The Nobel Prize in Literature 2010 will be awarded in the coming weeks, on a Thursday in October; last year they managed to do so on the 8th; publishers no doubt hope for a 7th October announcement -- smack dab in the middle of the Frankfurt Book Fair, when the industry is conveniently assembled -- but the 14th is a more realistic announcement date.
They (and, as soon as I hear, I) will give you a heads-up a few days before the announcement.
[Updated: the Reuters report, Poets poised for Nobel glory; Swede is favourite, includes a few sound-bites with Nobel committee-man Per Wästberg (rehashing old issues), who apparently said the winner: "would be announced either on Oct. 7 or 14"; certainly that's the timetable they'd like to work with, but I can't imagine they can be sure until the debating at the Academy gets started.]
[Updated (1 October): 7 October it is.]
A few things to remember and consider in speculating about the possible winner: it is the Swedish Academy that makes the selection -- based, as they explain, on proposals submitted by:
members of the Academy, members of academies and societies similar to it in membership and aims, professors of literature and language, former Nobel laureates in literature, and the presidents of writers' organisations which are representative of their country's literary production
So while academician-favorites are always considered (Gao Xingjian, anyone ?), it is very hit and miss as to who else is in the mix of authors-under-consideration.
Every year a few submitted names leak out, as local institutions and worthies (usually from smaller countries that don't get much literary attention) show off their (supposed) influence; among this year's batch Paraguayan Néstor Amarilla has attracted a bit of notice (see, for example, this report in La Nacion
) -- leading Unibet to mistakenly make him the 4/1 favorite to take the prize (I say mistakenly because there is no way this very young author can take the prize, and there is no way anyone would place any money on him at these prohibitive odds; more below).
The process results in about 350 proposals a year; they winnowed it down to a shortlist (which is not made public) of about five names a few months ago, and have presumably spent the summer reading the books of all those authors.
By now, or any day now, they'll begin their deliberations.
The membership of the Swedish Academy has gotten a bit ... fresher in recent years, but there's still a pretty old guard there.
Note also that two members do not participate in selecting the Nobel laureate: Kerstin Ekman (the last remaining Rushdie-protestor, who unfortunately still refuses to play along), and everyone's favorite academician, the apparently still outraged Knut Ahnlund.
There's no clear new direction under Peter Englund, who succeeded Horace Engdahl as Permanent Secretary of the Academy last year, but this is the first year in which the entire Nobel-procedure proceeds under his watch and it will be interesting to see whether he tries to put a personal stamp on it.
(No indications so far, but something to keep an eye on in the interviews and coverage that will come in the next week or two.)
With the bookmakers opening betting, the speculation gets interesting: recall that heavy betting right before the prize announcement in the last two years pointed towards the eventual laureate.
I'll be offering continuing coverage until the prize is announced, but the early odds are certainly the first thing to take a closer look at, and that's what I'll do here today:
Two sets of odds are up now, from Unibet and from Ladbrokes.
The Unibet list is uninspiring: aside from taking over old misspellings from previous years' Ladbrokes lists (good old Antoni Tabucchi ...) they also install Néstor Amarilla as the 4/1 favorite.
Granted, I've been wrong before about young laureates -- I was sure Pamuk was too young to get it back in the day -- but Amarilla is only thirty, and that's just ridiculously young (and comes with a very small body of work) for this prize.
The Unibet list is also Scandinavian-heavy -- but includes far too many that surely have no chance (Jan Guillou (seriously ?), Marcus Birro, etc.) while missing surely-more-likely figures including Per Olov Enquist and Lars Gustafsson (though it should be noted that none of these make the Ladbrokes list).
The Ladbrokes list is the more interesting one, and what immediately strikes the eye is that the four favorites are poets:
Tomas Tranströmer 5/1
Ko Un 8/1
Adam Zagajewski 8/1
What to make of the list ?
Well, recall that last year's winner, Herta Müller, started out at 50/1 -- and wound up listed at 3/1.
Comparisons with last year's odds yield a few points of interest.
First of all, there are the new additons, writers who were not considered in the running last year -- none with great odds, but a few worth taking a closer look at:
Bella Akhmadulina 35/1
Václav Havel 35/1
Javier Marías 40/1
Elias Khoury 45/1
Shlomo Kalo 45/1
Anne Carson 50/1
Per Petterson 50/1
Ulrich Holbein 66/1
Néstor Amarilla 100/1
Yevgeny Yevtushenko 100/1
As I've mentioned, Amarilla doesn't look like a possible contender to me, and I'm afraid Holbein isn't either (inspired though that choice would be).
Petterson is also still on the young side -- and his career is in the process of really taking off, so I imagine they wouldn't mind waiting on him.
Yevtushenko, Kalo, Havel don't strike me as plausible candidates either -- over the hill, and really not in a good way --, which leaves Javier Marías (could it really be that he wasn't even considered list-worthy last year ?), Elias Khoury, Anne Carson, and, most intriguingly, Bella Akhmadulina (who, you might recall, was married to Yevtushenko for a while ...).
Akhmadulina may well be this year's Luis Goytisolo: the relatively high odds for someone no one has ever heard of (well, you hadn't, had you ?) suggesting a leaked name of a shortlisted author.
Like Goytisolo last year, I can't imagine this going anywhere (i.e. her picking up the prize), but at these odds she seems one of the few authors worth putting a bit of money on.
(She, too, is a poet, and the Ladbrokes list is heavily poet-favoring.)
So how do things look in comparison to last year -- Tranströmer, Adonis, and Ko Un are favorites every year, after all ?
Comparing last year's odds -- current odds (29/9/2010); last year's starting (22/9/2009) and closing odds (7/10/2010) -- the top five poets fare as follows:
Zagajewski's leap in popularity is obviously what jumps out here -- but another eastern European-linked author (and yet another Polish poet) ?
Still, this is one of the biggest shifts in odds from one year to the next, and worth noting.
Adonis' odds remained surprisingly unchanged, while the others all shifted in their favor; still these are always counted as favorites, so I'm a bit wary of reading too much into the odds.
So what about other authors ?
Quite a few had odds of 100/1 last year -- from beginning to end (i.e. no one bet on them) but have started off with significantly better odds this year:
Michel Tournier 18/1
Maya Angelou 25/1
Ernesto Cardenal 30/1
Patrick Modiano 35/1
Antonio Lobo Antunes 35/1
Eeva Kilpi 45/1
(They misspelled Cardenal's name -- as Cardinal -- this time round -- but not, curiously enough, last year when he had worse odds.
And Antunes wasn't even originally listed by Ladbrokes last year, but they added him, at 100/1. )
Here it is the Tournier that really stands out -- but another French-writing author ?
Other authors who begin with much better odds than last year are:
Some movement there -- especially re. Doctrow -- but should one read anything into this ?
And what of the authors whose odds are much worse than last year:
Joyce Carol Oates
Mario Vargas Llosa
I think it's safe to write off Luis Goytisolo as a one-time wonder (and wonder instead, yet again: where's Juan ?), if indeed he was a surprise candidate last year.
And Atiq Rahimi surely (for now) is just considered to be in the running for his Goncourt win (the French prize -- see also Jonathan Littell still listed -- taken much more seriously than the Man Booker as, for example, Hilary Mantel is not included, despite a much more interestingly varied and fuller body of work).
(I also note with considerable relief that the perennial joke(r) nomination of Bob Dylan is being taken less seriously than usual (though still too seriously): he ran at 25/1 last year, but is starting out at a more appropriate 150/1 this year.)
The real surprises here are perennial (and deserving) favorites Amos Oz and Mario Vargas Llosa: having them fall this far down suggests either inside information that they definitely was excluded from this year's shortlist -- or a very effective feint by the academicians to that effect.
Still, the lowered American expectations are also surprising, especially since there hasn't been any Horace Engdahl-like outburst since ... well, Horace Engdahl was making them.
Among other long-time favorites most have odds similar to last years: Murakami Haruki is at 11/1 after going in and coming out at 9/1 last year; Antonio Tabucchi is at 10/1 after starting out at 9/1 last year (though dropping down to 20/1).
Other observations: the African standard-bearers fare relative poorly, with Chinua Achebe at 45/1 (he started at 50/1 last year, closed at 20/1), while Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o is listed at 75/1 (versus a consistent 25/1 last year).
Also noteworthy: aside from Bei Dao (35/1, after a consistent 50/1 last year) China is ignored, as is Japan aside from Murakami, and all Arabic-writing authors aside from Adonis: something is fishy there, since you figure some of the local institutions, academics, and writer organizations must have thrown a few additional names into the mix; if Ladbrokes is missing contenders it's likely they fit in one of these categories.
What matters now, of course, is the make-up of the shortlist.
The Ladbrokes-lists have been reliable enough, especially in recent years, to suggest most of the shortlisted authors probably are somewhere there, and reading the odds as tea-leaves I'd suggest a few names are particularly worth keeping an eye on, specifically:
The poetry top-heavy list also suggests that poetry is in the air: I can't imagine poets make up the entire shortlist, but I'd guess they are well-represented -- better than usual.
And, being suspicious, I think the odds on Amos Oz and Mario Vargas Llosa are too good (i.e. too bad) to be true; at those odds that is where I'd be putting some of my money.
One problem with relying on the Ladbrokes list is that the tea-leaves won't be as easy to read this year: I'm afraid last year's experience (and specifically my success in divination) will influence
the punters, clouding the issue (i.e. the odds).
(As you might remember, I also advised the Swedish Academy to mislead the public by stealth-wagering on non-shortlisted authors, moving the odds in their favor; it wouldn't take much investment to accomplish that, and I wouldn't be surprised if they tried it in the coming days.)
Certainly, there will be movement on Oz and Vargas Llosa -- at these odds they'd be too good to pass up, even if I hadn't mentioned it -- and that could gain a momentum all its own -- the question being whether it's a misleading one or not .....
Of course, I have my own Nobel hopes and theories, and I'll get to them in posts over the coming days, but interested parties should certainly keep an eye on the Ladbrokes list.
For other betting-odds commentary see, for example, Ian Crouch's Nobel Odds: 2010 at The New Yorker's The Book Bench weblog.
Marie NDiaye's Goncourt-winning Trois femmes puissantes has now also taken the Internationale Literaturpreis 2010, with her taking 25,000 euros, and translator-into-the German Claudia Kalscheuer getting 10,000 euros; see also the post at love german books.
It will, of course, come out in English .... eventually, but US/UK publishers don't much like to rush these things .....
In the 19th century, monks in the region developed a written language.
The valleys produced their own writers in Romansh, mostly poets, yet it was not until 1973 that portions of the Bible were published in the language.
In 1997, the first daily newspaper in Romansh, La Quotidiana, appeared.
It was always a regional tongue, with the number of Romansh speakers probably peaking around 2.2 percent of the total Swiss population in the early 19th century; but then, of course, the population of Switzerland was only about 1.6 million people, a fraction of what it is today, when about one percent of the population -- about 60,000 people -- speaks Romansh.
And I am amused by this from a Romansh bookseller (who doesn't speak the language ...):
While she is an ardent champion of Romansh, she can be bleak about its future.
Asked why most of the books in Romansh she sells are poetry, she muses: "When a patient is dying, he writes only poetry."
Though I note -- and quoted above -- that Tagliabue reported that historically: "The valleys produced their own writers in Romansh, mostly poets" .....
I recently got my (beautiful !) copy of Krasznahorkai László's Animalinside, the latest in the stunning The Cahiers Series (reviews of several volumes which are forthcoming soon), and at hlo a piece based on a talk given translator Ottilie Mulzet on the work is now available, as An apocalypse for our time.
Meanwhile, see the Sylph Editions publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.co.uk, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com, as New Directions is apparently bringing out a US edition next year.
Adam Levin's massive The Instructions is one of the widely-anticipated titles of the fall -- and The Rumpus Book Club selection for October -- and at Tablet Marissa Brostoff reviews it, in Taking Aim -- finding:
The Instructions is in fact a vital work of -- no getting around it -- American Jewish literature because it imagines that the genre is indeed through and asks what can be written in its place.
A Nabokovian book-within-a-book
See the McSweeney's publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
I haven't seen a copy yet, but I am intrigued -- though as far as enormous Jewish-American novels goes, I am still working on digesting Joshua Cohen's Witz.
The Baltic Assembly Prizes for Literature, Arts and Science -- sort of the Baltic (Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia) equivalent of the Nordic Council prize -- have been announced, and Ene Mihkelson has taken the literature prize for her Torn.
Given that previous prize winners include Jaan Kross and Jaan Kaplinski the prize seems worth paying a bit of attention to.
I've repeatedly mentioned and criticized (and been criticized for my criticism -- but scroll down for my comments and explanation, which apply today as well) the surfeit of Iranian books on the so-called 'Sacred Defense' (the Iran-Iraq conflict of the 1980s), and IBNA report, yet again, that the flood continues, as:
According to the 13th Festival of Selecting the Sacred Defense Book of the Year, during the past two years, 850 works were released on Iran-Iraq's war of which the filed of memory, with 304 books, contained the most published books.
Fortunately, fiction is pretty low on the list of genres in which SD-books appear, as:
According to the festival's secretariat the filed of "Memories" contained the most published books, 304 works
Of course, part of the reason for the poor fictional showing is likely that fiction seems to be more frowned-upon generally by the powers that be (and that publication-permit-issuing Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance).
The ministry said in a statement that its censorship committee has banned only 25 titles out of 24,000 books for abusing God, prophets and other religious figures, books on pornography and others undermining Kuwait.
It provided no other details on the books or the authors banned from displaying their works at the book fair which will run from October 13 to 23.
At least they're smart in not revealing what books they've actually banned, since it's that which tends to make readers more eager to get their hands on them.
Xinhuanet profiles Eric Abrahamsen and the very useful Chinese literature and translation site, Paper Republic, where:
American translator Eric Abrahamsen is not only on the lookout for new Chinese writers, but also bridging the gaps between Chinese and foreign publishers to bring the contemporary literature of China to the world.
Abrahamsen's love for literature is the driving force behind Paper Republic, a publishing consultancy which aims to connect Chinese and foreign publishers, something that proves to be more complicated than his love for literature and language.
Another difference between Chinese and English literature is the craft.
In the West, authors tend to focus less on plot and more on how well the story is written, according to Abrahamsen.
"People are very careful with how they put their sentences together and how they put their stories together.
And they do a lot of revision, a lot of drafts."
But in China, many writers often write one draft and read through, fix some points and then send it to publishers.
"You just get writing that is just very floppy and not very carefully written, which makes it very hard for us to publish abroad."
Very floppy ?
Not maybe ... sloppy ?
Looks like the lack of revision/copy-editing extends to newspapers as well .....
Also of interest:
However despite his success, he admits he still finds it difficult to get translations of Chinese fiction published, especially the ones he thinks deserve attention.
"It is very hard to convince publishers to go for a book.
Usually they pick things based on their own criteria and come find us," he said.
Publishers' own criteria ... oh, dear .....
We've seen how that works out .....
I'm a bit late with this, but Bulgarian author Anton Donchev celebrated his 80th birthday two weeks ago, and at Radio Bulgaria Veneta Pavlova profiles him.
A reader recently mentioned him to me, but his one translated work, Time of Parting, is hard to come by.
Pavlova mentions it in her piece -- and also quotes from The New York Times Book Review's review ... yes, back on 9 June 1968 -- way before Sam Tanenhaus throttled practically all translated-fiction-coverage -- the NYTBR covered this sort of thing.
Guy Davenport was the one to write the review, too .....
I mentioned that they'd announced the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature longlist a few days ago (though they revised it since then, discovering a bit late in the process that there were two more worthy titles that were, in fact, eligible), and in the Business Standard Nilanjana Roy writes some more about the judging, in In search of the Asian novel.
Sounds like there was a bit of ... confusion, too:
There were a few rough patches, as with any new prize.
A minor oversight in the rules led to far more books published in 2009 than in 2010 being entered; there was some confusion over eligible dates of publication; and we read one novel with great enthusiasm before realising that it was not actually set in South Asia.
Some excellent novels by Asian writers, including Rana Dasgupta's Solo, were not eligible because they had nothing Asian about them, in terms of content and character.
In The East African Mwenda Micheni suggests a list of The top 25 African writers.
While Micheni "did not list writers, however powerful, who have not released a novel or a collection of short stories" the list still seems a bit generous to the untested -- the one-hit(-so-far) wonders.
Noteworthy also that one Nobel laureate fails to make the grade (though Coetzee does).
Perhaps the biggest problem: Micheni clearly steers towards the sub-Saharan, but doesn't limit the list to that region (which would have been disappointing but at least made for a clear demarcation-line); unfortunately, with Leila Abouzeid as the lone North African/Arabic-writing representative, the list is fatally bottom-heavy, the Mahgreb-plus-Egypt a mere afterthought.
(Gamal al-Ghitani, Sonallah Ibrahim, and Ibrahim al-Koni are only the most obvious of the well-translated-into-English-authors from that region missing from the list.)
And: no Ayi Kwei Armah ?
Jáchym Topol has won the prestigious Czech Jaroslav Seifert Prize (hey, a Czech literary prize named after a Czech-writing author !) for his Chladnou zemí; see, for example, Stephan Delbos' post at Colophon, The Prague Post Book Blog (!), Topol Takes Seifert Prize -- where we also learn that:
a UK publisher has already purchased the rights to the book, and will have the final say in who translates it, and when.
Presumably that's Portobello, who published Gargling with Tar earlier this year (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk) and have another translation scheduled for 2011.
(Of course, the big Topol title remains City Sister Silver, which Catbird Press brought out about a decade ago; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)
See also the recent Prague Daily Monitor interview with Topol by Andreas Patenidis, in which Topol makes clear:
I am not interested in writing a Euroburger and I don’t really need everyone to get what I write.
'What we need to understand, no matter how good our authors' works are, it would be of no significance if they are not globally noticed."
This observation was made by the Acting Director of Language & Literature Bureau, Hajah Aminah binti Haji Momin, during the opening ceremony of the Knowledge Writing and Translation of Literary Works Workshop that is currently being held at the Language & Literature Bureau in Berakas.
Oh, Hajah, Hajah, Hajah ... 'global notice' is not the be-all end-all.
Focus on getting the local market going, and worry about international acclaim ... later.
So, Murakami Haruki's 1Q84 is now out in Korean (all three volumes), Chinese, Dutch, and, next week, German.
As to English -- not so much.
But with so many reviews already up -- and a whole slew of German ones expected in the next two weeks -- I figured it was worthwhile putting up a review-overview page for the book(s) -- which I now have, here.
I've mentioned the success of (and my doubts about) multiple prize-winning Iranian bestseller Da, by Seyyedeh Azam Hosseini, previously, and the success continues (my doubts, too, but that's another story): the Iran Book News Agency now reports that Da available in supermarkets.
Not only that:
The book's 110th impression was presented with an aromatic cover in the 23rd Tehran international book fair and currently as 312,500 copies have been published the book is in its 125th print run as it will be distributed in supermarkets and home video stores.
I think that 'aromatic cover' may be a case of something lost (or gained) in translation -- too bad, I love the idea -- but in any case, it's certainly done well.
(Note that while they do say it's been translated into English, it's not yet available at Amazon -- or your local WalMart or Tesco
Speaking to the convention, Prof. Soyinka said that the party, The Democratic Front for a People's Federation, would be a political party that aims to reduce corruption and improve conditions in health and education.
He also said, "I wish to emphasise that function, and it is clearly meant both as a warning and exhortation.
Above all, the DFPF is a party for frustrated youth and uncomfortable ideas."
Given the state of Nigerian politics and governance .....
On the other hand, is there any political party that professes not to want to reduce corruption, or wants to worsen conditions in health and education ?
But although he says he easily wearies of the "stiff seriousness" of German culture, he is pleased that he lives somewhere where literature is still taken seriously.
"There is this wonderful reading public supporting most of the writers in the world, actually," he says.
"Jeff Eugenides [the American novelist] said to me, when everything’s gone down the drain, when there are only e-books and illegal downloads and no publishing houses at all, we will still have Germany."
As reported, for example, by Patricia Cohen at The New York Times' Arts Beat, Achebe Wins $300,000 Prize, as he has been awarded the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize.
(No information at the official site yet, last I checked, begging yet again the question why these places even bother with an official site if they can't be bothered to announce the biggest news they have to offer there first (or, apparently, at all) .....)
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Gianrico Carofiglio's The Past is a Foreign Country.
It came out in English translation in the UK in 2007, but for some reason only just appeared in a US edition.
It has also apparently sold some 400,000 copies internationally so far; I do not know why.
Whether they do so rightly or not is another issue.
I mean, look at what Farafina has done with Adichie.
They have literally told us that she's an Amazon, and fed us with what to imagine about her and her writing.
I think this is only incidental to the fact that they came into the Nigerian literary industry at the time they did.
They have to stay in business.
But if this position remains the same after a decade, then they would have done worse to Nigerian industry than the military dictatorship.
President Vaclav Klaus yesterday received the annual Egon Erwin Kisch Prize for non-fiction for Czech writers for his book The Seventh Year, Miroslav Kucera, secretary of the Non-Fiction Literature Club, told journalists
Two observations: first, why are so many Czech literary prizes (this one, the Kafka prize (even if that's a more internationally-oriented one)) named after German-writing authors ?
The Seventh Year is another part of the foreseen 10-volume series of Klaus's speeches and commentaries with which he has described his first and second presidential terms.
Now, I'm sure Klaus' speeches and commentaries are ... riveting, but ... holy crap, ten volumes worth, and one of these is the best non-fiction published in Czech all year ?
Couldn't they at least have waited until he's out of office and awarded the prize to, say, The Ninth Year, so the brown-nosing doesn't look quite so obvious ?
AmazonCrossing -- the Amazon.com publishing imprint dedicated to books in translation -- has announced its spring list; see, for example, the press release, AmazonCrossing Announces Spring 2011 Publishing List.
Lots of intriguing stuff -- and I'm particularly pleased to (finally) see Oksana Zabuzhko's Field Work in Ukrainian Sex make it into English (pre-order your copy at Amazon.com) -- though they really should work on those Q&A's:
Question: Is there any character you most identify with ? Why ?
Oksana Zabuzhko: The narrator bears my first name, and was given a lot out of my own life experience.
"No one will really say it, because it sounds foolish, but vanity is a big issue," said one publisher who requested anonymity to avoid antagonizing authors on his list.
"In almost every deal I do, the agent tries to get a contractual hardcover commitment even if the book isn't written yet and down the road it might become clear that paperback original is the way to go."
PEN American Center, the largest branch of the world’s oldest literary and human rights organization, named László Jakab Orsós Director of the World Voices Festival and Public Programs.
Orsós comes to PEN from the Hungarian Cultural Center, where, as its Director, he launched Extremely Hungary
I'm looking forward to seeing what he has planned.
They've announced the longlist for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, and at her Akhond of Swat weblog Nilanjana Roy offers the rough draft of her introduction to the longlist as chair of the jury, finding:
I think the longlist this year reflects some of the best of Asian writing, with three languages -- English, Bengali and Tamil -- represented, and authors from Sri Lanka, India, Pakistan and the US.
Three languages -- one of them über-ubiquitous English -- seems quite underwhelming to me, even just for South Asia, but it's an interesting longlist -- I'd love to have a look at most of these titles (and haven't seen a one).
They've announced the six-title strong shortlist for the 2010 University of Wales Dylan Thomas Prize (from a longlist of sixteen); the only title under review at the complete review is Family Planning by Karan Mahajan.
They've announced the winners (and finalists) for the 2010 PEN USA Literary Awards -- which admirably includes categories such as Translation, as well as both 'Creative Nonfiction' and 'Research Nonfiction'.
And you can tell this is the Beverly Hills branch of PEN, because they give out awards for best Screenplay and best Teleplay.
As widely reported, at The New York Observer Zeke Turner reports that Zadie Smith Takes Over New Books Column for Harper's Magazine (shoving aside Benjamin Moser).
A brief -- two page -- round-up cum review, the 'New Books'-column isn't an easy one to write; I usually find it more interesting for the selection of books on offer (Guy Davenport had, unsurprisingly, a good touch) than the mini-reviews; Moser's October-column covers Couperus' Eline Vere, the new Allegra Goodman, Naipaul's new Africa-book, and Edmund de Waal's The Hare with Amber Eyes, which is a pretty solid set of titles; I'll be interested to see what Smith can bring to the table.