In The Japan Times Andrew Lee looks (sigh ...) Inside author David Mitchell's metaphysical mind, as The Bone Clocks-author talks about his new novel and his Japanese influences.
I haven't got a copy of The Bone Clocks, yet, but Mitchell's other work is under review at the complete review (e.g. Cloud Atlas) and I should be getting to this as well (I'm in 82nd place in the queue for one of the NYPL's 18 copies ...); meanwhile, see the official site, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Last week I mentioned/discussed Dalya Alberge's report in The Observer on how (supposedly) British readers lost in translations as foreign literature sales boom, and at Quill & Quire they follow up on that article, wondering: Books in translation take off in the U.K.; can they do the same in Canada ?
The Canadian situation is somewhat different from the UK one, since Canada is, after all, (nominally) bilingual (yes, yes, the UK is nominally multilingual, but let's face it: French in Canada is ,,, non-trivial; Welsh, Scots, etc, in the UK ... sadly, considerably more trivial (though of course not entirely so)).
Interestingly, the focus of the Quill & Quire piece is on translation (into English) from the French.
It makes sense, in a way -- translations from other languages into English are most likely to reach the relatively small Canadian market via US and UK editions/translations
Still, smaller markets can take the occasional lead here -- as I recently noted, Uday Prakash's The Walls of Delhi came to the US only after the University of Western Australia published it .....
And in Canada, they do have admirable publishers such as Biblioasis, which has taken the lead in some unlikely areas/languages.
At the Times Literary Supplement site Peter Robb's piece on the truly Magnificent Machado -- Joaquim Maria Machado de Assis -- is now freely available.
It's a review of two recently published-in-translation story-collections, but (except for the odd John Updike references ...) is also a good overview/introduction to the great author.
Only The Posthumous Memoirs of Brás Cubas is currently under review at the complete review, but I've been a huge fan over the years; my review of one of these collections, Dalkey Archive Press' Stories, should be up soon as well (meanwhile, see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
The other collection Robb discusses is a bilingual edition from new-to-me New London Librarium, Ex Cathedra; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
The Read Russia Prize for translations of Russian works into (selected) foreign languages will be announced 6 September, and at Russia Beyond the Headlines they have all the information and the finalists -- seventeen titles (only three of which are translations-into-English), selected from 112 nominations from 16 countries.
This seems a great way to encourage translation, with both the translator(s) and the publisher getting decent prize-money -- and it's great that it's not limited to translations-into-English.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Szentkuthy Miklós' Towards the One and Only Metaphor, the second of his works to be brought out in English by Contra Mundum Press, with more to follow (not soon enough !).
One of these hard to review/get a grasp on titles, but definitely worthwhile.
A little while ago I flailed about on how I don't much care for/need/get much out of descriptions of characters in fiction; now I find, in Szentkuthy's Towards the One and Only Metaphor (which I just reviewed) a passage conveying exactly what I mean.
Section 92 reads, in its entirety:
How preposterous it is for a novelist to describe a person even on the very first page: one has already long ago pictured something else -- the tablet of the book, the smell of its print, the letter font, the form of the page numbers, the touch of the paper, a title long retained in the mind, the pressure of the chair in which one is sitting, the shadow thrown by the roller blinds, the wall, door, or picture opposite: these have all once and for all time, absolutely indelibly traced the protagonist's face (even if it is not directly visible).
(And you understand now why you really should be reading Szentkuthy, right ?)
The latest survey found 154 million copies were sold in 2013, a decrease of 9.6% on 2012 numbers.
Publishing numbers were down 3.5% year-on-year to 76,434 titles.
Disappointingly, too: "Studied by genre, fiction saw the biggest revenue fall, down 17.2% to €469m"
(Come on, you Spaniards -- no matter how bad things are, there's always room for ... fiction ! Always ! Fiction is what matters ! Buy some !)
It's hard to ascribe plummets like this to the absence of one or two blockbusters; this is a much broader problem -- not a good sign at all.
An Interesting Q & A (in German) with Martin Amis in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung -- summed up by Philip Oltermann and Anne Penketh in The Guardian, in Martin Amis's holocaust 'comedy' fails to find German publisher, as the German publisher of his last few duds books, Hanser, has declined to publish The Zone of Interest -- the big question being (this being the German market): is it because it is about Auschwitz, or is it because it is crap ?
Amis doesn't seem to have ever really caught on in Germany, and you can see that he's a tough sell there under the best of circumstances (among his works' main qualities is his style, and that's tough to translate effectively/well).
Understandably Interestingly, recent French Amis-publisher Gallimard has also passed on this one (though another French publisher did pick it up) -- though Amis suggests in his FAZ-interview that that likely has more to do with a general editorial shift at Gallimard, rather than the subject-matter at hand.
(Presumably, that's how his 'literary agent' -- Andrew Wylie -- is trying to spin things to his no-doubt irritated client .....)
At English PEN, Michelle Bailat-Jones writes about Charles Ferdinand Ramuz -- trying to sell him as a: "contemporary of Robert Walser" (because that's relevant to .. anything) and how he: "is now being introduced to a new readership as the 'dams' between languages break down", in "You must keep feeding the lake".
Hey, I'm a Ramuz fan -- The Young Man from Savoy, yes ! -- but let's get real.
Walser was a long-overlooked genius; Ramuz's When the Mountains Fell (Eng. 1949) was an early Pantheon title (yes, as far back as the Jacques (not André ...) Schiffrin days) that was a freaking Book-of-the-Month-Club title (you young 'uns won't remember, but that was a big, big deal back then).
Ramuz has been mainstream (and, since, admittedly, completely forgotten ...).
Good to see some attention for Ramuz, but, please, some perspective -- which includes not trying to compare him to Walser.
bequeathed her entire personal collection of over 3,000 books to the Harare City Library in Zimbabwe.
Interesting also to learn:
A Book Aid International said they were fascinated by the variety and breadth of Lessing’s library, describing it as "A collection to aspire to !"
"We found books not just in every room of Lessing’s home, but on shelves in every space where shelves could be fitted, in hallways, under stairs -- there were books everywhere," said an official.
I guess the only thing that surprises me is that the collection constitutes only three thousand titles.
Granted. many of my books are boxed up and piled up out of easy reach, but my collection is ... several times bigger.
I suppose I could live with a working library of 3000, carefully selected -- but it's cutting it close .....
Attendees at the congress included Boris Pasternak, the foremost Soviet poet of the time, the "Red Count" Alexei Tolstoy, a nobleman who adjusted to the demands of Soviet power, future Nobel laureate Mikhail Sholokhov, and leading children's author Korney Chukovsky.
But, of course, the defining figure was Andrei Zhdanov -- Mr. Socialist Realism himself, the man who latched onto Stalin's 'writers-are-engineers-of-human-souls' idea and ran with it, ushering in the lowliest times of socialist realism (pre-1934 Soviet literature, like pre-code Hollywood cinema, was actually pretty happening).
Yes, this was the guy who said:
I think that every one of our Soviet writers can say to any dull-witted bourgeois, to any philistine, to any bourgeois writer who may talk about our literature being tendencious: "Yes, our Soviet literature is tendencious, and we are proud of this fact, because the aim of our tendency is to liberate the toilers, to free all mankind from the yoke of capitalist slavery."
'Noble' sentiments -- but, hey, 1934, under Stalin, you know the deal .....
(The marxists.org page suggests: "Zhdanov died on 31st August 1934"; yeah, not quite/no such luck .....)
Marxists.org has good documentation (other than hopefully killing off Zhdanov way prematurely ...) on that first congress -- worth being reminded of.
Meanwhile, as Anastasia Gorbatova notes:
There were only eight congresses between 1934 and 1986, and they increasingly became formal events with almost no influence on Soviet culture.
The First Congress was unique in its own way -- it was the first and last successful attempt to unite all the writers of one country
Jonathan Franzen tries to give his buddy Daniel Kehlmann a helping hand, now that Kehlmann's new novel, F is out (without, so far, having made much of an impression, it would seem) by engaging in a Q & A with him ("an edited transcript of a conversation he and I had by phone last month") at Salon.
It's of some interest -- first in what Franzen reveals, like that he thinks his books are funny (or at least means them to be):
The first thing I put in every email to my German editor about my own fiction is "try to remember that this is supposed to be funny."
If I had an extra five hours in my day, I'd be translating some of Thomas Brussig's novels into English.
He's hilarious and I think it's a tough sell on both sides of the water.
Meanwhile, Kehlmann reports:
I'm "world famous" only in Germany.
But when it comes to the U.S., it is still extremely difficult to be a novelist not writing in English.
I'll never forget the radio host who asked me on my American book tour with genuine incredulity: "So is it true that this book was actually not written in English ?”
Well, it's a nice anecdote, and depressingly has a ring of plausibility.
He certainly has a point in noting a basic American problem:
Any young writer from Brooklyn who writes about the Holocaust gets a lot of attention, whereas a true genius like Imre Kertész, who even got a Nobel Prize and arguably wrote the best Holocaust novel in the history of literature, doesn't get much attention in the U.S.
Muzaffar Mukhtar reports in The Express Tribune that there's been a Slump in sales: Booksellers going out of business -- an article that could be written about most any place right now but, in this case, is about Pakistan, and specifically Islamabad and Rawalpindi.
The problem, of course: "the absence of a book reading culture", the lament:
People are now too occupied with TV channels, social media and the internet to find time for books.
Good to see that they could find support for that thesis:
Muhammad Ali, a student at the Arid Agriculture University Rawalpindi, said there is no need to buy prints when you have an internet connection.
"Reading books is boring in today's fast-paced world.
There are other ways available to acquire information."
(I have to admit I'm tickled at the thought that there's actually an 'Arid Agriculture University', but I'll be damned -- there is.
Still, nice touch, getting that quote from someone from a so-named institution.)
Umaira Ahmad and Nimra Ahmad are the most popular fiction writers with the youth these days.
"Writers such as Intizar Hussain, Saadat Hassan Manto and Ismat Chughtai are not the choice of the people.
While most girls like Wasi Shah, hardly anybody knows about Noon Meem Rashid"
Not sure what it means that Hussain (Basti, etc.), Manto (Bombay Stories; see the Vintage publicity page, and Chughtai (e.g. The Crooked Line; see the Feminist Press publicity page) are the authors that have recently been made available in the US; the Ahmads and Wasi Shah, not so much .....
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Malayalam-writing M.T. Vasudevan Nair's Mahabharata-variation, Bhima.
Glad to see a translation-from-the-Malayalam (hard to come by, hereabouts) -- but I would prefer to see more original work.
(And this is the second translation of this work -- another version came out in 1997.)
At the Asymptote blog Mahmud Rahman continues his examination, 'On the Dearth of South Asian Translations in the U.S.' with a third instalment, focusing on the lack of institutional support for it.
Talking with publishers and translators, he notes the lack of information that publishers have (or are able to find ...) is one major issue.
I share his doubts about the efficacy of government agency-led efforts (from the German Book Office to the Literature Translation Institute Korea) -- certainly they can be and often are very helpful in seeing to a presence in translation, but I wouldn't want to know the cost-benefit numbers (i.e. what ever the bang, it comes at the cost of an enormous amount of buck).
Certainly, as he warns:
Should such initiatives emerge, I worry that these may fall prey to the fractious politics within those countries.
Governments agencies may be more inclined to reward image-boosting and play favorites rather than promote literary quality.
Literary prizes are also mentioned, and he also suggests:
In fact, a different kind of "translation" is necessary: reviews of such books published in English.
The literature pages of newspapers and magazines and English language literary journals from the subcontinent could play a role here.
What is so weird about the South Asian (essentially: Indian) situation is that a relatively large amount (far more than from anywhere else in South East Asia) is both published in translation and written about (in the local media -- newspapers and weblogs, etc.) in English.
I.e. an incredible amount of information is fairly readily accessible for anyone who wants to seek it out.
What's so odd -- or not ? we are talking about publishers, after all ... -- is how few US-based folks seem to bother.
With the addition of the Dubai Programme for Writing, the imminence of a rich yield from the Emirati literary soil has just announced itself.
Well, when they put it like that, who can doubt the value of the Dubai International Programme for Writing -- "set to launch its first phase in September" ?
Supported by the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Foundation -- which has an endowment of freaking $10 billion -- this will apparently bring all the ... well, whatever creative writing programs are supposed to be good for.
And given that that includes publication -- well, maybe a pretty good deal for aspiring writer students.
(As to readers .....)
They certainly have it mapped out:
Upon completion of each phase of the training, the works of the trainees will be edited, designed, published and distributed, an outcome that will lead to a visibly enriched literary growth for the UAE.
In Dostoevsky's cacophonic catastrophes, at Russia Beyond the Headlines, Georgy Manaev profiles Oliver Ready, translator of (yet another) English version -- "five years in the making" -- of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment (recently released by Penguin Classics; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
Some interesting observations -- including that:
Several earlier translations tended to smooth over Dostoevsky's stylistic peculiarities, robbing the novel of the unique, jagged tone and nervous repetitions that best represent Raskolnikov's anxious state.
Ready sought to preserve these lexical peculiarities of Dostoevsky's language in his own work, while also trying to maintain the novel's hypnotic and compelling power.
With the elites preoccupied with petty cross-aggrandisement, writers must step up the podium on behalf of the masses.
African literature must be remastered to make the continent a povo-friendly space.
He sees the globally-trendy inequality-debate as one of great regional importance, too:
Writers must foreground on their taskbars the reconfiguration of Africa into a more habitable space for the poor who saddle the brunt of uneven development, misappropriation of resources and municipal dysfunction.
Not sure the writers (or the local publishing-conditions) are entirely up to it, but I wouldn't mind seeing some of this.
They've announced the winners of this year's £10,000 James Tait Black Prizes (Britain's oldest literary prizes, as they like to remind you), the prizes going to Harvest, by Jim Crace (fiction category), and Penelope Fitzgerald: A life, by Hermione Lee; personally, I would have gone with another headline for the press release, not Authors join book prize's hall of fame
I haven't seen either of these -- the Lee is only coming out in the US in November -- but they're both titles I am curious about.
Get your copy of Harvest at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk; pre-order your copy of and Penelope Fitzgerald at Amazon.com, or get your copy at Amazon.co.uk.
They've announced the 2014 winner of the biennial Premio Nacional de Literatura de Chile -- the Chilean national literary award -- and it goes to Antonio Skármeta; see, for example, Writer Antonio Skarmeta Wins Chile's National Literature Prize at teleSUR.
They've made some solid selections -- scroll down here for all the winners -- and did well in, for example, honoring Pablo Neruda back in 1945 already.
But Skármeta picks the award up four years after Isabel Allende won; it's a good rule of thumb that you really don't want to win an award after they gave it to Isabel Allende.
In The Observer Dalya Alberge reports that British readers lost in translations as foreign literature sales boom.
Sounds good -- boom ! -- but I'd be more convinced if more of the numbers flung about were of actual UK sales figures: the fact that Jo Nesbø "has sold more than 23 million copies internationally", that: "In Norway alone, the volume [of Knausgaard's autobiographical novel-series] has sold 450,000 copies", that Stieg Larsson's: "Millennium books have sold more than 75 million copies in 50 countries" doesn't really say anything about how well fiction in translation is doing in the UK.
There are some local statistics -- including the good-sounding:
The Collini Case, a legal thriller by Ferdinand von Schirach, one of Germany's top authors, which has sold 29,385 copies -- "more than the last John Grisham" -- eclipsing some homegrown novels that barely sell a few hundred.
(But: when the writer feels compelled to throw in the gratuitous and pointless observation about: "some homegrown novels that barely sell a few hundred" ... I get mighty suspicious.)
I am very eager to see this:
Next month, Literature Across Frontiers will publish a report analysing market data.
Its director, Alexandra Büchler, said that literary translations have grown by some 18% over 20 years.
(Lots of context needed there -- including how much the comparable non-translated market has grown, and the market as a whole.
I'm very curious about the details of this report -- and note that, in most areas, 18% growth over 20 years would at best be called anemic; of course, in the sad 'business' that is publishing anything resembling 'growth' of any sort and by any stretch must be celebrated.)
Certainly very good to hear that:
Adam Freudenheim of Pushkin Press, a small publisher that specialises in translated literature, said: "There has been an increase.
Pushkin Press's sales doubled last year and are on track to double or even triple this year."
But I'm still not convinced about the bigger market picture -- anecdotally, it seems a lot better than a decade ago, but the early 2000s seemed a particularly low low-point for literature in translation in the US and UK -- things weren't so bad in some of the preceding decades, and we may just be returning to prior (also low) levels .....
U.R.Ananthamurthy (Udupi Rajagopalacharya Ananthmurthy), one of India's leading writers, has passed away.
Lots of Indian media coverage about this, of course (see, for example, Shiv Visvanathan on U.R. Ananthamurthy -- The greatest storyteller in The Hindu) -- he was a leading Kannada literary figure -- but little beyond, so far; some will surely follow -- hey, he was a finalist for the Man Booker International Prize, 2013.
Two of Ananthamurthy's novels are under review at the complete review:
The period of recent Brazilian democratisation (...), has so far failed to produce an even moderately impressive number of novels that manage to get away from the reality of white guys, living in the big urban centres, belonging to a middle class that is modernised and advantaged.
Nor has it produced novels that risk a more substantial (and also more vertically-oriented) and challenging weighing-up of the social impact of recent political choices.
Indeed, he thinks:
From this perspective, contemporary Brazilian literature (...) is still quite timid compared to what is being produced in the rest of Latin America, from Mexico to Argentina.
In English we of course only get a sliver of the big picture (since very little is translated), but from that limited vantage point the differences don't seem so great.
Scott's Nowhere People is just out from And Other Stories -- see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
I have a copy, and will certainly be taking a closer look.
There's a new Martin Amis out -- in the UK; US reader will have to wait another five weeks or so -- and it was apparently 'embargoed' in the UK until publication-time (meaning: no reviews could/should be posted).
Pathetically, UK reviewers obediently held back until now -- even as reviews went up weeks ago at, for example, Kirkus Reviews ("(A)n indelible and unsentimental exploration of the depths of the human soul") and Publishers Weekly (starred; "An absolute soul-crusher of a book, the brilliant latest from Amis") -- folks, if you're going to 'embargo' in this internet age, then get your act together and make sure you've got things covered abroad, too. ....
(Though you shouldn't 'embargo' anyway -- it's a silly policy, and the sooner it dies, the better.)
So now the first UK (+) reviews are up as well, including at:
the Irish Times: Eileen Battersby calls it; "Highly cerebral and innovative, and also human, humane -- even humbling -- this is a brave, inquiring work from a literary maverick whose biggest problem as an artist has been his rampaging talent. He has certainly harnessed it here."
The Independent: Katy Guest finds: "I read this once thinking it horrifically brilliant, and Amis’s best novel for years. (It is, though that’s not saying a lot.) I read it a second time asking, but what is the point ?"
I haven't seen a copy yet, but I hope to soon; I was disappointed by Koba the Dread -- but greatly admired Time's Arrow (possibly my favorite Amis) -- so I'm not sure what to expect.
Meanwhile, get your copy at Amazon.co.uk, or pre-order at Amazon.com.
created an essential platform for francophone writers in which they promote their literary works and showcase the Moroccan talents by awarding them basically on the value of their productions.
But, still ... Morocco, where there are some folks speaking -- and writing ! -- in languages like ... Arabic, Berber, even Spanish .....
Still, solid literary support, with a prize of MAD 200,000 (yes, that translates into real money) -- though I do have to wonder about the symbolism of the photograph accompanying that article -- empty seats, no one behind the lectern ... easy to read a lot into that .....
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Vikram Chandra's Geek Sublime, due out shortly in the US from Graywolf (after being published in the UK and India earlier this year).
This was published under the same title by Faber in the UK, but the Indian edition was titled: Mirrored Mind.
More bizarrely, each edition has a different subtitle: