The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Hervé Le Tellier's A Thousand Pearls (for a Thousand Pennies) -- the fourth (!) Le Tellier work to appear in English translation this year (and they're all under review now).
It is almost a cliché to say that people in Pakistan do not read.
But even if you ignore the dismal literacy rate, deteriorating state of school education or dearth of book stores and libraries, writers and publishers confirm this view.
\What then naturally follows is that people do not buy books or that libraries do not bother to stock them or even that libraries and bookstores are shutting down because they simply cannot run a profitable business anymore.
Among the (many) problems:
Translation, which is a tool of interaction between two nations, cultures and civilisations, is not being given its due importance in our country.
A reader alerts me that the Prix Jan Michalski has announced its shortlist -- well, its deuxième sélection.
At 50,000 Swiss francs -- some US $61,250 -- this is a very substantial international book prize -- and deserves some decent attention.
It's an interesting shortlist, too -- only one title is under review at the complete review (Ilustrado, by Miguel Syjuco) -- but all the contenders look pretty solid (and I'm glad to see Mark Kharitonov is still getting translated into some languages ...).
The great Norwegian author Dag Solstad celebrated his 70th birthday over the weekend; lots of Norwegian coverage, but see also, for example, Solstad celebrated at 70 at Views and News from Norway.
A couple of his books have appeared in English translation in recent years; Shyness and Dignity still strikes me as the most remarkable of the remarkable lot; I was also amused to recently read in Johan Harstad's Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion ? the protagonist describing how at school: "we learned all there was to learn about Dag Solstad's writing" (which seems rather a schoolboy exaggeration ...).
I did not know that he is now married to Therese Bjørneboe, daughter of Jens, whose History of Bestiality- trilogy is also quite remarkable (see, for example, the review of the first volume, Moment of Freedom -- though all three are under review at the complete review).
The country is spending billions of riyals on education, yet it has only a small public library, and the handful of bookshops fall short of the expectations of the average reader.
While the sales of tablet computers and smartphones continue to rise in Qatar, the few libraries and bookshops here are struggling to survive.
Of particular note and interest:
Avid readers resort to buying books online, but they face disappointment when they have to pass their books through tedious censorship.
This issue has developed into a major bone of contention between the ministry and the bookshops.
The manager of one of the prominent bookstores in Qatar, which incidentally sells more electronic items than books, complained about the censorship rules that complicate the process of bringing new books into the country.
And maybe something to think about for all those 'Western' universities taking the easy cash and setting up shop in the region:
Universities functioning under Qatar Foundation are also grappling with a similar issue.
The Virginia Commonwealth University has faced many such rejections.
Books on arts and crafts contain images deemed unsuitable for the minds of students.
A strict code of conduct with respect to images, words and phrases is also followed by the local magazines and newspapers.
An absurd aspect of the whole affair is that there is an acute shortage of books on poetry and philosophy in the country.
The society, perhaps, still clings to the old impression that poets and aesthetes are infidels, or maybe no one has yet asked for such reading material.
You'd figure this insanely wealthy city-'nation' could (and should) ease up a bit; apparently not .....
A reminder that the Austrian Cultural Forum New York's annual ACF Translation Prize (for "works written in Austria between 1945 and the present") is now accepting submissions through 1 September; anyone working on anything appropriate is encouraged to submit.
(For what it's worth: I'm one of the jurors.)
So they had a decent idea at The Guardian in having a 'panel of experts picks the perfect books to read in the top 10 holiday destinations for Brits', in The best summer reads -- and where to read them, but the exercise falls a bit flat -- not helped by the likes of Andrew Hussey, who not only suggests Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline (just -- if barely -- defensible as a summer-read pick) and then doubles down on pretentious overkill by ... suggesting ? noting ?
There are two translations but neither conveys the scabrous energy of Parisian lowlife slang, so it's best to read it in the original.
Yes, PEN American Center Announces the 2011 Translation Fund Grant Recipients -- and it's a fascinating-sounding selection of projects they're supporting.
The one I'm most interested in is the translation of Paranoia, by Viktor Martinovich; I mentioned this book quite a while back -- and it should manage to get reasonable attention, considering that it's already been reviewed (by Timothy Snyder) in The New York Review of Books ("Paranoia captures the hollowness of Belarusian state socialism, abetted by the debt-financed atmospherics of Western-style consumerism" as a blurb, anyone ?); see also the review at Lizok's Bookshelf.
But the rest -- from the Hugo Ball translation to ... Rilke Shake -- also sounds interesting.
Can we look forward to a big Holocaust literature debate -- enough already ? what new variations are still vital/useful/worthwhile ? -- in the US this fall ?
In the Financial Times Simon Schama reviews Steve Sem-Sandberg's widely acclaimed The Emperor of Lies -- just out to largely rapturous reviews in the UK -- and begins :
I suppose it's too much to ask for a moratorium on the publication of Holocaust novels, but perhaps we might take a breather from having to read them, and especially those that parade their literary pretensions.
As if 2009's prime offering in the genre, Jonathan Littell's radically over-hyped The Kindly Ones, was not enough, along comes another, the Swedish writer Steve Sem-Sandberg's The Emperor of Lies, all puffed up with the kind of "fine writing" that succeeds only in drawing attention to the emotional and moral void at its centre.
'Over-hyped' is, of course, a ... kindly take on the mess that is The Kindly Ones -- but Schama thinks this, too, is a "lumbering monster of a novel".
I've got my copy -- Farrar, Straus and Giroux is pushing this heavily as one of their fall titles -- and I remain ... curious; as a not-huge-fan of any fiction 'based' on reality I've had my doubts, but I reserve judgment for now.
See also the publicity pages from Faber & Faber and FSG, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
(Note also that Schama does offer a few suggestions of much more successful Holocaust takes -- notably: "H.G.Adler's astonishing Panorama", which I also hope to get to; get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)
Chinese authors are still struggling to carve a niche in the global gallery of contemporary literary greats.
Or even to sell reasonably well:
The last book to have notched up outstanding sales in the English-speaking market is Shanghai Baby by Wei Hui (translated by Bruce Humes/Robinson Publishing UK) in 2001.
The somewhat morbid tale of a waitress-turned-writer of erotic novels -- torn between an artist who overdoses on heroin and a German businessman who she knows is cheating on her -- is thought to have sold over 300,000 copies.
It sold that many copies ?
"No recent literary books from China have made a major impact in the UK -- none for instance in the top 250 new books published in 2010 and probably none in the top 2,500," Richardson says.
I'm a bit surprised there haven't been any break-out/through titles from China -- but I have to admit, I haven't come across any obvious candidates, either .....
The Baltic Times reports that Dovlatov's works celebrated, as they're holding some 'Dovlatov Days' in Estonia.
It's the 70th anniversary of Sergei Dovlatov's birth, and he's getting some decent attention -- with The Suitcase being re-issued by Counterpoint in the US (see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com) and Oneworld Classics in the UK (see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.co.uk).
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Levy Hideo's A Room Where the Star-Spangled Banner Cannot Be Heard, which has just come out from Columbia University Press.
Billed as the first white American novelist to write in Japanese, the background to this very autobiographical novel is pretty interesting -- check out also Teresa Watanabe's profile in The Los Angeles Times from 1992, Outsider Captures Soul of Japanese.
At the Christian Science Monitor's Chapter & Verse weblog Bryan Kay wonders 'Will one bestselling novel -- Please Look After Mom -- help Korean literature find its way in the global marketplace ?' in Korean literature's rise on the back of Please Look After Mom.
Seems a bit of a stretch to me -- among many other reasons also because this hasn't been a breakout bestseller, of, say, Stieg Larsson or The Name of the Rose proportions.
And quite a bit of very solid (South) Korean fiction has been published in translation in recent years (see also the few titles under review at the complete review).
But among the interesting bits in the piece: translator Brother Anthony of Taize is quoted -- and:
He says the country's poetry posses merits of some depth but places its fictional prose output on a par with the literature of Thailand and the Philippines -- "closer to soap opera," he adds, arguing that the idea of the novel in Korea is essentially a post-Korean war phenomenon.
(I'm pretty sure he didn't actually say: "posses merits of some depth", but whatever .....)
"There are in a way far too many [Korean works of literature] being published in English," says the naturalized Korean, known locally as An Sonjae.
"Please Look After Mom is really the first time a Korean publication has been published by a major, recognized commercial press.
"That is exactly the point I have been making for years.
They will publish anywhere, places with no reputation.
Anything goes as long as they can see it is published."
Which is pretty harsh (and quite an exaggeration, too) -- though even if true, I don't know that there's that much wrong with it.
Surely, it's the quality of the translations, rather than the publisher that would/should be the main concern -- too many books being published ? I don't think so .....
According to the official Unesco news release, the committee selected Bangkok "for its willingness to bring together all the various stakeholders in the book supply chain and beyond, actors involved in the publication chain for a range of projects proposed, for its community-focused and the high level of its commitment through the proposed activities".
Sounds lofty, but wait a minute !
There is actually no mention of the word "reading" in there at all.
They've announced that Bachmann prize goes to Maja Haderlap -- though it took four ballots to reach that decision.
Conveniently, her winning text, Engel des Vergessens, has just been published ... order your copy at Amazon.de
See also Katy Derbyshire's comments at her love german books weblog (and, indeed, go there for extensive coverage of the entire event).
In Al-Masry Al-Youm M. Lynx Qualey looks at Egypt's reading revolution, noting that in Egypt: "bookstores, newspapers, and publishing houses are opening up", despite the still unsettled conditions there.
'The Guardian first book award' has admirably revealed the 136 titles submitted by publishers for that prize -- and are now asking readers to figure out What's missing from the Guardian first book award list ?
First off: all proper and due praise to them for making the list public.
As I have long maintained: for a book prize to have any credibility, it has to reveal what titles are in the running.
(The Man Booker ?
You know how I feel about that ... it's just ... in-credible.)
Sure, it's easy for this particular prize to be 'open' in this way -- the list should be a given, by definition, (though given publishers' attitudes and (lack of) professionalism it wouldn't be surprising if many books weren't officially submitted): everything in this particular category (first book, published in this year).
Still: good job.
And do let them know if there are any books they're missing.
The supposedly more wide-open Man Booker doesn't have any better reason for its veils of secrecy, but several institutions are interested in keeping that prize swathed in them; adding insult to the already considerable injury I note also that even this The Guardian first book award -- admittedly encompassing both fiction and non -- has considerably more sumbissions than the Man Booker (which is limited to two per publisher/imprint, and even after padding its totals with a handful of 'called in' titles and the few automatically eligible ones (previous winners' works, etc.) still considers fewer books for the prize ...).
Really, how does that award maintain its reputation ?
(And, yes, I do like to think that my constant harping on the lack of transparency (i.e. revealing of what books are actually in the running for a prize) re. literary prizes has played some small part in the small recent trend to a bit more openness.
But until the big ones -- Man Booker, American National Book Award, Pulitzer, etc.) -- open up the battle will not have been won !
In the meantime, as always, I encourage you to shame and criticize those that continue to insist on secrecy !
Indeed, today more French novelists are drawing inspiration from their social, economic and political surroundings in a new phenomenon observers are calling literature "of the real."
Rarely translated into English, thus limiting their influence outside of France, other popular novelists addressing everyday life include Leslie Kaplan, Annie Ernaux and Marie NDiaye
(Ernaux seems to have done pretty well getting her work translated .....)
Bon's Daewoo is certainly an interesting work -- though I think somewhat of a hard sell in the US market.
But see an excerpt at Words without Borders, as well as the French Publishers Agency's information page.
Note that Bon is also the founder of the French e-book site publie.net; he -- and it -- were also recently profiled in Literaturverlag 2.0 by Marc Zitzmann in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Sony Labou Tansi's Life and a Half.
This 1979 novel finally appeared in English translation, by Alison Dundy, earlier this year, and it's shocking that it's received so little attention (essentially none, as best I can tell -- I think there's a Choice review, but that seems to be the extent of it).
I might not go quite so far as Dominic Thomas does in his Introduction -- "when it came out in 1979, francophone sub-Saharan African literature was forever transformed" -- but, yeah, there's no doubt it was a seminal text.
That it's now available in English -- well, somebody should have noticed.
I barely did: despite having three Sony Labou Tansi titles under review for quite a few years now nobody thought to let me know (because, you know, there's so much coverage of his work available online ...).
Indeed, I only became aware of the existence of the title via one of of those four-page advertising spreads in The New York Review of Books where dozens of university and independent presses present their wares (see, advertising does serve a purpose); kindly, Indiana University Press eventually sent me a copy.
True, Sony's kind of fiction maybe isn't quite as much in favor nowadays, at least in the United States, which has gotten used to its African fiction being more ... controlled (though Congolese countryman Alain Mabanckou admirably carries on the tradition), but still .....
Twenty-some years ago even The New York Times Book Review properly devoted space to his fiction; sure, one can't expect anything from them any longer, but John Updike reviewed another book in The New Yorker, and even Publishers Weekly covered two of his titles (quite enthusiastically, too), here and here.
(Oddly, the TLS seems to have completely ignored him; maybe they'll make up for it with coverage of this title (they certainly should ...).)
Life and a Half may not be his best, but it is arguably the most significant of his works.
It doesn't really need the review-coverage, I suppose -- its future should be secure enough as assigned reading for college courses -- but in this day and age of everyone being a critic I really would have hoped this event and title -- there's little question that this is one of the ten most significant translations appearing in English this year, certainly from a literary-historical point of view -- would have attracted a bit more notice.
(Note that Life and a Half is one of the first titles in Indiana University Press' relatively new Global African Voices-series, which is probably worth keeping an eye on.)