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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 May 2014

1 May: Russian literary revival ? | Taiwanese cinematic literary promotion | BTBA celebrations in New York | The Gray Notebook review
2 May: May online issues | US university literary prizes | The Time Regulation Institute enthusiasm
3 May: Translation in ... Malta | Re-Kivi ! Seven Brothers competition | Triangle review
4 May: O.V.Vijayan, overshadowed by García Márquez ? | OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature
5 May: Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize | God's Dog review
6 May: Helga Königsdorf (1938-2014) | Chinese book exhibit
7 May: Premio Formentor de las Letras | PEN Literary Awards longlists | The Newton Papers review
8 May: New World Literature Today | Indian writing | Literary hairstyling ? | Maltese writing
9 May: Volker Braun at 75 | The French 'polar' | Drabble on Jules Verne | The Avenue of the Giants review
10 May: Malba Tahan profile | Merck Kakehashi Literature Prize

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10 May 2014 - Saturday

Malba Tahan profile | Merck Kakehashi Literature Prize

       Malba Tahan profile

       In The Guardian Alex Bellos profiles Malba Tahan: the literary hoaxer who made Brazil love maths -- Julio Cesar de Mello e Sousa, who found success with a pseudonym (and more colorful backstory), as he found he did better presenting himself as someone other than himself:
Mello e Sousa invented the name because when as a young man he tried to sell stories to the local newspaper, they were not even read by the newspaper's editors. But when he resubmitted the same stories, saying they were a translation of an American author called R S Slade, a name he made up on the spur of the moment, they were all published.
       Reminiscent of Andreï Makine who, to get his foot in the French literary door, had to pretend the works he submitted were translations from the Russian .....
       The Malba Tahan story is a pretty good one, however -- and his The Man Who Counted is also available in English; see the W.W.Norton publicity page, or get your copy from or

       (Bellos also has another version of his profile up at BBC News Magazine: Brazil's other passion: Malba Tahan and The man who counted.)

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

       Merck Kakehashi Literature Prize

       The biennial Merck Kakehashi Literature Prize is a new literary prize awarded by the Goethe-Institut Tokyo and Merck KGaA, a translation prize for making works by German authors accessible to a Japanese readership -- with €10,000 each going to the author and the translator.
       They've announced the first winner, and it's Wada Jun for his ポカホンタスのいる湖の風景 -- a translation of the great Arno Schmidt's Seelandschaft mit Pocahontas (published in English in John E. Woods' translation as 'Lake Scenery with Pocahontas' in Collected Novellas (get your copy at or
       Schmidt's prize-money is going to the Arno Schmidt Stiftung
       Given that it's the Schmidt-centennial-year (which has been under-celebrated so far -- though I'm still working on something to at least try to rouse a bit more interest ...) and very little of his work has been translated into Japanese this seems like a great choice -- one hopes it opens the Schmidt-floodgates there !
       See also the Merck (English) press release (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) -- and I have to admit, it's nice that the second of their two bullet-points is: "Promotion of literature is component of corporate responsibility".

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

9 May 2014 - Friday

Volker Braun at 75 | The French 'polar'
Drabble on Jules Verne | The Avenue of the Giants review

       Volker Braun at 75

       (East) German author Volker Braun turned 75 on 7 May.
       Several of his works are under review at the complete review, but there's almost nothing of his available in English: What's Really Wanted is about the extent of the book-publications to date -- but fortunately that's about to change as Seagull (who else ?) is bringing out a volume of 'Selected Poems', Rubble Flora, translated by David Constantine and Karen Leeder, this fall; see the (Seagull-distributor) University of Chicago Press publicity page, or pre-order your copy at or
       Among his books under review at the complete review is Werktage I (1977-1989) -- and his Werktage 2 (1990-2008) just came out -- see the Suhrkamp foreign rights page ("Rights available" ! (as also still for volume one, sigh ...)) and I hope to get to cover this soon.
       Also impressive-looking: Lehmstedt Verlag have brought out a tribute-volume in honor of Braun for his birthday, Was immer wird, es wühlt im Hier und Jetzt -- see their publicity page, or get your copy at -- which includes pieces (texts and art-works) from the likes of Wolf Biermann, F.C.Delius, Durs Grünbein, Christoph Hein, Friederike Mayröcker, Ingo Schulze, and Uwe Timm, among others; see, for example, the (German) overview in the Leipziger Internet Zeitung by Ralf Julke.

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

       The French 'polar'

       In Le Figaro Bruno Corty and Sebastien Lapaque look at Le réveil du polar français -- 'polar' being more or less the catch-all French term for crime thrillers.
       I'm still not sure they're even closing in on the Nordic (tidal) wave, but, with some lulls, there's alwys been a steady stream of good French stuff, and this piece at least covers most of the basics -- and points to some new names and books possibly to look out for. But, while they note that, for example: "Les Chinois ont traduit Le Deuxième Homme d'Hervé Commère" ... well, the Chinese may have translated it, but US/UK publishers ... not so much, not yet .....

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

       Drabble on Jules Verne

       In the New Statesman Margaret Drabble writes on Submarine dreams: Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Seas, arguing 'The classic sci-fi novel is more than a ripping yarn -- it anticipated the ecology movement and shaped the French avant-garde'.
       It's always nice to see the master get some deserved attention and recognition -- and Drabble also closes with a mention of the horrific sculpture that ... adorns his tomb, always worth being reminded of:

Jules Verne's crazy-ass tomb

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

       The Avenue of the Giants review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Marc Dugain's fictional re-telling of the 'Co-Ed Killer' Edmund Kemper's life, The Avenue of the Giants, coming out from Europa Editions.

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

8 May 2014 - Thursday

New World Literature Today | Indian writing
Literary hairstyling ? | Maltese writing

       New World Literature Today

       The May-August 2014 double issue of World Literature Today is now available, with a decent amount of the contents freely available online -- notably the whole review-section, World Literature in Review.
       Also interesting: Lucas Klein's Not Altogether an Illusion: Translation and Translucence in the Work of Burton Watson.

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

       Indian writing

       In this month's The Caravan Amitava Kumar writes about 'Raising the stakes for Indian writing in English', in The Shiver of the Real.
       Several interesting points -- including that: "India isn't revealed only by tracking the dilemmas of Indians abroad" (and that: "The vernacular literatures in India are better poised to elude these tendencies").
       He also points specifically to:
A novel that I regard as nearly talismanic in its ability to speak in a voice that is uniquely its own is Upamanyu Chatterjee's English, August. No one could accuse it of translating India for the West. And yet, and yet: On the one hand it represented a successful attempt at conveying small-town Indian realities in an English that was somehow familiar and yet new; on the other hand, however, its own narration cast doubt on any easy transportation of English into small-town India.

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

       Literary hairstyling ?

       In the US it's not uncommon for menu-items -- sandwiches at 'delis', especially -- to be named after 'famous' people. In the Basavanagudi area of Bangalore a local hairdresser, V.Harish, "offers his customers distinctive hairstyles" and the like named after famous Kannada-writing authors at his New Modern Bombay Men's Parlour salon.
       As they report in the Indian Express, in How About a Literary Haircut in a Kannada Hairstyle Salon ? he also "has more than 200 books in his salon that customers can read as they wait for their turn", which sounds a lot better than the usual magazines.
       Still, I'm not sure calling it a 'UR Ananthamurthy Beard Trimming' (as in the Bharathipura and Samskara-author ...) really helps drive more traffic to either his salon or Ananthamurthy's books. Much less the 'Chandrashekar Kambar face bleaching' .....
       On the other hand, it is the kind of gimmick that gets you written up in the local newspaper (and mentioned on weblogs from all over ...), so .....

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

       Maltese writing

       In the Malta Independent Charles Briffa has a Q & A with Oliver Friggieri 'about how an established Maltese writer sees his world today', in Maltese literature with a view.
       Several of his works of fiction have been translated into English -- you can sample some of his writing at transcript, or get, for example, Children Come by Ship at or -- but I love the sound of the original titles: Fil-Parlament ma Jikbrux Fjuri, or Gizimin li Qatt ma Jiftah .....

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

7 May 2014 - Wednesday

Premio Formentor de las Letras | PEN Literary Awards longlists
The Newton Papers review

       Premio Formentor de las Letras

       I missed this last week, but they announced that Enrique Vila-Matas has won the revived Premio Formentor de las Letras; see, for example, Vila-Matas gana el Formentor por "renovar los horizontes de la novela" in El País.
       In its first incarnation this was the prize that helped push Jorge Luis Borges onto the international scene, and since they brought it back (limited to a Spanish-language focus) the prize has gone to Carlos Fuentes, Juan Goytisolo, Javier Marías, and now Vila-Matas -- so, you know, not too bad .....
       Several of his books are under review at the complete review (and I have a few more I hope to get to soon):
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       PEN Literary Awards longlists

       The PEN Literary Awards are doing things a bit differently this year, as they have admirably decided now also to announce the longlists for the prizes in the major categories. (They don't reveal what titles these were selected from, sigh, but still, it's better than announcing just the shortlists/winners.)
       As expected, not too many titles are under review at the complete review -- sorry, not a one from the PEN/ESPN Award for Literary Sports Writing category -- but there's one longlisted for the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation, Even Now by Hugo Claus -- and, of course, the category of greatest interest is the 'PEN Translation Prize ($3,000): For a book-length translation of prose into English published in 2013'.
       It's not directly comparable to the Best Translated Book Award (the PEN prize considers both non-fiction and re-translations, which the BTBA doesn't) ... but still interesting to compare.
       Their ten finalists are:
  • The African Shore by Rodrigo Rey Rosa, translated by Jeffrey Gray

  • An Armenian Sketchbook by Vasily Grossman, translated by Elizabeth and Robert Chandler

  • Autobiography of a Corpse by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, translated by Joanne Turnbull and Nikolai Formozov

  • The Dinner by Herman Koch, translated by Sam Garrett

  • The Emperor's Tomb by Joseph Roth, translated by Michael Hofmann

  • The Infatuations by Javier Marías, translated by Margaret Jull Costa

  • Kafka: The Years of Insight by Reiner Stach, translated by Shelley Frisch

  • Shantytown by César Aira, translated by Chris Andrews

  • Transit by Anna Seghers, translated by Margot Bettauer Dembo

  • Twists and Turns in the Heart's Antarctic by Hélène Cixous, translated by Beverley Bie Brahic
       Okay, quite a few weren't BTBA eligible, and there is some overlap (well, one title ...), but I gotta say, the BTBA shortlist looks ... a bit stronger. (Worth keeping in mind: the judges probably weren't comfortable trying to push their own work, so Elena Ferrante (translated by Ann Goldstein) and Marcos Giralt Torrente (translated by Katherine Silver) might have lost out for not-quite-objective reasons.)
       The real stunner here for me is not that a Sam Garrett-translation is deemed worthy -- but that it's this one and not the obviously superior Tirza.

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

       The Newton Papers review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Sarah Dry on The Strange and True Odyssey of Isaac Newton's Manuscripts, in The Newton Papers.

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

6 May 2014 - Tuesday

Helga Königsdorf (1938-2014) | Chinese book exhibit

       Helga Königsdorf (1938-2014)

       (East) German author (and physicist) Helga Königsdorf has passed away; see, for example, the (German) obituary in Die Zeit.
       One of that generation of leading authors that were also published in the West -- along with Christa Wolf, Irmtraud Morgner, and Brigitte Reimann (who all predeceased her) -- not much of her fiction made it into English: the only title that seems vaguely available is Fission (with a spectral Lise Meitner-cameo !), published by Northwestern University Press; see their publicity page, or get your copy at or (With an 'Amazon Best Sellers Rank' of, respectively 5,883,067 and 7,087,312 it apparently has not been flying off the shelves.)
       None of her books are under review at the complete review, but I read a fair bit of it back in the day, and appreciated the scientific background in and influence on her fiction -- not something present in much other German fiction of the times.

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

       Chinese book exhibit

       Not too many details about the actual -- and very brief (only over the weekend ?) - exhibit at Peking University's library (aside: they still call Beijing U 'Peking U' ? better that 'Peiping', I guess, but still ...) but it sounds pretty awesome: they acquired well over 20,000 books from Japan a couple of years ago and gave the public a brief glimpse of them; now, apparently: "access to these rare books will be by appointment only" (though they are planning to "digitalize" -- "Going digital is a solution").
       See their press releases, 28,000 ancient books return to China and Rare ancient Chinese books exhibited in Beijing, as well as the report, Relic books on display -- which notes: "The university plans to build a new library to house the ancient books".

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

5 May 2014 - Monday

Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize | God's Dog review

       Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize

       They've announced that Shelley Frisch will receive this year's Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize -- and the $10,000 that goes with it -- for her translation of Reiner Stach's Kafka: The Years of Insight (see the Princeton University Press publicity page, or get your copy at or

       Among the admirable qualities of this prize is that they reveal all the titles in contention for the prize every year -- and the list of submitted books (see last year's) also makes for a great overview of German titles that have been translated into English in the past year. (The Three Percent databases only cover fiction and poetry -- i.e. no non-fiction, such as the Stach titles -- and also don't cover re-translations, which are eligible for the Wolff Translator's Prize.)
       It's also interesting to see who publishes these translations -- and of the 59 submitted titles for this year's prize I count (and I may be off by a few in that total) an amazing 13 were published by India-based publisher Seagull Books, and 11 by ... Las Vegas-based AmazonCrossing.

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

       God's Dog review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Diego Marani's God's Dog.

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

4 May 2014 - Sunday

O.V.Vijayan, overshadowed by García Márquez ?
OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature

       O.V.Vijayan, overshadowed by García Márquez ?

       In The Hindu K.K.Gopalakrishnan argues that: 'O.V. Vijayan did not become as well known as Gabriel García Márquez due to a lack of timely translation into English', in (sigh) Lost in translation.
       Gopalakrishnan argues that Vijayan's The Legends of Khasak could have been similarly successful and influential as the García Márquez mega-success with which it shares many elements, One Hundred Years of Solitude -- but for the delays in getting it translated into English:
Both novels are not historical fiction but real incidents and characters find a place in the stories. Both writers are hailed as magical realism’s best practitioners for blending the everyday life of humans with fiction.
Vijayan paid a heavy price due to the lack of a timely English translation. Within a week of its publication, thousands of copies of One Hundred Years of Solitude were sold out. Khasakinte Itihasam took some time to establish itself even though it was hailed by the critics. Malayali readers then believed that fiction meant romance. Vijayan, who started writing in 1953, had to face political allegations when his magnum opus clicked. The undercurrents in Khasakinte Itihasam were beyond the communist comprehension of literature.
       That's a bit muddled, but also gets to the root of the 'problem' -- García Márquez's work was a transformative one before the English language translation appeared (the 1967 work only appeared in English in 1970); its influence had also already spread beyond the (huge) Spanish-language world via translations into, for example, French (1968). The original of The Legends of Khasak (sadly) had nowhere near the resonance or reach -- and quicker translation into English likely would not have helped much (especially given how unreceptive to Indian-language literature English-speaking readers beyond the sub-continent were (and, sadly, remain to this day)).
       Which isn't to say that Vijayan isn't a grossly under-read and under-appreciated author -- check out The Saga of Dharmapuri, too -- but ... let's keep a bit of perpective.

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

       OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature

       Last month I mentioned they'd announced the category-winners/finalists for the OCM Bocas Prize for Caribbean Literature -- and it seems they've now announced the overall winner (very quietly -- I hadn't noticed or heard ...).
       The winner is the book that took the fiction category: As Flies to Whatless Boys by Robert Antoni; see the Akashic publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

3 May 2014 - Saturday

Translation in ... Malta | Re-Kivi ! Seven Brothers competition
Triangle review

       Translation in ... Malta

       In Malta Today Teodor Reljic considers The necessary perils of literary translation, as tiny -- and linguistically isolated -- Malta looks to spreading Maltese literature abroad.
       Interestingly -- and realistically:
Both Mifsud and Merlin Publishers Director of Publishing Chris Gruppetta agree that, while it may be natural to assume that English should be the first port of call for local writers, an English-language translation of a Maltese work may be met with a hostile reception abroad, particularly in the UK/US markets.
       ('Hostile reception' presumably being a euphemism for: 'going completely unnoticed and unread'.)
       Good, then, that there's a Plan B:
"My impression is that the French are more open to translating and publishing foreign work and that is also a huge market. The same holds true for the Italian; one wonders why there has been so little Maltese literature translated into Italian, given our geographical and cultural proximity and I think we should do something about this," Mifsud said.
       "Spreading Words, the literary translation strand of the Malta Arts Fund" sounds like a helpful initiative -- but the fact that the official site still notes; "The first submission deadline will be on the 1st of March 2013" does not inspire confidence.

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

       Re-Kivi ! Seven Brothers competition

       Aleksis Kivi's Seven Brothers is basically the classic Finnish novel -- but its impact abroad has been ... not so impressive. My review is of the very creaky 1929 translation, and there's been another one since then, but neither helped the book break through in English -- so they're giving it another go, as Dedalus has announced a Translation Competition for The Seven Brothers, as:
Dedalus in association with FILI is running a competition to translate The Seven Brothers by Aleksius Kivi for the Dedalus European Classics Series and is inviting translators to take part by translating the first chapter of the book.
       They suggest:
a new English translation is long overdue and will be a major cultural event.
       That's certainly ... at least half right -- but I'm keeping my fingers crossed that the other half will be right, too.
       It certainly poses a translation challenge, but it also has a lot of potential, so I hope many enterprising Finnish translators will have a go at this.

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

       Triangle review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Matsuura Hisaki's Triangle, coming out from Dalkey Archive Press.

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

2 May 2014 - Friday

May online issues | US university literary prizes
The Time Regulation Institute enthusiasm

       May online issues

       Among the May issues of online publications now available is Words without Borders', focussed on Writing on Taboos from the Netherlands and Flanders.

       Meanwhile, Dalkey Archive Press finally have a new issue of Context up -- Context 24 -- where there's enough to keep you busy all weekend.

       Also worth a look: select articles from the May Literary Review.

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

       US university literary prizes

       Like the French, American literary book- (as opposed to author-)prizes tend to be about prestige rather than cash: the biggest pay out relatively/very little by international standards (the Pulitzer and National Book Award winners get $10,000, the National Book Critics Circle winners no cash at all). There are, however, quite a few more specialized big payday literary prizes in the US -- and among the oddest are a slew of cash-rich university prizes awarded to students -- some (most ?) of whom will never receive as big a payday for any of their literary efforts.
       The grand-daddy (grand-ma?) of them all is the Sophie Kerr Prize at Washington College, "the nation's largest literary prize awarded solely to undergraduate students"; they've announced that the winner will be announced on 13 May -- and that this year the prize is: "valued at $62,900".
       It's far from the only one, however, and, for example, the University of Texas at Austin has just announced the winner of their $50,000 Keene Prize for Literature. Interestingly, they highlight not that the prize recognizes great writerly talent or anything like that; no:
One of the world’s largest student literary prizes, the award helps maintain the university's status as a premier location for emerging writer

       (Updated - 4 May): See now also the announcement And the 2014 Sophie Kerr Finalists Are ..., five finalists selected from 32 submitted portfolios.

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

       The Time Regulation Institute enthusiasm

       At the PEN Atlas site Kaya Genç wonders whether Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar's The Time Regulation Institute is, in fact, The Greatest Turkish Novel ?

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

1 May 2014 - Thursday

Russian literary revival ? | Taiwanese cinematic literary promotion
BTBA celebrations in New York | The Gray Notebook review

       Russian literary revival ?

       In the Financial Times Viv Groskop wonders: 'Can the new generation of writers revive a great tradition ?', in Reasserting Russia's literary status.
       Opinions are mixed:
"Russian literature is healthy. It's probably the healthiest part of Russian society, actually," says Vitali Vitaliev, a writer and long-term UK resident (he defected in 1990).
       Well, yes, relatively speaking maybe the literary scene does look okay, and there are certainly some writers doing interesting work. Still, by historical standards, Russian literature has become pretty much a backwater, with a much diminished international presence.
       Of course, some of the critics might not have quite the right perspective, either:
Akunin is sceptical about claims of a reassertion of Russia's literary status. This may be because he refuses to read contemporary novelists himself. "I've been reading only non-fiction something like 15 years," he says by email from Moscow. "I believe it's not healthy to read other people's writing when you write yourself. But my wife reads everything and she says that, no, we are not in good shape. There is an occasional spark. But as a whole the landscape is depressing."
       (If I'd only read non-fiction for the past fifteen years I'd be pretty despairing too; come on, Boris, fiction is "not to be taken too seriously" ? it's the only thing to be taken seriously (and under Putin I would imagine even more so ...).)
       Groskop also notes that many authors: "are re-examining the past rather than taking on the present" -- and I just got Vladimir Sharov's Before and During from Dedalus (see their publicity page, or get your copy at or which looks very promising ... but: is set: "in the long decades of late-Soviet stagnation" .....
       As to international exposure: even where book get translated into English, it's a painful process:
This is another problem for Russian literature: quality translation into English is painfully slow. Basinsky mentions that it took a year for the German translation of his book to come out. The English translation has taken three.

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

       Taiwanese cinematic literary promotion

       Focus Taiwan reports that 10 Taiwanese literary works to be made into short films, as:
Ten Taiwanese works of contemporary literature are being made into short films as part of a Ministry of Culture-backed project to promote local literature.
       An interesting aspect of the films:
Wang said the end of each film will feature a page number for the corresponding literary work where the film's story leaves off, an encouragement for viewers to go out and read the original composition.
       I'm not quite sure how that will work out (won't the films be kind of ... open-ended if they just cut off mid-action ?).
       One more thing to note that calls the whole idea a bit into question:
The 10 films are scheduled to be completed in the first half of next year, after which they will be aired on the National Geographic Channel (Taiwan)
       No doubt the National Geographic Channel (Taiwan) is a ... fine TV channel -- but the literary connections seems a bit ... far-fetched.

       See also the Ministry of Culture (Chinese) press release.

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

       BTBA celebrations in New York

       Tomorrow night, from 18:00 to 21:00, the Best Translated Book Award will celebrate at The Brooklyneer, on 220 West Houston Street.
       No doubt there will be a big New Directions contingent, and I'll be there too. Drop by !

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

       The Gray Notebook review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Josep Pla's The Gray Notebook, just out in a translation by Peter Bush from New York Review Books.
       Choice quotes include:
Novels are children's literature for adults.
       And, more usefully, some real advice for writers:
Translation is a devilishly difficult occupation but I see how useful it is. Especially useful for getting to know one's own language.
       So few American (and British) authors translate; it really is something more of them should explore.

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

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