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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 February 2011

1 February: Cairo book fair ... | The literary scene in ... India | The Reluctant Fundamentalist in translation | Spurious review
2 February: Alaa Al Aswany on the situation in Egypt | Leading up to the awards ... | February issues | Exiled from Almost Everywhere review
3 February: Review imbalances | John Banville Q&A | On Amazon's publishing efforts | Love Virtually review
4 February: Dutch bestsellers 2010 | Editing translations | Writing in ... Kenya
5 February: Michael Moorcock profile | Benedikt Taschen profile | Wolff Translator's Prize submissions | Icelandic Literary Awards
6 February: No Scottish Academy of Literature | Nigerian 'chick lit' ? | Where are the editors ? | Popular Hits of the Showa Era review
7 February: Class action book suit | State of the Site report | Translation from ... Slovenian | Zettel's Traum readers
8 February: AmazonCrossing Q & A | Sexism update | CEI Fellowship for Writers in Residence | The Journey of Niels Klim to the World Underground review
9 February: Karachi Literature Festival | Thomas Bernhard at 80 | The Pillowman in Farsi | (Gay) bookselling in ... India | Every Seventh Wave review
10 February: 50 most essential works of Jewish fiction ? | Festival Neue Literatur | Translation from the ... Icelandic | Best African books of 2010 ? | Touch review

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10 February 2011 - Thursday

50 most essential works of Jewish fiction ? | Festival Neue Literatur
Translation from the ... Icelandic | Best African books of 2010 ? | Touch review

       50 most essential works of Jewish fiction ?

       At Jewcy Jason Diamond offers a list of The 50 most essential works of Jewish fiction of the last 100 years -- whereby:
Our criteria for this list was any work that could be considered "Jewish fiction": written by a Jewish author or dealing heavily with Jewish topics and themes, all written in the last 100 years
       Oddly, then, very few titles originally written in Hebrew, or by Israeli authors, appear. Nothing by Amos Oz, David Grossman (see, for example, To the End of the Land), Aharon Appelfeld (see, for example, A Table for One ), Aharon Megged (see, for example, The Flying Camel and the Golden Hump), etc. etc.
       Yes, Etgar Keret gets a nod; still .....
       I have to admit being rather tone-deaf if not outright blind to most any and all ethnic/religious labeling of literature: I always have to remind myself, for example, that John Updike is the guy that writes about WASPs and Philip Roth the guy that writes about Jews; obviously I notice that in their works, but it never really sticks and every encounter is just another (re-)introduction to some strange tribe and their odd superstitions and customs, just as with the works of any other writer similarly tethered to a specific religious (or national) group -- and it's rarely what interests me most about any such work (or any work of fiction in general). [Confusingly, the Jewcy top-50 includes an Updike title ..... I'll never get this stuff straight.] Given this -- and the fact that 'essential' is a far different criterion from 'best' -- I'm hardly fit to judge what might be 'essential Jewish fiction' (much as I can't judge what's 'essential Catholic fiction', or 'essential African fiction', etc. etc.), and maybe the Jewcy top-50 is, indeed, a reasonable one -- though I think one has to add: for a target audience of younger American readers (as suggested also by the loads of contemporary American fiction figuring on it). But -- despite some interesting choices (The Carpetbaggers ! (even if they misspell the author's name ...)) -- it strikes me as a pretty unconvincing compilation any way you look at it. (Indeed, come to think of it, isn't A Stone For Danny Fisher Robbins' most essential-Jewish work ?)

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

       Festival Neue Literatur

       In the New York area the Festival Neue Literatur, bringing together six up-and-coming German-writing authors (two each from Austria, Germany, and Switzerland) and two American authors, runs from 11 to 13 February.
       A great chance to see/hear some interesting authors -- and translators, too !

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

       Translation from the ... Icelandic

       Iceland is the guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year -- and, as I've mentioned repeatedly previously, have had the best guest-site up running now for quite a while: Fabulous Iceland -- well worth visiting !
       At Publishing Perspectives Amanda DeMarco now finds that "Translators are the Bottleneck" in Iceland's Prep for Star Turn at Frankfurt 2011, as with 120 Icelandic titles scheduled to come out on the German market this year publishers are having a bit of a hard time finding translators.
       Obviously, nowhere near 120 Icelandic titles are going to be translated into English this year -- or, for that matter, this decade -- which has led to the interesting situation that:
Though it's customary to speak of English as a gateway language for translation, in the case of Icelandic, Germany has clearly supplanted it. "As there are only a handful of titles being translated from Icelandic into English every year, the gateway language for Iceland is indeed German," commented Agla Magnúsdóttir, Director of the Icelandic Literature Fund (ILF).
       This makes for an interesting (beginning of a) discussion on the 'gateway-language' issue -- something that, given the weakness of the US/UK market for fiction in translation (which in turn makes English in many ways a weak gateway language), deserves much more attention.

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

       Best African books of 2010 ?

       The Africa Report offers a (somewhat limited) list of the Best African books of 2010 (via).
       Still, of some interest -- as is the glimpse of 'Coming up in 2011', which includes AWS re-issues of two novels by the great and lamentably forgotten B. Kojo Laing, Search Sweet Country (pre-order at; no US listing) and Woman of the Aeroplanes (pre-order at; no US listing).

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

       Touch review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Adania Shibli's Touch.
       (This is one of the titles longlisted for this year's Best Translated Book award.)

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

9 February 2011 - Wednesday

Karachi Literature Festival | Thomas Bernhard at 80 | The Pillowman in Farsi
(Gay) bookselling in ... India | Every Seventh Wave review

       Karachi Literature Festival

       With high profile literary festivals in India (Jaipur) and Sri Lanka (Galle) in recent weeks the Karachi Literature Festival, which ran 5 and 6 February, certainly got short shrift; too bad, it sounds like it was worth following more closely. The official site does have links to much of the press coverage (almost all of it local).
       See also, for example, Zubeida Mustafa's Dialogue and compassion in Dawn -- where, among much else, she notes:
Paradoxically, the consensus at two sessions at the KLF was that the reading habit is on the decline. On the other hand, the Pakistan Publishers and Booksellers Association, which has been organising the Karachi International Book Fair for six years running at the Expo Centre, claims that the sale of books has been rising.
       (Of course 'reading' and 'book sales' are two different and not necessarily (cor)related things ... still, interesting.)

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

       Thomas Bernhard at 80

       Thomas Bernhard would have turned 80 today, which has occasioned considerable (German) coverage -- along with events such as Ein Fest für Thomas Bernhard at the Viennese Burgtheater (where many of his plays premiered).
       A nice and entertaining tribute comes in the form of a 'dramolett' -- a mini-drama of the sort Bernhard liked to publish in newspapers -- by Benjamin von Stuckrad-Barre in Die Welt, Thomas Bernhards Jubiläum ? Das bringen wir groß ! (Very much in his spirit -- and it includes a list of "Wortschöpfungen à la Bernhard" ('(word-)coinages à la Bernhard' -- such as "Gesellschaftsonanisten").

       For those who can't enjoy the German-language coverage, why not pick up a book by Bernhard ? My Prizes is good fun, and his great novel, Extinction, is just out in a new Vintage paperback edition (get your copy at or

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

       The Pillowman in Farsi

       The literary situation in Iran -- with its notorious Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance -- can be hard to read. On the one hand one constantly hears about the difficulty in getting almost any sort of book published -- and yet there are also frequent unlikely success stories like this item from the Iran Book News Agency, reporting that The pillowman converted into Persian.
       Yes, that's Martin McDonagh's play, The Pillowman, which seems a rather ... unusual fit for Iranian stages ..... As long as plays like this are getting published, the situation can't be all that dire, can it ?
       (I admit, I find it hard to make heads or tails out of conditions there -- where, as I mentioned just a few weeks ago, Paulo Coelho's were recently banned (and yet Paul Auster's Sunset Park was just published ...).)

       Meanwhile, IBNA also report on the recently held '28th Book of the Year of Islamic Republic of Iran', in Year Book most significant cultural event. One problem: they don't mention who won any of the prizes -- and they don't in another report, Book of the Year laureates meet with Hadad Adel, either.
       Yes, we are informed "The meeting was also attended by a number of Iranian researchers and masters", and that "19 of the laureates expressed their happiness about being chosen as the award winners" but not a name or a title is revealed. Kind of strange, isn't that ?

       (Updated - 10 February): Slightly tardily, but better late than never, IBNA do announce Laureates of the 18th World Book of the Year Prize, though the MNA piece, with its list of the winners in various categories is easier to peruse.
       Hard to judge just from this, but it's not a very encouraging outcome: there were five winners in the 'Religion' category (suggesting where the literary priorities currently are ...), and, sure, it's good to see Meat Hygiene was one of two winners in the 'Applied Sciences' category, but what about what really matters -- fiction ? Not a winner in sight -- and, indeed, the 'Literature' winner is a book that is over a thousand years old .....

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

       (Gay) bookselling in ... India

       In the Times of India Kim Arora reports that Authors get bold as gay literature picks up in India -- though the numbers aren't exactly overwhelming:
Though sales figures are tepid, both publisher and bookstores are optimistic. Ajay Mago of Om Bookstore confirms having sold 15 copies of Hostel Room 131 and 40 of Quarantine while Penguin claims to have sold close to 11,000 copies of all novels based on queer issues in the last three years.
       Still, some authors figure a homosexual angle might give them an edge, allowing them to stand out in an increasingly crowded field:
More interested in thrillers, Patel says he chose the gay theme for Vivek and I because he wanted to be different. "A boy-girl love story would have made it a routine novel. A gay romance makes it stand out," he says.
       And, of course, it's no surprise that, as is also the case with almost every other sub-genre of fiction:
While queer fiction in English flourishes, there is relatively less noise about it in regional languages.

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

       Every Seventh Wave review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Daniel Glattauer's e-epistolary novel, Every Seventh Wave -- the sequel to his Love Virtually.

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

8 February 2011 - Tuesday

AmazonCrossing Q & A | Sexism update
CEI Fellowship for Writers in Residence
The Journey of Niels Klim to the World Underground review

       AmazonCrossing Q & A

       At Publishing Perspectives Helen Gregg offers an Interview with Jeff Belle of AmazonCrossing. (AmazonCrossing is Amazon's new 'World Literature in Translation' imprint.)
       Gregg mistakenly refers to The Hangman's Daughter as "The first AmazonCrossing title" -- though it's certainly the showpiece so far, enjoying considerable sales-success (I haven't seen a copy yet, but one is apparently on the way, and I do hope to review it). But Tierno Monénembo's The King of Kahel was the debut-volume, published three months ago -- and that apparently didn't do so well. I'm not too sure how thrilled I am to see that it is now being flogged at a bargain-basement (and much reduced) list price of $3.97 (not that that has helped: its sales rank, last I checked, was 547,947). I'm not too sure authors publishing with AmazonCrossing should be too thrilled either (not much left over in royalties at that sales price ...).
       As I noted recently, on the whole I support what's happening here -- the more titles are made available, the better, after all -- but such ... creative pricing suggests a very different publishing model indeed, and I wonder how that will play out.

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

       Sexism update

       I recently discussed the ridiculous sex-imbalance among authors of the books under review at the complete review, and that VIDA-report showing that I am far from the exception continues to generate reactions.
       Some are rather silly -- at a Telegraph-weblog, for example, Ed Cumming's falls back on predictable claims as he wonders Why are literary hard-hitters overwhelmingly male ? -- tripping over himself in the process, with suggestions such as:
First, it's worth remembering that many of the books reviewed in literary journals aren't fiction: publications such as the TLS and the LRB remain unusual in giving plenty of space to reviews of books about quantam physics, cartography, linguistics and all manner of other niche, male-dominated crevices of academic interest.
       Never mind that I, for example, reviewed a slightly higher percentage of non-fiction by women authors than of fiction, never mind that the guy can't even spell "quantum" (so much for that particular crevice) -- how about some hard (or soft, or any) numbers to see if that's even true ?
       At The New Republic Ruth Franklin at least goes about things the right way in wondering: A Literary Glass Ceiling ? -- and finds part of the cause of this particular effect:
We looked at fall 2010 catalogs from 13 publishing houses, big and small. Discarding the books that were unlikely to get reviewed -- self-help, cooking, art -- we tallied up how many were by men and how many were by women. Only one of the houses we investigated -- the boutique Penguin imprint Riverhead -- came close to parity, with 55 percent of its books by men and 45 percent by women. Random House came in second, with 37 percent by women. It was downhill from there, with three publishers scoring around 30 percent -- Norton, Little Brown, and Harper -- and the rest 25 percent and below, including the elite literary houses Knopf (23 percent) and FSG (21 percent). Harvard University Press, the sole academic press we considered, came in at just 15 percent.
       Even worse:
Graywolf, with 25 percent female authors, was our highest-scoring independent. The cutting-edge Brooklyn publisher Melville House came in at 20 percent. The doggedly leftist house Verso was second-to-last at 11 percent. Our lowest scorer ? It pains me to say it, because Dalkey Archive Press publishes some great books that are ignored by the mainstream houses. But it would be nice if more than 10 percent of them were by women.
       As I mentioned last time I discussed this issue, I figured that the complete review's focus on fiction in translation was partially 'to blame' for the under-representation of female authors (with only about 20 per cent of 2010 new translations written by women; Hilary at the Clockroots Books blog 2 and 2 (the rare publisher with a translation focus which actually publishes more books by female authors than male ones) looked into things as well and found a similar percentage in a rough count of 2009 translations); recently I also noted that I had just added the 100th review of a Dalkey Archive title ... well, given how sexist their output apparently is, what chance do I have at even approaching gender parity ? (Yeah, it's still not a good excuse; still, the numbers are stunning -- and Franklin apparently didn't even look at beloved Archipelago Books, where I count a mere 5 female-authored books (three of which are by the same author !) in a catalog of 63 titles (yes, that's less than 8 per cent !))
       I can't judge the number for more English-language focused publishers -- I barely review any American fiction -- but certainly there seems to be some issue/problem with a sex-imbalance regarding fiction in translation. (Again: it's not a great excuse for the imbalance at the complete review, since I also review quite a few titles not yet translated and could have my pick of the litter there .....)
       (Only about a third of the authors Franklin herself reviewed were female (though, as she points, it's a bit more complicated than that) -- which was still way, way above The New Republic's horrific average; meanwhile, I plan to improve my percentage by, among other things, reviewing her recent A Thousand Darknesses .....)

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

       CEI Fellowship for Writers in Residence

       Young writers (up to 35) from Albania, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Moldova, Montenegro, Serbia, and Ukraine are encouraged to apply for the Central European Initiative Fellowship for Writers in Residence, an: "award aimed at encouraging cross-border cooperation and promotion in the field of literature for young writers from Central European countries not yet part of the European Union".
       (The deadline is 1 May 2011.)

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

       The Journey of Niels Klim to the World Underground review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ludvig Holberg's classic, The Journey of Niels Klim to the World Underground.

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

7 February 2011 - Monday

Class action book suit | State of the Site report
Translation from ... Slovenian | Zettel's Traum readers

       Class action book suit

       As widely reported, a rather silly class action lawsuit has been brought against former US president Jimmy Carter and publisher Simon & Schuster regarding Carter's book, Palestine: Peace, Not Apartheid (get your copy at or; see, for example, Marc Tracy's Carter Sued Over 'Apartheid' Book at Tablet -- and especially the actual complaint (warning ! dreaded pdf format !).
       Legally speaking, the 'arguments' put forth in the complaint are rather underwhelming (to put it mildly); it's clear this is an ideologically-motivated attempt at speech-suppression, with opinion more at issue than anything resembling facts; as Glen Newey notes in Cui bono ? at the LRB blog, "The action compresses a number of oddities, which will prove fatal to it".
       While this is clearly a lawsuit easily dismissed as frivolous, I have to admit a bit of sympathy with (one of) the (supposed) underlying arguments, as far too much distinctly commercial speech is allowed to slip by unchallenged in the US because of 'free speech' protection for my tastes. Indeed, I think the FTC is far too lenient in what it permits in advertising, and I wouldn't mind a nice crack-down on all commercial claims that are not verifiable and true (chilling though that may be) -- even if that would mean -- oh dear ! -- toning down publicity copy for new books .....

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

       State of the Site report

       My Annual Report for the complete review - 2010, on the State of the Site, is now up; lots of odds and ends of possible interest.

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

       Translation from ... Slovenian

       In Delo Igor Bratož writes about Prevodi slovenskih del v tuje jezike, giving a detailed overview of Slovenian literature in translation (right down to listing the recent reviews of Slovenian literature abroad -- including that "na spletni strani vplivne The Complete Review" (and it's always nice to be considered vplivne abroad)).
       Lots of hard numbers on offer, including that over the past four years there have been 23 translations into German, 19 into English, 15 into Italian and 7 into French.

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

       Zettel's Traum readers

       I put up a review-overview of Arno Schmidt's Zettel's Traum a few months ago, when the new Suhrkamp edition came out. Actually reading it is a major undertaking -- as suggested also by this new piece by Ulrich Stock in Die Zeit, where he actually goes and visits Zettel's Traums Leser ('Zettel's Traum's readers'), four households where they're actually trying to make their way through the massive tome (not for the first time, in some cases).
       I wonder if Bottom's Dream-fever will similarly hit the US/UK once John E. Woods' translation makes it into print. It will definitely be one of the publishing events of the decade (whichever decade it finally happens in ...).

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

6 February 2011 - Sunday

No Scottish Academy of Literature | Nigerian 'chick lit' ?
Where are the editors ? | Popular Hits of the Showa Era review

       No Scottish Academy of Literature

       In Scotland on Sunday Emma Cowing reports that Scots literary academy plan rejected, as:
Plans for a high profile Scottish Academy of Literature involving writers such as JK Rowling and Ian Rankin have been rejected by the Scottish Government.

The Academy, which was among a series of recommendations made a year ago in a report made by the Literature Working Group, was to be modelled on France's prestigious Academie Francaise, and would have given its members -- some of the country's greatest authors and poets -- an ambassadorial role for literature in Scotland.
       Too bad. A little pomp and circumstance would have been fun -- though of course the academicians I'd like to see would include Alasdair Gray and James Kelman.

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

       Nigerian 'chick lit' ?

       In Next Olushola Ojikutu reports on Chick lit, Nigerian style -- though unfortunately it's not a broader survey but rather just a review of Ekene Onu's The Mrs Club (get your copy at or

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

       Where are the editors ?

       In The Globe and Mail John Barber asks Where have all the book editors gone ? He's looking mainly at the situation in Canada, but it's a widespread concern, as:
Authors, finding today’s downsized publishers increasingly unwilling to invest their own resources in the often laborious process of polishing rough diamonds into marketable gems, are now often forced to hire their own editors -- before even before submitting their manuscripts for publication. Toronto literary agent Anne McDermid saw the landscape changing two years ago, when a publisher told her, "I cannot purchase a book I need to spend 40 hours editing."
       As I've often noted, I have my doubts about what publishers can offer that authors can't -- now or soon -- do themselves. A strong editorial hand -- shaping, supporting -- is one of the few things publishers might still be able to offer, but if they get rid of that .....
       I sure hope all these editor-less publishers are making sure they can continue to provide superior marketing and distribution; otherwise, why would authors even bother with them any longer ?

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

       Popular Hits of the Showa Era review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Murakami Ryu's Popular Hits of the Showa Era.

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

5 February 2011 - Saturday

Michael Moorcock profile | Benedikt Taschen profile
Wolff Translator's Prize submissions | Icelandic Literary Awards

       Michael Moorcock profile

       In The Guardian Hari Kunzru profiles Michael Moorcock, in When Hari Kunzru met Michael Moorcock.
       (See also, for example, the complete review review of Moorcock's The Final Programme (or of Hari Kunzru's Transmission).)

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

       Benedikt Taschen profile

       In the Wall Street Journal Susan Michals profiles Benedikt Taschen's Risky Business -- Taschen books. (I don't think there are any under review at the complete review.)

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

       Wolff Translator's Prize submissions

       At Three Percent Chad Post reports on the admirably transparent Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize, where they reveal all submitted titles (as all literary prizes should !) -- a list I've praised before, as it also offers a convenient overview of most of what has been published in English translation-from-the-German, year for year.
       Quite a few of the titles submitted for this year's prize are under review at the complete review (with more to follow):
  • Babyfucker by Urs Allemann, trans. Peter Smith
  • The Box by Günter Grass, trans. by Krishna Winston
  • Broken Glass Park by Alina Bronsky, trans. by Tim Mohr
  • Fame by Daniel Kehlmann, trans. by Carol Brown Janeway
  • Hölderlin by Peter Weiss, trans. by Jon Swan, in collaboration with Carl Weber
  • Journey into the Past by Stefan Zweig, trans. by Anthea Bell
  • Stella by Siegfried Lenz, trans. by Anthea Bell
  • transcript by Heimrad Bäcker, trans. by Patrick Greaney and Vincent Kling
       (I was very amused to see that they ... decorously ? relegated one title to the bottom of the list, out of the otherwise alphabetical order. Do they think no one will scroll that far down ? (I note that that title was also one eligible for the Best Translated Book award, whose longlist was recently announced, and that there was some ... resistance to that title -- and I emphasize: the title; god forbid books would be judged by their contents .....))

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

       Icelandic Literary Awards

       They've handed out the Icelandic Literary Awards, and at Iceland Review they report that:
The poetry book Blódhófnir ("Bloodhoof") by Gerdur Kristný and Sveppabókin (“The Mushroom Book”) by Helgi Hallgrímsson received the 2010 Icelandic Literary Award at a special ceremony at Bessastadir, the presidential residence, on Wednesday.

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

4 February 2011 - Friday

Dutch bestsellers 2010 | Editing translations | Writing in ... Kenya

       Dutch bestsellers 2010

       The Stichting Collectieve Propaganda van het Nederlandse Boek runs down the bestselling titles in the Netherlands in 2010, offering an overview -- Haar naam was Sarah best verkochte boek van 2010 -- as well as a detailed (with numbers !) top 100 break-down (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) (found via De Papieren Man).
       Tatiana de Rosnay's Sarah's Key (which was 49th on the USA Today 2010 bestseller list) easily topped the list, selling a phenomenal 496,287 copies (and that after being the second best-selling title in 2009 -- i.e. already having shifted a whole lot of copies); the three Stieg Larsson titles were the next three best-selling titles, but even the most successful of those sold an astonishing 215,000 fewer copies.
       Perhaps the most remarkable numbers, however: in the 'Spanning Nederland'-category (thriller/crime fiction by Dutch authors), the top ten titles were all by women. Suzanne Vermeer and Saskia Noort each accounted for three (and Esther Verhoef for two more), but still .....

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

       Editing translations

       Mima Simić takes issue with how her story, My Girlfriend, was edited/presented in the recent Dalkey Archive Press anthology of Best European Fiction 2011, in commentary published at Three Percent, The Facts Behind One Story in Dalkey Archive's Best European Fiction for 2011, as, for example:
a diligent Dalkey editor not only made quite a few interventions in the text, but they also inserted (!) a piece of text that changed/determined sex of my narrator
       One reason I rarely have much to say about translations in my reviews is because this sort of thing is, of course, far more common than most readers seem to be aware of: editorial interference (or 'help') is far too common for my strict literalist leanings (and in my mind it's always, always, always the author who is right, regardless of how wrong s/he is). (You rarely hear about it from anyone else either because none of the parties involved -- editors, translators, or even the screwed-over authors -- have much incentive to air that very dirty laundry (and trust me, it stinks to high heaven); a situation such as the pseudonymous translation (and public-airing-of-grievances by the translator) as was the case with the Stieg Larsson books is the very rare exception.)
       I am disappointed that Simić reports:
The editorial director, John O'Brien said he didn't know why these changed were made and offered to have a conversation (between myself and Dalkey) published in their magazine CONTEXT in which we would, in a civilized manner, discuss the matter (and presumably allow them to call the shots again). A barbaric creature from the Balkans, I never replied to his email.
       I, for one, think that conversation -- and surely it only need have been as civilzed as they wanted to make it -- would have been interesting, if not necessarily constructive: dialogue always seems preferable to me to monologue ..... But I do hope there is some official Dalkey reaction. (Given some of the rather the over-the-top reader-reactions to Simić's piece at Three Percent, some sort of reaction would seem to be ... well-advised.)
       Recommended also: Chad Post's prefatory remarks, explaining why he posted Simić's commentary.
       And if it gets some discussion started about -- or makes more readers aware of -- the terrible things editors do, especially to works in translation, it will at least do some good.

       (Updated - 5 February): Dalkey Archive Press director John O'Brien responds to my post (above) and what happened:
       Thanks, Michael, for the offer to respond to your posting concerning Mima Simić's story in Dalkey Archive's Best European Stories 2011. I haven't read responses elsewhere, and so am responding only to what appeared on Complete Review. I'm afraid that there isn't much of a story behind all of this. Because of deadlines, not all the stories were sent to authors or translators for final approval. Putting together an annual anthology like this (several submissions from approximately 35 countries, most of which then have to be translated and sent on to the guest editor for selection, and then edited in preparation for publication) is complicated and very deadline-oriented. This isn't an excuse for what happend to Mima Simić's story but a description of how it happened. When I found out what changes had been made in the editing process and that the author had not seen the edits, I wrote the following email to her:
       "You should have seen the edits, which are about as inexplicable to me as they are to you.
       Translations usually require some editing (usually to get the idiom correct), but I don't understand why the radical changes were made with the example you give, which obviously does change your meaning.
       If there is a second printing, I will make sure the changes get made."
       Publishing deadlines, if not met, can sink a book because books must be in stores by a certain date to correspond with reviews. The deadlines, and the errors that can be made as a result of meeting them, can create problems. Books -- and here I mean ones written in English, as well as those in translation -- have appeared with author names misspelled and titles wrong (fortunately, Dalkey hasn't yet had either of these unpleasant experiences), and the near-inevitable typographical errors. In this particular situation with Mima Simić's story, expediency dictated what Dalkey did, and I of course wish that this hadn't happened.
       [I'm glad to see the issues being discussed -- even if in this somewhat roundabout manner (monologues rather than dialogues, in different fora). As the saying goes: shit happens -- and I, for one, like it when that isn't simply brushed aside but rather discussed more or less openly. (Readers are generally just left in the dark -- which I suppose many may well prefer; personally, I find it helpful to be alerted to what went wrong, and be made privy to possible reasons why.) Unfortunate though what happened here is, it makes for an interesting sort of case study -- with a few questions still open (like how those editing decisions were made (and, indeed, how one edits/deals with translations from so many different languages for an anthology such as this)); maybe some lessons can be drawn from it. Maybe next time there will be more open discussions .....]

       (Updated - 7 February): See now also Lauren Elkin's commentary at her Maitresse weblog.

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

       Writing in ... Kenya

       In The Standard Tony Mochama wonders: Is 2011 the year of the pen ? in Kenya.

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3 February 2011 - Thursday

Review imbalances | John Banville Q&A
On Amazon's publishing efforts | Love Virtually review

       Review imbalances

       Back in 2002 I wondered (and was rather embarrassed by the answer -- though, as it turns out, that's an on-going embarrassment), How sexist are we ? and since then I've been keeping track of the Author-sex breakdown of books under review at the complete review. Through review number 2600 a mere 382 of the books under review were written by women -- 14.69 % (a percentage that has declined since: a mere one of the past twenty reviewed titles was written by a woman, so the running total is 383/2620 -- 14.62 %).
       In 2010 17.19 per cent of the titles reviewed at the complete review were written by women (hey ! more than the historic average !). A new report from VIDA looks at a number of prominent literary(-coverage) periodicals and tallies the totals (and more -- they also count reviewers, etc.) and finds that I am in good bad company -- managing even to beat out the apparently even more sexist The New Republic (a mere 14.06 per cent of titles reviewed in 2010 were by women) and The New York Review of Books (16.16 per cent). (Sam Tanenhaus may have a blind spot regarding books in translation at his The New York Times Book Review, but at least their track record regarding reviewing titles by women is better: an impressive (relatively speaking ...) 35.07 per cent, while the Times Literary Supplement only manages 24.16 per cent. )
       I've long been mystified by the blatant sexism in what titles get reviewed at the complete review. The choice of titles feels very random to me -- limited, of course, by what I have on hand or can get my hands on --, and I don't think much pushes me specifically to titles by male authors -- but obviously something does.
       As it turns out, I seem to have a vaguely reasonable excuse (one which I will, however, have to explore in greater depth): a check of the Translation databases at Three Percent finds (in a very rough count that also doesn't differentiate between the fiction and poetry translations) that in 2010 slightly less than 20 per cent of the books listed there are by women: i.e. there's a huge sex-imbalance in terms of what gets translated. And since most of what I review is books in translation ..... (It's not a good explanation, but it does help explain the imbalance in what books are reviewed; certainly, it's a better excuse than, say, The New Republic has.)
       [Interestingly, the sex imbalance in what books I reviewed in 2010 is remarkably constant across a variety of categories -- so, for example, 17.22 per cent of novels reviewed were by women and 18.75 non-fiction volumes were by women. One area where there is, surprisingly, a statistically (just) significant difference is in the length of reviews: reviews of books by men averaged 798 words, reviews of books by women 907 words (which might suggest I actually pay them closer attention ?) .....]

       No doubt there will be much discussion of the VIDA results (as there should be); for now, see for example Meghan O'Rourke's Women at Work at Slate.

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

       John Banville Q&A

       Alex Beam has a Q&A with John Banville (aka 'Benjamin Black') (via).
       Banville explains some of the differences between him and his alter ego:
I do a Benjamin Black in the spring and early summer. I hate summer so this is a wonderful excuse to sit in my room and pound away at a crime book. I write those quickly on the computer, in three to four months. What I want from Benjamin Black is spontaneity; John Banville writes in longhand with a fountain pen. I can’t do them both at the same time. Banville was never much interested in character, dialogue, and plot, and Black is entirely character and dialogue and plot.

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       On Amazon's publishing efforts

       In Library Journal Michael Kelley reports that Amazon Continues Its Push into Publishing.
       Yes, I'm quoted in the piece -- but what I found most interesting was that:
Ira Silverberg, a literary agent at Sterling Lord Literistic in New York, told LJ he had placed Tirza by Arnon Grunberg (which won the Belgian Golden Owl Prize for Literature and the Dutch Libris Prize) with Open Letter and was in negotiations with AmazonCrossing on three other titles, one original and two reprints.

"I think each publisher offers a different set of strengths, and by working with both, we'll be setting up an advantageous situation for Grunberg," he said. "Open Letter has greater reach in the community of reviews and independent bookstores; AmazonCrossing has greater reach in terms of its marketing capabilities and loyal customer base. The two attributes combined, I hope, will lead to new opportunities and an awesome launch."
       (As readers know, I'm a huge Tirza (see my review) fan -- and of Grunberg's work in general. I'm curious to see how this all turns out.)

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

       Love Virtually review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Daniel Glattauer's international bestseller Love Virtually.
       This is another title being brought out by Quercus in the UK that, like their Three Seconds, is then being published in the US by Barnes & Noble-affiliated 'SilverOak' (see, for example, their publicity page).
       Yes, it's sold well abroad -- but I have to admit that, other than the idea behind it, I can see little of the appeal. (I am, however, fascinated by the SilverOak-imprint -- B&N's answer to AmazonCrossing ?)

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

2 February 2011 - Wednesday

Alaa Al Aswany on the situation in Egypt | Leading up to the awards ...
February issues | Exiled from Almost Everywhere review

       Alaa Al Aswany on the situation in Egypt

       The Yacoubian Building-author Alaa Al Aswany is apparently the much-in-demand go-to Egyptian intellectual for commentary on what's happening in Egypt, at least in the European media.
       Donald Macintyre talks with him in The Independent today, in Alaa Al Aswany: 'Like being in love': literary reflections on the revolution,while in recent days he's also been interviewed:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Leading up to the awards ...

       Two blogs help lead readers up to the awarding/shortlist announcement of literary awards:
       At Critical Mass they're looking at 31 Books in 31 Days, as: "Each day leading up to the March 10 announcement of the 2010 NBCC award winners, Critical Mass highlights one of the thirty-one finalists".
       Meanwhile, at Three Percent they're going through all twenty-five longlisted titles for the Best Translated Book Award, with a case being made for each Why This Book Should Win the BTBA.

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

       February issues

       Among February issues of periodicals now available online and worth checking out are the new Words without Borders -- the 'International Graphic Novels: Volume V'-issue (which, to be honest, is four volumes past what I care for ...) -- and the February issue of Open Letters Monthly.

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

       Exiled from Almost Everywhere review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Juan Goytisolo's Exiled from Almost Everywhere.
       That is, by my count, the 100th review of a Dalkey Press Archive title at the complete review; see the index of all of them. There are probably a few publishers who have published more of the books under review -- Knopf, FSG, Penguin, or foreign publishers like Suhrkamp or Gallimard -- simply because of the mass of books they've published over the decades, but it's hardly surprising that foreign-fiction focused Dalkey is so popular hereabouts.

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

1 February 2011 - Tuesday

Cairo book fair ... | The literary scene in ... India
The Reluctant Fundamentalist in translation | Spurious review

       Cairo book fair ...

       The start of the Cairo International Book Fair was already delayed, but it was eventually supposed to run 29 January to 8 February; apparently that isn't working out too well. As Benedicte Page reports in The Guardian, Cairo book fair abandoned amid unrest, as:
Literature has been caught up in the protests that have now entered their seventh day in Egypt. The annual Cairo book fair, due to have been held this week, has been abandoned, with many foreign exhibitors left stranded after failing to secure flights to take them out of the country.
       (Hey, if they're already there and have no place to go ... why not hold a book fair ?)
with protesters demonstrating on the streets against his rule, and curfews imposed across the city, the event was summarily abandoned. The guest of honour, China, withdrew its delegation on the eve of the scheduled opening.
       (Updated): See also more detailed coverage in Oliva Snaije's report at Publishing Perspectives -- noting also the effect on the bottom line this has for, especially, regional publishers. (The long-term hope, of course, is that a more open, publisher-friendly, and economically enlightened post-Mubarak regime (we all keep our fingers crossed) will lead to a much larger reading-audience (with more disposable income) and publishers will thrive ..... That's the hope, anyway .....)

       [Aside: the complete review receives an average of more than 20 visitors from Egypt every day, but the local ISP shutdown has very effectively kept them away; Friday and Saturday there were no visitors from Egypt, one slipped through on Sunday (a lone Noor-user, I assume, before they too were cut off from the rest of the world), but presumably that'll be it for a while. I look forward to when they'll be able to visit again -- Hosni Mubarak, too, if he's so inclined, perhaps from his comfortable Saudi exile .....]

       [Non-literary political commentary-aside: few of the jr. Bush's many, many missteps bothered me as much as his call for democracy in the Middle East and then his refusal to stand by his words -- even through such tiny steps as pushing Mubarak to at least start opening up the election-process in Egypt. Apparently none of the lessons of the Iranian revolution were learnt by anyone in the State Department either: supporting a corrupt and repressive leader just because he's on 'our side' is not a long-term plan. Egypt has been under martial law continuously since 1981, as clear a sign as any of this being a failed government (when martial law becomes the norm -- and after a few decades of it being imposed it's hard to sell this as any sort of 'state of emergency' any longer -- government has clearly failed). Time now, I'd suggest, to maybe reassess that US support -- tacit and/or active -- for all those other dubious leaders, before it comes to this in the next country (and it will, soon).
       The US has a great ideology to export and support -- that whole democracy concept --; too bad it so often chooses instead to leave all principles behind abroad and gets in bed with the bums who say they'll do what's in the US's best interests. In the short-term that sometimes pays off; long term -- never.]

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

       The literary scene in ... India

       At the Wall Street Journal's livemint Chandrahas Choudhury looks at The decade in literature in India, finding:
India's book economy is on a different arc, however, and, like the Indian newspaper industry, is still on its way up rather than down. For an observer of Indian literature in English, the last decade was full of bright lights on all three counts of publishing, book selling, the density and internal diversity of the idea of literature, and the spread of a reading culture.
       Indeed, it's a happening place -- but:
What Indian literature needs in the next decade is something like a New York Review of Books or a London Review of Books -- a New Delhi Review of Books perhaps ? -- to consolidate the many gains of the decade gone by.
       Sounds good -- let's see it !

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

       The Reluctant Fundamentalist in translation

       In The Hindu Ziya Us Salam writes on the many translations of Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist, in Found in translation [aside: didn't the editors get the memo ? haven't they heard about the moratorium on the use of that line ? I hope somebody gets flogged for allowing it to slip through ...] .
       One great line:
With each new language translation of his book, Mohsin's hairline is receding, his moustache growing.
       But it's also interesting that Hamid observes:
Each translation creates a subtly different book. And that book is published to a new audience. So the response to every translation is different. It is amazing that the same book can be a bestseller in Italian and flop in French, for example, but such things happen all the time. Partly, this is a reminder that luck plays a huge role in each publication. As a writer, though, regardless of the critical or commercial reception, each translation is a miracle in a way. It is like discovering that your child can ride a horse or play the guitar, something you can't do and never taught them.

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

       Spurious review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Lars Iyer's Spurious.

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