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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 July 2011

11 July: François Bon profile | New issue of list | Life and a Half review
12 July: Caine Prize | Bookselling in ... Egypt | The Guardian first book award
13 July: Korean fiction in the US | Bangkok as World Book Capital 2013 | Maja Haderlap takes Bachmann prize
14 July: Forward shortlist | Dovlatov Days | Margaret Drabble profile | A Room Where the Star-Spangled Banner Cannot Be Heard review
15 July: Chinese fiction abroad | More 'rules for translation' | Publishing in ... Egypt | 'Child Soldier' fiction | Wellcome Trust prize judging panel
16 July: PEN Translation Fund grants | Holocaust lit debate ? | Bessie Head Literary awards | Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion ? review
17 July: ACF Translation Prize submissions | Writing in ... Nigeria | Summer reading suggestions
18 July: Solstad at 70 | Reading in ... Qatar | Tomas Venclova Q & A | The Days of the King review
19 July: Literature in ... Pakistan | Prix Jan Michalski shortlist | Egyptian 'rules' for writing ?
20 July: Hassan Daoud event report | גוף שני יחיד takes Bernstein Prize | A Thousand Pearls (for a Thousand Pennies) review

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20 July 2011 - Wednesday

Hassan Daoud event report | גוף שני יחיד takes Bernstein Prize
A Thousand Pearls (for a Thousand Pennies) review

       Hassan Daoud event report

       Arabic Literature (in English) has a guest author report on a recent event, Hassan Daoud on the Present, and Possibilities, of Arabic Fiction.
       Some interesting opinions, including about those very popular recent Arabic novels, The Yacoubian Building and Girls of Riyadh.
       (I expect to cover Daoud's The Year of the Revolutionary New Bread-Making Machine eventually; get your copy at or

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

       גוף שני יחיד takes Bernstein Prize

       As Maya Sela reports in Haaretz, Bernstein Prize awarded to Haaretz's Kashua and Herzog, as גוף שני יחיד ('Second Person Singular', forthcoming in English from Grove/Atlantic) by Sayed Kashua took the novel prize, worth about US$14,500.
       Conveniently, just posted Nader Alsarras' Q & A with Kashua, For Absolute Equality in All Areas of Life, a few days ago.

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       A Thousand Pearls (for a Thousand Pennies) review

       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).

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19 July 2011 - Tuesday

Literature in ... Pakistan | Prix Jan Michalski shortlist | Egyptian 'rules' for writing ?

       Literature in ... Pakistan

       In The Herald Rubab Karrar reports on what's Lost in translation (and elsewhere) in Pakistan (via) -- noting:
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.
       (Some works by Qurratulain Hyder are at least available in English; see, for example, reviews of her River of Fire and Fireflies in the Mist.)

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       Prix Jan Michalski shortlist

       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 ...).

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       Egyptian 'rules' for writing ?

       In Al-Masry Al-Youm M. Lynx Qualey has 8 Egyptian novelists share their 'rules' for writing.

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18 July 2011 - Monday

Solstad at 70 | Reading in ... Qatar
Tomas Venclova Q & A | The Days of the King review

       Solstad at 70

       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).

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       Reading in ... Qatar

       Menafn reports that in Qatar - Book lovers bemoan lack of libraries. Well, sure -- there's apparently only .... one:
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 .....

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       Tomas Venclova Q & A

       At hlo János Szegő has a Q & A with Lithuanian poet Tomas Venclova, "A writer should be a bit lonely".
       Multi-lingual -- and a longtime American resident (see also his Yale faculty page) -- he notes:
I can write essays in English, in Polish, in Russian and in Lithuanian. But I never write poetry in any language except my mother tongue, Lithuanian.
       I have a pretty big backlog of Venclova titles to get to .....

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

       The Days of the King review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Romanian author Filip Florian's The Days of the King.

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17 July 2011 - Sunday

ACF Translation Prize submissions | Writing in ... Nigeria | Summer reading suggestions

       ACF Translation Prize submissions

       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.)

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

       Writing in ... Nigeria

       In Next Titilayo Olurin reports on a recent get-together, themed: 'Writers' Organisation: Setting Agenda for Literary Development', in Writing to develop literature.

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       Summer reading suggestions

       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.
       (Sure, he's right, but come on .....)

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16 July 2011 - Saturday

PEN Translation Fund grants | Holocaust lit debate ? | Bessie Head Literary awards
Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion ? review

       PEN Translation Fund grants

       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.

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

       Holocaust lit debate ?

       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 or
       (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 or

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

       Bessie Head Literary awards

       They've announced the winners of the Bessie Head Literature Awards -- Botswana's biggest ! -- and Mmegi Online has the rundown, in Tsamaase scoops Bessie Head Literary prize, as Unlettered Skies of the Sublime by Tlotlo Pearl Tsamaase took the novel prize.

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

       Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion ? review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Johan Harstad's novel, Buzz Aldrin, What Happened to You in All the Confusion ?

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

15 July 2011 - Friday

Chinese fiction abroad | More 'rules for translation' | Publishing in ... Egypt
'Child Soldier' fiction | Wellcome Trust prize judging panel

       Chinese fiction abroad

       In The slim years in China Daily Chitralekha Basu finds:
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.
       (Really ? It sold that many copies ? Really ?)
"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 .....

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

       More 'rules for translation'

       Arabic Literature (in English) offers 15 More Rules for Translation: Chip Rossetti and Michelle Hartman.

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

       Publishing in ... Egypt

       At ahramonline Mary Mourad talks to the owner of the Al-Ain publishing house, in Fatma El-Boudy: Publishing success.

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       'Child Soldier' fiction

       In The Brooklyn Rail Hawa Allan considers Coming of Age in Child Soldier Literature.
       Two of the discussed titles are under review at the complete review: Johnny Mad Dog by Emmanuel Dongala and Allah Is Not Obliged by Ahmadou Kourouma.

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

       Wellcome Trust prize judging panel

       Yes, the Wellcome Trust Book Prize 2011 judging panel announced.
       At £25,000 for "the finest work of fiction or non-fiction centred around medicine" it's a well-endowed and fairly interesting prize.

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14 July 2011 - Thursday

Forward shortlist | Dovlatov Days | Margaret Drabble profile
A Room Where the Star-Spangled Banner Cannot Be Heard review

       Forward shortlist

       Maev Kennedy reports in The Guardian that Forward shortlist includes Geoffrey Hill, Sean O'Brien and David Harsent.
       The winner of the £10,000 poetry prize will be announced in October; the official site seems rather ... behind the times.

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       Dovlatov Days

       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 and Oneworld Classics in the UK (see their publicity page, or get your copy at

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

       Margaret Drabble profile

       In The Telegraph Cassandra Jardine profiles A.S.Byatt's sister, Margaret Drabble, in Margaret Drabble: 'It's sad, but our feud is beyond repair'.
       No great gossip on the infamous feud -- but an interesting note re. why her work hasn't figured on any Man Booker long- or shortlists:
That's because I won't allow my books to be entered for it. The Booker is designed to make people cross with one another.

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       A Room Where the Star-Spangled Banner Cannot Be Heard review

       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.

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

13 July 2011 - Wednesday

Korean fiction in the US | Bangkok as World Book Capital 2013
Maja Haderlap takes Bachmann prize

       Korean fiction in the US

       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 .....

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       Bangkok as World Book Capital 2013

       So UNESCO has designated Bangkok as World Book Capital in 2013 -- and now Usnisa Sukhsvasti wonders in the Bangkok Post whether World Book Capital a cruel joke.
       After all:
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.
       At least they have a while to work on that.

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       Maja Haderlap takes Bachmann prize

       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
       See also Katy Derbyshire's comments at her love german books weblog (and, indeed, go there for extensive coverage of the entire event).

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12 July 2011 - Tuesday

Caine Prize | Bookselling in ... Egypt | The Guardian first book award

       Caine Prize

       The Caine Prize for African Writing -- a leading short story prize, and a leading African literary prize -- was awarded yesterday, apparently for Hitting Budapest by NoViolet Bulawayo, first published in the Boston Review. (No mention at the official site as I write this yet (sigh) [Updated: see now the official press release], and few reports anywhere; but see, for example, the Books LIVE mention.)
       'NoViolet Bulawayo' is, in fact a pseudonym -- of Elizabeth Tshele, outgoing Truman Capote Fellow at Cornell University.

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

       Bookselling in ... Egypt

       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. Sounds good.

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

       The Guardian first book award

       '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 ! It's unacceptable.)

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11 July 2011 - Monday

François Bon profile | New issue of list | Life and a Half review

       François Bon profile

       In The Los Angeles Times Devorah Lauter finds Cultural Exchange: French writers look beyond Paris -- with particular attention paid to François Bon.
       She finds:
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."
       And suggests
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; he -- and it -- were also recently profiled in Literaturverlag 2.0 by Marc Zitzmann in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

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       New issue of list

       The Summer 2011 issue of list: Books from Korea is now available.
       The pieces are pretty short (i.e. not very in-depth) but of some interest -- see, for example:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Life and a Half review

       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.)

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

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