In the Business Standard Nilanjana S. Roy looks at Putting the Asian into Asian fiction, as she compares various (semi-)Asian literary prizes.
There's the Indian Vodafone-Crossword Book Award, which -- sort of -- announced their shortlists recently (bizarrely, however, failing to include the fiction finalists on the final list; these are listed at, for example, Asia Writes, but I haven't seen any official confirmation).
The controversy surrounding this prize is the Indian-citizenship requirement -- which has led to, for example, as Outlook India's Bibliofile noted (second item), William Dalrymple -- himself left out due to the requirement -- complaining:
So it is now possible, in principle, for an Indian passport-holder living in Finland and writing about, say, the Vikings, to win while Rana Dasgupta (long-resident here but holding a British passport) writing about Delhi is not eligible.
(As far as fiction goes, that seems fine with me for a national prize -- recall that the Pulitzer fiction and drama winners must be US citizens, but, sensibly, not the history-authors: "the book must be a history of the United States but the author may be of any nationality".)
Meanwhile, Roy appears to look favorably on the change in the rules for the Man 'Asian' Literary Prize, with only published (and published-in-English at that) books eligible:
The memory of the general reader is short; most of us want to buy books the moment a shortlist is announced.
This year, the Man Asian has moved back to accepting only books that are already published -- which should give it a more reader-friendly list.
The criteria for defining the Asianness of the writer remains the passport and the nationality, which, given the massive geographical spread, could lead to fascinating but very eclectic shortlists in the future.
Unfortunately, she fails to note that that "massive geographical spread" isn't quite so massive: according to the M'A'LP only some 23 (out of 43) [updated: actually 27 out of 47] Asian countries and territories count as 'Asian'; her silence on the subject suggests their steadfast refusal to even address this issue is working out quite well -- nobody seems to care.
(I continue to be stunned how they get away with this outrage: whatever it may be, truly Asian this prize is not.)
Then there's another more localized prize with yet another different set of eligibility requirements:
The recently announced DSC Prize for South Asian literature has a much smaller focus -- the restriction to the subcontinent rather than to the entire Asian continent makes it narrower, but also makes it more likely that the shortlists will feature books with common themes and interests.
More controversial is the decision to define South Asian literature by content, rather than by nationality -- if your book has a South Asian setting or South Asian characters, it qualifies.
This will lead to some confusion; Asian authors who write about other times and places will be left out, and you could theoretically have a shortlist that features six Asian books, but not a single Asian writer.
I don't mind this kind of confusion, but I'd love to see a truly pan-Asian prize (for Asian writers) -- much as I'd love to see a truly pan-African prize, that not only welcomes but actually receives entries from across the entire continent .....
(At this time, no prize comes close to covering either continent adequately.)
In The Advocate Kelly Bevan offers a good introduction to the Berkshire WordFest that will run 23 to 25 July, in Inaugural Berkshire WordFest literary festival is coming to Edith Wharton's The Mount.
A solid line-up, with Garrison Keillor receiving the The Mount's 2010 Henry James Award (recognizing "contemporary writers who have made significant contributions to American cultural life. In particular, the award honors writers of exceptional linguistic dexterity and humor whose work brings America to a fuller sense of itself") and Francine Prose getting The Mount's 2010 Edith Wharton Achievement Award (recognizing "contemporary writers who have made extraordinary contributions to American letters. In particular, the award honors writers whose work fosters an empathetic understanding of the human condition through exceptional artistry and insight").
Surprisingly, however, few of the authors in this illustrious line-up have books under review at the complete review: just Simon Winchester (see, for example, The Man Who Loved China (UK title: Bomb, Book and Compass)) and Prose-introducer Louisa Gilder (The Age of Entanglement).
No Henry James or Edith Wharton reviews yet either .....
The Bangkok Post reports that 'Six poetry books shortlisted for this year's coveted literary SEA Write Award' in Poetic race -- though:
Of the 74 books submitted, the committee whittled out right away three: For not fitting the required format or failing to provide the ISBN.
The remaining works revealed a variety of styles, ranging from traditional rhythm-and-rhyme genres to blank verse and mix of folksy lyrics.
Also diverse are the topics, which include ruminations on political turmoil and Southern violence, existentialist pursuits and challenges to the long-upheld morals.
And while I'm all for high standards I couldn't help but ... enjoy some of the jury-complaints:
Much of the works, however, could have benefited from better editing.
The report made extensive notes on the rampant typos, ill-fitted usage of foreign words, and lack of coherence in the ordering of poems.
At the BBC Soutik Biswas wonders 'Why is India's financial and entertainment capital, Mumbai -- or Bombay -- the favourite muse of Indian authors writing in English ?', in Mumbai: The Indian writer's New York.
Among those quoted is Nilanjana S. Roy (referred to here, however, as 'Ray'), who notes:
"It had the aspirations and heartbreak of the film world, the violence of the underworld, the power struggles of the corporate world, to name the three biggest Mumbai novel cliches.
"And it was a city of migrants, like New York or London, two other cities that have representation in literature."
Ray says that the Mumbai novel resembled the New York novel, while the Delhi novel resembled the Washington novel.
Translator-from-the-Chinese Michael Berry is profiled by Jiang Wanjuan in the Global Times, in Found in translation:
Berry said that he has watched thousands and thousands of Chinese films and usually buys and reads as many Chinese novels as he can carry out of bookstores with two hands.
"Generally speaking, many Westerners know little about Chinese literature.
The situation has been improved through translated works in the past few years, but still more understanding needs to be built," he said.
The only Berry translations under review at the complete review are those of Chang Ta-chun's Wild Kids.
McEwan blamed American apathy for the negative reviews afforded to Solar, his satire about global warming.
But he's wise enough not to leave it just at that:
I think, though, that I caught America in a mood of profound boredom about climate change.
They just didn’t want to hear about it any more, they were sick to the teeth. I think there was a strong element of that."
He added, with a laugh: "Or maybe it was no good, there was always that possibility."
Yes, there is that possibility .....
Blaming American apathy about (or attitudes towards) climate change seems a bit much to me, especially since it doesn't seem that pivotal to the book, which is, after all, also a character-study (of a particularly unpleasant character).
That said, one does wonder how the book would have fared had it been released, say, nowadays, in the midst of yet another few heat waves .....
It took half a century to put together, but finally, the Urdu Dictionary Board has unveiled its 22-volume Urdu Lughat that contains the meaning of every single word in the language.
It has 220,000 words printed on 20,000 pages and work started on it in 1958.
The massive dictionary project was actually completed a few months ago, but:
On Saturday, an 'academic parliament' of academics, literary figures and students gave a standing ovation to all those experts who had contributed to the effort over the last 52 years.
The ceremony was held at the University of Karachi and was attended by the who's who of the literati.
The idea was to offset a similar standing ovation given by the British parliament on the completion of a 12-volume all-inclusive Oxford English Dictionary in 1928.
They certainly didn't have it easy:
In fact, the bureaucracy had decided in 1987 to wrap up the project.
The lexicographers and other staff working at the board have not even been given any promotion for the last 20 years and the office did not even have a photocopy machine.
Akiko Akazome [Akazame Akiko; 赤染晶子] has been named the winner of the 143rd Akutagawa Award for budding writers for her work 乙女の密告 (The Anonymous Tip of a Virgin), while the 143rd Naoki Award for popular fiction went to Kyoko Nakajima [Nakajima Kyoko, 中島京子] for 小さいおうち (Small Home), the selection committee has announced.
As the coalition government settles in, we asked writers and politicians, from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie to David Miliband to Sarah Waters, to recommend two books -- unlikely bedfellows or easy companions -- to take on holiday this summer
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Kawakami Hiromi's Manazuru.
This Akutagawa Prize-winning author has had several books translated into both French and German, but this looks to be the first to appear in English.
In The Nation Colin Robinson considers (some of) The Trouble With Amazon, arising out of the company's (online-)market dominance -- and how it uses that.
Apparently (and not surprisingly):
This hard-nosed approach has not endeared Amazon to publishers, who have consistently felt the pressure of the company's intensity, especially when it comes to setting terms.
In researching this article, I uncovered widespread resentment about the aggressive way Amazon pursues its objectives, matched only by dread of being publicly identified as a critic of publishing's largest customer.
"They have no sense of collegiality," complained one publisher, who asked not to be identified.
"They behave like pigs," said another, his voice dropping as he checked around to see if anyone was within earshot.
Robinson also finds that:
The accumulated effect of Amazon's pricing policy, its massive volume and its metric-based recommendations system is, in fact, to diminish real choice for the consumer.
Though the overall number of titles published each year has risen sharply, the under-resourcing of mid-list books is producing a pattern that joins an enormously attenuated tail (a tiny number of customers buying from a huge range of titles) to a Brobdingnagian head (an increasing number of purchasers buying the same few lead titles), with less and less in between.
(I'd like that clarified a bit -- from the supposed sharp rise of number of titles published each year (let's define 'titles' for a start, and see if there has been a sharp rise in truly new offerings ...
) to some hard sales numbers re. these claims.)
I'm also not sure about the claim:
But lower advances and royalties make for less-well-researched books and an author pool increasingly populated by hobbyists rather than those whose primary qualification is the ability to write.
Surely, the high-advance era, especially for non-fiction, was a relatively short (and recent) one; 'hobbyists' have long, long dominated the field -- along with that other, surely now larger, pool of elsewhere-subsidized writers, academics.
[A reminder that the complete review is a so-called Amazon.com-affiliate, and that we earn a commission every time you click through any Amazon-link on our pages and make a purchase; indeed, the vast majority of what little income we make from the site comes to us this way.]
Novelist Ryu Murakami plans to release his latest novel exclusively for digital bookworms through Apple Inc.’s iPad ahead of the print version.
(Murakami isn't quite as well-known as his (unrelated) namesake, but a decent amount of his fiction has been translated into English, most recently Audition.)
At least it won't simply be a digitized text:
The digital package will include video content and set to music composed by Academy Award winning composer Ryuichi Sakamoto, according to the Japanese business daily Nikkei.
The newspaper reports the e-book will cost 1,500 yen ($17) and will be ready to download pending Apple’s approval.
That last part -- "pending Apple’s approval" ... -- strikes me as particularly interesting .....
In any case, it seems a trend that's only bound to grow (explode ?) -- indeed, in L'Express Julien Bisson just reported that Alexandre Jardin: "Mon prochain livre sera numérique"
And, unlike Murakami, Jardin sees the digitalnumérique version as an entirely separate (creative) entity:
Y aura-t-il une reprise en version papier ?
Surtout pas !
Quand vous écrivez un roman, il faut croire au papier.
Quand vous écrivez pour un support digital, il faut y croire également.
Les oeuvres existent à travers un certain mode d'expression, et il faut savoir s'y tenir.
The process of opening the safe deposit boxes will take a week.
They are held in six different vaults in different banks in Tel Aviv, as well as four others vaults in a bank in the Swiss city of Zurich.
The contents, however, cannot be publicly revealed as the owner of the deposit box, Eva Hoffe, petitioned the court for a ban on publication.
Haaretz has requested that the court, through the law offices of Lieblich-Moser, lift the ban.
The shortlists for the 2010 (Australian) Prime Minister's Literary Awards have been announced; there are four categories: fiction, non-fiction, young adult fiction and children's fiction.
(I like the fiction-focus, but this seems to be overdoing it a bit .....)
Only one of the shortlisted titles is under review at the complete review, Summertime by J.M.Coetzee.
According to Jan Mohammed Khaskheli, a wellknown short story writer and critic, at the most 20 per cent of books are sold.
"Creative literature has almost finished and today's writers are experts at cutting and pasting," he said, while explaining the lack of interest.
There have been cases in which new writers have pilfered material from books published 30 years ago and passed it off as their own.
Indeed, the proof lies in sales.
Publishers lament that they are down about 40 per cent in prose and poetry across the province.
Writers, intellectuals, poets and publishers said that a large number of books are published but they are sitting on the shelves.
Meanwhile, publisher Hamid Sabzoi says:
"Quality wise the books are very good, but their content is declining with each passing day," he said.
He feels that sales used to be much better in the 1990s when leftist movements created demand for such literature.
A lot of work was translated in those times as well.
In The Express Tribune Aroosa Masroor reports on the popular 'Urdu romantic digests', in Love story -- though:
"What authors of romantic digests are trying to sell is actually litter not literature," remarks Sahar Ansari, a professor of Urdu Literature at the University of Karachi.
But despite the criticism, these digests remain popular not only among locals but among migrant Pakistanis based in the Middle East, UK and the US.
Expatriate Pakistanis read the Pakeezah and Khwateen digest with great interest in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, where they are sold for 10 riyals and 10 dirhams each and Pakeezah is the most popular digest among his customers.
(I believe you can find examples of these digests here).
MNA report on a twelve-volume collection of "world-renowned novels" to be published in Iran; unfortunately they don't give all the titles, but the two they do -- The Light of Day by Graham Swift and Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson -- are surprising enough.
Still, there is that worrisome caveat:
"As soon as the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance issues a license for printing, the books will be available at bookstores six months later," he mentioned.
Ah, yes, those pesky licensing-requirements .....
(I.e. don't hold your breath.)
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of James W. Laine's Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India -- a book that caused much controversy when it was originally published in 2003 (see this cr Quarterlypiece for the background to that) and is now back in the news, as an Indian high court has affirmed lower court decisions preventing attempts to ban it (not that you can buy it in Maharashtra ...).
There hasn't been much attention paid to this in the US recently, but last week's Supreme Court (non-)decision was big, big news in India (which has also led to great interest in the crQ-coverage of the post-publication mess -- tens of thousands of page-views, a lot even hereabouts).
Obviously, I should have reviewed this ages ago; now that I have I'm all the more shocked by what all the fuss is about: this is politicized (attempts at) censorship of the worst possible sort.
J.Venkatesan's summary of the Supreme Court case in The Hindu, A book can't be banned for stray sentences: Supreme Court, gives some idea of what was at issue here -- including, significantly:
The Bench pointed out that the intention to cause disorder or incite people to violence was the sine qua non of the offence under Section 153-A of the IPC, and the prosecution had to prove prima facie the existence of mens rea on the part of the accused.
Meanwhile, the legal victory (actually, the affirmation a previous victory) does little for the book -- or the Indian public, who deserve better (like open debate ...).
As Swati Deshpande, Ambarish Mishra and Sanjeev Shivadekar report in the Times of India, Bill planned to ban 'defaming' books, as:
Less than a week after the Supreme Court slammed the state for banning American author James Laine's book on Shivaji, the Maharashtra government is contemplating a comprehensive legislation to stop "defamation of national, historical or community icons."
Never mind that Laine did no such thing -- not even close --: that is just one bad road to go down.
But it's also disappointing to read that:
OUP managing director (India) Manzar Khan had written to the government, promising that the publishing house would not print anymore copies of the book, Patil said.
The letter stated that Oxford had no intention of coming up with a fresh publication on Laine's book and that there had been no intention to hurt any section of society.
The publishing house has also pointed out that the author has given an affidavit stating that the controversial references would be deleted in future publications worldwide.
"There is no reason to worry as further damage is being prevented," Patil said.
Further damage is being prevented ?
Sorry, but it's OUP's (in)actions that are causing great damage -- a huge step backwards for India, and for the free exchange of ideas.
Yes, Laine's ideas may be discomfiting, but they are certainly worth discussing.
In the wake of the recent Supreme Court judgment overturning the ban on Laine's Shivaji, two things are very clear.
The first is that the Shivaji case is no longer about free speech, but about complex political reactions.
And the second is that the Shivaji case goes beyond just free speech and free expression; at the heart of Laine's continuing travails is the question of what we're free to think and explore in contemporary India.
Disappointingly, many (and many loud) reactions tend in a different direction; Chitranjan Sawant's twisting of what's at issue, in National icons are national assets, is much more typical, as he claims:
A professor living and working in New York and absolutely unfamiliar with the religious, cultural and historical background of Bharat makes an attempt to write on Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj. He does not go into depth but just takes a look at stories he might have heard in parlours and bars where banters were flying at a tangent. He treats them as pieces of evidence to upset the applecart and denounce parentage of the national icons. Without producing even an iota of evidence, the gossip monger from New York has the temerity to write that Shahaji was not the father of Shivaji. Dadaji Kond Dev was the biological father. An absolute canard that must be shredded into smithereens and the gossip monger should have been sent to a prison for insulting a national icon.
The misinformation here (and throughout his argument) is typical: given that Laine teaches at Macalaster College -- located in Minnesota, last I heard -- it seems unlikely that he
lives and works in new York, for example (how hard is that to figure out ?).
Laine's entire enterprise is mischaracterized here -- it is much less biography than an examination of how Shivaji has been presented in stories, historical accounts, etc. (and why he has been presented in these ways) -- and Laine does not claim "Shahaji was not the father of Shivaji", though he does argue it's certainly something worth looking into (which, given how little Shahaji had to do with Shivaji, seems an entirely reasonable line of inquiry).
Laine actually treads very carefully -- I was expecting considerably worse -- and certainly does not 'insult' any national icons.
More to the point, however, is the question of what the hell is wrong with not accepting the myth-making around historical figures and seeking out the truth.
Blind idolatry -- and Shivaji-idolatry is on a Muhammad- and Christ-like level -- seems far more troubling and dangerous than any supposed 'insult' that questioning supposed facts could lead to -- especially when, as is the case with Shivaji, it is also used for political and religious reasons with a very, very nasty subtext (Shivaji is a Hindu icon, esteemed as one who resisted and triumphed over the (Muslim) Mughal powers-that-were).
Arabic Literature (in English) points me to Noha El-Hennawy piece in Al Masry Al Youm on the apparent Bookstore boom in Egypt -- though:
"So far the market can take all these bookstores but I believe the market is close to getting saturated," said Wassef.
In 2002, Wassef and her sister inaugurated the model of western-like bookstores by opening the first Diwan in Zamalek.
Building on the success of their first stint, the owners established a chain with ten outlets in Cairo and Alexandria.
Since then, bookstore brands have become a remarkable phenomenon.
Yet, these brands navigate a resilient market where only 1.2 million households read books, according to a study released six months ago by the Information and Decision Support Center, a state-run think tank.
Most Egyptians are averse to reading and blame their attitude on time constraints and low income, added the study.
Alef owners offer a controversial explanation as to why books have become popular.
According to Ahmed Rahmi, an Alef co-founder, buying books is becoming a "a fashionable" pastime that people brag about, rather than a genuine interest.
Political satire has come to the fore as the most attractive genre, making up 40 percent of the sales of some bookstores.
However, contemporary fiction remains on top at some other stores.
The Man 'Asian' Literary Prize has announced its (three) judges -- though not, predictably enough, at their official site, last I checked.
The IANS report -- here at sify -- has the panel (reduced from six) as: Monica Ali, Homi K. Bhabha, and Tsu Ming-Teo.
The Man Asian Literary Prize covers 27 countries and special administrative regions stretching from Afghanistan to Japan
But given that, for example, Wikipedia lists 47 countries as 'Asian' ... well, this prize still surely isn't very
representative (and just shouldn't be allowed to call itself 'Asian' -- and shame on any new organization that reports on this prize and doesn't note this fact).
As I've also noted, I'm not thrilled about the published-in-English requirement (previously, unpublished manuscripts were eligible -- allowing for winners like Miguel Syjuco's Ilustrado, which would not have been eligible had these rules been effect).
Worst of all is the Man Booker-imitating requirement that submissions now only come via publishers, and that each publisher (or imprint) is limited to two submissions -- an outrageous limitation.
It has the 'Man' label, offers good money, and kowtows to the publishers (hell, like the Man Booker, they probably won't even reveal which books were submitted ...)
, so it will continue to get good press; too bad it's set up in a way that makes it unlikely it will help find some Asian gems that otherwise wouldn't have come to international attention.
Christa Wolf's new book, Stadt der Engel oder The Overcoat of Dr. Freud (get your copy at Amazon.de), has been getting a lot of German review-attention, and now signandsight offer an English version of Jörg Magenau's review (see also the original in the taz).
I'll get to this eventually --- once I get a copy .....
(I should eventually get a copy of this; Suhrkamp is fairly good at sending the goods, while the mail tends to be slow -- I just got their fall catalogs yesterday (postmarked 8 June ...) -- but I can't help but note yet again that the flow of review copies generally has slowed to a trickle hereabouts: I've bought more books than I've gotten in the mail the past week, and the overall number of review copies received is down some 15 per cent from last year and over 25 per cent from 2008.
This despite the fact that I've reviewed at a far more furious pace in 2010 than last year -- and covered far more review-copies (as opposed to independently obtained books) than last year.
Traffic-wise not too many sites are anywhere close to the complete review; nevertheless, the list of big summer books that haven't come my way -- despite quite a bit of begging -- is disturbingly long.
I'm wondering whether my general lack of 'proper' enthusiasm is scaring 'em off .....
Whatever the reason, it's getting kind of frustrating.
Without reading title, name or biography of the author one can single out an African book from among hundreds of others just by looking at the cover design and that, as easily as one can recognize an Indian book by its poor quality of paper and binding.
The case-study here is Maaza Mengiste's Beneath the Lion's Gaze -- though it's noteworthy that after the author-approved cover for the hardcover (see it, and get your copy at Amazon.com) the paperback comes with a distinctively more ... standard African cover (see it, and get your copy at Amazon.com) -- never mind the CD-audio version (see it, and get your copy at Amazon.com).
See also the author's official site.
A day after the Supreme Court lifted the ban, opposition to James Laine's controversial book Shivaji: Hindu King in Islamic India gathered momentum with political outfits of many hues demanding a complete ban.
See also the cr Quaterly material on the case from when it started, beginning here.
To give some indication of the interest in the case, at least among Indian readers: those pages each got thousands of views Friday, when the decision came down, the most for any individual complete review
pages in single day so far this year.
There's lots of additional Indian-press coverage -- see, for example, Writers welcome SC judgment on Shivaji book in the Times of India -- and it will be interesting to see where this goes.
I actually have a copy of the book, but haven't posted a review yet; I really should get around to that.
[Updated - 14 July: And now I have.]
(A) brilliant novel that is based on a true story about Oromo politics in recent times.
It widely reflects on the socio-political life of the Oromo society in the last couple of years, both at home and abroad.
Fixeensa can be called the most potential, investigative, entertaining and timely Oromo literary work that has ever been published
It is a must read book for all those who can read Qubee Afaan Oromoo.
Leaving, I'm afraid, a rather small audience.
There's not much being translated from that language, either ......