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opinionated commentary on literary matters - from the complete review

The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 April 2012

1 April: Czech Book Award | Hindi in India
2 April: April issues | Return of the Calabash | Public Enemies review
3 April: Bookselling in: India - Hungary - the US | The Fear Index review
4 April: Queensland Premier's Literary Awards axed | Aleksey Gogua Q & A | Telegram review
5 April: The books (and more) in Timbuktu | Alexander Ilichevsky profile | Thirteen years of the complete review | The Leopard review
6 April: 'Book news from the Emirates' | Finding Pereira | Bookselling (and more) in ... Greece
7 April: Coetzee on new Werther-translation | Profiles: David Ireland - Tan Twan Eng | Murakami translators | Riyadh Book Fair report
8 April: Authors on re-reading | Jeanette Winterson profile | Elif Shafak Q & A | Publishing in ... Thailand | The Lair review
9 April: Philosophical fictions | Amazon buying off critics ? | Read crap ! (?) | The Thief review
10 April: Hazai Attila (1967-2012) | ZAA Short Story Award finalists | Tamil storytelling | Publishing in ... Burma

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10 April 2012 - Tuesday

Hazai Attila (1967-2012) | ZAA Short Story Award finalists
Tamil storytelling | Publishing in ... Burma

       Hazai Attila (1967-2012)

       Popular Hungarian author Hazai Attila -- best known for his local version of American Psycho, Budapesti skizo (1997) -- has died, apparently a suicide; see, for example, Meghalt Hazai Attila at litera.
       None of his books seem to have been translated into English -- but aside from writing fiction he also translated books by Raymond Carver and Walter Kirn -- as well as the worthless James Frey's A Million Little Pieces -- into Hungarian.

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

       ZAA Short Story Award finalists

       The Zimbabwe Achievers Awards have announced finalists in all sorts of categories, as well as a separate ZAA Short Story Award, where they have now also announced the finalists, and also offer brief descriptions of the contenders.

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

       Tamil storytelling

       At the Wall Street Journal's Southeast Asia Real Time weblog Ramesh Chakrapani writes about Creating The Next Generation Of Tamil Storytellers, as:
Singapore's Tamil community is stepping up efforts to pass along its unique story-telling traditions to a new generation with a month-long literary festival,

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

       Publishing in ... Burma

       More hopeful signs of actual change in Burma ? In The Myanmar Times Zon Pann Pwin reports that Political books will 'open people's eyes': publishers -- as, for example, Thant Myint-U's River of Lost Footsteps has: "been translated into Myanmar language and is expected to be ready for publication this month".

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

9 April 2012 - Monday

Philosophical fictions | Amazon buying off critics ?
Read crap ! (?) | The Thief review

       Philosophical fictions

       In the Financial Times Jennie Erdal wonders, 'is it still possible to write philosophical novels ?' in What's the big idea ?
       I'm a bit mystified by the premise -- sometimes it seems to me that every other novel I read is philosophical -- so for example the last one I reviewed. Or the one before that. Etc.

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

       Amazon buying off critics ?

       In a sure-to-be-much-discussed article at Salon, Alexander Zaitchik wonders whether: 'By quietly supporting small presses and literary nonprofits, is Amazon backing book culture or buying off critics ?' in Amazon's $1 million secret.
       Not an easy issue -- though of course it's presumably better that they give something rather than nothing (see, for example, the bad press they recently got in the Seattle Times, where Amy Martinez and Kristi Heim reported that Amazon a virtual no-show in hometown philanthropy).

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

       Read crap ! (?)

       At the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy weblog James W. Hall argues Beware Literary Snobbery: Why We Should Read Bestsellers.
       There doesn't actually seem to be all the much of an explanation of 'Why We Should Read Bestsellers' here -- beyond, hey, they're fun; hey, at least people are reading something; and the old favorite:
I like to think of bestsellers as a gateway drug. Once you’ve found one you love, books will forever hold a special allure. All comers welcome. No special education required.
       Funny how no one ever uses that argument for crap TV or crap movies. Does anyone believe that watching the latest version of American Pie will serve as a 'gateway drug' to Ingmar Bergman ? That watching Two and a Half Men will lead viewers to Masterpiece Theater ?
       Hall found himself at a point where: "Novels were no longer fun. They were work." I'd suggest the fault was his, not the books'.
       People should read whatever they want to, for whatever reasons they want to. But I'd suggest some books offer a lot more than others -- and they usually aren't the ones on the bestseller list. (I, for one, would love to come across more mindless entertainment -- if it's really entertaining; I find it rarely is (of purely mindless stuff, on the other hand, there is no end ...).)

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       The Thief review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Nakamura Fuminori's The Thief.
       A relatively recent Japanese work (2009 -- they usually take much longer to get translated), it won the 2010 Ōe Kenzaburō Prize (where Ōe is the final judge; hence this also comes with a blurb from the Nobel laureate) and turned out to be a nice little surprise. Nakamura -- born in 1977, so still fairly young -- has also already won an Akutagawa and a Noma, so I'm very curious to see some more of his work (this is the first of his novels to be translated into English).

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

8 April 2012 - Sunday

Authors on re-reading | Jeanette Winterson profile | Elif Shafak Q & A
Publishing in ... Thailand | The Lair review

       Authors on re-reading

       In The Observer they have an entertaining filler-piece on Rereading: authors reveal their literary addictions -- and, yes, there's also the obligatory nod to Patricia Meyer Spacks' recent book On Rereading.

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

       Jeanette Winterson profile

       In the Independent on Sunday Suzi Feay profiles Jeanette Winterson, in 'Winterson-world was bonkers !' (though you didn't even have to read Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal ? to know that ...).

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       Elif Shafak Q & A

       In The Observer William Skidelsky has a Q & A with Elif Shafak: 'In Turkey, men write and women read. I want to see this change'.

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

       Publishing in ... Thailand

       In the Bangkok Post Anchalee Kongrut finds: 'A local publishing house refuses to jump on to the e-book bandwagon', in Bucking a trend, profiling publisher สำนักพิมพ์ผีเสื้อ (Butterfly Book).

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

       The Lair review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Norman Manea's The Lair, one of a four-pack of Maneas coming out in Yale University Press' Margellos World Republic of Letters this spring.

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

7 April 2012 - Saturday

Coetzee on new Werther-translation | Profiles: David Ireland - Tan Twan Eng
Murakami translators | Riyadh Book Fair report

       Coetzee on new Werther-translation

       In the new issue of The New York Review of Books, J.M.Coetzee reviews Stanley Corngold's new translation of Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's classic, The Sufferings of Young Werther, in Storm Over Young Goethe.
       He's impressed, too, concluding:
Corngold's new translation is of the very highest quality, punctiliously faithful to Goethe's German and sensitive to gradations of style in this extraordinary, trail-blazing first novel.
       See also the W.W.Norton publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

       Profile: David Ireland

       A fascinating profile in The Australian, as Stephen Romei goes in search of David Ireland, the great unknown.
       A three-time (!) winner of the prestigious Miles Franklin Award in the 1970s, Ireland was the kind of writer about whom, for example, Susan Lever says:
He was the sort of writer whose latest novel anyone interested in Australian literature would go out and buy, as we used to with Patrick White.
Yet that third Miles Franklin marked not only the apogee of his career but the start of a remarkable decline into near obscurity, his novels out of print, his name all but forgotten, his very existence omitted from the 1500-page Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature published to much fanfare in 2009. He is the great forgotten Australian novelist.
       With few of even Nobel-winning White's books left in print in the US such a fall into obscurity isn't entirely surprising from this vantage point, but that even in Australia he;s fallen so far is quite amazing. (Though I am familiar with the name, I've never even seen one of his books.)

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

       Profile: Tan Twan Eng

       In the Selangor Times Lin Zhen Yuan describes Tan's literary gift to Malaysia, profiling The Gift of Rain-author Tan Twan Eng.

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

       Murakami translators

       At the Center for the Art of Translation's Two Voices weblog Scott Esposito summarizes a recent event which featured Jay Rubin and J.Philip Gabriel on Translating Murakami.
       Full audio of the event is also available at the site -- though I'm afraid I don't have the patience to listen to this sort of thing (meaning pretty much any 'podcast') -- though I am more tempted than usual. In this case, I am curious as to some of the explanations on offer, as admissions such as: "They also explained that some of 1Q84's third book was edited down" leave me near-apoplectic. (There certainly were issue with volume three, even in this edited-down version; nevertheless, I find such interference ... problematic. (Well, actually, I find it beyond any and all pale: translations are already such an incredible compromise, so that 'editing' them strikes me as just additional gratuitous injury to the text -- and a disservice to the reader.))

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

       Riyadh Book Fair report

       At, Ulrike Freitag looks at Treading the Line between Censorship and Cautious Change at the recent Riyadh International Book Fair.

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

6 April 2012 - Friday

'Book news from the Emirates' | Finding Pereira
Bookselling (and more) in ... Greece

       'Book news from the Emirates'

       In Al-Ahram Weekly David Tresilian has a pretty thorough look at Book news from the Emirates, reporting on various recent prizes, as well as the recent Abu Dhabi International Book Fair.

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

       Finding Pereira

       In The Guardian they nicely print The day Pereira came to call, in which recently deceased Antonio Tabucchi explains how he came to write Sostiene Pereira (a novel published under three different English titles over the years -- though still worth reading, despite that display of publisher-silliness).

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

       Bookselling (and more) in ... Greece

       In the Chicago Tribune John Kass finds In Greece, books beat rocks -- at least at one local bookstore.

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

5 April 2012 - Thursday

The books (and more) in Timbuktu | Alexander Ilichevsky profile
Thirteen years of the complete review | The Leopard review

       The books (and more) in Timbuktu

       There was recently a coup in Mali -- see, for example, Soldiers Overthrow Mali Government in Setback for Democracy in Africa by Adam Nossiter in The New York Times, or (if you can stomach the article-titles) coverage in The Economist such as Mali-drama and Mali à l'aise ('Mali à l'aise' ? seriously ?) -- but aside from the central government being overthrown, rebels have taken over much of the north of the country -- including UNESCO world Heritage Site Timbuktu.
       These well-armed (the downside of the successes of the Libyan campaign) buffoons trying to assert power in the north claim to be of an Islamist persuasion -- leading, of course, to headlines such as: British couple flee Timbuktu as town falls to al-Qaida (filed by: " staff" -- and, yes, the piece itself at least immediately makes clear: "the town fell to fighters linked to al-Qaida" [emphasis added]) and Mali: Rebels to Impose Islamic Law. The latter article reports that:
The Islamist rebel faction that seized control of the northern city of Timbuktu over the weekend has said it will impose Islamic law there, local officials said Wednesday.
The group's leader, Iyad Ag Ghali, said that women would be required to wear veils, thieves would be punished by having their hands cut off and adulterers would be stoned to death, according to local officials and a radio journalist.
       Of course, given widespread reports of looting and rape (e.g. Mali: Looting Halts Aid Work in Chaotic North) it doesn't appear all the rebels are on board with the new program (i.e. far from religious idealists they're just greedy little scum, abusing their momentary power advantage).
       Still, the pretense of adopting sharia is worrisome, especially since exposed Timbuktu is a cultural repository of enormous value and significance. I remind you that the last time similarly inclined fanatics -- in that case the Taliban -- set their sights on a UNESCO Heritage Site it was the Bamiyan Buddhas, blown up in 2001 in an eerie foreshadowing of attacks on New York City several months later.
       So, for example, as Peter Fabricius reports, Scientists worry about safety of literary gems in Timbuktu -- although:
The ancient African manuscripts of Timbuktu seem to have survived the capture of the city at the weekend by Tuareg and other rebels trying to topple the new military government of Mali.
       But, as Ricci Shryock notes at Voice of America, Timbuktu's Cultural Artifacts at Risk as Mali Crisis Grows.
       I hope the bums are run out of town quickly (unlikely though that seems) -- and if there's any threat to the literary riches there (whose preservation has proven difficult even under the best of circumstances) that there will be swift and decisive international action.
       (One can/might as well hope, right ? Reality just looks too bleak.)

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

       Alexander Ilichevsky profile

       At Russia Beyond The Headlines Phoebe Taplin profiles Alexander Ilichevsky (Александр Иличевский), in From Moscow's hidden tunnels to Russia's top literary prizes.
       Worth it just for the quote:
The critic, Lev Danilkin, wrote of Matisse, which won the Russian Booker prize in 2007: "Any qualified Western literary agent, should he happen to glance at a synopsis of this novel, which is concerned with an exodus from metaphysical bondage, would immediately and unhesitatingly consign it to the wastepaper basket". The statement reinforces a noticeable (and possibly widening) divide between commercialized, Anglophone fiction and the complex, cerebral books that currently win prizes in Russia.
       Hmmmm ... Taplin and Danilkin don't seem to have been paying much attention to many of the US/UK literay award debates/complaints of recent years .....
       But, much as I have my doubts about the value of any service a 'literary' agent can supposedly render, I have to admit that the wastepaper basket-consignment of any book which could be described as being "concerned with an exodus from metaphysical bondage" is something that can only be applauded. (I suspect, however, that there's more to Матисс -- check it out (in Russian) at Новый Мир -- than that, and that it's that description that does the book a disservice (including by scaring away those literary middlemen that might help see it get published in English).)

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

       Thirteen years of the complete review

       Yes, it was 5 April 1999 -- 1999 ! -- that the first reviews went up at complete review. Thirteen years and 2869 reviews later it's still going ... well, I don't know about strong, but it's certainly still shuffling along, pretty much the same as ever.
       It's been fun, and it continues to be fun, and on we go !
       Thanks for being part of it; hope it's been worth the trip, for however many years you've been stopping by.

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

       The Leopard review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jo Nesbø's The Leopard, number eight in the Harry Hole series -- and one of the better ones, I thought.

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

4 April 2012 - Wednesday

Queensland Premier's Literary Awards axed | Aleksey Gogua Q & A | Telegram review

       Queensland Premier's Literary Awards axed

       There's a new premier in Queensland, and among the first things he's chopped are the Queensland Premier's Literary Awards.
       As they put it on the official site:
The Queensland Premier's Literary Awards will not proceed in 2012.
       This is an award with a pretty impressive track record: among the winners of the fiction prize are:        The decision has, of course led to lots of local complaining; see, for example, New premier tears up literary awards by Daniel Hurst in the Sydney Morning Herald.

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

       Aleksey Gogua Q & A

       In Osservatorio Balcani e Caucaso Giorgio Comai has a Q & A with Aleksey Gogua, a writer in Sukhumi, a leading Abkhaz author.
       He's been around for a while (he was born 1932), and compares literary life before and after the Soviet collapse:
Back in Soviet Union times you used to write in Abkhaz, then your works were translated into Russian and published in Moscow. How has the situation changed today ?

There is local literature in Abkhaz, but having your works translated into Russian and reaching a wider audience is practically impossible now. Here, books are hardly ever printed in more than 500 copies, while during the Soviet Union, even one million copies could be books were published by some of the major publishing houses in Moscow, sometimes even in copies of 200 to 300 thousand.
       (The best-known Abkhaz author is Fazil Iskander -- though he wrote most of his works in Russian.)

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

       Telegram review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Putu Wijaya's 1973 novel, Telegram, now available in English as part of Lontar's Modern Library of Indonesia

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

3 April 2012 - Tuesday

Bookselling in: India - Hungary - the US | The Fear Index review

       Bookselling in: India

       In The Hindu Vijay Nair wonders about the Deathknell for the bookstore ? as:
Back home in India, large retail chains are a comparatively recent phenomenon for books and their patrons. Some of them like Landmark from Chennai and Oxford from Kolkata started out as a single store many years ago and spread their business to other metro cities only in the last decade or so. However news from across the street is that quite a few of them are in trouble and shutting down many of their outlets.
Thomas Abraham, Managing Director, Hachette India, believes "While high street chains are having a rough time, the same is not the case with the smaller and mid size indies. This mirrors the state of organised retail. No big retail chain brand is making money. Whereas most indie bookstores are making money because the owners manage their cash flows better, know their clientele, and get stocking right.
       Meanwhile, Udayan Mitra, of Penguin India, says: "I feel that the future is going to be dominated by online retailing."

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

       Bookselling in: Hungary

       hlo reports the disturbing numbers that Hungarian book market: 26 per cent loss in three years.
       Among the few bright spots:
Fiction has also preserved its position in the market. The 20 per cent share of literary works is considered very good even according to European standards.

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

       Bookselling in: the US

       Amy Martinez's story on how trying to wring deep discounts from publishers in the Seattle Times is worth a look -- and quite disturbing.

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

       The Fear Index review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Robert Harris' hedge fund thriller, The Fear Index. (Well, there's a hedge fund setting .....)

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

2 April 2012 - Monday

April issues | Return of the Calabash | Public Enemies review

       April issues

       Among April issues of online periodicals now available is Words without Borders' Sex-issue, as well as the new issue of Open Letters Monthly.

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

       Return of the Calabash

       Good to hear that, as Sadeke Brooks reports in The Sunday Gleaner, the Calabash International Literary Festival will be held again this year, on 25 to 27 May (it wasn't in 2011 -- and its future remains uncertain). The theme is 'Jubilation! 50' (to go with the many other Jamaica-at-50 celebrations).

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

       Public Enemies review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Michel Houellebecq and Bernard-Henri Lévy's exchange, Public Enemies: Dueling Writers Take On Each Other and the World.

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

1 April 2012 - Sunday

Czech Book Award | Hindi in India

       Czech Book Award

       Via literalab I learn that they've announced the 20-title strong longlist for the new Czech Book Award.
       Nicely internationally oriented -- English and French webpages, too (though not, interestingly enough, neighboring German ...), as well 'world observers' (publishers from several foreign countries) -- this looks like it might have some promise. Admirable, too, that they list all the submitted ('registered') titles -- 109 (or is it 120 ?).
       Good to see, too, that the nine-person jury includes three translators -- since:
Literary translators are the best placed to assess whether we can bring a book to other languages (and, incidentally, to other cultures) without diminishing its strength.
       The seven-title shortlist will be announced in April.

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

       Hindi in India

       In The Caravan Rashmi Sadana writes about 'How we live multilingually and what this says about our language and literature', in Managing Hindi.

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

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