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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 October 2010

11 October: Demarginalizing African literature ? | Grossman picks up book prize
12 October: 85 years of Всесвіт | Literature in ... Turkmenistan | The Man Booker Prize | Celebrity hopes
13 October: The Finkler Question takes Man Booker | Walter Benjamin mania ? | The Wrong Blood review
14 October: Man Booker rules follow-up | (American) National Book Awards finalists | Alex Zucker interview | US fiction in ... Germany | Satire in ... Egypt | The War in Bom Fim review
15 October: Whither the (UK) Public Lending Right ? | New Pierre Bayard book | Book banning in ... Indonesia | Joanna Scott on David Markson | Hölderlin review
16 October: Literature in ... Pakistan | Bad sex, and no sex | Autumn issue of list | Fall issue of The Quarterly Conversation
17 October: Riña de gatos takes Premio Planeta de Novela | Rushdie profile (and Patrick White connections)
18 October: Newman Prize for Chinese Literature | Alasdair Gray profile | Romesh Gunesekera Q&A | How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe review
19 October: Writing in ... Urdu | Publishing in ... India | Nemesis review
20 October: English PEN Literature in Translation Award | E-reading | Royal Society Prize for Science Books | Salam Verlag profile

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20 October 2010 - Wednesday

English PEN Literature in Translation Award | E-reading
Royal Society Prize for Science Books | Salam Verlag profile

       English PEN Literature in Translation Award

       In The Bookseller Charlotte Williams reports that Politkovskaya picks up new PEN award, as:
English PEN has launched a new prize for translated literature, and named Anna Politkovskaya as the inaugural winner.
       Too bad that English PEN makes no mention of it at their site ..... (Seriously, people, some acts need to be gotten together regarding these official sites; this is just pathetic.)
       Williams reports that:
The late author has been named the winner for her non-fiction work Putin's Russia (Harvill Secker), which was banned in the country. In October 2006, two years after its UK publication, Politkovskaya was shot dead in the stairwell of her Moscow apartment block.
       I'm pleased to see there's a new award for translated literature -- and though I don't much care for non-fiction, given how, in translation, it's even more neglected than fiction, I can even support giving it to a work of non-fiction. But what's this Sam Tanenhausesque retreat into the safety of the dead and buried ? I'm all for rapping Putin across the knuckles, but honoring a book that first appeared -- in translation -- in 2004 ? (See the publicity pages from Harvill or Metropolitan, or get your copy from or There's nothing that came out in the past six years that would be prize-worthy ?
       And it's not like they couldn't have honored a later work by her -- such as the selection Nothing but the Truth that just came out this year (get your copy at

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -


       In USA Today Bob Minzesheimer finds More bibliophiles get on the same page with digital readers, in a lengthy overview of e-reading experiences.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Royal Society Prize for Science Books

       They're handing out the Royal Society Prize for Science Books tomorrow, but as Steve Connor reports in The Telegraph, it's an Endangered award: The science book prize, as:
The only book prize in Britain dedicated to popular science could close this week with its final annual awards following the failure to find a commercial sponsor for the competition.
       Indeed, the shortlist announcement closes with:
The Royal Society is seeking support for the 2011 awards onwards.
       (I'm not sure they're helping their cause -- any of their causes -- by providing the "William Hill's odds for the shortlisted books": on that same page ......)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Salam Verlag profile

       At DeutscheWelle Louisa Schaefer and Beate Hinrichs report that Children's books for Muslims in German could foster integration in a profile of Salam Verlag:
The colorful books are also intended to show the diversity of the Islamic faith and demonstrate how dialogue with other cultures and belief systems can be cultivated. For now, Salam Verlag is publishing in German, but versions in Arabic, Turkish, Farsi, Urdu and Indonesian are in the pipeline.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

19 October 2010 - Tuesday

Writing in ... Urdu | Publishing in ... India | Nemesis review

       Writing in ... Urdu

       At Granta Online Ollie Brock spoke to Uzma Aslam Khan and Aamer Hussein about: 'their experience of literature in Urdu, and which writers we should be paying more attention to', in The National Language, since the most recent issue of Granta is their Pakistan-issue (get your copy at or
       The focus is on Urdu, but as Khan points out:
We should absolutely be seeing more translations in English. But this is not true only for Urdu. The indigenous languages -- such as Sindhi, Seraiki, Punjabi, Balochi, and Pashto, to name just a few -- are even more overlooked, even within Pakistan, though they existed on the soil that became Pakistan long before Urdu or English did.
       While Urdu (and English) are the official languages of Pakistan, Urdu is not the mother tongue of most Pakistanis, but rather a second (or third, etc.) language -- but the others fare far worse in getting translated.

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       Publishing in ... India

       In Open Ankita Mukherji writes about working in publishing in India, in One Mistake of My Life (via), describing how:
Eight years ago, fresh from Oxford with a Masters degree in English Literature, I got a job as an editorial assistant with the country's best known publishing firm. So what if my salary was barely enough to keep body and soul together
       How similar the publishing-experience has become worldwide .....
       She notes:
My first two lessons in the book industry -- the slush pile is the bottom of the literary heap; and non-fiction, particularly 'self-help', sells. Fiction is a lot more fickle, and DNA helps.
       Nevertheless, there are the occasional nuggets of interest to be found even in the slush-pile -- such as the manuscript that comes with supporting material:
But what came next absolutely took my breath away. A marketing strategy that would ensure the book became an instant bestseller: low pricing and buy-backs, tie-ups with the said academic institution and its alumni (all of whom, the author felt, would immediately want copies of his book). This author was clearly no pushover. If only he had written his manuscript with half the dedication he had put into his marketing plan !
       She expressed reservations but did pass the submission on; it was turned down -- and, of course, went on to be a bestseller of previously unheard of proportions.
       (The book was, of course, Chetan Bhagat's Five Point Someone; why she doesn't mention author or book name I have no idea; see also the complete review's reviews of Bhagat's One night @ the call center and The Three Mistakes of my Life).

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       Nemesis review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Philip Roth's new novel, Nemesis.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

18 October 2010 - Monday

Newman Prize for Chinese Literature | Alasdair Gray profile | Romesh Gunesekera Q&A
How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe review

       Newman Prize for Chinese Literature

       I missed this when they (quietly) made the announcement ten days ago, but: "Han Shaogong has been chosen by an international jury as the winner of the second Newman Prize for Chinese Literature". (Free advice for new literary prizes: you might not want to announce the winner of your prize in the first weeks of October: the competition is pretty stiff (Nobel, Man Booker, German Book Prize, Premio Planeta).)
       It's not entirely clear to me whether this is meant as an author or book prize, but the book they awarded him the prize for is one I have long recommended, A Dictionary of Maqiao; see also Julia Lovell's official nomination.
       Peter Hays Gries, director of the Institute for US-China Issues said:
"I am thrilled at the selection of Han Shaogong as the second winner of the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature," Gries said. "I can see why our panel of five international experts in Chinese literature chose Han and his Dictionary of Maqiao for the award. The book is innovative, interrogating the local to capture the universal. It thus fits the Newman Prize’s goal of honoring 'outstanding achievement in prose or poetry that best captures the human condition'."
       And I can't help admiring a prize that goes out of its way to emphasize:
A jury of five distinguished literary experts nominated the five candidates last summer and selected the winner in a transparent voting process on 8 October 2010.
       I'm not entirely sure what is so transparent about the Voting Procedure, but at least they have a page to try to explain it .....

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       Alasdair Gray profile

       In Scotland on Sunday Dani Garavelli profiles the great Alasdair Gray, with a focus on his art, as several exhibits of it are apparently opening soon, including Alasdair Gray - Gray Stuff: Designs for Books and Posters, 1952-2010, which runs 23 October to 11 December at the Talbot Rice Gallery.

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       Romesh Gunesekera Q&A

       The DSC South Asian Literature Festival is currently on, and at the arts desk ASH Smyth has a Q&A with Romesh Gunesekera, mainly about the festival.

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       How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Charles Yu's How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

17 October 2010 - Sunday

Riña de gatos takes Premio Planeta de Novela
Rushdie profile (and Patrick White connections)

       Riña de gatos takes Premio Planeta de Novela

       Yes, they awarded that Man Booker Prize earlier this week, but if we're talking serious money the (book) prize that takes the cake is the €601,000-Premio Planeta de Novela. (Amazingly, despite the big bucks, they didn't find enough to pay someone to actually update the official site with this year's winner yet ..... Beyond pathetic.)
       The 2010 prize goes to Riña de gatos, by Eduardo Mendoza; see, for example, the Latin American Herald Tribune-report, Spaniard Garners Lucrative Literary Honor.
       The one Mendoza-title under review at the complete review is No Word From Gurb.

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       Rushdie profile (and Patrick White connections)

       In The Australian Peter Craven talks to Salman Rushdie: the boy from Bombay.
       All sorts of comments on other writers, but most interesting is the Australian connection, as:
It was as a reader that Rushdie approached Patrick White. He had been in the outback and had been dazzled by Voss. "I wrote him a fan letter, one of the few fan letters that I ever wrote. He wrote me back a rather curt note in which he said, 'Mr Rushdie, Voss is a novel I have come to hate' and then he said, 'Perhaps you would like to read certain books I still have a better opinion of' -- he mentioned The Solid Mandala and some others -- and then he said, 'Of course I could have them sent to you but one doesn't wish to burden people with books they don't want to read.'"

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

16 October 2010 - Saturday

Literature in ... Pakistan | Bad sex, and no sex
Autumn issue of list | Fall issue of The Quarterly Conversation

       Literature in ... Pakistan

       In The Guardian Bina Shah wonders: 'Is Pakistani writing really male dominated -- or is it simply that the media refuses to acknowledge Pakistan's women writers ?' in Pakistan's literary boys' club.

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       Bad sex, and no sex

       It's been widely reported that, as for example Anita Singh has it in The Telegraph, Tony Blair in line for Bad Sex Award, as he's supposedly been shortlisted for the Literary Review's notorious Bad Sex Award -- but Susanna Rustin writes in The Guardian that:
Literary Review's editor, Nancy Sladek, told me earlier in the week that despite his memoir A Journey having been suggested by several readers, non-fiction it is not eligible for the award (...).

But by last night, following newspaper coverage, she had revised her position to say that the judges are now "considering it" on grounds of popular demand.
       (I don't see the problem: I can't imagine any memoir by Tony Blair not being fiction in the first place, with or without the sex fantasies.)
       (The prize finalists will be announced in a few weeks.)
       Susanna Rustin's piece is titled: Let's not talk about sex -- why passion is waning in British books, and takes a look at that subject at greater length.

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       Autumn issue of list

       The Autumn issue of list: Books from Korea is out.
       Among the pieces of interest is their bestseller-list of the most popular books in Korea, May to July 2010, and the mix of domestic and foreign titles on it. Among the foreign titles: Guillaume Musso's Et Après ...: while they surely exaggerate when they write that Musso "is more popular in Korea than in France" (he's very popular in France ), it's interesting to note that he's made no impact whatsoever in the United States.
       Also interesting: they note the great popularity of Korean author Hwang Sok-yong in France. A lot more has been translated into French than English, but at least a few works are available here too; see, for example, The Guest.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Fall issue of The Quarterly Conversation

       Issue 21, the Fall 2010 issue of The Quarterly Conversation is now available online; quite a bit of interesting material to keep busy over the weekend.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

15 October 2010 - Friday

Whither the (UK) Public Lending Right ? | New Pierre Bayard book
Book banning in ... Indonesia | Joanna Scott on David Markson | Hölderlin review

       Whither the (UK) Public Lending Right ?

       As widely reported -- here by Benedicte Page in The Guardian -- Public Lending Right body to go, but author payments will remain.
       The UK PLR is the organization that handles payments to authors for library-borrowings, as in the UK (as in many other countries) authors get a certain sum each time one of their books is borrowed from a library (up to a certain sum). While the payments themselves are, for now, to continue, the body that runs it is to be dissolved -- which, it seems to me, would merely shift the bureaucratic duties elsewhere rather than make for any real savings.
       As Page writes:
The body that administers Public Lending Right (PLR) is to be abolished as part of the government's crackdown on quangos, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport announced today.

But culture minister Ed Vaizey has sought to reassure authors, saying that PLR itself, writers' legal entitlement to payments each time their books are borrowed from public libraries, will be unaffected.
Mark Le Fanu, general secretary of the Society of Authors, said: "The whole thing is totally unclear."
       No kidding.
       See also Neill Denny's piece in The Bookseller, SoA calls for 'urgent meeting' after PLR body is culled.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       New Pierre Bayard book

       Pierre Bayard has written a variety of books entertainingly playing out literary-theoretical notions, such as How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read, and his newest one sounds like good fun too: in Et si les œuvres changeaient d'auteur ? he apparently considers how we would look at works of literature differently if we ascribed them to other authors; see, for example, Robert Solé's review in Le Monde.
       I imagine this will eventually get translated into English, but for now see the Les Éditions de Minuit publicity page, or get your copy at

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       Book banning in ... Indonesia

       Good to hear that, as for example Karishma Vaswani reports at the BBC, Indonesia Suharto-era book banning law lifted. They took their time, but good to hear that they finally got around to it -- but:
Activists say the constitutional court's decision is a step in the right direction, but warn the government still has the means to ban books if it wants to.

They say that officials could use Indonesia's anti-pornography law and a 1966 regulation banning communist material as a way to outlaw sensitive material.

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       Joanna Scott on David Markson

       In The Nation Joanna Scott writes on A Passionate Reader: On David Markson.
       She observes:
Markson's final books have an astonishing fluidity despite their staccato rhythm. But what really sets them apart is the complex portrait of the fictional writer who lies at their center. There's no one like him elsewhere in literature. He is an old man who is trying to figure out what his life adds up to. He makes some disclosures about his struggles and ambition, but mostly he reveals himself in his selections, his syntax, the arrangement of quotations. His personality is immediately discernible yet continues to develop as he keeps on with his encyclopedic efforts. He has a dependable cohesiveness yet keeps us guessing about what he will come up with next. He is as hilarious as he is melancholy. He is cranky yet easily delighted. He has been brutally treated by the world, yet he can't stop loving it. He's dying, but he's not ready to die.
       A lot of Markson's work is under review at the complete review; see, for example, This is Not a Novel.

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       Hölderlin review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Peter Weiss' Hölderlin, finally available in English.
       (Archipelago recently brought out Ross Benjamin's translation of Hölderlin's Hyperion; see their publicity page, or get your copy from or

       This is coming out from Seagull Books, who really are bringing out some interesting titles. Nevertheless, despite having reviewed several of their titles already (none of which came to me via them) I am rather disappointed that the first I even heard of the Weiss-title was when I came across a copy of a galley in a used bookstore. Now, I don't know what people are thinking, but if you're bringing out a new translation of a book by Peter Weiss, maybe you'd at least mention that to a site that has a dozen of his titles under review (and comes up pretty high on any 'Peter Weiss' search). Or maybe not. Apparently not, anyway .....

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14 October 2010 - Thursday

Man Booker rules follow-up | (American) National Book Awards finalists
Alex Zucker interview | US fiction in ... Germany
Satire in ... Egypt | The War in Bom Fim review

       Man Booker rules follow-up

       As longtime readers know (and are possibly sick and tired of), I accompany most every mention of the Man Booker Prize with a complaint about their submission and eligibility rules and procedures, as well as their lack of transparency (in particular, their refusal to reveal what books are actually submitted (and therefore in the running) for the prize). No one seems to care much about this -- the British papers certainly never make a fuss -- but maybe this will help shake things up a bit: in her post-Man Booker piece on Man Booker Prize: high-risk reading in The Telegraph one of this year's judges, Frances Wilson, reports that The Finkler Question, Howard Jacobson's novel that took the prize, was: "called in from its publisher, Bloomsbury", i.e. apparently not formally submitted by the publisher -- and Emma Donoghue's Room also came to be in the mix in less than direct fashion:
Not formally submitted by her publisher, one of the Booker committee was at a party where Room was being praised; the next day we all took a look.
       I have often complained that it's ridiculous that a) only publishers are allowed to submit titles (with that call-in exception), and b) that they are limited to two titles per imprint/publisher. I suspect (but can't show -- since we're never told what titles are actually in the official running for the prize (i.e. have actually been submitted)) that publishers do not necessarily submit the 'best' titles but rather follow their own (often perverse) agendas in deciding what to submit; it seems obvious that good and worthy titles frequently fall by the wayside -- as these two apparently almost did.
       One can argue that the system works -- after all, despite not being formally submitted, these two titles did make it onto the long- and short-lists. I note, however, that it seems to have been a close call -- which seems to me to be problematic. I also note that neither Bloomsbury nor Donoghue's publisher, Pan Macmillan/Picador, placed another title even just on the longlist: i.e. the two titles they each did formally submit were apparently complete duds.
       Note also: the rules allow each publisher to submit "a list of up to five further titles" for consideration, beyond the two they can get in under all circumstances. From the sounds of it, Room wasn't even included on that list (if Picador even bothered to provide one), but rather got called in due to a very fortuitous set of circumstances.
       Possibly the publishers were trying to game the system -- Bloomsbury in particular may have felt that Jacobson, with two previous titles that had reached the longlist-stage (Kalooki Nights in 2006, and Who's Sorry Now ? in 2002), was going to get called-in no matter what, so why bother wasting one of the two valuable submission-spots on it ? But is this the way to determine which books make it into the very small basket (138 titles this year, which, shockingly, is considerably more than in the past few years) from which the winner of the most important British book prize is chosen ?
       Obviously, the Man Booker folk can do whatever they want and they'll still enjoy spectacular success, but I'd find it easier to take the prize seriously if I knew what titles were actually in the running (and I'd find it a lot easier to take seriously if publishers were kept out of the initial selection procedure entirely).

       (Updated - 17 October): The Telegraph reports that instead of Jacobson's book, "Bloomsbury is understood to have put forward novels by Aminatta Forna and Jon McGregor".

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       (American) National Book Awards finalists

       The finalists for the 2010 (American) National Book Awards have been announced.
       Not that much of a surprise that Freedom by Jonathan Franzen didn't get the nod -- it's not that good -- but then the NBAs aren't easily seduced by 'big' names and tend towards the ... unusual in any case, and the fiction category certainly features a curious mix. Nice to see that Jaimy Gordon got shortlisted -- good for underappreciated publisher McPherson (who has brought out several of her books, and been a very consistent supporter; see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy at or
       None of the finalists in any of the categories are under review at the complete review ; the best I can offer is a review-overview of Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey (which also made the Man Booker shortlist).

       Like the Man Booker, the National Book Award also suffers from a lack of transparency: here's yet another prize which only publishers are allowed to submit titles for, and we're not told what the submitted books were (hell, maybe this was all of them). I do not approve.

       Like the other big American literary prizes -- the Pulitzers and the National Book Critics Circles -- the NBAs have a number of different categories (fiction, non, poetry, and 'young people's literature'). Certainly, books in all these various categories deserve to be rewarded, but I do think the Americans are missing something in not having one exclusive fiction prize like the British do with the Man Booker (supported by several semi-exclusive fiction prizes like the Orange, etc.). I wonder why they never managed to establish one.

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       Alex Zucker interview

       At The Prague Post's Colophon weblog Stephan Delbos stretches (very thinly) an interview with translator Alex Zucker out over three pages here: one, two, and three.
       The only one of Zucker's translations under review at the complete review is of Patrik Ouředník's Case Closed.

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       US fiction in ... Germany

       At DeutscheWelle Jane Paulick tries to show that American fiction is Germany's preferred bedtime reading.

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       Satire in ... Egypt

       At Reuters Shaimaa Fayed finds Oppression, wealth gaps spurs satire in Egypt, as:
Limited outlets for political expression, state crackdowns on organized dissent and a growing wealth gap in the Arab world's most populous state are fuelling demand for such literary satire, literary critics say.

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       The War in Bom Fim review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Moacyr Scliar's 1972 debut, The War in Bom Fim, finally available in English (with, curiously, the French translation just published, too).
       It's being published as part of Texas Tech University Press' (relatively) new The Americas series, which really should be getting more attention than it is.

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13 October 2010 - Wednesday

The Finkler Question takes Man Booker | Walter Benjamin mania ?
The Wrong Blood review

       The Finkler Question takes Man Booker

       The 2010 Man Booker Prize for Fiction has been awarded, by a 3-2 vote, to The Finkler Question; see, for example, the official press release, Howard Jacobson wins the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2010. [Once again, I have to ask why they -- and practically all the news media reports -- sum this up as Jacobson having won the prize: the Man Booker is a book prize (unlike say the Nobel, which is an author prize) and it's the book that won the thing so why not headline that ? Do we live in such a personality-driven and -focused age that we have to focus on the person behind the book rather than the book itself even in such cases ? Even The Guardian Book Blog, in starting a discussion thread about the award, ridiculously ask Booker prize 2010: is Howard Jacobson a worthy winner ? (amazingly, they don't even phrase it: 'Is Howard Jacobson's book a worthy winner ?' ...). Pathetic. And shameful.]
       Bloomsbury USA pushed up the American publication date just in time -- see their publicity page, or get your copy at (and see also the Bloomsbury UK publicity page, or get your copy at -- and it's now available (though I haven't seen a copy yet). It'll be interesting to see how it does in the US, since Jacobson hasn't really had much impact here. (Several of his titles are under review at the complete review; see, for example, Peeping Tom.) Of course, UK sales for this title have been pretty poor so far as well (3505 copies so far, according to Nielsen BookScan numbers as reported at The Guardian) -- though the prize will give it an enormous boost.

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       Walter Benjamin mania ? publishes an English translation of Stephan Wackwitz's piece on Walter Benjamin, begging: Save Benjamin from his fans ! (German original here, in Die Welt).
       As he notes:
He is quoted so extensively, his photograph reproduced so often, he is the subject of so many prominent congresses and meticulous exhibitions that you would be forgiven for thinking he was Germany's leading poet. This misleading (oft kitschifying) treatment of a man who throughout his life regarded himself as a theorist, is most unusual for literary life in the west.
       See also my review of Jean-Michel Palmier's Walter Benjamin -- recently (1 October) also reviewed in the Times Literary Supplement by Nicholas Jacobs).

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       The Wrong Blood review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Manuel de Lope's The Wrong Blood, now out in English.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

12 October 2010 - Tuesday

85 years of Всесвіт | Literature in ... Turkmenistan
The Man Booker Prize | Celebrity hopes

       85 years of Всесвіт

       The "Ukrainian Journal of World Literature", Всесвіт, recently celebrated an impressive 85 years in print.
       There's some English-language material About Vsesvit at their site, but see also Hanna Trehub's piece in День, The Ukrainian magazine of translated literature turns 85.
       Pretty amazing for it to have endured (indeed existed) in Soviet times -- as well as after:
Last January the unique Ukrainian periodical turned 85. For people this age is usually associated with frailty and gray hairs, but not for a printed periodical. This is a sign of maturity for such a magazine as Vsesvit, when the canons of style have been established, a team of partisan contributors has been created, and several generations of publicists, critics, and translators have been forged. In the flow of our everyday routines, even when we shrug off their dullness in order to plunge into a world of books at least for half an hour, it is hard for us to imagine that Ukraine's bookshelves may have remained barren if not for Vasyl Ellan-Blakytny who came up with the idea in 1925

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Literature in ... Turkmenistan

       A few weeks ago International book fair opens in Ashgabat, in Turkmenistan -- but as Farangis Najibullah reported at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, there was a Paucity Of Turkmen Books At Ashgabat Book Fair, and:
The book fair was something of a disappointment for those looking for works by Turkmen authors.

RFE/RL Turkmen Service correspondents in Ashgabat say there were only about 20 books by local authors on offer.
       Svitlana Bozhko now reports more extensively in День, in her piece, Ukrainian books conquer Karakum. Yes, she too noted: "There is practically no modern Turkmenistan literature" -- but the fair did seem to offer a few other charms:
There are few places in the world where the exhibit's expenses are covered by the hosting side, including the costly air tickets, luggage and visa charges. Neither is it common when the dinner ceremony to mark the opening and closing of the exhibit starts and finishes with a prayer for the president's health and the country's prosperity. And surely you will find no place in the world where late in the evening the country's head of parliament and vice prime minister would bustle around the expositions on the eve of the exhibit. Two nice-looking women, wearing floor-length dresses, decorated with national ornaments at the neckline, were the first to meet us in the exhibit palace when we came there from the airport. They said, "It is so good you have come. Were there any problems with your luggage ?" It turned out that those smiling women were the chairperson of Turkmenistan's Mejlis (parliament) Akja Nuberdiyeva and Deputy Prime Minister for Education and Information Maisa Yazmukhamedova.
       And to think, publishing folk were wasting their time at the Frankfurt Book Fair .....
However, right now Turkmenistan can hardly be called a book capital of the East. And the expression of the incumbent President of the country Berdymukhammedov that a Turkmen can sell a camel for a book should be perceived as a beautiful metaphor, which unfortunately has nothing in common with reality. For several years in succession only one book has been published and spread in every Turkmen house -- Ruhnama (The Book of the Soul) by Saparmurat Niyazov [the late president, known as Turkmenbashi. – Ed.], which contains everything, including the oath of a true Turkmen, the list of attributes of the Turkmen's spiritual world, and a description of the nation's history. It is rumored that this book has been published in all countries dreaming of Turkmen gas. A monument to this book has been built in Ashgabat.

Now the bookshelves of Turkmen publishing houses have other books too. They are published under the authorship of the incumbent president of the country. Those include A Book about Healthy Food, Medicinal Herbs of Turkmenistan (the president is a dentist by profession), and also Akhaltekin Horse is Our Pride and Joy (about a Turkmen breed of horses). Gift versions of these books have covers made of natural leather and are adorned with Swarowski crystals.
       (The Ruhnama is available in twenty-two languages (and see also Daniel Kalder's Journey to the Centre of the Turkmen Universe); as to translations of these other titles ... well, no rush, right ?)
       There are some unusual hurdles to clear, too:
(B)ack in 2001 the country moved from the Cyrillic alphabet to a Latin one. Books of classical and popular literature have not been republished in the Latin alphabet, so a vast number of literary works, popular science and journalist works published before 2001 remain in the archives and the new generation of Turkmen have no access to them.
       There is, unfortunately, no Turkmen fiction (not even the Ruhnama) under review at the complete review; Central Asian fiction remains hard to find (apparently in Central Asia, too).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       The Man Booker Prize

       The winner of the 2010 Man Booker Prize will be announced today (the winner's name should be up at the official site pretty much as soon as it's announced; the Man Booker folk are among the few who actually manage this fairly well).
       The shortlist, you'll remember, consists of:
  • C by Tom McCarthy
  • The Finkler Question by Howard Jacobson
  • In a Strange Room by Damon Galgut
  • The Long Song by Andrea Levy
  • Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey
  • Room by Emma Donoghue
       Europa editions have admirably pushed up the US publication of Galgut's In a Strange Room (see their publicity page, or get your copy at -- or of the UK edition at; I just got my copy, and it looks good -- I'm looking forward to it.
       The UK press is, of course, full of pre-award articles, without too much of interest -- but one (Australian) article I can't keep myself from commenting on is Peter Craven's Despite merits, Booker is just a top-end lottery in the Sydney Morning Herald.
       Here he mentions:
Murray Bail -- let alone Gerald Murnane -- would be most unlikely to win the Booker because that variety of bush modernism is a challenge to the reader's expectations.
       He's right that Bail and Murnane are unlikely to ever take the award -- but hardly for this reason. The main reason is that Man Booker rules are stacked overwhelmingly against them. First of all, though ostensibly: "Any full-length novel, written by a citizen of the Commonwealth, the Republic of Ireland or Zimbabwe is eligible" that rule comes with the caveat that only: "United Kingdom publishers may enter up to two full-length novels". When was a Murnane novel last even published in the UK ? (Inland from Faber, in 1990 (see the page), is the most recent I could identify ....) Meanwhile, even if Murnane were regularly published in the UK, the two-book limit is fatal to both him and Bail: Faber and Harvill (now Harvill Secker) surely aren't going to waste their limited nomination-possibilities on their titles ..... (I would have thought Bail's Eucalyptus would have tempted them in 1998, but it didn't make the weak shortlist (no longlist was made public -- and of course what titles were submitted is never revealed) in a year when Ian McEwan's Amsterdam took the prize, so one has to doubt that it was among the submitted titles.)
       So, yes, the Man Booker is a lottery -- but one where we aren't even let in on what most of the titles that are in the draw are .....

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Celebrity hopes

       In The Independent Arifa Akbar reports that 'Publishers have until Thursday to launch celebrity memoirs that they hope will be Christmas bestsellers', in one of the most depressing articles of the season, Book trade sets off on a great national treasure hunt.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

11 October 2010 - Monday

Demarginalizing African literature ? | Grossman picks up book prize

       Demarginalizing African literature ?

       In the Daily Nation Rasna Warah argues African writers can't continue being marginalised by the rest of the world.
       Warah claims that:
In most large bookshops across the world, including in African cities such as Nairobi, novels by African writers are often "ghettoised" in a remote corner next to the Travel or Anthropology section.
       This hasn't been my experience; at the bookshops I frequent the smattering of titles by African authors tends to get mixed in with all the rest of the fiction; in fact the only (very few) stores where I have seen African literature sections have them because they actually offer enough African fiction to fill a separate section .....
       Warah also writes:
The interesting thing about the ghettoisation of books by Africans is that while books about Africa by Western writers find pride of place in the fiction or non-fiction sections of bookshops, books about Africa by African writers are given their own space in the back of the bookshop where they can only be found by those who search for them.
       If true -- well, one hopes at least that an increasing number of readers are searching for them. (See the African books under review at the complete review for an initial selection .....)

       Meanwhile, it's good to see some efforts being made on the continent itself to spread the word: the Nigerian 'Celebrity Reads Africa' project sounds like it has some potential -- though these things can be hit and miss, and the most recent installment certainly sounds like a miss, with Obidike Okafor reporting at Next that it was No way to read Africa, as:
The celebrities did not read Africa. Unlike the first edition where stars read from works by African writers, those featured at the second edition of the Celebrity Reads Africa project on September 25 at Terra Kulture, Victoria Island, Lagos, did not read anything by a black author. Well, maybe with the exception of Michael Jackson.
       Okafor concludes dryly:
Though the initiative is laudable, it is hoped that the organisers would have learnt a lesson or two from the fiasco of this second event; and ensure that invited celebrities are actually proper 'readers' who will read African books. This will go a long way in protecting Africa's literary future, one of their objective.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Grossman picks up book prize

       David Grossman picked up his Peace Prize of the German Book Trade yesterday, the traditional big closing event in conjunction with the Frankfurt Book Fair; see, also, for example, Clemens Verenkotte's Deutsche Welle report, Israeli writer David Grossman wins German Book Trade Peace Prize.
       You can (try to) watch the entire ceremony here; I was unable to fast-forward to see whether they dub or subtitle Grossman's speech (yes, beside the dreaded pdf format another Adobe product, 'Flash' (10, since 1 wasn't enough ...), ranks right up there as one of the most annoying and dysfunctional applications I too frequently come across); the audio is definitely dubbed (i.e. simultaneously translated): Grossman speaks in English, but unless you understand German you won't get much from the audio. (Let's hope a transcription is forthcoming.)

       (See also my review of Grossman's recently-published-in-translation To the End of the Land.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

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