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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 January 2011

11 January: Roslund and Hellström reviews | New periodicals | John Gross (1935-2011) | Banned in Iran: Paulo Coelho | Batchelder Award | Authors and YouTube
12 January: Tablet & Pen success | Indian poetry in English | AATSEEL Best Translation into English award | Becker and Posner on the future of bookstores
13 January: Best-selling French novelists, 2010 | Régis Debray elected to Académie Goncourt | National Jewish Book Awards | Spanish publishing dominance | The Long Road review
14 January: Independent Foreign Fiction Prize judges announced | US bestsellers | Bolaño on 'Literature and Exile' | New Haven Review profile
15 January: Forthcoming translations | Translation data | Novelists and the internet | Philosophy Bites review
16 January: Publishing in ... Nigeria | Another Jaipur festival guide | Translation in ... Iran
17 January: More on Fallada's success | Jo Nesbø-profile | Achebe on Nigeria | Cyclops review
18 January: The Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation | Harper's reviews | Hochschild on Lumumba | Jewish Quarterly Wingate Literary Prize judges announced
19 January: Japanese literary prizes | McEwan to get Jerusalem Prize | No more Calabash International Literary Festivals | Turkish fiction in ... Bosnia
20 January: Borges reviews in TLS | Hrabal reviews

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20 January 2011 - Thursday

Borges reviews in TLS | Hrabal reviews

       Borges reviews in TLS

       In the Times Literary Supplement Martin Schifino looks at The unknown Jorge Luis Borges, in a review of five recent Borges-anthologies from Penguin -- two poetry volumes (which I will be getting to, eventually), as well as the collections On Argentina, On Writing, and On Mysticism.
       As he notes:
Readers find it easy to carry Borges in their heads. It has proved rather difficult, however, to carry his work in a reasonable number of books. Both in the original Spanish and in English translation, the history of his publications is labyrinthine, and there is an abundance of miscellanies, selections and collections. (A Complete Works exists in Spanish. Even this is incomplete.)
       (Cruelly he also makes mention of the "magnificent Pléiade edition newly reissued after a protracted legal battle (Oeuvres complètes. Two volumes, 3,278pp. Gallimard. €67.50 and €62.50. 978 2 07 012815 0)".)
       He also wonders, parenthetically, of: "Adolfo Bioy Casares's Boswellian journal Borges" whether there are: "any plans to publish at least a selection of this in translation ?" (I'm keeping my fingers crossed for a brave publisher to go for the whole thing .....)
       Schifino's -- repeated -- advice: readers should just learn Spanish, rather than wait it out with Borges.

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

       Hrabal reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are my reviews of the first two volumes of Bohumil Hrabal's autobiographical trilogy:        Northwestern University Press wil be bringing out the final volume, Gaps, in May; see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy at or

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

19 January 2011 - Wednesday

Japanese literary prizes | McEwan to get Jerusalem Prize
No more Calabash International Literary Festivals | Turkish fiction in ... Bosnia

       Japanese literary prizes

       They handed out the 144th Akutagawa Prize and the 144th Naoki Prize -- both split this year as, for example, reported in Young relative of renowned translator shares prestigious Akutagawa literary prize in the Mainichi Daily News:
The 144th Akutagawa Prize went to 26-year-old Asabuki [Mariko] for her work Kikotowa [きことわ] and to 43-year-old Nishimura [Kenta] for his work Kueki Ressha [苦役列車]
The 144th Naoki Prize was awarded to Nobori Kiuchi, 43, for her work Hyosa no Utau [漂砂のうたう], and Shusuke Michio, 35, for his work Tsuki to Kani [月と蟹].
       See also, for example, Akutagawa Prize for new writers goes to Keio student, Tokyo man in The Japan Times.

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

       McEwan to get Jerusalem Prize

       They've announced that English author Ian McEwan to be awarded the 2011 Jerusalem Prize During the 25th International Book Fair in Jerusalem.
       The biennial Jerusalem Prize "is awarded to a writer whose work best expresses and promotes the idea of the 'freedom of the individual in society'" -- and you have to like how they write:
The modest monetary value of the Prize, currently US $10,000, reflects that it was never intended to be anything more than a symbolic sum.
       The prix Goncourt's € 10 is "a symbolic sum"; US $10,000 is what a Pulitzer or National Book Award winner gets in the US ......
       It's an impressive list of previous winners (even if the official page misspells (or rather (presumably): mistranliterates) several of them); Murakami Haruki was the last one to pick up the prize.
       See also, for example, The Jerusalem Post report, Jerusalem Prize awarded to English author Ian McEwan.

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

       No more Calabash International Literary Festivals

       They've announced that:
After ten very successful years of mounting the largest literary festival in the Caribbean, the organizers of the Calabash International Literary Festival announced today that the Calabash International Literary Festival is over in its present incarnation.
       See also Mel Cooke's No More Calabash in The Gleaner, and Nicholas Laughlin bidding a Calabash farewell at The Caribbean Review of Books.

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

       Turkish fiction in ... Bosnia

       Always good to hear when there's translation into 'smaller' languages -- especially when it's from other generally not so prominent literatures -- and in Hurriyet Daily News they report that Interest in Turkish literature on the rise in Bosnia.
       Impressive to learn that: "23 Turkish books had been translated into Bosnian since 2005"; I wonder if that many have been translated into English .....
       Also interesting: the claim that:
Bosnia’s book market was small compared to Turkey’s but more books were read in Bosnia than in Turkey.

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

18 January 2011 - Tuesday

The Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation
Harper's reviews | Hochschild on Lumumba
Jewish Quarterly Wingate Literary Prize judges announced

       The Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation

       They've announced the Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation, with Humphrey Davies beating out ... Humphrey Davies, as his translation of Yalo by Elias Khoury (see the Archipelago publicity page, and get your copy at or beat out his translation of Sunset Oasis by Bahaa Taher (see the Sceptre publicity page, and get your copy at -- as well as Kareem James Abu-Zeid for his translation of Cities without Palms by Tarek Etayeb.
       See also commentary at Arabic Literature (in English).

       This is one of the six translation prizes that will be handed out as part of the 'Translation Prizes 2010 / Sebald Lecture' event to be held in London on 31 January, at 19:00, under the auspices of the Society of Authors, and with some Times Literary Supplement-involvement as well. I can't find any notice of any of the other winners yet; the TLS will list them, and have a piece on them as well sometime in the coming weeks -- still, I wish there were a more coherent presentation of the information (nominees, winners, etc.) all in one place ..... (A better composite name for the bunch than the 'Translation Prizes' -- yeah, that's distinctive and not in the least confusing ... -- would also be welcome.)
       (The event should, however, certainly be worthwhile: Ali Smith is giving this year's Sebald Lecture, and TLS editor Peter Stothard will once again be handing out the prizes.)

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

       Harper's reviews

       I just got the February issue of Harper's, and while most of the content online "is only available to Harper's Magazine subscribers" the book-coverage is worth seeking out:
       Lorin Stein -- interim-man at the peculiar 'New Books'-column (until Zadie Smith takes over next month) -- starts this month's column off with a discussion of Hervé Le Tellier's Enough about Love.
       And a few months ago, when he still had the 'New Book'-gig, Benjamin Moser wrote about Albert Cossery's The Jokers, and now they revisit this and other Cosserys (including A Splendid Conspiracy), as well as a whole pile of Sonallah Ibrahim-books (including Zaat and The Committee, and the not-yet-under-review Stealth (get your copy at or in Robyn Creswell's 'Undelivered: Egyptian novelists at home and abroad' -- a fairly interesting overview.

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

       Hochschild on Lumumba

       In The New York Times yesterday King Leopold's Ghost-author Adam Hochschild had an op-ed on An Assassination's Long Shadow, marking the fiftieth anniversary of the shameful assassination of Patrice Lumumba (with its catastrophic repercussions for all of -- and especially central -- Africa); see also, for example, Ludo De Witte's The Assassination of Lumumba.

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

       Jewish Quarterly Wingate Literary Prize judges announced

       The prestigious Jewish Quarterly Wingate Literary Prize has announced the judges for the 2011 prize -- typically enough: not yet at their official site, last I checked .....
       They even sent me the press release; find it also here, at -- but I'm still astonished that, as with so many other prizes, the official site seems the last place you can find the latest news .....
       In any case: Lisa Appignanesi will chair the judging panel.

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

17 January 2011 - Monday

More on Fallada's success | Jo Nesbø-profile
Achebe on Nigeria | Cyclops review

       More on Fallada's success

       The German Hamburger Abendblatt has taken notice of how interest in Hans Fallada has exploded on the heels of the US and then UK publication of Every Man Dies Alone (UK title: Alone in Berlin), as Armgard Seegers looks at Hans Fallada: Kleiner Mann, großer Erfolg -- noting that some 500,000 copies of the novel have now sold worldwide in the past fifteen months alone, and that there has been a "run" on his books in France and Israel as well.
       Seegers also notes that German publisher Aufbau just announced they bought all the rights to Fallada's work, and their catalogue already lists quite a few forthcoming re-issues, as they attempt to re-establish him in the German market as well.
       Meanwhile, the Hamburger Abendblatt also has a Q & A with Melville House publisher -- and the man behind the Every Man Dies Alone-success --, Dennis Johnson.
       Among other things he reveals: they just shipped 5,000 copies to Israel -- and that he won't be publishing any more Falladas beyond the three Melville House has published: he's out of the game, as he says, with the rights going for sums he can't keep up with (and Penguin apparently nabbing them).

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

       Jo Nesbø-profile

       In the Independent on Sunday Christian House profiles Jo Nesbø, in A Dickens in a dark Disneyland.
       Nesbø's The Leopard is due out shortly in the UK (get your copy at; as usual, the US publishers are far behind ..... (Several of his titles are under review at the complete review; see, for example, The Devil's Star.)

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

       Achebe on Nigeria

       Chinua Achebe (see, for example, The Education of a British-Protected Child) had a nice long op-ed in yesterday's The New York Times, on Nigeria's Promise, Africa's Hope.
       But when one hears about things like The arrest of Okey Ndibe (as reported by Obi Nwankanma in Vanguard) .....
       (See also Kathleen Megan's report in the Hartford Courant, Trinity College Professor's Passports Returned in Nigeria, where she reports that: "I got the word from the [State Security Service] director that my name was removed from the list of enemy writers," Ndibe said in an e-mail late Monday afternoon, "but the call from an editor -- who spoke with the SSS's top man (the director-general) suggests that my name's still on the list, that I must petition to have it removed (an action I refuse to take on principle.)" See also his official site.)

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

       Cyclops review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ranko Marinković's 1965 novel, Cyclops, now finally available in English, in Yale University Press' wonderful Margellos World Republic of Letters-series.

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

16 January 2011 - Sunday

Publishing in ... Nigeria | Another Jaipur festival guide | Translation in ... Iran

       Publishing in ... Nigeria

       In The Nation Ademola Adesola goes Inside a publisher's world, with a Q & A with publisher (and author) Agbo Areo.

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

       Another Jaipur festival guide

       Still a few days left until the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival starts (on Friday), but the flood of coverage continues. At the Wall Street Journal's India Realtime Margherita Stancati offers A Guide to Jaipur’s Literature Festival, highlighting some of the highlights.

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

       Translation in ... Iran

       The Iran Book News Agency reports that Translations' weak and strong points to be assessed, as:
The general manager of the website of Center for Organizing Translation and Publication said that the center will evaluate different translations of Humanities and added that according to the work the translation's weak and strong points will be discovered.
       I'm not sure how great an idea a 'Center for Organizing Translation and Publication' is (especially since I'm guessing that it reports to everyone's favorite Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance), but, hey, maybe a bit of organizing would be helpful. Certainly, they don't seem exactly clear about what direction to head in: on the one hand they just banned the works of Paulo Coelho (see my recent mention) -- a ban that I have to admit is also in force in my home --, on the other hand they recently announced the publication of Paul Auster's Sunset Park (and maintain: "Paul Auster is a popular writer in Iran most of whose works are translated into Persian") and an album of Persian translations of Langston Hughes poetry. And then there are claims such as that:
By translating Western analytical works on fields of art, we have diverted our people from their own traditional styles, making them move in a direction that is not our own
       Somehow I don't think these 'evaluations' will lead to more translations being made available in Iran; I suspect all sorts of 'weak points' will be readily discovered (like those diversionary tactics of Western analytical works on fields of art ...).
       Still, GM Asghar Saberi also said that:
the center would seal MoUs with foreign countries and certain works will be selected and translated.
       Ah, yes, when in doubt, sign some memoranda of understanding. I'm curious to see what 'certain works' will look like .....

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

15 January 2011 - Saturday

Forthcoming translations | Translation data
Novelists and the internet | Philosophy Bites review

       Forthcoming translations

       At Granta Online they ask five translators from the recent Granta 113: The Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists about their current Translations in the Making.
       Among the most interesting of these: Edith Grossman is working on a translation of the woefully undertranslated Antonio Muñoz Molina's recent thousand-page opus, La noche de los tiempos ("The tentative English title is The Depths of Time"); see also, for example, Jesús Ruiz Mantilla's profile in El País, or also the complete review review of his A Manuscript of Ashes.
       Meanwhile, Natasha Wimmer reports she's "just finished" her translation Roberto Bolaño's The Third Reich.

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

       Translation data

       At her love german books Katy Derbyshire reports on Another Reason to be Cheerful, pointing to the German Book Office's post that Three Percent is Still the Magic Number.
       The GBO has been keeping count of Publishers Weekly reviews and checking how many of them are of translations for several years now; in 2010 there were apparently 6310 titles reviewed, of which 202 were translations (just over three percent). [These numbers differ from the ones found at the Three Percent databases because they cover different books: at Three Percent only fiction and poetry titles are considered (PW also includes non-fiction), and re-translations (which make up a small but significant number of the PW-reviewed titles) are excluded; the PW pool is much smaller (only 6310 titles ...), but arguably these are the more significant titles (more likely to get media and bookstore attention, etc.), and so it is worth noting that the percentage of translated titles in this elite pool is above the three percent mark. (It's also worth noting that the number of translated titles was down from 2009 (205) while the pool was significantly larger than in 2009 (5479) -- which is yet another indicator (the Three Percent tallies showed a similar trend) that there has actually been a decline in translation from 2009 to 2010. See also my recent discussion of the Three Percent numbers.]
       However, the number of German translations reviewed by PW increased by a lot: from 19 in 2009 to 30 in 2010, of which adult fiction accounted for 13 and 21, respectively -- not bad (relatively speaking ...).

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

       Novelists and the internet

       In The Guardian Laura Miller goes on at considerable length about How novels came to terms with the internet. (I think it's rather more of an on-going process .....)

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

       Philosophy Bites review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of David Edmonds and Nigel Warburton's Philosophy Bites, '25 philosophers on 25 intriguing subjects', a selection from the website, philosophy bites, which offers: "podcasts of top philosophers interviewed on bite-sized topics".

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

14 January 2011 - Friday

Independent Foreign Fiction Prize judges announced | US bestsellers
Bolaño on 'Literature and Exile' | New Haven Review profile

       Independent Foreign Fiction Prize judges announced

       They've announced the judges for the eagerly anticipated Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
       The longlist for this year's prize will be announced in March.

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

       US bestsellers

       USA Today offer their bestseller-list summary, The top 100 for 2010 (without, unfortunately, any sales figures ...).
       The three Stieg Larsson books top the list (with the jr. Bush's Decision Points coming in at number four (and his wife's book at number 62)); the Larsson books and Jonathan Franzen's Freedom (at number 39) are the only titles under review at the complete review.
       Interesting that several older titles did very well, including To Kill a Mockingbird (54), The Catcher in the Rye (73), and that new-old title, Autobiography of Mark Twain (85).
       What's good to see is how overwhelmingly dominant fiction is (even if a lot of it pretty poor-quality fiction) -- as also noted in Bob Minzesheimer and Anthony DeBarros' overview, 2010 saw a frenzy for fiction, led by Stieg Larsson's 'Girl' trilogy.

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

       Bolaño on 'Literature and Exile'

       The Nation prints Roberto Bolaño's piece from a 2000 symposium, Literature and Exile -- forthcoming in the New Directions collection Between Parentheses: Essays, Articles, and Speeches (1998-2003).

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

       New Haven Review profile

       Via Books, Inq. I find John Stoehr's look at 'The New Haven Review and the making of a new generation of public intellectuals', The Optimist's Book Club, in the New Haven Advocate.

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

13 January 2011 - Thursday

Best-selling French novelists, 2010 | Régis Debray elected to Académie Goncourt
National Jewish Book Awards | Spanish publishing dominance
The Long Road review

       Best-selling French novelists, 2010

       In Le Figaro Mohammed Aissaoui and Dominique Guiou offer the annual round-up of Les dix romanciers français qui ont le plus vendu en 2010 -- the ten French novelists who sold the most books (in France) in 2010. (So that doesn't include foreign authors -- but, as they emphasize, does include the sales-totals for all these authors' books, new and old, in all editions.)
       Once again Marc Levy tops the list, as the top five are:
  1. Marc Levy - 1,643,000 books sold (down from 1,735,000 in 2009)
  2. Katherine Pancol - 1,357,000 books sold (up from 3rd last year)
  3. Guillaume Musso - 1,116,000 books sold (slipping from the second spot last year)
  4. Anna Gavalda - 815,000 books sold (up from 784,000 in 2009)
  5. Tatiana de Rosnay - 584,000 books sold
       As in 2009, nine of the ten authors sold more than half a million copies (though 2010 saw three break the million mark, as opposed to only two in 2009). Michel Houellebecq came it at number seven, just beating out Fred Vargas (who, with 508,000 books sold, was down considerably from 633,000 in 2009). Amélie Nothomb kept up her streak of top-ten appearances -- but just, at number ten, her 492,000 books sold down from 584,000 in 2009 (when she placed seventh).
       Most of the authors have had at least one book published in translation (Katherine Pancol remains the baffling -- because of her American interests and connections (or is that the reason ?) -- exception), but few are big names. (Tatiana de Rosnay apparently writes in both French and English, but that's only seemed to help a small bit, so far.)
       Rather typical, I fear, is the case of Maxime Chattam -- whose one published translation is The Cairo Diary (Le sang du temps), published under the name 'Maxim Chattam' ('Maxime' is apparently too ... girlie in English). The reviews give some idea why they haven't translated more of his books yet .....

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

       Régis Debray elected to Académie Goncourt

       With Michel Tournier stepping aside, Che-buddy Régis Debray has been elected to the Académie Goncourt -- best known for deciding on that most illustrious of French literary prizes, the prix Goncourt; see, for example, Régis Debray, juré Goncourt in Le Monde.
       With Françoise Mallet-Joris and Michel Tournier absent from the proceedings, Debray was elected with five votes for, none against (but three abstentions).

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

       National Jewish Book Awards

       The Jewish Book Council Blog has the 2010 National Jewish Book Award Announcement, listing all the (many, many) winners more conveniently than the official site does at this point.
       Cynthia Ozick gets the Lifetime Achievement Award, which sounds about right.
       To the End of the Land by David Grossman took the JJ Greenberg Memorial Award (for best work of fiction) -- beating out, among others, Nemesis, by Philip Roth.

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

       Spanish publishing dominance

       As the Latin American Herald Tribune reports, Latin American Authors Still Rely on Publishers in Spain, as it's still the case that:
Latin American literature "still needs to make the leap to Spain," said Ana Gallego, a professor at the University of Granada who was involved in the study, titled "Letral: Trans-Atlantic Trends and Studies in Literature."
The Latin American literature circuit in most cases passes through Spain
       I haven't been able to find the study itself, but the site where it supposedly is (or perhaps will be) is certainly worth exploring: check out issues of Revista Letral.

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

       The Long Road review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Kim In-Suk's The Long Road.
       This was recently published by MerwinAsia, "An Independent Publisher of Distinctive Books on East Asia" -- looks promising.

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

12 January 2011 - Wednesday

Tablet & Pen success | Indian poetry in English
AATSEEL Best Translation into English award
Becker and Posner on the future of bookstores

       Tablet & Pen success

       At Publishing Perspectives Chip Rossetti looks at: Arabic, Persian, Turkish, Urdu ... Who Knew ?: Words Without Borders' Surprise Hit -- that being the anthology, Tablet & Pen: Literary Landscapes from the Modern Middle East.
       As he notes:
While certainly modest compared to Stieg Larsson or Stephenie Meyer standards, the hefty (657-page) anthology has sold through its initial 15,000 print run, and is already back on press.
       That is pretty impressive -- and its sales rank was still a solid 20,493, last I checked. I'm not sure how much one should read into this, though; in fact, it's noteworthy how many anthologies of international literature have recently gotten a great deal of attention -- more than most 'literary' works of translated fiction -- and have apparently sold quite well, including Dalkey Archive Press' Best European Fiction 2010 and Best European Fiction 2011 or, for example, the recent Granta 113: The Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists.
       They get the attention -- and presumably a lot of their sales -- because they are convenient: one-volume books holding the promise of encompassing a fairly broad spectrum. It's certainly easier for reviewers and reporters (and readers) to deal with one of these volumes than actually work their way through more substantial examples of these various literatures. I get the feeling these anthologies are more substitutes than introductions to these various literatures, volumes people can lug around and dip into to get (or be able to claim) a feel for literature X or Y -- but rarely leading them to take the next step (like actually delving into the literature proper -- in part because additional works by some of the anthologized authors that might have caught their eye is likely to still be hard to come by in English translation ...).

       Admittedly, I'm no great anthology-fan (too often they strike me as saying more about the anthologist(s) than the ostensible anthology-subject ...), and while I do review some it's usually fairly reluctantly; I haven't reviewed any of the ones mentioned above -- indeed, I haven't even seen a copy of Tablet & Pen (I haven't gone out of my way to try to -- and as to my getting a copy as a matter of course ... well, surely you've heard enough of my complaints to realize that that doesn't happen around here). Certainly, I'm glad that such volumes are available -- get your copy of Tablet & Pen at or -- as they are certainly something, which is a lot better than (the otherwise too-usual) nothing. And I hope I'm wrong, and that they (and Words without Borders, too) are leading a lot more readers to dip and dig deeper into these literatures .....

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

       Indian poetry in English

       In Mid-Day Lindsay Pereira finds 'mixed opinions about the state of Indian poetry in English', in Good + Bad = Verse.
       (With so much focus on fiction-in-English it's good to see a look at the poetry-situation, too.)

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

       AATSEEL Best Translation into English award

       AATSEEL -- the American Association of Teachers of Slavic and East European Languages -- have announced their annual awards, and -- scroll way down -- Anne O. Fisher's translation of Ilf and Petrov's The Little Golden Calf took the Best Translation into English award.
       This translation was published by Russian Life -- see their publicity page -- just about the same time as Open Letter came out with their translation, The Golden Calf -- which is the edition under review at the complete review. (I don't know if that translation was also in the running .....)

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

       Becker and Posner on the future of bookstores

       At The Becker-Posner Blog Gary Becker and Richard Posner weigh in on the question of the future of bookstores.
       Posner's entry is Can Bookstores Survive ? Prospects and Consequences, while Becker's is more to the point: Traditional Bookstores are Doomed.
       A lot of their points are hard to deny -- and it makes for mighty depressing reading.

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

11 January 2011 - Tuesday

Roslund and Hellström reviews | New periodicals | John Gross (1935-2011)
Banned in Iran: Paulo Coelho | Batchelder Award | Authors and YouTube

       Roslund and Hellström reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are my reviews of two novels by the Swedish crime-thriller-writing duo of Anders Roslund and Börge Hellström:        There's been quite a bit of publicity about the recently released Three Seconds, with UK publisher Quercus making a big push to present Roslund and Hellström as the next coming of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo-man Stieg Larsson. It's worked to some extent -- the book got reviewed in both The New York Times and The New York Times Book Review (though in the latter case merely in the Marilyn Stasio 'Crime'-round-up column; still, it's a hard-to-achieve double of prominent US print coverage) -- but I wonder how successful the tactic will be. (Among others falling for the publicity-line: USA Today, which makes the claim Duo's 'Three Seconds' does Stieg Larsson one better.)
       The Roslund-Hellström treatment does certainly make for a wonderful case study of fiction in translation in the US/UK. It's part of this whole Scandinavian wave of crime/thriller fiction, where it sometimes seems that any Scandinavian crime title that enjoyed even modest success or won some sort of mystery prize has gotten translated into English. In fact, that's hardly been the case: US/UK publishers have a tough time changing even the worst of their bad habits, and tend to be (very-)late-in-the-game followers. Note, for example, my recent mention of the 2010 German bestsellers -- with Danish author Jussi Adler-Olsen having two top-ten titles. Yet the first of his books to make it into English is only due later this year .....
       The way Quercus has been touting Three Seconds they certainly don't try to disabuse anyone of the idea that this is a brand new thing; in fact, it's the fifth book in the Ewert Grens-series -- and the third to be translated into English. US/UK publishers are notoriously bad about publishing translated series in sequence, but astonishingly the first two volumes in this particular series were published in sequence -- first The Beast, then The Vault (which was subsequently repackaged/published as Box 21). Volumes three and four (Edward Finnigans Upprättelse and Flickan Under Gatan), however, were simply skipped over. (Quercus was also not the publisher of the first two volumes, jumping on the series/bandwagon late in the game). As I note in my reviews, this missing-in-action period is problematic: character development is not these authors' strong point, but at least one gets small doses of life-with-Ewert in each volume; take out two episodes and there are huge gaps. With Quercus presenting Three Seconds as a starting point (and The Beast apparently long out of print, i.e. near-impossible to get one's hands on, even if one tried) readers find themselves joining Ewert very late in the game -- which does no one any favors. But Quercus is using what it presumably presumes is its Larsson-clout to anoint these guys as the second coming -- and this book as the place to start.
       Well, the previous starting points don't seem to have worked out all that well, so .....
       I haven't seen The Beast, but that certainly doesn't seem to have launched this writing duo.
       So then came Box 21. In the US it was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. While my copy of Three Seconds has 'the international best-seller' printed on it, the best FSG could do with Box 21 was print 'the international thriller' on the front cover. Sad.
       Worse -- and the reason I didn't review the title when I first received it last year -- is that the translation is uncredited. Yes, even the Stieg Larsson trilogy had (great) translation and (English-version-)editing issues, but at least they stuck some name on there, even if it was a pseudonym. But no one was even willing to admit in any form that Box 21 had been translated. (I can not tell you how my heart sank in disappointment that FSG -- once a leading publisher of translated fiction -- had sunk this low; sure, it's a 'Sarah Crichton Books'-imprint title and sure, they just seem to have taken the similarly uncredited UK edition (Sphere) ... but still. It's beyond shameful.) [For what it's worth: the translation isn't particularly good, but hardly worse than that in Three Seconds -- and certainly readable.]
       So now comes Three Seconds -- and yet another new publisher for Roslund-Hellström. Which is where it gets interesting again. For one thing, Quercus has taken a different tack than they did with Larsson: instead of building the work/author up piece by piece they're trying to make/create a big splash with volume five in the series. They don't seem even to have acquired the reprint rights for the two volumes already (once) available, much less translate volumes three and four. No, they're betting on this volume as the starting point. (I think it's a terrible decision, but what do I know .....)
       Even more interesting, however, is the American situation. FSG apparently gave up on the duo after the one try, and Three Seconds has been brought out in the US by ... SilverOak.
       Silver what ? Yeah, I can't believe there hasn't been more attention paid to this in the US. SilverOak is a new imprint of Sterling Publishing -- who really (really really) don't specialize in this sort of thing. But, as Quercus announced last year:
Quercus has agreed an initial three-year deal with Sterling to publish fiction via a new imprint named Silver Oak. The new business will publish books selected by Quercus from its list of fiction titles.
       Now what's really interesting about Sterling is that it's ... a subsidiary of Barnes & Noble. (One of the amusing consequences of this is that, while there is a 'Nook' edition of Three Seconds available, there is no 'Kindle' edition -- take that, !) As best I can tell, this is the only book currently available from that imprint. has their AmazonCrossing; now Barnes & Noble -- which has long also been in the publishing game, but usually with safe things like out-of-copyright classics -- is also getting into the contemporary translation game ... interesting times.

       Obviously, the Stieg Larsson über-success will be impossible to replicate -- but can Roslund-Hellström be the next big Scandinavian thing ? I think the presentation of these books has been grossly mishandled -- but then I don't think they're quite worth the attention they've gotten, either. Jo Nesbø's Harry Hole-books have also reached the English-language market annoyingly out of sequence, but the Hole-adventures would seem to offer slightly more satisfactions -- literary and thriller-wise (see, for example, the complete review review of The Redbreast). But then of course the Larsson trilogy is also terribly flawed and still won almost everyone over ..... (But at least that was presented in the proper order .....)

       Regardless of what one thinks of this particular case/book, I'm just stunned that yet again even books which are very likely to enjoy at least some success in English translation -- such as the Ewert Grens and Harry Hole books -- are presented to readers in such a ham-fisted way. Is this publishing business really that complicated ?

       The test of whether Roslund-Hellström really caught on ? I say: track the increase in Siw Malmkvist-downloads. If even she can become mainstream-popular, then the publishers have done a mighty impressive job.

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

       New periodicals

       I got two new periodicals in the mail today, both of which also have some content available online.
       First off, there's World Literature Today: the January/February issue is 'The Crosstalk between Science and Literature'; among the pieces available online is an exchange between Alan (Song of Two Worlds) Lightman and Rebecca (36 Arguments for the Existence of God) Newberger Goldstein, Bridging the Two Cultures.
       Then there's PEN America 13: Lovers, which includes a (typed) Don DeLillo Q&A, Strange and Dangerous Times, as well as Lila Azam Zanganeh and Atiq Rahimi in conversation, Mother Tongue ("adapted from a conversation that took place at the 2010 PEN World Voices Festival") I particularly like the fact that: "Atiq Rahimi spoke in French and his words were interpreted by Lilia Pino-Blouin". (See also my review of The Patience Stone.)

       Meanwhile, note also that the January/February issue of The Critical Flame is also available.

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

       John Gross (1935-2011)

       John Gross -- one-time Times Literary Supplement editor, as well as editor and book critic at The New York Times from 1983 to 1989 -- has passed away; see, for example, the obituary in The Telegraph.
       (I know The New York Times will have an obituary; I'm pretty shocked it's not up yet.)

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

       Banned in Iran: Paulo Coelho

       As Paulo Coelho reports at his weblog, his Iranian editor e-mailed him:
I was informed today that the Ministry of Culture and 'Islamic Guidance' in Iran has banned all of your books, even the unauthorized versions published by other publishers. My friends have been told that no book that has Paulo Coelho's name on it will be authorized to be published in Iran any more.
       See also the Reuters report, Paulo Coelho says Iran bans his books (here at The Guardian).
       It's a bit baffling -- Coelho is huge in Iran, and his work has been published there for ages (since 1998, he writes -- with "over 6 million copies sold in the country" (so he claims, anyway)). And cracking down on such a popular author (rather than those literary types with much smaller readerships...) may not be the best move for the authorities; I'm curious to see how this plays out (was it all a 'mistake' or will they really prohibit this crap stuff ?).
       No question, I think it's wrong for these or any books to be banned, in Iran or elsewhere. But .....
       No, no: it's wrong. Even if it's Coelho.

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

       Batchelder Award

       A reader alerts me to the fact that the: "Association for Library Service to Children (ALSC), a division of the American Library Association" has announced: 2011 Batchelder Award honors Delacorte Press for A Time of Miracles, as:
Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children's Books, a division of Random House, Inc., is the winner of the 2011 Mildred L. Batchelder Award for A Time of Miracles. The Mildred L. Batchelder Award honors an American publisher for a children's book considered to be the most outstanding of those books originally published in a language other than English in a country other than the United States and subsequently translated into English for publication in the United States during the preceding year.
       Great to see another translation prize -- though I find it ... interesting that the award doesn't go to the author or translator, but rather to the publisher.
       (Get your copy of A Time of Miracles -- by Anne-Laure Bondoux, by the way -- at

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

       Authors and YouTube

       In The Independent Arifa Akbar isn't too thrilled by Authors on YouTube: I'm a celebrity, and I'm shameless, finding:
there is every reason to think their online appearances might have helped to shift books off shelves. Yet there is something undignified, at best, and cheaply manipulative, at worst, about them.
       With their focus on personality rather than content I'm certainly against this kind of stuff, but if it works (or is perceived to) it'll be hard to stop.

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

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