They've announced that Julian Barnes wint Europese Literatuurprijs 2012 -- a 'best European'-book prize awarded by the Dutch, with €10,000 going to the winning author, and €2,500 to the translator(s).
Since it's a book prize it is, of course, The Sense of an Ending (well, Alsof het voorbij is, in Ronald Vlek's translation) that won the prize.
Most of the books that made the shortlist are under review at the complete review:
C by Tom McCarthy (which was also shortlisted for the German Internationale Literaturpreis - Haus der Kulturen der Welt)
So Alice Walker has squashed efforts by Israeli publisher Yediot to publish her novel The Color Purple; see the Letter from Alice Walker to Publishers at Yediot Books at Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel.
I generally don't really understand these refusals to print/make available cultural or intellectual property -- I'm not exactly sure how this works out to be a boycott of Israel, and Walker's letter doesn't really explain it to me -- and certainly always vote for the widespread dissemination of any and all cultural goods, since it seems to me that can just help efforts at international and mutual understanding (something I think would be a really good thing to fan and foster).
(Of course, the whole openness-to-cultural-exchange-idea works both ways: the whole we-won't-play-Wagner situation in Israel is no less baffling to me)
(Of course writers can do as they please with their work, and occasionally there are good reasons not to publish abroad: the compensation isn't adequate; the translation isn't adequate; the book has been butchered by an editor -- but none of these situations seem to apply here.)
This case is a bit more baffling than most because of the existence of this:
Yes, הצבע ארגמן -- a Hebrew translation of The Color Purple -- exists.
First published in 1984, it may well not be in print any longer -- but it exists.
Walker unfortunately also does not explain what has changed between 1984 (when she apparently allowed a translation to be published in Israel) and now.
Meanwhile, Walker's actions naturally immediately led to reactions such as Jonathan S. Tobin's 'Contentions'-column in Commentary, Alice Walker: The Color of Anti-Semitism.
Tobin almost immediately disqualifies himself from possibly being taken seriously by relying on and linking to a Jewish Telegraphic Agency report, rather than Walker's actual (and easily found online) letter.
(In the insanity that is the debate about these subject matters, I imagine he and Commentary possibly wrap themselves in ideological-editorial excuses about not linking to 'such' a site; sorry, I have no patience for that.
Of course, the alternative -- that they're just too lazy or inept to seek out the link and letter -- isn't journalistically much more impressive.)
From not relying on or consulting Walker's actual letter -- i.e. her actual words -- it's an easy step to the wild claims and denouncements Tobin makes.
It may seem nit-picking, but you can't say: "in saying she doesn't even wish her work to appear in Hebrew" if she doesn't say it -- and she doesn't.
In fact, Walker's letter is terribly vague; it's clear, however, that what she's not permitting is, specifically, publication of the book in Israel -- which is not the same thing.
(It would be interesting to put it to the test and see if Walker would permit publication of a Hebrew edition in, say, the United States; as is, however, the jump Tobin takes -- equating a refusal to allow an Israeli publisher to make the book available in Israel with a refusal to allow the book to appear in Hebrew -- is far too great a leap.)
One reason for such nit-picking is that Tobin takes that misstatement and runs with it.
Boy, does he run with it:
In Walker's world, Israelis are not just the bad guys in a fictional morality play in which the Palestinians are victims, but the very language they speak -- the language of the Bible and the foundation of Western religion, values and morality -- is to be treated as unworthy of being spoken or read.
That seems like an enormous stretch from what Walker actually writes in her letter.
And, again, the existence of הצבע ארגמן (and other Hebrew translations of her work) surely suggests otherwise.
But Tobin sees his claim all the way through:
But to discriminate against the language of the Jewish people in this manner is pure anti-Semitism.
I don't see Walker as having discriminated against Hebrew in this manner (she's 'discriminating' -- if that's the proper term ... -- against Israel, but that's a whole different ball game), and I don't see how her actions can be interpreted in this way.
While I think her choice is an unfortunate one -- and one that one can certainly both disagree with and denounce (with a rather different set of arguments) -- I think those who are critical of it should be considerably more careful with their criticism.
(But intellectual rigor of any and all sort seems to have fallen completely by the wayside in discussion of any of these issues, doesn't it ?)
(Updated - 21 June): Disappointingly, this re-framing of the incident -- as Walker refusing to allow her work to be translated into Hebrew, rather than (as is actually the case) her refusal to be published in Israel -- has been widely adopted, with many media reports phrasing it in this way in their headlines (In Protest, Walker Won’t Allow Hebrew Translation of 'The Color Purple'The New York Times' Arts Beat weblog has it, etc. etc.)
Typically, now, Alan M. Dershowitz writes about Alice Walker's Bigotry -- not just noting but basing much of his argument, of course (incorrectly), on the claim that: "She has refused to allow The Color Purple to be translated into Hebrew."
I think Walker's decision is unfortunate, but her critics are wrong to make of this something that it isn't (as if there weren't enough to make of what there is ...).
But apparently mutual tar-feathering, no holds barred (as well as no facts relied on, and no hyperbole shied away from), is the only approach anyone wants to take in considering any and all aspects of the horribly complex situation in the region and how to address it.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Andrew Robinson on The Revolutionary Life of Jean-François Champollion, in Cracking the Egyptian Code.
A nice companion piece to this is Gérard Macé's unusual take on Champollion, The Last of the Egyptians.
According to the NMTL, more than 270 works of Taiwan literature were translated into foreign languages and published between 1990 and 2010 under a Council for Cultural Affairs program.
Since the museum took over the project in 2010, 13 volumes have been translated and published.
(Not that I want to point this out, but the 1990-2010 average works out to 12.85 books a year -- barely worse than since the NMTL takeover.
Either way, note that this is into all languages.
That's really very, very few books that are getting translated.)
Meanwhile, at Viet Nam News Minh Thu has a Q & A with Nguyen Thuy Anh about a fund to "enhance bilateral co-operation" and see to it that more Russian literature gets translated into Vietnamese (and vice versa), in Literature fund targets training translators.
Via Three Percent, I learn of Tyler Malone's Q & A "Discussing the Importance of International Literature with Open Letter's CHAD POST" at PMc, Found in Translation.
(Really ? 'Found in translation' ? Really ?)
They've announced that Der Körper -- the German translation of the second volume of Mircea Cărtărescu's Orbitor-trilogy -- has been awarded the Internationale Literaturpreis - Haus der Kulturen der Welt.
With €25,000 for the author, and €10,000 for the translator -- not quite in the IMAPC-league (where the translator -- if there is one for the winning book (i.e. it wasn't written in English) -- gets €25,000, leaving the winning author with €75,000), but good money for a translation prize.
The shortlist included the German translations of Nádas Péter's Parallel Stories, and of Téa Obreht's book.
English-speaking readers will still have to wait a while -- but admirably Archipelago Books is bringing the trilogy out, beginning with Blinding (see their publicity page) -- though that's only due in ... December 2014.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Tendai Huchu's The Hairdresser of Harare.
Published by Zimbabwean Weaver Press (see their publicity page), this title is also readily available abroad, like many other titles from African publishers, via the admirable African Books Collective -- basically as a print-on-demand title: a great development that I see very much as (part of) the wave of the future.
It's also good to see that the author has put considerable effort into (and met with considerable success) in getting coverage from online sites -- see the links to all the other available reviews.
Geography is proving less and less of a hurdle in finding an international audience (as well as review-coverage) for books -- though I still wish readers would be more intrepid in seeking out many of these newly far-more-readily-accessible works and worlds .....
The merchants who remain still spend each day among stacks of books in a variety of languages, some of which will never be read again.
Many merchants in the area stay afloat by filling niches left by major retailers: Jin specializes in fashion magazines that are bought by design students for their photos.
Other retailers focus on religious books or books for children.
In Malaysia readers can vote in the Popular-The Star Readers' Choice Awards, where the ten bestselling locally-authored books in Popular and Harris bookstores last year are in the running -- see the contenders here.
Sharmilla Ganesan offers a bit more information about the top ten titles in the fiction category, in a rundown of Local fiction's best.
(No, I haven't seen or reviewed any of these ......)
In the Sydney Morning HeraldGould's Book of Fish-author Richard Flanagan is at A loss for words as he considers the role literary prizes have assumed in contemporary literary culture.
He begins provocatively enough:
Literary prizes exist to give dog shows a good name.
National prizes are often a barometer of bourgeois bad taste.
But he makes a good point:
I am not arguing against prizes. I am arguing against taking them too seriously.
The elevation and proliferation of literary prizes have obscured the slow erosion of our own literary culture -- indeed, they have arisen with it -- and disguise the near complete lack of support by our society of literary culture in general.
And he adds:
If awarding prizes is when we have a discussion about books and when good books are given a larger public space, prizes have a role.
But if we believe that only the winning book has virtue and no others, then the prize has failed.
And if we think prize culture is a way of stimulating and supporting a book culture of value, we are deluded.
He also points to the local situation, in particular:
Australia does less to support its writers than any developed country I am aware of.
Though the publishing industry generates more than $2 billion a year, the total federal government spending on writers through grants is less than $2 million.
Compare this with the more than $128 million spent on tax breaks for the non-profitable film industry.
One hopes the piece generates some discussion and reactions.
The Nobel prize is a fairytale for a week and a nightmare for a year.
You can't imagine the pressure to give interviews, to go to book fairs.
The first year was very difficult. I could barely write.
(He's right, I can't imagine it: what possible pressure could there be to give interviews or go to book fairs (other than from your greedy publishers who don't know the meaning of the concept of over-exposure); just tell everyone to go to hell (or decline politely -- or rather have your agent/representative do so; what Nobel laureate handles interview requests him- or herself ? --, if you prefer).)
See also the complete reviewMario Vargas Llosa-page, with links to reviews of many of his works (though not the latest one, yet).
So they awarded Algerian The German Mujahid (UK Title: An Unfinished Business)-author Boualem Sansal the 'Prix du roman arabe' -- a French 'best Arab novel'-prize -- this year for his Rue Darwin (see also the Gallimard publicity page).
Good for him, and them -- except that when it came to actually handing over the prize the 'conseil des ambassadeurs arabes en France' -- the council of Arabic ambassadors in France, who run this thing -- decided they didn't want to, cancelling his invitation; see, for example, the report in L'Express, Boualem Sansal, indésirable prix du roman arabe.
For god's sake .....
Good for Olivier Poivre d'Arvor, director of France Culture, who resigned from the proceedings and explains Pourquoi je démissionne du Prix du roman arabe in Libération.
The fuss is, of course, all about Sansal having recently participated in the International Writers Festival held in -- oh, no ! Israel ! (see my previous mention).
(No one should have any patience for this kind of posturing -- and the 'prix du roman arabe' might as well close shop today: no way it can be taken very seriously in the future.
(Too bad: it was a good idea -- and with previous winning authors who include Elias Khoury and Gamal al-Ghitani had gotten off to a good start, before falling so flat on its face this year (not in the book they awarded the prize to, but in how they handled it).))
At her love german books weblog Katy Derbyshire wonders: Is Self-Translation the Future ?
She doesn't so much mean self self-translation (though that sure worked out for Paul Verhaeghen: he translated his own novel, Omega Minor, and walked away with the 2008 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize), but rather authors paying translators to translate their work (into English, obviously -- the only language that apparently counts (or, so they think, might be worth their while)) and publishing it themselves.
She writes the post in response to comments by Tom Hillenbrand, who suggests, among other things:
Even for a title that doesn't seem to have great potential for the English-language market, it will still make sense to put a translation onto the market on the off chance.
The Anglo-Saxon market is gigantic and nobody really knows anyway why certain books are successful.
To my mind, Hillenbrand has neglected one all-important factor in his calculation: the translator.
Well, she would, wouldn't she ?
But, to her credit, she has other objections:
Secondly, we have the issue of quality and quality control.
It's not a new argument that publishers provide these services, which are not guaranteed in self-publishing.
Okay, I admit, this one had me rolling on the floor laughing (and crying).
Publishers providing quality control ... oh, what a wonderful dream !
I admit that this is the way we like to think of publishers -- responsible, dedicated, thorough.
I note, however, that ... how shall I put it ? they sometimes fall ... shall we say, short.
(I remind you that, for example, I recently reviewed a book which includes the translated (by a respected translator, whose work I (generally) admire) sentence: "My sex was a block of wood glued to her womb" (see my previous mention); here -- and in far too many other places -- quality (and other) control has obviously gone completely by the wayside.)
A better argument is:
Moot point number three is demand.
Hillenbrand obviously vastly overestimates English-language market demand -- but Derbyshire underestimates the value of having an English-language version available, which does (possibly) open doors to other language markets, especially for those writing in small/obscure/very localized languages.
I am fascinated by this development, because with the rise of cheap on-demand publishing -- which lowers the production costs far below Derbyshire's estimate (the translation itself being the remaining large(st) cost) -- I have seen a small explosion in such commissioned-translations on offer (on offer to reviewers such as myself, that is; in many cases the authors aren't so much looking for a commercial audience as looking to attract mainstream-publisher attention, in order to then get the book published via the usual routes, in this or a second translation).
I also foresee this trend continuing (and, indeed, growing fast) -- there are enough desperate authors with enough money to throw around to bankroll such efforts: it's one of the self-publishing trends that will see a massive increase in coming years.
Also: variations on such 'self-translation' aren't a new phenomenon: in various shadings they've existed in the form of mainly national subsidized publishing series for decades: here a publisher translates local fiction in order to be able to say it is available in English and/or in the hope of getting English- (or other) language publishing contracts.
(Proving once again that quality control is a matter of little concern or interest to commercial US and UK publishers, far too many of these translation have been adopted more or less wholesale under new covers for American and British markets .....)
Publishing Perspectives prints Chad Post's keynote (non-)speech ("delivered in absentia" -- visa issues apparently kept him away) to the 29th International Publishers Association Congress, For Publishers, The Long Term Is the Only Race Worth Winning.
A good overview -- and particularly worth noting:
For a small press looking to do books that fit a particular niche (a la Open Letter), this is a fantastic situation.
Unlike years past when we fought for space in the same five review outlets and tried to convince the same booksellers to handsell our books, we can now go directly to our customers, and can cultivate an audience in ways that never existed before.
Indeed, as I've often said, I think there are great opportunities for nimble, smaller publishers -- while big commercial publisher still rely far too much on the old, outdated business models, and aren't adapting nearly quick enough to contemporary conditions.
Also good to hear his call to publishers:
So stop trying to ape the last next best thing and instead find books that can cultivate a readership who will actually care enough to talk about this book for years and years.
Something that large, commercial press have lost sight of for quite a while .....
This year’s Impac shortlist conforms to a recent, somewhat disappointing trend, the ongoing consolidation of English and the international language of fiction.
Only two of the 10 contenders is in translation.
Last year, there were no translations on the shortlist.
I certainly hope that changes in coming years .....
(But note also that Battersby repeats the canard that, at a mere €100,000, the IMPAC is: "the world’s richest prize for a single work".
As a quick check of the Wikipedia List of the world's richest literary prizes shows, the IMPAC is far, far down the list, remuneration-wise, even just considering book- (as opposed to also author-)prizes, with the Premio Planeta de Novela showing what real prize money for a best novel looks like: €601,000.)
Ruth Franklin recently picked up this year's Roger Shattuck Prize for Criticism (which she shared with David Yaffe), and at her website she now shares "a lightly edited version of the talk" she gave in accepting the award.
Among her observations:
It’s the task of the critic to champion books that deserve to be championed, and to take a stand against those that have the power to harm.
And anyone who doesn’t believe that books have the power to harm is not taking them seriously enough.
In occasion of the fifth International Festival of Literature, the subway in Algiers will host an exhibition named "Ten stages in Algerian literature".
It's of interest, of course, in revealing who they think make up the top ten; apparently restricted to the dead, they are: Mouloud Feraoun, Mohammed Dib, Kateb Yacine, Mouloud Mammeri, Malek Haddad, Abdelhamid Benhadouga, Tahar Ouettar, Abou Lad Doudou, Ahmed Reda Houhou and Moufdi Zakaria -- see also the official Féliv page on the exhibit, Dix escales dans la littérature algérienne, which also includes brief (French) biographies of the ten writers.
The only one under review at the complete review is Mohammed Dib -- his L.A. Trip (and the only other one I've read is Kateb Yacine).
At the NYRblog Tim Parks frequently muses about the global literary marketplace and the world republic of letters -- far off the mark, as often as not, I find, but I do find his most recent post, Most Favored Nations intriguing.
Here he suggests that the spread of English-language knowledge has lead to a concurrent interest in English-language literature (generally in translation), as:
Inevitably, as the number of people speaking English increases, so do the sales of novels in English.
But not enormously. The surprise is that increased knowledge of English has also brought a much more marked increase in sales of literature written in English but read in translation in the local language.
When you learn a language you don't just pick up a means of communication, you buy into a culture, you get interested.
(Does that help explain the lack of interest in literature in translation in the US (and UK) ?
Since few bother learning another language they have no interest into buying into any other culture ?
Among a din of "U.S.A. ! U.S.A. !" that sounds almost plausible .....)
Interesting also the observation that:
these days the dice are so heavily loaded in favor of English-language novels that the question of quality is almost a moot point.
(I'd suggest that, regarding the quality-question, given the incredibly mediocre pop-fiction phenomena that are translated from other languages -- Spanish conspiracy-thrillers with a religious twist and the second tier of Nordic crime fiction currently seem particularly en vogue -- there are other marketplace factors that are also at work here regardless of what language a book was originally written in, reflecting the failures of the (industrial) international publishing sector, which is fatally prone to jumping on artificially hyped bandwagons -- a third-rate novel such as Strindberg's Star by Jan Wallentin is just one example among many non-English titles where the question of quality was also a moot point.)
But Parks' conclusion is worth thinking about:
we have a situation where literary fiction is coming to serve a different purpose and to be experienced differently in the different national communities.
(As noted, I don't necessarily agree with Parks, but I'm very pleased that he continues to write about these questions and issues, and that this has led to some discussion -- and will, I hope, lead to more.)
At its meeting on June 11, 2012, the Board of Directors of the Nobel Foundation set the amount of the 2012 Nobel Prizes at SEK 8.0 million per prize, at today's exchange rate equivalent to USD 1.1 million.
This is not the first time the prize-amount has been decreased -- beginning with a nominal value of SEK 150,782 in 1901 (worth 8,123,951 in 2011 SEK) the nominal value has been as low as SEK 121,333 (2011 SEK: 2,370,660) in 1945 -- but it's been uphill or stable since then, peaking at an SEK-2011 value of 11,659,016 in 2001.
The real value has been declining steadily since then (interrupted by a brief up-tick in 2009); see all the prize amounts here (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) .
The decision to lower the prize sum, from SEK 10.0 to 8.0 million, is related to the assessment that the Board of Directors makes today of the potential for achieving a good inflation-adjusted return on the Nobel Foundation's capital during the next several years.
Another part of the picture is that during the past decade, the average return on the Foundation's capital has fallen short of the overall sum of all Nobel Prizes and operating expenses.
I.e. they've not been doing quite so well with their investments -- no wonder (and high time) that: "During the autumn, the Foundation began the task of gradually reducing the number of managers from the existing 35 or so to a benchmark of around 20".
Worth checking out: the Nobel Foundation's annual report for 2011 (warning ! dreaded pdf format !), where you can see the actual numbers -- notably:
Book profit amounted to SEK -19.2 m (68.0).
The year's deterioration in earnings was mostly attributable to portfolio changes in the equities asset class, which showed a net realised change in value of SEK 19.8 m, compared to SEK 83.6 m in 2010.
Indeed, all those managers can't just blame lousy market conditions, as they seem to have done a pretty lousy job, underperforming the market by quite a bit:
The return on the Nobel Foundation's total equities portfolio was -9.3 (8.7) per cent.
This was worse than the benchmark index , which fell by 5.1 per cent
Still, the prestige of winning the prize seems just as high as always -- and SEK 8,000,000 is nothing to sneeze at either.
In The Sunday Times (Malta) Ramona Depares reports on The world of teenage fiction in Malta.
Of some interest, though I admit the main reason I report this is to be able to print the title of one of the novels under discussion -- Ivan Bugeja's Ġimgħa, Sibt u Ħadd.
Those are some characters I never get to use .....
(The book is also reviewed by Depares at her weblog.)
It ain't the Tony Awards®, but the Mülheimer Dramatikerpreis is arguably the leading German drama-prize, and Peter Handke takes it this year, for Immer noch Sturm -- amazingly enough, despite his dramatic output, for the first time.
(By comparison, Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek -- hardly known in the English-speaking world as a dramatist (meaning: hardly known in the English-speaking world) -- and Rainald Goetz have each taken this prize three times, the great Heiner Müller also won it, back when, for the classic Germania - Tod in Berlin; see the complete list of previous winners here.)
See also the Suhrkamp publicity page for Immer noch Sturm, or get your (German) copy at Amazon.de.
a vast publishing partnership with Dalkey Archive Publishing in the United States, which will result in the simultaneous publication of some 25 translations of Korean literature in 2013.
The authors include famous poet Ko Un as well as writers Yi Sang, Oh Chung-hee, Choi In-hoon and Yi In-seong.
Sounds great -- though 'simultaneous' sounds a bit unlikely; twenty-five titles is an awful lot for any publisher to bring out in a short time -- and surely it would be advisable not to flood the market at one go .....