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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 September 2012

11 September: M-Net Literary Awards shortlists | Salman Rushdie's memoir | Thai short stories | Czech German-language authors | Sister Hollywood review
12 September: Barley Patch review | Man Booker Prize shortlist | Writing in ... Estonia | Hotel room discards
13 September: German Book Prize shortlist | China and the Nobel Prize | Translations/originals
14 September: Gamal al-Ghitani Q & A | Arkadii Dragomoshchenko (1946-2012) | Het aapje dat geluk pakt review
15 September: The Satanic Verses retrospective | Writing in ... China | Prize proliferation
16 September: 'Philip Roth and Wikipedia' | Herman Koch (and straatrumoer) | The Poet Assassinated review
17 September: Jeet Thayil Q & As | Literary tourism in the Philippines ? | Iranian literary attitudes
18 September: Heine-Prize for Jürgen Habermas | Nepal Literature Festival | The Story of my Assassins review
19 September: Finnegans Wake in Chinese | Arabic literature in translation | Prizes: Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction longlist - FT&GSBBotYA finalists
20 September: Claustria by Régis Jauffret | Aura review

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20 September 2012 - Thursday

Claustria by Régis Jauffret | Aura review

       Claustria by Régis Jauffret

       Emma Donoghue's Room was based on the notorious Josef Fritzl case (well, "I'd say it was triggered by it", Donoghue says), and earlier this year Régis Jauffret published his semi-fictional take on it in France, Claustria (see the Seuil publicity page).
       It got good reviews in France -- but now a German edition is out, and the Austrians are not pleased: Wer zu Jauffrets Buch „Claustria“ greift, hat reinen Dreck in der Hand ('Whoever grabs hold of Jauffret's Claustria has pure filth in their hand') writes Rudolf Taschner in Die Presse, while (Austrian) Paul Jandl finds Fritzl-Roman macht jeden Österreicher zum Täter ('Fritzl-novel makes every Austrian an offender') in Die Welt. My favorite reaction, however, is Klaus Nüchtern's comprehensive take-down in the Falter: 'It's a perfidious game that the author plays with readers here,' he finds .....
       Apparently somewhat HHhH-like in its approach -- yes, Jauffret plays a role in his own novel -- I wonder if the French are getting too enamored of this sort of pseudo-documentary (rife with pseudo-commentary ...) type novel .....
       (Still, I am curious about some of his work -- his Microfictions sounds interesting .....)

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

       Aura review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Carlos Fuentes' Aura.
       This has some great cinematic potential: narrated in the second person, I could see it filmed entirely from the main character's point of view (i.e. through his eyes -- i.e. not like this version). The 1966 Damiano Damiani-adaptation, La strega in amore, obviously didn't stick too closely to the original, but I do like the IMDb description:
A historian goes to a castle library to translate some ancient erotic literature. While there he discovers what he believes to be supernatural forces at work.
       Which, come to think of it, might have made for a more entertaining book, too.

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

19 September 2012 - Wednesday

Finnegans Wake in Chinese | Arabic literature in translation
Prizes: Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction longlist - FT&GSBBotYA finalists

       Finnegans Wake in Chinese

       As Zhang Yue reports in When 'livvylong' is Chinese in the China Daily, the first volume of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake has now been translated into Chinese (as 芬尼根的守灵夜) by Dai Congrong; it's being published by Shanghai People's Publishing House (see their publicity page).
       Zhang notes:
While a French translation of the book took 30 years and the German version took 19 years, it took Dai just a decade to translate the first volume.
       (Which actually doesn't sound much speedier -- after all, it's not the whole book that's been translated, just 'volume one', and in my (Penguin Books 1977 reprint) copy section I ends on page 216 of the 628-page volume.)
       Also of interest:
In the translated work, Dai keeps about half of the author's original words, and has put down every possible meaning of some complicated words that have rich meanings as footnotes.
       But not everyone is a fan of that approach: Beijing University teacher Liu Yiqing is quoted:
"There is still something we can improve in the way the footnotes are presented," she says. "While putting every possible meaning in Chinese into the text, it will break the integrity of the story. We should make it a story that is also interesting for college students to read and understand."
       I'm not sure that Finnegans Wake can/should be presented as: "a story that is also interesting for college students to read and understand", but maybe it can be done .....

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

       Arabic literature in translation

       I mentioned Ibrahim Farghali's Neue Zürcher Zeitung article Die arabische Literatur hat mehr zu bieten last month, and Qisasukhra now offers a translation (from the Arabic original posted at Farghali's weblog, which differs slightly from the edited German article), Is it really necessary to translate Arabic literature ?
       Certainly of interest.

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

       Prize: Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction

       They've announced the longlist for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction 2012.
       None of the titles are under review at the complete review, but I do expect to get to Joseph Anton by Salman Rushdie, once I get my hands on a copy, as well as Strindberg A Life by Sue Prideaux (which I do have a copy of).

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

       Prize: FT&GSBBotYA finalists

       They've announced the six finalists for the Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award.
       None of the titles are under review at the complete review.

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

18 September 2012 - Tuesday

Heine-Prize for Jürgen Habermas | Nepal Literature Festival
The Story of my Assassins review

       Heine-Prize for Jürgen Habermas

       They've announced that Jürgen Habermas has been awarded the Heine-Preis 2012.
       Among recent available-in-English Habermas titles is The Crisis of the European Union; see the Polity publicity page, or get your copy at or (it seems to be selling quite well, by the way).
       This biennial prize, worth €50,000, is -- as they put it -- one of the major German literary and personality prizes ('Literatur- und Persönlichkeitspreis'), and with previous winners that include W.G. Sebald, Elfriede Jelinek, and Amos Oz has a pretty decent track record.
       Decent but not unblemished: they screwed up royally in naming Peter Handke the 2006 winner of the prize -- and then not following through; see my discussion of that mess.

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

       Nepal Literature Festival

       The Nepal Literature Festival runs 20 to 23 September, and it's nice to see a local-dominated literary festival (see the list of participants).
       See also coverage in The Himalayan, Literature fest from from Sept 20.

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

       The Story of my Assassins review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Tarun J. Tejpal's The Story of my Assassins.
       This came out to much notice and considerable acclaim in India in 2009, but only now has a US/UK publisher -- Melville House.

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

17 September 2012 - Monday

Jeet Thayil Q & As | Literary tourism in the Philippines ? | Iranian literary attitudes

       Jeet Thayil Q & As

       In India they're apparently pretty excited about Narcopolis-author Jeet Thayil getting his book shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, so now one finds a number of articles and interviews with him; see, for example the Q & A with Subhash K. Jha, My father had predicted a Booker nomination: Jeet Thayil, in the Times of India, and the Q & A with Deepanjana Pal at DNA, Opium for the literary masses.
       Of interest: apparently a heroin habit isn't a career-killer for authors -- both Thayil and Will Self (whose Umbrella is also shortlisted for the Man Booker this year) apparently had one.
       And: the working title of Thayil's next novel is ... The Book of Chocolate Saints.

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

       Literary tourism in the Philippines ?

       In his column in The Philippine Star F.Sionil Jose makes the case for Literature for tourism, arguing that the literary connection is an underdeveloped side of Filipino tourism (domestic and foreign).
       Sounds worth a bit of investment -- though getting more people to read the actual books would probably also be worth something.

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

       Iranian literary attitudes

       In the Wall Street Journal Matthias Küntzel is disturbed to find that 'Frankfurt welcomes the regime's censors as a gesture of 'convergence via a sustained dialogue'', in Tehran at the Book Fair (that being, of course, the Frankfurt Book Fair).
       He finds:
This "convergence" sends clear signals of accommodating terror and betraying freedom of expression, while undermining those countries that want to change Iran's nuclear behavior through concerted pressure on the regime. Just as it is impossible to maintain a relaxed friendship with neo-Nazis, it is also impossible to do relaxed business with a regime such as Iran's.
       One can grant him that the FBF might be: "accommodating terror and betraying freedom of expression" (though I'd argue it's a bit more complicated than that; even if the Iranian government 'accommodates terror' that doesn't necessarily mean that every institution and representative (private or public) can be held accountable), but in any case, surely it's not the Frankfurt Book Fair's job to worry about whether it is: "undermining those countries that want to change Iran's nuclear behavior" (I very much hope that the FBF has and takes no official position on Iran's (or any countries') 'nuclear behavior', along with any number of non-publishing-related issues).
       On the other hand, if, indeed, a: "regime delegation led by Mohammad Azimi, a former vice minister in the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance, will be in attendance", I hope absolutely everyone who comes in contact with them gives them a good piece of their minds -- making clear to them that censorship is a bad, bad thing (and that combining 'Culture' and 'Islamic Guidance' under a single government ministry is a pretty crackpot idea, too ...).

       Meanwhile, IBNA has more Frankfurt news, reporting that Sacred Defense Publishers' Association to Present Titles at FBF -- and:
4 successful and prolific Sacred Defense writers will be sent to the showcase to hold seminars and discussion sessions during the event.
       Great that they're sending some writers (though I hope more than just those specializing in SD-lit (i.e. literature devoted to the Iran-Iraq War)). But the head of the board of directors of the association Ali Nazeri is quoted:
"We intend to highlight the necessity of publishing Sacred Defense books," he further added.
       As longtime readers know, I've long argued that the official insistence on a continued focus on literary treatment of a war that ended several decades ago is a literary dead end -- sure, some fine stuff still comes out of it, but surely there are many other subjects that can and should be treated -- ones that are more relevant to contemporary readers, for one. (Recall that the median age in Iran is about 27 years; the Iran-Iraq war ended 24 years ago ......)
       Of course, the reason the government supports it so wholeheartedly and single-mindedly is because it is basically the only 'safe' subject they can think of, the country unified against a common enemy as it has not been at any other time in the decades before or since. (Which isn't to say, by the way, that some of these books aren't in fact 'critical' and forthright in their acknowledgement of flaws in Iranian society .....)

       Finally, as, for example, the AP reports (here at The Washington Post), Iran foundation boosts reward for death of author Rushdie, after Prophet 'insults'.
       Yes, that obscene 'fatwa' is still sort of in force, apparently, as: "A semi-official religious foundation in Iran has increased a reward it had offered for the killing of British author Salman Rushdie to $3.3 million from $2.8 million".
       The organization is apparently بنیاد پانزده خرداد, though I haven't been able to find the offer on their site yet -- but Iranian press reports do report the same information (see here, for example -- though they rely on an MNA report, and that official site also didn't have the information, last I checked ...).
       Presumably, this is just more very hot air (and very obnoxious posturing); for any idiot tempted by the big numbers, however, I remind you that you're not only extremely unlikely to be able to keep the cash, but, given current sanctions against Iran (and the local banking system), unlikely to be able to get it in the first place.

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

16 September 2012 - Sunday

'Philip Roth and Wikipedia' | Herman Koch (and straatrumoer)
The Poet Assassinated review

       'Philip Roth and Wikipedia'

       I complained about Philip Roth in legacy-controlling mode last week after The New Yorker weblog published An Open Letter to Wikipedia from him, but a proper response is now up at Non-Commercial Use, where quominus gives a solid analysis of the whole Philip Roth and Wikipedia mess (via) -- highly recommended reading !

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

       Herman Koch (and straatrumoer)

       At the PEN Atlas site Tasja Dorkofikis wonders about Entertainment for the Middle Classes ? - The success of Herman Koch, which includes a short Q & A with the author of the enormously successful The Dinner (now available in the UK (it'll still be a few more months before there's a US edition ...) -- get your copy at or pre-order it at

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

       The Poet Assassinated review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Guillaume Apollinaire's peculiar 1916 classic, The Poet Assassinated.

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

15 September 2012 - Saturday

The Satanic Verses retrospective | Writing in ... China | Prize proliferation

       The Satanic Verses retrospective

       With Salman Rushdie's memoir, Joseph Anton, due out shortly (pre-order your copy at or, The Guardian have a nice documentary piece where: 'Writers, broadcasters, friends and publishing insiders recall what it was like to be caught up in' the brouhaha surrounding his most notorious novel, Looking back at Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses
       (Get your copy of The Satanic Verses from or; you'll probably be hard-pressed to figure out what the fuss was (is ?) about -- but it's a good read.)

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

       Writing in ... China

       Via Paper Republic I learn about Lara Farrar's piece at CNN on China's weird and wildly popular world of workplace novels.
       Unanswered: the question why no 职场小说 has been published in English yet -- I 'd love to see some of this stuff (sounds more fun than the old Chinese workplace novels (i.e. the Soviet-era/style ones ...), which were also ... 'popular' (?) (and weird).

       Meanwhile, in China Daily Lu Nan reports on Chinese literature Searching for the limelight abroad. (Problem number one: wrong target.)
       Lots of wonderful quotes to pick from -- it's always great to hear representatives from one culture diagnose other cultures ... -- including stuff like:
The difference in reading preferences of Chinese and Western readers often plays a huge role.

One example is the preferred length of a novel. The Chinese are used to reading long novels of more than 500,000 words and believe that's the way to explore a topic to a full extent. But in the West a literary work would normally be restricted to less than 300,000 words.
       (I'm pretty sure something got lost in translation here -- maybe 500K (Chinese) characters, rather than words ? A 500,000 word novel -- that's easily fifteen hundred pages. The vast majority of Chinese novels are not anywhere near that length (and while there's no Western limit on length, at 300,000 words a novel probably clocks in at at least 800 pages ...)
       The marketplace itself also continues to make for complications:
Many of the problems for the industry came about due to the limited market for Chinese literature in overseas markets. As such it was rare that publishers would get enquiries for books from outside the East Asia economic circle, and even when such offers did materialize, the remuneration amounts were abysmally low, around $500 (390 euros) to $1,500 for a full length novel.

Since this hardly provided any financial recourse, many writers and publishers also did not feel the urge to actively promote their books and rather decided to wait for a lucrative offer.
       I'm not familiar with what foreign rights go for -- and admittedly English is by far the largest foreign rights market -- but $1,500 sounds just fine as an advance for a run-of-the-mill novel (as long as there are royalties to be had if it does turn out to sell any copies). Surely gaining a foothold in the market -- by being present in the market -- is more sensible than holding out for a "lucrative offer" that, chances are, will never come.

       Finally, in The Los Angeles Times Barbara Demick now reports that China politics boost book industry, but not in mainland China.

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

       Prize proliferation

       At the BBC Sarah Dunant offers yet another commentary on the proliferation literary prizes, in A Point Of View: And prizes for all.
       She notes that in the UK:
At last count there are between 40 and 50 annual book awards, some fiction, some non-fiction. There are prizes for first novels, prizes for writers under 35, under 30, prizes for crime, for romance, for novels set in history, for ones with a sense of place, one specifically for a novel set in or inspired by East Anglia. Prizes open only to Scottish writers, to Welsh ones, to Christians and most recently to gay men.

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

14 September 2012 - Friday

Gamal al-Ghitani Q & A | Arkadii Dragomoshchenko (1946-2012)
Het aapje dat geluk pakt review

       Gamal al-Ghitani Q & A

       At ahramonline Sayed Mahmoud, Mary Mourad, and Mohamed Saad have a Q & A with Gamal El-Ghitani: Politics dominate literature in post-revolution Egypt (with video, and lots of pictures).
       As far as some of his concerns go ... well, we've heard these before:
Literary life is facing dangers, starting when major publishing houses start adopting the 'bestseller policy'. Looking at the list of bestsellers is alarming, when top of the list is a light comic book and the serious books are at the bottom of the list.
       But he makes some good extra-literary points:
Days ago, the first veiled TV anchor was introduced. At a time when the USA is showing pictures from Mars and the first man on the moon just passed away, the greatest achievement the Brotherhood are bragging about is showing a veiled lady on TV.

       See also reviews of his Pyramid Texts and Zayni Barakat .

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

       Arkadii Dragomoshchenko (1946-2012)

       Arkadii Dragomoshchenko (Аркадий Трофимович Драгомощенко) has passed away; see, for example Jacob Edmon's rememberance at Jacket2.
       I still have those Sun & Moon Press volumes, but more recent English translations include Chinese Sun from Ugly Duckling Presse (see their publicity page, or get your copy from or as well as Dust from Dalkey Archive Press (see their publicity page, or get your copy from or
       See also Shushan Avagyan's Interview with Arkadii Dragomoschenko in Context.

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

       Het aapje dat geluk pakt review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Arnon Grunberg's not yet translated Het aapje dat geluk pakt.

       (Note that his Tirza is coming out from Open Letter in a few months -- and their publicity page is up, and you can now already pre-order it from or

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

13 September 2012 - Thursday

German Book Prize shortlist | China and the Nobel Prize | Translations/originals

       German Book Prize shortlist

       Hot on the heels of the Man Booker Prize shortlist announcement, the German Book Prize -- structured as a German Man Booker (complete with ridiculous publisher-submission-limitations (only two apiece !) and complete lack of transparency (what books were submitted ? they'll never tell ...) now announces: Six novels on the shortlist.
       At Deutsche Welle Aygül Cizmecioglu also reports that German Book Prize announces shortlist -- and provides brief descriptions of the finalists.
       I haven't seen any of these, but it looks like a pretty solid list. Also worth noting: Suhrkamp places an amazing three titles on the list -- fully half of the finalists (impressive because, as noted, only two titles per imprint can be submitted -- though additional ones do slip in by being called in, as must have happened here).

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

       China and the Nobel Prize

       Ah, yes, as Nobel season approaches it's time for concerns like these: at People's Daily Online they wonder When can Chinese shed 'Nobel Prize complex' ? -- asking:
Why does China, a country with an ancient civilization and world's large population, always miss the Nobel Prize for Literature ? How can the Chinese literature be ignored and pushed to the edge of the world literature since the Chinese economy had a significant impact on the world and Chinese culture is loved by the people of many countries ?
       Ah, yes, why and how indeed ?
       Cruelly taunting them, I note that China has had two Nobel laureates -- okay, it's simply mean to saddle them with 1938 winner Pearl S. Buck (even though she won: "for her rich and truly epic descriptions of peasant life in China and for her biographical masterpieces" ...), but 2000 winner Gao Xingjian is a bona fide (if disowned ...) Chinese writer through and through (the occasional written-in-French work notwithstanding ...). And they even gave him the prize: "for an œuvre of universal validity, bitter insights and linguistic ingenuity, which has opened new paths for the Chinese novel and drama"-- paths that, however, do not seem to have been embraced and followed back home.
       The problem is, of course, not that a Chinese author hasn't been honored with the Nobel, but rather that the right kind of Chinese author hasn't been honored. (Hey, Julia Lovell wrote a whole book about this Chinese hang-up, The Politics of Cultural Capital.)
       All taunting joking aside, the Chinese could do worse than embrace Buck, whose Nobel lecture seems right in line with the official party line. She acknowledges: "it is the Chinese and not the American novel which has shaped my own efforts in writing" -- and explains:
When I say Chinese novel, I mean the indigenous Chinese novel, and not that hybrid product, the novels of modern Chinese writers who have been too strongly under foreign influence while they were yet ignorant of the riches of their own country.
       (Which I imagine is what officialdom there says about Gao Xingjian .....)
       Of course, the Chinese aren't the only ones with a Nobel-inferiority complex -- recall two weeks ago I mentioned a misguided Indian Nobel campaign, and nationals from many other countries complain equally bitterly.

       Meanwhile, in Nobel watching, the Ladbrokes odds have remained largely unchanged -- the exceptions being ... Bob Dylan (his odds down to 10/1, making him the second favorite -- if you know anyone who has actually generously donated money to Ladbrokes by 'betting' on him please try to get them professional help, either from a psychiatrist or an accountant ...) and Tom Stoppard, who is down to 16/1 (from opening odds of 66/1). Remember that final deliberations for the winner have not yet begun -- and won't for two more weeks; new names and odds-changes might indicate some information about who is on the shortlist, but given that Harold Pinter won only a few years ago I have my doubts another British playwright is already back in the running, and as far as Dylan goes ... oh, get serious people: he is not in the running, never has been, never will be.

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


       In the New Statesman Ollie Brock asks: 'where do you draw the line between original and translation ?' in Translators shouldn't be slaves to the holy "original".
       There is of course no easy, one-size-fits-all answer (though my (very unpopular) preference is for slavish adherence, regardless). But what I do find particularly troubling is wholesale re-creation, as he also describes it here:
I recently completed a co-translation of a collection of stories with four other translators. It is a new work, combining five stories from an original collection of six, a novella split into its four parts and one previously uncollected piece as a sort of coda. Despite a translation copyright line that reads like the result of a multiple merger of legal firms, and a mammoth editing process, we've managed to produce a single, coherent text.
       Presumably this is Eduardo Halfon's The Polish Boxer. I have an advance copy of that book -- clocking in at 188 pages in the Bellevue Literary Press edition (see their publicity page), though the 'original', El boxeador polaco runs to barely more than a hundred. Bellevue provided what I thought were excellent supporting materials with the ARC -- including a Q & A with Halfon, and 'A Note about the Translation' by co-translator Daniel Hahn. But Hahn's 'note' suggests a simple co-translation, of a single, unified text -- "We divided the chapters of the book among us to produce first drafts", etc. -- and makes no mention of the novella-pieces and uncollected coda being intergrated into the original text, or the exclusion of one of the chapters from the original. Since it's not a finished copy, I don't know how upfront the publishers will be with readers about what's being done here, but I find it hard to see this as a translation of El boxeador polaco. (I recall publishers did something similar with Yamada Amy years ago ... yeah, that worked out well.)
       So in part what Brock is addressing isn't simple translation, but a wholesale re-making of text(s) in English. Editorial interference -- major cuts and changes, usually unacknowledged -- in translated works is something I keep stumbling across (including in such recent 'major' works as HHhH and Freud's Sister) and I have to say, I really don't like it. (And if and when publishers do it, I think the least they could and should do is include a note with the text explaining exactly how they've messed with it.)
       Yeah, overall I think more slavish adherence to the original, all the way around, is the way to go .....

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

12 September 2012 - Wednesday

Barley Patch review | Man Booker Prize shortlist
Writing in ... Estonia | Hotel room discards

       Barley Patch review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Gerald Murnane's Barley Patch.
       I'm a sucker for books about writing (and reading) anyway, but Murnane's near-perfect putting theory into practice here puts this many cuts above the usual such novel -- though admittedly a big part of that is presumably that I see reading and writing much as he does here. Certainly this book strikes me as an ideal corrective to the American MFA-school-of-writing.
       Some of the other reviews suggest not everyone sees/read this book in any way similarly to how I did -- in large part because they seem unable or unwilling to see it as a work that is decidedly one of fiction (given how emphatic Murnane is on this point it seems kind of hard to miss, but what do I know ...) -- but this is easily the best and by far the most impressive book I've read in well over a year.

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

       Man Booker Prize shortlist

       They've announced the shortlist for the 2012 Man Booker Prize; only one of the titles is under review at the complete review (the only one of the titles I've seen, too ...), The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng.

       (Pet peeve note: the first sentence of the press release reads:
Deborah Levy, Hilary Mantel, Alison Moore, Will Self, Tan Twan Eng and Jeet Thayil are the six shortlisted authors in contention for the Man Booker Prize 2012, it is announced today, Tuesday 11 September 2012.
       My understanding is that the Man Booker is a book prize, so I'm puzzled that a shortlist announcement should begin by listing "the six shortlisted authors" (rather than, say, the six shortlisted books ...). Yes, the books eventually get mentioned, but, as far too often, personality seems to trump substance. Who cares who wrote what ? it's what whoever wrote that counts; focus on that, folks !)

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

       Writing in ... Estonia

       In Helsingin Sanomat Sirpa Pääkkönen gives an overview of the literary situation in Estonia, in Estonian literature needs Sofi Oksanen. (Note that this is a Finnish publication, so it's maybe not so surprising that they focus on Finnish (and Finnish-writing) Purge-author Sofi Oksanen .....)
       As in much of the former Soviet Union, independence made for great changes in the local literary market:
Novels had large print runs and the appearance of new ones were eagerly-awaited events. In the 1970s, novels by Jaan Kross had editions of between 20,000 and 30,000 copies. More than 1,000 copies of poetry books by Viivi Luik were printed. This is a large number compared with the editions of poetry books today.

After the golden generation, Estonian literature continues to have a connection with society, but since Estonia became independent, the pendulum has swung to the opposite end. With free markets, all kinds of things are run through the printing presses, from light entertainment to self-help books.
       (Shocking ! light entertainment ! self-help books ! oh, dear !)
       Also interesting:
The most frequently-lent author in Estonian libraries is the prolific Eerik Tohvri. Another popular figure is Ira Lember, who wrote children’s books in the Soviet period, and who now writes depictions of the everyday life in Estonia. In third place in the library check-out statistics is the late British author Barbara Cartland.

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

       Hotel room discards

       It's time for the annual Travelodge (UK) report on what books are most often left behind in their hotel rooms; no tally at the official site yet, but The Telegraph has the top twenty, in Fifty Shades of Grey is 'most discarded' book. In all, 21,786 books were found in 36,500 hotel rooms.

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

11 September 2012 - Tuesday

M-Net Literary Awards shortlists | Salman Rushdie's memoir
Thai short stories | Czech German-language authors | Sister Hollywood review

       M-Net Literary Awards shortlists

       The M-Net Literary Awards -- "the benchmark honour for South Africa's most talented writers", they say -- have apparently announced their shortlists. Typically, the press release isn't at the official site yet, last I checked, but they apparently did manage to send it to the BooksLive weblog, where Lindsay reports Shortlists Announced for 2012 M-Net Literary Awards -- and prints the entire press release. (Man, do I look forward to the day when publicists who send out press releases figure out that the first place those should be released at is at the site of the folks releasing the press release ... but I've been holding my breath on this for over a decade, so I don't expect that to happen any time soon.)
       With English, Afrikaans, and African language categories, the M-Net does cover a nice spread of South African fiction; amazingly, one o fthe titles is actually under review at the complete review: 7 Dae by Deon Meyer.

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

       Salman Rushdie's memoir

       With Salman Rushdie's memoir, Joseph Anton, due out soon (pre-order your copy at or -- I hope to review it once/if I get my hands on a copy ...) the publicity machine has started up, beginning with a nice big chunk of it excerpted in The New Yorker where Rushdie writes on: 'How the fatwa changed a writer’s life', The Disappeared.
       Meanwhile, The Telegraph has Sameer Rahim tread over well-trod ground in The Satanic Verses and me.
       (I remain a big The Satanic Verses-fan -- and not for its supposedly blasphemous reputation (which I'd heartily approve of were there any truth to it, but it's a stretch by any imagination). Not at the level of Shame -- easily Rushdie's best -- or Midnight's Children, but a solid number three in the Rushdie-œuvre rankings (and, really, those three are the only ones you have to bother with -- though I hold out high hopes for Joseph Anton, which sounds like something he could pull off nicely; generally, I don't like to see writers forsake fiction for non, but I'm afraid it's pretty clear that Rushdie blew his fiction-wad quite a while ago but his talents might do nicely for this sort of self-centered rumination (and the material is certainly promising)).

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

       Thai short stories

       In the Bangkok Post Belle Baldoza reports that Dynamic kingdom served up in byte sized portions, reporting on Marcel Barang's translated anthology of 11 Thai Short Stories 2011; see the Thai Fiction publicity page.
       Barang is a one-man translating-from-the-Thai phenomenon -- too bad his work doesn't get more attention abroad. Check out the phenomenal Thai Fiction for what's on offer; the latest anthology certainly sounds like a solid introduction, too. (As I've often complained, aside from the Central Asian countries, it's this part of South East Asia -- including Burma, Laos, Cambodia, and to just a slightly lesser extent Viet Nam, that is the most woefully underrepresented in translation (or at least in translation folks are aware of ...).)

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

       Czech German-language authors

       The Prague Daily Monitor reports that a Prague German Literature Cabinet exhibition opens -- at the Prager Literaturhaus deutschsprachiger Autoren (Pražský literární dům autorů německého jazyka) -- though it's unclear how much of that can of worms they open. (But, yes, there were a lot of very impressive and important German-writing 'Czech' authors other than just that Kafka guy .....)
       And I'm certainly intrigued by any exhibition where, apparently:
The authors are presented in the form of a filing cabinet.

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

       Sister Hollywood review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of C.K.Stead's 1989 novel, Sister Hollywood.
       With Aotearoa New Zealand the 2012 Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair (see their official site, While Your Were Sleeping), I'd love to cover more New Zealand literature, but it's damn hard to come by hereabouts. There was apparently a US edition of Sister Hollywood, but that certainly made essentially no impact (my copy is the old Harvill paperback, picked up used somewhere) -- and most of his other work remains ... frustratingly inaccessible.

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

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