Two days after it hits Minsk bookshops and Belarus's internet retailers, it is suddenly "unavailable".
Neither inquiring readers nor embarrassed sales staff are given any explanation.
This despite the facts that:
The book (which was published in Moscow) never mentions Belarus.
The dictator is not the president but the secret-service minister, and his character is deliberately crafted to differ from the current Belarusian leader.
The author opens the novel with the pointed statement: "all characters are fictional".
Yet Minsk's landmarks are tangible in his social dystopia.
The message conveyed by the act of suppression is at glaring odds with the official narrative.
It suggests that the real things in Belarus happen in silence, unpredictably and without explanation.
The government’s lack of communication in areas of international concern confirms and strengthens this adverse view.
In Next Ireyimika Oyegbami reports that A new literary year kicks off in Lagos, as the Lagos State chapter of the Association of Nigerian Authors had a panel on the question, 'Is the Nigerian Economy Killing Literary Development?'.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of the second volume of stories by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky to appear in English, Memories of the Future.
(This is one of the longlisted titles for the Best Translated Book Award; see the full list (with links to titles under review).)
In the Christian Science Monitor Eamon Kircher-Allen reports that 'After social upheaval, clubs and small publishers have sprung up in the East African nation as new outlets for literary expression', in Kenya's rising culture club.
Billy Kahora, of Kwani? is quoted:
"These are people who have grown up reading people like Ngugi wa Thiong'o," Kahora says, referring to one of Kenya'’s most famous authors, who published much of his writing in the 1960s and '70s.
"And they’re thinking, Man, it’s all very well to read about Mau Mau" -- the anticolonial insurgents the British called terrorists -- "to read about neocolonialism, to read about Marxism.
But the Kenya today is all about overpopulation, it's about HIV/AIDS, it's about crime and insecurity.
I want to read that stuff, you know? I want to see my present."
Random House India editor-in-chief Chiki Sarkar reviews the new book by Chetan Bhagat, 2 States, in Outlook India, and finds:
Two States is, to my mind, one of the most striking (and I use this word with care) Indian novels I have read in the last few years.
And she suggests:
Perhaps in any other country, Bhagat would have been just another mass-market writer.
In India today, he is also someone who is telling stories no one else is.
This is what makes his work not just entertaining, but surprisingly important.
There's only one Bhagat under review at the complete review -- the quite atrocious One night @ the call center -- but I hope to cover the others as well: Sarkar does make a good point, and I think it's almost impossible to avoid Bhagat's works if you're at all interested in India.
Certainly he offers something not found in most of the readily-accessible-in-the-US (or UK) 'Indian' fiction.
Bhagat has been phenomenally successful -- apparently something like a million copies of this book have been sold.
Also notable: the list price is a very affordable Rs.95 (just over US $ 2.00) -- which certainly contributed to its phenomenal sales success.
And particularly noteworthy, I think: the book is widely available for (presumably illegal) download -- which might not bother Bhagat too much, but which I imagine the Indian publishing industry must find rather worrying.
Widely linked to, in the Wall Street Journal Katherine Rosman finds that 'Even in the Web era, getting in the door is tougher than ever', in The Death of the Slush Pile, as:
Now, slush is dead, or close to extinction.
Film and television producers won't read anything not certified by an agent because producers are afraid of being accused of stealing ideas and material.
Most book publishers have stopped accepting book proposals that are not submitted by agents.
Magazines say they can scarcely afford the manpower to cull through the piles looking for the Next Big Thing.
This wouldn't be so troubling if these were reliable gatekeepeers -- but since, for example:
At William Morris Endeavor Entertainment, Adriana Alberghetti only reads scripts sent to her by producers, managers and lawyers whose taste she knows and trusts.
Sorry, I find it difficult believing this is the best way to find material (though I understand the plagiarism-accusation-concerns).
And how about statements like Jim Levine's (of the 'Levine Greenberg Literary Agency'):
"These days, you need to deliver not just the manuscript but the audience," says Mr. Levine.
"More and more, the mantra in publishing is 'Ask not what your publisher can do for you, ask what you can do for your publisher.'"
Yeah, that's going to work out well -- for those publishers who can transform themselves solely into book marketers.
(Recall, however, (see my previous mention) how FSG president Jonathan Galassi recently tried to sell the myth to readers that publishers still do: "far more than print and sell a book", and actually 'select, nurture, position and promote the writer's work' (I can't help it, it still brings tears (of laughter, I like to think) to my eyes when I read that guff).)
Still, there's some refreshing honesty here -- for example, from former Time Warner Book Group CEO (and now agent...) Laurence J. Kirshbaum:
"From a publisher's standpoint, the marketing considerations, especially on non-fiction, now often outweigh the editorial ones."
Of course, with all their best-laid marketing plans they still often don't get it right ... ; I know it's terribly old-fashioned, but I like the idea of putting out a quality product (i.e. focusing on the editorial side) and taking it from there, rather than trying to package some product.
The death of the slush pile (suicidal for the publishers, in my opinion ...) will just accelerate the move to self-publishing (and, indeed, self-published books already form a new sort of slush pile, from which conventional publishers occasionally pluck out something), and leave great opportunities for nimbler small publishers who actually care what they put their imprint-name on; certainly (large) publishers seem to be abandoning the one area where they really could prove their worth, i.e. the editorial side, and instead are relying increasingly on their marketing and distribution clout -- making them book-packagers more than publishers.
Yet another look at the Scandinavian crime wave, this time from Laura Miller, who writes on 'The growing appeal of Scandinavian crime fiction; existential malaise and bad coffee' in the Wall Street Journal on The Strange Case of the Nordic Detectives -- finding:
Counterintuitive as it may seem, the Scandinavian brand of moroseness can be soothing in hard times.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ersi Sotiropoulos' Landscape With Dogand Other Stories.
(This is one of the longlisted titles for the Best Translated Book Award; see the full list (with links to titles under review).)
I recently reviewed Jacques Chessex's A Jew Must Die, but the book I'm really looking forward to is the one he finished literally hours before he keeled over dead last year, Le dernier crâne de M. de Sade (get your copy from Amazon.fr) -- a Marquis de Sade novel that the Swiss (and recall that Chessex is Swiss) think is too hot for the youngsters: packaged in a cellophane wrapper with a warning sticker on it, it can't be sold to those under age.
See, for example, Agathe Duparc's article in Le Monde, En Suisse, l'ultime livre de Jacques Chessex "réservé aux adultes" -- or Jérôme Garcin's La Suisse censure Chessex! at BibliObs.
It certainly hasn't hurt sales: the 25,000-copy first edition has quickly sold out, and they're reprinting as fast as they can .....
The translation of A Jew Must Die was quick in coming; let's hope they get to this in similarly timely fashion (or that somebody sends me the French edition ...).
One of my favorite annual features in Le Figaro is their rundown (by Mohammed Aïssaoui and Dominique Guiou) of Les dix romanciers français qui ont le plus vendu en 2009 -- the ten French novelists who sold the most books in France in 2009.
As usual, it's full of fun (and surprising) facts -- Marc Lévy's books have sold 42 million worldwide ? Marc Lévy ? Stephenie Meyer shifted more books than any other author in France in 2009, a total of some 3,000,000 ? Harlan Coben outsold Dan Brown (1,300,000 to 1,000,000)
The top ten French authors (keep in mind the totals are for sales of all their books in 2009, not just the most recent title):
Marc Lévy - 1,735,000 (up from 1,516,000 in 2008, which was also enough to top the list)
Guillaume Musso - 1,385,000 (almost identical to his 2008 total of 1,378,000)
Katherine Pancol - 871,000
Anna Gavalda - 784,000
Fred Vargas - 633,000
Muriel Barbery - 620,000 (up from the tenth spot in 2008, when she shifted 401,000)
Marie Ndiaye - 458,000 (almost all of which were of her Goncourt-winning Trois femmes puissantes)
Books by five of the ten are under review at the complete review (Gavalda, Vargas, Barbery, Nothomb, Schmitt), but several of these authors aren't particularly well-represented in translation.
And: Katherine Pancol ?
Most of her sales come on the back of Les Yeux Jaunes des Crocodiles ("This novel is life itself" is how she describes it at her site ...) and its sequels, but nothing recent has been translated.
But an English translation of Call Me Scarlett came out back in 1986 -- and she actually spent quite a while in the United States (and Embrassez-moiis set, in part, in "1980s Rochester" ... maybe something for Open Letter Books ? yeah, maybe not).
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Roberto Bolaño's first -- but not debut (written in 1980, he only published it a year before his death, in 2002) -- novel, Antwerp, one of the flurry of Bolaño works coming out this year.
Among the main attractions for the event, Larkin25, will be an interactive tourist trail to give lovers of his poetry a greater insight into the everyday places which inspired his work and fuelled his inimitable scathing wit.
See also the official Larkin25 site, 'Celebrating the life and work of Philip Larkin'.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Kālidāsa's The Recognition of Shakúntala, in a translation by Somadeva Vasudeva.
This is the fourth (!) translation of the play under review at the complete review; a volume in the estimable Clay Sanskrit Library (more reviews to come !), it was high time I included coverage of it.
Coincidentally, La MaMa in New York is staging a Magis Theatre Company production of Shakuntala next month.
In The New Yorker Claudia Roth Pierpont offers a decent if predictable overview of 'The contemporary Arabic novel' (in English), in Found in Translation, finding:
Arabic novels, while not yet lining the shelves of the local bookstore, have been increasingly available in English translation, offering a marvellous array of answers to questions we did not know we wanted to ask.
Most of the usual suspects (though too little Mahfouz ...), going back to and including Ghassan Kanafani and Emile Habiby's The Secret Life of Saeed the Pessoptimist.
Many of the authors and books mentioned are under review at the complete review (though not Kanafani, Habiby, or Khoury -- yet); see the index of Arabic literature under review.
There is no comparably mature translation market for any one language in the English speaking world, and the fact that books coming into the American market come from many different countries and languages makes it harder for editors here to develop the expertise in what any market has to offer, and which books from that country have the best shot of appealing to American readers.
The books that are sold for translation here are more likely to come through the handful of US agents with close ties to one region or another, who are themselves usually working through professional relationships with particular agents or publishers abroad.
What books by foreign authors that end up crossing an American editor’s desk, then, depends in no small part on chance and good connections.
For literary editors, even when a rare sample translation exists, the decision more often comes down to personal recommendations.
I am absolutely horrified by this; I realize personal recommendations move much of the literary world but it's the content -- and only the content -- that should count.
As best I've seen, little good comes from relying on personal recommendations (even mine ...).
Certainly, something seems to be broken in the decision-making process among the majors: as I mentioned, the fact that only a single of the twenty-five shortlisted books for the'Best Translated Book Award' comes from a major is not a good sign.
And forthcoming titles by majors I've recently reviewed -- Philippe Djian's Unforgivable, Martin Page's The Discreet Pleasures of Rejection -- suggest they make little effort to pick the best of the litter.
(Meanwhile, The Kindly Ones was a bad book worth translating and publishing -- but
certainly not paying anywhere near as much for; no, the majors really don't seem to know what they're doing with regards to fiction in translation.)
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Laurent Quintreau's Gross Margin.
Polly McLean's translation was awarded the Scott Moncrief Prize for translation from the French as part of the TLS translation prizes yesterday.
Nice to see The Times devote a leader to the Times Literary Supplement's Translation Prizes (see my previous mention)
that are being handed out tonight, Found in Translation -- where they spout stuff like:
To convey the writings of other languages is a noble and necessary art
I've always been surprised by how little of the very popular French author Philippe Djian's work is available in English -- other than Betty Blue (which arrived on the back of the film-version ...) ... nothing.
Of course, maybe I shouldn't be so surprised: the six 'seasons' of Doggy bag, anyone ? Anyone ?
But now, all of a sudden, another of his books is set to appear in English: his Impardonnables -- just published in France in 2009 -- is due out shortly.
I assume the fact that André Téchiné is filming it has something to do with that; still .....
Anyway, the most recent addition to the complete review is my review of said book, forthcoming as Unforgivable.
I think it's safe to say that after this one shouldn't expect any additional translations of Djian titles in the foreseeable future.