In The Prague Post Benjamin Cunningham reports that 'New literary collection is a mix of Czech and expat writing', in Anthology tracks prose and poetry of past 20 years.
The anthology, The Return of Kral Majales: Prague's Literary Renaissance 1990-2010, sounds like a solid (and massive ...) overview.
As reported at Three Percent (but not (sigh) the official site, last I checked ...), Ross Benjamin has won this year's Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize for his translation of Michael Maar's Speak, Nabokov (see the Verso publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk; I haven't seen a copy yet ...).
Admirably, they do -- as every prize should ! -- reveal all the titles that were in the running: see the (embarrassingly short) list of submissions.
I'm still trying to figure out how to get to as many of the events of interest to me at the PEN World Voices festival on Friday; the schedule is very impressive -- but also crowded/overlapping.
A lot of good things on offer.
The Caribbean Review of Books will be officially relaunched in May, but you can already get a pretty good idea of what things will look like as they make the transition to a online-only publication.
Now things are really getting rolling at the PEN World Voices festival, with today's program packed with worthwhile events.
I'll be in conversation with Eshkol Nevo at 19:00 at the Center for Jewish History.
We'll mainly be talking about his new-to-the-US novel, Homesick (see the publicity pages from Dalkey Archive Press and Vintage, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), and I'm looking forward to it.
Among the other events I'm tempted by and would try to attend if I weren't otherwise occupied are:
Weather Report: What Can We Do? with Jostein Gaarder, James Hansen, Frederic Hauge, Bjørn Lomborg, Bill McKibben, Andrew Revkin, and Cynthia Rosenzweig; moderated by Robert Silvers (20:00-21:30, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art)
"Classical Arabic is appallingly represented," he says.
"We're in a parlous situation now, so I always bandy this in conversation, but seeing as I have a copy here" -- he waves a paperback copy of Robert Irwin's collection, Night and Horses and the Desert -- "if you're looking for translations of classical Arabic, this is the standard anthology.
There are one or two others that you can find in libraries.
This is the only one I know of in print."
And the plans sound great:
"The idea is to create a library," he says.
"We want to create books that are bought and meet the needs of the general reader across the globe."
To this end he has assembled an editorial board for the Library of Arabic Literature, an ambitious project to render in English all the important works written in Arabic between the pre-Islamic era and the mid-19th century.
The Brunei literary scene has found a wider platform as a group of 36 Universiti Brunei Darussalam (UBD) students, with joint efforts from the Language and Literature Bureau, designed a website that promotes local literature.
It sounds promising:
Www.sasterawan.gov.bn is an educational window that gives detailed information on the background of well-established local writers.
The website also sheds light on the styles and processes used by the writers.
The general environment of the literature field in the Sultanate is touched upon as well.
Edith Grossman continues her why-translation-matters rampaging (which I wholeheartedly approve of, even if I don't agree with everything she says), this time in Foreign Policy, in A New Great Wall, where she argues:
The dearth of translated literature in the English-speaking world represents a new kind of iron curtain we have constructed around ourselves.
We are choosing to block off access to the writing of a large and significant portion of the world, including movements and societies whose potentially dreadful political impact on us is made even more menacing by our general lack of familiarity with them.
Our stubborn and willful ignorance could have -- and arguably, already has had -- dangerous consequences.
The problem starts in the Anglophone publishing industry, where translated books are not only avoided but actively discouraged.
Meanwhile Open Letter Books' Chad Post takes on Grossman's new book, Why Translation Matters, and the claims and arguments she makes in his lengthy review at The Quarterly Conversation
It's certainly good to see the issue being debated (as it also is elsewhere -- though, as I noted, Tim Parks' recent contribution, Why translators deserve some credit, is of somewhat less use).
[I would, of course, love to get in on the Why Translation Matters-debate, but I still haven't gotten a copy of the book; oddly, also, it was also briefly listed as being processed (a single copy !) into the New York Public Library system, but there is no record of it there now, so I can't get a copy there either .....
(See also the Yale University Press publicity page, or get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)]
They've announced the shortlist for the Caine Prize for African Writing, selected from 115 entries from a mere 13 African countries (though they somehow claim that: "the shortlist is once again a reflection of the Caine Prize's pan-African reach" ...).
The premier short-story prize of (sort of) the continent, I'm still no big fan of their touting it as: "widely known as the 'African Booker' and regarded as Africa's leading literary award".
(The Booker -- all the Booker variations, from the Man to the Russian one -- are for novels (well, save the International one, which is an author/career prize), but for some reason African authors must make do with no more than 10,000 words ?)
(I also can't help but note that one of these stories was originally published in The Best American Short Stories 2009 .....)
Judge Ellah Allfrey addresses some of the issues surrounding the prize at The Guardian's book blog, in The winning qualities of the Caine prize -- noting, for example, that:
But even if I could persuade myself to accept the idea of an "African writer", although three of the five judges are Africans, this is a prize decided in England, awarded in Oxford for work written in English.
There are no stories translated from French or Arabic. And what about Shona, Twi, Hausa, Chewa, Lingala, Swahili or Afrikaans?
Yes, just like the Man 'Asian' Literary Prize doesn't deserve to be called 'Asian' since it doesn't accept work from huge parts of that continent, so too the Caine Prize might do well to more honestly call itself a prize of Anglo-African writing.
(Okay, it's not quite so clear cut -- works in translation are eligible, as long as an English version has been published -- funny, however, how they never, never, never seem to make the cut .....)
And so, while the Caine Prize serves a useful purpose, there's obviously room (and, I would argue, need) for a truly continent-encompassing (and embracing), truly pan-African literary prize (preferably for a novel).
One of the dangers of literary oversight of African fiction from abroad might be found in one recent example; I don't want to judge a book I haven't seen on the basis of a single review, but Ikhide R. Ikheloa makes some valid points in his review of the new anthology Daughters of Eve and Other New Short Stories from Nigeria, published by Critical, Cultural and Communications Press (CCCP), of Nottingham, the UK (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
And he certainly didn't like the book:
This is an anthology so bad, I almost resolved to give in to the fervent wishes of friends and foes -- to give up reading and reviewing books.
It is becoming an unbearable ordeal.
You couldn't tell from this collection but Nigerian literature is alive and rocking although the reader can be forgiven for thinking it is on life support judging from the mostly wretched offerings in this anthology of mediocrity.
And he points out:
Globalisation as in the coming of the Internet and smartphones has already dwarfed the linearism of colonialism in terms of its impact on the way of life of Africans.
To reduce today's literature to something as remote and amorphous as the post-colonial is to literally miss the boat of what is going on in Africa today.
Life is more complicated than that.
Boundaries now bleed gleefully into each other and dissolve into that gaseous entity called the Internet.
We must not be bound by the strictures of what was taught us in the classrooms.
Unfortunately, I think there's still a lot of missing-the-boat going on with regards to contemporary African literature.
(Of course, that goes double for literature not written in (and only occasionally translated into ...) English, from Africa or elsewhere .....)
The Guyana Prize for Literature has gone missing for an entire cycle -- the last prizes were the 2006 awards, given in 2007, and the subsequent one should have been in 2008.
If the Pulitzer Prizes skip a year in America, or the Giller in Canada, or the Booker in the UK, there would be grounds for a national scandal.
So far, no public explanation has been given by the Prize Committee for the absence of the awards, not even a peep of interrogation by the Stabroek News which carries a weekly column by the Secretary of the Prize.
In contrast, the Presidentís US$100,000 annual commitment to a regional publishing house seems to have been activated with the recent launch of the Guyana Classics series, by the unceremoniously named Caribbean Publishing House.
The books were not edited or printed in the region, much less Guyana, nor are they currently available to local readers.
There is no transparency of process, and the annual commitment to the publishing house which does not have any apparent verifiable existence is worth some $20 million.
The New York Times has an article on Irène Némirovsky (see, for example, the complete review review of Suite Française), and apparently the important thing is Assessing Authorís Jewish Identity.
The article comes about because there are (or soon will be) two new Némirovsky-titles: the biography, The Life of Irène Némirovsky, by Olivier Philipponnat and Patrick Lienhardt (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk),
and the collection of stories, Dimanche and Other Stories (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
(I already have a copy of the latter, and should get around to reviewing both.)
In The Observer Tim Parks thinks 'It's time to acknowledge translators -- the underpaid and unsung heroes behind the global success of many writers', explaining why (he thinks) Why translators deserve some credit.
Unfortunately, beginning with it's presumptuous opening sentences -- "Who wrote the Milan Kundera you love? Answer: Michael Henry Heim. And what about the Orhan Pamuk you think is so smart? Maureen Freely" (how does he know what version of Kundera we read ? (what of the books Kundera wrote in French ?) etc.) -- this isn't the sort of approach that I think helps win over sympathies.
Certainly not mine -- especially when Parks goes off the rails with his nauseatingly over-romanticized idea(l) of translation, one that sounds wonderful but does not correspond in any way to my reading experiences (i.e. doesn't explain all the crap I come across, day after day after numbing day):
You'll never know exactly what a translator has done.
He reads with maniacal attention to nuance and cultural implication, conscious of all the books that stand behind this one; then he sets out to rewrite this impossibly complex thing in his own language, re-elaborating everything, changing everything in order that it remain the same, or as close as possible to his experience of the original.
In every sentence the most loyal respect must combine with the most resourceful inventiveness.
Yeah, maybe some translators do that; a lot of others ... not so much.
(And their editors and publishers seem all-too-fine with that .....)
In addition: best intentions and effort (and that 'maniacal attention' (which I find especially hard to credit, much as I'd like to ...)) do not necessarily lead to successful translations.
Last week I mentioned how Orlando Figes had, once again, been trying to intimidate and silence those whom he felt cast aspersions on him by having his lawyer send out threatening letters.
The 'case' turned on Amazon-reviews that praised his books and tore apart those of his 'competitors', but Figes backed down when he supposedly learned that it was his wife that wrote the reviews.
It turned out Figes wasn't even much of a gentleman, making his wife take the fall.
Only now has he finally admitted the truth.
As reported now in the Daily Mail (and everywhere else), Amazon row don admits: 'It was me':
'I take full responsibility,' he says.
'I have made some foolish errors and apologise wholeheartedly to all concerned.
In particular, I am sorry for the distress I have caused to Rachel Polonsky and Robert Service.
I also apologise to my lawyer, to whom I gave incorrect information.'
The extraordinary mea culpa goes on: 'I am ashamed of my behaviour and don't entirely understand why I acted as I did.
It was stupid.
Some of the reviews I now see were small-minded and ungenerous, but they were not intended to harm.'
I don't have much problem with the reviews (though it's pretty pathetic behavior for an author (and academic) to indulge in); it's the use of legal threats to silence not just critics but anyone who dared even suggest this affair smelled peculiar (especially as now it's clear that it stank to high heaven, and that Figes knew all along that only he was in the wrong).
At least it gave Robert Service a chance to expose The shame of Orlando Figes in The Guardian, writing that 'Orlando Figes's secretive rubbishing of my work, and his subsequent legal threats, are disgraceful' (again: I find the latter far, far more reprehensible than the former).
In Arifa Akbar's report in The Independent, I wrote scathing reviews, not my wife, says Figes, we learn:
A spokesman at Birkbeck College, in London, where Professor Figes teaches, confirmed he had begun sick leave yesterday for an unspecified time, and added that he was unaware of any disciplinary action against the academic.
It's unclear to me whether "sick leave" is a British euphemism for what should happen to Figes; one can only hope.
And I very much hope soon to read about the class-action lawsuit instituted against Figes for his actions.
(I'm also curious whether his lawyer is still his lawyer: he, too, was made to look a fool, and can't be pleased at having a client who gives him false information and instructions.)
It will also be interesting to see whether any publication ever allows Figes to review in their pages again.
It's hard to imagine anyone could -- the taint is simply too deep and devastating; perhaps in future Amazon.com will really be the only forum open to him.
In Intelligent Life Simon Akam writes about surveying many New York streetside-bookseller stalls and their used-books offerings:
In each location I catalogued two stalls, listing their collections by author and title. After several weeks I had a tally of more than 3,000 books.
So how to interpret the numbers, of those books and authors most likely to be found available used ?
What wasn't clear was what it meant to have a big presence on secondhand stalls. Was it an honour for a book, or a slur on its author's reputation?
Which was more significant -- the fact that so many copies had been bought by someone, or the fact that they had since been offloaded again?
To add insult to injury, were the titles I encountered in droves lying on the stalls because today's reading public chose not to pick them up, even at a much reduced price?
The most interesting observation:
There was one type of secondhand hit that my chart did not reflect, Eastwood argued -- the most sought-after titles of all.
"The bestsellers by far are Charles Bukowski, Haruki Murakami," he explained.
"They don't last too long."
Her view on book prize panels is that there needs to be an open-doored system in which jurors are mined from other worlds, rather than from within the constipated bowels of the industry.
If the usual suspects were always sitting on prize panels, she argues, the agenda for selection will be stale and morally compromised.
The PEN World Voices festival is next week, and I'm still having the darnedest time trying to figure out which of the many events to attend.
While there's not too much happening Monday through Wednesday, after that the program is packed.
Well, one event I'll be at is Homesick: Eshkol Nevo in Conversation with Michael Orthofer, Thursday, 29 April, at 19:00, at the Center for Jewish History (15 West 16th St.).
I've enjoyed the book and look forward to a fascinating discussion -- a lot to address here.
I've seen Homesick in bookstores already, so it is available; see the publicity pages for the Dalkey Archive Press or Vintage editions, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
They've announced the longlist for the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, 19 titles selected from 138 submissions.
Only one of the titles is under review at the complete review: Dreams in a Time of War by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o.
A new issue of list - Books from Korea is now available online.
Among the features of interest: a not-quite-bestseller list, What Weíre Reading (while based on sales-popularity, "The books are introduced in no particular order"), as well as Shin Junebong's profile of novelist Kim Yeon-su, The Indefinable Boundary of Fact and Fiction.
The Wales Book of the Year Award longlists have been announced; here's the English-language one at the official Academi site.
See also coverage at WalesOnline, where they have both longlists.
Most admirable -- and a feature that all awards-sites should emulate -- they offer a complete and fully and freely accessible list of all eligible books (so that everyone knows what's in the running -- as is not the case for most literary awards, most notably the ultra-secretive (and entry-limiting) Man Booker).