In The Sun Beatrice and Solomon Ojehonmon consider at length Why things fell apart at the Nobel Prize in Literature -- i.e. why Chinua Achebe never took the prize (though they're still holding out posthumous hope, too ...).
I always enjoy this kind of speculation -- especially when it's entirely theoretical (i.e. not based on any insider or actual knowledge of the Swedish Academy's deliberations) -- and the Ojehonmons certainly offer an ... entertaining spin on Achebe's most famous novel, Things Fall Apart ("by making Okonkwo to hang himself, the late Professor Chinua Achebe unwittingly played the novel into the hands of our colonial masters") to go along with their explanation.
Of course, things ... well, they start to fall apart as to the thrust of their argument.
For one, they keep harping on Achebe being: "denied the Nobel Prize for his novel, Things Fall Apart" -- but, while the Swedish Academy occasionally singles out a specific work by a laureate "for particular recognition" (it's happened nine times, but not since ... Sholokhov's And Quiet Flows the Don in 1965), the Nobel Prize is an author prize (awarded for a life's work), not a book prize.
The Ojehonmons seem to fail to understand this, suggesting:
our former colonial masters are canvassing the award only for Chinua Achebe's Things Fall Apart, but the Swedish Academy is refusing to be conned into promoting their imperialistic agenda.
It'll be interesting to see, once the archives are opened (after fifty years), who -- if anyone -- nominated Achebe, as well as how seriously the Swedish Academy considered his candidacy -- but I doubt he fell short simply because of that one novel (and, in fact, I'm pretty sure even the Swedes thought it was a strong piece of work (i.e. that it worked in his favor, and didn't undermine his candidacy)).
While I imagine the Swedish Academy would have considered Achebe fairly seriously as a candidate if and when he was nominated, I remind you that that first hurdle is not the easiest to clear: you have to be in it to win it, and that means someone has to nominate you.
Recall that authors such as Proust, Joyce, and Kafka were never even considered for the prize because no one ever nominated them.
(The Nobel nomination database only runs through 1950, so we don't know about later nominations yet, but it can't be taken for granted that he was in the running year in and year out.)
(The Ojehonmons also hold out hope for a posthumous Nobel for Achebe but the Nobel statutes make clear that the dead can't be considered for the prize (and an award will only be awarded posthumously if the prizewinner dies between being selected and the actual awarding of the prize).)
Of course, the Ojehonmons aren't really fixated on the Nobel as much as they are on offering their interpretation of Things Fall Apart, and I suppose this was a reasonably clever way of doing that.
This year's Prague Writers' Festival is significantly smaller, both in terms of time and number of invitees, than previous editions.
This is the result of a massive cut in the funding provided by the City of Prague, from last year's 3.5 million Kč ($176,000) to 300,000 Kč -- a reduction of more than 90 percent.
Basset says this may eventually mean the end of the festival.
That's a pretty drastic reduction -- but then literature doesn't seem to be much of an (official) priority right now: Guillaume Basset, the festival's deputy director, is also quoted as saying that: "this year the city has allocated only 2.5 percent of its cultural budget for literature".
The smaller festival nevertheless attracted some solid talent, including Orhan Pamuk, Sonallah Ibrahim, and Yasmina Khadra.
As I mentioned last week, The New York Times Book Review has a new leader, as Pamela Paul has taken over from longtime head-man Sam Tanenhaus.
As I've noted so many times over the years, one of the issues I've had with Tanenhaus' leadership is the woeful neglect of coverage of anything in translation (and, of course, Tanenhaus went out with a translationless issue).
One of my observations over the years -- and proof for me of how deeply conservative (in the sense of closed-off-to-anything-new) Tanenhaus is -- has also been that an inordinate percentage of the few books-in-translation that did receive review coverage in the NYTBR were:
a) by dead authors
b) and/or retranslations (i.e. new translations of works that had previously been available in other translations)
(My interpretation of this has always been that Tanenhaus somehow believed publication-after-death and, more obviously, the seal of approval that a new translation of a previously available work (if it's worth translating yet again, it must be okay ...) imparts make such selections safe bets.
(Same with things like the Nobel Prize -- the NYTBR did cover foreign-language-writing laureates' books too, but of course they don't churn out all that many of those.))
Now of course it's much too early to judge how things will go under Paul, but I have to admit a first look at the first issue under her charge ... well, it was like a slap in the face.
Yes, Marilyn Stasio offers brief discussion of two translated mysteries in her crime-roundup, so that's something, but the only full review of a book in translation is Joseph Luzzi's review of ... Dante's Divine Comedy, in Clive James' translation.
I don't know whether to laugh or cry.
At his Guantanamo prison library books for detainees-tumblr The New York Times reporter Charlie Savage collects pictures of the books on the shelves of the Gitmo library.
Great stuff -- and fascinating to see some of what's on offer (as well as how many multiple copies they have of some titles -- and how well-read so many of these volumes are).
Also: you have to wonder how this collection was put together -- two copies of The Encyclopedia of Classic Cars ? seriously ?
No word, either, on how The Anxiety & Phobia Workbook is working out for them .....
Amusingly, Savage also tweets:
Hey my Tumblr is weirdly blocked by Gitmo web censors: "URL: http://gitmobooks.tumblr.com/ Block reason: Forbidden Category "Adult/Mature Content""
In Eurozine Ieva Lesinska has a fairly extensive Q & A with Etgar Keret, High register, low register.
Some interesting translation-discussion -- as well as an explanation why Keret has been a vegetarian since the age of five.
In Salon (Slovakia), in To hesitate is fine, Ilma Rakusa discusses the national labeling of writers, pointing out that:
I write in German but never about Germany and even less about Switzerland where I have lived for several decades.
I do not feel like a "Swiss woman writer" which is how I am classified in reference works.
In practical terms, I am a woman who writes in German with eastern Central European roots.
So why not call me a European woman writer in the first place ?
This is the designation I would prefer most, for instead of constraining it opens up a wide horizon.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jacques Bonnet's Phantoms on the Bookshelves.
(As a book hoarder and 'manic reader', I can relate -- and, of course, love to read this kind of stuff.)
Also in The Telegraph, Tim Martin profiles Andreï Makine -- whose unusual career-path ("he was forced to pretend that his books were translations from Russian originals before French publishers would agree to put them out") always makes for a good story.
The April issue of Asymptote is now available online -- and there's a lot of great stuff here to keep you busy.
Among the (many) highlights: pieces by and about Marginalia on Casanova-author Szentkuthy Miklós, as well interviews with two translators:
Julia Sanches and Megan Berkobien have a Q & A with Margaret Jull Costa (though I'm disappointed her Paulo Coelho-work was not discussed ...), and Zack Friedman has a Q & A with Roadside Picnic-translator Olena Bormashenko.
They've announced the 2013 Pulitzer Prize winners.
The criticism prize went to art critic Philip Kennicott (who beat out two TV critics).
The fiction prize went to The Orphan Master's Son, by Adam Johnson, which beat out What We Talk About When We Talk About Anne Frank by Nathan Englander and The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey.
The Orphan Master's Son -- like all the other winning titles and finalists in the various other categories -- is not under review at the complete review, but it's something I might get to; meanwhile, get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
It sounds incredible that the Chinese would honor a literary guru by stealing radishes from his garden and pulling the bricks out of the walls of his home.
But this did happen to Mo Yan, the first writer residing in China to win the Nobel Prize in Literature.
It's unclear whether Elfriede Jelinek (et al.) have similar problems in their gardens and houses; still, it does seem rather ... excessive.
What really surprises me, however, is that Mo and his relatives haven't set up shop (or at least a stand) nearby and offered Mo-morabilia (including radishes from the garden) for sale -- at a nice mark-up .....
Issue 2013:1 of the Swedish Book Review is now available -- in part -- online.
The reviews are available online, so that's good; Hjalmar Gullberg's 'Dead Amazon: Remembering Karin Boye', translated and introduced by Bruce Phenix, alas, isn't -- though you can find the Swedish original, Död amazon, in a variety of places .....
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Hayashi Fumiko's Floating Clouds.
Columbia University Press published Lane Dunlop's translation of this 1951 novel in 2006, but they've now come out with a paperback edition, too.
As I recently mentioned, after nearly a decade at the helm, Sam Tanenhaus is being succeeded by Pamela Paul as editor of The New York Times Book Review.
(Today's issue -- though agreeably heavy on poetry-coverage -- is, unsurprisingly, representative of his translation-phobic standards: not a book in translation in sight (so too last week, etc. etc.).)
For context's sake, what factors go into determining the books that get reviewed ?
It's a complicated question. ...
The short answer comes down to the quality of the book.
We also ask ourselves some basic questions: Does this book matter ?
Is it a book our readers will want to be aware of ?
Is there something interesting to say about it, and a good person to write thoughtfully and intelligently about it ?
And we go from there.
Which all sounds well and good and sensible enough, but given how the selection process has been going for quite a few years now (and given that Paul has been promoted from within (i.e. has been part of the problem process), and given that it doesn't sound like there's any other planned personnel shake-up at the NYTBR ...).....
Still, one hopes for positive change (and not, for example, yet more bestseller lists taking up the NYTBR's limited pages ...).
In 1982, Naveen Kishore founded Seagull Books in India's megacity, Kolkata.
Today, it is the world's most prolific publisher of German literature in English.
It's a great publisher (and not just of books from the German -- from Pascal Quignard (The Roving Shadows) to Mo Yan (Change), they have a hell of list) and a fair number of their titles are under review at the complete review, and many more will follow.
Given how shamefully timid the major American and British publishers have become regarding fiction in translation, it's great to see not only independents in the US and UK rise to the challenge, but now also publishers such as Seagull take up some of the slack.
In the Global Times Zhang Lei reports on Emily's secrets -- profiling Yu "Emily" Xiaodan, as:
Yu, who notably translated Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita and Raymond Carver's short stories into Chinese, both with a great impact on China's literary youth in the late 1980s and early 1990s, abandoned her life as a literary editor for Foreign Literature Review by the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences and started anew in the US in the mid-1990s.
What became of her ?
She's now: "a fully-fledged lingerie designer".
Yes, translators, there's hope for you all !
If you're tired of word-play, a world of under-wear awaits you .....
(And, yes, reading this I once again shed some tears at the thought of what this world's come to .....)
Murakami Haruki's new novel, 色彩を持たない多崎つくると、彼の巡礼の年, has now been released in Japan -- apparently with a first print run that has ballooned to 600,000.
It's obviously been much and eagerly anticipated -- so see, for example, Haruki Murakami fans queue overnight for latest novel by Justin McCurry and Alison Flood in The Guardian and Fans flock early to snag Murakami's latest book by Jun Hongo in The Japan Times.
Among the earliest (summary-)reviews is one in English: Chiaki Yoshimura's review in the Asahi Shimbun [via]; meanwhile, livemint offer its 最速レビュー, and lots more Japanese coverage should follow in short order (the book isn't that long).
Eric Johnston's The Japan Timespiece says only that: "an English translation is being discussed" -- though I think we can put that in the 'safe bet' category; on the other hand, the fact that it's merely at the discussion stage suggests we won't be seeing it for a while .....
They've announced the 2013 Guggenheim fellowships -- 175 selected from nearly 3000 applicants; see the full list of fellows (alphabetically, and with brief project-summary) or the list of fellows by field.
Nice to see several translation projects being rewarded, including Philip Boehm for "new prose texts by Herta Müller" and Bill Johnston for a "new translation of Adam Mickiewicz's Pan Tadeusz".
This year's fiction fellows are: Kiran Desai, Adam Johnson, Rachel Kushner, Ben Marcus, David Means, Terese Svoboda, and Colson Whitehead
Lots of other writers also got Guggenheims, including Carlin Romano (working on: "Is there an Asian philosophy ?") and Leah Price ("Book fetish: how rethinking the printed past can transform our digital future").
It's been quite the week for shortlist-announcements for international fiction prizes, and now we have the final one, as the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize has announced its shortlist, consisting of six titles:
Bundu by Chris Barnard
The Detour (published as Ten White Geese in the US) by Gerbrand Bakker
There's no overlap with the Best Translated Book Award finalists -- announced Wednesday; see my discussion -- though in large part that's an eligibility issue: three of the six Independent Foreign Fiction Prize-titles have 2013 US publication dates (and hence will be up for next year's prize, rather than this year's), and one (Trieste) doesn't seem to have any .....
However, two also-BTBA-longlisted titles that did not move on to that shortlist did make the IFFP shortlist: the Vila-Matas and the Neuman.
Also of note: among the titles they had longlisted the IFFP also passed on Knausgaard's My Struggle (as did the BTBA) as well as, even more stunningly, Krasznahorkai's Satantango (a BTBA finalist) -- and, more disappointingly, Diego Marani's The Last of the Vostyachs.
The eligibility criteria make for three slightly different pools for IFFP, BTBA, and the third in the lot, the IMPAC (see my last mention), but it's striking that there's no remaining overlap (as there still had been at the longlist stage).
Murathan Mungan 'writes for PEN Atlas about how East and West view each other, what Henry James could have learnt from Halit Ziya Uşaklıgil and the building of a new Tower of Babel', in The Silk Road.
Among the points he makes:
Another issue is that for the books of both large and small countries from around the world, achieving translation and publication relies on receiving a seal of approval from Western centres.
They're not free to make their own discoveries.
For example, if a Norwegian or Spanish or Japanese or Egyptian writer is to encounter a Turkish writer, that writer has to have already been encountered by the West.
In the end, this situation creates a vicious cycle.
Since they look out at the world in order to find original material, what they are bound to find is not the world staring back at them but their own reflections in the mirror.
Instead of seeking anomalies or eccentricities from the around the world, the epicentres of Anglo-Saxon culture seek only those works that fit into their own literary currents and trends.
I'm not sure it's quite that bad, but it's certainly true for much of what is published -- and it is something readers should keep in mind, or at least be aware of.
For mainland Luddites who prefer to sit down and read a book that their government has determined unsuitable for general consumption, the closest thing to a 3-D VPN is People's Recreation Community, a tiny bookstore in Hong Kong's Causeway Bay known for selling the widest range of banned books available in greater China.
There is only a handful of publishers left, while e-publishing is savaged by instantaneous piracy that goes almost completely unpoliced.
There's a lot more to the Russian situation (which was dire before e-books became a problem -- the post-Soviet transition wreaked havoc which they haven't recovered from yet), but, yes, piracy is an issue -- as made clear by the plaintive cry of Читай легально (yes, a dedicated website begging readers to: 'read legally') as, as Alisa Orlova now reports at Russia Beyond the Headlines, Russian writers urge readers to read legally (as, apparently, there's now some way to 'read' illegally ...).
I don't think quite enough is made of how very underdeveloped the 'legal' e-market in Russia is -- publishers don't seem to have bothered that much trying to develop it (perhaps in part because of some piracy-fatalism ...) -- but it's interesting to hear that, as Mikhail Osin, head of digital sales at OZON.ru explains/complains:
"In 2010, OZON.ru became the first company to introduce an e-reader for the Russian market that allowed its users to buy books online and sync their purchases.
Unfortunately, the project was a failure," said Osin.
"In practice, Russians usually only use such devices to store their collections of pirated books, and this tendency can be observed even today".
(I note: 2010 ?
That's when they started offering a dedicated e-reader ?
Maybe a little bit late in the day, no ?)
Olga Martynova took last year's Bachmannpreis -- that German-language read-aloud-and-be-immediately judged prize -- and now the novel from which her winning entry was taken has been published, as Mörikes Schlüsselbein.
Publisher Droschl describe 'Moerike's collarbone' as: "A tale of generations unlike others: in a tender, perspicacious and humorous manner" and suggest: "the fascination of literature has rarely been related with as much ingenuity, wit, intelligence and, yes, wisdom".
The early German reviews put it slightly less awkwardly -- but no less enthusiastically: check out reviews in the Falter and Frankfurter Rundschau, for example.
This sounds really, really good -- I'm very eager to see it; meanwhile, get your copy at Amazon.de.
Through this translation competition, we would like to address two deficiencies in Jünger studies.
First, very few of Jünger’s works have been translated into English; and second, Jünger’s travel writings have received comparatively little scholarly attention even in Germany.