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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 31 October 2009

21 October: Man 'Asian' Literary Prize shortlist | Not so Straight Speaking for Africa | New Transcript | Top ten literary hoaxes ?
22 October: John Ralston Saul to lead International PEN | The Simpsons review
23 October: Forthcoming from Yale University Press | F. Scott Fitzgerald's tax returns | Breon Mitchell Q & A | Profiles: Amos Oz - Han Han
24 October: Naguib Mahfouz interview | John Sutherland on the LRB at 30 | Jo Jung-rae profile | NYTBR review of Jan Kjærstad's The Discoverer | Мисия Лондон review
25 October: Writing in ... Malaysia | Last Night in Twisted River review-overview
26 October: Writing (in English) in ... Nepal | Critical refusal | 'In Praise of Arabic Letters' | The Humbling review
27 October: New World Literature Today | Changing literary tastes | Writing (in English) in ... India
28 October: Poetry and painting | Heinz Czechowski (1935-2009) | Where's the Russian fiction ? | Final rounds of the French prizes | The Dark Side of Love review
29 October: 2009 Whiting Writers' Awards | Lowbrow snobbery ? | A Dead Hand review
30 October: To fix (book) prices or not | Jan Guillou, KGB man | Publishers Weekly's 2009 top 10 | French literary prize season
31 October: 多多 wins 2010 Neustadt International Prize for Literature | The Tin Drum coverage | LRB at 30 | Translation in ... Turkey | Papa Sartre review


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31 October 2009 - Saturday

多多 wins 2010 Neustadt International Prize for Literature
The Tin Drum coverage | LRB at 30
Translation in ... Turkey | Papa Sartre review

       多多 wins 2010 Neustadt International Prize for Literature

       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.

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



       The Tin Drum coverage

       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.
       She opines:
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.)

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



       LRB at 30

       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.

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



       Translation in ... Turkey

        In Today's Zaman Esra Maden writes that Literary translators in Turkey: We are appreciated.

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



       Papa Sartre review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Iraqi author Ali Bader's Papa Sartre.

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



30 October 2009 - Friday

To fix (book) prices or not | Jan Guillou, KGB man
Publishers Weekly's 2009 top 10 | French literary prize season

       To fix (book) prices or not

       In the Wall Street Journal Vanessa Fuhrmans finds that In Much of Europe, Book-Pricing Battles Are Banned, as:
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.
       Meanwhile, the American price wars only go so far: as Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg and Miguel Bustillo report (also in the WSJ), Amid Price War, Three Retailers Begin Rationing Books, as:
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.

       Meanwhile, at The Atlantic Wire Heather Horn collects a variety of opinions on the question of Are Amazon, Target, and Wal-Mart Destroying Books?

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



       Jan Guillou, KGB man

       De Papieren Man points me to the widely reported (in the Nordic press) story that, as, for example, The Local reports, thriller Writer Guillou admits KGB connection:
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).

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



       Publishers Weekly's 2009 top 10

       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.

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



       French literary prize season

       Dominique Chabrol offers a fairly feeble look at how France kicks off two-week literary prize season for AFP, but at least it's something of an overview.

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



29 October 2009 - Thursday

2009 Whiting Writers' Awards | Lowbrow snobbery ? | A Dead Hand review

       2009 Whiting Writers' Awards

       They've announced the ten authors who received this year's Whiting Writers' Awards. Each author gets US $50,000 -- not bad.

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



       Lowbrow snobbery ?

       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?

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



       A Dead Hand review

       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.

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



28 October 2009 - Wednesday

Poetry and painting | Heinz Czechowski (1935-2009) | Where's the Russian fiction ?
Final rounds of the French prizes | The Dark Side of Love review

       Poetry and painting

       In The Independent 'Hans Ulrich Obrist, named the most influential figure in the art world, calls for more links between poetry and painting', in Rhyme scene investigation.
       He mentions the Oulipo, and the Serpentine Gallery Poetry Marathon he organized also sounds fairly interesting.

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



       Heinz Czechowski (1935-2009)

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



       Where's the Russian fiction ?

       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.

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



       Final rounds of the French prizes

       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).


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



       The Dark Side of Love review

       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 .....

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



27 October 2009 - Tuesday

New World Literature Today | Changing literary tastes
Writing (in English) in ... India

       New World Literature Today

       The November/December issue of World Literature Today is now available; see the table of contents, where you can also access some of the material.

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



       Changing literary tastes

       In The Guardian John Sutherland looks at: 'How our literary tastes have changed over the years', in John Galsworthy hot, James Joyce not, as:
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.
       May be ? Of course 'we' are absolutely as myopic.

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



       Writing (in English) in ... India

       Arts & Letters Daily points me to Chandrahas Choudhury's look at 'How globalization is changing the Indian novel' in Foreign Policy, English Spoken Here.
       (See also Choudhury's weblog, The Middle Stage.)

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



26 October 2009 - Monday

Writing (in English) in ... Nepal | Critical refusal
'In Praise of Arabic Letters' | The Humbling review

       Writing (in English) in ... Nepal

       At Ohmy News Bhuwan Thapaliya addresses the English Writing Conundrum in Nepal, noting that few Nepalese writers have had much of an impact abroad:
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 .....)

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



       Critical refusal

       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 .....

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



       'In Praise of Arabic Letters'

       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."

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



       The Humbling review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Philip Roth's strikingly odd new novella, The Humbling.

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



25 October 2009 - Sunday

Writing in ... Malaysia | Last Night in Twisted River review-overview

       Writing in ... Malaysia

       In The Star Andrew Sia profiles Malaysian 'National Laureate' Anwar Ridhwan, in Raising the literary bar:
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.

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



       Last Night in Twisted River review-overview

       The most recent addition to the complete review is a review-overview of John Irving's new novel, Last Night in Twisted River.

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



24 October 2009 - Saturday

Naguib Mahfouz interview | John Sutherland on the LRB at 30
Jo Jung-rae profile | NYTBR review of Jan Kjærstad's The Discoverer
Мисия Лондон review

       Naguib Mahfouz interview

       At True/Slant Jonathan Curiel digs up The Nobel interview that never ran: A talk with novelist Naguib Mahfouz he had, many years ago.

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



       John Sutherland on the LRB at 30

       In the Financial Times John Sutherland offers a good overview in London Review of Books marks its 30th year -- and (scroll down) reports on what it's like to find oneself becoming "part of an erotic lexicon" in the LRB classifieds.
       (See also, of course, the London Review of Books itself.)

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



       Jo Jung-rae profile

       In The Korea Times Chung Ah-young finds Book Epitomizes Jo's 40-Year Writing Career, a profile of prolific Korean author Jo Jung-rae.

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



       NYTBR review of Jan Kjærstad's The Discoverer

       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.

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



       Мисия Лондон review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Bulgarian author Alek Popov's Мисия Лондон.

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



23 October 2009 - Friday

Forthcoming from Yale University Press | F. Scott Fitzgerald's tax returns
Breon Mitchell Q & A | Profiles: Amos Oz - Han Han

       Forthcoming from Yale University Press

       Yale University Press have posted their spring 2010 catalogue online (warning ! dreaded pdf format !), and, among many appealing titles, two stand out:

        - Hocus Bogus: David Bellos' translation of Romain Gary's (writing as Émile Ajar) Pseudo (see the Yale UP publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk (or get your copy of Pseudo at Amazon.fr)).

        - Edith Grossman on Why Translation Matters (no publicity page yet; pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).

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



       F. Scott Fitzgerald's tax returns

       Arts & Letters Daily points me to William J. Quirk's fascinating piece on 'What F. Scott Fitzgerald's tax returns reveal about his life and times' in The American Scholar, Living on $500,000 a Year

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



       Breon Mitchell Q & A

       At Two Words Scott Esposito has an interesting Q & A with Breon Mitchell about re-translating Günter Grass' The Tin Drum. (Get your copy of the new translation at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)

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



       Profile: Amos Oz

       In The Prague Post Natalia O'Hara profiles Amos Oz, in town because A Tale of Love and Darkness is now also available in Czech

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



       Profile: Han Han

       In Time Simon Elegant profiles China's Literary Bad Boy, Han Han.
       Nothing of his seems to be available in English yet -- and I have to wonder about a twenty-six year-old writer who says things like:
"I don't read fiction now," he says. "All I read are magazines. I stopped reading books seven to eight years ago. I think I've read enough."

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



22 October 2009 - Thursday

John Ralston Saul to lead International PEN | The Simpsons review

       John Ralston Saul to lead International PEN

       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).

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



       The Simpsons review

       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 .....

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



21 October 2009 - Wednesday

Man 'Asian' Literary Prize shortlist | Not so Straight Speaking for Africa
New Transcript | Top ten literary hoaxes ?

       Man 'Asian' Literary Prize shortlist

       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.

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



       Not so Straight Speaking for Africa

       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.

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



       New Transcript

       A new issue of Transcript, Autumn Shorts, is available online.

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



       Top ten literary hoaxes ?

       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 ?).)

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



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