Chinese poet Li Shizheng, who writes under the pen-name Duo Duo (which is even prettier in Chinese: 多多), has been named the winner of the estimable Neustadt International Prize for Literature for 2010; see, for example, The Norman Transcript's report, Chinese poet awarded Neustadt Prize at OU.
(As I've mentioned before: they really, really need to work on their PR with this prize: other than the Oklahoman papers nobody seems to have reported this (and the official site didn't have the information, last I checked), despite it being one of the most important international author prizes going.
Of course, announcing the 2010 (!) prize in October -- he only picks it up next year -- probably doesn't help; even the Nobel only has two months lead time between announcement and ceremony .....)
Duo Duo beat out quite a field (they have a 'shortlist', of sorts) -- it included Atwood, Murakami, Ondaatje, and Yehoshua.
For examples of Duo Duo's work, check out the selection The Boy Who Catches Wasps; see the Zephyr Press publicity page, or get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
The Times (London) gives the new translation of Günter Grass' The Tin Drum by Breon Mitchell
review-coverage of the sort one might expect from Sam Tanenhaus at the NYTBR: it's the last title mentioned by Kate Saunders in her very summary fiction-roundup.
Mitchell's excellent translation reveals the novel as a timeless masterpiece.
Apparently there had been doubts for the past five decades .....
(Get your copy of the new translation at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)
(Updated - 1 November): I'm told that the NYTBR will, in fact, go to even greater (i.e.lesser) extremes, having passed on coverage of the retranslation (though Tanenhaus is usually a sucker for those.)
The London Review of Books celebrates its thirtieth anniversary by making the anniversary issue freely accessible in its entirety.
Admirable -- but less so is the fact that, in best Tanenhausesque style, all the titles covered are non-fiction, save a piece on some translated stuff by a dead guy (Julian Barnes writes on Guy de Maupassant), and a review of a book by Sebastian Faulks.
In much of Europe, the discount-pricing battle that has erupted among Wal-Mart Inc., Amazon.com Inc. and Target Corp. could never happen because most major publishing markets, with the exception of the U.K., are bolstered by laws requiring all bookstores, online retailers included, to sell books at prices set in stone by their publishers.
As a consequence (?):
Along with some 7,000 bookshops, nearly 14,000 German publishers remain in business.
Many are of modest size, like Munich-based Carl Hanser Verlag, which publishes the work of this year's Nobel laureate, German-Romanian writer Herta Mueller.
('Modest' must be a very, very relative term if it includes Hanser .....)
But among the interesting statistics on offer:
Just 65,000 e-books sold in Germany in the first half of the year, according to market research firm GfK Group.
Two weeks after an online book price war broke out among giant retailers, the three stores involved -- Walmart, Amazon and Target -- are limiting the number of copies their customers can buy.
Such limits on loss-leaders are, of course, not unusual -- and, unfortunately, legal; certainly one way of dealing with this kind of crap is to make it mandatory for anyone making such an 'offer' to have to supply however much consumers demand if goods are priced below a manufacturer's suggested retail price.
Guillou adds that his connection never led to any journalistic revelations and he denies spying for the Soviets.
He concedes, however, that he undertook paid assignments but claims the purpose was of a professional nature, to investigate how the KGB was working in Sweden at the time.
On the KGB payroll ?
Not something you want on your résumé.
The popular Guillou hasn't achieved that much success in English translation, but revelations such as this can't do much for the sales of, for example, the most recent work to appear in the US, the first part of his 'Crusades' trilogy (more of which has already appeared in the UK), The Road to Jerusalem (see the HarperCollins publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
Publishers Weekly's has announced their top 10 best books of 2009 (a year that I thought wasn't even 5/6ths over ...), and now offer a page that includes their reviews of all ten titles.
The only one under review at the complete review is Geoff Dyer's Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi.
It's come to this: in the Columbia Spectator Lucy Tang is actually led -- based on experience and examples -- to wonder: 'has it become a social taboo to read literature ?', in What makes literature lowbrow?
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Paul Theroux's new novel of A Crime in Calcutta, A Dead Hand -- just about out in the UK (and Canada...), but only being published in February in the US for some reason.
Heinz Czechowski, another of the Dresden poets -- the impressive group of East German writers, all of about the same generation, that also includes Volker Braun, Sarah Kirsch, Karl Mickel, and Adolf Endler -- has passed away; see, for example, Michael Braun's (German) report in the NZZ.
A few samples are up in English: the Goethe Institut has some of his writings about Dresden, and there are three poems from Modern Poetry in Translation:
While the title of Hannah Davies's The Guardian blog post -- The unknown Booker prize -- suggests the focus is on the so-called 'Russian Booker', she fortunately looks beyond that -- and notes that:
contemporary Russian fiction appears to have fallen off western literary radar.
Astonishingly little is translated into English any more, especially when compared to (Cold War) years past, which I find very frustrating.
(Embarrassingly little Russian literature is under review at the complete review, too -- more books in Norwegian, Hungarian, and Serbo-Croatian, among other languages, are reviewed here -- in no small part because there's so little contemporary fiction available in translation.)
Davies' does properly point to one of the most useful online resources for keeping up with the Russian scene, Lizok's Bookshelf.
The French like to draw out their prizes, with several of them going the extra round beyond long- and short-list, but it's almost the end of the line, as the Prix Goncourt and Prix Renaudot have now announced their finalists; see here and here for the titles).
Interestingly, there's no overlap among the finalists -- and many of the authors are familiar (well, have had work translated into English).
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Rafik Schami's The Dark Side of Love.
Yes, I already reviewed this for The National's Review-section, but I figure a review-page is worth putting up here too in order to post all the other links and review quotes .....
Eighty years ago the Manchester Guardian (as this paper then was) ran a poll to discover from its readers' votes the "novelists who may be read in 2029".
Only another 20 years to go, and the top five are already looking shaky: John Galsworthy (1,180 votes), HG Wells (933), Arnold Bennett (654), Rudyard Kipling (455) and JM Barrie (286).
Of course, the problem with such polls is that they rely on populist opinion, and whatever value one may put on populism, lasting it ain't.
A readers' poll done today would come up with a similar list of authors whose names might still be familiar eighty years from now, but who are unlikely to be very widely read.
Sutherland recognizes (almost) as much:
The feature all the winners have in common is that they were novels of the day.
That genre is not to be despised; we have different needs from our future descendants.
And we may be prone to the same shortsightedness.
Manjushree Thapa and Samrat Upadhaya are two exemptions, but in the international arena, they too are not that successful as they were once believed to be.
Apart from occasional critical reviews now and then, and few nominations for some gracious literary accolades, their international commercial success is nothing to write home about.
As a Nepali writing in English, both of them are pampered at home but their literary installations too are subjected to languish in obscurity so far as their international recognition is concerned, if we are rational enough in evaluating their credibility in equivalence to their more successful Indian, Afghani or Pakistani counterparts.
And as far as the bigger picture:
Forget the English writing in Nepal for a moment and take a glimpse over both the Nepali and world literature.
Do we find a good reason to justify the fact that Nepali writers deserve international recognition?
They say that if Devkota's works were translated into English in his heydays then he would have won the Noble Prize in literature.
This articulation, however, will remain as a hypothetical ambiguity evermore.
(Ah, yes, such is the fate of such articulations .....)
As widely reported, Jessica Mann is turning away from reviewing crime fiction; see, for example, Amelia Hill's Sexist violence sickens crime critic in The Observer.
As Hill reports:
Crime fiction has become so violently and graphically anti-women that one of the country's leading crime writers and critics is refusing to review new books.
But surely one of the opportunities open to the critic is to use that venue -- her reviews -- to point out this problem, and where crime fiction (in her opinion) has gone wrong.
(Updated - 27 October): The Book Bench points to the short article where Jessica Mann takes her stand -- Crimes against Fiction in Standpoint --; I apologize for missing that link and going with the second-hand report yesterday .....
In the Daily Star Matthew Mosley reports that: 'The callig[r]aphy in Samir Sayegh's 'In Praise of Arabic Letters' makes creative use of simple signifiers', in Letters to be observed, not pronounced, as:
Sayegh's view of calligraphy is similar to a poet's conception of the constraints placed by a particular form.
Like iambic pentameter or haiku, the proscribed shapes and symbols of calligraphy provide the rigid framework, perhaps, from which an artist can spring to ever greater heights of creativity.
"My purpose is to arrive at letters that are not pronounced, but rather observed," says Sayegh.
"This is where I am hoping my explorations will lead me to, to the beginning, before there was writing."
Anwar underlines that we do have excellent Malay literary works but they need to be translated for foreign markets.
His own works have been translated into English, French, Russian and Chinese, and several thousand copies have been sold overseas.
"But translation alone is not enough. Nowadays, no matter how good a product is, it wonít move if itís not promoted," he adds.
And he also notes:
When asked about the role of the English media, he says, "If possible, they should review Malay literary works.
Even works by Malaysian Chinese and Indians in their mother tongues should be written about too.
I suppose I should be happy whenever The New York Times Book Review covers any translated fiction (and in tomorrow's issue they cover several titles -- after quite a streak of avoiding anything translated; see my previous mention), but Tom Shone's review of the final volume of Jan Kjærstad's trilogy, The Discoverer, is completely baffling to me.
Perhaps Shone does have some specific qualifications for tackling this book (he has written about film, so maybe with a protagonist who is a media star they figured he was the man for the job ...), but literally from start to finish what he writes seems to me beside the point.
Paranoid as I am, I figure this is exactly what Tanenhaus wants: to undermine contemporary translated fiction at every possible turn with reviews like this.
They've announced that Canadian writer John Ralston Saul has been elected the new president of International PEN, succeeding Jiří Gruša.
See also his official site.
None of his books are under review at the complete review, but I read Voltaire's Bastards back in the day and was impressed by it (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of An Uncensored, Unauthorized History of The Simpsons, by John Ortved.
Sadly, this is the sort of book that makes me long for the censored and authorized version .....
They've announced the shortlist for the Man 'Asian' Literary Prize (without too much fanfare, as far as I can tell).
Only one well-known author -- Su Tong -- and a fairly interesting sounding variety of titles.
(Updated - 22 October): Longtime readers are, of course, familiar with the reason why I write 'Asian', but for those to whom it isn't obvious, see, for example, Alison Flood's piece in The Guardian, Indian subcontinent dominates Man Asian literary prize shortlist, where she notes that this prize: "has met controversy in the past over its definition of Asian. This includes 25 countries, from Mongolia to North Korea and Afghanistan, but fails to encompass the likes of Turkey, Iran or any of the 'Stans" (meaning, of course, the Central Asian states -- and note that the Arabic-speaking ones, (Syria, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Yemen, etc.) are also excluded: all in all, the equivalent of a European literary prize that excluded, say, Spain, Portugal, and Italy).
I like to think that I'm the one who ignited this particular debate -- and I have been fanning the flames ever since: unless it becomes a truly Asian prize it will always remain, for me and on these pages, the Man 'Asian' Literary Prize.
I encourage you to follow suit.
I would have thought it would be hard to come up with words of praise for Denis Sassou Nguesso -- you may not have heard of him, but he's president of Congo-Brazzaville, and he's certainly not done much for that place -- but he has a new book out, Straight Speaking for Africa
(get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) and it comes with a "Foreword by Nelson Mandela" that's just full of praise:
In President Denis Sassou Nguesso, I recognize a man who is not only one of our great African leaders ... but also one of those who gave their unconditional support to our fighters demand for freedom, and who worked tirelessly to free oppressed peoples from their chains and help restore their dignity and hope ...
That's what they quote on the Amazon page, anyway.
The only problem ?
Mr Mandela apparently did not write the Foreword ......
(See, for example, Sebastien Berger's report in The Telegraph, Nelson Mandela Foundation accuses Congo president over fake foreword.)
I do admire the guy's chutzpah.
But given his reputation -- could it get any worse ? -- you can't really blame him for trying something this nutty.
Time offers what they consider the Top 10 Literary Hoaxes.
(I only link to this because people seem to like these lists; I couldn't even be bothered to click through all the pages (only one hoax per page -- are they really so desperate to inflate their page-view numbers ?).)