Not satisfied with handing out the Nobel Prize in literature -- Peter Englund, Chair no. 10 at the Nobel-awarding Swedish Academy, takes over as permanent secretary (i.e. the guy that faces the press and says insulting things about American literature) on 1 June -- Peter Englund has announced on his weblog that he is handing out a 'Pol Pot Prize' (to Mattias Gardell) .....
As you can guess, this is in reaction to another prize, as some enlightened (?) soul has decided to resurrect the Lenin (Peace) Prize (?!?) in honor of Jan Myrdal (?!!?!); see the official site.
The first recipient ?
Mattias Gardell, of course.
The Stockholm News tries to explain all this in Renewed Lenin Prize countered with Pol Pot Prize
Good to see Swedish academicians like to play games like this too .....
In The Independent Christina Patterson profiles Martin Amis and talks to him about: 'his new book, and how he wishes the world was run by women'.
Quite the gush-piece, including the news-to-me:
The test, of course, is whether something works, and House of Meetings works triumphantly. It's a dazzling, sickening, chastening and, yes, beautiful, portrayal of life in a Stalinist slave camp in the Arctic Circle.
The reviews were universally rapturous.
Apparently 'universally' means some different in the British press than it does in ... the real world.
Sam Anderson found it: "disappointing on a couple of levels" in New York, while in Entertainment Weekly Jeff Giles rated it a "B-" and found:
The epistolary form feels like a musty, distracting convention for a novelist of Amis' power.
What's worse, his famously stylish prose has vanished in favor of a solemn baritone.
Not much information about the new book, either.
It's called The Pregnant Widow, and not due out until the fall -- though you can pre-order it at Amazon.co.uk (no US listing yet).
Not too much activity surrounding Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones any longer, but in the Literary Review Carole Angier weighs in -- and gets it pretty much all wrong in trying to have it both ways:
Those who admire The Kindly Ones are right, but those who loathe it are not completely wrong.
It is half a work of genius and half a work of gratuitous perversion.
It's a bit more complicated than that -- and the gratuitous perversion is only an incidental flaw (the frosting on the cake, as it were, compared to the much larger flaws that truly sink this thing).
In The Jewish Week Eric Herschthal also considers all the fuss, and at The Valve Andrew Seal and Adam Roberts have A Discussion About The Kindly Ones.
They've announced the 180 Guggenheim Foundation 2009 Fellows - United States and Canada.
A lot of authors, but the only one reviewed at the complete review is Chris Abani (Becoming Abigail).
There are a few books translated by Howard Goldblatt under review as well; he got a fellowship to translate Mo Yan's 檀香刑.
Do you feel 70 years old ?
Of course, I've been around a long time.
Being a 70-year-old Israeli is probably like being a 200-year-old Swede, because I've seen so much, seen everything.
I was born before the state, and I remember the days before the state and the first days of the state and the first years.
It's a good business to be an Israeli, a tough life, but for the price of an ordinary one you live 200 years.
The collection of travel writing by Cees Nooteboom, Nomad's Hotel, came out in the UK in 2006 (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk), and now a US edition is finally available; see the Mariner Books publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com.
Tim Rutten reviews it in The Los Angeles Times today, and finds:
The relatively short works here are not, in other words, pieces that slip easily into the conventional Anglo-American travel-writing genre.
(That's part of what renders them rather mesmerizing.)
Nor does it work to label them "travel sketches."
Despite their brevity, these are deeply layered, richly allusive and -- in the best sense of the word -- demanding, wholly original pieces.
Perhaps they best could be described as meditations on various destinations.
During Obama’s visit to Turkey this week, the leader of the main opposition party in Parliament presented him with a copy of Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar's 1949 novel A Mind at Peace, about a Turkish family in the years after the founding of the republic in 1923, as well as a book by Sait Faik Abasiyanik.
He said he'd read them -- but will it do anything for A Mind at Peace's sales ?
Last I checked, its Amazon.com sales rank was still a dismal 522,552.
Arabs like to say that they practically invented storytelling.
But the reality is that the Arabic novel has remained on the margins of world literature probably since the end of the Abbasid golden age.
Still, it's worth reminding non-Arabic readers about some of the local issues, such as:
But some problems predate the region's conflicts, including, most prominently, the language itself.
Specifically, the kind of Arabic used in a piece of work can deter swathes of potential readers.
The most sophisticated, classical Arabic is understood throughout the Arab world, but comes across on the page as somewhat akin to Shakespeare or even Chaucer to modern Anglo-Saxon ears.
On the other hand, national dialects travel badly, with Algerian Arabic, for example, emerging as the densest and least intelligible brogue to Gulf readers.
One of the compromises made famous by such writers as Mahfouz is to write in classical Arabic for the broadest possible Arab audience.
But that requires readers to suspend disbelief when the hookers and petty underworld mobsters of old Cairo strut around waxing lyrical as bards.
I thought it was a ridiculous story when it was 'reported' last week (and couldn't believe how everyone jumped on and repeated it, without wondering how believable it might be), and -- surprise, surprise -- it turns out to have been a ridiculous story.
I said the reports that Gabriel García Márquez had laid down his pen were based on "baseless second-hand gossip" (for god's sake, they quoted his 'literary' agent and his biographer ... enough said).
And guess what: someone actually bothered to ask the Nobel laureate himself (hey ! there's an idea !) and he toldEl Tiempo:
¿ Es cierto que no volverá a escribir ?
No sólo no es cierto, sino que lo único cierto es que no hago otra cosa que escribir.
Gabriel Garcia Marquez, the octogenarian titan of Colombian literature, is still writing and may publish again, the author told a Colombian newspaper.
"I don't do anything but write," the novelist who penned One Hundred Years of Solitude told leading daily El Tiempo.
I know the temptation to report literary 'news' -- Nobel laureate stops writing ! -- is great, but I thought it was shocking (and negligent) how everyone -- in print and online -- just jumped on this without thinking what (little) the original report said -- and how feebly founded it was.
A subject that, sadly, never grows old: in The National John O'Connell writes about author's Looking the part, as:
The dust jacket photo remains a crucial promotional device. In fact, says Antonia Hodgson, the editor-in-chief at the publisher Little, Brown, it’s more important than ever.
"The author photo is now just the beginning of a process of getting to know the author," she says.
"These days readers want to know everything.
It all started in the mid 1990s when quite suddenly you had many more opportunities to interact with writers -- a lot more festivals and author tours.
Nowadays, woe betide the author who doesn’t keep his blog up to date."
Much as I've enjoyed getting to know some authors: for the most part -- with, admittedly, an exception here or there -- I really don't want to know more -- and much less everything.
Indeed, on the whole, I'd be glad to be spared the dust jacket photo, bio-blurb, and all the rest -- so don't worry about updating that blog for my sake.
More important than ever ?
For me that would still be the damn book .....
The complete review went live on the Internet 31 March 1999, but the first reviews -- a batch of forty-five -- were posted 5 April, so that seems a more appropriate starting-date to mark: and so, yes, the complete review is a decade ancient today.
[As they were posted alphabetically by author-name, review number one is officially ... Nicholson Baker's The Everlasting Story of Nory.]
2251 reviews in ten years -- not bad.
The Literary Saloon has been lumbering along for a while now too (the weblog was added in August, 2002), and there have been a few other odds and ends on/to the site since then, but the reviews remain the heart of the site: that's what it's all about.
I'll write up a longer overview at some point -- not that much wisdom or experience has accumulated over all that time.
For now: a few notes, odds and ends, and some house-keeping/sweeping:
Surprisingly, the formula I started out with -- links to all (well, as many as I can round up) of the other reviews of the book under discussion; links to additional relevant information; representative quotes from other reviews; and my/our review -- has, I think, held up well.
I always figured someone would try/do this on a much larger scale, but (rather disappointingly, actually) there has always been little outright … competition, I suppose.
A vast number of sites (and, in the past couple of years, weblogs) post book reviews, but astonishingly few link in any systematic way.
[Among the very few things that are noteworthy about the site regarding its longevity is the fact that the URLs have remained unchanged: everything is where it always was (and it's still there, too).
This may not strike many of you as much of an achievement, but as someone who spends so much time linking and then replacing links with new addresses I think it is worth pointing out how out-of-the-ordinary this is.
Only a small percentage of the original links to outside sources on the site have remained unchanged over the years -- especially the links to outside reviews or publisher information -- and many, many lost.
(Among the signs of the site's age: I remember changing the URLs to Danny Yee's review's -- one of the few still standing book reviewing venues that pre-dates this one -- but even he changed his damn URL .....)
I love many of you review- and publisher-sites, and weblogs, but, on this anniversary, a pox on all of you (and it is pretty much all of you, and you know who you are) for changing your URLs as the years have gone by.
Those who only did it once, for the sake of a more elegant URL, I can almost excuse/understand (still: pox ! pox ! pox !), but some of you … especially some newspaper/magazine sites, some of which seem to pick a new way of doing things every other year.
And don't get me started on publisher-sites .....
What the hell are all of you thinking ? (Yes, yes, I know what you were thinking: you'd found a better/more elegant/simpler way of doing things ((too) often: again and again and again ...) .....
Good for you. But: pox !)]
The mix of books covered at the complete review remains eclectic (mostly my fault/taste), and while best-known for coverage of translated (and, occasionally, not-yet-translated) fiction, I'm more or less satisfied with the range of books covered.
I'd always like to cover more -- far more -- but the logistics are too daunting.
(The grand irony of the site for me also always remains that since it takes up so much of my time I actually read less than I otherwise might.)
While the formula may still work, the site is obviously showing its age.
Jerry-built over the years, it is a very weak edifice and has long required a major overhaul; so far I have not dared take a stab at doing the necessary -- and with some three or four thousand pages to reformat I don't know when I'll find the time, money, or inclination to bother.
But bother I will have to at some point .....
After all these years I also figure it is time to abandon my hopes of creating an independent institutional identity for the complete review.
I've always tried to stay in the background (and would, of course, prefer disappearing completely unrecognized behind the scenes, an entirely anonymous puppet-master), but despite my best efforts to de-personalize the site it has become futile to avoid the obvious: complete review, c'est moi.
Not that it's always been that way, not absolutely entirely, but by now I figure some ninety-five per cent of the reviews, and near as much of the weblog-content can be ascribed to me, and all of it in recent times, and so I might as well do away with any pretense of there being anything more to the complete review than me for now.
(There's always hope that the complete review-as-institution concept can be revived, but between my 'vision' for the site, and my taskmaster-skills … don't count on it.)
Hence one minor change: posts and reviews will now be signed 'M.A.Orthofer', as I might as well lay claim to (and accept blame for) them.
(One of the sillier reasons I have been reluctant to do so previously is that I love the CR-'house style' -- that affected (pseudo-)British spelling (rumour, connexion, etc.) -- but can't bring myself to use it when I sign my name to a piece of writing.
(Observant readers will have noticed that those few Literary Saloon-posts I have signed my name to conform to American spelling, while those signed 'complete review' don't).
I'm not sure I'll be able to bring myself to write 'connection' (and, sorry. it's always going to be: 'titbits' -- can't give that up), so I might not be entirely consistent here (as, indeed, I haven't been in the reviews, if you look closely), but for the most part, I'm afraid, the site will now look a bit more American.)
Don't expect much change, otherwise, however.
I'm not really big on anniversaries and the like in the first place, and only mention this one because it's hard to overlook.
No doubt, there will be minor changes to the site in the coming years, but on the whole I expect that what you got last week -- or ten years ago -- is what you'll get next week.
(No promises about ten years from now, but I'd figure the odds are pretty much even you'll find a note remarkably similar to this one at the Literary Saloon on 5 April 2019.)
I'm pleased to see that so many of you do seem to get something from what I offer here -- and I'm glad to provide it.
I still love doing this -- exactly this -- and hope to be able to for quite some time to come.
(Updated - 7 April): Many thanks for all the well-wishes, etc.-- much appreciated !
In Go-Go Literature in Outlook India Vineetha Mokkil and Pushpa Iyengar report that in India:
Railway bookstalls across the country have had a makeover, thanks to new marketing tactics by publishers and those in the book distribution trade, driven by what they perceive as the changing profile and reading habits of the railway traveller.
Per Petterson's Jeg forbanner tidens elv ('I Curse the River of Time') has won the prestigious Nordic Council's Literature Prize; fortunately the English-language rights have already been snapped up, so it should be available in the US and UK within ... well, a few years.
For some English-language information, see the Aschehoug Agency information page.
(See also, for example, our review of Petterson's In the Wake.)
MNA report that, with 25,674 tickets sold for 43 performances, Ionesco's Rhinoceros most popular play of the year in Iran.
Apparently star power goes a long way there, too -- the runner-up play, Hassan and the Ghoul of Narrow Road behind the Mountain only managed 4801 tickets sold.
Amir Atashani’s Khanjareha, on a tazieh actor facing a dilemma, was last in the rankings. Only 390 tickets were sold for the play that was staged during the last month of the Iranian calendar year.
Ah, yes, those tazieh-actor-facing-a-dilemma dramas just don't pull them in like they used to, do they ?
US coverage of Charlotte Roche's Wetlands is beginning to pick up: Slate has a review, there's a Q & A at Nerve and an interview at Salon.
At Salon, Roche offers such titbits as:
When I went to brothels, as a woman, all the men would think I was a prostitute. I would get offers. The brothel owners would always tell me to come at 6 in the evening, before business started. The atmosphere was so nice.
They were all completely naked and had high heels, and it was so warm, everybody was sweating.
And just walking in the entrance area in the bar, it's just like paradise.
People are naked and sexual and humid.
And I thought, it's a big shame that we don't have that for women.
There is such a nice range for men, they have so much opportunity -- porn on the Internet, wanking booths. But women have nothing.
Porn on the internet !
Wanking booths !
Lucky, lucky men, indeed .....
So, they've made an opera out of Per Olov Enquist's The Royal Physician's Visit (or The Visit of the Royal Physician, as the UK title has it ...).
Bo Holten composed it, and they're now playing it at the Danish Royal Opera; see the English information page -- or watch the trailer where, suspiciously, they don't let you hear any of the performers sing .....
Among the April issues of online publications now available are the new Open Letters, as well as a Words without Borders dedicated to the upcoming PEN World Voices festival (with some very fine stuff indeed).
They've announced the six titles that have made the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize shortlist; typically, they have not yet announced that at The Independent (Boyd Tonkin's piece on the list will predictably appear tomorrow [Updated - 3 April: yes, it's now available here]), but see, for example, the BBC's Six vie for foreign fiction prize.
We don't have any of the titles under
review -- and probably won't be able to get around to any of them by the time they announce the prize.
They've announced the eight finalists for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award -- predictably not yet (last we checked) at the official site, but see, for example, James Pressley's report at Bloomberg.
(Why do these prizes all not take advantage of having the information first ?
If they can send out a press release to the news agencies, surely they could post the information at the official and affiliated sites, no ?
We have two of the shortlisted titles under review: Ravel by Jean Echenoz and The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid.
Disappointingly, Ravel and The Burnt-Out Town of Miracles are the only works in translation among the finalists.
In The Guardian Paul Hamilos reports that: Gabriel García Márquez, literary giant, lays down his pen
Unfortunately, there was no grand public ceremony to mark the event -- indeed, apparently there was and is no witness.
Instead, we have another article based on hearsay
-- just the usual essentially baseless second-hand gossip, in this case regurgitated from a La Tercera article by Roberto Careaga that is at least slightly more honestly titled: Biógrafo y amigos dicen que García Márquez no volverá a escribir.
Yeah, yeah, we'll believe it when we don't see it (i.e. when nothing more by García Márquez appears).
This may be: "un secreto a voces", but they can just keep it until the old man himself comes out and says it.
The finalists for the Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize
have been announced; not at the official site, last we checked, but Booktrade has the press release; scroll down for descriptions of the titles -- an interesting selection.
At Eurozine Andrea Zlatar writes about Literary perspectives: Croatia, noting that: 'While the stars of Croatian "women's literature" continue to forge their own styles, a new generation of post-feminist writers has emerged in the crossover between literature and journalism.'
We received a galley of Dalkey Archive Press' forthcoming Juan the Landless by the great Juan Goytisolo (due out in July) -- noteworthy because unlike the first two volumes in this trilogy (Marks of Identity, Count Julian) it is a new translation (by Peter Bush; Helen Lane was responsible for the first one), and Goytisolo has revised the text.
We also have the Lane-translation and look forward to comparing the two; the new version has clearly been pared down.
Leafing through the books, we can't resist a few quick comparisons.
So, for example, Lane has:
all of you exist
those are his exact words in the Koran
While the new version has:
he said textually
Or Lane has:
the phallus, that is correct, the phallus
Where Bush goes with:
the cock, you got it, the cock
And similarly suggesting a very different tone, from the famous closing passages, Lane writes:
from this point on, break the habit of the language that was yours, begin by writing it in accordance with simple phonetic intuition, without troubling yourself to ask the permission of Doña Hakademe
While Bush has:
get unfamiliar with your language this very minute, start writing it according to mere phonetic intuition without the go a hed of Dayme Akademee
Both of these novels concern visionaries at large in a landscape that obsesses them while they almost hate it.
Both reflect White's ambiguous attitude to Australia, whose literary map he was indeed writing.
Both show how plans, whether divine or not, seem to show themselves in our lives when least desirable.
Both have pace and power, immense dramatic force, and deserts of sometimes intimidating mysticism. Best of all is the style.
And he properly concludes:
Twenty years after Patrick White's death, Voss and The Vivisector are revealed once again as masterpieces.