B.R.Myers' The Cleanest Race offers an interesting take on North Korea -- and seems all the more plausible in light of recent events -- and now the exhibit Flowers for Kim Il Sung at the MAK in Vienna, Austria, running through 5 September 2010, offers good documentary art (and propaganda) evidence of the local ways and mindset (speak brainwash).
(Myers will be giving one of the talks at the 3/4 September symposium, "Planting Seeds in the Audience's Minds: Art and Culture in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea" that closes the exhibit.)
See also Der Spiegel's report, Vienna Exhibition Provides Rare Glimpse of North Korean Art -- complete with slideshow of seven of the paintings and architectural monstrosities -- or Helen Chang's Wall Street Journal report, The Art of Eternal Cheer -- where she notes:
Neither the usual explanatory wall comments nor critical catalog essays were allowed.
Tymon Smith runs down the longlists for the (South African) Sunday Times Literary Awards -- 40 contenders for the Alan Paton Award for non-fiction, and 31 titles in the running for the Sunday Times Fiction Prize (including J.M.Coetzee's Summertime, the only one of the titles under review at the complete review).
In The Guardian Paul Laity profiles Jonathan Coe.
Among the wildest revelations:
"I recently compared my latest French and British royalty statements and was quite shocked: French sales outstrip British by about four to one.
It's the same in Italy; I find myself addressing audiences there which, if you got them at the Hay Festival, you'd think you'd crashed through the Dan Brown barrier."
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Dany Laferrière's I am a Japanese Writer.
I didn't realize an English translation was forthcoming when I picked this up -- not that it's surprising: it's good fun and should do well.
(Douglas & McIntyre is bringing it out in English; no listing yet at any of the Amazons, even Amazon.ca)
Lyons, who reads Arabic faster than I read English, translated this enormous text with astonishing speed and fluency in the odd moments when he was not playing golf.
It has been a long haul, but immensely worthwhile.
Irwin is also really not a fan of the great Richard Burton's translation:
Sir Richard Burton's, 1885-8, was error-strewn, sexist, racist, imperialist and, above all, composed in a bizarre English, which drew on medieval, Tudor and Jacobean vocabulary, as well as Victorian slang. Also he liked to invert the word order to make the text look archaic. It verges on the unreadable. Indeed it is sometimes worse than verging on the unreadable.
And he also reminds readers:
These stories should not be used as a primer on Middle Eastern realities.
I'm slowly making my way through the three volumes, and hope to have a review up ... eventually.
I enjoyed Shahrnush Parsipur's Women without Men, and I'm curious about Shirin Neshat's film version, now in wider release (see the official site, or, for example, Sarah Kerr's piece about it at The New York Review of Books.)
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Mohamed El-Bisatie's Over the Bridge -- yet another very inspired idea that he spins out quite nicely.
(Coincidentally, Qantara.de just put up a review of his Hunger, which I haven't gotten to yet, though I expect to (I have a copy) -- though I'm not quite as eager to tackle such overtly social fiction.
(See the American University in Cairo Press publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).)
To be fair, contemporary Israeli fiction tends to fare slightly better than works from other non-English-speaking countries, in relation to the Jewish state's size.
As Hilu's literary agent, Deborah Harris, said, "I can tell you there is no market more challenging than America's.
I sell more books in China and Japan than in America, to say nothing of Europe."
She was not exaggerating.
About 3 percent of the new titles published each year in the United States are translated from all foreign languages combined, compared to as many as 40 percent in some European countries.
The problem with getting contemporary Israeli fiction published in the United States, in particular, is an enigmatic and persistent one.
Last year, only five new fiction titles were published in the U.S., according to Open Letter, an organization affiliated with the University of Rochester.
The year before, just 12 were.
But, again, given how little is translated, Hebrew fares phenomenally well (only Norwegian seems to have managed similarly well in recent years, if one takes population (i.e. per capita figures) into account); see the figures at the Three Percent translation databases pages.
(Hebrew again fares fairly well in 2010: in the far-from-complete database it is again in the top ten, with six translations accounted for so far.)
Still, it's shocking if it's true that more Israeli fiction is published in China and Japan than the US .....
Herschthal also discusses Dalkey Archive Press' new Hebrew Literature Series (see also their announcement).
Arabic Literature (in English) has an Arabic Summer Reading Challenge (with prizes !) for you -- particularly useful because she: "asked a few critics, professors, booksellers, writers and translators which five books they would suggest one must read "before you die" " and provides their responses.
Quite a few of the named books are under review at the complete review -- though not what (unsurprisingly) appears to be the most popular selection, Tayib Saleh's Season of Migration to the North (see also the New York Review Books publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
At Paper Republic Canaan Morse makes me aware that Chinese Literature Today Magazine Website Up and Running, as there is now a site for the new publication, Chinese Literature Today (looking a lot like its cousin, World Literature Today ...).
No content available online yet, but the index is, and with new work from Bi Feiyu and Bei Dao, an interview with Can Xue, and -- best of all -- book reviews of new works from China it looks very promising indeed.
They've announced that the 2010 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize -- "£10,000 for a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry, evoking the spirit of a place" -- goes to The Dead Yard: Tales of Modern Jamaica, by Ian Thomson.
See also the Faber publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.co.uk (there doesn't seem to be a US edition available yet).
Richard Sieburth, for The Salt Smugglers by Gerard de Nerval
Beverly Bie Brahic for This Incredible Need to Believe by Julia Kristeva
M.B. DeBevoise for Manichaeism by Michel Tardieu
Jody Gladding for On the Death and Life of Languages by Claude Hagège
George Holoch for Orphans of the Republic by Olivier Wieviorka
Loïc Wacquant, for Prisons of Poverty by ... Loïc Wacquant
I often complain about how publishers -- and especially major publishers -- don't bother with fiction in translation, but it's even more striking with the non-fiction.
No surprise then that all five of this year's non-fiction finalists were published by university presses (Columbia, Illinois, Yale, Harvard, and Minnesota, respectively) .....
At The New Republic they regularly feature articles from their archives -- a nice idea -- and they've just put up Vladimir Nabokov's The Art of Translation (from 4 August 1941 !).
Among his thoughts:
The third, and worst, degree of turpitude is reached when a masterpiece is planished and patted into such a shape, vilely beautified in such a fashion as to conform to the notions and prejudices of a given public.
This is a crime, to be punished by the stocks as plagiarists were in the shoebuckle days.
Alas, it seems to me this actually is the most popular sin-in-translation nowadays .....
At The Rumpus Grace Talusan 'considers the fate of Filipino writing in the American literary world' in The Loneliest Thing on Earth, with a focus on Miguel Syjuco's recent Man 'Asian' Literary Prize-winning Ilustrado.
(Note: 3607 days passed between the time I received a review copy of this title and when I finally got around to reviewing it (that's the new record, surpassing the old by close to a thousand days) -- yes, publicists (and authors), never give up hope that someday I might finally get around to reviewing your book too .....)
"It's very pleasing to see Larsson's books do so well," he says.
"First of all it's good for publishers to realise that just because a book is a translation from another language doesn't mean it's completely unsellable.
But it's also changed perceptions of translations full stop.
I suspect many people thought they were highbrow literary fiction.
The vast majority still are, but now a Swedish crime novel is sold in exactly the same way as a Scottish or an American crime novel.
Getting them "normalised", so there's not just a little corner of a bookstore with a translation section, is great for everyone."
As I've noted before, the Larsson trilogy translation is attributed to 'Reg Keeland' -- and as the man behind that mask, Steven T. Murray, explained to Mary Ann Gwinn at the Seattle Times:
Murray was able to vet only 130 pages of all three books.
Since he couldn't be sure how the books would come out, he told the publisher, "the only solution is to take my name off it."
Thus "Reg Keeland," translator of all three books, was born.
There were changes, and Murray thinks his version of the stories would have been better -- "there are things that don't match with the way Stieg wrote it.
They're still gripping, but there are little details that I wish were different."
So this doesn't exactly sound like the sort of translation-publication one would want to laud too much.
Also worth noting: as Michael Newman writes in his review of the third installment: "No one should read this book for its plot or its prose."
As he notes, poor Lisbeth Salander (the (English-)title-character of all three volumes):
still must overcome sentences like these: "She opened her eyes to two narrow slits and stared at him for many long seconds.
Her eyes were unfocused.
Then he heard her mutter in such a low voice that he could only with difficulty catch the words."
OK, so maybe it loses a little in the translation, though seconds last just as long in Swedish as they do in English, and it's hard to stare unfocused at someone in any language
On the other hand, maybe Hahn is right: if ham-handed writing like this can be successful in English, then maybe the issue of whether or not it's a translation has become irrelevant and translation really has become "normalised" .....
(And, yes, I will review the third volume too -- once I get my hands on a copy.)
There are quite a few Mark Twain autobiographies out there, but the definitive one has been under lock and key for a hundred years.
The University of California Press blog mentioned more than a month ago that
Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, died a century ago today, but he is still publishing books.
He wanted it that way -- he specified that his full autobiography not be published for 100 years after his death, and other writings for another 400 years after that.
"When a man is writing a book dealing with the privacies of his life -- a book which is to be read while still alive -- he shrinks from speaking his whole frank mind", he wrote.
The hundred-year embargo is up, and UC Press will publish the first of three volumes of his complete and uncensored autobiography, edited by the Mark Twain Project, in November.
It took a month, but suddenly everyone seems to have noticed, and so this news has been much-mentioned the past day or two.
It is a pretty good story, too -- and I'm particularly pleased and impressed that his literary estate actually followed his wishes -- usually they don't bother.
(Of course, the real big test is whether they can hold off another four hundred years on those other papers .....)
See also the University of California Press publicity page for the first of the three projected volumes of the autobiography -- or pre-order your copy from Amazon.com (as many people apparently already have -- it has an awesome Amazon sales-rank) or Amazon.co.uk.
"In Israel there is not a free market for books.
There is a blatant market failure.
The book market in Israel is controlled by a duopoly of two book chains," states the explanatory material for the proposal.
"As a result of this, independent bookshops have disappeared almost entirely.
There is increasing centralization of a number of book publishers at the expense of others, publishing houses are shutting down and there is a dramatic drop in authors' royalties and dilution of the stock of titles offered in the stores."
It'll be interesting to see what sort of fix they come up with; as experience elsewhere shows, publishing and book-selling are tough to regulate.
Alone in Berlin is taking bestseller lists by storm on both sides of the Atlantic.
In the UK alone, Penguin Classics has sold more than 100,000 copies in just three months and is expecting to exceed 250,000 sales within the year -- astonishing figures considering that most English novels barely sell a few thousand copies.
It has reached the official UK Top 50 for all UK publishers, a rare achievement for a classic.
In the US, Melville House Publishing, a small independent company from whom Penguin bought the rights, is also seeing vigorous sales.
Astonishing indeed -- especially to me, since while the story is certainly a good and gripping one, it doesn't strike me as a particularly good book (the writing is ... workmanlike, at best (and I wasn't thrilled by the translation, either)).
But note that those who commented on the article -- and there are quite a few -- almost all do speak highly of the book.
In any case, it's nice to see a title originally written in a foreign language defy expectations.
In Sierra Leone's capital, Freetown, a hotel made famous by author Graham Greene has come to symbolise a country caught in a cycle of conflict and decay.
He wrote about it in his 1936 travel book Journey Without Maps, used it in 1948 -- thinly disguised as the Bedford -- to open one of his great novels (The Heart of the Matter) and then famously revisited it for a 1968 essay where he dubbed Sierra Leone "the Soupsweet Land".
More than 50% of respondents to the Reading the Future survey, conducted by The Bookseller, said they had heard of the now-defunct Richard & Judy Book Club brand, although just 11% knew of the current "TV Book Club" -- roughly the same as are aware of the Quick Reads scheme.
But just 43% of the 3,000 readers asked said they had heard of the Man Booker prize, while a little over 47% knew of the Nobel Prize for Literature.
Yes, a defunct TV program still is better-known .....
Issue 34 of transcript, Science Fiction and Political Fantasy, is now available online, and with "new writing from Catalonia, Lithuania, Hungary, Finland, Portugal, Croatia and Wales" definitely worth a look.
At Three Percent Chad Post says Let's Talk about Amazon for a Minute, commenting on the new AmazonCrossing concept (see my previous mention).
He also points to what is one of the inadvertently funniest pieces of publishing advice I've come across in a while, from a blogger who thinks he's found the Perfect Example of Publishers' lack of efficiency and cost-cutting
As long-time readers know, I'm often mystified by publishers' 'business'-decisions, which often strike me as very poor business decisions.
Nevertheless, I recognize the danger of venturing into areas about which one is not fully informed.
This blogger certainly doesn't, baffled by how much publishers are spending wasting on ... translation:
We're in the middle of the highest unemployment numbers in decades.
We have companies distributed all over the world and so much cheap labor everywhere -- including in North America.
Do people really get paid $125 per thousand words translated?
Extremely helpfully, he explains: "Here are 5 ways to translate cheaply. With a little thinking Publishers could easily figure out how not to spend $8,000 per novel translation" and offers handy tips such as: "Check Demand for the books Before you translate them".
And he points out the ... obvious, such as: "If you have to spend a ton on marketing you might be doing something wrong".
Spending so much money on translation ?
Come on !
For $100 an hour you can get a top-notch iPhone App developer.
For $8,000 you could get a full app made that reads Project Gutenberg books -- all 40,000 of them.
I suppose sometimes I underestimate public comprehension of what translating fiction actually means and involves; here is somebody who thinks it's so straightforward that Google-translating a text and then having someone who gets paid $10.00 an hour check it would easily suffice.
Anyway, I haven't laughed this hard in a while.
In The Guardian Nicholas Lezard commends the Serpent's Tail edition of Fernando Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet, translated by Margaret Jull Costa (see the Serpent's Tail publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) -- despite finding:
The best English-language version is translated by Richard Zenith and published by Penguin, but that comes in at more than 500 pages.
This one publishes 259 of the fragments and is much more wieldy; a pocket edition rather than a bedside one.
She walked into Abuja, and raised the mood of the nationís capital city that had been somewhat subdued by the veil of recent political happenings.
Among much else:
Concerned that badly edited newspapers and other popular publication works, actually influence generations of young ones as well as that the existence of a generation of Nigerians who tend not to read beyond what they need to get grades in examinations, she urged: "We must begin to brainwash Nigerians ... in a good way."
In a profile of Ian McEwan in The Telegraph by Lorna Bradbury 'Ian McEwan explains why his latest novel Solar was rejected by the American literary establishment'.
It's not much of an explanation, but at least he does moan:
"It was horrible," McEwan says. "They didnít get it at all."
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Alexandros Papadiamantis' The Murderess, which New York Review Books is reissuing.
This translation was originally published by Writers and Readers in 1983 -- and they even got a good review from Gabriel Josipovici in the Times Literary Supplement.
Understandably, they used a quote from the TLS review ("It is books such as The Murderess which remind us of the miraculous nature of prose fiction") on the cover of the paperback edition.
Unfortunately -- and unbelievably -- they managed to misspell Josipovici's name there (printing it as: 'Josipovichi').
Yes, to perhaps no one's surprise, Writers and Readers no longer appears to be in business.
(Too bad -- leaving aside such outrageous slips they brought out some interesting books.)
(NYRB use the same quote on their edition, by the way -- though only on the back cover -- and, yes, they spell the name correctly (but not, I see, on their publicity page at this time ...).)