The Commonwealth Writers' Prize, established in 1987, gave out a prize each year for best book and then also best first book -- first announcing regional finalists, and then picking a winner from these.
Sure, it had its limitations -- that whole Commonwalth crap, and a written-in-English requirement -- but the lists of winners wasn't too shabby: Janet Frame, Mordecai Richler, David Malouf, Vikram Seth, Rohinton Mistry (a two-time winner), Peter Carey, Murray Bail, J. M. Coetzee, Peter Carey for best book, and, for example, Vikram Chandra, Zadie Smith, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Tahmima Anam, and Mohammed Hanif for best first book.
All in all, a respectable list, no ?
Well, they discontinued the general book prize in 2012, and for the past two years it's just been the 'Commonwealth Book Prize', the re-styled best first book prize (Shehan Karunatilaka took it in 2012 for Chinaman: The Legend of Pradeep Mathew) -- but now they've announced they've axed that too.
All that's left is the Commonwealth Short Story Prize, "awarded for the best piece of unpublished short fiction (2000-5000 words)".
No doubt there are resource issues (i.e. the lack thereof), etc., but it's still damn disappointing.
We already lost the Pacific Rim-focused Kiriyama Prize (last awarded 2008) and the pan-African Noma Award (last awarded 2009), and while there have been some new prizes that cover some of the same territories as these, it's still a shame.
At Slate Katy Waldman considers: 'Two gifted sisters, a domineering mother, and one of the greatest literary feuds of English lit' in "A Narrative of Jealousy and Bafflement and Resentment" -- that entertaining sibling rivalry between writers Margaret Drabble and A.S.Byatt.
(Personally, I think it's no contest: Drabble is perfectly fine, but Byatt towers over her.)
It's hard enough to find anything translated from the Burmese (see also the few offerings at the complete review), but there are also several large minority cultures in Burma with distinct languages that you never see anything in translation from.
As Douglas Long reports in The Myanmar Times there's at least hope for a glimpse now, as the local British Council have started the 'Hidden Words Hidden Worlds'-project -- as Two-year project aims to promote ethnic literature.
There's a bit more at sadaik -- 'an online manuscript chest for all things literary in Burma' that's certainly also worth keeping an eye on.
I've been mulling over the recent n + 1 opinion piece/article, World Lite -- on the idea (or rather, their idea) of 'world literature' (or 'global literature') -- but have had the hardest time coming to grips with it because it seems wrong-headed on so many levels.
Nevertheless, here are a few stray, annoyed thoughts.
At her Arabic Literature (in English) weblog M. Lynx Qualey has a bit of a go at it, in 'World Literature Certainly Sounds Like a Nice Idea' -- and notes the most glaring problem with the piece:
But that the essay comes almost entirely from the point of view of the Anglophone world makes it, all told, a very odd sort of worldliness.
There is no discussion of different literary cultures, different literary and aesthetic values, or the weight placed on forms that have been most particularly developed among Global North-ish minorities.
(Indeed, The Thousand and One Nights gets a mention, but otherwise the name- (and title-)dropping piece is devoid of any Arabic authors or books, for example -- though that's hardly the only lacuna to be found here.)
This is also reflected in the n + 1 observation that:
The key institution in the creation of World Literature has not been the literary festival, or even the commercial publishing house, but the university.
Every World Lit writer seems to have an appointment. Pamuk teaches at Columbia; Paul Muldoon at Princeton; Junot Díaz at MIT.
They're not precise -- though their examples give it away: they mean the American university (with a few UK MFA programmes then thrown in for good measure): it is in the US that the 'international' writer has been put out to that odd pasture that is academia (or what passes as such in the US), making for a comfortable if removed-from-some-reality existence.
Internationally, the writer is much less of a presence at the university; those who are professors in other countries tend to be actual academics (as opposed to American-style MFA lecturers and the like) -- and, indeed, even some foreign authors at universities in the US focus on other academic fields (Omega Minor-author Paul Verhaeghen is a professor of psychology; Johnny Mad Dog-author Emmanuel Dongala lists his academic areas of interest as: "Stereochemistry and asymetric syntheses, and envionmental toxicology" (the misspellings suggesting his editor draws a blank hereabouts)).
The coddled ghettoization (that's what it amounts to) of the writer on campuses remains a distinctly (and bizarrely) American phenomenon -- and I don't think too much should be read into that (problematic though the situation is).
At n + 1 they also grandly pronounce:
World Literature, in the form gestured at by Goethe and now canonized by the academy, has become an empty vessel for the occasional self-ratification of the global elite, who otherwise mostly ignore it.
Fair enough, I suppose, if that's the definition you're going by -- but while Mohsin Hamid's How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia may be what they're talking about that's exactly the sort of novel that strikes me as more of an outlier -- certainly not 'world literature' in any way I conceive it (but rather something tailored very specifically to a very narrow (but, yes, broadly international) readership).
They give a nod to Pascale Casanova's "pathbreaking World Republic of Letters", but seem to have taken the shift to English-language dominance too readily; I don't think it's anywhere near as pronounced as they suggest.
Yes, English is the language everyone wants to (and tries to) get published in, and it's the language most of the authors communicate in at those literary festivals, but it's still not center-stage as far as the global literary world goes; that still strikes me as a more complex (and far more interesting than n + 1 make it out to be) beast.
I'm also underwhelmed by their 'internationalist' turn -- the examples on offer also noteworthy for their English-language availability, and while some are of some specific interest ("Kirill Medvedev’s rejection of copyright,") -- and many of these authors have written impressive works -- they really aren't the most impressive of examples.
Indeed, to say: "Yan Lianke, unlike the Nobel-winning Mo Yan, has moved underground and gained in creative power" is really rather oversimplifying things -- with the Sandalwood Death-author engaged in literary approaches that are no less interesting and noteworthy than those of the author of Lenin's Kisses and Serve the People !.
And, dear god, any piece that bandies about all these notions of 'world literature' and 'internationalist literature' and fails to even mention Juan Goytisolo -- a true exemplar of what I consider world lit -- demonstrates it's barely scratched the surface of the topic.
Finally, some of the claims are just plain odd, such as:
Handke, such a late modernist that the party appears to have ended, is an Austrian who lives in Paris; but can you regularly identify the city or country his peripatetic characters are passing through, metafictional preoccupations in train ?
Given the many works he has written with place names in their titles, given that his volume of collected essays 1967-2007 is titled Meine Ortstafeln Meine Zeittafeln (see the Suhrkamp publicty page), given the damn books, I'd have to say ... emphatically: yes.
They've announced that Ralph Dutli has won the Rheingau Literatur Preis 2013 for his Soutines letzte Fahrt (see the Wallstein Verlag publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.de); it was also longlisted for the German Book Prize last week (see my previous mention).
Yes, the winning title sounds interesting -- based on the painter Chaim Soutine --; yes, Dutli sounds interesting (yet another translating author -- from the Russian, in his case); yes, this prize has an impressive winners-list (Peter Stamm in 2000, Reinhard Jirgl in 2003, Clemens Meyer in 2006, to name just a few winners) -- but what's eye-catching is what he gets for winning: the cleverly rounded amount of €11,111 -- and, more importantly, 111 bottles of local wine (Riesling, apparently).
That should keep him going for a while.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Leonardo Sciascia's To Each His Own -- originally published as A Man's Blessing in its English translation in 1968, and since re-issued (quite a while back already) under this title by New York Review Books.
I like how Isabel Quigly put it in her Times Literary Supplement review:
Leonardo Sciascia writes of a society so fictional-sounding that when it is used in fiction understatement is needed, if drama is not to slide into melodrama.
This -- like his other work -- is definitely worth seeking out.
I mentioned Witold Gombrowicz's autobiographical Kronos when it came out this spring in Poland -- one of the most-anticipated releases of the year there, it seems -- and now Eurozine offer a triple hit of Kronos-related coverage:
There are two processes: creation and consumption.
An author is only responsible for the first.
He can write a novel, a drama, but has no say in how it will be received.
It is beyond his influence.
Society consumes what you produce and it can regale you tomorrow and trample you a month later.
Or give you recognition only after your death, or never.
But again, that is not down to you, your job is to create.
A few of his works have been translated into English, but not too much that can be readily found; I'm surprised English-language publishers haven't kept up with his new work.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Samit Basu's Turbulence -- a fantasy novel from India that's now also available in the US.
On the US edition they have a three-word blurb from the Publishers Weeklyreview -- "Snappy and clever" -- but I'm surprised they didn't have the guts to go with the whole sentence (which I think might cause more potential readers to linger over a copy if they come across it in a bookstore):
Snappy and clever but unfocused and lazy, this may inadvertently be the first hipster superhero story.
Steven Moore's The Novel: An Alternative History: 1600-1800 is due out soon -- the second volume in his novel survey, after The Novel: An Alternative History: Beginnings to 1600 (which I continue to enjoy, even though I haven't managed to put up a review yet -- and I'm very much looking forward to seeing this second volume, too); see the Bloomsbury publicity page, or pre-order you copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Promoting it, Moore now suggests 10 Forgotten Classics You Need To Read at The Huffington Post.
While I pretty much head in the other direction as soon as anyone tells me I "need" to read something, I'm always eager to learn about forgotten classics -- and Moore's list half delivers.
Still, quite a bit here is not forgotten: I'd suggest Goethe's The Sorrows of Young Werther is, in fact, one of the best-known 18th century novels around (even in English -- an Amazon search for the title (in quotation marks) turns up 1326 results ...), and while Cao Xueqin's The Story of the Stone (presented here under one of its alternate title, A Dream of Red Mansions) may not be quite so well-known in English, it is near -- if not at -- the top of the Chinese classics hierarchy.
(Moore suggests The Story of the Stone is: "Recommended if you like Proust", but that seems based largely on its length (it's a very different kind of narrative, in almost every respect); I'd suggest the only similarity lies in their positions as (world) literary standards of the highest order.)
And, seriously -- Tristram Shandy ?
"Not exactly forgotten", Moore admits (though I don't think the Winterbottom adaptation (surely already far more forgotten) has anything to do with that), and yet he includes it .....
(As far as the Grimmelshausen goes -- well, okay, that's a German thing; still, you'd figure the Huffington folk could have dug up an English-language cover; there have been several translations, most notably Mike Mitchell's, published by Dedalus; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)
Still, an interesting glimpse -- but I'm looking forward to the whole, big fat book and all the obscurer novels Moore covers .....
I've mentioned Giacomo Leopardi's Zibaldone, one of the publication highlights of 2013, before (and have now also gotten my very own copy, which has left me near dumbstruck (and buckling under its 2500-page weight) ...) and in the Financial Times Robert Pogue Harrison has the first review of it that I've seen.
He finds it: "splendidly edited" and "superbly translated" (by: "a team of seven scholars in three different countries") -- and suggests it's:
as important as the Notebooks of Coleridge, the Journals of Emerson, the Diaries of Kierkegaard, and the posthumous notes of Friedrich Nietzsche
I may have to invest in a bookstand just to be able to read the book (it's not the kind of volume you prop up in bed), but, yeah, it beckons ever stronger.
If you too can not resist the call: see the Farrar, Straus & Giroux publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
They've announced the longlist for the NLNG Nigeria Prize for Literature -- rotating through genres, it's the poets' turn this year.
See the press release at the official site (where they don't let you forget that it's worth $100,000), or the more useful overview, 11 writers seek 2013 NLNG prize glory, in The Sun.
If you read this weblog you should, of course, also be familiar with Asymptote, the awesome "international journal dedicated to literary translation" -- and since you know how awesome it is, maybe you want to join the team that produces this impressive publication.
Yes, they're recruiting -- through 26 August, so get your act together -- looking for everything from a blog editor to a marketing manager to editors-at-large (particularly recommend for the far-flung readers of the Literary Saloon !) and a variety of other editorial positions.
Asymptote already has wonderfully wide horizons, but maybe you can expand them further !
Sad to hear that Polish playwright (mainly) Sławomir Mrożek has passed away; as the Polskie Radio report has it, that does come close to wrapping things up:
President of the Polish PEN club, Adam Pomorski, has told the Polish Press Agency that Mrozek’s death marks an end of an era in the history of Polish literature.
You could do worse than get your hands on a copy of The Mrozek Reader, which Grove brought out not all that long ago; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
More recently, The Elephant was re-issued in the Penguin Classics series -- see their publicity page or get your copy at Amazon.co.uk --, about which Nicholas Lezard wrote in The Guardian when it came out (again):
the 42 stories here, some of them less than a page long, offer varied experiences which you won't find anywhere else.
They are absurdist parables, by turns hilarious, unsettling and enigmatic.
At The Atlantic Helen Gao wonders Why Aren't Chinese People Reading Books Anymore ?
A lot of these statistics seem a bit iffy to me -- for example, on the one hand: "the Chinese market is awash in books: The country now boasts the world's largest publishing industry by volume, with 8.1 billion books published in 2012", yet on the other: "Chinese people read 4.39 books per capita in the past year" ?
So what happened to all those extra books ?
(4.39 times the population of China is considerably less than 8.1 billion -- and of the 4.39 average one would assume a fair share consisted of library-book (or other borrowed) reading, reading of older books, etc.
I know that the total volume of books published doesn't have to come close to equating to the number of books read, but the great increase in available volumes surely has to be attributable to something (like greater reader interest ...) -- these aren't like the good old days of Mao's 'little red book' which you could foist on every last person in the land.)
[I'd have a bit more faith in the numbers if I could believe there had been some serious editorial oversight here, but given that this is an article about reading where they misspell the title of Joyce's Finnegans Wake I don't think there was any.]
And of course it's the same old story here as in every one of these reports (substituting "China" for country X), with complaints that, for example:
Chinese people have also abandoned more serious and intellectually enriching stories in favor of easy reads
And online reading is treated as somehow different from reading 'real' books -- since, you know: "due to a lack of editorial oversight, the online books vary in quality" (as apparently all print books in China -- including all those pirated translations and editions ... -- enjoy professional-quality editorial oversight, just like articles at The Atlantic, where they know how to spell the name of Joyce's most (in)famous work ... oh, whoops ...).
Ultimately, this reads like a dime-a-dozen filler-article that cobbles together various stray numbers and quotes to come to its foregone conclusion, that age old lament that we constantly hear repeated (and have, for decades and centuries) of the decline of serious reading in locale x and y and everywhere .....
God forbid anyone would ever try to make a serious assessment.
From the (alas, not identified) apparently 201 titles the jury considered, they have now announced that the Jury nominates 20 novels for the German Book Prize 2013 as the longlist has been unveiled.
Some familiar names here, though the only two I have are the Glavinic and the Widmer; there are several more I'd like to see, starting with Daniel Kehlmann's F (which I assume is also the title-most-likely-to-appear-in-English-first from this list)
A six-title shortlist will be announced 11 September (a day after the Man Booker shortlist is announced ...), and the winner will be announced at the Frankfurt Book Fair, on 7 October (a safe full week before the Man Booker winner is announced).
No word yet on any betting shops setting odds yet .....
They've announced the winners of the 2013 PEN Literary Awards.
Sergio De La Pava took the $25,000 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize (for a first novel) for A Naked Singularity, while Frank Deford took the ... PEN/ESPN Lifetime Achievement Award for Literary Sports Writing (while something else won the PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing ...).
The PEN Translation Prize -- for a book-length translation of prose into English published in 2012 -- went to Donald O. White, for his translation of Albert Vigoleis Thelen's The Island of Second Sight (longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award earlier this year).
And while Overlook is to be lauded for bringing out the US edition, the real hero here is Galileo, which brought this out in the UK in 2010 -- well done, and all the credit in the world to them; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
In Kashmir Life Muhammad Maroof Shah diagnoses a Decaying Literary Culture, noting a shift from the previous mystical orientation of Kashmiri literature to what: "can well be described as a literature of lamentation".
As he notes, it's difficult to maintain a local literature in:
a suffocating atmosphere where medium of instruction is still not Kashmiri, where most of the youth don't know Kashmiri at all as it had not been part of their curriculum,
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Alexander Lernet-Holenia's I Was Jack Mortimer, coming out from Pushkin Press.
It's nice to see Pushkin Press offer this; various Lernet-Holenia works have been published in English over the years, but volumes from the likes of Ariadne and the classic Eridanos Library only managed to reach so many readers; this repeatedly filmed (and also made into a German TV movie in 1961, directed by Daniel Kehlmann's dad, Michael; see the IMDb page ...) might help get him more attention.
Still, with such a variety of work he's a hard-to-pin-down author, and that makes him a difficult sell in (English) translation, so I don't know that he'll ever really catch on.
The Booker Prize Foundation has decided to draw on the wealth of knowledge and experience of the former judges and winning authors of the Man Booker and Man Booker International Prizes, and is asking them to join a new Man Booker International Prize e-Council, to advise on authors for the judges to consider, and in due course, on new judges for the prize.
Sounds like a good idea -- though I don't know why the Man Booker-winning authors are being asked, since that surely just tilts the suggestions even more towards English-writing authors, rather than a more international crowd.
Still, the more names they consider, the better.
What they really have to clear up, however, is how 'present' an author must be in English to be considered -- this is a prize that in one iteration wouldn't even consider Peter Handke, António Lobo Antunes, Michel Tournier, and Christa Wolf, among others, because supposedly not enough of their books were available in English -- and yet most recently had several finalists with very few books readily available in the US/UK (see my previous mention).
They really should clear that up.
Forbes has its list (well, slideshow) of The World's Top-Earning Authors: With '50 Shades,' E.L. James Debuts At No. 1.
Sort of heartening to see that it's still possible to earn bucketloads of money by writing (tens of millions of dollars, here -- with James leading the pack at an estimated just under $100,000,000), but then you look at what they're writing ... and, well ... sigh .....
Yes, they've apparently made a film of Charlotte Roche's Wetlands (not to be confused with the recent film of the same title (in translation)) -- and they've now shown it at the Locarno film festival, leading to reports such as Martin Blaney's in Screen Daily, Wetlands stirs controversy.
Amusingly, he reports:
The 12-rated trailer for the 16-rated film has now been replaced by a censored version which, Majestic assures cinema-goers, is "100% G-rated."
"Out of consideration for our American friends, but also for all those people who sicken at very sight of their own body, we want to help protect our youth," the distributor declared with tongue firmly in cheek.
The Dayton Literary Peace Prize will be handed over this November, and part of the ceremony is also the awarding of the Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award -- which, they've now announced, will be going to Wendell Berry.
As, for example, reported at the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy weblog, Michael Crichton's Secret Life Reprinted in Paperback, as Hard Case Crime is republishing some of Crichton's early work that he had originally published under the pseudonym 'John Lange'.
I have to admit I'm kind of looking forward to having a look at some of these -- The Andromeda Strain, right from around that time, remains an early read that's still strong in my memory (as is the very different The Great Train Robbery, and his script for Westworld -- along with the film version of The Andromeda Strain, a TV staple that I caught whenever it came on).
The later stuff did not appeal as much -- with Sphere and its cop-out ending a nadir and Prey, the only one of his books currently under review at the complete review, pretty underwhelming, too -- but he had always had some interesting ideas.
(By the way, as the countdown clock at the Nobel site notes, the Nobel will be announced ... well, not earlier than 51 days from now (but also not too much later than that), so it's time to start thinking gossiping more seriously about who might get it this year (as, admirably, the folks at the World Literature Forum and the Fictional Woods have).)
A recent Korea Gallup poll found that, as Jin Eun-soo reports in The Korea Herald, Haruki Murakami most-read foreign novelist in Korea.
Yes, 24 per cent of people surveyed reported having read a book of his.
Interestingly, however, the same survey found he's not the most popular foreign author among South Korean readers -- that honor going to ... Bernard Werber (best (and, in English, pretty much solely) known for his Empire of the Ants; get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
Murakami comes in second, followed by Tolstoy, Pearl Buck (!), Alain de Botton (!), J.K.Rowling, Guillaume Musso (another mega-bestselling French author that barely registers in the US/UK) and .... Dan Brown and Paulo Coelho.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Italian author Francesco Pacifico's The Story of my Purity.
This came out in English a few months ago and was pretty much DOA in the US/UK; The Guardian seems to be the only major media outlet that bothered with it.
It passed pretty much under my radar too; I didn't get a copy when it came out, and didn't seek one out; one now finally came my way in my capacity as Best Translated Book Award judge (leading to my dutifully reading it -- we're willing to consider absolutely every eligible title published over the course of the year, after all).
Brought out (in the US) by a publisher with the reputation and clout of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, it's a bit surprising it died the quick, silent death it did -- but I have to figure the marketing was a major problem here.
As Tibor Fischer complained in his review:
the heap of endorsements collected here was a bracing reminder of how such effusions bear no actual relation to the book.
When Gary Shteyngart writes "the novel fell on my head like a bowling ball and knocked me the hell out", I sincerely hope he is giving us an account of a book falling from a high shelf and causing concussion.
The back-cover blurbs are also presented on the FSG publicity page, and it's worth noting how much emphasis there is on the book's supposed humor: Dana Spiotta (whose work Pacifico has translated into Italian ...) claims: "Francesco Pacifico is a brilliantly funny and weirdly subversive writer", Gary Shteyngart says this novel is: "Insanely funny and terrifically offensive", and Marco Roth calls it "viscerally honest and hilarious".
The problem is that this is not a comic book (and I don't think it is meant to be) -- indeed, it's not particularly funny at all, in either the laugh-out-loud or chuckle-to-yourself sense.
It's very much in the Houellebecqian mode, but without quite Houellebecq's deadpan humor.
Yes there's a bit of absurd stuff that has a humorous side to it, but, no, this is not a comic novel -- and anyone reading it as such would be bitterly disappointed.
Would-be reviewers apparently quickly tossed it aside when it couldn't live up to its ridiculous billing, and readers probably didn't give it much of a chance either.
I'm not sure it deserves too much attention -- but it certainly desrerves more (and a different kind) than it received.
In Dawn Ajmal Kamal writes about Urdu literature and the events of Pakistan's history -- finding: "it was only after many years that Urdu fiction writers began the process of serious introspection and produced realistic literary works in the healthy tradition of Manto".
The complete review was started in 1999, and this weblog, the Literary Saloon, was added in 2002 -- the first post posted 11 August, exactly eleven years ago.
And here we are, well over 10,000 posts later .....
I'm glad to see you still find it worth dropping in to see whether there's anything of interest to you (as I hope occasionally there is ...), and appreciate your continuing patronage.