So the 2008 Best Translated Book of the Year award in fiction goes to ...
Tranquility by Bartis Attila.
As you can guess from our reviews ... of, say, that one Bolaño (hell, say that other one) we placed our bets (well, just our vote -- local barkeep M.A.Orthofer was one (but obviously only one) voice on the jury) elsewhere -- but Tranquility is a fine novel, and publisher Archipelago certainly do great work.
(2666 was, however, one of the top three that distanced themselves from the rest of the field;
Senselessness by Horacio Castellanos Moya was the other.)
In the poetry category For the Fighting Spirit of the Walnut by Hiraide Takashi -- in an attractive bilingual edition from New Directions -- won; get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk; we should get around to reviewing it fairly soon.
The Bartis was translated by Imre Goldstein, the Hiraide by Sawako Nakayasu.
The Bookseller has announced their shortlist for the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year.
Philip Stone, a sales analyst at The Bookseller, added: "We received a huge number of entries this year and the debate was furious as to which would be inluded on the shortlist.
Six seems such a cruelly low number given titles such as Excrement in the Late Middle Ages and All Dogs Have ADHD were rejected.
Among the other longlisted titles that didn't make the cut: The Industrial Vagina -- apparently more familiar in Britain than elsewhere, and hence not odd enough for them .....
At Prospect (online only) Daniel Miller wonders whether the time for Clearing away dead Wood ? has come, as: 'James Wood has been the king of the literary critics for almost a decade, and for good reason. But are the tides of opinion now turning against his realist proscriptions ?'
(We still haven't even gotten our hands on a copy of How Fiction Works
and continue to remain rather sidelined in this debate.)
Sudanese writer Tayeb Salih, author of the classic Season of Migration to the North -- one of the greatest Arabic and African novels --, has passed away.
See, for example, Sudan novelist Tayeb Salih dies at the BBC and Sudanís top novelist dies in London at 80 in the Sudan Tribune.
Season of Migration to the North is available in numerous editions, and New York Review Books is coming out with a new one (with an Introduction by Laila Lalami) soon; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com -- or get, for example, the African Writers Series edition at Amazon.co.uk.
We don't have it under review (yet), but can and do recommend it highly.
They've announced the regional finalists for the Commonwealth Writers' Prize; see also the official press release.
Some of the 'regional' lists turn out to be surprisingly sub-regional: 10 of the 11 African finalists hail from South Africa, and 12 of the 13 Canada and Caribbean-finalists are from Canada .....
Particularly successful: Aravind Adiga nabs spots on both the 'Best Book' list (with The Assassinations) and 'Best First Book' list (with The White Tiger)
The Assassinations was actually written first (but published second)
Interestingly, Adiga is an Oceanic finalist, his country listed as Australia (even though both books are set in India; he is apparently a dual-national).
The regional winners will be announced on 11 March.
The 2008 Best Translated Book of the Year award winners will be announced tonight at Melville House Books.
We don't have any of the poetry titles under review.
We have several of the fiction finalists under review:
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Vladimir Zarev's Разруха.
This is one of the major novels to appear in Bulgaria since the fall of the Berlin Wall -- probably the most successful of the works dealing with Bulgaria's rough transition to democracy and a (pseudo-)market economy.
One would wish that this sort of novel would appear in translation as a matter of course -- yet it's also hard to really make a case for it having to be translated.
It is good -- perhaps even better than most of the books translated into English -- but it is not truly exceptional.
Given how shamefully little Bulgarian fiction is translated into English -- Angel Wagenstein (see, for example, our review of Farewell, Shanghai) and Georgi Gospodinov (see, for example, our review of And Other Stories) seem to be about it over the last years -- one has to be grateful for anything that appears, and there are several authors that should probably come out ahead of this particular work (Alek Popov being the most obvious one, Teodora Dimova likely another).
(We can't believe we're even making these arguments: all
these books and authors -- and many more -- should be translated as a matter of course ... !)
Please do, however, allow me to deliver one very personal message.
It is something that I always keep in mind while I am writing fiction.
I have never gone so far as to write it on a piece of paper and paste it to the wall: Rather, it is carved into the wall of my mind, and it goes something like this:
"Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg."
Yes, no matter how right the wall may be and how wrong the egg, I will stand with the egg.
Someone else will have to decide what is right and what is wrong; perhaps time or history will decide.
He also offers titbits such as:
I have only one reason to write novels, and that is to bring the dignity of the individual soul to the surface and shine a light upon it.
The state government on Tuesday announced that the works of 28 scholars would be nationalised, but the families of acclaimed poet
Kannadasan and eminent novelist Sundara Ramasamy reacted with anger terming the decision arbitrary.
The authors chosen for nationalization of their works included dramatists Pammal Sambanthan, eminent litterateur Mu Varadarajan and historical fiction writer Chandilyan.
As finance minister K Anbazhagan explains:
With a view to ensuring that the views and thoughts of great Tamil savants who dedicated their lives to the language benefitted the present and future generations, the government was implemention the nationalisation scheme, he said.
Needless to say, the rights-holders are less than thrilled by this idea .....
At Slate they let someone -- Willing Davidson -- write about 'How Hollywood ruins novels' yet again, in Great Book, Bad Movie.
In our post-The Reader world, I can safely say that I'd rather personally digitize back issues of Talk magazine than see another movie based on Harvey Weinstein's favorite book. Scott Rudin can fuck off, too.
Novels are long, but movies are short.
It's impossible to encapsulate the tonal shifts of a book like Revolutionary Road in a feature-length film, no matter how long those two hours feel.
Although it was long-listed for the 2008 Man Booker prize, no Pakistani publisher would dare touch Hanif's book, which was long-listed for the 2008 Man Booker, poking fun as it does at the dictator who brought jihad to the country.
De Papieren Man points us to the CPNB Top-100 2008 (warning ! dreaded pdf format !), where they tally the top-selling books in the Netherlands in 2008.
Khaled Hosseini takes two of the top three places, with The Kite Runner leading the way with 273,980 copies sold.
Dutch fiction fares well, too, with Arnon Grunberg (for Tirza, which we should be getting to soon), Arthur Japin, and Leon de Winter leading the way (we have books by all three under review -- though not these titles).
(Actually, Simone van der Vlugt had the most popular Dutch title, Blauw water, but they count that in the 'thriller' category.)
And The Alchemist hangs on for one last year, the 100th most popular book: after way too many years on the list it will presumably finally drop off next year.
The first Writers in Residence were the US American writers and Pulitzer Prize winners Jeffrey Eugenides and Richard Ford.
Last year's Writers in Residence were Turkish Nobel Prize winner Orhan Pamuk and Bulgarian writer Dimitré Dinev.
Arts & Letters Daily points us to Aviya Kushner's McCulture in The Wilson Quarterly, in which she considers Americans' odd attitudes towards the foreign:
In areas ranging from politics to food to music to literature, suddenly we want to hear as much as possible from people who grew up in two worlds at once.
The trend is especially noticeable in literature, where plenty of the best new writing in English seems to meld two languages and two ways of thought -- the farther apart and more exotic, and the more seamlessly combined, the better.
Obama himself has written a border-crossing memoir that leaps from Hawaii to Kenya to Chicago.
If a collection of stories about China written in English gains attention, or a memoir about growing up half-Kenyan, then you might think a translation of a work by a major Chinese writer or a leading Kenyan novelist would sell out.
But the reverse seems to be true.
Translations are rarely bestsellers; it can be hard to find a newly translated book at a mega-bookstore, even if that book was hugely important in its home country.
Itís not that Americans arenít interested in the world at all.
Itís just that we seem to want someone else to do the heavy-lifting required to make a cultural connection.
As the Peruvian-born writer Daniel Alarcón observes, Americans would rather read stories by an American about Peru than a Peruvian writer translated into English.
We look forward to hearing what people think about this .....
(Updated - 17 February): See also the comments at Conversational Reading.
The past decade has seen the blossoming of countless literary Web sites and online forums hosting stories from thousands of aspiring authors.
Their work is read by millions of Internet users, leading some to assert that in the future all writing, even reading, in China will take place in cyberspace.
Bookstores now have sections devoted to Internet novels published as paperbacks
Not to spoil anyone's fantasy, but this dangerous liaison will be temporary, at best.
It's not new and, sadly, it's not really significant.
It is, if I may put it this way, a rampant case of plus ça change.
The excitement amounts to little more than an insular culture stirring in a sleep of the ages and rubbing its eyes in disbelief at the prospect of new fiction from beyond these shores that's not American.
Sadly, we're pretty much in agreement with him -- having also not seen much evidence of any 'dawning of a New Age'.
it must be admitted that the Márai works selected for publication in English are a frequent source of amazement to Hungarian readers, who generally hold the authorís Confessions of a Citizen, Memoir of Hungary, his Diary, or his novel, Sindbad Heads Home, in much higher esteem.
In The angel and the toady in The Guardian Sanjay Subrahmanyam wonders whether it's possible to discuss The Satanic Verse "in any terms but its politics" nowadays.
(Sadly, we think: no -- too bad; we'd probably rate it his third-best work (after Shame and Midnight's Children)
, and markedly superior to the recent stuff.)
"It is natural that as long as a fatwa has not been annulled, it is still valid," foreign ministry spokesman Hassan Ghashghavi said at a news conference suggesting that Khomeini's order was still valid.
With all the fuss around Roberto Bolaño's 2666 (and much more fuss surely still to come ...) the other big 2008 Bolaño publication, Nazi Literature in the Americas hasn't gotten nearly the attention we feel it deserves.
So it's nice to see that at the Jewish Exponent Robert Leiter focusses on it when writing about Bolaño in Literature Gone Askew.
And yet, of all the writers I've gotten to know and truly admire over the course of the last several years or so, Roberto Bolaño -- a tried-and-true postmodernist -- has struck me not only as an exciting presence, but perhaps one of the most profound artists of the second half of the 20th century.
I have admired a number of his books, but the work that won me over completely is his Nazi Literature in the Americas.
Published recently by New Directions, it is postmodernist in temper and execution, a work of fiction whose premise, at least in bald outline, would normally have set my teeth on edge; but, in Bolaño's hands, I found it to be masterfully executed.
In addition, the book is wildly funny; best of all, the humor, though often black in hue, is not applied at the expense of its characters (if one can call them that).
There is the requisite ironic self-referencing that is a necessary staple of such works, but Bolaño uses the technique with a deftness few have rivaled.
Payvan prints Nasrin Rahimieh's overview of post-revolutionary Iranian literature, Iran's Literary Voices.
Among the points she makes:
The most immediate discernable shift was the emergence of a literature devoted to the ideals that underwrote the establishment of the Islamic Republic. The earlier leftist leanings were replaced in these new forms of literary expression with adulation for Shi'ite and Islamic beliefs.
Not that much of that has been translated.
But we do have a surprising number of the authors she mentions under review.
Valerie Holman's Print for Victory, about book publishing in England during the Second World War, came out last year (see the British Library publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) and was reviewed in, for example, The Telegraph (by Christopher Hawtree) at that time, but in the TLS they've just gotten to it now, with Nicholas Rankin's review, A good war for British publishers.
It sounds quite fascinating -- and what's surprising is how good for business war was -- even with all the restrictions on the business.
Yes, maybe a good catastrophe is what the publishing business needs, as back then:
Even though book publication was halved in the war, book sales doubled and booksellers made money.
The wartime demand for books was prodigious and paradoxical.
The leisured read less, and the hardest-working read more.
Where British firms could not meet the demand, publishing began to flourish in Australia, Canada and India.
Print for Victory also shows how new and untapped markets for publishers began opening up in sub-Saharan Africa, led by thousands of askaris from across the continent who were eager for literacy, education and independence.
But despite all the fun to be had at the festival, there was a strong sense that the event had yet to seriously deal with the reputation and criticism it garnered in previous years for rather unabashed elitism.
While the programme touted intimate gourmet dinners in Galle Fort mansions and the opportunity to rub shoulders with literary hotshots, there was little in the way of events that allowed for the discussion of topics such as the current ethnic conflict, politics, education, media responsibility, or development.
This is strange because one of the festivalís espoused objectives is to "encourage debate on topical issues."
This unease cropped up repeatedly in the festival's forums, and writer after writer spoke of the need for authors to "use their voices".
One poet, who did not want to be named, complained to me away from the festival that Sri Lankan literature in English is too "anecdotal", and restricted to the domestic stories of a privileged, international-schooled elite.
"Unfortunately, most of the interesting books are written in Sinhala and have not yet been translated into English".
We're not sure most of the interesting books are written in the local languages (Sinhala and Tamil) -- but we'd certainly love to at least have the opportunity of reading them (in translation) .....
Meanwhile at his 'Dare to be different'
weblog Ajith P. Perera -- who presumably has something of an agenda -- is considerably more critical in his post wondering whether this is the: Colombo elite's annual intellectual masturbation ?
Amusingly, the nameless poet Irvine quotes also suggests that: "any real appreciation of Sri Lankan literature needed to include readings of the work of Gunadasa Amarasekara" -- while Perera writes:
The best short story collection in 2008 was dentist Gunadasa Amarasekaraís ĎVilthera Maranayaí (Death at the bank of a reservoir).
Once considered a writer of mediocre talent, Amarasekara has lost most of it with age.
Well, at least there's some debate going on about the local literary talents .....
In December 1985, the AUC Press signed an exclusive international publishing and licensing agreement with Naguib Mahfouz, thus becoming his principal English-language publisher and his worldwide agent for translations and other publishing rights.
Prior to the Nobel Prize Award in 1988, the AUC Press had published eight Mahfouz novels in English.
And as Naguib Mahfouz wrote later that "it was through the translation of these novels into English that other publishers became aware of them and requested their translation into other foreign languages, and I believe that these translations were among the foremost reason for my being awarded the Nobel prize."
A nice instance of things working out well for all parties concerned.
We have a decent number of AUC Press titles under review -- but a huge stack of more that we want to get to .....
An interesting (German) piece in the NZZ, as Axel Timo Purr looks at the difficult conditions writers face in Malawi, in Bei Tisch spricht man nicht.
Among the ripple-effects of the way the economy has been (selectively) opened up is the consequences of the government having given logging and forestry rights to a furniture manufacturer a decade or so back, which led to all the domestic paper mills closing.
Paper now has to be imported from South Africa, and the cost is such that publishers will only use it for the guaranteed high-sales-volume school books market, with literary works left by the wayside.
Thus even previously published authors like Tito Banda are stuck with their manuscripts in their drawers, and everyone is looking for recognition from abroad (since that might lead to publication abroad), with the
Caine Prize for African Writing one of the few avenues open to them.
(We've expressed our reservations about this prize, but given conditions that make it almost impossible to foster longer works it does seem to serve an important purpose.)
As we've mentioned, local favorite Amélie Nothomb has been touring up and down the East Coast promoting her new (in English) book, Tokyo Fiancée these days.
The crowds have apparently been good, especially in Boston, but we haven't come across many reports: Jane Singleton Paul's Amélie Nothomb est choquante ! at her Gazzetta is pretty much it so far (though I figure a few more should eventually show up).
Nothomb is in New York now, and I was part of an audience of about 30 at Melville House who heard her in conversation with Europa Editions editor Michael Reynolds; she is also appearing in conversation with Laureline Amanieux at NYU's La Maison Française tonight at 19:00, and then tomorrow at McNally Jackson Books (again in conversation with Reynolds, at 19:00).
The conversation provided a decent introduction to her works and life.
She mentioned that she doesn't bother much with differentiations between 'autobiography' or 'autofiction' and 'fiction' -- Tokyo Fiancée is entirely based on facts, she noted, but she still thinks of it as a novel.
There was some discussion about her writing habits, since she writes considerably more than she publishes -- she's finished some 65 manuscripts but only published 17.
She explained that no one else reads the manuscripts, and that every year she picks from among the ones she's recently finished as to which one her publisher will get.
As to the others, they're like her children that she prefers to keep out of sight -- so there are no plans for them ever to see the light of day.
Indeed, she already has some concerns about what will happen after her death: she has no interest in torching them, but isn't entirely reassured by the mere 75 or so year legal protection copyright allows for.
She said she had solicited ideas for what to do with the manuscripts, but wasn't satisfied with the ones proposed -- to shoot them in space (it's already getting crowded there ...), or bury them in the desert .....
Still, among the suggestions she's received is one cruelly brilliant one -- if she really wants them to remain unread: to publish them in the Bibliothèque de la Pléiade .....
With her very unusual background (born in Japan, raised all over the world -- including a stint from ages eight to eleven right here in New York city -- and with a variety of identity and other issues (though she mentioned that now that Belgium is so very confused about its own identity she has finally been able to identify with her homeland)), she's an interesting character and any event with her should provide good entertainment value (i.e. if you have a chance, go check her out) -- though, of course, it's the books which really impress, especially -- I can't say it often enough -- the sublime Loving Sabotage.