However, writers such as Grossman in Israel or Arundhati Roy in India, who live amid some of the world's bloodiest conflicts, choose not to be somewhere else when triggers are being cocked and pulled. Their views demand respectful attention even when they provoke sharp disagreement. For they have consistently witnessed, and often spoken out, at considerable personal risk, against the ominous transformations within their countries
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Karinthy Ferenc's 1970 novel, Metropole, now out in English in a George Szirtes-translation.
This is also one of the longlisted titles for the 'Best Translated Book'-award.
[There's been a lot of praise for this book, but I've been amused by many of the reactions, which peg it as a traveler's worst nightmare (finding oneself in a place where everything is incomprehensible and you can't make yourself understood).
The world is shrinking daily, and there aren't too many pockets left where English or French won't get you by, but I've been to places where I've felt like I was almost exactly in Budai's shoes, going for days at a time and probably as long as a week with the sole mutually comprehensible exchanges I had with absolutely anyone entirely non-verbal and limited to the likes of money-for-food (which occasionally also involved the consumption of food I could not identify).
Indeed, much of the novel felt agreeably familiar: I see being lost and anonymous in a teeming crowd not as a Kafkaesque nightmare but part of the pleasure of travel (of a certain kind, at least -- and one that's rarely to be had any longer).
Some of the experiences I've had are reminiscent of the atmosphere in the book -- the behind-the-Iron-Curtain feel, for one, when I bicycled through Romania (almost no cars on the road -- ideal conditions ! but a surreal abandon) and Bulgaria in the mid-1980s, that trip across the so-called 'Friendship Bridge' between Giurgiu and Ruse among the least friendliest I ever took (not a single other vehicle passing either way the entire time, and the military posts on both sides as suspicious (and with as much mutual animosity) as any I've ever encountered.
I wound up staying in Veliko Tarnovo for a while, which buzzed with extraordinary but incomprehensible activity.
I took it to be high school graduation season, but what the local emotional festivities really felt like was that kids were being sent off to war (or at least army duty) -- and the tune of the day, overheard constantly at hotel catering halls and gatherings, apparently because of where the angry young local men were headed next, was the Bolland-brothers' You're In The Army Now (this was before Status Quo took their turn with it).
So, yes, not everything was unintelligible, but there was certainly no communication going on.
(Elsewhere everyone was more forthcoming, and Sofia was veritably cosmopolitan, but for those few days I was certainly out of place, the tension as high as I've otherwise only felt in near-combat zones.)
Iraq in 1989, where for a few weeks I felt like (and probably was) the only tourist in town in pretty much every town and city I passed through,
was similarly exclusive -- and here too the nature of the regime presumably contributed to the Kafkaesque state of things and the reluctance of the locals to venture to admit to any communication skills.
Given how almost everywhere one goes there's some language one can connect with, finding there is none (or insurmountable barriers to trying) is unsettling -- and yet also bizarrely liberating.
Immersion in such absolute foreignness -- which is what I also found in Karinthy's book -- is also good fun (though admittedly the knowledge that, in a pinch, one can escape it -- that there's a train station, an embassy, an international hotel within some sort of reach -- makes it easier to bear; in that respect, Budai's situation was a very different one); I feel fortunate to have experienced it -- and wouldn't mind taking the plunge again.]
Anyone who has an eye on the market is not a writer but a whore.
As he explains:
I have this existential conception of writing not as a career but as a back-against-the wall option, the thing you turn to when you've got no other way of making a mark on the world.
In those circumstances, whether or not you're going to be adequately recompensed is irrelevant.
(Presumably publishers are going to be quoting that one a lot when they make offers on new books .....)
Meanwhile, Hamish Hamilton-man Simon Prosser says:
I think there will be a second and more exciting response, which is for writers to think that since the chances of being published successfully in the mass market are even tougher, they may as well take the chance to write exactly what they want to write.
But Tom McCarthy (see, for example, our review of Remainder) argues:
I expect the recession will accelerate an already well-established pattern: mainstream publishers will concentrate on promoting non-fiction by television presenters and commercial fiction by creative-writing graduates (which should never have been confused with literature in the first place).
Just a few days ago we pleaded for some uniform transliteration (generally, and specifically from the Arabic), and today we find another instance showing how pressing this issue is.
They announced the shortlist for the International Prize for Arabic Fiction a month ago (see our mention), and now also have some information up at the official site.
As we mentioned, one of the shortlisted works -- Hunger -- is actually already available in English from the American University in Cairo Press.
But they spell the authors name as:
Mohammad Al Bisatie on the shortlist page
Muhammad Al-Bisatie further down on the shortlist page
Mohamed El-Bisatie further down on the shortlist page
(Yes, they spell it three different ways on the shortlist page .....)
As if that weren't enough, Daily News Egypt has some overview coverage -- and admirably plan to offer reviews of all six titles, beginning with their review of Hunger: Mohamed Al-Bosaty’s Hunger.
So add to the list:
As great a tool as Google is, these spelling variations defeat even it, so anyone looking for information about Mohamed Al-Bosaty's Hunger will not likely not be made aware that they could actually get the book in English from AUC Press already (except, of course, our well-informed readers ...).
The spelling-variations of this name aren't even that bad compared to some of those we've seen, but someone has to explain to us why they can't even spell it consistently on the same page (as is the case on the IPAF shortlist page).
More generally: why they can't simply agree on uniform transliteration.
Are we missing something ?
This guy's first name, for example -- isn't that a pretty common and well-known one in the Arabic-speaking world ?
Can't we just settle on one standard spelling of at least that ?
All these new initiatives to publish more foreign books in Arabic and to get more attention for Arabic books abroad are great, but they really have to settle this.
Convene an international committee -- by tomorrow, preferably -- and settle on one spelling and a uniform standard for dealing with Arabic names in English.
This is an essential (and surely pretty easy) step.
We're pulling our hair out here in frustration about this (and we can't really afford to be doing that too much ...).
In Le Figaro Françoise Dargent looks at the phenomenon of authors whose first language wasn't French writing in French, in Le français, langue d'accueil de tous les écrivains du monde
English continues to be the leading second language authors turn to, but the French consistenly pick up new authors this way too -- including Goncourt winners such as Andreï Makine, Jonathan Littell, and Atiq Rahimi.
Among the explanations:
"Le français m'a apporté la clarté et la précision, ce qui est à l'opposé de la mentalité japonaise", renchérit quant à elle la Japonaise Aki Shimazaki
With the British publication of Roberto Bolaño's 2666 imminent, the TLSreviews it -- again.
(They admirably had a go at it when the Spanish-language original first came out a few years ago.)
This time Michael Saler does the honours.
We probably won't be able to resist: Jean-Pierre Gattégno's novel, J'ai tué Anémie Lothomb, is due out next week; see a (French) excerpt, as well as Anne Crignon wondering Où est passée Anémie Lothomb ?, both at BibliObs.com.
See also the Calmann-Lévy publicity page, or pre-order your own copy at Amazon.fr.
(And, yes, you're supposed to read Amélie Nothomb into the name and story .....)
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Selçuk Altun's Songs My Mother Never Taught Me.
The English title may not be ideal: even though they have a Maureen Freely-blurb on the front (and back) cover proclaiming it: "a brilliantly edgy, witty thriller" potential readers might not be convinced, given that title.
At Booktrust they looked at the top critics'-picks-lists (only fifteen, apparently) and figured out which were the Books of the year 2008 -- or at least the most recommended.
Joseph O'Neill's Netherland (see our review-overview) came out tops, but Aravind Adiga's The White Tiger also did pretty well.
We very much enjoyed Peter Pišt'anek's Rivers of Babylon and are very pleased to hear that the second and third volumes of the trilogy are now available, again from the estimable Garnett Press: The Wooden Village (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk) and The End of Freddy (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk); scroll down for the Garnett publicity information.
Julian Evans now reviews them in The Telegraph, and finds:
Some may say Pišt'anek's work deserves a health warning with its view of humanity in which men inevitably become pimps and women whores, matched by a descriptive gusto for sex. The trouble is, most of the time, it is irresistibly funny.
What carries The End of Freddy is Pišt'anek's indefatigable energy and his Rabelaisian bravura. There also remains the revolting Freddy who, in the trilogy’s most grotesquely hilarious comeuppance, has his eye poked out while molesting a woman.
They've announced the category winners for the Whitbread Costa Book Awards.
Sebastian Barry's fiction-winner, The Secret Scripture, is understandably the betting favourite for the overall prize, but it's hard not to hope biography-category-winner Diana Athill gets the nod for Somewhere Towards the End.
(We only have her Stet under review, and can't really see ourselves dealing with this old-age work, all sympathies notwithstanding.)
The current war of letters is a good opportunity for Korean literature.
With Korean being such a minor language, it would seem nearly impossible for Korean literature to compete with literature written in the world's major languages.
But if Korean writers can deal with universal themes that transcend the limits of language, we cannot continue to use the excuse that our language is a minor one.
The excitement builds for the vote on the 'Best Translated Book' and they've now set up a nice convenient minisite at Three Percent listing the longlisted titles, etc.
We're still in the process of reviewing some of these -- though we've gotten to about half of them; we'll list all our reviews again when decision-time approaches.
Austrian author Gert Jonke has passed away; Dalkey Archive Press have published several of his books -- see, for example, our review of Homage to Czerny.
No English language reports that we've seen yet, but among the German-language tributes, see:
Penguin hoped the eclectic mix of 25 fiction and 25 non-fiction titles would sell 250,000 copies in six months.
It reached that target in almost half that time and reprints are still selling strongly for most of the titles.
Amusingly enough, however:
According to one company source in London, bosses were so doubtful about the concept that they limited the sales area to Australia, New Zealand and India, a decision which cost them dearly in Britain's Christmas market.
For some two weeks now we've been looking for information about who took this year's Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature (and no, they don't have the information there at the official page for it) and finally find brief mention in Sayed Mahmoud's look at '2008 in the balance' in Al-Ahram Weekly, Double entry ledger.
young novelist Hamdi Abu Galil won the Naguib Mahfouz Prize awarded by the American University in Cairo.
(Okay, we could have found it in the Arab-language media -- see, for example, the AFP report -- but that's too much work even for us .....
Though that is where we had to go to find what the title this Bedouin author won the prize for is -- which would be الفاعل.)
So: Hamdi Abu Galil won.
Or is it: Hamdy Abowgliel -- as they have it at Banipal.
Or is it: Hamdi Abu Golayyel -- as they have it at Syracuse University Press (where they published an earlier novel of his, Thieves in Retirement -- see an excerpt at Words without Borders, or get your copy at Amazon.com (where, just to add to the fun, they have his name as: Hamdi Abu Julayyil) or Amazon.co.uk)).
Sure, the easiest and least confusing way to write the name is, properly, as: حمدي أبوجليل
-- but let's be honest, how far does that get most of us ?
We've often complained about the lack of uniform transliteration of author-names from the Korean, but this is pretty bad too.
Come on ! -- just settle on one spelling and stick to it !
As longtime readers know, we've often complained about how the Sam Tanenhaus-led The New York Times Book Review seems to have an aversion to covering literature in translation, but for a few weeks now they've actually been ... well, not quite doing their fair share, but at least taking a stab at it.
So also in today's issue, where they take on Amélie Nothomb's Tokyo Fiancée (ahead of the rest of the American reviewing pack, no less) as well as Alaa Al Aswany's Chicago (though that has been out for a while).
Okay, reviewing any Nothomb is hitting us in one of our soft spots (and they actually have a decent track record of covering her), but still.
Of course, it's premature to jump to any conclusions from a few issues -- especially around the Christmas-season, when people are off on vacation and it's easier to slip things in/by ... but we do have to begin to wonder whether it wasn't in fact recently departed (for daily book-coverage, a different department at The New York Times) Dwight Garner that was the roadblock to literature-in-translation coverage .....
In Prison-house of language in The National Kanishk Tharoor writes about Abdelfattah Kilito's interesting-sounding Thou Shalt Not Speak My Language, as:
The book, itself translated from Arabic, privileges anecdote over argument, drifting playfully through the centuries to explore the relationship between the Arab and the foreign.
Kilito indulges in a wide panoramic view, taking into account writings of numerous periods and styles
Bestselling Austrian author Johannes Mario Simmel has passed away.
His very entertaining popular fiction has repeatedly been underestimated -- and it really never took hold in English translation.
See death-notices at the AFP and AP.
(Updated - 4 January): For a stomach-churning top ten of books to avoid -- the titles of three (!) of which begin with the word "I" (you can imagine how much we love those -- and that doesn't even account for the Tori Spelling title) -- check out (or, preferably, avoid) Kate Ward's 2009 books we can't wait to get our hands on at Entertainment Weekly's PopWatch.
In the Wall Street Journal Anita Elberse tries to explain 'Why struggling publishers will keep placing outrageous bids on new books' in Blockbuster or Bust.
Despite its double-or-nothing daring, the blockbuster strategy remains the most sensible approach to lasting success.
We have our doubts about that, but it is often true that:
When a publisher spends an inordinate amount on an acquisition, it will do everything in its power to make that project a market success.
Most importantly, this means supporting the book with higher-than-average marketing, advertising and distribution support
In the Daily News (Egypt) Youssef Faltas reports that Writers' Union talks translation at their annual conference.
The theme this year was: 'Translation and Cultures' Dialogue'.
There were a variety of opinions, including Bahaa Taher's:
Taher took the stage and drew attention to what he called a grave danger.
"I wish the number of translations were smaller in quantity but greater in quality," he explained.
Meanwhile Gamal al-Ghitani also received a prize and:
He also mentioned another concern not closely related to the issue of translation which he called literary terrorism.
Al-Ghitany stressed that terrorism practiced by law courts against writers by means of large monetary fines highly restrains the creativity and quality of literary works.
The most controversial part of the opening ceremony was Mohamed Afifi Mattar’s speech upon receiving his award for his poetry collection Roba'eet Al-Farah (Quartets of Joy).
"Translation is an addressed letter of culture and civilization," he told the audience pointing out that translations from Arabic fail to put forth a realistic and positive image of our Arab world.
"In their eyes, we are the world of Arabian Nights, we are a quirky tale of folklore. Europe translates its own image of us," said Mattar.
Then, he proposed a solution to this problem: "I wish that the ones who translate our literature are our own people and our writers and not those barbarians."
Following the ceremony, Mattar told Daily News Egypt that he used the extreme term "barbarians" in describing Westerners because they are "murderers" pointing to the wars in Palestine and Iraq.
So much for cultures' dialogue .....
(Updated - 4 January): See now also commentary at la république des livres.
The Librairie Française at New York's Rockefeller Center will close in September after 73 years in midtown Manhattan, as the store's rent jumps from $360,000 (258,000 euros) to a million dollars (716,000 euros) a year.
The bookstore opened in 1935 at the invitation of David Rockefeller, who wanted Europeans to be part of his new office building.
(Note, however, they can't even get the name of the store right (it's the Librairie de France).)
The shop flourished throughout the 1960s, with more than 50 employees.
Books arrived by the shipload on board steamers such as the France.
"In those years we would order 3,000 copies of the Prix Goncourt literary prize winner," said Molho.
"Today, we don't have more than ten copies in stock."
The official website states that: "Our world-famous French bookstore is the only one of its kind in the United States."
And then there were none.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Michèle Bernstein's 1960 novel, All the King's Horses, now available in English -- a book we were made aware of by Joshua Clover's review in The Nation (see ! review coverage is vital, since no one tells us about these things).
We recently topped the 2200-review mark, and so we look back again at how many of the previous 100 titles (reviews 2101 to 2200, spanning just under half the past year) were books in translation.
As usual -- most.
Indeed, more titles were originally written in French (23) than English (21), only the second time that's happened.
Spanish (11) and German (12) also fared well again, and with at least two titles in each of twelve different languages the spread was pretty decent.
In all, we reviewed books originally written in 22 languages other than English, including first-time languages Burmese and Telugu (bringing the total number of languages represented to an even 50).
See also our continuing coverage of How international are we ?, as well as the updated language list.
A reader kindly pointed us to the buchreport lists of the bestselling hardcover and paperback books in Germany in 2008, and in Die Welt they offer an overview of Die meistverkauften Bücher des Jahres
(the bestselling books of the year).
Charlotte Roche's Wetlands has sold an unbelievable 1.3 million copies, while one has to imagine that it was the German Book Prize win that pushed Uwe Tellkamp's Der Turm into the top five.
In the TLS Jane Yager offers a four-for-one review of 'new fiction from Germany' in the slightly misleadingly titled What was the GDR ?.
She starts off with Tellkamp's Der Turm, and also discusses "Marcel Beyer’s finely wrought Kaltenburg", "Adam und Evelyn, Ingo Schulze's new novel about the end of the GDR", and -- in an odd fit -- Swiss author Lukas Bärfuss' Rwanda-novel Hundert Tage.
Tellkamp, Beyer and Schulze have explored the GDR with commendable depth and complexity.
Bärfuss’s book, meanwhile, has pointed to a promising new direction for German literature.
The next literary generation will be well served if others of its best writers follow his lead in turning their considerable powers of observation outwards, towards losses less often chronicled by German-language writers.
We didn't take to Kaltenburg, but we have read (but not reviewed) the Bärfuss -- and it seems the most likely to enjoy some success in translation (the Schulze will inevitably be translated, and at this point -- after the German Book Prize and its sales success -- it seems likely someone will take a chance on Der Turm).