Among Wednesday's PEN World Voices festival events was Anagrama: Celebrating 40 Years of Independent Publishing in Spain, moderated by Anagrama publisher Jorge Herralde, and featuring five authors he publishes: Francisco Goldman, A.M. Homes, Siri Hustvedt, Daniel Sada, and Enrique Vila-Matas.
Those who attended also got a small, slim hardback 'Deconstructing Anagram' -- basically a list of the authors and titles published by Anagrama (see also the publisher's official site), in various categories; it includes the '39 sobre 10' (the thirty-nine authors Anagrama has published ten or more titles by); at his Moleskine Literario-site Iván Thays (an Anagrama author, not yet available in English) lists the Club 10 de Anagrama (and also offers a nice picture of publisher Jorge Herralde in his office).
(Interestingly, despite being so well-known for fostering Spanish-language talent, the top three are foreign authors: Paul Auster (28 titles), Patricia Highsmith (26), and Hans Magnus Enzensberger (21).)
Despite some translation issues -- Herralde spoke (for the most part) in Spanish, as did Daniel Sada and Enrique Vila-Matas, and the first translator (who couldn't come up with the English word 'publisher', instead sticking to the Spanish 'editorial' ...) was pulled midway through the session -- it was a good introduction to the publishing house and the authors.
Francisco Goldman said that Anagrama was the publisher he was most proud to be associated with (and, given the fine list of authors there, one can understand why), and compared it to Grove, New Directions, and Farrar Straus and Giroux rolled up into one.
He also noted how it had become the pre-eminent publisher of newer Latin American fiction.
Daniel Sada's Casi nunca sounds intriguing; it's good to hear that Graywolf is bringing it out (see also, for example, the mention at Conversational Reading), and while each of the panelists offered something entertaining (Homes read briefly from her work, Hustvedt described some of the discoveries she had made while researching neurological connections to writing and reading), it was Enrique Vila-Matas who is most the writer-showman and performed best with his playful exposition (see also, for example, the complete review review of his Bartleby & Co.); he's appearing at several more events, which are definitely worth seeking out (including him in conversation with Paul Auster (44 Anagrama titles between them !)).
Anagrama has sixteen Vila-Matas titles out; there are only two in English, with a third coming .....
(They also have sixteen Bolaño titles out -- at least we're catching up a bit faster with those in English.)
Now the pace is also really picking up at the PEN World Voices festival -- today's program already makes for some difficult decisions as to what to skip .....
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Michal Ajvaz's forthcoming The Other City.
This is one of those cases where I might have judged it more harshly because it was close to being a very good book (which makes its failures all the more glaring) -- as opposed to being just your run-of-the-mill mediocre work.
(Publishers Weekly also recently reviewed it (scroll down) and found: "Ajvaz's novel is a gorgeous matryoshka doll of unreason, enigma and nonsense -- truly weird and compelling".)
Dalkey is apparently bringing out more of his work (in which he continues to play similar tricks), and I am curious about them.
I was flattered/amused to see that someone has put up a Wikipedia-page for the complete review; I'm curious as to whether it sticks and what it'll wind up looking like.
(Still a lot one could add -- including quite a bit more under the 'Critical and popular reception', such as The NY Times Book Review's 3 October 2004 mention ("it remains one of the best literary destinations on the Web") or its being named one of Time's 50 Coolest Websites in 2005 .....)
(Updated - 1 May): Wouldn't you know it ?
No sooner said than done, as these mentions too have now been added.
(Yeah, I did sort of expect that would happen.)
In Eileen Chang's fractured legacy in the Asia Times Peter Lee reports on how a newly published novel, 小團圓 ('Little Reunion'), by Eileen Chang (張愛玲) -- who passed away in 1995 -- has become a runaway bestseller in the Chinese-speaking world -- even though:
In 1976, Eileen Chang's close friend, Stephen Soong, earnestly advised her not to risk her reputation as a cultural icon -- and her position in the Taiwan literary market -- by publishing an autobiographical novel entitled Little Reunion.
"You might not only lose your reputation, your livelihood in the Taiwan literary arena might end and the goodwill accumulated over many years might be swept away.
I'm not saying this just to alarm you. I have a lot of experience in PR, I've seen a lot, and I'm not pulling these fears out of thin air."
But now the book has finally come out, and:
Little Reunion was published this year in Taiwan (February 24), Hong Kong (February 28) and China (April 8) editions in a whirlwind of publicity and sales.
Little Reunion is on the top of the best seller lists in Taiwan (where it is in its eighth printing) and Hong Kong (sixth printing).
In China, the first printing of 300,000 copies sold out before the official data of publication and a second printing of 100,000 has been ordered.
The Taiwan version (in traditional characters) came out a month earlier and has already been bootlegged by China's indefatigable intellectual-property pirates.
The false promise of the downloadable text has been used as a lure by China's equally indefatigable propagators of computer malware.
How does literature stay alive ?
How does writing from the past persist, influence and spark contemporary writers and their work ?
Each author was invited to choose a favorite classic that had inspired their own work, to read a passage from it, and explain their choice.
It was a variation on last year's 'Books That Changed My Life'-panel (see my report), but the choices were generally much more closely tied to the authors' recent projects.
George Packer was the only one whose choice didn't have an obvious connection with a specific work of his, as he described how he found himself somewhat at sea in his Peace Corps years in Togo.
Glad for any books that came his way in the out-of-the way spot he was basically lost in, he picked up Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) again, and he found that while it didn't solve his problems it did put them in some perspective.
He also mentioned later reading Chinua Achebe's critical piece on the novel that basically ripped it to shreds -- and finding that the book could withstand even such justified criticism, something that impressed him greatly.
The Elegance of the Hedgehog-author Muriel Barbery mentioned how her husband and her were both completely enamored by Japanese culture, and how one of the benefits of the success of her book was that now they could afford to live there -- as they have, in Kyoto, for over a year now.
Before then their only possibility of immersing themselves in Japanese life was through books and movies; she noted her passion for the films of Ozu (which of course play a prominent role in The Elegance of the Hedgehog), but since she couldn't pick a film she chose Okakura Kakuzo's The Book of Tea (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) -- an early twentieth-century text on the Japanese tea ceremony written specifically for Western audiences (indeed, written in English).
She admires it (as representative for what she loves about Japan) for its sumptuous slowness, and beauty without tinsel and ornamentation -- as in Ozu's films, with their simplicity and purity that (so Barbery ...) also holds incredible complexity and unheard of depth.
It was interesting to learn that The Elegance of the Hedgehog in fact does contain so much of her own philosophy and Japanophilia .....
The Proof of the Honey-author Salwa Al Neimi (who writes in Arabic, but lives in France -- and spoke in French) described what she had tried to do in her novel: basically she had wanted to prove that modern Arabic language and literature can bear to deal with the erotic (which, she noted, is denied both by many Arabic writers in France (who, she says, believe Arabic is incapable of expressing intimacy and the like) and by Islamists (who think the sacred language can't be used to describe sex or the body)).
Specifically, she wanted to prove it by building on older Arabic literature -- and so her choice was the only one of the many texts she used and consulted available in translation, Sheikh Nefzaoui's The Perfumed Garden (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
She also noted that it was the softest of these books (in 'porn'-terms) .....
(At the end of the panel she fielded a question as to whether she faced any problems because of her book: she said the only problem was that it was banned in all the Arabic countries except those of the Maghreb and Abu Dhabi -- but while she considered censorship stupid, in this day and age it's hardly a problem any longer: her book can be easily downloaded over the Internet and is widely circulated throughout the region .....)
The most interesting choice was José Manuel Prieto's, closely tied to his recently released in translation Rex
(get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
After getting a scholarship to study engineering in Novosibirsk when he was nineteen -- quite a change for someone from Cuba -- he spent most of the 1980s there, and among the few books he took along were some volumes of Proust's Remembrance of Things Past; as readers of Rex know, that book plays a central role in the novel, as the protagonist uses it as a sort of all-purpose textbook to teach from when he is hired as a tutor.
But Prieto plays several games in the book, and there's a great deal of fakery and bluffing going on, and the book Prieto singles out isn't the one Proust is best known for but rather the pastiche-collection The Lemoine Affair.
Part of the beauty of this choice is that the 'Lemoine Affair' that Proust used as the basis for his pastiches involves fake diamonds (or rather the promise of a method to create artificial diamonds) -- which is also a significant plotline in Rex ...
Despite the need for (near-) simultaneous translation -- three of the four authors made most of their comments in languages other than English -- the panel (moderated by Esther Allen) didn't drag on too much and was both entertaining and informative.
It is the sort of exercise that probably lends itself better to the written page -- i.e. would make a good anthology --, especially since there was practically no discussion between the participants, but they each made a decent case for their choices -- and the connections they drew to their recent work was particularly interesting.
The SWR-Bestenliste -- the German critics' choice list -- for May is now available, with Ralf Rothmann top of the rather odd heap.
David Rieff's memories of mom also placed well, as did Nicholson Baker's Human Smoke.
The French-American Foundation and the Florence Gould Foundation have announced the finalists for their 22nd Annual Translation Prizes for translations from the French published in 2008.
In the fiction category they are:
The PEN World Voices festival has started and, as usual, it snowballs from a few events early in the week (two yesterday, three today) to an overwhelming number by the end.
But even the light schedule today should
keep me fairly busy, as I try to take in two out of the three events.
Resonances: Writers on the Great Works (14:30-16:00), with Muriel Barbery (The Elegance of the Hedgehog), Salwa Al Neimi (The Proof of the Honey), José Manuel Prieto (Rex, which I haven't been able to get my hands on yet ...), and George Packer, sounds like it has some good discussion-potential.
The A Thousand Deaths Plus One-launch (19:00) with author Sergio Ramírez, translator Leland Chambers, and publisher Bruce McPherson
should also be worthwhile -- it's an impressive book, and
Ramírez should really be getting more attention: he is one of the leading Latin American authors, and deserves a much larger readership in the English-speaking world.
(The complete review-review has been up for a while; somewhat embarrassingly, a blurb from the review also appears on the back of the finished book.)
In The New Yorker Peter Conrad profiles Portuguese author António Lobo Antunes, in Doctor and Patient -- beginning:
The Portuguese novelist António Lobo Antunes discovered his literary vocation while delivering babies, performing amputations, and carving up corpses.
Conrad also addresses the Lobo Antunes v. José Saramago debate, comparing the two authors:
Saramago is a benign magus whose fictions smilingly suspend reality; Lobo Antunes is more like an exorcist, frantically battling to cast out evil and to heal the body politic.
Saramagoís secular parables, set mostly in unnamed or imaginary countries, easily float off into universality.
Lobo Antunes remains obsessively local, worrying over the inherited ailments of Portuguese history and the debilities of its culture.
While granting that Lobo Antunes writes some powerful stuff, I still find myself more of a Saramago man.
In The National Ben East profiles Amit Chaudhuri, in Rhythms of life, while in The Oxonian Review Lakshmi Krishnan interviews him, in The Quiet Rebel.
Chaudhuri's new novel, The Immortals, is out in the UK (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk), but is only due out at the end of August in the US (pre-order your copy at Amazon.com).
English copies of Chess with the Doomsday Machine, a Persian novel on the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war will be on sale at the 22nd Tehran International Book Fair.
(Yes, another 'Sacred Defense'-novel .....)
The Habib Ahmadzadeh novel has been published in the US by Mazda; see their publicity page, or get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
I couldn't elicit a copy from them but chanced across a copy published by Soureh Mehr Publishing House in Tehran -- they printed an English-language edition of 2200, which presumably are the copies they'll be handing out at TIBF.
Oddly, the entire text in this edition is printed in italics -- which actually gets to be rather irritating after a while (and at 390 pages this is quite a heap of a novel).
A review will be up ... eventually.
In The Japan Times Michael Hoffman profiles Japanese novelist Nagai Kafu fifty years after his death, in A literary loner, noting:
There's not much left of Kafu today.
Among the major Japanese writers of the early 20th century, he scarcely ranks as a survivor.
Natsume Soseki, Ryunosuke Akutagawa, Junichiro Tanizaki are the towering names of the period. Kafu, relatively speaking, is a footnote.
See also the complete review's review of his Rivalry.
At Semana translator Anne MacLean is profiled, in The invisible hand
Two of her translations made the shortlist for The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize -- and Juan Gabriel Vásquez gives her a ringing endorsement:
MacLean is currently translating Historia Secreta de Costaguana, by Vásquez, who exchanged 200 e-mails with MacLean while she was translating The Informers.
He explains that she represents a variety of translator which is almost nonexistent, "the one who, more than being an expert in one language, is obsessed and convinced that his task in life is to stop readers of his own language from dying without having known the readers of the other language".
"She's very unusual for an English person," her friend Philip Hensher says of her, "in that she's quite suspicious of comedy.
With most people, sooner or later, every intellectual position comes down to a joke -- it never does with her.
This is where I think she fights with Kingsley Amis."
(Her new novel, The Children's Book, is due out soon in the UK (pre-order your copy at Amazon.co.uk), and not so soon -- October -- in the US (pre-order your copy at Amazon.com).)
Meanwhile, her sister, Margaret Drabble, takes part in this week's Small Talk-Q&A in the Financial Times
Valerie Grove profiles Hilary Mantel in The Times.
Mantel's new novel, Wolf Hall, is out in the UK (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk) -- and will come out in the US in ... October (apparently they're saving all the British novels for October ...; pre-order your copy at Amazon.com).
The problem is the inexistence of incentives to catalyse the production of the kind of creative works that will shape the social and intellectual lifestyle of this country as well as empower citizens to stand up for their rights.
William Gass spoke about 'baroque prose' at Columbia University, and Ian Corey-Boulet interviewed him at Spectacle, "Columbia's new online source for all things Arts & Entertainment", which looks like a useful online complement to the Columbia Daily Spectator.
(There's quite a bit by Gass under review at the complete review; see, for example, the review of
Hobbled by censorship at home and ignorance of China abroad, Chinese writers are failing to make a major impact globally, 90 years after a landmark literary revolution.
"Westerners are attracted to Chinese books which have been banned, even if they are not terribly good works of literature," Chen Jiangong, vice-chairman of the government-linked Chinese Writers Association, told Reuters.
"They are curious about them.
So sometimes Chinese authors write simply to shock and be banned so as to appeal to foreigners," he added.
In his home country, Shalev is mentioned in the same breath as David Grossman and Amos Oz, Israelís two most renowned writers.
And though his novels steadily appear in translations abroad (in over 20 languages no less), internationally he is still a lesser-known name.
It is perhaps all the more surprising since his work has both literary cachet -- dense as it is with biblical allusions and classic literary themes -- and is also deliriously entertaining.
Shalev, to put a finer point on it, is a funny writer.
Shalev seems to be fairly well-known in the English-speaking world -- though he is much more popular in, for example, Germany (probably the second most popular Israeli author there -- after his cousin, Zeruya Shalev).
He'll be appearing at the PEN World Voices festival next week.
(There's nothing of his under review at the complete review, but see, for example, A Pigeon and a Boy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)
As to the best Israeli novelist youíve never heard of (at least some of whose works are available in English), I'd probably go with Yoel Hoffmann -- and not just because the galley to his Curriculum Vitae arrived a couple of days ago (pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
Matilda points me to Max Barry's new online-novel, Machine Man, that's being presented a page (often a short page) at a time -- closing in on thirty so far.
As Barry explains on the FAQ page:
Itís "real-time" because you read it as I write it.
This isnít a novel thatís been gathering dust in a drawer, pining for a publisher.
Itís being written for the medium.
(It doesn't appear to be completely real time -- i.e. you can't follow each character he types in -- but fairly close, anyway.)
His other three novels are under review at the complete review -- Company, Jennifer Government, and Syrup -- and one of the consistent complaints has been that they seem unpolished and rushed -- so it's worrying to hear:
It might suck.
It wonít be a polished work.
It will be raw and chaotic, and at some point I will probably need to back-pedal furiously to extract myself from a literary dead end.
Itís slightly frightening, the idea of being unable to go back and change anything. Usually I rewrite books until they beg me to stop.
What is fairly clever, however, is that:
Right now it's free.
At some point in the future -- probably around the time I decide the story is not going to implode -- the free trial will stop and you can buy the whole thing for $6.95.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Richard A. Posner's forthcoming book on The Crisis of '08 and the Descent into Depression, A Failure of Capitalism, which should be getting a lot of attention (and which Posner will be updating regularly at a blog they're setting up, starting a week after publication).
Given how many Posner titles are under review here this latest one was obviously a candidate to be quickly gotten to (though I haven't entirely been able to keep up with his ridiculously prodigious output over the past couple of years), but I think there's been too great a focus on economics-related titles hereabouts recently -- so many that I found it worthwhile to put up an Index of books on Business and Economics under Review.
Still, in these times, it is a fun subject to follow.
will include, among others, some of the very best books from the iconic Heinemann African Writers Series, which was established in 1962
And, indeed, the first batch of six is AWS-heavy -- though three of the AWS titles appear to be listed as not in print at Amazon.com (including, surprisingly, Ngugi's Weep Not, Child).
A bit more ... novelty would have been welcome, but I suppose it's a start .....
The prize sounds a bit more promising, and I look forward to seeing how that develops.
Across the world, the appetite for English language books is booming and publishers struggling under the weight of the recession in their core markets of the US and UK are increasingly turning their sights overseas.
It continues: as, for example, Graham Keeley reports in The Times, Spain's Nobel laureate Camilo José Cela guilty of plagiarism (but, of course,they're appealing the verdict ...).
This interminable case revolves around his 1994 novel, The Cross of St Andrew, but among the oddities of the case is that:
Both authors are dead and the case was launched by Jesús Diaz Formoso, son of the plagiarised author, against José Manuel Lara Bosch, managing director of Grupo Planeta, publishers of Celaís book.
They've announced the 2009 Pulitzer Prizewinners (and the nominated finalists).
As usual, none of the book-category-winners (or finalists) are under review at the complete review.
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout took the fiction prize -- beating out two other books by female authors, Louise Erdrich and Christine Schutt.
None of the three finalists for the Criticism prize were book reviewers.
Booktrade.info report that European Bestseller Goes To Constable & Robinson In London Book Fair Pre-empt, as they bought the rights to Maria Sveland's Bitterfittan, which has sold some 200,000 copies in Sweden (and already 20,000 in Germany, where it just came out).
They translate the title as 'Bitter Bitch', and while that's a decent approximation for what she's trying to convey with the title it is decidedly not a literal translation.
Admittedly, the Norstedts foreign rights page tries to sell it as 'Bitter Bitch' as well -- but that's presumably because they know a literal translation would be unprintable in American newspapers (and undisplayable at your local Barnes & Noble).
(Let's put it this way: 'Bitter-Pussy' would be closer to the mark, but there's an obvious alternative.)
The Germans (and German media in reporting on it) show no such compunctions.
Andreas Campomar of Constable & Robinson enthuses:
Although Sveland has written Bitterfittan both in anger and sorrow, it is essentially a book about love -- Doris Lessing's The Golden Notebook meets Erica Jong's Fear of Flying, but for the twenty-first century.
(The protagonist apparently reads and refers to Fear of Flying a lot.)
See also Maria Sveland's officiella hemsida.
"If you are a Malay reader, sometimes you are denied the pleasure of reading chic literature as there are little works by international authors translated into Bahasa Malaysia.
So now we will take the readers to the next level with good editorial by doing this translation as well as printing the book locally," he said.