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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 September 2013

1 September: French book covers | Literature in ... Scandinavia
2 September: Chinese literature in India | Amazon recommends ... Kehlmann to Kehlmann | September online issues | The World of the End review
3 September: German 'Hotlist' | SWR-Bestenliste | Pierre Loti exhibit
4 September: Nobel Prize in Literature: Ladbrokes sets odds | The Devil's Workshop review
5 September: First indications of some Nobel leakage ? | Thai poets | Stéphane Mallarmé profile | New The Quarterly Conversation | Englund on Nobel rumors
6 September: Prizes: Samuel Johnson Prize longlist - Premio Iberoamericano José Donoso | Updating the Ngũgĩ/Nobel betting situation | Updated Translation Database
7 September: Prix Goncourt long, longlist | Eleanor Catton Q & A | Science fiction (not) in ... Nigeria
8 September: Indonesian literature | Gaelic literature | Cocaine review
9 September: New The Manila Review | At Least We Can Apologize review
10 September: Premio FIL de Literatura en Lenguas Romances | Translating the classics ... again | New Simenon translations | 'Bookermania'

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10 September 2013 - Tuesday

Premio FIL de Literatura en Lenguas Romances
Translating the classics ... again
New Simenon translations | 'Bookermania'

       Premio FIL de Literatura en Lenguas Romances

       They've announced that Yves Bonnefoy will get this year's Premio FIL de Literatura en Lenguas Romances (FIL Literary Award in Romance Languages) -- and the $150,000 in prize money that comes with it. It is awarded: "in recognition for lifetime achievement in any literary genre", and with local favorites Complete Works and Other Stories-author Augusto Monterroso (1996) and Juan Goytisolo (2004) among the impressive list of winners it's a pretty solid-looking prize.
       Bonnefoy will be honored 30 November, at the Guadalajara International Book Fair.

       Good Bonnefoy starter-volumes (which I should also be getting to, one of these days) are Second Simplicity: New Poetry and Prose, 1991-2011 (see the Yale University Press publicity page (it's part of their great Margellos World Republic of Letters-series), or get your copy at or and The Arrière-pays (see the Seagull publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

       Translating the classics ... again

       In the Wall Street Journal Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg considers How Many Times Can a Tale Be Told ? wondering: "What possesses a publisher to produce a new version of a classic ?" as he looks at the phenomenon of re-translations.
       Among the hilarious reasons given -- because absolutely every publisher moans about how expensive it is to pay for translations -- is that: "costs are low".
       His focus is on the bona fide 'classics', but re-translation is surprisingly common (indeed, the next review I'll post at the complete review, today or tomorrow, is new translation of a 1948 title, first published in English in 1950 -- and the very next post here at the Literary Saloon is, in (significant) part, about ... re-translations). Still, one does have to ask -- as Trachtenberg does: two new translations of Anna Karenina next year alone ? Seriously ?

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

       New Simenon translations

       In The Bookseller Stacey Bartlett reports that Penguin to publish 75 Maigret novels -- that's the whole series, and that's pretty exciting news. But Bartlett misses the most exciting aspect: apparently at least some are being newly translated, and just check out the first three they have lined up:
  • Pietr the Latvian, translated by David Bellos (publicity page)
  • The Late Monsieur Gallet, translated by Anthea Bell (publicity page)
  • The Hanged Man of Saint-Pholien, translated by Linda Coverdale (publicity page)
       That is a pretty awesome line-up of translators; personally, I prefer the non-Maigret Simenons (indeed, one of the first Simenons I read, way back in the early 1980s when it first came out, was the mother (i.e. bad father) of them all, Mémoires intimes, which I found endlessly fascinating (and since I didn't read it in the edited (boo !) English translation it was even more endless than US/UK readers can appreciate)), but damn right that I want to read the Bellos-Maigret, and the Bell-Maigret. (If you're in the neighborhood: Bellos will be speaking about 'Making Maigret New' in the Translation Lunch Series at Princeton on 16 September.)
       (See also this useful Maigret bibliography for previous editions and translations of all the works.)
       The first Penguin volume -- Bellos' rendering, Pietr the Latvian -- is due out 7 November (28 January in the US, sigh ...); pre-order now at or

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


       Bookermania today presumably largely involves the inevitable fuss surrounding the announcement of the shortlist of this year's Man Booker Prize -- but in efforts to promote additional international hype and attention you can also see Bookermania: 45 Years of the Man Booker Prize at the venerable (and well worth visiting, regardless of what's on) Morgan Library in New York city from 13 September through 5 January 2014.
       I suspect I'll have a look -- but must admit I am made decidedly uneasy by sponsorship from both Man (yes, the 'Man' in 'Man Booker') and prize-awarding The Booker Prize Foundation -- sounds like they've bought themselves a whole lot of self-promotion, if not an outright ad-campaign, merely dressed up as an 'exhibition' .....

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

9 September 2013 - Monday

New The Manila Review | At Least We Can Apologize review

       New The Manila Review

       The third issue of The Manila Review -- "an online publication that aims to map the ideas that shape public discussion in the Philippines" -- is now available online.
       A variety of pieces of some interest, from Bomen Guillermo's review of Edberto Villegas' Barikada to Sasha Martinez's Resisting the Novel: The Affronts of Manila Envelope, her take(-down) of Manila Envelope 4: The Best of Contemporary Filipino Novelists.

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

       At Least We Can Apologize review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Lee Ki-ho's At Least We Can Apologize, another volume from the first batch of ten in Dalkey Archive Press' Library of Korean Literature.

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

8 September 2013 - Sunday

Indonesian literature | Gaelic literature | Cocaine review

       Indonesian literature

       They recently announced that Indonesia will be the 'Guest of Honour'-country of the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2015 -- welcome exposure for an under-exposed literary culture. Among the leading institutions that have been fostering the dissemination of Indonesian literature abroad and in English is the Lontar Foundation, and in The Australian its chairman of trustees, John McGlynn, describes his and their journey, in Indonesia as an open book -- well worth a read.

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

       Gaelic literature

       In Scotland on Sunday Emma Cowing reports that Novel to be published in English & Gaelic same day, as Angus Peter Campbell's The Girl on the Ferryboat will be published simultaneously with Aonghas Phàdraig Caimbeul's An Nighean air an Aiseag.
       Apparently, he wrote it in both languages, too:
"I wrote them both simultaneously in the sense that I would write bits in one language then either do the same again -- but differently -- in the other language, or write a bit in one language then move on to write the next bit in the other language," he said.

"Like a jigsaw or a zig-zag, one field of language would often then open up a surprising and unexpected gate into the other language. I think that in itself provided a dynamism which was very interesting."
       The piece also finds:
Gaelic fiction has become increasingly popular in recent years. Earlier this year saw the publication of the first science fiction novel in Gaelic, Air Cuan Dubh Drilseach by the American-born writer Tim Armstrong
       I couldn't find a Luath publicity page for the Gaelic version, but here's the one for The Girl on the Ferryboat; order your copy at or

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

       Cocaine review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Pitigrilli's 1921 novel, Cocaine, which New Vessel Press is re-issuing this month.
       Great stuff -- ideal light entertainment -- and don't be put off by the drug-connection; cocaine and its (ab)use only play a small part in the novel.

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

7 September 2013 - Saturday

Prix Goncourt long, longlist | Eleanor Catton Q & A
Science fiction (not) in ... Nigeria

       Prix Goncourt long, longlist

       The most prestigious French literary prize is the prix Goncourt, and they've just announced the "1° sélection pour le prix Goncourt 2013".
       Yes, the French being the French they apparently felt a need to outdo prizes like the Man Booker, with its longlist, shortlist, and winner, adding one more stage to the interminable-seeming process: the Goncourt has a long-longlist (the fifteen just-announced titles), to be followed by a longlist (1 October), a shortlist (29 October), and only then a winner (4 November).
       It seems a reasonably interesting list. Among the authors on it with (other) books under review at the complete review are: Marie Darrieussecq, Sylvie Germain, Laurent Seksik, Chantal Thomas, and Jean-Philippe Toussaint. But I know entirely too little about the current crop to even hazard a guess where this is going. In any case, there doesn't seem to be a consensus stand-out title or author.

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

       Eleanor Catton Q & A

       Liam O'Brien has a Q & A in The Independent with The Rehearsal-author Eleanor Catton, now Man Booker-longlisted for her The Luminaries (not yet out in the US),
       Among the interesting (if perhaps sadly predictable) observations:
With my first novel, The Rehearsal, it dealt with teenage sexuality and homosexuality. The reception was very different in different countries. The UK was comfortable with those aspects of it, but the US was not.
       Meanwhile, among the reviews of The Luminaries, there's now one up at the Financial Times by another great New Zealand author, C.K.Stead. He isn't entirely won over:
I finished the novel acknowledging enormous talent but feeling the demands made on time and attention offered insufficient human or intellectual return.
       But I'm still looking forward to this.
       See also the publicity pages at Granta and Little, Brown, or pre-order your copy at or get it at

       (Updated - 9 September): See now also Kira Cochrane's profile of Catton in The Guardian.

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

       Science fiction (not) in ... Nigeria

       In The Sun Elechi Amadi looks Between science fiction and mainstream literature.
       I'm not sure this elder literary statesman is the ideal person to opine on the matter -- after all, he writes:
What is the Science Fiction scene in Nigeria like ? I have not read any modern SF written by a Nigerian or, indeed, any African author. I suspect that if modern SF exists in Nigeria, it is certainly very scarce.
       Though he overstates the situation, it is interesting that science fiction remains relatively underdeveloped, country- and continent-wide. Still, I'd rather hear from those who are a bit more aware of the contemporary scene (limited though it might be) than he appears to be.

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

6 September 2013 - Friday

Prizes: Samuel Johnson Prize longlist - Premio Iberoamericano José Donoso
Updating the Ngũgĩ/Nobel betting situation | Updated Translation Database

       Prize: Samuel Johnson Prize longlist

       They've apparently announced the longlist for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction -- which they report is: "the richest non-fiction prize in the UK, worth £20,000 to the winner" -- though not yet at the official site, last I checked (presumably it will, eventually, appear here).
       Fortunately, in The Guardian, Liz Bury reports on the eighteen-title strong longlist, in Samuel Johnson prize longlist: history comes first as judges take the long view. Apparently more than 150 titles were considered, and the selections suggest: "Science is out and biography and history are in". I.e. the list is even less interesting than usual to me, and -- no surprise -- not a one of these titles is under review at the complete review (indeed, I have not even seen a one of these).

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

       Prize: Premio Iberoamericano José Donoso

       They've announced that the 2013 Premio Iberoamericano de Letras José Donoso goes to Pedro Lemebel. Worth US $50,000, this prize has a checkered track record; awarded by the Chilean Universidad de Talca, Isabel Allende was an early (2003) recipient -- enough to kill all literary credibility for quite a stretch. But they've redeemed themselves with some of their choices since: Ricardo Piglia (2005), António Lobo Antunes (2006), Javier Marías (2008), Jorge Volpi (2009), Diamela Eltit (2010), and Sergio Ramírez (2011).
       My Tender Matador appears to be the only one of Lemebel's titles available in English; see the Grove Press publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

       Updating the Ngũgĩ/Nobel betting situation

       Yesterday I noted the breaking news of the possible First indications of some Nobel leakage ? as Ladbrokes suspended Nobel Prize betting on Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o. At The Atlantic Wire Alexander Nazaryan took a closer look at what happened, wondering Will the Nobel Prize for Literature Go to Kenya's Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o ? Helpfully, he got some feedback from Ladbrokes press representative Alex Donohue, who did confirm that they suspend betting when there is: "a sudden large bet or bets" (a trigger point that I'm guessing isn't that high in this novelty-bet area). More significantly:
Donohue dropped a bombshell: one of the "decent bets" -- we think "decent" is a British euphemism for "huge" -- came "from a Swedish customer."
       All this would seem to support the initial inference -- that someone well-placed has good reason to believe Ngũgĩ is a finalist. The only thing that speaks against it: despite all this, when betting re-opened on Ngũgĩ it was -- as it still is as I write this -- at 50/1. I.e. they didn't move the odds. [Updated: It took almost 24 hours, but by this afternoon (GMT) odds were down to 20/1, a significant shift.]
       Mind you, the bookies don't have to move the odds based on the bets that are placed, but it's the prudent (and typical) thing to do: the odds should be in line with how punters rate contenders' chances, whether in a horse or a Nobel race. So ... odd, that.
       Still, I now again lean more towards Ngũgĩ (and Oates) being among the (presumably) five finalists than not.
       One more point of small, indirect interest: Ngũgĩ was in the house -- well, in the Stockholm Kulturhuset (etc.) -- right around the time this spring when they were winnowing down the list of contenders. He got good media attention, which the Swedish Academy surely also registered -- and it probably couldn't have hurt as far as his name being in play for the long/shortlist decisions. (I take it as a given that he was one of the 195 authors they were considering; he's among the few dozen that are a pretty safe bet of having at least been proposed every recent time around). Sure, maybe the academicians want to be contrary and pick an obscurer sub-Saharan representative (Ayi Kwei Armah, I keep saying; Ayi Kwei Armah ...), but nobody fits the winner-bill as well as Ngũgĩ (with his writing in Gikuyu the trump card -- well, beside the actual works themselves).

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

       Updated Translation Database

       At Three Percent Chad Post reports on the Updated Translation Databases ! he's posted -- the 2013 (and 2012) listings of all new (original) fiction and poetry translations to appear in the US.
       While the data still has to be handled with care (don't shout: "Three per cent !" -- that number remains as dubious as ever), it does give a great overview of what gets translated. The rough numbers are fascinating: I'm surprised by the number of translations from the Russian (admittedly: a lot are poetry, and I haven't see all of the fiction ones), and how few there are from Chinese (14th in the language rankings, right along with Danish, Dutch, and also under-performing Portuguese). I'm shocked at the lack of translations from South and South-East Asia: two Hindi titles, one Urdu, and a few Indonesian titles (which you are unlikely to find at your local bookstore, by the way), but nothing in Bengali, Thai, Burmese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, etc. ? Only 41 languages in all ('various' is not a language; Flemish surely is, for these intents and purposes, Dutch), which is really sad -- and the top three languages accounting for over 40 per cent of all translations, which is even sadder..
       365 of the 2013 titles are fiction, and these are more or less the ones we'll be considering for the Best Translated Book Award (minus the anthologies) -- so also a reminder to anyone who spots missing titles that you think might be eligible: tell Chad !
       Of the 365 fiction titles 70 are already under review at the complete review -- not bad, given that I've only even seen about half of these. I hope to get through at least as many by the time of the first big BTBA cull (in making the longlist), in early 2014.

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

5 September 2013 - Thursday

First indications of some Nobel leakage ?
Thai poets | Stéphane Mallarmé profile
New The Quarterly Conversation | Englund on Nobel rumors

       First indications of some Nobel leakage ?

       I discussed Ladbrokes finally setting odds for the Nobel Prize in Literature at length yesterday, and while there hasn't been much early odds movement (suggesting essentially no betting), Ladbrokes have, at this time (ca. 15:00 GMT, 5 September) suspended betting on Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o. The only reason I can imagine them doing that is because suspiciously much action is being placed on him (at the generous odds of 50/1 -- remember that I tipped him to win a couple of years ago, and I figure he has figured on the shortlist before (i.e. he probably should have had better odds to begin with, this time around as well)). [They have suspended betting on Nobel candidates in previous years, but as far as I can recall only much, much closer to the announcement day -- a day or two, or a few hours before.]
       Note that the Swedish Academy has not yet decided on a winner -- as I also report today, they've neither reconvened to discuss the finalists yet nor, apparently, even finished up reading all the works by the finalists. So any concerns that someone has insider knowledge of who the winner is are premature -- there is no winner yet. Nevertheless, they do have a list of finalists -- very likely five names -- and heavy betting action on one author suggests somebody or several people feel very sure about that author being on the shortlist (unless of course the betting is on Bob Dylan (also available at 50/1, though in his case those are rip-off odds)).
       Ladbrokes seems to do some decent business with the Nobel betting, but it probably wouldn't take too much money on a longshot (odds-wise) for them to suspend betting on the author in question temporarily; we'll get an idea of just how much action was placed when they open betting on him again -- at, no doubt, new and much lower odds (and I am very curious just how low those odds will go). [[Updated]: And now, less than half an hour later, betting on Ngũgĩ is open again -- and still at 50/1 -- suggesting ... much ado about nothing ?] Betting on a winner now at anything less than 10/1 seems like a waste of money; still, if someone is sure Ngũgĩ is a finalist ... well, I'd rate his chances pretty highly (as I do in any case -- regardless of the reason for the betting suspension, I'd have rated him far better than 50/1 to start with).
       So now there are two names that I'm inclined to believe are among the five finalists, Ngũgĩ [updated: well, given that the odds on him didn't change after betting re-opened ... maybe not] and Oates. I look forward to the next indicators .....

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

       Thai poets

       Not much Thai literature gets translated and published in the US/UK. I just got the preliminary list (of just over 350 works of fiction) eligible for this year's Best Translated Book Award, and not a one is a translation from the Thai; a quick scan of the lists from the past five years suggests none was available to be considered the entire time 2008 to 2012 either (honestly, how is this even possible ?). So one also doesn't find much news or information about Thai literature in English either. But they're apparently announcing: "Thailand's most distinguished literary prize, the SEA Write Award" on Friday, and the Bangkok Post has Q&As with all the finalists, in Living poets' society (yes, the prize is just for poetry this year), offering at least a glimpse of a sliver of contemporary Thai literature.
       (Of course, the place to go for Thai fiction is, as I've often mentioned here, Marcel Barang's invaluable Thai Fiction in Translation.)

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

       Stéphane Mallarmé profile

       In the new Humanities Steve Moyer describes: 'What Happened When Stéphane Mallarmé Reimagined the Book', in Playing Against Type -- profiling this poet and writer who was also a: "barely competent teacher" with his own literary-pedagogical notions:
Though his students were unable to render a phrase like "bring me some bread and cheese," he insisted that they attempt to translate literary passages by relying on intuition and attending to the sound of the language for clues to meaning.
       [Aside: an NEH publication that writes the name as: 'Edgar Allen Poe' (twice !) -- for shame.]

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

       New The Quarterly Conversation

       Issue 33 - Fall, 2013 of The Quarterly Conversation is now available online, and it's packed with things you'll probably want to read. Consider just some of what's covered: pieces on Krasznahorkai, Borges, Moretti, and Szentkuthy; a Q&A with The Devil's Workshop-author Jáchym Topol, and reviews of books by Hugo Claus, Carlos Rojas -- and of Zibaldone.

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

       Englund on Nobel rumors

       Just as the Nobel betting season starts in earnest (well, as earnest as anything that ridiculous can be -- see yesterday's lengthy discussion), the Swedish Academy's point-man on the Nobel Prize in Literature, Peter Englund, finally posts at his weblog again, hoping to dispell some rumors that have apparently "bubblat upp" (yes, bubbled up -- though, alas, none I'm responsible for).
       First off, he notes that the Swedish Academy hasn't even re-assembled yet after their summer break, and that he and many of the Academicians are still in the: "slutspurten på Nobelläsningen" (the end-spurts of their Nobel-reading -- a subtle suggestion that they're still wading through all those damn Joyce Carol Oates works ?).
       But what he wants to make clear is that the Swedish Academy makes no effort to sound-out potential winners about their attitudes towards the prize (since a few -- Jelinek, Pinter -- haven't shown up in person to pick it up, for example ?), and that they also don't collect information about the finalists (references and the like) either. (Apparently these rumors have been 'bubbling up' in two unidentified southern European countries -- where fakes with Swedish accents have perhaps been pestering the local literary lights, pretending to be making Nobel inquiries ?)
       I was hoping for spicier rumors, but I suppose we have to take what we can get.

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

4 September 2013 - Wednesday

Nobel Prize in Literature: Ladbrokes sets odds | The Devil's Workshop review

       Nobel Prize in Literature: Ladbrokes sets odds

       There's less than a month until the earliest date the Swedish Academy could announce this year's Nobel Prize in Literature laureate, and finally Ladbrokes has released its odds for the prize (note that they've already changed the URL once for this, but it's there on the site) -- the traditional starting-point for wild speculation, conspiracy (and other) theories, and fun official statements from Swedish Academicians sure to confuse, confound, and irritate.
       A quick reminder of how things work: the Swedish Academy put together a list of, as the guy in charge, Peter Englund, reported, 195 eligible authors in the spring, including 48 first-time nominees (who, so rumor has it, tradition has it aren't seriously considered) -- compared to 210 authors and 46 first-timers in 2012. As they explain: in April they pared that down to a 'preliminary list' of 15 to 20 candidates, and then in May they settled on a definitive list of candidates -- "of five names as a rule". Then everyone spent the past couple of months reading the works of these five authors, and in the fall the debating starts. Note, however, that the winner is only settled on at the last get-togethers, usually in early October -- so at this time there is a list of five contenders, but no winner. [Updated - 5 September: Indeed, Englund weighed in at his weblog yesterday in the hopes of dispelling some rumors (though none of the ones here), and notes that the Swedish Academy hasn't even met yet, and that he and many of the other academicians are in the: "slutspurten på Nobelläsningen" ('end-spurts of their Nobel-reading') -- i.e. they haven't even gone through all the books yet.]
       The Swedish Academy doesn't reveal the names of anyone along the way -- not the submitted authors, not the preliminary list, not the remaining five. Or they try not to, anyway -- last year some of the names that appeared early on the betting sheets, like Dacia Maraini and eventual winner Mo Yan, probably slipped out along the way. And while there's no way of guessing the winner yet, maybe there are some signs pointing to some of the final five ... hence also always the interest in the Ladbrokes list, usually the most reliable of the betting lists (though Betsson has a hometown edge -- and they also offer odds, as does betsafe).

       So what to make of this year's Ladbrokes' list ? Well, for one, they seem to have taken the kitchen sink approach, offering odds on 116 authors (but at least offering 100/1 -- i.e. a good return -- on 83 of those). Disappointingly, the list is largely one of where-we-left-off-last-year -- same names, by and large similar odds.
       The top ten and their opening odds are:
  • Murakami Haruki 3/1
  • Joyce Carol Oates 6/1
  • Nádas Péter 7/1
  • Ko Un 10/1
  • Alice Munro 12/1
  • Adonis 14/1
  • Assia Djebar 14/1
  • Amos Oz 16/1
  • Philip Roth 16/1
  • Thomas Pynchon 20/1
       (The other two lists are similar, though both rate Cormac McCarthy and Dacia Maraini in their top ten.)
       The one stand-out is Joyce Carol Oates. Last I checked her odds at Ladbrokes last year, a few hours before the winning announcement, she rated only 33/1 -- but, as mentioned to me on Twitter, someone did report her odds shooting up to 9/1 just before betting closed -- a last-minute surge suggesting some leakage that she was at least one of the finalists. Note also that she was the closing favorite at Betsson last year, too, just ahead of Murakami (4.50 to 4.60).
       Oates wouldn't seem the likeliest of American contenders, but the betting consensus rating her so high suggests there might be something to this -- more plausible, too, because of all the authors whose books are hard to hide, she certainly ranks right up there, simply because there are so many of them (in other words: it wouldn't take much for more than one Swedish Academician to be spied reading one of her books (or lugging around three dozen of them ...), enough to attract the gossip-mongers, and bookies' attention). It's also worth noting that a lot of her work has been translated into Swedish (not a prerequisite, but it can't hurt if she is locally widely known and accessible) -- and that her name has certainly been floated, seriously, before (even in Swedish papers -- recall Magnus Sjöholm's 2011 article, Nobelpriset: Min favorit är Joyce Carol Oates (okay, that's only half-serious -- but still)).

       Otherwise the list is kind of a disappointment -- practically no interesting new names (Duong Thu Huong, Mia Couto, and César Aira (all at 100/1) are the most interesting selections that didn't rate last year) or fun new guesses. Bob Dylan is, inevitably, listed, but there's only a single Russian author -- the perennial (and way past his prime) Yevgeny Yevtushenko. The only Japanese author is Murakami, and while Peter Englund also noted that they made a special effort to get African academics to propose authors, that's not reflected in what's on offer here, as it's practically just the usual Africans (such as Assia Djebar, Nuruddin Farah, Ngugi wa Thiong'o, and (too) youngster Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie). The Arabic-writing contingent is limited to Adonis, Elias Khoury, and Ghassan Zaqtan.
       So: missing are any number of Russians (beginning or ending with Mikhail Shishkin) and Arabic writers (Ibrahim al-Koni, Gamal al-Ghitani, Bensalem Himmich, to name just a trio I'd like to see being discussed), any other Hungarians (Krasznahorkai, Esterházy), local favorites such as Mahmoud Dowlatabadi or Ayi Kwei Armah (admittedly an outlier), among a whole host of other names (and remember: Ladbrokes list 116 !).

       No good gossip has reached my ears yet, and the betting lists don't seem to be particularly revealing (yet) -- though there's enough thin evidence here that I'd bet even money that Oates is one of the final five (which also has implications for the other American candidates -- would they have a second American novelist in the top five ?). As to other serious contenders -- honestly, I think there might be some names in the running that haven't made these (unimaginative) lists.
       For those who want to get in on the betting action early, there are quite a few 100/1 bets that might be worth placing: definitely punching in with odds well below their weight are: Duong Thu Huong, Juan Goytisolo, Claudio Magris, and Javier Marías.

       More soon !

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

       The Devil's Workshop review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jáchym Topol's The Devil's Workshop (which I had been really looking forward to -- I hadn't read anything of his since City Sister Silver, over a decade ago -- but was kind of a letdown).

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

3 September 2013 - Tuesday

German 'Hotlist' | SWR-Bestenliste | Pierre Loti exhibit

       German 'Hotlist'

       The German 'Hotlist', where they look for the best books from independent German-language publishers, is down to their top ten -- a selection that includes Murakami Ryu's Audition as well as books by Amy Hempel, Philip Hoare, and Patrick Deville.
       Interestingly, the far-and-away top vote-getter (with 920, more than double the runner-up's 425) was Brazilian author Luiz Ruffato's Eles eram muitos cavalos (see, for example, the Boitempo publicity page). With Brazil as guest of honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair next month it's no surprise that there are more Brazilian titles on the German market -- but I am surprised that this (or, indeed, anything by Ruffato) hasn't made it into English; sounds like something right up Dalkey Archive Press', Open Letter's, etc. alley.
       The top title, selected from the ten finalists, will be named 11 October.

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


       Every month (well, except for when they double up over the summer ...) 31 German book critics are polled, asked to vote for their top new titles, and the September SWR-Bestenliste is now out.
       The list is notable for the lack of agreement -- the top title got a mere 46 points (a critic's top choice gets 15 points, second choice 10, third six, fourth three, so this barely rated more than three (out of thirty-one !) top choices, among the lowest totals I can ever recall for this list). But it's also noteworthy that, while six of the eight German titles selected are also finalists for the German Book Prize, the top choice, Hans Pleschinski's Thomas Mann novel, isn't.

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

       Pierre Loti exhibit

       There's an exhibit, Pierre Loti, l'ambigu exotique, at the Musée du quai Branly, and in Al-Ahram Weekly David Tresilian looks at this exhibit about this "quintessentially orientalist author", in Phantom of the Orient.
       I like this:
Brooding in his house, according to the exhibition curators eventually a tomb erected on the ruins of a vanished life, Loti collected, packaged and labeled items testifying to his past experience, creating a kind of museum of lost time as he did so.
       Apparently there isn't much to these: "packages, of various shapes and sizes but always wrapped in the same brown paper", but the sheer amount must make for an impressive ... collection.

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

2 September 2013 - Monday

Chinese literature in India | Amazon recommends ... Kehlmann to Kehlmann
September online issues | The World of the End review

       Chinese literature in India

       In looking at 'Contemporary Chinese fiction through an Indian lens' in Chinese Whispers in the new issue of The Caravan Anjum Hasan asks a very, very good question:
Most Chinese literature available to us, I discovered in the coming months as I looked for more to read from that country, travels here through Western channels -- either reprints of Western editions or these editions themselves, priced for Indian markets. [...] This traffic is so old and so commonplace it doesn't surprise us. Yet it's worth wondering why two countries that share such a long border and seemingly many a cultural trait, not to speak of being gripped today by similar economic and social upheavals, can only access each other's novels based on the tastes, fashions and economics of Western publishing.
       (Unfortunately, he doesn't really look into availability in other Indian languages, most notably Hindi -- beyond the observation:
Outside English, readers in some Indian languages, such as Malayalam and Bengali, have shown a consistent interest in reading world literature in translation. The modern European masters were translated into Malayalam from the 1920s onwards and the Latin Americans in more recent decades. In Bengali, alongside translations from European languages, Japanese literature, following Rabindranath Tagore's interest in that country, has long been available in translation.
       No word, however, regarding Chinese translated into in these (or other Indian) languages.)
       Worldwide, English tends to be the language of transmission (with some notable but limited exceptions, as, for example, French and German still play significant niche roles) and this is all the more apparent/dominant in India, where there is a large English-speaking readership. As the piece suggests, it's clearly a less-than-ideal situation -- and bizarre for two huge neighboring nations such as India and China.

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

       Amazon recommends ... Kehlmann to Kehlmann

       Daniel Kehlmann's new novel is just out in Germany and, as widely reported in the German press (though I can't find the original Süddeutsche Zeitung article online), he reports that Amazon, in recommending books to him, recommends his own works. He thinks they have it right: ideally, he says, writers should write the books they would most like to read -- and many don't (and, he suggests: "da liegt gewissermaßen ihr Problem" -- in essence: that's what they're doing wrong). And so, he says, he finds validation in the algorithm -- that tells him he's doing something right.
       Much as I enjoy Kehlmann's work, this sounds an awful lot like an author preening in front of the mirror, asking who is the fairest in the land and pleased when the mirror reassures her she is. Granted, I haven't seen the full interview, and maybe he doesn't come off quite as full of himself in context, but man oh man ... once you think Amazon's recommendation-algorithm 'understands' you, and knows your likes and dislike so well because that it recommends the perfect (i.e. your own) books to you ... well, delusion has taken rather too firm a hold, I think.
       (Alternative explanation: he buys his own books in bulk from Amazon ( to give away, or furnish the apartment ...) and so naturally Amazon recommends more of the same to him.)

       [I do note that, as someone who flushes his Amazon (and all other) cookies every time he opens (well, closes) his browser (and who thinks you're crazy if you don't do the same) and thus doesn't get "personalized recommendations", maybe I do Amazon and Kehlmann injustices -- maybe the algorithm is, indeed, a perfect fit. I'm just guessing ... not.
       (Given that I look up so many books on Amazon for review (rather than personal) purposes -- and never buy anything there -- even if I did let them track my site-visits over the long run, I think the algorithm would be unlikely to determine my personal preferences (though maybe it could make a good guess at what I might review next ?).)]

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

       September online issues

       Among the September issues of online periodicals now available (bonus points for posting on the Sunday of a (US) Labor Day weekend !): Words without Borders' September 2013 issue is themed: 'Black Markets', and the September issue of Open Letters Monthly is also up.

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

       The World of the End review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Israeli author Ofir Touché Gafla's 2004 novel, The World of the End, now out in English from Tor.
       This was a pleasant surprise -- really solid science fiction/fantasy, and some really good writing, reminiscent of Jonathan Carroll's early (i.e. good) works.

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

1 September 2013 - Sunday

French book covers | Literature in ... Scandinavia

       French book covers

       As longtime readers know, I'm a fan of the most basic and uniform cover design, and the austere French covers favored by many of my favorite publishers -- P.O.L., Éditions de Minuit. Gallimard, Albin Michel -- are, indeed my ideals (a couple of Germans do this stuff well, too: some of the Suhrkamp series -- Bibliothek Suhrkamp; editions suhrkamp; stw -- or the little yellow Reclam books). Now, in The Independent, Jonathan Gibbs considers French covers in his Friday Book Design Blog: French holiday special, noting that in France, indeed:
book covers, or literary ones, at any rate, tend to stick to the tried and tested format of text only, (no images ! non, non, non ! pas du tout !)
       His three examples aren't entirely typical, but it's an amusing enough case-study -- and I have to admit he's right about the covers for the Collection L'Imaginaire from Gallimard ("they are all, almost without exception, awful") -- but, ignoring the covers: damn, that's an impressive collection, text-wise.
       As to the book by (Windows On The World-author) Frédéric Beigbeder, Derniere inventaire avant liquidation: as he realizes in the appended footnote, it's not a personal top fifty list (indeed, Beigbeder notes: "Si j'avais dû faire le tri moi-même, ma liste eût été très différente" -- and his does sound considerably more interesting), but rather:
Ces 50 œuvres écrites ont été choisies par les 6 000 Français qui ont renvoyé un bulletin distribué par la FNAC et Le Monde pendant l'été 1999
       You can find the whole list (and, apparently, text) here -- and it's really not half-bad (French-heavy though it is) for this kind of exercise involving the masses.

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

       Literature in ... Scandinavia

       In The Hindu Janhavi Acharekar finds there's Much ado about reading in Scandinavia -- with a focus, here, on Denmark.

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

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