The Internationale Literaturpreis - Haus der Kulturen der Welt, now awarded for the fifth time, is the major German 'best translated book award' (with the Leipzig Book Fair Prize the other major contender).
At €25,000 for the author and €10,000 for the translator, it offers good money, too.
They've now announced the winner of the 2013 prize, and it is Open City (author: Teju Cole; translator: Christine Richter-Nilsson) -- a book where, oddly enough, they didn't bother translating the title .....
136 titles, originally written in 27 languages were in the running for this; the shortlist included books by Andrei Bitov, Lloyd Jones, Zakhar Prilepin, and Jean Rolin; previous winners include Lost City Radio by Daniel Alarcón (another English title that went untranslated), Maidenhair by Mikhail Shishkin, and Three Strong Women by Marie NDiaye.
Currently, they're holding BookExpo America ('BEA') in New York City, and as a New York resident I don't have any good excuse for avoiding the proceedings, so yesterday I joined thousands in the halls of the Jacob Javits Center.
Aside from the annoyance of getting there (the Hudson-hugging Javits Center is about as peripheral as you can get while still being in Manhattan), it's enjoyable enough if one doesn't have any obligations or specific goals in mind.
I enjoyed running into a variety of folks, and meeting some I hadn't met in person before.
I'm fascinated that, yet again, the Saudis have a huge presence -- and I still don't know to what end.
(I note that some peninsular neighbors have -- just as mystifyingly -- now joined in: the Qatar National Library, for example (no, it was not mobbed).)
I'm surprised that the Greeks can manage/afford/justify such an impressive spread.
Not sure that was austerity-money well-spent .....
I was surprised to find that Amazon is basically invisible -- last year they had a big AmazonCrossing presence (their translated stuff), but this year it seems they've limited it to Amazon Children's Publishing.
I'm embarrassed to admit I witnessed the spectacle that is 'Snooki' (and am pleased to report that there didn't seem that much fuss around her).
I avoided picking up ARCs/swag/etc. as much as possible.
A couple of publishers catalogs; The End of Oulipo ? and The Kindly Ones-author Jonathan Littell's forthcoming The Fata Morgana Books, handed off by Two Lines Press/Conversational Reading-man Scott Esposito in his various capacities; and two other ARCs:
1914 by Jean Echenoz -- which I couldn't be more excited about; see also the New Press publicity page.
It's apparently only coming out in 2014 (which makes sense); interestingly, the French original was titled simply 14 (see the Éditions de Minuit publicity page)
And, yes, I did stand on line for a copy of Marisha Pessl's Night Film (see the Random House publicity page); yes, I was underwhelmed/irritated by Special Topics In Calamity Physics, but, hey, I don't review enough American fiction, or books by women, so, well .....
At the Prospect weblog Matt Lewis looks at the recent Man Booker International Prize (see my previous mention) and, in A window to the world, wonders, with the prize going yet again to an English-writing author:
In a globalised world with more, better translations than ever, why are we still so resistant to literature in a foreign language ?
They announced the 20-title-strong longlist for the Polish Nike prize a few weeks back.
All genres are eligible, and so you find fiction, non, poetry -- and now also a comic book -- all up for the same prize
See the list on one page here or click through the annoying but more thorough gallery here.
Among the finalists is only one former winner, Jerzy Pilch -- who took it back in 2001.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of the first volume in Jean-Paul Sartre's The Roads to Freedom-trilogy, The Age of Reason.
I've enjoyed a lot of Sartre's writing -- the polemics, the auto/biographical work, the dramas -- but I have to admit his fiction (and his purely philosophical work -- Being and Nothingness ...) has never really won me over.
Minumsa, which plans to publish the Korean version of Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage in July, didn't disclose how much it bid for the rights.
But industry sources believe the company was cutting a check for at least 150 million yen (about $1.47 million), which would represent the highest royalty payment to a foreign author.
No word how much Knopf is shelling out for US rights, but somehow I don't think the amount is at this stratospheric level.
The Chinese Epic, written by Hua Wenfeng [华文峰] and published by Writers Publishing House, is a three-volume entity of poems totaling 40,716 lines.
The ambitious literary creation equals Dante's The Divine Comedy and Homer's The Iliad and The Odyssey in number of lines, says Hua.
Because it's the number of lines that's the measure of all poetry, of course .....
(The three volumes are apparently titled: 中华之歌, 中国人歌, and 华夏神歌.)
At Arabic Literature (in English) Sarah Irving has an interesting, thorough Q & A with translator Marilyn Booth on What Should Be Obvious (But Isn't) About Translating Arabic Literature -- well worth a look.
(And I think it's safe to say when Booth diplomatically mentions: "The very worst situation is when you have a writer who is certain that he or she knows English very well but in fact does not know it to the extent that they can actually be part of the translational process" she's talking about her experiences with Girls of Riyadh author Rajaa Alsanea.)
The Franz Kafka Prize, which hasn't been around all that long, got a lot of attention a few years back when they awarded the prize in back-to-back years to the authors that went on to take the Nobel Prize in Literature that same year, Elfriede Jelinek and Harold Pinter; ever since, folks have kept a close eye on the winners of this international prize for which:
The basic criterion is the quality and exclusivity of the artwork, its humanistic character and contribution to cultural, national, language and religious tolerance, its existential, timeless character, its generally human validity and its ability to hand over a testimony about our times.
The biggest Portuguese-language author prize -- the equivalent of the Spanish-language Premio Cervantes or the German-language Georg-Büchner-Preis -- is the Prêmio Camões, and they've just announced that The Tuner of Silences-author Mia Couto takes this year's €100,000 prize.
See also, for example, the report in the Portuguese American Journal.
As I mentioned last week, five names have been submitted to the Swedish Academy as the likely finalists for this year's Nobel Prize in Literature, and the shortlist will be finalized in a few days' time.
In Izvestia Liza Novikova now has a (Russian) Q & A with the Swedish Academy's point-man on the prize, Петер Энглунд Peter Englund.
He doesn't let anything good slip -- though it is strongly implied that Paulo Coelho will not be getting the prize this (or any) year (still, they have apparently not gone so far as to put Dan Brown et al. on a blacklist ... not that I can imagine too many of the authorities they rely on having submitted the likes of these names for consideration).
Englund does acknowledge/claim that the Swedish Academy is up to speed on the Russian scene (and at least Horace Engdahl -- who used to lead the Nobel proceedings, before Englund -- knows the language).
And he confirms -- as has already been widely reported -- that Vladimir Nabokov was at least nominated for the prize on several occasions (nominations are usually only made public fifty years after the fact).
So for now -- until someone spies what all the Swedish Acadmey members are reading all summer ... -- no new insight into who the final five are for this year's prize.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Murakami Ryu's From the Fatherland, with Love, just out (in the UK) from an increasingly ambitious Pushkin Press that isn't just publishing great old favorites (Couperus, Szerb, Zweig, etc.) but is now taking on some big modern stuff, too (Andrés Neuman's Traveller of the Century and the like).
This Murakami, a dystopian thriller that has the North Koreans planning a take-over of part of Japan, is certainly an intriguing work -- it should get some good attention.
(Interestingly, like another recent Pushkin Press publication, Eduardo Halfon's The Polish Boxer, this is also a multiple-translator effort -- three, in all (Ralph McCarthy, Charles De Wolf, and Ginny Tapley Takemori), compared to the five that tackled the Halfon.)
Aside from Hans Magnus Enzensberger, the great German-language post-war poets were largely East German (or Austrian), and the generation born in the mid to late 1930s which included towering figures such as Volker Braun, Heinz Czechowski, and local favorite Karl Mickel was among the most impressive group: now Sarah Kirsch, the lone and most prominent female representative of that generation (and one-time wife of Rainer Kirsch) has passed away; see, for example, the Deutsch Welle report, Widely regarded German lyricist Sarah Kirsch dies.
She's been fairly widely translated into English, though not much of the stuff remains readily available (i.e. in print); try to get a copy of Conjurations at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
At the Los Angeles Review of Books Stephen Sparks offers Translating Mo Yan: An Interview with Howard Goldblatt, with some interesting discussion of the role of the translator (a more significant figure than many readers, reviewers, prize juries, and publishers readily acknowledge, as Goldblatt again reminds us, as they indeed play the dominant role in making of the original text what we're left with).
The announcement that Lydia Davis was awarded the 2013 Man Booker International Prize has attracted a good amount of attention (see also my previous mention).
Among the most enthusiastic pieces in support of her receiving the prize is Stuart Kelly's Lydia Davis fulfils Booker Prize brief in The Scotsman.
He addresses the concern about yet another North American and English-writing author receiving the prize by suggesting: "Compared with previous years, they paid far more attention to non-English language writing" (because there were more non-English writing finalists), but is on firmer ground with his advocacy for Davis-as-the-right-choice, finding:
Of the ten writers they considered, Davis is the most avant-garde.
Her stories expand the possibility of fiction itself, broaden its horizons, challenge its preconceptions.
She is -- and these sometimes seem like virtues the literary world has shunned -- experimental, complicated, daring.
On the other hand, in his weekly column in The Independent Boyd Tonkin echoes (scroll down to last item) my concerns and suggests:
Before the North American bias becomes endemic, this award urgently needs a radical re-appraisal.
It increased their prestige and I increased the prestige of Kannada. It was mutual.
But he couldn't help but note:
Acknowledging that the Booker committee meant well by including languages like Kannada, the writer said, "But it could be a marketing strategy. Who knows ?"
Then there's Antara Dev Sen's lengthy commentary in the Deccan Chronicle focused specifically on Indian reactions to the prize (not going to Ananthamurthy), in Ambitious prizes, suggesting just how seriously (and not) to take the whole to-do.
Finally, in The Guardian Vanessa Thorpe reports that Lydia Davis hints at move to microblogging fiction, as the author's publisher is apparently egging her on to try her hand at writing on Twitter; she is apparently: "drawn to the idea, despite the fact she writes with pen and paper".
I've mentioned the Uganda Women Writers' Association, FEMRITE numerous times over the years, and it's good to see another high-profile profile of this very successful institution, as Elizabeth Day now reports on How Uganda's female writers found their voice in The Observer.
Aside from the occasional complaints about online writing habits debasing the language, most folk seem to feel comfortable enough with English language usage going with whatever flow takes it -- or whatever regional variations (in the UK and US, as well as many of Britain's former colonies) develop.
Elsewhere, linguistic watchdogs aren't anywhere near as comfortable with allowing much freedom -- hence the French with their language police (and, most recently, getting all up in arms over yet another English-language-takeover threat; see, for example, Angelique Chrisafis reporting on French academia in war of words over plan to teach in English).
In The Hindu Rama Kant Agnihotri argues that: 'The idea that a tongue spoken by a large number of people across a territory is 'pure' and therefore must not be changed is wrong' in Stories they tell about languages, suggesting widely held views on the sacrosanctity of languages -- such as Sanskrit and Hindi -- are entirely and damagingly misguided.
Brooklyn, he finds, is: "rather embarrassingly civilised", and he's "too old for Manhattan" -- "It's just too noisy, too quick".
So says Martin Amis, in a nice long Financial Timesprofile by Martin Dickson.
He also: "don't mind saying a bit" about his work in progress.
(Does he ever mind saying a bit, or a lot, about anything ?)
It's: "set in an unnamed Auschwitz" -- and, well, at this point in his career one can no longer be sure about anything he writes, but maybe it holds some promise.
A few days ago E.J. Van Lanen, of the newly founded Frisch & Co., posted a piece explaining Why I Publish Ebooks, or the Future of Literary Translation, suggesting that the e-format might be a promising approach to dealing with some of the issues that plague getting books in translation published in English.
It's a quite detailed post, and well worth your attention, both for its discussion for the traditional US (print) model of publishing translations -- often necessitating reliance on outside funding, which comes with its own set of issues (boy, does it ever) -- as well as in considering the possible advantages (and disadvantages) of e-publishing.
(Among the interesting/amusing points: his sums as to the costs of e-publishing a book differ ... shall we say: markedly from those of traditional print publishers, who have been moaning for years (in explaining their pricing) that it's not (much) cheaper to do it that way than it is in print.)
Frisch & Co. aren't the only experimenters; Le French Book, for example, is:
a digital-first publisher that brings France's best crime fiction, thrillers, novels, short stories, and non-fiction to new readers across the English-speaking world.
If we love it, we’ll translate it.
I'm not sure that 'best' is the right word for the books in their (initial) selection, but 52 serial shorts-concept -- which involves authors with some name-recognition, such as Yann Queffélec, Tatiana De Rosnay, Didier Van Cauwelaert -- sounds like a good lead title and sampler.
Meanwhile, mega-bestselling French author Marc Levy has never really caught on English (see my review of All Those Things We Never Said), but e-publisher Versilio have now brought out a whole batch of his books in translation, almost all just in e-formats.
A few weeks ago, Gabe Habash and Jim Milliot wrote about how International Titles Finding New Ways into the U.S., which is also worth a closer look.
E-books are one part of it; another interesting approach is foreign publishers not looking to sell foreign rights, but rather publishing translations themselves -- mainly in e-formats.
But even some English-language publishers are having a go at foreign markets -- Australian Text is apparently bringing the wonderful-sounding Text Classics stateside -- damn, I want to see those books !
(I take this opportunity also to remind you of longtime local favorite, the African Books Collective, which basically takes advantage of print-on-demand to make a wide variety of African publications readily available abroad.)
Frisch & Co. kindly sent me their first offering, the good-looking Anatomy of a Night by Anna Kim -- see their publicity page -- but I have to admit I still have the damnedest time reading e-books, much preferring to pick up the printed books scattered and piled all around me.
I can see the appeal of the format (and the reading devices), but I haven't been won over yet -- in fact, I can still barely stand them.
Yesterday they announced that Lydia Davis wins the Man Booker International Prize 2013, as she becomes the fifth winner of this biennial would-be Nobel alternative, awarded: "to a living author who has published fiction either originally in English or whose work is generally available in translation in the English language".
What stands out immediately, of course, is that this is now the third time in a row that the prize has gone to a North American author (after Alice Munro in 2009 and Philip Roth in 2011), and that four of the five prizes have gone to English-writing authors (longtime -- nearly a quarter of a century -- US resident Chinua Achebe took the prize in 2007, and only Ismail Kadare bucked what became the trend, in 2005).
Obviously, written-in-English fiction has a home field advantage, exacerbated by the fact that there have never been clear guidelines as to who should be eligible -- recall that in 2005 judge Alberto Manguel 'lamented' that they couldn't consider the likes of Peter Handke, António Lobo Antunes, Michel Tournier, and Christa Wolf, among others, because not enough of their books were available in English (see my previous mention), yet this year authors such as Marie NDiaye and Intizar Husain made the cut, more than two of either's books in English translation you're unlikely to find in any bookstore in the continental US (or insular Britain).
I think Davis is a fine choice, but the Man Booker International Prize obviously has a serious identity problem on its hands.
This choice already makes it hard for them to keep their international credibility, at least internationally; one more time down this road and they'll lose any remaining credibility -- which isn't the kind of pressure that should be hovering over any literary prize.
For all the whingeing that goes on about the Nobel-awarding Swedish Academy and its predilection for obscure, non-North American authors: from abroad, this has got to look considerably worse.
It was an interesting group of finalists, with seven of the ten authors with books under review at the complete review -- though not, regrettably, Lydia Davis (though I am a fan).
I guess I really will have to finally get around to putting up a review of the marvelous The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis -- but go ahead and get your copy first (really -- it's worthwhile); see the Picador publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Note also that the winner's name was leaked -- a Times of India report (since removed, but originally here; remnants visible here) had the report about three hours before the official announcement -- I'm curious to hear what happened there.
(Updated - 30 May): See now also the chair of the judges, Christopher Ricks, writing about the winner in The curious Lydia Davis in the Times Literary Supplement.
The Guardian prints an edited version of Atiq Rahimi's keynote speech to the Edinburgh World Writers' Conference which I mean(t) to point you to -- but they note that 'the full transcripts of all the speeches' are available at the Edinburgh World Writers' Conference site and I can't believe I've never seen this trove.
Yes, there's not just Rahimi's speech in full but, for example, all the keynote speeches on The Future of the Novel, and sure I'd like to comment on the Rahimi and some of the others but who cares what I have to say -- if you haven't seen this stuff just dive in there -- a holiday weekend is approaching in the US, right ? well, this seems a good site to explore in that time -- I think that's what I might be doing.
Via I'm pointed to Debra Kamin's report in The Tower, which claims that The Greatest Living Hebrew Writer Is Arab.
No, it's not an exposé revealing that, say, Amos Oz is actually Arabic (whatever that might mean ...); rather, she's making the claim for ... Sayed Kashua.
Second Person Singular-author Sayed Kashua is certainly an interesting young writer (emphasis on the young -- he has three books under his belt, but writing-wise still a long way to go), but let's be clear: he's not anywhere near the top of the Hebrew-writing pantheon.
Like nowhere close (there are a lot of really good Hebrew-writing authors.)
Still, I do really like hearing this:
I have a very strange feeling that my fourth novel will start in Hebrew, and then it will turn into a mix of Hebrew and Arabic, and it will end with Arabic.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ricardo Güiraldes' 1926 Argentine classic, Don Segundo Sombra: Shadows on the Pampas.
This is one reason I love going to used bookstores -- for finds like this.
I paid a dollar for this 1948 volume (list price: one shilling and sixpence).
Back then it was the first book by a Latin American author to make the Penguin Books paperback series (as volume 638).
Nowadays -- well, you can find it if you seek it out, but otherwise you're unlikely to stumble across it.
Sure, it's not a book you need to stumble across -- but it's an interesting and not insignificant work, and certainly anyone who reads Argentine fiction should be familiar with it (as all the authors of those books they're reading are).
Via The Modern Novel weblog (which I hope you're following -- lots of good foreign literature coverage to be found across the site) I find the results of ABC's experts'-poll of las mejores novelas españolas desde 2000 -- the best Spanish novels since 2000.
(It seems pretty clear to me that this is a poll of the best Spanish (as opposed to Spanish-language) novels -- and it would be pretty outrageous if it weren't (quite a few Latin American novels strike me as obviously superior to some of this stuff) -- the confusion presumably arising from the presence of we-all-know-he's-Peruvian-right-? Mario Vargas Llosa atop the list.
But Vargas Llosa has been a Spanish citizen since 1993, and they clearly have no problem claiming him as one of their own; longtime Spanish resident Roberto Bolaño, who surely might have placed a book or two on any Spanish-language list, on the other hand is ignored.)
A surprising number of these books are under review at the complete review (and The Infatuations would be ... if I could get my hands on a copy):
As they begin to beat the drum for the 23 July 2013 longlist announcement of the Man Booker Prize -- or pettily try to steal the thunder from today's Man Booker International Prize announcement ... -- The Independent offers Natalie Haynes: Confessions of a Booker judge, as she relates what it's like wading through all the submitted titles.
First off: the piece does contain some actual news, as Haynes reveals that there are apparently 150 titles in the running this year (submissions plus called-in titles).
Judges have done a poor job in recalling the precise number over the years, but they're usually not too far off the mark in their public pronouncements, and 150 would be more than usual.
Still, it's probably best to wait for official confirmation regarding this number -- poor form, by the way, that the official site doesn't have more frequent news-updates providing this sort of information.
Haynes mentions what is truly outrageous about the prize, too -- but does so unquestioningly:
It robs you of the chance to talk about books, too: I'm not allowed to tell you which books have been submitted for the prize, so I can't discuss them with anyone but my fellow judges.
Why isn't she allowed to tell ?
Why don't they publish the full list, so that we can tell whether they're actually dealing with what might be the cream of the crop, or whether in fact the publishers have offered up their Man Booker-flavoured (or so they think and hope) dregs.
As I repeat every year: it's impossible to take a literary prize seriously if they don't tell you who is actually in the competition.
(And given the Man Booker's ridiculously limiting submission options this is a much bigger issue and problem with this prize than with most.)
The question I am most frequently asked about prize judging is, "How do you read all those books ?"
In close second place comes, "Where the hell do you put them ?"
But really the only question should be: what are the books ? (followed, I suppose, by: Why can't you tell us ?)
Clearly the judges have been instructed to present the Man Booker as open-to-everything so that those annoying genre discussion don't flare up again (though they presumably will, once the longlist is revealed), and so Haynes claims:
And the Booker is a broad church. We've been sent thrillers, love stories, family sagas, war novels, spy novels, detective novels and sequels (another consequence of the second Mantel victory ?).
It would sound more convincing if we were told the actual titles -- many a dryly super-'literary' novel can have elements that might be described as thriller-like, or contain a love story of sorts .....
Just tell us what the damn books are already.
PalFest 2013 -- the Palestine Festival of Literature -- runs 23 through 30 May
Among the participating writers from outside the region are China Miéville and Gillian Slovo, and M. Lynx Qualey, of the weblog Arabic Literature (in English) is also participating -- and will presumably be reporting extensively at her site.
Han and Hae were among 38 writers who have been sent to overseas residence programs supported by the LTI since 2003.
They have been dispatched to some 20 regions in the United States, Germany, Spain and France.
The writers are supposed to participate in various events to promote Korean literature and build up friendships with foreign writers.
It's an interesting approach -- I wonder how it will work out.
See also the (limited selection of) Korean literature under review at the complete review.
They've announced that Gerbrand Bakker's The Detour (published in the US as Ten White Geese), translated by David Colmer, has won the 2013 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.
(Interestingly, the Readers' Prize and the shadow iffp selection both went to other books.)
Ten White Geese (i.e. the US edition of The Detour) only came out in the US in 2013, so it wasn't eligible for the most recently (just a few weeks ago) awarded Best Translated Book Award (for 2012 titles), but will certainly be in the running next year.
In 2010 Bakker won the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award for The Twin, so he already has two of the major English-language international book awards under his belt -- impressive (though two other author have also managed this particular double: Orhan Pamuk and Per Petterson (the latter with the same book)).
Last year was the Patrick White centenary, and among the highlights surrounding that was the posthumous publication (in Australia and the UK) of a novel he had begun in 1981 but left unfinished.
Now Picador has brought out a US edition (as a beautiful little (i.e. appropriately -- more mass-market than trade -- sized) French-flapped paperback original) of The Hanging Garden -- and my review of it is the most recent addition to the complete review.
It got good but not great critical attention in the UK (a lot of papers skipped it), but it's great to see that US coverage begins with a bang: apparently the cover-review of the coming (26 May) issue of The New York Times Book Review will be John Sutherland's take on the novel.
(White has been critically and, especially, popularly neglected in recent years, and only a few of his titles are still in print (barely any in the US) -- but it wasn't always quite like that: recall that even something like The Twyborn Affair had been reviewed in, of all places, People (!) back in the day.)
As longtime readers know, I'm a huge fan of White -- a batch of nine reviews (rather thin ones, I'm afraid) of White titles were among the first fifty-odd to appear on the site, more than 14 years ago (yes, back in April 1999), and almost all of his work is now under review (I'm saving up The Tree of Man, for a last hurrah -- and I still need to get my hands on a copy of Happy Valley).
Unfinished and posthumous it may be, but The Hanging Garden is well worth your attention.
Chinese Premier Li Keqiang has been visiting India, and this has led to a variety of protocols, agreements, and 'memoranda of understanding' getting signed, as the two nations try to work more closely together in a number of areas.
There's exciting stuff like 'coöperation in the field of sewage treatment' (something we certainly want the two most populous countries in the world to coöperate on) and 'coöperation in the field of water efficient irrigation'
The one I'm most curious about, however, is number six: the "Memorandum of Understanding [...] on Cooperation in Mutual Translation and Publication of Classic and Contemporary Works".
MoU provides for a Joint Working Group that will coordinate translation and publication of 25 books of Classic and Contemporary Works of each side over a period of 5 years in to Chinese and Indian languages respectively.
I'd love to see the list of books each side submits -- but regardless of the exact titles, it sounds like a very worthy undertaking (and maybe the start of something even bigger and better ?).
Translation -- and cross-cultural exchange --, after all, is always something good.