more like a white-wash paper .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More Sacred Defense books ?

       MNA report that in Iran an official says that: We need more Sacred Defense books. Apparently it's more important to deal with events from the 1980s than the contemporary world ..... Of course, what else can one expect from the director of a foundation dedicated to these works:
The director of the literature department of the Foundation for the Preservation and Publication of Sacred Defense Works and Values said that only 6500 Sacred Defense books have been published over the past 25 years, a number that is not sufficient.

Hossein Nasrollah Zanjani gave a briefing on the department’s activities in a ceremony reviewing books and poetry on Sacred Defense (1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war), the Persian service of Fars News Agency reported on Friday.

Zanajni said that publication of over 6000 books on Sacred Defense is far below expectations because millions of soldiers and combatants fought in the war.

"In the field of fiction stories, less than 1000 titles have been produced, which is regrettable. Poetry numbers are similar," he added.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Best subtitles ?

       In The Guardian John Mullan suggests Ten of the best subtitles.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Dubravka Ugresic Q & A

       In the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Amy Woods Butler has a Q & A with Dubravka Ugresic.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Interview with Margaret Atwood

       In The Times Tom Gatti has what they call an Exclusive interview with Margaret Atwood.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

26 September 2008 - Friday

More Machado de Assis | Early Philip Pullman
Q & As: Nancy Huston - Ceridwen Dovey - Amélie Nothomb

       More Machado de Assis

       A few weeks ago The New York Times ran a piece on Brazilian author Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis, claiming After a Century, a Literary Reputation Finally Blooms. We were a bit confused by the claim of "this belated vogue", and that:
in recent years he has been transformed from a fringe figure in the English-speaking world into a literary favorite and trendsetter, promoted by much more acclaimed writers and by critics as an unjustly neglected genius.
       We'd always had him pegged as one of the 19th century greats (and surely the South American 19th century great) and hadn't realized that he's been neglected; while there's some confusion regarding the titles of his works (one day they publish it as Epitaph of a Small Winner, the next as The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas; one day it's Philosopher or Dog ?, the next it's Quincas Borba -- come on ! give him (and readers) a break !) the English translations of his most famous works, under whatever title, seem consistently to have been more or less available since they first started appearing in the 1950s.
        Now Newsweek has jumped on the bandwagon as well, Marc Bain wondering in Speak, Memory: 'A century after his death, Brazil's most important novelist remains largely unknown outside his country. Why ?' (We thought they'd shown in The New York Times that he now finds himself en vogue abroad .....)
       Still, Bain gets some of the author's obvious appeal right:
His later novels, which are his best and the ones he's most known for, are not only great works of a serious writer, they're also endlessly enjoyable. His prose is clear and elegant, occasionally verbose (usually for comedic effect) and always controlled.
       And he is right that:
He was modern before there was Modernism, and his style has more in common with Nabokov and Samuel Beckett than with most writers of the time
       Well, we certainly can't complain if he gets more well-deserved attention (and we may eventually get around to posting reviews of some of his work as well).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Early Philip Pullman

       In The Spectator's look at 'Surprising literary ventures' Gary Dexter reports on Philip Pullman's first published work:
In 1979 he did some jobbing work for Oxford University Press and produced the booklet at hand, Using the Oxford Junior Dictionary (his name appears only on the inside cover, though he is the sole author). It is the usual fare for small learners of English, with puzzles, mazes, games and jokes, and a selection of jaunty section headings such as ‘Vampire Stew’, ‘Savage Seagull’, ‘Writing about Wrecks’ and ‘Useful Nostrils’.
       It's been reprinted several times; oddly, the cheapest listed edition at is the first (not for long, we suspect).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Q & A: Nancy Huston

       Nancy Huston's Fault Lines recently came out in Czech, so The Prague Post has an interview with her, Steffen Silvis reporting that: Author Nancy Huston is a success in any language.
       For someone who has written in two languages, she seems surprisingly laid-back about translations of her own work into other languages:
TPP: About translations of your work in other languages, such as the recent Czech translation of Fault Lines, are you in contact with your various translators, or do you just hope for the best ?

NH: I just hope for the best, but I’m always glad when translators have a few questions for me.
       Also interesting:
TPP: Are there contemporary French authors who you believe should be translated into English that haven’t? Alternatively, are there any writers in English who the French haven’t been properly introduced to, in your opinion ?

NH: I’m not very enthusiastic about contemporary French literature; on the other hand, I have often discovered English-language writers through the enthusiasm of my French friends.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Q & A: Ceridwen Dovey

       In The Harvard Crimson Kirsten E.M. Slungaard has 15 Questions with Ceridwen Dovey, the author of Blood Kin (which we should be getting to eventually).
       Among them:
FM: Have you written anything else since Blood Kin ?

CD: I finished that book three years ago, so I’ve been done with it. I had a couple of duds afterward. No one’s read them, but I have, and they’re terrible. But the impulse is still there.
       What admirable restraint ! (Though, on the other hand, authors often aren't the best judges of their own work .....)

       Also interesting:
FM: So, are you’re leaving the literary world for academia ?

CD: The tricky thing now is I have to decide whether to take myself seriously as a writer or not, and that’s a shift. It sort of happened by mistake. I didn’t take any creative courses at Harvard. I wasn’t part of the Advocate or the Signet. I’m not sure if I would even call myself a writer.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Q & A: Amélie Nothomb

       In L'Express Gilles Médioni offers Les vérités d'Amélie Nothomb, asking 'la star rock'n'roll de la littérature' some yes-or-no questions regarding "les légendes et les clichés" swirling around her.

       We like to think we can separate authors from their work, but we have to wonder whether we could stand her stuff if they made such a big (and so very peculiar -- fed, by her, of course) deal about her hereabouts; as is, with her (and most of the media coverage) a continent and language away, we remain big fans (of her work ...).
       (Her new book is top of the French charts this week, by the way ..... We'll get to it once we get our hands on a copy.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

25 September 2008 - Thursday

Les Misérables translations | Irène Némirovsky exhibit | Catch-22 redux in Hebrew
Book-focussed book festival ? | The Hitler Salute review

       Les Misérables translations

       Graham Robb offers a good overview of The mountains of Les Miserables -- the many translations of Hugo's novel -- in the current issue of the TLS, explaining: 'Why the new English translation of Victor Hugo's masterpiece is 100,000 words longer than its best-known predecessor'.
       He's not too thrilled with Julie Rose's version, noting:
If anyone ever tries to compose a super-translation of Les Misérables from all existing English versions, Rose’s would provide some excellent phrases. Too often, however, her translation adds its own strangeness to Hugo’s eccentricity.
       Still, he admits:
Les Misérables has survived worse translations. Its latest translator is at least an enthusiast
       (Which we think would be a great quote for a blurb for the paperback edition.)
       See also the Modern Library publicity page, or get your copy at or

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Irène Némirovsky exhibit

       The exhibit Woman of Letters: Irène Némirovsky & Suite Française opened yesterday, and runs through 22 March 2009 at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.
       The web pages devoted to the exhibit are pretty impressive -- leaf through the manuscript of Suite Française ! -- and well worth a look.
       See also our review of Suite Française.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Catch-22 redux in Hebrew

       In Old title, new life in Haaretz Shiri Lev-Ari writes that:
It is not often that an old book is brought back to life and soars to the top of the bestseller lists within a short time. But in the case of Catch-22, it is only logical; it seems that in the Israeli reality Joseph Heller's iconic anti-war book is still relevant. Recently a new translation of this cult title was published by Books in the Attic, in collaboration with Yedioth Ahronoth Books, and its success was immediate: Within two weeks, it sold 15,000 copies.
       Some interesting bits about re-translations, too, including:
Quite a few Israeli readers became attached over the years to the original translation of Catch-22, and presumably they will continue to like it in the future as well. For now, however, from the moment the rights were transferred to another publisher, distribution of the old edition is prohibited.

The same thing happened in the past with translations of other classic books. For example, Ilana Hammerman's new translation of The Little Prince. Many readers continued to request the old and charming translation by Arye Lerner, but here the translation rights in both cases belong to Am Oved, so even today it is still possible to get both translations in stores.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Book-focussed book festival ?

       In The Australian Rosemary Sorensen praises Michael Campbell for directing a book festival (the Brisbane Writers Festival) where there was a Triumph of books over star authors.
       Sounds like authors still were a big presence (well, it was a writers festival ...), rather than it being really mainly book focussed, but it does sound like it was pretty decent, and with the right priorities:
Campbell has developed the knack of discerning the pulse of a community and providing readers with access to authors whose books are about to become important. The top-selling book at this year's Brisbane Writers Festival was Norman Doidge's The Brain That Changes Itself, closely followed by Chris Abani's Song for Night. James Frey, a fellow incapable of speaking without swearing, and whose notoriety as an unreliable memoirist you'd think would have given him a curiosity value to draw crowds, turned out to be less of a drawcard than the Canadian psychoanalyst and the Nigerian poet.
       The idea that such a silly figure as Frey could be of interest to anyone whatsoever baffles us, but then again authors who are similarly hard to take at all seriously do very well on the festival circuits, so .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Hitler Salute review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Tilman Allert's essay On The Meaning of a Gesture, The Hitler Salute.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

24 September 2008 - Wednesday

Cesare Pavese at 100 | international literature festival berlin
Three Eritrean Plays review ... | ... and the African Books Collective

       Cesare Pavese at 100

       The hundredth anniversary of Cesare Pavese's birth was 9 September, but there wasn't much fuss about the long-dead author (a suicide in 1950); now Elisabetta Povoledo reports about Santo Stefano Belbo in the International Herald Tribune, in The town where the Cesare Pavese legend lives on.
       Certainly an author worth revisiting -- and note that here's yet another example of a foreign author who did a great deal of translation work:
Pavese's translations of American novels by Joyce, Dos Passos, Stein, Steinbeck and Faulkner, to name a few, and essays on American fiction also had a significant ripple effect during the years of Fascist rule.
       (We're really curious about those American novels by Joyce; somehow we've never come across them .....)
       New York Review Books Classics has brought out a couple of volumes of Pavese -- The Selected Works of Cesare Pavese (see their publicity page, or get your copy at or and The Moon and the Bonfires (see their publicity page, or get your copy at or -- as has Peter Owen (see, for example, their publicity page for Among Women Only).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       international literature festival berlin

       The 8th international literature festival berlin starts today (and runs through 4 October), and, damn, it sounds good.
       Check out everything yourself, but note especially, for example, their ambitious ten-year plan for Literature for Africa. As to the programme -- well, even the overview of the programme is pretty overwhelming.
       Among the events of greatest interest to us: their Focus Africa, as well as the way they do Literatures of the World -- where, for example, Abdourahman A. Waberi nominated Laila Lalami (see her weblog, and their bio-page, as well as the event she'll be appearing at 2 October).

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       Three Eritrean Plays review ...

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of the collection of Three Eritrean Plays: A Village Dream by Mesgun Zerai, The Snare by Solomon Dirar, and Aster by Esaias Tseggai, edited and introduced by Jane Plastow.

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       ... and the African Books Collective

       Okay, we know not that many of our readers share our enthusiasm for ... Eritrean drama and the similarly obscure, but what pleases us so much about being able to offer a review of such a title is the relative ease with which we (and you !) can actually come to such a book. Okay, Three Eritrean Plays isn't listed at Amazon yet, but it should be soon -- and even without the Amazon listing, it is fairly readily available, which is impressive for a book nominally published by Hdri Publishers, Asmara -- and whose distributor is Awghet Bookstores (P.O.Box 1291, Asmara, Eritrea).
       Thanks to the African Books Collective (and, in the US, their North American distributor, the admirably dedicated-to-the-cause Michigan State University Press) this and many, many other titles from a vast number of African publishers are fairly easy to obtain.
       The ABC:
is a non-profit Oxford-based, worldwide marketing and distribution outlet for over 1,000 titles from Africa -- scholarly, literature and children's books. It is founded, owned and governed by a group of African publishers, and its participants are 116 independent and autonomous African publishers from 19 countries.
       One of the secrets of its success is print-on-demand technology: our copy of Three Eritrean Plays wasn't printed in Asmara, of ocurse, but rather spit out by a machine here in the US. Okay, the pricing isn't really competetive yet, but that should change soon enough. What's significant is that these books -- which, for the most part, we wouldn't have had a snowball's chance in hell of coming across otherwise -- are now more or less as easy to obtain as any backlist title that the local bookstore doesn't happen to have in stock at the moment.
       We've noted this before, but this is a fundamental, horizon-expanding change. Sure, the attention regarding POD technology has been focussed on the local amateurs who can now print their collected works, but for, for example, African publishers -- where infrastructure and local distribution is still often an incredible hurdle to getting books to market -- it offers huge potential too -- for now mostly abroad, admittedly, where readers buy books online, but still .....
       Anyway, check out the ABC catalogue -- there's quite a bit of considerable interest there.

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23 September 2008 - Tuesday

Career-stoppers | Anti-book-prize sentiment
'Reading Burma' benefit | The Book of Murder review


       At The Guardian book blog John Dugdale wonders about When writers should put a full stop to their careers .
       We're all for old (and young writers) quitting while they're ahead (or at least not too far behind) -- though we think that point is usually after the first book (a lot of people have one decent book in them; not too many can manage two or more) -- but as long as they're having fun with it, who cares how much and how long they write ?
       No, what shocked us was that Dugdale uses the example of Jim Crace, as:
In a recent book of interviews with British writers, Jim Crace delivers his own version of Jacques' sour Seven Ages of Man speech in As You Like It. Every stage of an author's career involves bitterness, he suggests, culminating in "the elderly novelist who may be writing his/her best books but whose day has come and gone. S/he is no longer fashionable and can only find a marginal publisher and command a tiny advance. The book receives few reviews and is ignored by the public. Bitterness." To avoid such a fate, he says, "I plan to retire in three years' time, before I go out of fashion."
       That's what he's worried about ?
       Being fashionable ?
       Dear god, surely that's the last thing an author can and should worry about.
       Just consider all the now-classics that certainly weren't fashionable when they were penned. If one writes for fashion, sure, one can enjoy some immediate success (and decent advances) -- and, sure, there's a lot to be said for that -- but any author who does so probably won't appeal much to us -- and probably won't last long (i.e. will have to cut short his or her career sooner rather than later), because fashion -- even literary fashion -- changes faster than most writers can.

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       Anti-book-prize sentiment

       Apparently not everyone is pleased by the prominence the German Book Prize has assumed in just a few years, and Daniel Kehlmann denounces it as an Entwürdigendes Spektakel ('Demeaning spectacle') in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.
       He complains that books that don't make the longlist now stand little chance of getting reviewed (a more than slight exaggeration, even if the trend is certainly in that direction), and he claims that:
Und man weiß auch -- ich habe es selbst erlebt --, dass den nominierten Autoren zuvor inoffiziell mitgeteilt wird, dass ein Fernbleiben von der Preisveranstaltung automatisch den Ausschluss bedeuten würde. Mag ein Buch auch epochal gelungen sein, -- ist sein Autor nicht bereit, Beruhigungsmittel zu schlucken und gewissermaßen körperlich zum Wettkampf anzutreten, wird er den Preis nicht bekommen, ein entscheidender Unterschied etwa zu National-Book-Award und Booker-Prize, die selbstverständlich regelmäßig an Abwesende verliehen werden.

[And one knows -- I went through it myself -- that nominated authors are unofficially informed that staying away from the ceremony would lead to an automatic disqualification. Even if a book is an epochal success, if its author is not willing to swallow some sedative and physically take part in the competition, he won't receive the prize, a decisive distinction from the National Book Award or the Booker Prize, that as a matter of course regularly are handed out to absent authors. ]
       True, the (Man) Booker has gone to some no-shows (Coetzee in both 1983 and 1999, for example), but when was the last time that happened ? Let's say: it's strongly discouraged (unimaginable, nowadays, we'd imagine) -- though admittedly also not in the actual rules.
       Not so the case with the (American) National Book Awards, which Kehlmann gets decisively wrong: scroll down on the rules page to 'Additional Conditions of the Awards' and find that publishers must agree:
B. To inform authors of entered books that, if nominated, they must be present at the National Book Awards Ceremony and at related events in New York City prior to the ceremony.

E. To inform authors that, if nominated, they must agree to participate in the Foundation's Website-related publicity, including on-line "chats" with readers across the country.
       So authors not only have to be physically present, they also have to be virtually present beforehand !
       What does Kehlmann suggest for the German Book Prize ? He realises they're not going to kill off this very successful beast, but he thinks a constructive suggestion would be the abolition of the longlist, since he believes it's the kiss of death for a book not to appear on it.
       Absurdly, he doesn't raise the point that readers of this site will be very familiar with, since we mention it every chance we get: the true outrages are that they keep secret the list of submitted/considered titles, and that each imprint is only allowed two submissions (both rules taken from the Man Booker example). It's this that is the great failing of all of these prizes: the fact that there's no transparency about what books are even in the running and that many of the best may very well not even ever be in the running, given the limits of the 'call-in' procedure for books beyond the two-an-imprint quota.

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       'Reading Burma' benefit

       They're holding Reading Burma: A Benefit for Cyclone Relief and Freedom of Expression in Burma/Myanmar in New York tonight, with Orhan Pamuk and Salman Rushdie among others. No word on the Burmese authors whose works will be read, but it sounds like a good cause; we hope there are some reports from the event.

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       The Book of Murder review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Guillermo Martínez's The Book of Murder, now available in the US as well.

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22 September 2008 - Monday

Alan Ayckbourn profile | Houellebecq & "BHL" | Tindal Street

       Alan Ayckbourn profile

       In Time Richard Zoglin writes about Alan Ayckbourn's Curtain Call, as he's stepping down as artistic director of Scarborough theatre at the end of this year.
       We have several of his plays under review (see, for example, our review of Comic Potential), though we haven't gotten to any in a while; see also his official website.

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       Houellebecq & "BHL"

       Apparently the French are getting all excited about a collaboration between Michel Houellebecq and Bernard-Henri Lévy, as Angelique Chrisafis and Lizzy Davies report in The Guardian that Odd couple's book of letters gets French literary world buzzing:
The odd couple, who embody France's love-hate relationship with its celebrity writers, have produced a book of letters to each other in which they lay themselves bare, about their reputations, politics, loves and parents -- key for Houellebecq after his mother recently published a memoir calling him a sex-crazed idiot and manipulative fake.
       Veiled in secrecy, the book, titled Ennemis publics ('Public Enemies'), has an 8 October publication date -- and isn't listed at yet and can be found at here.
       See also the (French) report on it at Le Journal du Dimanche.

       (Updated - 23 September): See now also:
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       Tindal Street

       In the Birmingham Post Tindal Street-publishing director Alan Mahar writes that: Tindal Street putting Birmingham on the book publishing map.
       They took on What was lost (after it had been rejected by a ridiculous number of other publishers),so they're certainly doing something right.

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21 September 2008 - Sunday

French criticism | European cartoonists
Profiles: Tom Stoppard - Philip Roth - Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
W.G.Sebald conference report | Infinite Jest in German | Report on Myself review

       French criticism

       In The Observer Jason Burke writes that Critics round on the queen of French shock fiction, as Christine Angot's Le marché des amants -- recounting: "her recent relationship with a fading rapper, Bruno Beausire, more usually known by his lurid stage name, Doc Gynéco" -- has been getting soundly ripped apart by the French literary critics -- this despite the fact that:
Her defenders point out that earlier books in which Angot described having sex respectively with her father, an elderly banker and figures from the cultural world have all been critically lauded.
       None of Angot's works appear to have been translated yet, not even those ... laudable sleeping-with-Dad tales. But perhaps some good will come of this:
Angot refuses the title 'queen of auto-fiction', despite being described as such by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs on its official website. But some have seen her fall from grace as a sign that 'auto-fiction', a largely French literary genre that consists of using one's own slightly disguised experience as a basis for a narrative in which fact and fiction are mixed without clear distinction, has had its day.
       (Of course, before we get to excited about the possible end of 'auto-fiction' we have to ask ourselves (and worry): what horrible genre will self-obsessed French authors conceive of next ?)

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       European cartoonists

       In the Wall Street Journal Brigid Grauman looks at the Cartoonist as Auteur: Europe's Visionary Graphic Novelists, providing a very brief overview of the European scene and briefly profiling 'some of Europe's most interesting graphic novelists working today'.

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       Profile: Tom Stoppard

       In The Observer Review-section today they devote several articles to human rights issues, and in Writer and fighter Tim Adams profiles Tom Stoppard, with a focus on that subject.

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       Profile: Philip Roth

       With the publication of Indignation there has been a flood of reviews -- and, it seems, almost as many Philip Roth-profiles. Robert McCrum's in The Observer, The story of my lives, is one of the longer ones.

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       Profile: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

       In Chimamanda reveals secret of her writing skill in the Sunday Sun Chika Abanobi profiles Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie.

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       W.G.Sebald conference report

       They recently held W.G.Sebald: An International and Interdisciplinary Conference, and in The Observer Rick Jones reports on it, in Herring 'n' butterflies.

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       Infinite Jest in German

       Perlentaucher points us to Alex Rühle's Jäger des verlorenen Wortschatzes in the Sueddeutsche Zeitung, in which he talks with Ulrich Blumenbach, who is still working on the German translation of David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest. He signed the contract in November 2003 -- and got paid €44,000 for the work -- but figures he'll only finally be done with it this December, after devoting about 31 months solely to this (he does some other translation work as well, to pay the bills).

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       Report on Myself review

       Unlike many, many others we weren't all that enthusiastic about Grégoire Bouillier's The Mystery Guest, but we were curious enough to have a look at his earlier (but only due out in English in January) memoir, Report on Myself, and it is the most recent addition to the complete review.

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