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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 31 March 2009

21 March: Geoff Dyer profile | Awards only for the living ? | Arab lit. in translation arguments | Roberto Ampuero | Fallada revival
22 March: David Malouf profile | Raymond Chandler tributes | Literary periodical woes in the Czech Republic | The Twin review
23 March: Tomás Eloy Martínez's Purgatorio | Iain Sinclair Q & A | Kadare interview | Twittering
24 March: The Kindly Ones watch | More French authors' favourites | N1BR issue 2 | English review ... | ... and translation issue
25 March: El viajero del siglo takes Premio Alfaguara | One More Year takes Sami Rohr Prize | Tsutsui Yasutaka profile | SAARC Festival of Literature report
26 March: PEN World Voices schedule | History of South African censorship | Hanif Kureishi on the Rushdie fatwa | Beckett -- and Calder | Why write in French ? | Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi review
27 March: Candidiates for the 2010 Neustadt Prize | Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title awarded -- but who is the joke on ? | Polish translators' conference | Publishing in ... Spain | Meine Preise review ... | ... and marketing Meine Preise in the US/UK
28 March: Le Clézio at Mississippi State | Brian Dillon on Chris Marker's La Jetée | Gogol enthusiasm | Byatt v. Drabble | Stripmalling review
29 March: Kundera overview | Geoff Dyer Q & A | German critics' best list for April
30 March: Spinning into Butter film | Christian Enzensberger (1931-2009)
31 March: Oulipo in NY | Review approaches | Family Planning review


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31 March 2009 - Tuesday

Oulipo in NY | Review approaches | Family Planning review

       Oulipo in NY

       A reminder that from 1 to 4 April they'll be holding Oulipo in New York: a Workshop of Experimental Literature.
       Among the events of particular interest: the launch of Jacques Roubaudís The Loop at Idlewild Bookstore (2 April, at 19:00). We expect to review it fairly soon; meanwhile, see the Dalkey Archive Press publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
       Also: the Discussion with Ian Monk and David Bellos at the Maison Française (3 April, 10:00-11:30). See also our reviews of Monk's Family Archaeology and Writings for the Oulipo, and Bellos' biography of Georges Perec.
       And see also all the Oulipo titles we have under review.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Review approaches

       We like our reviews to be ... well, reviews of the books ostensibly under review. Too often, however, in certain periodicals, they tend not to be, especially when they are 'reviews' of non-fiction titles. In fact, it's pretty common practise, so perhaps it's unfair to pick on a specific example (pretty much any edition of The New York Review of Books would yield several ...), but Anthony Gottlieb's ... review of The House of Wittgenstein by Alexander Waugh (see our review-overview) in The New Yorker really annoyed us. Gottlieb offers his take on the subject matter, rather than on how Waugh deals with it and presents it, leaving the reader none the wiser whether or not Waugh's book has anything to it to recommend it.
       Indeed, among Gottlieb's few mentions of the book at hand is the rather desperate stretch of referring not to the book but the publicity-copy for it -- and even then he avoids taking issue with what the copy actually says (i.e. refuses to address the question of Waugh's style):
The publishers of The House of Wittgenstein compare the "novelistic richness" of its style to Thomas Mannís first novel, Buddenbrooks: The Decline of a Family, which was published in 1901. In fact, there are more than stylistic similarities between the Wittgensteins of Vienna and Mannís invented north-German merchant dynasty. In Mannís novel, the vitality and the solid businesslike virtues of the Buddenbrook family are sapped by introspection, homosexuality, loss of interest in commerce, overindulgence in art, and illness. If Karl Wittgenstein ever read it, he must have nodded in recognition.
       And pretty much the only place where he actually has something that might be called critical (in any sense of the word) to say about the book is when he notes:
Waugh says that Karl Wittgenstein was a chancer, whose enormous fortune owed as much to the favorable outcomes of his gambles as to his hard work and his skills. That is implausible; nobody has quite such a consistent run of good luck.
       Rather than Gottlieb's alternate/condensed version of Wittgenstein-history we would have preferred a review of the book (which we are, in fact, curious about -- but not quite curious enough to try to get our hands on a copy (hence only a review-overview, and not a full-fledged review)).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Family Planning review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Karan Mahajan's Family Planning.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



30 March 2009 - Monday

Spinning into Butter film | Christian Enzensberger (1931-2009)

       Spinning into Butter film

       They've finally released the long-completed film version of Rebecca Gilman's Spinning into Butter, directed by Mark Brokaw and starring Miranda Richardson, Sarah Jessica Parker, and Beau Bridges.
       It sounds like a real dud: see, for example, reviews in:        See also the official site for the film.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Christian Enzensberger (1931-2009)

       While looking up the various German literary prizes Thomas Bernhard won and wrote about in Meine Preise we came across the name of the only person to reject the Literaturpreis der Stadt Bremen -- Hans Magnus Enzensberger's younger brother, Christian Enzensberger. (The prize obviously had some problems: as winner, Bernhard was then invited to be on the jury for the next year's award; he suggested giving it to Elias Canetti, but apparently few of the other jurors knew who he was and one who did noted: "But he's also a Jew", which was apparently enough for the others not to bother considering him for the prize -- though when they couldn't settle on anyone someone picked out a Wolfgang Hildesheimer book and they decided to toss the prize his way -- unaware, Bernhard suggests, that Hildesheimer was ... yes, also a Jew.)
        Christian Enzensberger is best known for his translations from the English -- notably of Lewis Carroll's Alice-books -- but, as The Times' obituary notes:
From his base in English literature, which he never neglected or deserted, his restless intellect ranged far wider. Totally unrelated to his literary work, he became fascinated by dirt, physical and verbal. He applied his considerable scholarly skills to the topic, and published a dissertation on it in l968. Its first edition rapidly sold out and two more German editions followed. Its English translation appeared as Smut. An Anatomy of Dirt (l972).
       A pre-Wetlands ?
       The German title was: Größerer Versuch über den Schmutz; disappointingly, both the German and English editions appear to be way, way out of print.
       We missed it, but Christian Enzensberger passed away on 27 January.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



29 March 2009 - Sunday

Kundera overview | Geoff Dyer Q & A | German critics' best list for April

       Kundera overview

       Milan Kundera celebrates his 80th birthday on 1 April, and in The Australian Geordie Williamson looks at the Eternal exile of Milan Kundera.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Geoff Dyer Q & A

       More Geoff Dyer coverage, as the first reviews for Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi are in, and at the Financial Times Anna Metcalfe's Small Talk-column offers a Q & A with him -- and he acknowledges:
How would you earn your living if you had to give up writing ?
Iíd go on the dole. I think writing has rendered me unemployable.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       German critics' best list for April

       The SWR-Bestenliste -- the German critics' choice list -- for April is now up, and offers quite the mix.
       Of greatest interest to us: coming in at number two, Per Olov Enquist's autobiographical (and Augustpriset-winning) Ett annat liv. See also the Norstedts Agency publicity page -- and note that despite foreign-rights sales to six countries US and UK rights are apparently still available .... (Per Olov Enquist ! How can this be ?)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



28 March 2009 - Saturday

Le Clézio at Mississippi State | Brian Dillon on Chris Marker's La Jetée
Gogol enthusiasm | Byatt v. Drabble | Stripmalling review

       Le Clézio at Mississippi State

       Nobel laureate J.M.G. Le Clézio (see, for example, our review of The Prospector) is headed to, of all places, Mississippi State University to headline their, of all things, 'Mauritian Week'. Yes, MSU is celebrating Mauritius, and they got the Nobel laureate to come -- "for his only public appearance while in the U.S.", no less (so the official press release, Nobel laureate to visit, lecture, read at Mississippi State).
       Dustin Barnes reports that Nobel laureate speaks at MSU in The Reflector; Le Clézio's big appearance is Monday, 30 March, at 19:30.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Brian Dillon on Chris Marker's La Jetée

       In Fade away in The Guardian Brian Dillon writes about the brilliant Chris Marker and the landmark La Jetée, finding:
Marker remains an artist for whom the future, though diminishing, is still filled with projects to be finished, invitations to be accepted, newly politicised citizens whose faces must be archived, if only as they pass in the streets about his home. And while La Jetée is no doubt his most lasting legacy -- a film that seems to conjure in 29 minutes the whole of a century's romance with the moving image -- he himself has long forgotten the ghost who made that masterpiece. This, perhaps, has been his greatest lesson: how to commune with spectres, and then forget them.
       The piece is a semi-review of two books distributed by MIT Press, Chris Marker's La Jetée: ciné-roman (see the Zone Books publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) and Janet Harbord's La Jetée (see the One Work publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk). (Both look well worthwhile -- and don't forget to get the La Jetée/Sans Soleil DVD (at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Gogol enthusiasm

       They're gearing up for the celebration of the 200th anniversary of Nikolai Gogol's birth (1 April) in Russia (and Ukraine), and, as Vladimir Kozlov reports in The Moscow News, that makes for Gogol galore.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Byatt v. Drabble

       Alas, no good gossip, just a few more hints Why Margaret Drabble is not A S Byatt's cup of tea -- so Tim Walker in The Telegraph.
       The clues come in Drabble's "latest semi-autobiographical book", The Pattern in the Carpet; get your copy at Amazon.co.uk, or pre-order from Amazon.com (the US edition is only due out in September).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Stripmalling review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Jon Paul Fiorentino's Stripmalling.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



27 March 2009 - Friday

Candidiates for the 2010 Neustadt Prize
Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title awarded -- but who is the joke on ?
Polish translators' conference | Publishing in ... Spain
Meine Preise review ... | ... and marketing Meine Preise in the US/UK

       Candidiates for the 2010 Neustadt Prize

       Obviously, we're fans of the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, a biennial prize worth $50,000 -- but they really, really have to work on their p.r. Apparently they announced (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) the: 'Jury & candidates for 2010 Neustadt Prize' a few weeks ago, but no one seems to have noticed (and we only chanced upon the information now -- we understand why we may not rate being sent a press release, but you'd figure someone would have disseminated this information somewhere ...).
       Since they only make it available in the dreaded pdf format (why ? why ? why ?), here the full list of jurors and their respective nominees:
  • Sefi Atta nominated Ha Jin
  • Horacio Castellanos Moya nominated Ricardo Piglia
  • Aleksandar Hemon nominated Michael Ondaatje
  • Etgar Keret nominated Murakami Haruki
  • Joanne Leedom-Ackerman nominated Margaret Atwood
  • Mai Mang nominated Duo Duo
  • Claire Messud nominated A.B.Yehoshua
  • Pireeni Sundaralingam nominated Athol Fugard
  • Niloufar Talebi nominated Shahriar Mandanipour
       Duo Duo is now officially our favourite pen-name -- especially in the Chinese: 多多. (Zephyr Press have translated his The Boy who Catches Wasps; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
       As we've mentioned, we're also very much looking forward to Mandanipour's Censoring an Iranian Love Story; pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title awarded -- but who is the joke on ?

       As widely reported, they've announced the winner of the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year -- it's The 2009-2014 World Outlook for 60-miligram Containers of Fromage Frais (get your copy at Amazon.com, or see the publisher's publicity page).
       But didn't anybody notice that this is an Icon Group book ? I.e. it's essentially a fake, computer-generated book. If this title was eligible, why not ... The 2009-2014 Outlook for 60-Milligram Containers of Fromage Frais in Greater China (get your copy at Amazon.com) ? Or The 2009-2014 World Outlook for Aluminum Doors Excluding Shower Doors and Tub Enclosures (see their publicity page) ? Or any of a couple of hundred thousand other such specific titles ?
       These are all the products of Philip M. Parker -- the man behind Noam Cohen's The New York Times' profile, He Wrote 200,000 Books (but Computers Did Some of the Work). (Some ... yeah, right -- just compare the 'Introductions' to ... all of them .....)
       It's a joke that these 'books' were considered -- and not a very good one.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Polish translators' conference

       So apparently Translators of Polish literature to meet in Krakow, as the second World Congress of Translators of Polish Literature is to be held in Krakow 4 to 6 June.
       Okay, that's not the most exciting news in the world, but the report includes the line:
The first World Congress of Translators of Polish Literature -- held in 2005 in Krakow -- brought together 174 people from 50 countries, including such household names as Bill Johnston from the United States and Anders Bodegard from Sweden.
       'Household names as Bill Johnston from the United States and Anders Bodegard' -- that just brought the biggest smile to our faces, and made our day.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Publishing in ... Spain

       We've heard a lot of these statistics before, but it's still amazing to hear how well publishing, book-selling, and reading seem to be doing in Spain, as now also reported in C'est la crise: les restaurants ferment, les librairies ouvrent in Le Monde.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Meine Preise review ...

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Thomas Bernhard's account of some his prize-receiving adventures, Meine Preise.
       Written in 1980 (or thereabouts), it was slated for publication in 1989 but only finally made it into print this year. It appears to be -- and certainly reads like -- a finished work.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       ... and marketing Meine Preise in the US/UK

       It's hard to imagine somebody hasn't snapped up English-language rights to Thomas Bernhard's Meine Preise yet (if Knopf passed: pounce). As a previously-unpublished work it should be of considerable interest, and it's also among his more accessible works. Offering both insight into his life and samples of his distinctive style (while never getting (too much) out of hand here), it also includes some very amusing stories. All in all, it should be a reasonably easy sell.
       While we're not big fans of blurbs we would, however, also urge that the US/UK publisher include one very prominently on the cover of the book -- from Maxim Biller's review in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung:
Das Arschloch Thomas Bernhard, und das sage ich, obwohl ich ungern schlecht über Tote rede, das Arschloch Bernhard hat ziemlich sicher nur ein einziges gutes Buch geschrieben. Dieses Buch erscheint erst jetzt, obwohl er es schon 1980 geschrieben hat, und es zeigt, was fŁr ein Arschloch er war

[The asshole Thomas Bernhard -- and I say this even though I dislike speaking ill of the dead -- the asshole Thomas Bernhard, it's fairly certain to say, only wrote a single good book. This book appears only now, even though he already wrote it in 1980, and it demonstrates what an asshole he was.]
       Other reviews were glowing, but surely this is the one that really makes readers perk up and want go out and get their hands on this. (As Bernhard-fans we were, of course, already sold on it before we encountered the review -- but it certainly would have convinced us had we had our doubts.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



26 March 2009 - Thursday

PEN World Voices schedule | History of South African censorship
Hanif Kureishi on the Rushdie fatwa | Beckett -- and Calder
Why write in French ? | Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi review

       PEN World Voices schedule

       The schedule for the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature, which runs from 27 April to 3 May, is now available.
       This: "week-long celebration of world literature featuring 160 writers from 40 countries for 60 events in New York City" will certainly keep us busy next month.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       History of South African censorship

       In 'Some symbols may be found' in the Mail & Guardian Shaun de Waal reviews Peter D. McDonald's The Literature Police: Apartheid Censorship and its Cultural Consequences.
       It sounds fascinating:
Instead of the direct in-person testimony of those affected by apartheid censorship, however, McDonald has opened the archive of the Publications Control Board and Publications Appeal Board in their various incarnations and followed their often tortuous reasoning. He also gives a full and enlightening account of the historical and political context and details matters from the perspectives of authors and publishers as well.
       And there are good titbits:
He gives much background on Coetzee's own delicate dance around censorship, including the little-known fact that, as a young academic with the right qualifications and several languages, Coetzee decided to test the system by applying for a job as a reader for the censors. (He was "turned down without explanation".)
       And he concludes:
McDonald's book is a vigorous yet subtle and always compellingly readable contribution to the history of and debate about the borders of the literary and the place of words in the world.
       See also the Oxford University Press publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
       And check out the official site, which looks like it is a useful complement to the book.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Hanif Kureishi on the Rushdie fatwa

       At Prospect Kenan Malik talks to Hanif Kureishi about the Rushdie fatwa -- and Kureishi thinks:
"Nobody," Kureishi suggests, "would have the balls today to write The Satanic Verses, let alone publish it. Writing is now timid because writers are now terrified."
       Far be it for us to speak for 'writers', but .... huh ?
       Also:
The Rushdie affair, Kureishi believes, transformed not just his own work, but also "the very notion of writing." The fatwa "created a climate of terror and fear. Writers had to think about what they were writing in a way they never had to before. Free speech became an issue as it had not been before. Liberals had to take a stand, to defend an ideology they had not really had to think about before." How have they borne up to the task ? "The attacks on Rushdie showed that words can be dangerous. They also showed why critical thought is more important than ever, why blasphemy and immorality and insult need protection. But most people, most writers, want to keep their heads down, live a quiet life. They donít want a bomb in the letterbox. They have succumbed to the fear."

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Beckett -- and Calder

       In Prospect Colin Murphy wonders: 'Is the work of Irelandís greatest dramatist being ossified by reverence ?' and talks with John Calder, in Beckett begins again.
       Murphy discusses the strict conditions for putting on Beckett-plays (no changing words or stage directions) -- and finds:
Perversely, it seems to me, familiarity has made these plays more inaccessible: their visual motifs are so well known beforehand that they are more easily dismissed. Godot is "the one where nothing happens"; Endgame is "the one with the old pair in the bins"; Happy Days is "the one about the woman buried in the sand." Like conceptual art, the point becomes the idea, not engagement with the work. Potential audiences stay away, thinking they know everything because theyíve heard the idea, while those that do attend donít find these well-worn conceits surprising or disturbing. The radical encounter with the savage poetry of Beckettís work is lost.
       Murphy also notes that Faber now has both the drama and fiction rights (previously separate in the UK), and believes:
But there has also been a secondary consequence of the historical separation of Beckettís rights between plays and prose -- that, while the plays were popularised, the prose has languished in relative obscurity. Faberís collected works should help to address that.
       You think ? Note that Grove have long done all of Beckett for the US market and it doesn't seem to have helped much.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Why write in French ?

       Noting how many authors with other mother tongues have turned to writing in French Florence Noiville asks: Pourquoi ils écrivent en français in Le Monde.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Geoff Dyer's new novel, Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi.
       (Rather surprisingly, it's the first work of British fiction we've covered in four months.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



25 March 2009 - Wednesday

El viajero del siglo takes Premio Alfaguara | One More Year takes Sami Rohr Prize
Tsutsui Yasutaka profile | SAARC Festival of Literature report

       El viajero del siglo takes Premio Alfaguara

       El viajero del siglo by Andrés Neuman has been awarded this year's Premio Alfaguara de Novela; see, for example, Argentine Andres Neuman Wins Alfaguara Novel Prize in the Latin American Herald Tribune. It was chosen from among 523 manuscripts, and Neuman apparently gets US $175,000 (though note that at the official site the prize money is still listed as considerably more -- 196.000 euros).
       See also, for example, Un retrato futurista del pasado at El País, as well as Neuman's official site.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       One More Year takes Sami Rohr Prize

       They've announced that One More Year, Sana Krasikov's story collection, has won the 2009 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature (and the US $ 100,000 that goes with it)
       Get your copy at Amazon.com, or pre-order it at Amazon.co.uk.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       Tsutsui Yasutaka profile

       Alma Books Bloggerel reports on meeting Tsutsui Yasutaka.
       We'll be covering Paprika soon; meanwhile see, for example, our review of Hell.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       SAARC Festival of Literature report

       They held the SAARC Festival of Literature from 12 to 17 March, and at nepalnews.com Indra Adhikari reports on A political festival of literature as:
Sadly, the eighth SAARC festival of literature was not a festival of absolute literature; it was rather a political festival of literature. Over 100 littérateurs were invited from eight member countries of SAARC along with Burmese and Bhutanese refugees, yet they spent most of the festival talking politics.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



24 March 2009 - Tuesday

The Kindly Ones watch | More French authors' favourites
N1BR issue 2 | English review ... | ... and translation issue

       The Kindly Ones watch

       Reviews of Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones continue to come, though at a slower pace.

       We're pleased to see that Ruth Franklin tackled it for The New Republic (as we had hoped); as expected, the TNR-review -- issue date: April Fool's Day -- is ... limited in its enthusiasm. Oh, who are we kidding (and what did you expect ?): of course Franklin found (and saw fit to note):
A review cannot convey how deeply unpleasant the experience of reading The Kindly Ones is. This is one of the most repugnant books I have ever read.
       But it's too easy (and cheap) just to pull that quote (though we hope they use it on the paperback edition); as usual, Franklin does have some sensible things to say, too -- beginning with the observation that:
The Kindly Ones has all the trappings of a Very Important Novel. [...] But The Kindly Ones is not an important novel, because it fails absolutely to add anything of significance to our understanding of its subject, which is nothing less than the most perplexing question of modernity.
       While she doesn't nail it entirely either, her focus on Littell's reliance on the ancient Greeks is a useful counter-piece to Daniel Mendelsohn's interesting but also ridiculously over-praised reading, as she argues:
If Littell's novel were content merely to draw an exhaustive, moderately familiar, sometimes factually incorrect, but occasionally illuminating picture of the Nazi apparatus, it would be inconsequential. But in its attempt to impose its version of an ancient Greek framework on this modern system of destruction, it crosses the line from amorality to something worse.
       (But how many will agree that: "the greatest incoherence in The Kindly Ones concerns the question of retribution" ?)
       And Franklin is also right that:
Finally Littell's attitude toward all this evil is neither Greek nor Judeo-Christian. It is pornographic. He is raptly, cravenly, fascinated. And fascination is a great impediment to thought.
       (Any chance Franklin will also take on Wetlands ?)

       Also well worthwhile among recent coverage: Garth Risk Hallberg's lengthy consideration at The Millions, Everybody's Holocaust: Jonathan Littell's Fictional Nazi and Postmodernity's Double Bind.
       And note that Adam Roberts is going through the novel at The Valve (most recently here).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       More French authors' favourites

       We've mentioned French magazine Télérama's on-going series on the ten favourite books by a hundred French-writing authors, and now all the selections have been posted online. Some big names didn't play along -- Nothomb, Houellebecq -- but there's still a great selection, and each group of ten offers some interesting insights.
       On this page alone Jacques Roubaud disappoints, while Frédéric Roux is already more intriguing (as is Jean-Christophe Rufin) -- and Lydie Salvayre reveals herself to something of an Eric Chevillard fan (and Pierre Senges proves similarly single-minded).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       N1BR issue 2

       The second issue of the n+1 Book Review is now out, and though the previously announced coverage of Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones is conspicuously absent, they do cover several books we've covered: see:
  • their review of Roberto Bolaño's 2666 (see also our review)
  • their review of Charlotte Roche's Wetlands (see also our review)
  • their review of the three Per Petterson novels available in translation (see, for example, our review of Out Stealing Horses)
       All the coverage strays a bit far from the books in question for our tastes, and while it's most excusable in Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn's Petterson-coverage (since that's a three-for-one overview-review) she unfortunately also makes the most annoying (to nit-picking us) gaffe when she writes:
When Out Stealing Horses was published in English in 2005, it was an unqualified literary success. The book sold some 230,000 copies worldwide and earned a veritable storm of accolades from the press. It was Petterson's fifth book, but only his second to be translated into English. The first, In the Wake [.....]
       But, of course, To Siberia was translated more than a decade ago -- in 1998 --, before either of these. Yes, it was a UK edition, and Deirdre Foley-Mendelssohn is right in writing that To Siberia only made it stateside recently -- but it was the first Petterson title to be translated into and published in English.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       English review ...

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Wang Gang's recent Chinese bestseller, English.
       We've accumulated quite a pile of recent Chinese literature recently -- Yu Hua's Brothers and Jiang Rong's Wolf Totem arrived in the past weeks, and we've been meaning to have a look at Zhang Wei's The Ancient Ship for a while -- and we really should pay more attention: along with Russian, Chinese is surely the most under-represented major language among the books we review.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -



       ... and translation issue

       The title of Wang Gang's English posed an interesting translation problem: as we mentioned in our review:
Strictly speaking, 'English' is the correct translation; however the Chinese title -- 英格力士 -- is the phonetic rendering of the word 'English' (something along the lines of 'Ying Ge Li Shi', as they transliterate it on the copyright-page); the actual Chinese term for 'English' is, of course, 英语 (or 英語 or 英文). Wang uses the phonetic rendering because in the novel the students begin their English-studies this way -- and the whole concept of pronunciation crops up repeatedly. But obviously using the phonetic spelling for the title of the American edition of the book would probably cause more confusion than it is worth (even as it would be much closer to the original -- as is, English seems much too simple and stark). Interestingly, the French edition is also titled English; at least there the foreignness is conveyed.
       As it turns out, it seems that Wang originally wanted to title the novel 英语: in an interview with the translators at Paper Republic, Growing up Han in a Fictional Xinjiang (highly recommended !), the issue is addressed in the comments-section (third and onwards).
       (Note also that in that interview the translator's tip-toe around the question of how much of the original was ultimately cut -- "I think the story in the edited English version of "English" has been "tightened up" a bit compared with the Chinese version" is as far as they're willing to go.
       Hmmm.
       To us, the story seemed ... gappy (i.e. as though parts had been hacked out of it -- all over the place). It's unclear how much was cut from the English version but -- though it's dangerous to compare foreign-language editions -- it is certainly noteworthy that the French edition apparently clocks in at over 450 pages, while the English one only has just over 300.)

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23 March 2009 - Monday

Tomás Eloy Martínez's Purgatorio | Iain Sinclair Q & A
Kadare interview | Twittering

       Tomás Eloy Martínez's Purgatorio

       Tomás Eloy Martínez's Purgatorio is now out (in Spanish); see, for example, Mercedes Bermejo reporting that Tomas Eloy Martinez Warns of Societies Becoming Dictators' Accomplice in New Novel in the Latin American Herald Tribune -- or Carlos Fuentes' (!) review in El País.
       We're surprised by how little of his work has been translated into English -- most recently The Tango Singer.
       Get your copy of Purgatorio from Amazon.com, and see also the Alfaguara publicity page (where they amusingly have a single quote praising the author -- from The New York Times, of all places ("Tomás Eloy Martínez afirma su lugar entre los mejores escritores de América Latina").)

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       Iain Sinclair Q & A

       This week's Small Talk-column by Anna Metcalfe in the Financial Times is a Q & A with Iain Sinclair.

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       Kadare interview

       In the NZZ Andreas Breitenstein has a long (German) interview with Ismail Kadare -- which begins with Kadare maintaining:
Ich bin der Meinung, dass ich nicht ein politischer Schriftsteller bin, und überdies, dass, was wahre Literatur betrifft, es eigentlich auch keine politischen Schriftsteller gibt. Ich denke, dass es in meinem Schreiben nicht politischer zugeht als im antiken griechischen Theater. Ich wäre in jedem politischen Regime der Schriftsteller geworden, der ich bin.

[I am of the opinion that I am not a political writer, and moreover that, as far as real literature is concerned, there actually are no political writers. I think that my writing is no more political than classical Greek drama. I would have become the writer that I am in any political regime.]


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       Twittering

       So I'm not really sure about the usefulness of this twittering thing, but I'm having a go at it. I can see dumping some links and information there that's too incidental for a Literary Saloon-post, but I'm not too sure about anything beyond that. We'll see how it goes.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



22 March 2009 - Sunday

David Malouf profile | Raymond Chandler tributes
Literary periodical woes in the Czech Republic | The Twin review

       David Malouf profile

       In The Australian Miriam Cosic profiles David Malouf.
       His new novel, Ransom, is out in Australia soon, but only in October in the UK (pre-order your copy at Amazon.co.uk) -- and who knows when in the US .....

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       Raymond Chandler tributes

       As the fiftieth anniversary of Raymond Chandler's death (26 March) approaches tributes are appearing, including: Christopher Routledge on Chandlerís Reverse Romances at The Rumpus and Raymond Chandler's novels under the magnifying glass by Jake Kerridge in The Telegraph, where he argues: "Raymond Chandler's novels should be judged not as escapism but as art".

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       Literary periodical woes in the Czech Republic

       In The Prague Post Nina Makelberge reports that Budget cuts spur crisis of literary proportions, as:
The financial crisis is matched by a literary crisis in the Czech Republic, say publishers of literary periodicals, and government cuts to culture are to blame.

An open letter from editors to the Culture Ministry in reaction to a drop in public financing for literary publications from 20 million Kc in 2008 to 9 million Kc this year called the move "a momentous decision ... unlike any other action taken by the ministry since 1989."

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       The Twin review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Gerbrand Bakker's The Twin.

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21 March 2009 - Saturday

Geoff Dyer profile | Awards only for the living ?
Arab lit. in translation arguments | Roberto Ampuero | Fallada revival

       Geoff Dyer profile

       We're Geoff Dyer fans -- and our review of his forthcoming Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi should be up soon [updated: available now] -- but we found the insistence on Dyer as Something of a literary outlier in John Crace's profile in The Guardian a bit hard to take:
As he admits, he's rather gone out of his way not to build a following. "I don't suppose there are many Berger nuts who are also interested in the first world war, jazz and photography. But I've always taken the view that I'll write what I want to write. Whenever a publisher asks me what I'm going to do next I say, 'Whatever the fuck I want.' After all, it's me that's going to be stuck indoors doing the hard work, so I might as well try and enjoy it."
       (We'd have thought most 'Berger nuts' are as likely as not also to be interested in WWI, jazz, and photography .....)
       And then there's the idea that:
After roughly 15 years of being published by Little, Brown, Jeff in Venice is his first outing for Canongate, and the idea behind the move must be to try to take him over the line from cult to mainstream
       But surely books like Out of Sheer Rage are as mainstream as it gets -- at least for 'edgy' literary stuff (and it certainly got loads of attention).
       Still, we were amused to learn that:
"With my usual unerring eye for commercial suicide," he says, "I originally wanted to subtitle the book 'A Diptych' to make clear the two stories were separate. But I was urged not to, and when I saw a mock-up of the front cover with the word 'diptych' on it, I thought, 'Oh God, that's too pretentious even for me'. So I agreed to knock it off. But I'm beginning now to wonder if I shouldn't have let it stand.
       We've already scrawled 'A Diptych' on our ARC in magic marker .....

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       Awards only for the living ?

       In The Harvard Crimson Sanders Bernstein argues that (literary) Awards Should go to the Living -- the kind of argument that drives us nuts.
       Bernstein thinks that:
Though the National Book Critics Circle Award carries no money, its posthumous awarding to Roberto Bolaño for his monster of a work, 2666, raises a host of unsettling questions about the place of prizes, especially monetized prizes, in the world of letters.
       He reasons:
Awards should be given to the best book. I donít dispute that. And in the case of the National Book Critics Circle Award, as Iíve already stated, I have no real problem with its awarding. Yet I canít help but feel that there is something backward-looking about even giving an award to a dead man. Yes, the work should be honored, but -- and here is the crux of my argument -- are prizes supposed to merely be reactive ? Are they not supposed to encourage further production of literature along with merely honoring the good work of the past ? Should there not be a proactive element to prizes ?
       No, no. ('Yes' to the first question.)
       Bernstein brings up another example, undermining his own argument:
I have to say that, as unpopular as the Swedish Academy is these days, the Nobel Prize Committee has got it right in this respect: no posthumous prizes. They dole out their dough only to writers who will use the money to continue to write; they bestow their attention only on those who can directly benefit from a greater demand for their work.
       But there's a difference: the NBCC and the Pulitzer are book prizes, awarded to a specific title, while the Nobel is an author prize, awarded to an author.
       Book prizes should go to books: who or what wrote it should not figure in the discussion. That's why it's okay for Suite française to have gotten a big French prize decades after it was written and its author had died: it's when the book sees the light of day and becomes ... readable that counts. Authors don't count.
       Okay, authors do count, a bit, and we're all for that fostering-talent crap, too -- proactivism ! But not at the cost of rewarding inferior works by excluding superior ones whose authors have simply had the misfortune to pass away. The product should be rewarded, not the producer (hence also our annoyance with those headlines that read, e.g. 'Bolaño wins NBCC Prize'; Bolaño did not win the NBCC fiction prize, 2666 did).
       As we've noted often before, in Germany almost all the literary prizes are author-prizes (and the recent adoption of two book prizes -- the Leipzig fair one and the German Book Prize -- has not gone over particularly well among authors there). In contrast, Anglo and American prize-culture is work-oriented: almost all the major prizes are book-prizes -- while authors tend to get rewarded with 'fellowships' and young-author-grants and that sort of stuff; these don't get as much press, but the money tends to be better than for any of the American prizes (which are all notoriously low-to-no budget).

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       Arab lit. in translation arguments

       In the Khaleej Times Maryam Ismail argues that Arab Literature is Lost in Translation.
       Unfortunately, her arguments are along the lines of:
First, let the West open translation centres without Westerners and then letís start the translation. The problem with Arabic literature is that there is not enough of it out there which fits the Western tastes for sex, deviance, Arab self-annihilation, and materialism, all of which is acted out by jihadis, radical Islamist buffoons and honour killers and silly girls.
       Yeah, thanks for that tar-brush-stroke. That really helps move the discussion along. (Though we'll grant that there will likely never be enough literature, Arabic or otherwise, to fit Western (or Arabic, or other) tastes for sex and deviance.)
       And then there are nutty propositions such as:
Lack of resources and infrastructure may be part of it but it might also be about choosing an audience. Maybe there are many Arab authors who are not writing for the West, who do not want to be paraded around one year and forgotten the next. They are left suspended in the world of a forgotten, misguided context and having their words and meanings politically corrected -- staying up rewriting the myths of 1001 nights, keeping company with djinns, long-winded fair maidens, and Muslim warriors looking for love and vengeance.
       Are there really authors out there worried about 'choosing an audience' ? Surely the only way to find any audience -- the wrong or ultimately the 'right' one (like there really is such a thing ...) -- is to get the work out there, one way or another. Who the hell worries about being paraded about or not ? (As to being suspended in the world of the forgotten (and ignored) -- well, that club certainly seems big enough, and growing daily.)
       

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       Roberto Ampuero

       In the National Review (here at the AEI) Mark Falcoff profiles: "Roberto Ampuero, one of Chile's most original and interesting novelists" -- none of whose works are available in English yet (though Falcoff admits parenthetically: "I am preparing an English translation") --, in The Truth of Chile .
       He begins by noting that:
One of the most unfortunate aspects of American book publishing is the extremely limited scope it provides for works translated from foreign languages. We speak here not just of Chinese, Arabic, or Afrikaans, but of a tongue far closer to us in every sense -- Spanish. Although it is the second most widely spoken Western language after our own, one that generates a vast and sophisticated literary output, American book buyers and reviewers are afforded only a very limited sample.
       (Spanish has always seemed a special case to us, at least in the US, since so much of the natural readership reads the works in the original, i.e. has no need for translation. E.g.: While we don't find it worth our while to provide direct Amazon.com-links to Kindle-editions of the books we have under review we have found it very much worth our while to link to the Spanish-language editions of books originally written in Spanish; they sell surprisingly well.)
       And he's not quite right when he says:
The result is that a curtain of informal censorship combined with an old-boy/old-girl network -- presumably rationalized by the publishers as strictly commercial considerations -- deprives us of some of the most interesting novels being published south of the border.
       But it is fascinating that Ampuero is apparently:
his country's second most widely read novelist after Isabel Allende. Together his books have sold more than 220,000 copies in a country of 16 million (in the U.S., the equivalent would be more than 3 million). They have also found readers in many other languages--not just Portuguese, Italian, and Spanish, but French, German, Greek, Serbian and Croatian, and even Mandarin.
       And the books do sound fairly interesting.

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       Fallada revival

       A nice long piece by Matthew Shaer in The Los Angeles Times noting that Hans Fallada is resurrected in the U.S..
       See also our review of Every Man Dies Alone (sold as Alone in Berlin in the UK).

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