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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 December 2009

1 December: Milorad Pavić (1929-2009) | Prizes: Miguel de Cervantes - John Llewellyn Rhys - Bad Sex in Fiction | Q & As: Javier Marías - Aleksandar Hemon
2 December: Christie's Sale 2227 | December issues | German critics' best list | A Time to Every Purpose Under Heaven review-overview
3 December: Uuni wins Finlandia Prize ! | African literature: founding fathers -- and places | The Threepenny Review - Thirtieth Anniversary issue
4 December: More 'best' lists | The Yale (College) Book Review The Critic | For the love of lists | Selected Writings review
5 December: Christie's auction results: McCarthy's typewriter, the original The Original of Laura, etc. | 50 books that defined the decade ? | Glaydah Namukasa Q&A | Plagiarism, New Zealand style | 1Q84 - top Japanese bestseller | Book cover-branding
6 December: Indian online literary journals | José Saramago Q & A | Indian-Swiss comics collaboration
7 December: Nobel lecture | Word Express | 'The Twelve Days of Christmas 2009' by Carol Ann Duffy | 'Books of the year' recommendations at The Telegraph | Martin Page reviews
8 December: Translation awards: Science fiction and fantasy - French to Chinese | Winter issue of The Quarterly Conversation | UK edition on sale in the US
9 December: Swiss minaret-ban reactions | Pevear/Volokhonsky interview | More on literary parochialism
10 December: Arabic books still unimportable into Israel ? | Infinite Jest success in German(y) | 2010 Man Booker Prize judges | Marjana Gaponenko Q&A | Child's Play review

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10 December 2009 - Thursday

Arabic books still unimportable into Israel ? | Infinite Jest success in German(y)
2010 Man Booker Prize judges | Marjana Gaponenko Q&A | Child's Play review

       Arabic books still unimportable into Israel ?

       A bit more than a week ago things looked promising: as I mentioned then, it appeared a bill allowing the importation of Arabic-language books into Israel from what they consider "hostile countries" looked like it was well on its way to succeeding, with the Ministerial Committee for Legislation signing off on it.
       Now things apparently look less good: I haven't been able to find any news stories, but Avirama Golan's piece in Haaretz, Give them books sure makes it sounds like the bill has hit a mighty roadblock:
Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz's objection to a bill allowing Arabic language books to be imported [...], is a ridiculous show of force.
       And Golan also finds:
This bill could have been a wonderful opportunity for Israel. Without much effort, and for not a lot of money, both the Culture and Sports Ministry and the Education Ministry could have offered encouragement to authors, illustrators, publishers and editors -- and reaped the benefits of nurturing Arab culture in Israel from a young age. In practice, the government is giving with a closed fist. Now it also wants to censor.

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

       Infinite Jest success in German(y)

       At Publishing Perspectives Amanda DeMarco reports that After Six Years, Germany's KiWi Cashes In on Infinite Jest, as the German publisher has done very well with the translation of the David Foster Wallace book that came out earlier this year:
KiWi didn't expect Infinite Jest to be the commercial success in Germany that it is. Although pre-publication sales expectations were for only between 5,000-10,000 copies, they've sold over 50,000 copies since the book came out August 24th. "Among American literary writers, David Foster Wallace belongs to that small number who are worth publishing beyond economical logic," said Malchow, explaining KiWi's motivation for publishing a book that that appeared to be not just a risk, but an almost likely financial loss.
       (How many big American publishers would (or could) take on such a project with such low expectations ? (Looking at how few books are translated into English, even by major authors, the answer to that is, of course, obvious .....))
       Interesting also:
KiWi's marketing for Infinite Jest is particularly savvy: Taking a cue from Infinite Summer (an English-language book-club-type blog that encouraged people to read Infinite Jest at a rate of 75 pages per week during summer 2009 and posted commentary by several different writers to guide readers through the book), KiWi created the blog 100 Tage Unendlicher Spass (100 Days of Infinite Jest), which offers regular posts by writers and thinkers as they make their way through the translation, along with links to interviews and auxiliary materials to give the reader context. In addition, KiWi put together a free booklet that it sent pre-publication to bookstores, critics, and journalists to help prepare them to read the book.
       The translation-angle is also of interest:
Translator Ulrich Blumenbach labored for six years on the 1,552-page tome. During that time, Wallace refused all of Blumenbach's efforts to communicate with him, and as of Wallace's September 2008 suicide, the two had never met or spoken.
       Among the reasons that are suggested for Wallace's disappointing (in)actions:
"There were a lot of other translations in other countries in previous years that had all failed, more or less ... so [Wallace] stopped communicating with the translators and had no big expectations about the possibility of an adequate translation, ever."
       (I have to say that I've never gotten the whole D.F.Wallace thing -- though I haven't really given his works a chance --; certainly this attitude doesn't make him any more sympathetic (or rather: it doesn't convince me of the worth of his work -- what does it say, after all, if he cared so little about the foreign versions (regardless of bad experiences, etc.) that he couldn't be bothered to try to help get those right ?).)

       Get your copy of the German version at -- or get the English original at or

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

       2010 Man Booker Prize judges

       They've now announced who will be judging the 2010 Man Booker Prize for Fiction along with Chair of the Judges Andrew Motion: Rosie Blau, Deborah Bull, Tom Sutcliffe, and Frances Wilson.

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

       Marjana Gaponenko Q&A

       At Deutsche Welle Greg Wiser has a Q&A with Marjana Gaponenko, Ukrainian-born poet says writing in German is like carpentry, where the poet whose mother-tongue is Russian explains:
I view the language the way a carpenter sees a block of wood. If the carpenter is skilled and enjoys his work, then he'll be able to create something good. That may sound strange, but that's how I think of it. Also, I like that I don't have to strive for perfection with German. I think that perfection, if it exists at all, is pursued by calculating, cold personalities. If I were to strive for it, I imagine I would stop taking pleasure in the language and stop contemplating the words.
       See also her official site.

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

       Child's Play review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Carmen Posadas' Child's Play.

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

9 December 2009 - Wednesday

Swiss minaret-ban reactions | Pevear/Volokhonsky interview
More on literary parochialism

       Swiss minaret-ban reactions

       At The Nation Laila Lalami writes about The Swiss Minaret Ban: What Are Voters Really Trying to Outlaw?, while in The New York Times on Sunday Swiss author Peter Stamm (see, for example, the complete review review of his Agnes ) wrote an op-ed about Switzerland’s Invisible Minarets.

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       Pevear/Volokhonsky interview

       At The Millions Anna Clark interviews translators-from-the-Russian Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky.
       Among the exchanges of particular interest:
TM: Russian or otherwise, who are the writers you’d most love to see translated into English? What books are U. S. publishers and readers lacking?

RP and LV: There are three fine Italian writers of the twentieth century who should be translated into English: Alberto Savinio, Cristina Campo, and Guido Ceronetti. A very few of Savinio’s many books have been translated and gone out of print.
TM: What books have you decided not to translate, and why?

RP and LV: We have decided not to translate Turgenev, because not everyone can be Mrs. [Constance] Garnett.
       (As a big Turgenev fan I'm not sure how I feel about that answer .....)

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       More on literary parochialism

       At Conversational Reading, Russell Valentino is the latest to take issue with Liesl Schillinger's pretty much now infamous article, American Literature: Words Without Borders, in Literary Parochialism, and Proud of It.
       (Note, however, that the piece was not published in the NYTBR but in the also-edited-by-Sam-Tanenhaus Week in Review section (on the first page) -- as I discussed in my own take on this back when. )

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

8 December 2009 - Tuesday

Translation awards: Science fiction and fantasy - French to Chinese
Winter issue of The Quarterly Conversation | UK edition on sale in the US

       Translation awards: Science fiction and fantasy

       I missed this when they first announced it at the end of October, but the University of California, Riverside now has a press release that Science Fiction, Fantasy Translation Awards Announced -- the awards being the Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Awards, which sounds like a great (and long overdue) idea.
       As noted in the press release:
"The literature of the fantastic is an international phenomenon and has been since Hoffmann, Gogol, and Maupassant in the 19th century. Yet contemporary Anglo-American readers have only a sketchy sense of the global scope of science fiction and fantasy today," Latham said. "This award will take a big step toward the goal of closing that blind spot. UCR is proud to be associated with this initiative given the wide range of materials gathered in the Eaton Collection, which includes works published in well over a dozen languages."

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

       Translation awards: French to Chinese

       In China Daily Yang Guang reports on: "the much-anticipated first Fu Lei Translation and Publication Award", in Award puts translators in the spotlight:
Named after pre-eminent Chinese translator Fu Lei (1908-66), the annual award aims to promote the translation and publication of French books in China.
       And Nobel laureate J.M.G. Le Clézio was there to add luster to the proceedings. Sounds like a smart thing for the French to foster; other nations (languages) might want to follow suit.

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       Winter issue of The Quarterly Conversation

       The very impressive Winter issue of The Quarterly Conversation (soon also to be available in print !) is now available, and there is a lot of good stuff.
       Of particular interest is Translate this book !, as:
We've talked to some of the top translators into English working today; we've talked to publishers big and small; we've talked to agents, journalists, and foreign-language authors. We've asked them all for the best books that still aren't in English.
       (Recall that PEN did something like this a while back; see their PEN Recommends list.)

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

       UK edition on sale in the US

       Widely linked to, in The New York Times Motoko Rich writes that Booksellers Feed Imports to Mystery's Hungry Fans, as:
Coming on the heels of the breakout success of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl Who Played With Fire, the first two volumes in the posthumously published thriller trilogy by the Swedish author Stieg Larsson, booksellers are now importing British editions of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, the third volume in the bestselling series six months before its publication here.

Charging as much as $45 for the book, which sells on Amazon in Britain for £8.99 (about $14.75), some booksellers have sold more than a hundred copies each.
       Knopf has its reasons for delaying publication:
Paul Bogaards, a spokesman for Knopf, said the company wanted to allow interest to build as more and more readers discovered the first two volumes in the series.

"The sales on Book 1 and Book 2 are so strong that you wouldn't want to add Book 3 to the mix immediately," Mr. Bogaards said. According to Nielsen BookScan, which tracks about 70 percent of retail sales, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo has sold 764,000 copies in hardcover and paperback in the United States, and The Girl Who Played With Fire, which came out here in July, has sold 199,000 copies in hardcover. That book was the first work in translation to go to No. 1 on The New York Times hardcover fiction best-seller list in 25 years.
       (There is, however, no explanation why they lagged so far behind the UK publication in publishing volume one in the first place .....)
       This sort of cross-Atlantic traffic is, of course, not uncommon (in both directions) -- though this is on a far larger than usual scale. But I think at some point US and UK publishers have to get in better sync -- especially now that information about titles from abroad is so readily available (reviews, etc.) -- as are the books themselves, via Amazon, etc.
       Meanwhile, American readers are welcome to purchase their copy of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest from (where the price has dropped another pound, to an even more tempting £7.97, last I checked) -- or can pre-order the US edition from

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

7 December 2009 - Monday

Nobel lecture | Word Express
'The Twelve Days of Christmas 2009' by Carol Ann Duffy
'Books of the year' recommendations at The Telegraph | Martin Page reviews

       Nobel lecture

       Nobel laureate Herta Müller gives her Nobel lecture, Jedes Wort weiß etwas vom Teufelskreis, in Stockholm today at 17:30 CET.
       It will be broadcast live at the Nobel site, and the transcript (including an English translation [updated: now available here]) will be available there too.

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

       Word Express

       In The Telegraph Michael Prodger reports (sort of) on the Word Express ("... making literature travel"), in A Stamboul Train full of writers.
       The official site has more (and better) information about this worthwhile and interesting endeavor.

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

       'The Twelve Days of Christmas 2009' by Carol Ann Duffy

       Poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy was commissioned by the Radio Times to write some seasonal verse, The Twelve Days of Christmas 2009.
       But it's gotten lots of newspaper coverage -- and what I don't understand is how (and why) Andrew Johnson's report in The Independent, Laureate pens a new 12 days of Christmas, boasts: 'An exclusive extract is printed here'.
       The whole thing is available online, after all -- and in print in the Radio Times. What kind of 'exclusive' is this ?

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

       'Books of the year' recommendations at The Telegraph

       The Telegraph has a decent selection of people offering their choices for Books of the Year.

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

       Martin Page reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are my reviews of two novels by French writer Martin Page:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

6 December 2009 - Sunday

Indian online literary journals | José Saramago Q & A
Indian-Swiss comics collaboration

       Indian online literary journals

       In The Hindu Anupama Raju reports on Indian online literary journals, in Writers without borders, finding:
Indian literary journals on the Web have been silently working to popularise regional writing in translation, providing a platform for emerging writers, or simply making the works of contemporary Indian authors accessible to readers all over the world.

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

       José Saramago Q & A

       In the Financial Times Anna Metcalfe has a Q & A with José Saramago.
       Among the responses of interest:
What books are currently on your bedside table?
I'm reading How Fiction Works by James Wood, and I'm rereading The Magic Mountain. What an amazing writer Thomas Mann was!
       And I'm pleased and impressed to learn:
What is your daily writing routine?
I write two pages. And then I read and read and read.

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

       Indian-Swiss comics collaboration

       When Kulbhushan Met Stockli -- a Swiss-Indian, multi-artist comics collaboration edited by Anindya Roy and published HarperCollins India (see what there is of their publicity page) -- sounds fairly interesting, but Kala Krishnan Ramesh reviews it in The Hindu and finds:
While When Kulbhushan Met Stockli certainly is an interesting idea, the book itself is not something I would recommend.

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

5 December 2009 - Saturday

Christie's auction results: McCarthy's typewriter, the original The Original of Laura, etc.
50 books that defined the decade ? | Glaydah Namukasa Q&A
Plagiarism, New Zealand style | 1Q84 - top Japanese bestseller
Book cover-branding

       Christie's auction results: McCarthy's typewriter, the original The Original of Laura, etc.

       So yesterday they held an auction at Christie's of various books, manuscripts, letters -- and a typewriter. A four-page George Washington letter brought in the highest winning bid -- $3.2 million -- and some Poe stuff did very well too (though the Reuters report still manages to spell his middle name wrong (Allen instead of the correct Allan) in the piece ...), but the surprise of the night was Cormac McCarthy's Olivetti typewriter, which brought in over a quarter of a million dollars (see, for example, The New York Times' weblog report) -- more than ten times the estimate.
       But the highlight was the carefully (but apparently not carefully enough ...) orchestrated -- by estate-agent Andie Wylie -- handling of the original of Vladimir Nabokov's The Original of Laura (see the complete review review-overview). In a huge but well-deserved embarrassment, money-grubbers Wylie and Dmitri Nabokov came up emtpy as the manuscript actually and incredibly failed to sell.
       As the AFP report (here at the Straits Times) has it: Nabokov manuscript flops, as: "bidding petered out at US$280,000 and the sale was abandoned."
       This is a huge embarrassment -- I am quite honestly flabbergasted -- but should also be an eye-opener to Wylie-clients, that maybe his approach is not always (ever, I'd suggest, but, as you'll have realized by now, his approaches all rub me the wrong way, so I'm not entirely objective) the ideal one. (Short term -- if you need to raise cash fast --, it may be okay, but otherwise -- watch out !) Sure, Wylie made a ton of money for Dmitri off of The Original of Laura, from the various publishers, the Playboy first serial rights, etc. -- but his bleed-the-stone-dry approach faltered big, big time here, and long-term little of this has done the reputation of Vladimir Nabokov (remember him ?) much good. (I'm amazed Wylie let it come to this: surely it would have been worth saving appearances to pay someone off to bid half a million for the thing, since this kind of reputation-blow will not be quickly forgotten (I'm sure I won't be the only one to make sure of that).)
       Let's hope Dmitri at least does the honorable thing, admitting he's screwed over Dad several times over with his handling of this whole mess and tries to begin to atone by donating the thing to some worthy institution where it can be publicly displayed and properly appreciated. (Though I'm sure in that case Wylie will at least insist it go to someplace where they can claim the tax deduction .....)

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

       50 books that defined the decade ?

       The Guardian now offers their 50 books that defined the decade -- and at least get some solid commentary on a few of the titles, beginning with Julian Barnes on Zadie Smith's White Teeth.

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

       Glaydah Namukasa Q&A

       The Daily Monitor has a Q&A with Ugandan author -- and midwife ! -- Glaydah Namukasa; the complete review, of course, has both her novels under review: The Deadly Ambition and Voice of a Dream.

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

       Plagiarism, New Zealand style

       The plagiarism scandal du jour in New Zealand revolves around Witi Ihimaera's The Trowenna Sea, and in the Otago Daily Times Lawrence Jones offers a good overview of it, in Folly and its imitators.
There were at least nine repeat clauses or complete sentences and in one case, an entire paragraph verbatim from the sources.
The plagiarised materials are mostly bits and pieces, semi-digested research about historical background.
       Opinions and interpretations differ greatly -- including:
C.K.Stead, told Radio New Zealand that Ihimaera's defence that the 16 passages in question were less than two pages in a 528 page novel was "really like saying 'well yes, I did steal from 16 people, but I only took a dollar from each'."
       You'd think writers would have begun to learn: it's really worth making that extra effort to avoid plagiarism .....

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       1Q84 - top Japanese bestseller

       As Japan Today reports, Murakami's 1Q84 is Japan's best-selling book in 2009, with volume one selling 1.23 million copies and volume two an even million.
Tohan said 1Q84 was the first literary work to top the year’s best-seller list since it began compiling the data in 1990.
       Who is the competition ? Mainichi Daily News offers some (worrying) insight in their own report, Murakami's 1Q84 tops 2009 bestseller ranking:
In second place in the list was 読めそうで読めない間違いやすい漢字 (Easily confused kanji which look readable but aren't), published by Futami Shobo Publishing Co. Third place was secured by ドラゴンクエスト9 星空の守り人 大冒険プレイヤーズガイド (Great adventure player's guide to Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies), published by Shueisha.

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

       Book cover-branding

       At his new (and promising-looking) weblog, Local Character, Matt Rowe goes about Judging books by their covers, focusing on publishers who specialize in translation.
       He notes the fairly obvious (obvious, that is, except to publishers, it sometimes seems to me) that: "The point of all this is branding."
       Publisher-branding -- making people want to seek out and read books from imprint X -- has always seemed to me a cheap and easy way of doing at least some business, but all of the major publishers have, of course, strayed away from it.
       As far as format/covers go, I have often made my position -- uniformity ! (and simplicity !) -- clear. Obviously, my favorites are the NYRB Classics, which boast a cover-template that allows for great variety and yet also a sense of uniformity -- and get major bonus-points for being nearly the proper size (even their volumes are slightly too large -- mass-market paperback is the (American) gold standard -- but are far better than pretty much everyone else, including the otherwise admirable Europa editions, or the Open Letter books (or Archipelago's lets-make-every book-a-different-size-and-shape approach ...)).
       (But as far as covers go: give me unadorned European-series uniformity any and everyday ! As far as size goes: the Japanese got that right: truly pocket-sized.)

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

4 December 2009 - Friday

More 'best' lists | The Yale (College) Book Review The Critic
For the love of lists | Selected Writings review

       More 'best' lists

       Any number of 'best-of-the-year' booklists continue to appear; among those of possible interest:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       The Yale (College) Book Review The Critic

       In the Yale Daily News Cora Lewis wonders: For student publications, what's in a name?, as:
When Eric Ward '10 and Elisa Gonzalez '11 decided to found an undergraduate magazine called The Yale (College) Book Review, The Yale Review asked them to rethink their name.

The two English majors wanted to revive an undergraduate book review called The Yale Review of Books, published from 2001 to 2004. But The Yale Review, the oldest quarterly literary magazine in the nation, took issue.
J.D.McClatchy, editor of The Yale Review, explained that the original undergraduate publication's name was too similar to The Yale Review's. Publishers sent books to the wrong publication and Internet searches yielded the incorrect Web site, he said. In fact, the Web site of the old undergraduate review has a link that reads, "Looking for The Yale Review?"
       'Too similar' ? What's this guy's problem ? Of course publishers send (and the postal and other services deliver) books to the wrong publication (one package meant for the complete review once wound up at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's offices ...). Internet search confusion ? Come on -- I entered the relevant terms and found the results entirely straightforward and obvious. (I also did not find: "Looking for The Yale Review?" on the main The Yale Review of Books page .....)
       But the undergrads were apparently properly cowed (or -- I hope -- bribed) and so:
After Ward and Gonzalez met with McClatchy and Meeske, they settled on a different name -- The Critic, Meeske said.
       What counts is, of course, what's finally put out, under whatever name, and any new review-forum is always welcome:
The Critic, which has not yet printed its first issue, will review contemporary fiction and nonfiction and intends to print three issues a year, beginning this year, Ward said at an informational meeting for the magazine.

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

       For the love of lists

       Umberto Eco curated Mille e Tre at the Louvre, and has been getting a lot of mileage out of his list-love. His interview in Der Spiegel, 'We Like Lists Because We Don't Want to Die' was widely linked to, and there's also, for example, Cristina Carrillo De Albornoz's profile at The Art Newspaper, Umberto Eco: master of the list.
       Now Boyd Tonkin considers The art of the chart: How we fell in love with ranking the world in The Independent -- noting also that:
The illustrated anthology that partner's Eco's project, The Infinity of Lists (translated by Alastair McEwen; MacLehose Press), gives the Italian polymath the chance to gather and interpret many choice catalogues and roll-calls from European literature and painting.
       See the Rizzoli publicity page for The Infinity of Lists, or get your copy at or

       (Updated - 11 December): See now also Gilbert Adair's review in The Spectator.

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       Selected Writings review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of the recent Oxford University Press edition of Selected Writings by Leopoldo Lugones.

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

3 December 2009 - Thursday

Uuni wins Finlandia Prize ! | African literature: founding fathers -- and places
The Threepenny Review - Thirtieth Anniversary issue

       Uuni wins Finlandia Prize !

       Uuni, by Antti Hyry, has taken this year's Finlandia Prize, the biggest Finnish literary prize (and worth a tidy 30,000 euros); see, for example, the YLE report.
       This prize has a pretty solid track-record -- quite a few winning titles have even been translated into English -- but I have to admit this one is going to be a hard sell -- to no small extent because it's hard not to giggle and guffaw at this. Never mind the author's name -- Antti Hyry -- or that he is (of course) "a native of Northern Ostrobothnia" (who could make stuff like this up ?). No, the clincher is, of course, that the prize-winning title is readily summed up in a single sentence:
The unhurried 400-page novel follows the construction of a brick oven.
       But, just in case that's not enough, there's also the fact that:
Asked by a YLE radio reporter how he intended to spend the 30,000 euros in prize money, he replied laconically: "Sausages and power tools."
       It's like some bad foreign fiction joke -- and I can already see Sam Tanenhaus shaking his head and saying: 'Well, obviously we're not going to review that.'
       Well, I hope some publisher gives it a chance. (Though given that previous Finlandia-winner -- and a finalist this year -- Kari Hotakainen (see, for example, the complete review reviews of his Buster Keaton and Sydänkohtauksia) still hasn't been published in English, it might be a while .....)

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

       African literature: founding fathers -- and places

       At Pambazuka John Otim writes about 'The rise of modern African literature', in How Africa found its voice at Ibadan -- finding that:
But it was from here, from Ibadan that modern African literature rose. Suddenly like a space bound rocket it shot up. There was a buzz, people sat up and took note. They examined the new thing, seeking out signs of deference to Empire, some acknowledgement, some appeal to European authority. Things Fall Apart showed none of that. It was Africa recreating Africa. The college and the city of Ibadan had found its voice. Easily effortlessly Chinua Achebe had launched the African novel and with it the movement that became modern African literature. For a young man of 27, it was a remarkable feat. Achebe had found a way into the heart of that throbbing life that was the country called Nigeria and drawn energy out of it.
       Meanwhile, at The Guardian's book blog Nii Ayikwei Parkes (see my review of his Tail of the Blue Bird) argues that No individual 'fathered' modern African literature, as 'Chinua Achebe is right to reject this dubious honour, but his contribution as a writer and, crucially, editor -- has been immense'.

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       The Threepenny Review - Thirtieth Anniversary issue

       The Thirtieth Anniversary issue of The Threepenny Review, the Winter 2010 issue, is now out.
       Only a very limited amount is available online -- but that includes a piece by Javier Marías, Chamberí, as well as Elizabeth Tallent's review of The Essays of Leonard Michaels.
       Among the pieces not available online I'm particularly curious about John Barth writing on The Arabian Nights.

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

2 December 2009 - Wednesday

Christie's Sale 2227 | December issues | German critics' best list
A Time to Every Purpose Under Heaven review-overview

       Christie's Sale 2227

       It's probably not worth going too far out of your way, but if you're in the neighborhood -- Rockefeller Center in New York -- the next two days I do recommend that you have a look (as I did yesterday) at the preview for Sale 2227 (to be held 4 December) at the auction house Christie's. Not only can you see Lot 95 -- the original of Vladimir Nabokov's The Original of Laura (whose estimate, by the way, isn't even close to that for the item expected to go for the most money -- I wonder how things will turn out) -- but this is also the auction where Cormac McCarthy's Olivetti manual typewriter (serial no. 2143668, as they helpfully and precisely add) is going on sale: Lot 84.
       McCarthy's typewriter has been getting lots off attention and press -- see, for example, Patricia Cohen's report in The New York Times, No Country for Old Typewriters: A Well-Used One Heads to Auction. What I really liked is the accompanying letter he wrote, which they have showcased in the the typewriter; see also this image for the whole text. An impressive amount of mileage he got out of it -- including three (!) not yet published works .....

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       December issues

       Among the December issues now available online are those of Words without Borders -- an entertaining one on the theme of International Science Fiction -- and Open Letters.

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       German critics' best list

       The December SWR-Bestenliste is out -- where German literary critics vote on their titles-of-the-month.
       An eclectic selection this time around, leading me to wonder what the hell they're publishing in Germany at this time of the year. Still, it is sort of impressive that Rae Armantrout makes it to number two on the list ...... (Rae Armantrout ? How much coverage does she get in the US -- much less from the country's top critics ?)
       (I'm making my way through the Braun; I'm a huge (and diehard) fan, but that ain't exactly something for casual or popular reading, either.)

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       A Time to Every Purpose Under Heaven review-overview

       The most recent addition to the complete review is a review-overview of Karl O. Knausgaard's A Time to Every Purpose Under Heaven, now published in the US as A Time for Everything.
       (I'm very disappointed the UK and US publishers went for the 'Knausgaard'-spelling -- his name is: Knausgård ! Sure, that's tougher to look up on Amazon, but doesn't it look much cooler ?)

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1 December 2009 - Tuesday

Milorad Pavić (1929-2009)
Prizes: Miguel de Cervantes - John Llewellyn Rhys - Bad Sex in Fiction
Q & As: Javier Marías - Aleksandar Hemon

       Milorad Pavić (1929-2009)

       Milorad Pavić has passed away; see, for example, the brief report at B92.
       His official site offers a good overview of his varied output -- much of which is (more or less) available in English.

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

       Prizes: Miguel de Cervantes

       This year's (well, they'll hand it over next year ...) Premio Miguel de Cervantes -- the major Spanish author prize -- will go to José Emilio Pacheco; see, for example, the AFP report, Mexican author Pacheco receives top Spanish literary prize.
       Several of his works are available in English, including -- from New Directions -- Battles in the Desert; get your copy from or -- and see also the piece on it at The Quarterly Conversation.

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       Prizes: John Llewellyn Rhys

       They've announced the winners of the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize, and, as for example Richard Lea reports in The Guardian, Bookseller's debut novel wins John Llewellyn Rhys prize.
       That would be After the Fire, a Still Small Voice, by Evie Wyld; get your copy at or

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       Prizes: Bad Sex in Fiction

       The winner of the Literary Review's Bad Sex in Fiction Award has been announced and it is the very deserving The Kindly Ones, by Jonathan Littell. There simply aren't enough 'Bad' awards to do this ... book ... justice.
       See also, for example, the BBC report, Jonathan Littell wins the bad sex in fiction prize.

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       Q & A: Javier Marías

       At Flavorwire Chelsea Bauch has a Q & A with Javier Marías (see, for example, the complete review review of his Dark Back of Time).
       Among the interesting responses:
What I can say is that translation is the best possible school for a writer.
       And speaking about Spanish literature (and how underappreciated it is in the US):
Nowadays, our literature is very varied and some authors are really worth reading: from the past La Regenta should be better known, and from the present Eduardo Mendoza, Juan Marsé, Arturo Pérez-Reverte, and Antonio Muñoz Molina should be better read.
       I can agree with some of those names -- but Pérez-Reverte ?!?!
       (On the other hand, I'd love to see more Muñoz Molina translated; see, for example, the complete review review of his In her Absence; see also the review of Mendoza's No Word From Gurb.)

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       Q & A: Aleksandar Hemon

       At the NYTBR's weblog, Paper Cuts, Gregory Cowles has a Q & A with Aleksandar Hemon about the anthology he edited, Best European Fiction 2010 (see also the Dalkey Archive Press publicity page, or get your copy at or
       Among the exchanges:
Q. What was the biggest surprise for you, editing the collection?
A. It was less of a surprise than a reminder: how unabashedly comfortable many of the writers are to engage with literary forms that would be perceived as experimental or avant-garde here. In turn, I was reminded how deeply conservative contemporary American literature is in terms of form. And that conservative bent is a recent development, I believe. The European form flexibility is not a consequence of some snotty, elitist aesthetic but rather of the fact that there are many stories to be told and many traditions to draw from.

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