The St. Petersburg-based International Center for Translators of Russian Literature into the World Languages has held its first prize-giving ceremony.
Specialists from Azerbaijan, Japan and the Netherlands were honored with the Center's awards.
An admirable effort to foster translation from the Russian -- though it's curious and a bit disappointing that all the translations are of classical works, and none of contemporary ones.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of the last volume of Stieg Larsson's Millennium-trilogy, The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (as I finally got my hands on a copy, kindly provided by the publisher).
So, having finally finished off the internationally mega-bestselling phenomenon that is Stieg Larsson's Millennium-trilogy (with a review of the final volume The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest), a few thoughts on the books and phenomenon:
First, about the (English) title of this last volume -- a book which, of course, does not involve any actual hornets or their nests.
On the whole I'm okay with the fairly catchy English titles -- better than Larsson's originals, certainly (though I think the succinct German take -- Verblendung, Verdammnis, and Vergebung -- is the best of the lot), but what the hell happened here ?
This is a book that was published as The Girl Who Kicked the Hornets' Nest when it came out in the UK, and then as The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest in the US.
Yes, in the UK there are a plurality of hornets, in the US its entirely singular.
What the hell is that about ?
Ah, publishers and their inscrutable ways ......
One thing that struck me, especially in the final volume, and that makes the series' success in the US all the more surprising to me, is Larsson's complete faith in the modern democratic state and its institutions.
Yes, this is a series filled with conspiracies, and failures of the modern welfare and security state, but Larsson sees the state and its institutions -- with a helpful and vigorous push from a free fourth estate -- able to fix what went wrong.
There are rogue elements in the system -- sexually perverted (and violent) men, for the most part -- but the system can root them out; the system is -- ultimately, and when put to the test -- dependable.
Yes, Larsson has his individuals who ostensibly work outside the system -- the journalist Blomkvist, and especially the she-only-plays-by-her-rules Lisbeth Salander -- but it's the many cogs of the system itself that fix what went wrong.
Indeed, it seems quite telling that Salander is effectively neutered for most of The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest, as Larsson keeps her in hospital (i.e. out of commission).
I can see why the statist French go for this, but why aren't Americans more annoyed by this ?
Does the other Swedish exotica compensate ?
One major open question about this series is: will it endure ?
Its current success is truly phenomenal -- but is it a passing phase, or will Salander become a classic ?
I lean towards the opinion that, despite the current success, and the movie tie-in success to follow, the Millennium-trilogy is a passing fancy.
There's no question that Larsson's characters and approach have shaken things up and attracted a great deal of attention.
But I think there's no getting around the fact that Larsson just isn't a very good writer, and that all three volumes have considerable flaws.
Larsson wrote outside some traditional boxes, and that gives the books some freshness that's missing even from those by far better contemporary international crime-fiction writers, but I think that might well come to seem stale before too long.
I do think there's a chance for Larsson's legacy to endure, however -- which bring me to the one great remaining open question: when does his estate start authorizing the churning out of new Blomkvist-Salander novels ?
Yes, if they commission someone who actually can write there's still a lot that could be done with these characters.
(First up, obviously: the mystery behind Salander's oft-mentioned but never seen sister.)
I'm curious as to when they start publishing the next volumes in the series, and I'm curious who they'll get to write them -- specifically whether they'll go for a Swedish author, who gets the whole Swedish scene that Larsson used so weirdly-effectively, or go straight to English and hire an American or English pro.
They could afford to go the Swedish route; I'm not sure which is better.
As to how long they can wait -- I don't think they have that much time.
Maybe five years, if the books are written in Swedish.
A bit longer if they go the straight-to-English route, where they can at least wait for all three Hollywood versions of the Millennium-trilogy to hit the big screen.
But after that it gets dicey.
[I know there's some 'debate' about the Larsson estate, but really there's no debate: there was no will, his long-time girlfriend has no legal leg to stand on, tough luck.
It may not seem fair, but I certainly think that someone who obviously believed as strongly in the system as Larsson did knew exactly what he was doing.
Who his heirs are is perfectly clear, and they'll get to decide whether there will be 'authorized' sequels.
My money is on there being some -- sooner rather than later, too.]
A letter sent to Dedalus yesterday from Arts Council England area executive director Andrea Stark confirmed the publisher's regular funding status would be restored, and that it would receive a grant of £26,900 in 2010/2011 for "the commissioning and publishing costs of new literary fiction in translation and the origination of new English fiction".
From the Palestinian Territories to Mongolia and beyond, crime writers are using international locations to tackle global themes.
Not exactly a revolutionary observation, but still of some interest -- though given that he thinks Colin Cotterill's favored locale is Cambodia he doesn't seem to have researched this too carefully .....
They announced the winner of the Caine Prize for African Writing last night (though not yet at the official site, last I checked ...), and it went to 'Stickfighting Days' by Olufemi Terry; the story, at least, is freely available at the Caine site --albeit only in the dreaded pdf format.
For a report on the win, see the BOOK Southern Africa post, Olufemi Terry Wins the £10 000 Caine Prize for African Writing.
The Caine Prize is, apparently -- well they claim so, anyway -- : "widely known as the 'African Booker' and regarded as Africa's leading literary award".
Given that it's only a story-prize, not an actual book-prize -- and that this year's mere 115 entries came from only 13 African countries that seems a bit of a stretch, admirable though the prize is.
(Well, the very limited number of entries is, at least, Bookeresque .....)
(Personally, I think they'd do much better not touting the silly Booker-comparisons, but rather emphasizing that it is a story-prize -- there aren't that many that are this high-profile or get this much attention, and by admirably making all the shortlisted stories available on their site it's much more user-friendly than most such prizes: readers actually can quickly see what all the fuss is about, and also judge for themselves.
(Of course, it would help if they reformatted the texts ... (convenient though it may seem to be, pdf should always remain a format of utter last resort).))
The competition was again dominated by very few countries, and while Olufemi Terry is indeed from Sierra Leone, he too now lives in South Africa; see also his official site.
Leading Israeli authors and publishers spoke with Kitap Zamanı, sharing their views on the Mavi Marmara raid and their thoughts on the role of literature in peacemaking.
Perhaps for the first time not just in the Turkish media but in world media, a group of distinguished Israeli writers have come together in one place.
In The National Ben East considers how much cover-images and design still matters as the e-book takes hold, in Cover story.
(Much as I can appreciate a nice book-jacket, the day when covers no longer matter (or exist) can't come soon enough for me.)
As noted, with Murray Bail's The Pages I've hit 2500 reviews at the complete review -- which also means it's time for a look at the past 100.
It's time to update the look at How international are we ? -- and, specifically, the list breaking down the languages books originally were written in.
The last 100 book reviewed were written in 28 different languages, aside from English, including three new ones (Amharic, Assamese, and Bengali), bringing the total number of languages represented to 55.
French tied with English as the most popular language -- 24 books in each -- while Spanish (9), Japanese (7), and Arabic (5) also had decent showings.
Also updated: the list accompanying the ongoing look at 'How sexist are we ?' -- still very, I'm afraid: a mere 17.5 of the past 100 titles reviewed were written by women (though that did raise the overall average up to ... 14.66).
Not surprisingly, the site remains fiction-focused: 71 of the past 100 titles reviewed were novels (along with 5 story-collections), while only 15 were standard non-fiction (interesting titbit: of the mere 7 United States-authored titles reviewed, 6 were non-fiction).
Pathetically, only a single volume of poetry was reviewed.
However, to reduce the problematic of postcolonial literature to the question of language seems to me an untenable argument.
Although I understand where Ngugi is coming from, and see the importance of promoting the use of indigenous languages through writing, I can't help but think that his argument is completely circular and that he seems to contradict himself all too often.
In connection with UIML's City of Literature exhibit, Dave Morice, creator and author of the famed "Dr. Alphabet" and Poetry Marathons, will attempt to write 100 pages of poetry a day for 100 days.
Starting today and running through Halloween, Morice will complete "Poetry City Marathon," a 10,000-page work filled with stories about Iowa City from his personal collection and research.
The marathon is sponsored by Sackter House Media of Iowa City.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Murray Bail's The Pages, finally also coming to the US (from Other Press, next month) -- half a year after the French translation was published, I can't help but notice .....
(By the way: that's the 2500th review at the complete review !
Damn, that's a lot.)
The July issue of The Hindu's Literary Review is now available.
Among the pieces of interest is Gauri Viswanathan's conversation with Salman Rushdie on Religion and the imagination.
Also of interest: Aditya Sudarshan argues Indian publishing needs to get less fun, finding that; "In the world of Indian English publishing, kitsch has begun to dominate the mainstream" (which he disapproves of).
He also argues that it is all the publishers' (and editors') fault:
In any case, with Bhagat's readership out of the picture, we can see more clearly that the push towards this new breed of writing is not being fuelled by market forces -- those simply aren't strong enough.
Our habitual readers of English fiction are not a small group, but they are not nearly so organised as to be pro-active in shaping publishers' decisions.
Readers remain reactive and the freedom to decide what books get to them, remains primarily with the publishers.
If, today, our shelves of Indian English fiction are crammed full of ‘light reading', it is because our editors felt like it.
I wonder whether any of the publishers or editors will take issue with the piece.
In the July Literary Review Rosalind Porter has a Q & A with Margaret Atwood, with a focus on 'how the digital revolution that is currently shaking up the publishing industry feels from a writer's perspective'.
A reminder that the Austrian Cultural Forum Translation Prize 2010 is now accepting submissions (through 1 September).
"translations of contemporary Austrian fiction and poetry that have preferably not appeared previously in English", and the prize is a -- despite the weakened euro -- not-to-be-sneezed at €3000.
And don't be too intimidated by the fact that I am one of the jurors.
In the Wall Street Journal Alexandra Alter finds 'Detective novels from Japan, Nigeria, Germany and Korea are pouring into the U.S. as publishers hunt for the next Girl With the Dragon Tattoo', in Fiction's Global Crime Wave (via).
While acknowledging that guessing trying to figure out what will work -- much less what will be the next big thing -- is difficult and often a matter of luck, this offers some hilarious insight into the fumbling ways of American publishing professionals -- my god, they really don't have the foggiest idea of what they're doing, do they ?
Yes, this is an industry where one has to applaud tiny steps forward (as backward as they still are) such as:
As focus shifts toward international hits, American editors who used to rely on international book fairs and pitches from literary agents have gotten more proactive.
Some are asking translators to suss out rising literary talents and provide plot synopses for books that are creeping up best-seller lists overseas.
And I admire this hey-if-they-say-there's-a-wave-let's-pretend-we're-riding-it attitude:
Kent Wolf of Global Literary Management, an agency that focuses on international fiction, says he's focusing on suspense novels from Asia.
Mr. Wolf represents five writers from Asia, including South Korean novelist Young-ha Kim, whose spy thriller Your Republic Is Calling You, will be published this September by Mariner Books.
The novel, a 24-like thriller, unfolds in a single day and features a North Korean spy who is activated after spending 21 years undercover in South Korea.
Still, a few observations of interest:
Some small presses have also found that international crime can be profitable.
Revenue at Bitter Lemon Press, an international publisher that focuses on translated crime fiction, has grown roughly 12% a year since the imprint was created five years ago, says co-founder François von Hurter, who declined to provide overall sales figures.
The press's top-selling authors include Italian crime writer Gianrico Carofiglio and Leonardo Padura from Cuba.
(See also the Bitter Lemon titles under review at the complete review.)
I was, however, rather shocked [rather shocked ? there were pages flying, smoke rising, walls beaten ...] to discover that the American edition of Class Trip simply omits one of the 31 chapters of the book, one that throws a different light on much of the rest of it and whose absence certainly changes the feel of the book.
This is, of course, one of the dirty little secrets of publishing-in-translation: publishers seem to feel few qualms about messing with the text -- and absolutely none about withholding that information from readers (no, Class Trip doesn't come with a warning label, or even a small note on the copyright page or by the translator to the effect that its been materially altered).
Of course, they're doing what they think -- or can talk themselves into believing -- is best for domestic audiences (hint: they don't have a high opinion of you).
God bless you if you have any faith in them and can believe that you might be in good hands; me -- not so much.
Meanwhile, it's good to see another Carrère is due out shortly (which I hope to get to soon, too), to be published in the US as My Life as a Russian Novel and as A Russian Novel in the UK (yeah, don't get me started ...).
See the Metropolitan publicity page, or pre-order your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
There's only an abstract of this article freely available online, but I am curious what Gary Saul Morson writes in the July/August issue of Commentary on 'The Pevearsion of Russian Literature', as he apparently finds that:
Thus it is with the celebrated work of Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, who are making a decades-long project of presenting authoritative new English editions of the great works of Russian literature.
These are Potemkin translations -- apparently definitive but actually flat and fake on closer inspection.
(Somewhat surprisingly, I still haven't read a single Pevear/Volokhonsky translation yet; I don't think I own any, but I imagine one will eventually come my way.)
The first Berkshire WordFest will be held 23 to 25 July, in Lenox, Massachusetts -- and while the line-up of speakers is quite impressive, the venue -- The Mount, Edith Wharton's very impressive estate and gardens -- is also a good reason to go.
They've also started a blog leading up to the festival.
Maya Sela's lengthy profile of editor, translator, and writer Ilana Hammerman in Haaretz, 'Whoever wants to listen, can listen', offers some interesting odds and ends -- including the difficulties of trying to publish serious literature when there don't seem to be many serious readers left.