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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 31 May 2011

21 May: Indonesian literature in translation | David Davidar interviews | Carmen Callil's explanation | Wales Book of The Year shortlists | The Book of Happenstance review
22 May: Commonwealth Writers' Prize winners | Writing in ... Saudi Arabia | 'African' writing to order | Merchants of Culture review
23 May: New Transcript | Umberto Eco on unread books | Oprah's Book Club post-mortem | Count d'Orgel's Ball review
24 May: Revised censorship in Egypt ? | Q & As: Goretti Kyomuhendo - Jussi Adler-Olsen | Japanese/Italian translation
25 May: Mountain Echoes | Seoul International Forum for Literature
26 May: John Banville to get Franz Kafka Prize | Man Booker International Prize translation issues | French Translation Prizes | Mahfouz-mania
27 May: Red April wins Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2011 | Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Awards finalists | Translation/editing issues | Geoffrey Hill interview | Wylie wisdom
28 May: Hay Festival | Translation coverage at the NYTBR | Quiet Chaos review
29 May: Geoff Dyer site | On-site search | The Book of Hrabal review
30 May: Theroux and Naipaul make up ? | Michal Ajvaz profile | José Rizal at 150 | Lunar Savings Time review
31 May: Andreï Makine Q & A | Ernesto Cardenal profile | New Swedish Book Review


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31 May 2011 - Tuesday

Andreï Makine Q & A | Ernesto Cardenal profile | New Swedish Book Review

       Andreï Makine Q & A

       At hlo Anna Marczisovszky has a Q & A with Andreï Makine -- specifically about the books he wrote under the pen name of Gabriel Osmonde, including:
Alternaissance, don't forget this title, because although it is not very well known at the moment, it will be an important novel and will gradually become known.
       (Hmmmm ... well, get your copy at Amazon.fr .....)
       But interesting to learn that:
Yes, and currently there is a film being made in the US of Dream of My Russian Summers [original title: Le Testament français]. This is quite curious, because I would have thought that the French would make a film out of it. Yet I am very glad because the person who bought the rights was a billionaire who fell in love with the documentary of a not very well-known young director.
       I'm curious how that turns out .....

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



       Ernesto Cardenal profile

       In The Washington Post Manuel Roig-Franzia profiles Ernesto Cardenal, poet and Catholic priest, still causes controversy at age 86.
       Not sure they're doing him any favors quoting lines like: "trouble is you don't know / just as I didn't / that many people die in the Congo / thousands upon thousands / for that cellphone / they die in the Congo" -- high-school-age poetry at its most obvious -- but he is an interesting character.
       Texas Tech University Press has just brought out his The Origin of Species -- see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk -- which looks like it's of some interest (I have a copy; I hope to get to it fairly soon).

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



       New Swedish Book Review

       A new issue (2011:1) of the Swedish Book Review is now available -- most of it accessible online, too.
       Admirably, the book reviews (scroll down) are all available, so check out reviews (in English) of the newest (not yet available in English) Swedish titles by authors including Bengt Ohlsson, Leif G.W. Persson, and Mikael Niemi.

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



30 May 2011 - Monday

Theroux and Naipaul make up ? | Michal Ajvaz profile
José Rizal at 150 | Lunar Savings Time review

       Theroux and Naipaul make up ?

       So will Paul Theroux have to write a new afterword for Sir Vidia's Shadow ?
       Reports from the Hay Festival have it that Theroux and V.S.Naipaul have kissed and made up -- though in fact the details don't suggest they've done much more than civilly exchanged greetings. But in The Telegraph Sameer Rahim and Claire Fox claim Handshake ends a famous literary feud, while in The Independent Joy Lo Dico thinks Celebrated literary feud ends after Naipaul and Theroux bury the hatchet.
       Not quite as entertaining as fisticuffs, but nice to hear .....

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



       Michal Ajvaz profile

       In Writing to put magic in the everyday in The Korea Herald John Power profiles Czech author Michal Ajvaz, who recently visited South Korea.
       Among the interesting observations:
Having had his work translated into eight languages, with translations into four more forthcoming, Ajvaz is keen to the fact that literature can take on different meanings in different countries.

"For instance, in America they take me for a science fiction writer ... nobody in Bohemia takes me for a science fiction author. In Poland, I am mainly a poet, even if now days I don't write poems. Every country is different. For me it is interesting," he said.
       See also the complete review reviews of Ajvaz's The Golden Age and The Other City.

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



       José Rizal at 150

       The 150th anniversary of Filipino author José Rizal is in a few weeks -- with Penguin Classics bringing out a new translation of El Filibusterismo (and, yes, that's the title they're sticking with ...) by Harold Augenbraum (get your copy at Amazon.com orAmazon.co.uk; I have a copy, and do hope I can get to it eventually).
       Meanwhile, The Philippine Star now prints an excerpt of Resil B. Mojares' lecture, 'Jose Rizal and the Invention of a National Literature', The enigma of Jose Rizal's third novel (which would be the unfinished work: "Now referred to as Makamisa").

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



       Lunar Savings Time review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Alex Epstein's collection of (very) short stories, Lunar Savings Time.

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



29 May 2011 - Sunday

Geoff Dyer site | On-site search | The Book of Hrabal review

       Geoff Dyer site

       A couple of days ago I got an e-mail from Geoff Dyer, asking me to add a link to his official site to the complete review's Geoff Dyer-page -- which I was, of course, happy to do (I've been a bit remiss in keeping this page entirely up to date, as I keep putting off my review of his recent (and much-covered) Otherwise Known as the Human Condition ...).
       I mention this because it's a good-looking official site, and you might not have noticed its existence yet, and if you're interested in Dyer's work it's worth a visit.
       I mention it also because it's yet another example of Google's new algorithm not producing the most impressive results: a "geoff dyer" search finds a page from geoffdyer.com (that's the URL) first coming up as about the 90th result (and not one of the top/obvious pages, either) -- certainly not where you would want to find it. (The complete review's considerably less informative page comes up at about 15th .....)
       Maybe it's because it's a relatively new site (though I note that a Bing-search has it come up eighth -- still behind the complete review (third), but certainly a more ... reasonable result); nevertheless, it underlines -- as so many of the literary searches I conduct nowadays do -- that there's something foul about Google's re-jigged algorithm.
       Anyway -- check out the site -- and, better yet, pick up some of his books !

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



       On-site search

       [Updated - 30 May]: Well, that was a short-lived experiment: some users have reported that the Google search-box affects the functioning of the site in their browsers, so I have removed it. I will try to figure out a viable search-engine box solution for the site; I suspect I won't manage very quickly. My apologies for any inconvenience.
       So, less than a year ago I added a search-box to several of the main pages at the complete review, allowing for on-site search capability.
       As I mentioned back then, I chose to go with the Bing-box because it provided decent results and, besides, almost everyone already uses Google-search to come to the site (well over ninety per cent of search-traffic to the site), so there would be a certain amount of redundancy if I also employed Google as the on-site search engine.
       It seems to have worked out well enough -- except that Microshit-run (oh, I should have seen it coming !) Bing 'discontinued' this version of their on-site search-engines last month. Not just discontinued: they actually destroyed it, which has led to the search box looking -- and (not) working -- like this:



       So, of course, that's the last time I'll use that on the site ... and I have now replaced it (or am in the process of replacing it) with a Google-search box [see top of page].
       Yeah, I'm not entirely satisfied with the look or function, but it works well enough (despite Google's nightmarish new algorithm, Google is still pretty dependable for any site-specific (in this case "site:complete-review.com") search (which is, in fact, what I've been reduced to relying on in seeking out reviews to link to ...), so if it's on the site, you should be able to find it via the search box you now find on the main complete review (and Literary Saloon) pages.
       (But please do let me now if you have any issues or problems with it.)


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



       The Book of Hrabal review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Esterházy Péter's The Book of Hrabal.

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



28 May 2011 - Saturday

Hay Festival | Translation coverage at the NYTBR
Quiet Chaos review

       Hay Festival

       So the Hay Festival is now running, on through 5 June.
       Lots of good stuff -- though also of interest is the coverage: it used to be the Guardian Hay festival, and so The Guardian had wall-to-wall coverage; this year, not so much. Now it's The Telegraph that sponsors it, and that's where you should go to find extensive coverage. (In case you were confused and thought it was actually about literature and books and things like that -- no, it looks like the media is only interested when they can sell themselves .....)

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



       Translation coverage at the NYTBR

       I've pretty much given up complaining about The New York Times Book Review: the last time I posted at length was when they showed off their new bestseller lists -- but I couldn't believe they'd waste devote so much prime space in every issue to them. Turns out they could, and have, ever since .....
       Still, I occasionally tweet when a new issue comes out and there is yet again no review of anything in translation .....
       In this Sunday's issue there actually is a review of a work in translation -- August Kleinzahler's review of Songs of Kabir (see the New York Review Books publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk). It's great that they're covering this -- a paperback original, no less, and a rare review of an NYRB book in the NYTBR. But I had to laugh when I saw it: a typical Tanenhaus selection: not only is it a book by a dead author (his favorite kind of author-of-translations), but it is also a previously translated work (Tanenhaus loves that seal of approval that he thinks multiple translation guarantees -- if it gets translated more than once it must be okay (unlike most literature in translation, whose value he clearly has grave doubts about)).
       So that was good for a laugh, but any closer look just brings tears to my eyes: consider just the most recent weeks of NYTBR-coverage:
  • 22 May: a brief mention (scroll down) of The Snowman by Jo Nesbø in the 'Crime'-round-up is the only coverage of a work in translation
  • 15 May: no reviews of any works in translation
  • 8 May: no reviews of any works in translation
  • 1 May: no reviews of any works in translation
  • 24 April: no reviews of any works in translation
  • 17 April: no reviews of any works in translation
  • 10 April: no reviews of any works in translation
       Anyone see a pattern here ?
       Anyone see a problem here ?
       Obviously not the good folks at the NYTBR .....
       But, hey, six pages in each week's issue are devoted to ... bestseller lists ! Apparently that's what the readers want ..... (And, yes, I understand that that's what the publishers want -- since it improves their chances of appearing on some list, which in turn will allow them to put a 'NYTBR-best seller'-sticker on their books ... -- but does anyone really think that this is a viable longterm solution to anything ?)

       At BookExpo America I attended the Book Reviews Online panel, and one of the panelists was NYTBR editor Jennifer B. McDonald, who assigns book reviews. It was good to hear that she was ... (diplomatically) less than enthusiastic about the space being devoted to the bestseller lists; she also mentioned that the NYTBR was planning to expand coverage with some online-only reviews. Maybe they'll even cover some books in translation (don't hold your breath, they're obviously institutionally near-incapable of approaching the stuff, at least under the current regime), and more review-coverage, even if 'just' online would certainly be welcome; still, I wish works in translation would get a bit more coverage in the NYTBR proper .....

       Sam Tanenhaus was named editor of the NYTBR way back in 2004; from 2007 through last year he also ran the 'Week in Review'-section (which seems a much more obvious fit). Back when he was named to run the 'Week in Review', Literary Kicks' Levi Asher figured that meant he was transitioning away from the NYTBR; like Ron Hogan, I was much more pessimistic -- though I have to say, even I find it hard to believe he's been able to hold the position this long (or that he would abandon/be eased out of the 'Week in Review'-job before this one). Still, after seven years one has to figure his tenure must be slowly coming to an end -- that's an awfully long run (emphasis on the 'awfully' ...).
       (Obviously, also, I think it's been a disastrous run: far too little fiction coverage, far too little coverage of anything in translation, and now this bestseller-list sell-out (though I assume that's worked out okay for the bottom line). Never mind the quality of the reviews .....)
       I certainly think it's time for a change (since it's clear that Tanenhaus won't change his approach) -- but I do look forward to his memoirs/account of his NYTBR-tenure -- and, I hope, finally an explanation of what his deal is with anything in translation.
       And I look forward to their hiring an editor who is willing to regularly consider works of translation -- and not just re-translations of works by dead guys, and the occasional brief mention of a Scandinavian crime novel .....

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



       Quiet Chaos review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Sandro Veronesi's Quiet Chaos.

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



27 May 2011 - Friday

Red April wins Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2011
Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Awards finalists
Translation/editing issues | Geoffrey Hill interview | Wylie wisdom

       Red April wins Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2011

       The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2011 has been awarded to Red April (by Santiago Roncagliolo, translated by Edith Grossman).
       See also judge Boyd Tonkin's report, 'Red April' wins the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize in The Independent.

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



       Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Awards finalists

       They've announced the finalists for the Science Fiction & Fantasy Translation Awards -- and note that two of the four 'long form' finalists were also finalists for the Best Translated Book Award: The Golden Age (by Michal Ajvaz, translated by Andrew Oakland) and A Life on Paper (by Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, translated by Edward Gauvin).

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



       Translation/editing issues

       In a letter to the editor (scroll down) in this week's Times Literary Supplement Jeffrey M. Green notes that: "the publisher had removed my name from the book at my specific request", as he did not want the translation-credit (or blame ...) for The Falafel King is Dead by Sara Shilo. [via]
       His issue:
my translation was subsequently edited, without consultation, by someone who knew no Hebrew and was unable to compare my work to the original.
       And:
Unfortunately (and I am quoting from an email I received), the publishers thought that my strategy "didnít work".
       Such editorial disagreements are, of course, not unusual -- though this seems to have been a more extreme case than most -- and at least now readers are privy to the fact that there are translation issues with this particular title ..... (I haven't actually seen the book, and maybe Portobello Books owned up to what they did in a reader's note in the print-edition; given Green's letter, I suspect not.)
       But it's just another reminder of how readers are at the mercy of the whims and often very peculiar decisions of publishers. (I have no idea who is 'right' here -- we only get one side's story here, after all, and maybe the translator's 'strategy' was a far-fetched one -- but I generally have little faith in publishers managing to do things right, so .....)
       See also the Portobello Books publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.co.uk.

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



       Geoffrey Hill interview

       In The Oxford Student Jessica Campbell has an Interview: Geoffrey Hill, Oxford Professor of Poetry. [via]

       See also the complete review Geoffrey Hill-page (with links to reviews of many of his works).

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



       Wylie wisdom

       The Wall Street Journal offers a piece edited from a Daniel Gross interview with 'literary' agent Andrew Wylie (of The Wylie Agency).
       Not much new (though it's always fun looking at the pictures of the stations of the chameleonic Wylie's life -- check out the slideshow), but there are a few observations of interest, such as:
In the U.S., publishers are continuing to pay advances at pretty much the same level as five years ago, but they've reduced the number of high bets they're making. This is a trend that should be encouraged. The front list is overvalued and the backlist is overvalued
       (Backlist overvalued ? Really ? And exactly what's left over if both front- and backlist are overvalued ?)
       And:
The devaluation of quality editing and writing is sad and it's inevitable. Each house has a large number of titles to publish, and with a difficult economy, fewer people to handle the publications. But publishers need to become smaller, leaner, and they will have to learn new disciplines. The whole one-year publication process must be reduced.
       (That's a lot that he packs in there -- and I can't agree with all of it: for example, as I've long argued, among the few things publishers have going for them is editorial expertise, and I think additional investment in that (rather than cutting back on it) would be well worth their while.)
       Wylie also offers his usual spiel on his agency's worldwide reach -- and I'll certainly give him that: great business model (though I still don't think he serves many of his authors particularly well -- as the low/no-profile US presence of many of the authors (and estates) on his awesome client list continues to suggest).

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



26 May 2011 - Thursday

John Banville to get Franz Kafka Prize
Man Booker International Prize translation issues
French Translation Prizes | Mahfouz-mania

       John Banville to get Franz Kafka Prize

       As Eoin Burke-Kennedy writes in the Irish Times, John Banville awarded Kafka Prize, as Banville has been named this year's recipient of the sometime-Nobel-Prize-predicting Cena Franze Kafky.
       He's in pretty good company -- the prize hasn't been around that long, but the list of laureates is quite impressive (and Jelinek and Pinter did go on to win the Nobel in the same years they took this prize).
       Several Banville titles are under review at the complete review:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Man Booker International Prize translation issues

       Last week they announced that Philip Roth [who took the first Franz Kafka Prize, in 2001, by the way] won the Man Booker International Prize, and apparently not enough fuss was kicked up about judge Carmen Callil's resigning from the proceedings over the choice (see my previous mention), so now the chair of the (two remaining) judges, Rick Gekoski, tries to stir things up by complaining about the quality of the translations they had to deal with, in Translations lost in Booker International prize judging.
       Some of his statements should go over really well -- such as:
We encountered a number of writers who we rather suspected were of top quality, but whose work was dreadfully translated, often by local cooperatives, university presses or cack-handed professors (often American).
       (I'd like to hear about those "local cooperatives" -- I rarely encounter them in translation-into-English, and can't fathom how he might have come across them "often". Examples, please ! Of the "cack-handed professors", too, please (hey, I believe him on that one -- but I still want: examples).)
       I have to say: if this is their -- or even just his -- opinion, then they/he have no business judging an international literary prize of this sort. Indeed, I think on the basis of these two to-dos -- the Callil fiasco, and now this (and inclusive of their picking a list of finalists -- remember, the then-still-three judges were the ones who selected who was in the running -- doomed to failure (i.e. turned into a Roth-versus-a field-we're-not-willing-to-seriously-consider pseudo-debate)) -- one can argue that this is the worst literary prize judging panel ever (or at least in recent memory). And I certainly can't see that anyone would let Gekoski play along on any literary prize jury again, not after he couldn't even hold a three-man-jury together (or come up with a winner that all could agree on) and now this admission that the authors-in-translation basically had no chance in hell of being seriously considered for the prize.

       (All that said: he has a point. A lot of translation -- far more than most publishers and even critics are willing to acknowledge -- is real crap. (It's just his context that is unacceptable -- a judge of an international prize must be able to take that into account. You don't hear the Swedish Academy complain about the quality of translations, do you ? So much for the Man Booker 'International' Prize being able to compete with that prize ..... [Yes, while I'm willing now to call it the Man Asian Literary Prize (previously only: 'Asian', because it wasn't nearly truly Asian enough; see my previous mention), I'm afraid that the MBIP now deserves only to be referred to as the: Man Booker 'International' Prize, since it doesn't look like they're willing to look very far beyond the English-writing world at the moment, with Gekoski and cohorts looking pretty damn provincial .....]))

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



       French Translation Prizes

       No one told me (well, Chad Post from Three Percent finally did, but rather late in the day), but The French-American Foundation and The Florence Gould Foundation Announce Winners of 24th Annual Translation Prize.
       They went all-out this year, naming both two fiction winners and two non-fiction winners .....
       The fiction winners were Mitzi Angel for 03 by Jean-Christophe Valtat, and Lydia Davis for Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (see also the complete review review of the book (but in a different translation)).

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



       Mahfouz-mania

       It's the Naguib Mahfouz -centenary this year, with the American University in Cairo Press bringing out several more Mahfouz titles (which I'll review when (if ...) I get them) -- and if you're coming late to the author you might want to wait for the spectacular 9000-page, 20-volume The Naguib Mahfouz Centennial Library -- "all his novels, three collections of short stories, and his autobiographical writings in a single library of 20 hardbound volumes".
       Coming in December; no Amazon listings yet, but see the publicity pages at AUC Press or at Oxford University Press. At US $600 it's a bit steep, but still mighty tempting .....

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



25 May 2011 - Wednesday

Mountain Echoes | Seoul International Forum for Literature

       Mountain Echoes

       The Bhutanese literary festival, Mountain Echoes, ran 20 to 24 May, and this: "unique literary and cultural festival set in the pristine beauty of Bhutan" certainly sounds like one of the more appealing literary festivals going (not too much action, hard-to-top scenery, limited press coverage). I wouldn't mind going, one of these days.
       For some coverage, see Margherita Stancati's report at the Wall Street Journal's India Realtime.

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



       Seoul International Forum for Literature

       The Seoul International Forum for Literature runs 24 to 26 May, and it has quite a line-up -- including a couple of Nobel laureates.
       For reports, check out Korean Modern Literature in Translation's day one report, Chung Ah-young on Top authors discuss globalization, literature in The Korea Times, and Claire Lee on Literature must be free from ideology, politics: Gao (as in: Gao Xingjian) in The Korea Herald.

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



24 May 2011 - Tuesday

Revised censorship in Egypt ? | Q & As: Goretti Kyomuhendo - Jussi Adler-Olsen
Japanese/Italian translation

       Revised censorship in Egypt ?

       In Al-Masry Al-Youm Ali Abdel Mohsen considers 'The Age of Freedom,' censorship in post Mubarak Egypt.
       Good to hear that some revision is being considered (though it does not sound like nearly enough, yet) -- and a bit surprising to hear the claim that:
When it comes to literature, Khattab insists that there is "complete freedom." "Books and other literary materials are not censored or reviewed in any way," he claims. They are, however, tagged and archived, so that if any piece of literature were to raise controversy, its withdrawal would be a relatively quick and efficient procedure.

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



       Q & A: Goretti Kyomuhendo

       At UGPulse [aside: maybe not the greatest periodical name ...] Beatrice Lamwaka has a Q & A with Goretti Kyomuhendo of African Writers Trust.
       African Writers Trust sounds like a very promising undertaking -- "An environment that nurtures writing, reading, publishing and promotion of African writers".

       (See also the complete review review of Kyomuhendo's Waiting.)

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



       Q & A: Jussi Adler-Olsen

       At the New Stateman's Cultural Capital-weblog Clare Conway has: An interview with Danish thriller author Jussi Adler-Olsen.
       His Mercy is just out in the UK (see the Michael Joseph publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.co.uk), and as recently as a few months ago I would have tipped him to lap Jo Nesbø in the 'the next Stieg Larsson'-sweepstakes (in particular because of the UK and especially US publishers bringing Nesbø's books to market out of order -- which I still think was a fatal mistake; see, for example, my review of The Snowman ).
       UK and US publishers -- very late in the Adler-Olsen translation game, as he already seems to be a big hit everywhere else (i.e. yet again they play it as safe as can be) -- have at least started at the beginning with Adler-Olsen's 'Department Q'-series, but I see with a sigh that the US publishers (Penguin imprint Dutton) are bringing the same first volume out (only in the fall) under the title The Keeper of Lost Causes (pre-order your copy at Amazon.com). Also: apparently the UK edition is presented as translated by 'Lisa Hartford', while the US translation is ascribed to Tiina Nunnally; I haven't see either, so I'm not sure what the situation is here; Nunnally has translated pseudonymously before, but not under this name .....
       Different publication dates (and formats: cheap paperback original in the UK, hardcover in the US), different titles, different translator(-names ?): in sum: not a great way to start an author off in trying to conquer the English-language market.

       [I'm heading to BEA tomorrow, but I still don't think I'll learn why publishers do the weird things publishers do (and then wonder why things don't go so well ...)]

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



       Japanese/Italian translation

       In The Japan Times Mami Maruko profiles Alessandro Gerevin, Polyglot comfortable between cultures.
       Among the authors he translates is Yoshimoto Banana (see, for example, my review of The Lake) -- and he notes:
"Banana became popular worldwide, but her popularity was quite temporary in most countries. However, in Italy, Korea and Taiwan, she still remains very popular."
       She has, indeed, had one of the odder international success-arcs in recent memory; I wonder why the Italians (and Koreans and Taiwanese) haven't given up on her (and whether The Lake will lead to renewed American Bananamania ...).

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



23 May 2011 - Monday

New Transcript | Umberto Eco on unread books
Oprah's Book Club post-mortem | Count d'Orgel's Ball review

       New Transcript

       Issue 37 of Transcript is now available online -- alas, it's merely 'The Best of Transcript' (i.e. nothing really new). Still, that's pretty good -- an interesting variety of foreign literature-related material.

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       Umberto Eco on unread books

       In what is apparently an excerpt from a new book, This is not the End of the Book (see the Vintage publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.co.uk (no US edition available yet, apparently)), we learn: Umberto Eco: 'I'm a writer not a reader' in The Guardian.
       It's far too short an excerpt to allow for any conclusions, but among the points he seems to be making is what Pierre Bayard discussed at length in his marvelous How to Talk About Books You Haven't Read.

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       Oprah's Book Club post-mortem

       So this Oprah -- of television fame -- is apparently bringing her show to an end, and with it also Oprah's Book Club, by far the single most powerful American book-selling machine of recent decades: an 'Oprah'-nod meant instant bestsellerdom and was the most sought-after benediction by publishers and authors. Some 70 titles apparently made the cut -- USA Today has a more convenient list than the official site -- and even I have read quite a few of them (and several are under review at the complete review). There was, of course, the Franzen-fiasco -- see, for example, the crQ piece, A Book, an Author, and a Talk Show Host -- and all that attention heaped on that worthless 'million little pieces'-of-shit guy, but apparently she -- and the power she wielded -- will be sorely missed.
       For post-mortems, see:
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       Count d'Orgel's Ball review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Raymond Radiguet's odd little classic, Count d'Orgel's Ball.

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22 May 2011 - Sunday

Commonwealth Writers' Prize winners | Writing in ... Saudi Arabia
'African' writing to order | Merchants of Culture review

       Commonwealth Writers' Prize winners

       They've announced the 2011 Commonwealth Writers' Prize winners:
        - Best Book went to The Memory of Love, by Aminatta Forna; get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk; see also her official website
        - Best First Book went to A Man Melting, by Craig Cliff; it is not yet available in the US or UK, but see the Random House New Zealand publicity page; see also his official site.

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       Writing in ... Saudi Arabia

       Two recent pieces have Saudi writers -- from and about whom we hear far too little -- weigh in on the Saudi situation: at Qantara.de Christoph Dreyer has a Q & A with Badriya Al-Bishr, "Anything You Write about Is Made a Scandal, Even Love", while at The Guardian's Books Blog Mohammed Hasan Alwan argues Book World Prague was right to honour Saudi Arabia.
       Both are worth a look.

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       'African' writing to order

       In Next Ikhide R. Ikheloa (harshly) suggests that "many writers are skewing their written perspectives to fit what they imagine will sell to the West and the judges of the Caine Prize" -- with predictable and terrible results, in The 2011 Caine Prize: How Not to Write About Africa:
The creation of a prize for "African writing" may have created the unintended effect of breeding writers willing to stereotype Africa for glory.
       As a result:
The mostly lazy, predictable stories that made the 2011 shortlist celebrate orthodoxy and mediocrity.
       Readers can judge for themselves -- admirably, the official Caine Prize for African Writing offers all the shortlisted stories online (albeit in the dreaded pdf format) -- but the danger of a prize shaping the entries is, of course, a very real one. (It's not quite comparable, but submissions for the Man Booker -- limited to two per imprint, and submittable only by publishers themselves -- are clearly tailored to the prize; Ian Rankin moans a great deal about crime and other 'genre' fiction not being given its due, but the main reason is that publishers just won't submit anything like that for Man Booker consideration.)
       Clearly, many African authors do write what they believe 'Western' audiences and publishers want (as did a whole wave of Indian authors a few years back ...), but I don't think the Caine Prize has been quite so corrupted yet; it also seems a prize that would be more receptive to a much broader range of writing -- and, indeed, I think their main failing is in not getting more submissions, specifically from a greater range of countries (the published-in-English (original or translation) requirement is unfortunate, and obviously limiting, but they should still manage to get more writing from more different countries (a mere 13 were represented among the entries in 2010, 17 in 2011)).

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       Merchants of Culture review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of John B. Thompson on The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century, in Merchants of Culture.

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21 May 2011 - Saturday

Indonesian literature in translation | David Davidar interviews
Carmen Callil's explanation | Wales Book of The Year shortlists
The Book of Happenstance review

       Indonesian literature in translation

       In The Jakarta Post Katrin Figge reports that Found in Translation: Putting Indonesian Novels on the Map [via], as the Lonstar Modern Library of Indonesia has launched more titles.
       The official site states that:
Over the next three to five years Lontar hopes to release a minimum of 50 books in this series.
       I'd love to see it (and the books ...), as Indonesian fiction remains among the most woefully undertranslated.

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       David Davidar interviews

       Publisher David Davidar is back in India, set to head the new 'Aleph Book Company' (a Rupa imprint), and he's getting lots and lots of sub-continental attention; see, for example, Anindita Ghose's Q & A with him at livemint, or Gargi Gupta's profile, Can't write me off in the Business Standard.
       Meanwhile, Richard Crasta takes the occasion to complain about The corruption in Indian publishing at Tehelka .

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       Carmen Callil's explanation

       As I mentioned a few days ago, they announced the winner of the Man Booker International Prize (Philip Roth) -- and judge Carmen Callil (one of only three judges) stepped down in protest. Now she tries to explain Why I quit the Man Booker International panel in The Guardian

       Meanwhile, there has been a great deal of commentary on the matter, most of it rather tiresome ..... But Anis Shivani gamely tries to fan the flames by complaining about The Insularity of American Literature: Philip Roth Didn't Deserve the Booker International Prize (at The Huffington Post; originally in Boulevard).

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       Wales Book of The Year shortlists

       They've announced the Wales Book of The Year 2011 Short List -- three English titles, three Welsh titles.

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       The Book of Happenstance review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ingrid Winterbach's The Book of Happenstance, another novel by this Afrikaans writer, just out from Open Letter.

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