The winner of the Best Translated Book Award will be announced tonight at 19:00 at Idlewild Books in New York.
As you'll recall, the shortlisted titles are:
[Highlighted titles are under review at the complete review]
With no literary tradition to draw from, it's possible that local English writing could evolve into something a bit like the 1980s New Wave of Hong Kong film, which mixed social commentary with accessible genre stories and a gritty, urban aesthetic.
Botswanan author Andrew Sesinyi has launched two books, and the articles about it -- Monkagedi Gaotlhobogwe's Andrew Sesinyi launches books at Mmegi Online, and Carol Kgafela's Literary Passion in The Botswana Gazette -- provide a bit of insight into writing and publishing in Africa, in a largely overlooked corner of the continent.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Donald E. Westlake's Memory, a novel he wrote in the 1960s but was dissuaded from publishing because it was considered 'too literary' and is now being published for the first time posthumously by Hard Case Crime.
Hard Case Crime put out a lot of enjoyable books -- see the reviews of the ones under review at the complete review -- and by many prominent authors, but this one is in a class of it's own.
Not strictly a crime/mystery novel -- I'd call it an existential noir -- it's an impressive writing performance and an impressive book.
But with a grant from NYU's Abu Dhabi Institute, NYUAD Institute faculty director Philip Kennedy hopes to broaden knowledge of classical and medieval literature among both scholars and amateurs.
Kennedy's project, the Library of Arabic Literature, will feature a vast, growing collection of Arabic texts in translation.
The translations will feature side-by-side scripts of modern Arabic and English on facing pages.
Because the language of classic Arabic literature is often archaic and technical, Kennedy said the translations will help native Arabic speakers as well.
Each text will be edited by experts in pre-modern Arabic in Abu Dhabi and New York.
To ensure that nothing is lost in translation, multiple meetings will be held to ensure the texts in both languages are accurate and little is lost.
Perhaps most importantly, a new Dutch translation of the work, by Gijsbert Van Es, is on bookshelves, intended to bridge the gap between the 19th-century language used in the original publishing and the Dutch youth of today.
And a new English translation ... ?
More accessible to those of us without a grounding in Dutch literature is an exhibition devoted to the novel at the University of Amsterdam’s Bijzondere Collecties special collection (129 Oude Turfmarkt). It runs through May 16.
(Aside: how hard would it have been for them to include that exhibition-link in the post ?)
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Pierre Siniac's The Collaborators.
Dalkey Archive Press is bringing this out, and while not a real stretch for them (it has a lot of the elements they go for) isn't their usual fare -- and, indeed, it's a bit surprising some mystery-imprint didn't take this on earlier (it came out in France in 1997).
But then it's surprising that nobody has translated any of Siniac's works previously .....
Worth noting: here's a (very rare) case of the title of the English translation being markedly superior to the original French title.
(Also: I was impressed that when I got the Amazon-link, the Amazon.com 'sales rank' for this title was 8,723,826 -- one of the lowest I've ever come across (but it won't stay at that for long).)
For a couple of years now Aflame Books -- the name comes from the geographic areas they focus on, 'Africa, Latin America, and the Middle East' -- has done a pretty solid job of fulfilling their mission:
to provide you with the finest English translations of literature from across the world hitherto hidden by barriers of culture and language.
I've been a fan since they started (indeed, two of their first titles were books I had already reviewed, before they were available in English), and there are quite a few Aflame titles under review at the complete review.
Unfortunately, co-founder Richard Bartlett now writes in an e-mail:
But it is a savage marketplace in which ideals are evanescent in the face of concrete costs. While our mission has been well received, lauded even, by many like-minded people, our struggle to sell books in order to pay our way has never been as successful as we had hoped.
The impact of the recession has brought Aflame to a critical point, and we face a difficult choice.
Our limited cash flow has made it all but impossible to continue as we have so far.
We have been denied bank financing and have received virtually no financial support from the British arts establishment. We have welcomed and been thankful for monies granted by overseas governments to support translation, but this has only ever had a small impact on the costs of keeping Aflame afloat.
In short, without an injection of further resources, we have reached the stage at which we cannot ensure Aflame's continued survival.
We are now forced to take desperate measures in light of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. To limit any further drain on our dwindling resources, we must put a halt to all new titles, including those already scheduled for 2010 but not yet produced and printed.
We shall not be taking on new titles and will not be planning a frontlist until our future become more certain.
Aflame remains committed to settling its debts and is not going out of business.
We have a healthy backlist and will continue to make these titles available as far as is possible.
One hopes that they can find both the capital injection and the greater turnover that would make life (i.e. publishing) easier again.
Certainly, I'd suggest you check out their catalog and see if there are any titles that tempt you (and quite a few should).
In The Standard (Hong Kong) Nury Vittachi (who has his own history with this prize) writes: Heard the one about vanishing literary prize? It's a mystery -- as, apparently, for a while there it looked like the Man 'Asian' Literary Prize had been wiped from the map (and Internet).
It turns out that it hasn't gone (or been taken) away.
Indeed, now it's back -- bigger and badder than ever.
Man 'Asian' Literary Prize, you'll recall, was, for the past few years, a prize for an: "Asian novel unpublished in English" (whereby their definition of 'Asian' was so arbitrary that the use of it in the prize-name was inappropriate and outright misleading (and which is also the reason why I only refer to it as the "Man 'Asian' Literary Prize" -- and will continue to do so until fiction originally written in Arabic (by Asian authors), Persian, Turkish, the languages of the Central Asian stans, etc. etc. is also prize-eligible (as it has not been to date)).
Now, however, they've 'restructured' the prize.
Boy, have they restructured it .....
Their preliminary announcement doesn't provide much information (including whether or not it will finally be a truly Asian prize, or remain an 'Asian' one ...), but does indicate some of the major changes.
The most significant of these is that the prize that used to be for an
"Asian novel unpublished in English"
will now be awarded: "for a novel written by a citizen of an Asian country and first published in English in 2010".
I.e. they've practically turned the whole thing on its head: where the ostensible purpose of the prize was always to introduce new 'Asian' writers to English-reading audiences, now they're only interested in the stuff that's already been taken on by English-language publishers.
Don't expect too many shortlisted works from Burma/Myanmar, Thailand, Viet Nam, etc. etc. from now on.
On the other hand: expect a surge of titles translated from the regional Indian languages, since many of these do get translated into English -- albeit generally only in India-only editions.
And expect a surge of even more titles originally written in English -- more likely to have already been published in the author's home country, if that country is India, Malaysia, Singapore, etc.
The M'A'LP-folk also try to make this prize more eye-catching (i.e. media-attention-grabbing) the only way they know how: by increasing the money on offer, trebling the award from US$10,000 to US$30,000.
But, to prove how little translation matters (and is wanted: it's clear they prefer the books to be written in English) they didn't even double the money a translator would get if the winning title is a translation: it was US$3,000 and is now US$5,000.
(Edith Grossman had it right, about translators getting no respect .....)
Finally -- and this is the change that I find most irritating -- whereas in previous years works had to be "submitted by the author or the current holder of the rights to the English language version" they have now taken the UK Man Booker-approach, with submissions only permitted by publishers -- and, just like the UK Man Booker: "Each publisher may enter up to two eligible books", and no more.
(The M'A'LP at this point doesn't even seem to allow for called-in titles (as the proper Man Booker at least permits); presumably the finalized eligibility rules will make some allowance for something of this sort.)
It's ridiculous (though given how few complain about the Man Booker taking this approach they presumably don't have to worry about much criticism on this one point) !
I was going to mention how these changes made the M'A'LP just another prize in a crowded field, mentioning the Pacific Rim Kiriyama Prize as one with which there would be considerable overlap -- only to learn from the Kiriyama site that:
At the present time the Kiriyama Prize is being restructured.
While this process is under way, publishers are kindly asked not to submit further entries.
When a new time line and new rules are in place, entries will once again be welcome.
No prize was awarded in 2009, so they don't seem to be rushing to figure things out .....
Whatever they do, I hope they maintain their policy of revealing all submitted titles -- an openness that should be required of all literary prizes, and which I always admired greatly.
(Secrecy about who is even in the running for the prize is yet another hallmark of the proper Man Booker -- and yet another reason why it can't be taken very seriously.)
The March issue of The Hindu's Literary Review is now available online.
Among the interesting pieces: G.N.Devy finds 'Increased literacy levels and technology have ensured the democratisation of contemporary Indian literature', in Age of participation.
One particularly interesting observation:
Inter-lingual translation among Indian languages was a highly active genre for dissemination of the works of literary giants during the first half of the century.
The translation from one language to another Indian language has taken a back seat.
However, Hindi, Malayalam and Gujarati continue to translate practically every major Indian author.
There has been a significant rise in the activity of translating from Indian languages to English, providing a global readership to Indian language writers.
"At the moment the market is probably about 5 million people," said Anantha Padmanabhan, Penguin's director of sales in India.
"That is set to increase dramatically."
From five million -- continental (i.e. non-English-speaking) Europe probably has that several times over -- to 'the world's biggest market for books in the English language' ?
In a decade ?
are moving -- s l o w l y -- in that direction.
One sign: as reported in this week's Bibliofile-column in Outlook India:
William Dalrymple's Nine Lives has achieved a minor miracle: it sold more copies in India (35,000 in 3 months) than in the UK.
Subtitled In Search of the Sacred in Modern India -- and given Dalrymple's prominence in India -- it's not that great a surprise.
Nevertheless, it is an impressive and noteworthy accomplishment.
(Get your copy of Nine Lives at Amazon.co.uk, or pre-order it from Amazon.com.)
Edith Grossman's Why Translation Matters has been getting some attention (see, for example, Bookslut-Jessa Crispin's review in The Smart Set), and now Peter Terzian has a Q & A with The other author of 'Don Quixote' in the Boston Globe.
Among the answers:
IDEAS: If you were to write your own prescription for the publishing industry, what would it be?
GROSSMAN: Otis Redding and Aretha Franklin have a song called "R-E-S-P-E-C-T."
Bring a little respect to the dealings with translators.
That has to do not only with recognizing translators as artists and writers in their own right but with not paying them peon's wages, not arguing about giving them credit on the jacket, with citing their names in advertisements and so forth.
I have never really understood the whole hang-up about respect (although I have to admit I probably enjoy way more of it than is my due), but other than making translators feel better about themselves I'm not sure what this would accomplish.
Well, more money would certainly be welcome -- and I do think the publishers are misguided in not spending more on translation (though by that I mean also marketing, etc.) -- but is this really the fundamental problem with publishing translations ?
(Mind you, I did think (and mentioned) that it is ridiculous and offensive that the US publishers felt compelled to hide the name of the translator of Paolo Giordano's 'international bestseller', The Solitude of Prime Numbers, so well that it is almost impossible to find (and only mentioned once in the entire book-package).)
See also the Yale University Press publicity page for Why Translation Matters, or get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
And note that I haven't gotten a copy yet: after three entreaties (the first several months ago -- I've been looking forward to this book for a while) -- and my numerous mentions of the book, on Twitter and here -- it looks like a copy might finally be coming my way.
While not strictly a translation, I would have thought that getting a copy into my receptive hands might have been something a publisher would have thought to do (hmmm, looks like that respect thing doesn't extend quite as far as I've deluded myself into thinking ...) .....
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Roger Lowenstein's The End of Wall Street.
(This is a perfectly fine book -- a readable account of the recent financial crisis -- but was also the most pointless book I've completed in ages.
Yes, it's decently packaged and well-ordered, but basically it's just what we've been reading about in newspapers, magazines, and online for the past two years.
Back to fiction !
(Though actually I am also tackling Richard Posner's new book, The Crisis of Capitalist Democracy, shortly -- see also the Harvard University Press publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk -- but, of course, that's Posner, and I'll cover pretty much anything he writes .....)
A few reviews of Ian McEwan's Solar have appeared over the past few weeks -- see also mine, with links to the rest -- but with the upcoming UK (closely followed by the US) publication the heavier hitters are beginning to weigh in.
The Financial Times has William Sutcliffe write at length -- in a review that says remarkably little about the book itself, but talks a whole lot about McEwan and his career.
But Sutcliffe does opine that it's: "a stunningly accomplished work" ... leaving me quite stunned.
(Of course, I never really got Sutcliffe's work, either; three of his novels are under review at the complete review -- see, for example, The Love Hexagon.)
Then in the Sunday Times Peter Kemp can barely contain his enthusiasm either
-- "Solar is a stellar performance".
I don't see it, but what do I know ?
These early raves will certainly help propel the book to a good start.
(And, of course, there's also the obligatory McEwan profile-of-the-week: this time Nicholas Wroe does the honors in The Guardian, in Ian McEwan: 'It's good to get your hands dirty a bit'.)
FSG editor Lorin Stein has been named the new editor of The Paris Review; see their official press release.
Stein has done some translating -- notably Grégoire Bouillier's The Mystery Guest -- so I assume he'll be quite receptive to foreign fiction and authors.
Though in fact The Paris Review has always been pretty good in that regard.
Laurent Binet's Reinhard Heydrich-novel, HHhH (get your copy at Amazon.fr), has taken the prestigious French first-novel award, the prix Goncourt du premier roman; see, for example, the (French) report at L'Express.
(The title comes from the expression "Himmlers Hirn heisst Heydrich" ('Heydrich is Himmler's brain').)
Note that there have been (press agency) reports about this prize in any number of languages (including Russian) -- but not English.
In The Observer (Uganda) Diana Nabiruma reports that Writers in drive to groom literature talent, as the African Writers’ Trust (AWT) is trying to foster more writing by Africans.
Some of the claims are ... worrying:
According to renowned writer Goretti Kyomuhendo, director of this Trust established in 2009, books published in Africa rarely find their way outside the continent.
She tells of a story of an author who published his book in Nigeria and was blocked from having it stocked by a bookstore in the US because the book looked like it was infested with viruses.
Meanwhile, books published out of Africa are usually too expensive.
(See also the complete review review of Kyomuhendo's Waiting.)
They announced that she'd won this a couple of months ago, but now Terézia Mora had finally picked up the Robert Bosch Stiftung’s 2010 Adelbert von Chamisso Prize -- awarded to: "honor outstanding literary achievements written in German by authors who are non-native German speakers or whose cultural heritage is not German"; see, for example, the DeutscheWelle report.
De Groene Amsterdammer's new issue is devoted to the Top-21 -- their list of the twenty-one "beste romans van de 21ste eeuw" ('the best novels of the 21st century').
De papieren man pointed me to the story, and it's there that the list of the top 21 can be found.
Quite a few of them are under review at the complete review:
As I mentioned a few months ago, Tirza was ... well, as I put it then: "fairly clearly the best novel I read this year" (i.e. 2009), so I can certainly get on board with that choice.
The Kindly Ones ? not so much.
(And Saturday ahead of Atonement ?)
So where's the English version of Tirza ?
The NLPVF page on the book shows it's already been translated into languages such as Turkish and Czech, and rights have been sold for translations into Romanian, Greek, and Arabic.
The most recent Grunberg title to make it into English was the mediocre but more sensational The Jewish Messiah -- great decision-making, as always, on the part of American publishers .....
Meanwhile, as for example Alison Flood reports in The Guardian, Authors choose their favourite books of decade, as a variety of mainly British authors have selected their top titles for Sky Arts' The Book Show.
Among the odder choices: Ian McEwan's, of Le Bal by Irène Némirovsky -- which hardly qualifies as a very new book, and hardly qualifies as more than a curiosity (though one can see what attracts McEwan to it).
They've announced (in a timely fashion ! on the official website !) that ترمي بشرر ('Spewing Sparks as Big as Castles' is apparently the English title they're going with; yeah, I prefer the Arabic one too) by Abdo Khal has been awarded the International Prize for Arab Fiction.
See also, for example, Anna Seaman's report in The National, Abdo Khal wins the Arabic Fiction prize.
Liao Yiwu was prohibited from flying to Germany for an international literature fair, though he'd already obtained a visa.
It's not the first time Beijing has cracked down on the author.
Odd, too, that the authorities wait until literally the last minute -- they apparently pulled him off the plane -- which suggests considerable official confusion.
See also the PEN American Center press release, PEN American Center today expressed outrage
I usually wouldn't bother mentioning something like Robert McCrum's Publishing will always need its gatekeepers -- an oft-heard claim -- but the timing is irresistible, as for example Motoko Rich reports on the The Last Train From Hiroshima-fiasco, in Publisher to Halt Printing of Disputed Hiroshima Book in The New York Times.
I realize it's unfair to single out individual failures like this -- but when you look at this bozo's track record and everyday-claims ("Mr. Pellegrino said that the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, which he lists on his Web site, charlespellegrino.com, as the institution where he earned his doctorate, had stripped him of his Ph.D. because of a disagreement over evolutionary theory") and the dubious aspects of this specific book, well, publisher Henry Holt has not acquitted itself very well.
(See also Dennis Johnson's Author who cried fraud an apparent fraud himself at MobyLives.)
Practically the only thing publishers -- especially the bigger ones -- have going for themselves currently -- beyond distribution advantages and deep pockets for marketing -- is that gatekeeping reputation, and in the future they'll need to rely on that even more.
But, as I've often complained, they aren't doing such an impressive job in that regard.
The Pellegrino-title is a fairly spectacular failure, but there are any number of smaller-scale ones that come across my desk every day: mediocre gatekeeping that suggests again and again that the major publishers are providing very little added-value to what could be brought to readers just as easily without them.
I'd love it if there were reliable gatekeepers; unfortunately, currently, they are few and far between.
MNA report that 11-year-old Iranian author vows to only write children’s books, and while this seems like one of these too-ridiculous-to-bother-with stories, a surprising amount of criticism against prevailing circumstances makes its way into the article.
If it's out of the mouths of babes, it's apparently okay.
So, for example:
Melika, who lives with her family in Mashhad, is mainly interested in reading books by foreign writers.
"I can improve my skills through reading (translations of) foreign works, which I think have better fictional plots," she stated.
She criticized Iranian school libraries for their general lack of regard for children’s interests.
"Children are mostly interested in sci-fi books while the school libraries generally provide religious and historical books, which are not very interesting to children," Melika lamented.
Children more interested in science fiction than religious books ?
That sort of blasphemy can't go over big with the authorities .....
She also censured Iranian TV for its lack of any plan to promote reading.
"Everything except books and reading is promoted on Iranian TV," said Melika
At the risk of undermining my apparently earnest image, I offer a brief non-literary personal digression and confession: I really like snow.
Everything about it, every activity involving it.
So when a bit of it falls I already get all giddy.
And when a lot of it falls ... well, I wind up doing things like this:
The conditions were not ideal, and there's never enough time -- hence the rather misshapen and incomplete figure -- but still: not bad for a day's work.
In answer to the inevitable questions:
It's all done by (my) hand and shovel; steps are built into the back to climb onto the figure (and that round 'head' weighed something like 30 pounds and was very difficult to maneuver up there)
No, it's not the most massive one I've managed over the years -- but it's right up there
No, I don't have anything better to do with my time (or rather: can't imagine anything better -- I'd be completely lost if I lived anywhere where it actually snowed a lot ...)
Of course that's a Mao-cap I'm sporting. Seriously, you were expecting me to wear something like a Yankees cap ?
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Paolo Giordano's 'international bestseller', The Solitude of Prime Numbers, which finally makes its way to the US.
apparently sold more than a million copies in Italy (where it appeared in 2008), but didn't seem to make that much of an impression in the UK, where this translation came out last year.
(By the way: the American edition shamefully hides away any reference to it being a translation (and who the translator is), mentioning it only in tiny print on the copyright page and nowhere else.)