Are things really moving in the right direction in Burma ?
Among the many signals that the regime is lightening up: in The Myanmar Times Zon Pann Pwint reports that publishers and writers are Seeking freedom from fear of selling sensitive books -- and meeting with success.
Among the books recently permitted: Thant Myint-U's The River of Lost Footsteps (currently just in English, but a Burmese translation is in the works).
"I was surprised to get approval for my novel Tha Ya Aw Than (Shout of Vowels) without having even a single word removed," said writer Nyi Min Nyo.
The book, which was published earlier this month, features a story in which vowels are the main characters.
It contains a message about the importance of dialogue.
"A year ago it would not have been possible to get permission to publish this type of novel,”" he said.
(Sunds like it might be interesting .....)
Of course, they do have to still write 'Myanmar' rather than 'Burma' .....
IBNA reports that Nominees of Book of the Year Award announced -- not the domestic stuff, but in the 'other languages'-category, among others.
Among the finalists: Humboldt's Gift by Saul Bellow and The Plague by Albert Camus .....
(They're competing against crime fiction by Boileau-Narcejac and Simenon.)
The Script Road -- running 29 January through 4 February -- is: "the first ever Literary Festival organized in the Special Administrative Region of Macau".
And, promisingly, among the panels is one asking; 'Can writing still be political ?'
See also Kate O'Keeffe's report, In Macau, a Literary Fest Blooms Among the Casinos, at the Wall Street Journal's Scene Asia weblog.
In The Guardian Ewan Morrison argues that we are at the start of an epublishing bubble, in The self-epublishing bubble.
I think he places way too much emphasis on writers (in the broadest sense of the word) looking to actually make real money by self-e-publishing -- and while I do see a bubble forming, I think we're still really, really early in the game, and this is going to get a lot bigger before it messily (but also rather harmlessly) bursts.
"Flipreads is your premiere source of electronic books (e-books) from and about the Philippines and Asia", they say -- though the number of available titles is still pretty limited.
But it's a start
At CNet's Asia Blogs Joseph F. Nacino reports on Bringing classic Filipino literature forward this way.
Anita Singh -- The Telegraph's 'Showbusiness Editor' -- reports from the Hay Festival in Cartagena, Colombia that Jonathan Franzen: e-books are damaging society.
One imagines (or likes to) that his actual statements were a bit more coherent, but regardless, no doubt the man who threw out his TV (and didn't he write blindfolded too, to keep out the distractions ?) is nobody's go-to guy on matters of technological change and the like.
Still, it's fun to hear him spout stuff like:
"The technicians of finance are making the decisions there.
It has very little to do with democracy or the will of the people.
And we are hostage to that because we like our iPhones."
Vietnam's pop culture is attracting the attention of print censors who experts say are struggling to accept an increasingly brash literary scene.
After years spent keeping political texts off the printing presses, authorities are setting their sights on the growing market of publishing for young people, with several books prohibited in recent months.
But if it is not the role of literary festivals to stand up for writers, and to defend their right to speak, especially in these circumstances, it is difficult to know what is.
The festival's decision not just to distance itself from Kunzru and Kumar but to threaten others who might be thinking of following suit was nothing less than cowardly.
Contrast the pusillanimity of the Jaipur festival organizers with the response of writers, publishers, editors, translators and booksellers faced with Ayotalloh Khomeini's fatwa in 1989.
In The Guardian Maya Jaggi has an extensive profile of the Syrian poet, Adonis: a life in writing.
One impressive fact: mom is still around -- at age 107 !
And quote of interest:
What's really absurd is that the Arab opposition to dictators refuses any critique; it's a vicious circle.
So someone who is against despotism in all its forms can't be either with the regime or with those who call themselves its opponents.
The opposition is a regime avant la lettre." He adds: "In our tradition, unfortunately, everything is based on unity -- the oneness of God, of politics, of the people. We can't ever arrive at democracy with this mentality, because democracy is based on understanding the other as different.
You can't think you hold the truth, and that nobody else has it.
While Nigeria serves as a muse, many of these new authors must live abroad or tap into Western networks to earn a living from their writing.
The international attention helps them secure a reputation in Nigeria and allows their books to be published here too.
Also worth noting:
Western publishing also overlooks a vast body of non-English writing in a country where more than 150 languages are spoken.
Hausa-language literature that is self-published, for instance, has thrived in Nigeria’s north, but is unheard of by non-Hausa speakers
Grants for literary translation showed a similar bias.
Half of the nearly 500 projects were for translations of texts originally written in English, French or German; Estonian was the source language in 2.
Norwegian author Stig Sæterbakken has passed away; see, for example, (Norwegian) reports in Aftenposten and Dagbladet.
(His US publisher, Dalkey Archive Press, report it as a suicide; the Scandinavian press has been more circumspect.)
See also the complete review review of his Siamese, as well as the information page at Norwegian publisher Cappelen Damm.
They've announced the finalists for the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature.
They alternate between non and fiction, and this year it is, regrettably, again a non year.
The prize is also noteworthy for being one of the richest in the US, the $100,000 prize putting the 'big' literary prizes -- Pulitzer, National Book Award, NBCC, etc. -- to (remunerative) shame.
Terrible weather in one of the windiest spots in the city invaded the tents: sand and dust flooded the halls and affected books.
Some shelves looked like they've been standing there for ages when it's only this morning they were set up and the books put on display.
This was the most disturbing to visitors, who had to handle battered books and survive the unpaved roads piled with sand on their way to the halls.
So maybe not the ideal conditions this year, but at least the fair is on !
The Economist's Prospero thinks: "Chetan Bhagat is a sensation", and profiles the author in Pile 'em high.
So far his fiction writing has not travelled much beyond India.
Yet he believes foreign readers, who are increasingly eager to get a glimpse of ordinary Indian society, are turning to his stories as an easy-to-digest introduction to a bewildering place.
He makes reference to other writers with mass appeal ("a little bit Dickens, a little bit Orwell") who inspired him by raising contemporary social concerns through simple, popular writing, with the suggestion that outsiders may warm to such themes in his writing too.
Well, there are three of his titles under review at the complete review -- Five Point Someone, One night @ the call center, and The Three Mistakes of my Life -- and while he has a certain ... flair ... well, still, most of this is pretty godawful stuff.
But, yes, there's nothing like it coming out of India, and one does wish there was.
Well, better stuff, but along these more popular and accessible lines.
Clarifying his stand, Bhagat said, "I have a balanced viewpoint on the issue.
I think sentiments of the author as well as those who were opposing his visit should be taken into consideration."
A 'balanced viewpoint' may be the way to go when the two sides are both reasonable and rational; that was not the case here.
Bhagat's 'balanced' position seems simply evasive (and not exactly daring ...).
In the Sydney Morning Herald Michael Heyward finds Australian Classics going to waste, as he thinks local academia is not paying proper attention to Australian literature -- as, for example:
If I tell you that Patrick White's The Tree of Man was prescribed on two courses last year, or The Man Who Loved Children, which MUP recently put back into print, on just one, you start to see the extent of the problem.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Yan Geling's novel of the Nanjing Massacre, The Flowers of War.
The movie version is also just out -- which also means that readers have to endure Christian Bale on the cover of the US paperback tie-in .....
If you're in the western Massachusetts neighborhood on Friday you can find me giving a talk on: 'A World of International Literature: Bringing Foreign Fiction Home' at the illustrious Bushnell-Sage Library in Sheffield, at 19:00
(Yes, I'm known as Mitja in that neighborhood.
Come, and maybe I'll tell you why.)
Members can write-in suggestions, and books hitting the 20% threshold get nominated too; it's unclear (to me, at this time) whether any of this year's finalists made the list via that route [updated - 24 January: the NBCC confirms no titles made the 20% threshold this year], but I was pleased to see that two of my write-in votes -- the Bellos and the Ugrešić -- were named finalists.
I am a bit disappointed that no translated fiction titles -- which the NBCC is willing to consider, unlike the other major US literary prizes -- made it -- especially since the disappointing Eugenides did.
Last week I mentioned how it looked like Salman Rushdie would not be attending the Jaipur Literature Festival because some locals were stirring The Satanic Verses-pot yet again and toadying local politicians did everything they could to help them make their case.
There was some back and forth -- will he/won't he come, will he skip the opening and just attend one of the sessions, etc. -- but with apparently to-be-taken-seriously murderous threats conveyed to Rushdie he decided it wasn't worth the risk.
Outrageously, it now turns out that, as Praveen Swami now reports in The Hindu, 'Rajasthan police invented plot to keep away Rushdie', as:
Local intelligence officials in Rajasthan invented information that hit men were preparing to assassinate eminent author Salman Rushdie in a successful plot to deter him from attending the Jaipur Literature Festival, highly placed police sources have told The Hindu.
Intelligence sources in New Delhi said no threat to Mr. Rushdie's life had been reported to the Multi-Agency Centre, the Intelligence Bureau's hub at which all terrorism-related threats are discussed at high-level afternoon meetings.
This is a pretty shocking development -- and the black eyes all around that India and these local governments have suffered have gotten blacker still.
Meanwhile, several authors read from The Satanic Verses at the festival in protest -- and quickly found themsleves in both legal trouble and, even more outrageously, shooed from the stages and silenced by the festival organizers.
As, for example, Vaiju Naravane reports in The Hindu, Four writers who read from The Satanic Verses leave Jaipur to avoid arrest, as:
The four writers who read extracts from Salman Rushdie's banned novel The Satanic Verses -- Hari Kunzru, Ruchir Joshi, Amitava Kumar and Jeet Thayil have all left the Rajasthan capital on the advice of a lawyer, William Dalrymple, the co-Director of the Jaipur Literature Festival told The Hindu here.
They would otherwise have risked arrest in the State.
Disappointing, too, the reaction, by the festival organizers:
Defending himself against charges of weakness and failing to adequately defend Mr. Rushdie, Mr. Dalrymple said: "We stand for the freedom of expression.
We support Salman and we will protest, send a petition around, hold a video-conference with him but all that has to be done within the law.
Oooh, a petition !
A video conference !
But god forbid anyone reads from a banned book (as The Satanic Verses still is in India) -- they can't have that .....
I understand that Dalrymple & Co. have a strong interest in preserving their cash-cow fiefdom and staying on the good side of the authorities -- regardless of how nutty they are -- but sometimes you have to take a stand; not letting those four continue to read -- indeed, not encouraging them to do so -- is a poor, poor show.
(And surely there will be consequences: what author is going to accept an invitation to a 'literary' festival that tramples on ideals of free speech (even where they are 'illegal', as here) like this ?
Of course, with the presence of the Oprah at the festival this year one has to wonder whether it hasn't already jumped the shark, completing the transition from literary festival to celeb-fest.)
(I note also that I can't find any official sort of statement at the official site -- god forbid they'd keep folks informed -- and that the press page is entirely blank .....)
"We asked organisers today to provide us details and video footage of a session in which the book was allegedly read," Jaipur Police Additional Commissioner Biju George Joseph said.
"We will examine whether the alleged reading from the banned book was done.
It is a suo motu action.
After examining the matter, appropriate action would be taken against those who were found guilty," he said.
Suo moto, indeed -- meaning that the police are acting on their own (i.e. they haven't been instructed to investigate), simply because they think this is apparently a good idea .....
There is, of course, a lot more to all this -- and it continues to unfold; there are press reports galore, too, if you're interested .....
(Updated): The flood of articles -- especially in the Indian press -- continues; much is of interest and worthwhile, and I direct you in particular to:
Hari Kunzru's detailed post on Reading from the Satanic Verses in Jaipur (2012) and what exactly happened; among the amusing notes: to get the (very short) passages from The Satanic Verses they read they turned to a pirated text on the Internet.
Kunzru also notes: "I believed (and continue to believe) that I was not breaking the law" and also that he: "had no interest in causing gratuitous offense".
(Unfortunately, the ones making the fuss about all this seem to be able to find offense very, very easily .....)
Praveen Swami's leader in The Hindu, Salman Rushdie & India's new theocracy -- who suggests: "India cannot undo this harm until god and god's will are ejected from our public life" (amen to that !) and concludes: "The time has come for Indian secular-democrats to assert the case for a better universe: a universe built around citizenship and rights, not the pernicious identity politics the state and its holy allies encourage."
Well, if there's some proper discussion of all these issues, maybe some good can come of all this; on the other hand the cowering claims: "We cannot read the text of a banned book. If we read the text of a banned book, we are the mercy of the law" are not a great start: there's no need to apologize for being unaware and then also breaking certain laws, and any law that makes it a crime to read from a work of fiction like The Satanic Verses is certainly one that should be undermined at every turn and in every possible way -- and doing so at a high-profile literary festival is a great place to start.
Let's hope they're soon reading it aloud on streetcorners !
They've taken their time, but, hey, there's no need for rush in recognizing literary excellence, and now, as the Famagusta Gazettereports:
The results of the competition for the 2010 Literature State Awards were announced today by the Cultural Services of the Ministry of Education and Culture.
Among the winners: the National Fiction Award went to Δέκα χιλιάδες μέλισσες ('Ten thousand bees') by Antis Rodites (Άντης Ροδίτης):
which according to the announcement recreates memories from Cyprus' recent history, having as its main basis the betrayal of the national visions through ideological clashes that have injured the island's Hellenism.
(And, yes, as that description may also suggest, these awards, while 'national' are surely a bit ... how shall one put it ? one-sided.)
They've announced the winner of Le prix Mémorable Initiales -- "un prix qui salue la réédition d’un auteur malheureusement oublié, d’un auteur étranger décédé encore jamais traduit en français, ou d’un inédit ou d’une traduction révisée, complète d’un auteur" (i.e. basically for an overlooked book) -- and it goes to the French translation of John Williams' Stoner (which New York Review Books reissued a few years back; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com).
What's particularly noteworthy: the prize-winning French translation is by Anna Gavalda -- yet another instance of a foreign author who also dabbles in translation.
While it's true she wasn't one of the top ten bestselling French authors last year -- see my previous mention -- she remains (rather inexplicably, to my mind ...) among the most successful French authors, and -- by American standards -- it's astonishing that someone of her stature would spend her time doing something like this.
(No comparable American author would.)