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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 31 March 2010

21 March: ADIBF reports | Ethnic writing in Africa ? | The Crisis of Capitalist Democracy review
22 March: Strindberg's The Roofing Ceremony | Hensher on Austen's Booker-chances | The Devil's Star review
23 March: El arte de la resurrección takes Premio Alfaguara de Novela | Elif Batuman on ... Turkish writing | Beautiful Image review
24 March: Prizes: Dan David Prize - Present - DSC Prize for South Asian Literature | Mo Yan profile | Grünbein and Descartes' Devil | Esterházy Péter interview
25 March: Writing in ... Egypt | David Grossman in China | Seven Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges review
26 March: The defining French books of the past 30 years ? | Contemporary Czech writing | Court-petition to claim literary prize | 1970 Man Booker shortlist | The Escape review
27 March: Writing in ... Eritrea | Pankaj Mishra on America's 'little magazines' | Carlos Fuentes pissed about Aura-ban
28 March: Writing in ... Bhutan | Writing in ... Assam | Judging the 'lost' Man Booker Prize | One more book for Jim Crace
29 March: Last season's man takes 2010 STEFGPBSS Award | Thursday Night Widows review
30 March: Salon du livre | Season of Infidelity review
31 March: Purge takes Nordic Council Literature Prize | Broken Glass Park review


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31 March 2010 - Wednesday

Purge takes Nordic Council Literature Prize | Broken Glass Park review

       Purge takes Nordic Council Literature Prize

       Puhdistus by Finnish-Estonian author Sofi Oksanen has been racking up the Scandinavian literary prizes for years now, and now it's won the biggest of them all, as Sofi Oksanen has won the Nordic Council Literature Prize 2010
       It's due out soon in English translation, as Purge; see the Grove/Atlantic publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk. (I'm looking forward to it, but haven't received a copy yet.)

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



       Broken Glass Park review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Alina Bronsky's Broken Glass Park.

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



30 March 2010 - Tuesday

Salon du livre | Season of Infidelity review

       Salon du livre

       In Crowded Salon du Livre in Publishers Weekly Teri Tan reports on the Salon du livre de Paris, the Paris book fair, where:
In total, around 2,200 authors and illustrators will be attending, and the number of book signings is expected to exceed 5,600. With the fair being a public event (and Monday unofficially designated as the professional day), crowds thronging the Porte de Versailles exhibition center give it a totally different atmosphere from the more sedate and calm London, BookExpo America or Frankfurt fairs. Cashiers are busy ringing up sales while visitors are rushing to form long book-signing queues
       Disappointing to hear that some things seem to remain unchanged, as fair manager Bertrand Morisset notes:
For Morisset, the translation traffic has been pretty much a one-way street. "On one hand, we don't have a strong and effective campaign to promote French authors and titles to the U.S. On the other, Americans don't seem to like our titles. Why is that? We love American thrillers and stories, and I think a healthy cultural exchange is the way to go forward."
       And to think that this is a language from which a great deal actually is translated into English ..... Consider the frustration that must be felt by those countries/languages where traffic really is a one-way street .....

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



       Season of Infidelity review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of BDSM Tales from the Classic Master, Dan Oniroku's Season of Infidelity.
       (Yes, there's so little reasonably contemporary fiction coming out of Japan that I'm reduced to taking on stuff like this .....)

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



29 March 2010 - Monday

Last season's man takes 2010 STEFGPBSS Award
Thursday Night Widows review

       Last season's man takes 2010 STEFGPBSS Award

       Last season's man (yes, now available online), by C.K.Stead, has taken this year's Sunday Times EFG Private Bank Short Story Award; see also the accompanying profile by Ed Caesar, Karl Stead: unfussy talker and award winning author, who finds: 'The winner of the first Sunday Times Short Story Award is a 77-year-old Kiwi academic at the peak of his powers'.
       I'm a big Stead fan -- and disappointed how little of his writing is readily available (i.e. published) in the US.
       Several of his books are under review at the complete review:        And there's a review-overview of My Name was Judas

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



       Thursday Night Widows review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Claudia Piñeiro's Thursday Night Widows, which was recently longlisted for this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
       It also comes with a blurb from José Saramago, won a big Spanish literary prize, has been made into a movie, and has apparently sold over 130,000 copies in Argentina.
       It's a fine enough novel, but certainly not worth all that fuss.

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



28 March 2010 - Sunday

Writing in ... Bhutan | Writing in ... Assam
Judging the 'lost' Man Booker Prize | One more book for Jim Crace

       Writing in ... Bhutan

       The upcoming Bhutanese literary festival, Mountain Echoes (17 to 20 May) is already getting quite a bit of press, including now Andrew Buncombe's piece in The Independent, Welcome to Bhutan, the dragon kingdom of literary happiness:
The festival in Bhutan's capital, Thimphu, aims to present the more positive aspects of Bhutanese culture. In addition to French, who in 2008 was a guest at the colourful coronation of King Wangchuck's son, Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the festival will feature a number of Indian authors, including Omair Ahmad, who penned The Storyteller's Tale.

Yet the organisers are determined that Bhutanese writers, who have a more restricted access to an international audience, are also showcased.

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



       Writing in ... Assam

       In The Hindu Murali N. Krishnaswamy has a Q & A with Aruni Kashyap, Talking of Assam ....

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



       Judging the 'lost' Man Booker Prize

       In The Lost Booker: a judge tells all in The Observer Rachel Cooke writes about the experience of judging the Lost Man Booker Prize.
       She says it was easy to choose the first four of the shortlisted titles:
The Bay of Noon by Shirley Hazzard, a tale of Naples just after the war, is so exquisitely atmospheric this Italy is both third-world and impossibly glamorous that it would have been a sin not to shortlist it.

The same went for Troubles by JG Farrell, which is set in Ireland after the first world war, where Major Brendan Archer is visiting his fiancee at her home, the crumbling Majestic hotel (in Farrell's deft hands, a beautiful metaphor for the wider crumbling of empire). Patrick White's The Vivisector, an account of an artist's life from birth to death, came at us like a punch, throbbing with rage and testosterone and some of the best writing I've ever read. And then there was Muriel Spark's The Driver's Seat, short and black and chilling.

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



       One more book for Jim Crace

       Peter Stanford profiles Jim Crace in the Independent on Sunday, in A radical proposal: Why will Jim Crace's next book be his last?.
       Yes, apparently his next book will be his last:
"Writing careers are short," he expands. "For every 100 writers, 99 never get published. Of those who do, only one in every hundred gets a career out of it, so I count myself as immensely privileged. I will have written 12 novels when I finish this next book and it's enough. I'm going to stop. Too often bitterness is the end product of a writing career. I keep seeing writers who have grown bitter. And I know that I am just as likely to turn bitter as anyone else. So it's self-preservation."
       Good for him !

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



27 March 2010 - Saturday

Writing in ... Eritrea | Pankaj Mishra on America's 'little magazines'
Carlos Fuentes pissed about Aura-ban

       Writing in ... Eritrea

       One doesn't hear much about Eritrean literature (though, this being the complete review, I do have Three Eritrean Plays under review ...), so it's good to see they have an annual bookfair -- and that, as Mansour Nouredin reports at Shaebia, Eritrean Book Fair: Opportunity to Boost the Habit of Reading.
       And it's good they're taking things seriously:
Investment on inculcating reading habit in a society is an investment in the development endeavors of a given country, says Mr. Solomon Tsehaie
       Personally, I'm more interested in the hard numbers:
The number of newly printed books has increased slightly from last year where 28 new books are released. It is to be recalled that there were 24 newly published books last year, while the book sales were around 70 thousand.
       But I do think it's nice that articles such as this offer gems such as:
An iron has to be continuously sharpened to remain effective and sharp until it gets entirely depreciated. Likewise reading enables us to update ourselves as it is an effective means of self-renewal. A micro-habit provides people with a micro-benefit, explains Mr. Abrar Ibrahim, a visitor.
       (Damn, I have not been keeping my iron sharp -- though I guess that explains why it hasn't depreciated yet. But reading ? Come on, that's a macro-habit, all the way .....)

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



       Pankaj Mishra on America's 'little magazines'

       The Guardian has a piece by Pankaj Mishra on America's little magazines.

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



       Carlos Fuentes pissed about Aura-ban

       So Carlos Fuentes picked up an honorary doctorate in Puerto Rico -- but he was none too pleased that the authorities decided his Aura was too crude for the schoolkids ......
       See, for example, Francisco Rodríguez Burns' report in Primera Hora, Carlos Fuentes rechaza censura de Educación en actividad de la UPR, or the AP report, Mexico's Fuentes criticizes ban of his novel in PR.
       See also the Farrar, Straus and Giroux publicity page for -- the admirably bilingual edition of ! -- Aura, or get your copy at Amazon.com.

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



26 March 2010 - Friday

The defining French books of the past 30 years ? | Contemporary Czech writing
Court-petition to claim literary prize | 1970 Man Booker shortlist | The Escape review

       The defining French books of the past 30 years ?

       It's Salon du livre-time in Paris, and since they're celebrating thirty years of the Salon Le Monde has put together a list, De 1980 à 2009, les livres qui ont marqué la vie littéraire française -- the defining books, one from each year, of the past three decades of French literature.
       Only five are under review at the complete review:        Not a bad list -- but in quite a few cases I think there's a case to be made for other titles by the selected authors (Echenoz, Ernaux, etc.).

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



       Contemporary Czech writing

       In Assessing contemporary Czech literature in The Prague Post Stephan Delbos reports on a recent panel on "How Is Literature in East-Central Europe and Russia Faring After 1989 ?"
       Among the observations:
Czech writers have lost their privileged position as "supreme moral authorities" in Czech society since the fall of communism, according to Vrba.

"After 1989, literature stepped aside and kept silent in the chaos of modernization and is now little more than a fragmented private hobby," he said. "Poetry is living, and that's always good news, but it has become epigrammatic, bitter commentary."
       (See also the complete review review of Andrew Baruch Wachtel's Remaining Relevant after Communism: The Role of the Writer in Eastern Europe.)

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



       Court-petition to claim literary prize

       Ala Hlehel was named one the Beirut39 -- a literary honor -- but, since he lives in Israel, he's not supposed to go join in the festivities, as:
It is absolutely forbidden, according to Section 5 of the Extension of Validity of Emergency Regulations Law, whose broad powers have been in force since independence, for residents and citizens to leave Israel for any country designated by law as an enemy state, including Lebanon.
       So, as Maya Sela reports in Haaretz, Author goes to High Court to claim literary prize in Beirut, as:
After Hlehel was chosen for the prize, Adalah approached Interior Minister Eli Yishai and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Hlehel's behalf, but did not receive a response.
       It'll be interesting to see whether they grant him permission.

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



       1970 Man Booker shortlist

       So they've announced the shortlist for the so-called 'lost' (Man) Booker Prize -- the one they didn't award for books published in 1970.
       The only title under review at the complete review is The Vivisector by Patrick White.
       In searching for stories to write around this publicity stunt prize a popular take has been -- as for example Arifa Akbar writes in The Independent -- that it's a Posthumous blow to the author who hated book prizes. They mean Patrick White -- but kind of overstate the case. Sure, he withdrew titles from consideration from a couple of prizes (including the Booker), but come on -- this was a guy who used his Nobel Prize winnings to ... endow a literary prize, the Patrick White Award.

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



       The Escape review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Adam Thirlwell's The Escape.

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



25 March 2010 - Thursday

Writing in ... Egypt | David Grossman in China
Seven Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges review

       Writing in ... Egypt

       In an AP piece (here at the Kuwait Times) Hamza Hendawi finds New Egypt fiction bypassing politics -- relying on, for example:
The new generation's style is perhaps best typified in the 2003 Being Abbas el Abd, told in a fragmented form intertwined with pop culture references, often in a sort of "emoticon" Arabic used in writing mobile phone text messages.
       It's good to hear that the success of Alaa Al Aswany's The Yacoubian Building apparently "opened the floodgates for fiction", with Hind Wassef, "a co-founder of Diwan, a chain of American-style bookshops complete with coffee, loyalty cards and special offers" claiming that now:
"It is a fiction market," she said, "And we go out of our way to stock an excellent collection of fiction. It is what sells."
       As it should be !
       See also the comments on the article at Arabic Literature (in English).

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



       David Grossman in China

       In Forward Alison Klayman has a Q & A with 'Author and Activist David Grossman on Literature, Life and Israeli-Chinese Relations', in Forgetting About the Rest of the World.

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



       Seven Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Fernando Sorrentino's Seven Conversations with Jorge Luis Borges, just re-issued by Paul Dry Books.
       Lots of good quotes (and opinions) -- and I like the admission:
I judge literature in a hedonistic manner. That is, I judge literature according to the pleasure or emotion it inspires in me.
       Would that more did !
       Also nice: this take on reading in translation:
Not knowing Greek and Arabic allowed me to read, so to speak, the Odyssey and The Thousand and One Nights in many different versions, so that this poverty also brought me a kind of richness.

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



24 March 2010 - Wednesday

Prizes: Dan David Prize - Present - DSC Prize for South Asian Literature
Mo Yan profile | Grünbein and Descartes' Devil | Esterházy Péter interview

       Dan David Prize - Present

       Big, big bucks for Margaret Atwood and Amitav Ghosh as they split the '2010 Present'-category -- 'Literature: Rendition of the 20th Century' -- of the 3 x $1,000,000 Dan David Prize. I have no idea what this is, but, hey, it's a lot of money; good for them.

       (The only Atwood title under review at the complete review is her The Penelopiad; the only Ghosh titles under review are The Calcutta Chromosome and The Glass Palace.)

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



       DSC Prize for South Asian Literature

       So now there's an official website for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature (the DSCPfSAL ?), and they've announced that an Advisory Committee for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature Constituted.
       At least few national hang-ups around this prize (and no only-publishers-can-submit(-and-only-two-titles-each) or similarly silly limitations ...), as:
The award will recognize writers of any ethnicity writing about South Asia and its diasporas. The books competing for the prize must be an original work of fiction published during 1st April 2009 and 31st March 2010, written in English or translated into English.
       The regional focus still strikes me as a bit bizarre, but let's see how it goes the first few times .....

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



       Mo Yan profile

       In Time Simon Elegant has Lunch with China's Mo Yan.

       (The only Mo Yan title under review at the complete review is his most recently translated work, Change.)

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



       Grünbein and Descartes' Devil

       A longtime Durs Grünbein-fan, I'm disappointed to miss the conversation/reading with him this evening (19:00) at the Goethe Institut in New York.
       The occasion is to introduce the English translation of his Descartes' Devil: Three Meditations (see the Upper West Side Philosophers' publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk); I have the German edition but haven't gotten around to reviewing it yet.

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



       Esterházy Péter interview

       At The Millions Garth Risk Hallberg interviews Esterházy Péter, whose Not Art has just come out (see the Ecco publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).

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



23 March 2010 - Tuesday

El arte de la resurrección takes Premio Alfaguara de Novela
Elif Batuman on ... Turkish writing | Beautiful Image review

       El arte de la resurrección takes Premio Alfaguara de Novela

       One of the big-money (US$175,000) -- though far from the biggest -- Spanish-language literary prizes, the Premio Alfaguara de Novela has gone to El arte de la resurrección by Hernán Rivera Letelier; see also, for example, the report at the Latin American Herald Tribune.
       Among the points of interest: it's a US dollar-denominated prize -- making for the peculiar prize-sum of €129,279. (It's unclear whether the pay-out is in dollars or euros.)
       And: 539 manuscripts were considered (well worth remembering when the latest batch of lazy-ass Man Booker judges moan -- as they inevitably will -- about the mere ca. 100 titles they have to consider for the prize ...) -- and it's interesting to see the country-by-country rundown. Spain contributed the most submissions -- 194 --, followed by Mexico (102) and Argentina (100). A surprising 25 submissions came from the US (yes, the United States) -- but only 14 from Chile, which I would have taken for more of a literary hotbed .....

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



       Elif Batuman on ... Turkish writing

       Elif Batuman is enjoying great success with her book on 'Adventures with Russian Books and the People Who Read Them', The Possessed (see the Farrar, Straus and Giroux publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com orAmazon.co.uk), but apparently she is "the US-born daughter of a Turkish immigrant couple" and so in Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman Rüya Karliova has a Q & A with her in which Batuman 'speaks about her new book and shares her musings on Turkish literature'.
       Apparently she's not a huge Pamuk fan:
You wrote in The Possessed that you were bored reading Orhan Pamuk's novels. How would you evaluate the current state of Turkish literature?

When I was in Istanbul I noticed that the bookstores had an explosion of Turkish novels. I think Pamuk made novel writing an acceptable profession in Turkey. He brought a lot of honors to Turkey thanks to the Nobel Prize, and everything. Turkish novels do seem very interesting and diverse to me.
       And interesting to see her take on why her book has been as successful as it has:
I think the publisher did an amazing job in positioning the book. And I think they have a lot to do with the success. A famous cartoonist, Roz Chast, did the cover. Everyone recognizes her from The New Yorker. When the reader looks at the cover, he/she understands that it is not a boring book about Russian literature. That was very smart. The book is in paperback; that was also a smart thing to do. And for the reviews, there have been few books that have been kind of between creative writing and academia. That was something new and appealing to general readers.
       Positioning, format (paperback), and the cover as three of the main reasons for its success ? I.e. nothing to do with the content ..... Sure, a nice and generous pat on the shoulder for the publisher, but still .....

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



       Beautiful Image review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Marcel Aymé's Beautiful Image, a new translation (by Sophie Lewis) of his 1941 novel brought out by Pushkin Press.

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



22 March 2010 - Monday

Strindberg's The Roofing Ceremony | Hensher on Austen's Booker-chances
The Devil's Star review

       Strindberg's The Roofing Ceremony

       Making my way through some of August Strindberg's prose I came across the 1987 first English translation of The Roofing Ceremony, a thin volume published by the University of Nebraska Press (see their publicity page, or get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) -- but what really surprised me was to find that Michiko Kakutani had reviewed it for The New York Times when it came out.
       What are the chances that any book like that would get such prominent review coverage nowadays ? The Kakutani doesn't bother with much fiction any more, and neither The New York Times nor The New York Times Books Review care much for fiction in translation -- especially of this obscurer sort -- any longer.

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



       Hensher on Austen's Booker-chances

       In The Independent Philip Hensher finds: 'The ambitious novel with a regard for humour is not dead, but is beleaguered' in explaining Why Austen would never win the Booker.

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



       The Devil's Star review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jo Nesbø's The Devil's Star.
       Normally I'd complain that this book -- published in Norwegian in 2003, and in English translation in the UK in 2005 -- is only making it to the US now (it just came out here). But this was the first in Nesbø's Harry Hole-series to be published in the UK, and I have to wonder: what were they thinking ? It's the fifth in the series, and a whole lot of backstory -- including some that seems fairly essential -- is almost entirely missing for readers who are introduced to Hole at this point, and not earlier (Nesbø does summarily mention the essentials, but it's hardly the same). In the US the two previous volumes in the series -- the ones leading up to this one -- were published first, and that certainly helps. (Mind you, the American publishers have so far ignored the first two volumes, which means that some of the backstory remains missing .....)
       Some mystery-series lend themselves to being presented in any old order, but hardly all -- and yet it's rare that US/UK publishers will begin at the beginning (and continue in order ...) when offering a series in translation.

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



21 March 2010 - Sunday

ADIBF reports | Ethnic writing in Africa ?
The Crisis of Capitalist Democracy review

       ADIBF reports

       At Al-Ahram Weekly Youssef Rakha 'wonders if the United Arab Emirates might end up being the Arabs' answer to an international publishing hub' in an extensive report on the recent Abu Dhabi International Book Fair, K for kitab.
       Meanwhile, at Three Percent Chad Post usefully reposts his reports from the ADIBF.

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



       Ethnic writing in Africa ?

       In The Standard Abenea Ndago wonders, Do we have a place for 'ethnic writers'?
       Among the ... bolder statements:
Writers are often regarded as teachers or social visionaries. The addition to the modern African writer's role should debunking tribal and state myths by writing from inside the tribe without dissolving in it.

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



       The Crisis of Capitalist Democracy review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Richard A. Posner's The Crisis of Capitalist Democracy.

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



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