In The Standard the Bookworm-column wonders: is the Caine Prize stifling African literature ? -- that being the Caine Prize for African Writing, the leading African story-prize.
Some reasonable points here (to which I'll add that by 'African' nearly everyone seems to mean or just think of 'sub-Saharan Africa'; and also that, for all its pan-African efforts, the Caine Prize only attracted entries from 20 African countries in its first year (2000) and yet has done even worse recently: there were entries from a mere 14 countries in 2012, and 16 in 2013; 'Africa' begins to look mighty small here ...).
I'm not so sure about the argument:
I am yet to see an international prize "for European writing" or "for American writing."
The label -- African writer -- largely reflects on the consumers of "African" or "post-colonial" literatures.
True, the there are few continents whose nations (and literatures) get lumped together like Africa's do, but many national/local prizes do emphasize localness much the same way -- so, for example, the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature is for writing that pertains " to the South Asian region in terms of content and theme" (though that can be considered a (colonial-)outsider-gaze view too...)
Don't forget that they spell out that the Pulitzer prize for fiction is: "For distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life" (whatever the hell that might be ...).
Still, I agree that there's a pernicious effect from outside, as far too many African writers (and would-be writers) aim to please especially US/UK publishers and readers, seeing that as the measure of success (an issue with writing from many other areas of the world, too).
Similarly, and frustratingly, US/UK publishers don't show much interest in much that might be considered local writing (i.e. not written with an (ignorant-of-the-local (traditions, literature, history, etc.)) 'international' audience constantly in mind) from Africa -- or, indeed, from (m)any localities on all the other continents too (especially if, god forbid, it's originally written in a foreign language ...).
Somehow Ayi Kwei Armah's (The Healers, etc.) career-path -- American schooling, first publication (and relative stardom) in the US, and then a conscious move back to Africa (and also into publishing, with Per Ankh), resulting in pretty much his being completely forgotten and his books barely finding US/UK readers any longer and he certainly not figuring in current 'world literature' discussions ... -- doesn't seem to be one many want to follow.
But, yes, I think for the Caine Prize to announce its winner -- as it does -- at a dinner in Oxford is simply silly (and, yes, it sends a very bad signal).
In The Herald Stanely Mushava reports on the recent 'regional edition' of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair, in Bulawayo, in ZIBF @ 31 -- Promises and perils.
Despite its ephemeral nature, being an annual festival, ZIBF provides a window into the state of Zimbabwean writing and remains the foremost literary institution.
Its slouch towards obscurity in recent years reflected the virtual dysfunction of the book value chain.
With the industry in recovery mode, ZIBF has registered a decisive comeback with a national crusade targeting all major cities.
One certainly hopes this is true, and it will be interesting to see how things go at the next regional events, and then at the main fair this summer.
And amazing to hear in this day and age:
I asked a major publisher why his organisation does not have a website and he told me that publishing is pure capitalism.
"If anything doesn’t bring in more profit, why bother about it ?" he asked.
(Interesting both for the rationalization as well as the apparent certainty that a website couldn't possibly enhance profitability.)
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Muriel Spark's 1960 novel, The Ballad of Peckham Rye.
New Directions is re-issuing quite a few Spark-works, including this one, -- all with weirdly psychedelic covers ... -- next month, so I figured I'd beef up the Spark-coverage hereabouts and dip back into these.
In The Age Jason Steger profiles Timur Vermes, author of Look Who's Back, the comic novel that has Hitler return to contemporary Germany which is now coming out in English; see the MacLehose publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.co.uk; in the US it appears to only be available in e-book form -- get your Kindle-edition.
It's been a huge success in Germany -- and foreign-rights sales seem to have been doing well, too:
It's being translated into 38 languages and sold to about 50 countries.
"It's an interesting map; it looks as if I have been conquering the world."
Not surprisingly, it hasn't been sold for publication in Israel.
(I read it in German around when it came out, but haven't posted a review yet; it's a pretty amusing and amusingly played-out premise -- but, yes, it's also kind of disturbing.)
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Waguih Ghali's 1964 classic Beer in the Snooker Club -- apparently soon to be re-issued yet again, by Vintage.
[Aside: while this was fun, it feels like every other book I have picked up over the past month is by a suicide (including Kawabata, both Best Translated Book Award longlisted Stigs (Dagerman and Sæterbakken), and several more books I hurriedly cast aside ...).
I could do with this being the last one I see for a while (though recent arrival Liveforever (!) by Andrés Caicedo looks too hard to resist; see the Penguin Classics publicity page or pre-order your copy at Amazon.co.uk; no US publisher yet.]
At Tweed's (a name I still can't get used to; I really much preferred: 'The Coffin Factory') Laura Isaacman interviews Linn Ullmann, and despite the horrific intro ("The thing about Linn Ullmann is that she is luminous -- everything about her glows, and in the instant you meet her, you can feel this warmth", which sent shudders up my spine, even before I got to the: "cavernous essence" ...) it's of some interest.
Ullmann's new book, The Cold Song, is coming out from Other Press soon; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Two of Ullmann's previous titles are under review at the complete review: Grace and Stella Descending.
A couple of weeks back, Apostoloff-author Sibylle Lewitscharoff gave one of the prestigious 'Dresdner Reden' and chose as her topic Von der Machbarkeit. Die wissenschaftliche Bestimmung über Geburt und Tod (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) (very roughly translated: 'Concerning feasibility: the scientific determination of birth and death' -- yeah, just the kind of stuff you want to wade into as an author ...).
The proverbial shit hit every fan in the German-speaking countries, and the literary pages have been filled with this for weeks now -- but, save Apostoloff-translator Katy Derbyshire discreetly (but emphatically) distancing herself from the author there's been essentially no English-language coverage -- until now, as Philip Oltermann weighs in in The Guardian, suggesting Why Sibylle Lewitscharoff's case for a new puritanism lacks substance.
A decent overview of the mess -- though it really doesn't convey just how huge this has been in Germany -- and Oltermann sums it all up a bit too nicely and easily (in noting, for example: "Lewitscharoff's literary mode: a preening, self-caressing style marked by an almost baroque love of wordplay").
Similarly, one might well agree with his conclusion but it feels a bit too self-satisfiedly dismissive, too:
Both Lewitscharoff and Mosebach may imagine they are issuing a rallying call for a new puritanism, but their diatribes come across as the decadent moaning of a powdered intelligentsia.
Still, good to see this get some attention outside Germany, too -- and I wonder how it will affect her future-in-translation (Apostoloff seems to have been a bit of a dud -- with an Amazon.com sales rank of 1,233,033 as I write this).
Worth noting, too: Der Mond und das Mädchen-author Martin Mosebach, whose fiction is quite admired in Germany, has made practically no inroads into the English-language market (though interestingly Apostoloff-publisher Seagull is set to publish his What was Before this fall).
On (or around -- they show some flexibility) 1 April it's again International Edible Book Festival time.
As that official site notes, it's not just for April Fool's Day's sake -- 1 April is also: "the birthday of French gastronome Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin".
They're doing this all over the place -- check out Texas A & M's Edible Book Festival 2014 (with awards for 'punniest' and 'grossest' entry, among others); the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's 9th Annual Edible Books Festival (with awards given for 'Best Depiction of a Classic' and 'Most Appetizing', among others; as the home of the US office of Dalkey Archive Press I would have hoped for more Dalkey-related dishes on offer ... maybe this year); and the WNY Book Arts Center (Buffalo, New York) Edible Book Festival -- although there are a lot more (maybe even in your neighborhood ...).
A lot of these sites have galleries of previous years' entries/winners -- some creative stuff among them.
They've announced that the biennial, €25,000 Würth-Preis für Europäische Literatur goes to Hungarian author Nádas Péter this year; see, for example, the (German) report in Der Standard.
It has a decent if German-centric winners-list (even the foreign winners like Nádas and Claudio Magris are particularly big-in-Germany); despite offering the same amount of prize money it certainly ranks considerably behind the (annual) Austrian State Prize for European Literature, which looks to be top-of-the-heap as far as pan-European author prizes go.
What is interesting, however, is that unlike the vast majority of continental and especially German-language literary prizes, the Würth-Prize is very much corporate, while European prizes tend to be entirely government/local run, and might be named after an author -- Goethe or Büchner Prize -- but rarely stoop to Man Booker/Orange-Baileys/Whitbread-Costa sponsorship-levels.
Nádas made quite the impression recently with his massive Parallel Stories -- though that looks to have been quite the (commercial) dud: Amazon.com currently offers both the hardcover and paperback at a 'bargain price' (i.e. it's been remainedered, because they printed way, way too many of these); at Amazon.co.uk you'll still have to pay full price.
Okay, so if you're born in Slovakia and want to write, but decide to move beyond your native -- and tough-sell-abroad-- language, Slovakian, of all the languages to choose to write in would you pick ... Finnish ?
Yes, the Finns are an impressively literate lot, and per capita they read more than almost anyone -- but that total capita is reckoned at short of 5.5 million (and a significant -- well 5 per cent -- minority is primarily Swedish-speaking, on top of it).
Nevertheless, that is the unlikely literary route Alexandra Salmela has taken, and at Books from Finland she writes about it; see also her literary agent's page on her, as well as the Books from Finland (brief) review of her prize-winning 27 eli kuolema tekee taiteilijan.
In the Irish Times Martin Doyle writes about Bryan Fanning and Tom Garvin's The Books That Define Ireland, in which the authors select: "31 definitive texts" as defining Ireland; the article, What books define Ireland for you ? lists all 31.
(None are under review at the complete review; I've only read three (the ones by Swift, and two of the O'Briens -- Flann and Edna); and there are quite a few authors here I haven't even heard of.)
See also the Irish Academic Press publicity page for The Books That Define Ireland, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Marco Malvaldi's Game for Five, the first of his popular 'Bar Lume' mysteries.
Europa Editions is bringing out another of these in a couple of months, and MacLehose Press is bringing out his The Art of Killing Well (see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.co.uk), so he's being introduced to the English-language market in a nice hurry.
They've announced that Peter Stamm will be awarded the Friedrich-Hölderlin-Preis.
No, not the biennial €10,000 Friedrich-Hölderlin-Preis awarded by 'the university and university city Tübingen', but rather the annual €20,000 Friedrich-Hölderlin-Preis awarded by the city of Bad Homburg -- because, of course, you can never have enough Friedrich-Hölderlin-Preise .....
(Hey, I love Hölderlin as much as anyone -- the onion-paper Insel paperback edition of his poems is one of the few dozen in my I'll-take-this-everywhere esential library pile -- but surely a fundamental rule governing the naming of prizes is: don't name your prize exactly the same as someone else already did.)
The Bad Homburg winners-list is also a bit more impressive (also: longer), with winners including Sarah Kirsch, Friederike Mayröcker, Ernst Jandl, and Durs Grünbein.
Still, Tübingen can boast, among others, Uwe Kolbe and Marcel Beyer; not bad, either way.
Several Stamm titles are under review at the complete review:
The schedule for the PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature -- running 28 April through 5 May in New York -- is up (not that I noticed until now ...).
As always, certainly some events -- and lots of authors (Lydia Davis ! Ivan Klíma ! Krasznahorkai László ! Adonis ! among many, many other worthies) -- of interest.
In The New York Times Julie Bosman reports that New York is a Literary City, Bookstore Desert, as: "from 2000 to 2012, the number of bookstores in Manhattan fell almost 30 percent, to 106 stores from 150".
(Hey, in writing about Words and Money André Schiffrin claimed there were: "fewer than 30, including the chain stores"; good to see the actual numbers are a bit better than that.)
As a big book browser and New York resident I certainly feel more frustration (and log more miles) than I did in my younger days; still, relatively speaking, it's a pretty decent stomping ground.
In 2007, she enrolled in a creative writing graduate programme at Columbia University, which would have likely led to a pat novel about the Anglo-Nigerian experience, perhaps a premature memoir of the sort pumped out by so many writers with nothing but their own slightly-deviated-from-the-average stories.
But she found New York a "confrontational city" that distracted her from writing.
And the workshop model of teaching proved "stressful".
That's a a hell of a stretch for a hunch -- "would have likely led to" ? really ? -- but I'll take my MFA-bashing anywhere and any way I can get it (and, as a longtime New Yorker, Nazaryan has a bit more local street cred than if it were a UK journalist making the claims).
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of the Best Translated Book Award-longlisted Commentary by Marcelle Sauvageot.
The Ugly Duckling Presse edition is the first English translation of this 1933 work.
A 2004 French edition (or two) seems to have brought this to the fore again, leading to translations into various languages -- with English, as always, among the last on board.
This hasn't gotten much review attention in the US/UK (yet ?).
Compare that to the Germans: never mind that they had already translated it back in 1939 (somebody brought this out in Berlin in 1939 -- under the Nazis, for god's sake ! -- and yet it takes 80 years for this to be translated into English ...); a new translation came out in Germany in 2005 and it looks like pretty much everyone -- all the major papers -- covered it.
This edition, in the US/UK ?
Not so much.
Yeah, for all the talk about new/more appreciation for literature-in-translation(-in-English): there's still a long, long way to go hereabouts.
Getting the stuff published is half the battle, but if no one notices/cares, if it doesn't become part of the broader literary conversation ... (not the narrow literary conversation -- we've got that pretty well covered ... -- but the broader one) .....
At Russia Beyond the Headlines Phoebe Taplin reports that 'New novels from some of Russia's most inventive writers are published in English this year', in Russian fantasies for rebels and escapists.
If I might suggest, you're probably (much) better served by referring to Lizok's Bookshelf's list of New Russian-to-English Translations for 2014.
Yes, she seems to have ... missed the Lukyanenko and the Frei -- but you know what ? so can you !
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Didier Daeninckx's Nazis in the Metro, just out from Melville House.
After two Daeninckx re-issues in the past few years, it's nice to see them bring out an entirely new(-to-English) one, and I hope more will follow.
They announced the winner of the 2014 Rossica Translation Prize on Thursday -- though not yet on the official page, last I checked; indeed, the only place I could find the announcement was at Russian outlet РИА Новости .....
Anyway, Angela Livingstone won for her translation of Marina Tsvetaeva's Phaedra, beating out quite some impressive competeition.
I haven't seen it, but it sounds pretty wild; see also the Angel Classics publicity page, or get your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
At the French-American Foundation they have a Q & A with David Bellos (who very deservedly won their translation prize back in 1988, for his translation of Georges Perec's classic, monumental, Life A User's Manual).
At the BBC Jane Ciabattari asks: Was Chinua Achebe Africa's most influential author ?
With qualifications, I'd say: of course.
Certainly, he remains a great father-/founder-figure of contemporary (sub-Saharan) writing -- as also suggested by the authors Ciabattari uses as examples.
Still, perhaps it would have been useful to consider more than just this particular trio of English-writing Nigerian-born authors, all of whom were at least partially educated abroad and live part/most of the time abroad.
Yes, they're leading faces of contemporary African literature; yes, Nigeria remains a fount of African writing -- but there's a lot more to it, too.
Noted Indian literary figure Khushwant Singh has passed away, at the age of ninety-nine.
A very active writer, he is probably best-known for his novel, Train to Pakistan (get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), but see the list of his publications at Penguin Books India for an idea of the variety.
Despite my great interest in foreign fiction -- and, necessarily, my reliance on translation to make much/most of that accessible to me -- I continue to have and occasionally express strong reservations, concerned about what is lost in translation.
A lot of what might be lost is, at least, quite openly discussed, but one thing that gets far too little attention is how much editors and publishers fuck [apologies for the language, but that's really the only way to put it] with texts in (re-)presenting them in English -- whether in cahoots with the translators or not.
(Indeed, often the authors themselves are coöpted, made complicit in the disfigurement of their own work, deluded by the dreams of fame and dollar signs they believe translation-into-English(-at-any-cost) will bring them.)
The latest example which finally gets aired is the example Bettina David describes at Qantara.de, of One novel; two very different versions, as it turns out that Andrea Hirata's The Rainbow Troops was quite radically changed for its 'Western' (i.e. basically English) version, tailored to 'Western' expectations.
As a consequence, she suggests:
This means that for Western readers, The Rainbow Troops is a story from Indonesia, but one where the author's Indonesian voice is no longer audible.
I'd write more about this if my head didn't hurt so much from bashing it against the wall in frustration that this kind of shit still happens -- and that readers are essentially kept in the dark about it when it does.
Sadly, it happens far more often than you'd expect (and certainly far more often than you know), even with books in more familiar languages (I remind you that French author Katherine Pancol's mega-bestselling The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles only recently made it into English -- and only in a much-butchered edition (though at least there they admit it in small print on the copyright page ...)) -- and I wish there were at least more open discussion of it.
(I'll try to address this at greater length some day, but I get so livid when thinking about it that it might be a while .....)
They've announced that Austrian playwright and author Peter Handke has been awarded this year's International Ibsen Award, which: "aims to honour an individual, institution or organisation that has brought a new artistic dimension to the world of drama or theatre"; previous winners include Peter Brook and Jon Fosse.
He certainly is a worthy winner -- like fellow Austrians Bernhard and Jelinek, he's world-class as both a prose-writer, and as a dramatist.
One of the things that's remarkable about the prize is that it is state-endowed -- the Norwegian government set this up and funded it.
More remarkable is that they endowed it very, very well: "the winner receives 2.5 million Norwegian kroner" -- just shy of US$413,000 at yesterday's exchange rate .....
(Sure, the Norwegians are oil-rich enough to splurge on cultural give-aways like this -- still, that's a lot of money (and most of it has gone to foreigners like Handke).
Not the kind of thing you're ever going to see in the US, that's for sure .....)
The most recent addition to the complete review is a review-overview of Rebecca Newberger Goldstein on Why Philosophy Won't Go Away, in Plato at the Googleplex.
I had high hopes for this -- the premise sounds great -- but the fiction-philosophy mix didn't work for me: Goldstein walks the readers through at such a slow pace that the philosophy comes to feel much too basic.