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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 30 September 2011

21 September: Translation from ... Arabic | Japanese earthquake stories | The Toronto Review of Books | The City review
22 September: Prizes: St. Francis College Literary Prize - Schweizer Buchpreis | Salon International du Livre d'Alger | The New Yorker stories published in Iran
23 September: Prizes: Prix Courrier international finalists - Candide Preis | Steve Sem-Sandberg on 'witness literature' | Yale Review centenary
24 September: 'Books power 100' | 10 years of KLTI | Man Booker shortlist (sales) success | New The Critical Flame
25 September: Berlin too hip ? | Writing in English in ... India | Murty Classical Library Q & A | Diana Athill profile | Lu Xun at 130
26 September: Writing in ... Kenya | The Habit of Art in Washington DC | Prizes: Dayton Literary Peace Prize - The Hindu Literary Prize shortlist | Bok & Bibliotek | Reamde review
27 September: Countdown to the Nobel Prize in Literature | Young Translators' Prize | Hard Case Crime is back | Neustadt Festival
28 September: Translation into ... Malayalam | 'The perils of the parochial imagination' | Translation into ... English | Responding to Joseph Epstein | Zero and Other Fictions review
29 September: Amazon Kindle Fire | Muharem Bazdulj Q & A | Writers v. officialdom ? | 'Book portals' in Germany | Karaoke Culture review
30 September: Time for Outrage ! in the US | Bookselling in ... Argentina | Nairobi International Bookfair

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30 September 2011 - Friday

Time for Outrage ! in the US | Bookselling in ... Argentina
Nairobi International Bookfair

       Time for Outrage ! in the US

       Stéphane Hessel's Time for Outrage ! -- a huge bestseller in France, and already published in the UK and reprinted, in full (it's very, very short), in The Nation -- is now available in a US edition, from Twelve (see their publicity page (which they haven't put much effort into -- most of the sections of this already available book are only 'coming soon')).
       The nonagenarian is apparently on an American tour now, too, and in the Columbia Spectator Christin Zurbach reports on his appearance at Columbia University, where Hessel calls for student 'outrage'.

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

       Bookselling in ... Argentina

       Argentina has a thriving literary culture, and: "Argentines are huge consumers of literature, buying 76 million books last year" -- but as the AP reports (here at The Washington Post), it isn't an entirely free market, as Argentina impounds imported books to force publishers to rebuild domestic printing industry.
       Not that it's entirely clear exactly how skewed the market is:
60 million were printed outside the country, printers union officials say. Industry Minister Debora Giorgi has invoked similar figures, complaining that 78 percent of the books bought in Argentina are imported.
The publishers’ chamber challenged those numbers, saying that two-thirds of the books sold in Argentina are printed domestically.

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

       Nairobi International Bookfair

       The Nairobi International Bookfair runs through 2 October -- with the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature to be announced 1 October.
       In The Standard Tony Mochama reports on it, in Book fairs' fair share.

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

29 September 2011 - Thursday

Amazon Kindle Fire | Muharem Bazdulj Q & A
Writers v. officialdom ? | 'Book portals' in Germany
Karaoke Culture review

       Amazon Kindle Fire

       So has unveiled -- for the US market -- their 'Kindle Fire' tablet, available starting 15 November (pre-order your device from It has a 7" multi-touch display, with Wi-Fi (but not 3G), and, with web browser and e-mail, probably meets most folks' tablet needs. What's most noteworthy, of course, is the price: $199.00.
       Hardly an iPad killer, it nevertheless likely expands the tablet market -- and seems ideally suited for Amazon's audience-capturing purposes. And no doubt they'll soon follow with an iPad-sized, 3G enabled model, too (presumably to be called the Kindle Inferno, in keeping with the whole bizarre flaming theme ...), and then things will get really interesting.
       There is, of course, an enormous amount of media coverage about this; see, just for example, Will Oremus arguing 'The new Kindle is a tablet for the masses' in Amazon Opens Fire at Slate, or Jenna Wortham and David Streitfeld reporting that Amazon's Tablet Leads To Its Store in The New York Times.

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

       Muharem Bazdulj Q & A

       At the Words without Borders Dispatches weblog Nina Herzog offers Beyond the Limits of Genre: An Interview with Muharem Bazdulj -- who reports, among other things, that:
Natasa Milas translated my novel Transit, Comet, Eclipse (originally published in 2007, with a German translation published in 2011) into English. Our first pick for the American publisher was Northwestern University Press again, but unfortunately they’ve since closed their "Writings From an Unbound Europe" series, so, we are still looking ... If some American publisher is interested, hurry up !
       Bazdulj kindly recently sent me a copy of the German Transit, Comet, Eclipse (see, for example, the Seifert Verlag publicity page), and I hope to get to it soon; for now, see the complete review review of his only book available in English, The Second Book.

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

       Writers v. officialdom ?

       Russian Prime Minister (and apparently now self-anointed leader-for-life) Vladimir Putin spoke at a conference of the Russian Book Union yesterday, and in The Voice of Russia Svetlana Andreyeva reports (a bit) on Writers vs officialdom.

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

       'Book portals' in Germany

       At Deutsche Welle Sabine Korsukéwitz reports that The e-book revolution gives rise to a social network of bookworms (though the 'e-book revolution' doesn't have much to do with many of these sites).

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

       Karaoke Culture review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Dubravka Ugrešić's new collection, Karaoke Culture, from Open Letter.

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

28 September 2011 - Wednesday

Translation into ... Malayalam | 'The perils of the parochial imagination'
Translation into ... English | Responding to Joseph Epstein
Zero and Other Fictions review

       Translation into ... Malayalam

       At IBN-live they report on what's Gained or lost in translation in Malayalam, as they find that in India:
People are increasingly reading best-sellers from South American and Europe in their mother tongue. They are completely aware of international authors and books and even those who cannot follow English go for Malayalam translations.

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

       'The perils of the parochial imagination'

       In US fiction perspective skewed, in the Yale Daily News, Jordan Konell reports on Kamila Shamsie's lecture as part of the John Hersey Lecture Series, titled "You're in our stories, but we aren't in yours: The perils of the parochial imagination", bemoaning: "the lack of foreign perspective in American fictional novels involving foreign policy and international relations", as:
Although there is no shortage of American fictional novels about foreign affairs, renowned author Kamila Shamsie said yesterday that very few of them truly capture a foreign perspective.

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

       Translation into ... English

       At Three Percent Chad W. Post reports on the latest tallies of the translation databases he keeps, of all (first-time) translations into English of works of fiction and poetry -- and finds that in 2011 Translations of Fiction Up 14% , finding:
So far in 2011 (it's possible I haven't identified all the books yet), the total shot up 6% to 361, with fiction titles accounting for 303 of those books (a 14% increase)
       Two publishers stand out:
Dalkey upped their number of translations from 22 in 2010 to 32 in 2011, whereas AmazonCrossing went from 2 all the way up to 18. That's huge.
       As far as the languages which the books originally were written in goes:
So far in 2011, the top five are French (59 titles), Spanish (47), German (44), Japanese (25), and Swedish (19), which accounts for almost 54% of the books published in translation.
       Some of the language totals are quite surprising: only two Dutch works of fiction (plus one Flemish anthology) were published in 2011 ? Only a single work translated from the Turkish ?
       I'm plowing through the fiction titles in preparation for determining the longlist for the Best Translated Book Award, and will certainly be giving all these statistics a closer look soon.

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

       Responding to Joseph Epstein

       I recently mentioned Joseph Epstein's Wall Street Journal review of The Cambridge History of the American Novel (see also the Cambridge University Press publicity page or get your copy at or, and now, at Slate, one of the editors of that book, Benjamin Reiss, responds to the review and defends the book, in Confessions of a Literary Barbarian.

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

       Zero and Other Fictions review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Huang Fan's Zero and Other Fictions, the first collection of works by this popular Taiwanese author available in English.

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

27 September 2011 - Tuesday

Countdown to the Nobel Prize in Literature | Young Translators' Prize
Hard Case Crime is back | Neustadt Festival

       Countdown to the Nobel Prize in Literature

       So now the countdown to the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature begins in earnest.

       As the Swedish Academy (whose members decide who gets this thing) reminded visitors to their site recently:
The Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced on a Thursday in October. At 10 o'clock Monday morning before the specific Thursday this will be official on this website.
       The first possible Thursday would be the 6th, but that's the week when almost all the other Nobel Prizes are scheduled to be announced, and they might want to set themselves a bit apart. They've been quick to make their decisions the past few years -- last year on the 7th, in 2009 on the 8th, in 2008 on the 9th -- but the last time the announcement could have been made on the 6th it wasn't (the 2005 award was announced on the 13th). Of course in 2003, -- Coetzee's Nobel -- they announced it on the 2nd (but that was Coetzee: a really easy, hard-to-argue-against choice).
       I imagine they'll take the extra time to deliberate, and would figure there's about a 30% chance they'll announce on the 6th, a 60% chance they'll announce on the 13th, a 9% chance they'll announce on the 20th, and a 1% chance they'll duke it out until the 27th and announce then (after smashing all the fancy Academy chairs they sit in over each others' head in the protracted and heated deliberations ...).

       For those looking for extensive discussions about who might be in the running (which will just get more heated and extensive in the days to come) and the latest gossip, the very active forums to go to are:        You can also join in and leave your comments at The 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature: Our Office Pool at Words without Borders.
       (Of course, I'll be trying to keep you up-to-date with the latest news, rumors, speculations, and links too over the coming days.)

       For the other Nobel Prizes you can get expert predictions such as those on offer from Thomson Reuters, but for the Literature Prize it is the bookies who lead the way in suggesting possible prize-winners.
       I looked at and commented on the early betting lists and odds almost three months ago, and the most astonishing thing is how little has changed.
       There have been two developments of note. One is that Paddy Power pulled their odds and are currently out of the game. The other is that Ladbrokes -- who have led the way with Nobel-Prize-in-Literature-betting (and, I'm fairly certain, get by far the most of what betting action there is) have finally jumped in and set odds.
       As to those who already had odds up almost three months ago, the greatest shift in those has been at Bet US, where the odds have moved decidedly in the punters' favor (i.e. they're not quite as insane as they were at the outset). Nevertheless, there are still far too few contenders here, and it's not a particularly imaginative lot -- I don't think I'd take their whole field at 2/1 .....
       Meanwhile, the much larger Victor Chandler field has seen essentially none of the odds (or misspelled names ...) changed -- suggesting practically no one has laid down any bets. And any place where J.K.Rowling is given odds of 50/1 .....
       So that brings us to the Ladbrokes list, where I imagine most of the action will be taking place (though punters are, of course, always advised to comparison shop and take the better odds where they can get them). This is pretty much Ladbrokes' starter-list, and so it also looks a lot like last year's list.
       Adonis (4/1) and Tomas Tranströmer (4.5/1) are the two authors that have set themselves a bit apart at the head of the pack, but they're found around there every year. Thomas Pynchon 10/1 is a bit of a surprise -- and it's amusing to see them cling to Luis (still rather than brother Juan) Goytisolo -- though he's at a relatively lowly 50/1 now.
       Christa Wolf -- surely too Herta Müller-like to win -- comes in at a fairly strong 25/1, but the new names that really surprise at these odds and better are Mircea Cărtărescu (20/1), Rajendra Bhandari (25/1), and K. Satchidanandan (25/1). I don't know that any of them have been translated widely enough (and Cărtărescu strikes me as a bit on the young side); possibly these are names that have leaked out as having been officially submitted, and hence are at least vaguely 'in the running'. (Poetry International has good overviews of all your favorite international poets, so see their pages for information about Bhandari and Satchidanandan.)

       So now we wait and see -- and watch the odds, to see if there's any betting action (and the list of writers one can bet on, to see who gets added in the last minute ...). Oh, and don't forget to keep an eye on Att vara ständig, the weblog of Peter Englund, the Swedish Academy's man in charge of the Nobel; he's not going to spill any beans, but maybe one can read a bit between some of the lines .....

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

       Young Translators' Prize

       They're announcing the winner of this year's Harvill Secker Young Translators' Prize tomorrow, and Ben East reports in The National that The work of translating Arabic books into English gets a boost through it.
       (Meanwhile, also in The National, David Mattin writes about Orhan Pamuk believing that: "the English-speaking world must change its attitude to literature in translation", in Found in translation. (Maybe a good place to start would be permanently retiring that title for any and all articles .....))

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

       Hard Case Crime is back

       Good to see that Hard Case Crime is back (see the Hard Case Crime titles under review at the complete review) -- and at The Huffington Post John Hood has a Q & A with the man behind it all, Charles Ardai, in Hard Print: Heralding the Return of Hard Case Crime.

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

       Neustadt Festival

       Just a reminder that the well-worth-your-while 2011 Neustadt Festival of International Literature and Culture starts today, and runs through the 30th; I'm looking forward to hearing reports from there.

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

26 September 2011 - Monday

Writing in ... Kenya | The Habit of Art in Washington DC
Prizes: Dayton Literary Peace Prize - The Hindu Literary Prize shortlist
Bok & Bibliotek | Reamde review

       Writing in ... Kenya

       In the Daily Nation Rasna Warah reports that Kenya's 'famed' literary barrenness was a product of Moi era repression.
       I hadn't realized it was famed -- or, come to think of it, entirely that barren -- but:
G. Oluoch-Olunya explained to the audience how former President Moi's fear of "creating another Ngugi" in our midst led to the overhauling of the education system, which became de-ideologised and where rote learning replaced creative thinking.

The 8-4-4 system that Moi installed created a society that developed a dislike for books and for literature in general.
       That can't have been the whole story, however -- additional repression surely helped, as now:
Kenya is on the brink of a literary renaissance. However, my fear is that the upcoming writers, products of the 8-4-4 system, may be too "de-ideologised" to write the kind of literature that changes the world or the way people think.
       I'm not sure how good it is to be 'ideologized' -- or to be trying to 'change the world' with one's writing ..... Nevertheless, I imagine that whatever the educational system, works critical of the current situation (whatever that situation is) will continue to appear.

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

       The Habit of Art in Washington DC

       Alan Bennett's The Habit of Art has now gotten its US premiere, at the Studio Theatre in Washington, DC; it (only) runs through 16 October.

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

       Prize: Dayton Literary Peace Prize

       They've apparently announced the winners of the Dayton Literary Peace Prizes -- though not at that official site, last I checked ..... But Julie Bosman reports in The New York Times that The Surrendered (by Chang-rae Lee) took the fiction prize (and that In the Place of Justice (by Wilbert Rideau) took the non-fiction prize).

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

       Prize: The Hindu Literary Prize shortlist

       In The Hindu they report that The Hindu Literary Prize shortlist has been announced.

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

       Bok & Bibliotek

       The Göteborg Book Fair ran 22 to 25 September, and sounds like it was pretty good.
       I also think the Speed Dating with authors at the Book Fair idea is a pretty good one -- more places should try that.

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

       Reamde review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Neal Stephenson's massive, just-published Reamde.

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

25 September 2011 - Sunday

Berlin too hip ? | Writing in English in ... India
Murty Classical Library Q & A | Diana Athill profile | Lu Xun at 130

       Berlin too hip ?

       In the Sydney Morning Herald Brigid Delaney reports that Hip Berlin lures savvy creatives but at what cost ? -- and begins the piece by mentioning:
A literary agent recently told me the bane of her existence -- first novels set in contemporary Berlin -- were piling up on her desk.

"It is," sighed the agent, "Like Paris in the 1920s, but without the talent."
       Or Prague in the 1990s, I suppose.
       Long having had my over-fill of Berlin novels -- albeit of the German variety -- I can certainly sympathize.
       Delaney also notes that in Berlin: "The process of gentrification has begun" -- but it's a sprawling place, and I think it'll continue to attract quite a 'creative' crowd for a while (i.e. those first novels set in contemporary Berlin are going to keep coming).

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

       Writing in English in ... India

       I'm disappointed that I never noticed the Journal of Indian English Writers, Indian Ruminations, before -- it looks quite interesting.
       I notice now because they're holding a literary festival this weekend, with the theme: "Exploring Indian alternatives in Reading and Writing".
       There are a few media reports from the festival quoting Anita Nair about the situation of English-writing Indian writers: in The Hindu they write Indian English writers get fewer readers, as:
Ms. Nair said although more and more young talents were coming up, Indian English writers did not get acceptance like foreign writers in India. "I think the whole idea of contemporary Indian English writing is a misnomer. A large section of people, especially the academia, do not recognise Indian writers post 1960s. Although Indian English writers are accepted elsewhere, in our own country we have fewer and fewer readers," she said.
       This strikes me as ... unlikely. Well, maybe it's the case in 'academia', but who ever cared about them (yes, yes, I value scholarship as much as the next person, but come on, academic institutions have rarely led the way in the literary world anywhere (though admittedly in the US, where so many writers actually work at academic institutions, it's almost a close call) ? Indeed, surely most of the interesting and recognized Indian writers-in-English are known for their post-1960s work (with only a very small handful of exceptions from earlier widely read).
       And as to readers: what about the likes of authors from Shobhaa De to Chetan Bhagat -- immensely popular in India, but hardly read elsewhere .....
       In the Times of India she offers a slightly different take in finding 'Indian writers criticised a lot', as:
Noted Indian English writer Anita Nair has said that Indians writing in English are still facing questions and criticism for choosing English as a medium for expression.
       But the criticism apparently comes from abroad (where I assume it's also not so much criticism as an obvious question for an outsider only partially familiar with Indian conditions to ask).

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

       Murty Classical Library Q & A

       The Murty Classical Library of India is doing a nice job of getting press-attention: I recently mentioned their design contest (for logo and look -- enter if you have ideas !), and now in Outlook India Nena Bhatt has 10 Questions for Harvard University Press executive editor-at-large Sharmila Sen about the Murty Classical Library of India.

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

       Diana Athill profile

       In The Telegraph Mick Brown has a profile of prolific nonagenarian Diana Athill -- noting that "the Athill industry" shows no signs of slowing down.
       Admirable though the old lady is, I can't quite bring myself to deal with her stuff; Stet was pretty much enough for me (fine book that it is).

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

       Lu Xun at 130

       Chinese great Lu Xun would have turned 130 today, and in China Daily Chitralekha Basu, Yang Guang, and Mei Jia find that even now he remains a Literary beacon.
       And, yes, I will get around to reviewing the Penguin Classics edition of his complete fiction, in Julia Lovell's translation, The Real Story of Ah-Q and Other Tales of China; meanwhile, get your copy at or

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

24 September 2011 - Saturday

'Books power 100' | 10 years of KLTI
Man Booker shortlist (sales) success | New The Critical Flame

       'Books power 100'

       They now offer The 2011 Guardian and Observer books power 100 -- apparently: "The people exercising the greatest influence over the UK's reading habits -- right now". (See also this more useful overview/list.)
       Only two critics make it on the list -- James Wood (at 47) and Michiko Kakutani (53) -- though both are placed well ahead of literary review editors such as The New York Review of Books' Robert Silvers (67) and the Times Literary Supplement's Peter Stothard (86). (I'm surprised the Kakutani could be considered so influential in the UK -- and that the TLS's editor is considered less influential that the NYRB's.)
       Lots of authors on the list, but only one translator -- Anthea Bell (93), who is categorized as being 'Other'.

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

       10 years of KLTI

       In 'Storytelling, universality key to overseas success' in The Korea Times Chung Ah-young reports that the 'Korea Literature Translation Institute celebrates 10th anniversary of foundation'.
       I'm surprised to learn that they've only been around for a decade -- less time than this site -- and for that they've tried and accomplished quite a lot. Still, I'm shocked by how little literary and commercial Korean fiction is translated into English -- i.e. they still have their work cut out for them.

       (The whole idea of national support for the publication of literature abroad is immensely popular (in the sense of being widespread) but also somewhat problematic; publishers come to expect (I won't say demand, but ...) the handouts when publishing foreign fiction, and these national book agencies often exert far too much influence (directly and indirectly) on what gets translated and published abroad (which is often far from the best or most interesting stuff). One has to be grateful for these literary subsidies, but one can't forget that there are often huge costs of a very different sort associated with them.
       And see now also M. Lynx Qualey wondering Should Egypt pay to promote its authors abroad ? in Al-Masry Al-Youm.)

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

       Man Booker shortlist (sales) success

       In The Bookseller Philip Stone reports that this year's Man Booker shortlist most popular ever, as: "Sales of the novels are up 127% year-on-year and up 105% on the previous record (2009)".
       Of course, that may also have to do with the fact that:
In addition, with the most expensive shortlisted titles costing just £12.99, all six novels can currently be purchased at UK booksellers for a total of £65.94 -- down 36% (or £37) on 2010's selections.

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

       New The Critical Flame

       The September/October issue of The Critical Flame has finally appeared -- not much content, but certainly worth a look, in particular since Geoffrey Hill's Clavics gets reviewed (by Jeffrey Hipolito).

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

23 September 2011 - Friday

Prizes: Prix Courrier international finalists - Candide Preis
Steve Sem-Sandberg on 'witness literature' | Yale Review centenary

       Prize: Prix Courrier international finalists

       The ten finalists for the Prix Courrier international du meilleur livre étranger -- a French prize for the best foreign work -- have been announced.
       It's always interesting to see what foreign literature gets attention in other countries -- though I admit I find it a bit disappointing (and troubling) that so many of these titles are familiar from other (often also international) prize-shortlists, from Mohamed El-Bisatie's Hunger to the books by Téa Obreht and Manu Joseph, to Miguel Syjuco's Ilustrado. Nice to see the Hotakainen, though -- though even that has picked up at least a local Finnish prize (the Runeberg). (I'm still surprised no one's published any of his works in English; see, for example, the complete review review of Sydänkohtauksia.)

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

       Prize: Candide Preis

       Oh, for shame, for shame: love german books has the story of how Handke Doesn't Get Prize (Again), in all its full in(s)anity.
       This Candide Prize -- worth €15,000 now -- has had a bit of an identity crisis trying figure out exactly what kind of prize they want to be, but they've still managed to reward some top-flight talent along the way, notably Mathias Énard in 2008 and the much-venerated hereabouts Volker Braun in 2009. So this year the author the independent-minded jurors settled on was ... Peter Handke -- and you can guess the rest: sponsor Kolbus AG -- big in the bookbinding business -- suddenly didn't like the idea of being associated with such a prize-winner and washed their hands of the thing (and kept their money: Handke isn't getting it -- though he still 'gets' the prize).
       Well, I'm sure Voltaire would have been amused -- and I imagine Handke is as well -- but the presumably well-intentioned Literarischer Verein Minden obviously needs a new game plan.

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

       Steve Sem-Sandberg on 'witness literature'

       At Eurozine Steve Sem-Sandberg, author of the much-discussed The Emperor of Lies, argues that Even nameless horrors must be named -- as, as they sum up:
It is high time to lift the aesthetic state of emergency that has surrounded witness literature for so long, writes Steve Sem-Sandberg. It is not important who writes, nor even what their motives are. What counts is the literary efficiency.
       (Yeah, I don't think his case is helped by the translation here -- 'aesthetic state of emergency' ? 'literary efficiency' ?)
       Sem-Sandberg argues:
Literature that is meaningful does not arise out of some kind of refining process. It does not restore, or create safe havens. Literature that is meaningful tears down boundaries and knocks our self-knowledge off course This is where the moral force of literature and its aesthetic justification lie.
       I can't help but see this in part as a response to Simon Schama's devastating review of The Emperor of Lies in the Financial Times -- "It makes you wonder what Sem-Sandberg thought he was doing when he perpetrated this lumbering monster of a novel", he wrote, and he found that the book is: "all puffed up with the kind of 'fine writing' that succeeds only in drawing attention to the emotional and moral void at its centre".
       See also the publicity pages for The Emperor of Lies at Farrar, Straus and Giroux and Faber & Faber, or get your copy at or

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

       Yale Review centenary

       In the Yale Daily News Drew Henderson reports that the Yale Review turns 100. (Given that their archives go back to 1892 I'm ... confused.)
       He notes that it's: "the nation's oldest quarterly literary journal" (however old that may be ...) -- but also that it "currently employs only two half-time staff members".
       See also the Yale Review site; they definitely have not embraced the possibilities of online-publication .....

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

22 September 2011 - Thursday

Prizes: St. Francis College Literary Prize - Schweizer Buchpreis
Salon International du Livre d'Alger | The New Yorker stories published in Iran

       Prize: St. Francis College Literary Prize

       They've announced that Jonathan Dee Wins $50,000 Literary Prize, as Dee and/or his The Privileges has taken the St. Francis College Literary Prize.
       It's: "awarded to a mid-career author", but seems to be awarded for a specific mid-career book -- The Privileges, in this case; get your copy at or
       But, yeah, they probably really should decide whether they want this to be a book prize, or an author prize. (I'm always for honoring the book and ignoring the author, but in the US the literary prizes are overwhelmingly book prizes (unlike in, say, Germany), and there's something to be said for rewarding authors, too, especially at that mid-career/underappreciated stage.)

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

       Prize: Schweizer Buchpreis

       Via love german books I learn that they've announced the finalists for the 2011 Swiss Book Prize (Peter Stamm is the one finalist whose name you should recognize; several of his works are under review at the complete review; see, for example, Agnes).
       Only sixty books were submitted (and, alas, this is yet another of these prizes that, like the Man Booker, ridiculously won't tell you what those titles were ...) -- with three somehow slipping in after the original April announcement that there had been fifty-seven submissions ..... Down from sixty nine books last year. (And, yes, they lamely only permit each publisher two submissions -- presumably not as terrible a limitation as for the Man Booker or the German Book Prize, since German and Austrian publishers probably don't have that many Swiss authors on their lists, but an enormous limitation for the Swiss publishers submitting books.)
       They seem to have this pretty well organized, however: the five finalists will all be at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and then are going on (a reading) tour (to four German Cities and only two Swiss ones, I note), and then will hold readings at BuchBasel before the winner is announced 20 November (and gets a nice check for 40,000 Swiss francs). As they note, they've been pretty successful in getting attention for the winning titles, at least insofar as that translates into sales and foreign rights sales.
       And, yes, I note that while Switzerland is admirably multilingual, this is decidedly a German-language prize: entries must be: "deutschsprachige Originalausgaben". So it's only a semi-Swiss book prize .....

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

       Salon International du Livre d'Alger

       The 16th Salon International du Livre d'Alger -- the Algerian international book fair -- runs through 1 October.
       Disappointingly (but perhaps predictably) the AP report (here at The Washington Post) bringing this to people's attention does so by noting that 400 books were banned from the fair ...:
Khalida Toumi said at a news conference Wednesday marking the fair’s opening that the law on importing books banned those supported colonialism, terrorism and racism.

Books attacking the national liberation struggle against France were also not allowed in.
       I'm thinking that 'support' is a concept very much in the eyes of the beholder censor in these cases .....

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

       The New Yorker stories published in Iran

       It's worth following the Iran Book News Agency (yes ! there is such a thing !) just for the near-daily reports on what books have been translated and published in Iran -- the publication of translations of Saramago's The Elephant's Journey, Jonathan Swift's The Battle of the Books, writings by Mark Twain, and the seventh installment in Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider-series are mentioned yesterday alone.
       It's an often bewildering array, but at least vaguely reassuring in showing that there is still a functioning market -- and that the censors aren't stopping everything.
       Among the most notable recent publications I find: The Way We Live Now, published in 167 pages and 1650 copies by Ketabsaraye Nick Publishing House, a collection of stories taken (and I feel safe in saying that I mean that literally; I don't think there was any consultation or payment involved) from (mostly) The New Yorker (!):
The volume includes 'The Way We Live Now' by Susan Sontag, 'War Dances by Sherman Alexie, 'Vast Hell' by Guillermo Martinez, 'God the Novelist' by Henry Roth, 'The Yellow Wall Paper' Charlotte Perkins Gilman, 'The Autobiography of J.G.B.' by J. G. Ballard, and 'La Vita Nuova' by Allegra Goodman.
       Okay, I am stumped by the inclusion of The Yellow Wall Paper, but otherwise ... even Ballard ! Okay, very tame Ballard -- I'd imagine the Iranian authorities would have been more thrilled by a title such as Why I Want to Fuck Ronald Reagan ... -- but still. A lot of things are obviously going wrong in the Iranian literary marketplace, but at least people are trying (and, in peculiar ways, succeeding.)

       For a reminder that all is not well there, however, I also point you to the piece announcing that Iranian Children to read Classics 'Cleaned'.
During its initial session, the Committee of Surveillance over Children and Young Adult Books ratified the censorship law of classic literature for children according to which all books of classic literature either rewritten, epitomized, or simplified should be subject to specific expurgation.
       The 'Committee of Surveillance over Children and Young Adult Books' ? Are you kidding me ? (Okay, they probably are: I'm thinking that in Farsi the word isn't quite 'surveillance' -- though there certainly seems a rabid-watchdog feel to the idea .....)
       And they have a 'censorship law of classic literature for children' ?
       And apparently there's enough work for them do that:
The Committee of Surveillance over Children and Young Adult Books will hold sessions every two weeks.
       Those poor kids and books, all subject to 'specific expurgation'. (And I don't think the fact that it's 'specific' is very reassuring. Get them some more Ballard !)

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

21 September 2011 - Wednesday

Translation from ... Arabic | Japanese earthquake stories
The Toronto Review of Books | The City review

       Translation from ... Arabic

       Via Arabic Literature (in English) I learn that Literature Across Frontiers have now presented -- and made available (in the dreaded pdf format) -- their report on Literary Translation from Arabic into English in the United Kingdom and Ireland, 1990-2010.
       In the two decades covered by the report they count a total of 310 'literary translations' -- with the American University in Cairo Press accounting for well over a third of those (and more than five times as many publications as the next most prolific publisher-of-translations-from-the-Arabic). One positive note: the trend over the twenty years has been definitely towards more and more translations.
       Lots of interesting stuff here, including six translators' takes on translation issues, and a great deal of other data and information. It looks to be a valuable resource -- including that bibliography of all 310 translated titles from during that two decade-span; I'm tempted to print that out .....

       (And I'm already looking forward to their forthcoming publication, Literary Translation from Hebrew and Turkish in the UK and Ireland, and very curious about the numbers they'll report there.)

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

       Japanese earthquake stories

       This is pretty cool: the Japanese literary magazine 早稲田文学 has been publishing stories about the recent earthquake disaster by contemporary Japanese writers (with all proceeds going to the earthquake victims), and they're now making quite a few of them accessible (until March 2012, and in the dreaded pdf format ...) on their site in English translation: see the Information concerning the charity for the East Japan Earthquake page and scroll down for links to the stories (there are only three up right now -- with more apparently to follow --; two of them were translated by Michael Emmerich).
       They do note that, while the stories are freely accessible:
Readers of these stories would be greatly appreciated for voluntary donations to the Japanese Red Cross Society bank account, global Red Cross Societies and to organizations supporting natural disaster relief.
       (Well, you know what they mean.)

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

       The Toronto Review of Books

       Another new online quarterly appears -- The Toronto Review of Books -- and it looks quite promising.
       As they explain:
An online quarterly, The Toronto Review of Books covers print and e-books, but also anything else that intrigues our writers. We’ll review websites, art, policy, cloud formations, and everything in between. Books are our inspiration, not our limit.
       There's also a weblog, called ... Chirograph.

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

       The City review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of A Vision in Woodcuts by Frans Masereel, his 1925 book, The City.
       This is an all-woodcut book -- think Lynd Ward (obviously influenced by Masereel), but without the storyline. Originally published in Germany by the Kurt Wolff Verlag (though there was apparently also a 1925 French edition), my copy is actually a relatively recent French edition (Herscher, 1988) -- picked up for a dollar at the Strand Bookstore. I mention this because there really is no text here -- save some jacket-flap copy, and a less than two page biographical note on Masereel -- yet in bold print and a larger font than any of the other information on the copyright page I am informed that this book has been:
Traduit de l'anglaise par Philippe Rouillé
       I'm all for translators getting credit, but I'm shaking my head here, wondering what on earth for -- the title ?

       (And if you like this, do check out the Library of America's Six Novels in Woodcuts by Lynd Ward; see their publicity page, or get your copy at or

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