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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 31 January 2016

21 January: George Weidenfeld (1919-2016) | More on the 1965 Nobel Prize | Dylan Thomas Prize longlist
22 January: Writing in ... Afghanistan | Multifractality in literature | The Decagon House Murders review
23 January: Writing in ... Africa | Taiwan indigenous literary awards | Julian Barnes profile
24 January: The Arab spring, five years on | Fardwor, Russia ! review
25 January: Réparer les vivants in English | The Deep Sea Diver's Syndrome review
26 January: Ibrahim al-Koni | Ottaway Award nominations | Jantar books
27 January: Whitbread Costa Book of the Year | Premio Rómulo Gallegos can't pay | On the Edge review
28 January: Zaw Zaw Aung (1937-2016) | The Rose of Cikembang review
29 January: Korean (Nobel and other) literary ambitions | Wajdi al-Ahdal on Günter Grass | Garaczi László
30 January: 'Blooks' | Victorian Premier's Literary Awards | Singapore Literature Prize submissions
31 January: Pinter estate reviewing ban | The Last Weynfeldt review

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31 January 2016 - Sunday

Pinter estate reviewing ban | The Last Weynfeldt review

       Pinter estate reviewing ban

       Literary estates can be so much fun, wielding their power in ... well, who knows whose interest, but surprisingly often neither in that of the now-dead creator nor his/her audience.
       Here another example of some odd muscle-flexing, as for example David Ng reports in The Los Angeles Times: The Wooster Group runs into problems with Harold Pinter production, as the theatre group's new production of Nobel laureate Harold Pinter's The Room faces some odd restrictions:
Samuel French instructed the New York-based Wooster Group that all promotion and reviews of the production would be forbidden.

The Wooster Group subsequently appealed this decision, and Samuel French later lifted the restriction on promoting the production, but told the theater company that the blackout on reviews will remain in place.
       I am intrigued by the idea of reviews being forbidden -- surely something entirely out of the control of the theater group (and not achievable by other means either).
       I'm curious to see how this plays out.

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

       The Last Weynfeldt review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Martin Suter's The Last Weynfeldt, coming out from New Vessel Press.

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

30 January 2016 - Saturday

'Blooks' | Victorian Premier's Literary Awards
Singapore Literature Prize submissions


       Much as I dislike the term (and prefer the real thing), I can see the appeal of 'blooks' -- objects that look like books but aren't -- and Jennifer Schuessler's well-illustrated piece in The New York Times on an exhibit of them at the Grolier Club (through 12 March), 'Blooks: The Art of Books That Aren't' Explores the World of Fake Books certainly makes me more curious.
       I look forward to checking out the exhibit.

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

       Victorian Premier's Literary Awards

       The Victorian Premier's Literary Awards are yet another (local-)government-supported Australian literary prize and they've announced this year's category-prize-winners (fiction, non, poetry, drama, and YA) -- each of whom get A$25,000 -- and the 'grand prize' (officially: the Victorian Prize for Literature) winner, which this year went to the dramatist, Mary Anne Butler's Broken taking the (A$100,000) prize.
       See, for example, the Browns Mart Theatre publicity page, or for more about all the awards, Jason Steger's report in the Sydney Morning Herald.

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

       Singapore Literature Prize submissions

       The biennial Singapore Literature Prize awards prizes in three genres (fiction, non, and poetry) in each of Singapore's four official languages (English, Malay, Chinese, and Tamil), and it's great to see the growth of interest (at least as measured by submissions), first when the number of categories was tripled between 2012 (57 entries) and 2014 (182 entries), but even now, as the Straits Times reports: Record 235 submissions for the Singapore Literature Prize 2016:
The number of entries in English came tops again: 95, the same as 2014. Works in Chinese this time around saw a significant bump, from 30 to 56, and works in Tamil were up from 32 to 54. There were 30 Malay-language entires submitted, up from 25 in 2014.
       The shortlist will be announced in May, and the winners on 14 July.

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

29 January 2016 - Friday

Korean (Nobel and other) literary ambitions
Wajdi al-Ahdal on Günter Grass | Garaczi László

       Korean (Nobel and other) literary ambitions

       Ah, the validation of a Nobel Prize in Literature ! As I've often noted, (South) Korea is among the countries that most often fall back on the why-haven't-we-won-one-yet lament, and at The New Yorker's Page-Turner weblog Mythili G. Rao considers: Can a Big Government Push Bring the Nobel Prize in Literature to South Korea ?
       The Literature Translation Institute of Korea has done admirable work in pushing Korean literature abroad (albeit with too strong an emphasis on translation-into-English (one of the harder markets to crack, as we know too well) rather than other languages, and with a ... not exactly first-rate web presence with their list - Books from Korea periodical (click on current issue to ... not find the current issue, something I've complained about for ages and which no one has bothered to notice/fix)).
       Interesting also to hear of the idea of the "opening of an L.T.I. Korea Publishing House in the U.S." -- Rao suggesting:
In theory, opening a U.S.-based L.T.I.-run publishing house would help remove one of biggest hurdles for the agency: getting exposure for its translations.
       There are actually many foreign publishing houses that publish national literature in English translation (the Soviet and Chinese governments were the large-scale pioneers in the area, decades ago, but a lot of countries have followed suit), and while it's possible basing such a publishing house in the US would help slightly with exposure, I can't imagine it would really accomplish much.
       As Rao notes about Dalkey's wonderful (and very generously supported) Library of Korean Literature:
Yet the books' release has largely been ignored in the U.S. In the three years since the series launched, with seven hundred and fifty thousand dollars in support from L.T.I. Korea, The New Yorker and Harper's have been the only major publications to attempt to review any of the twenty volumes released so far.
       That is disappointing, to say the least -- especially since there is some major fiction among these volumes (in the most recent batch: Yi Mun-yol's Son of Man -- a book deserving a great deal of critical- and reader-attention (none of which it seems to have gotten to date)).
       (Quite a few of the Dalkey -- and other -- Korean titles are under review at the complete review; among weblogs, Tony's Reading List also has covered a wide variety of Korean titles in translation.)

       Amusing also to hear that:
[W]inning a Nobel Prize could actually have a downside for the country's literary culture. "I'm afraid, if Ko Un wins the Nobel, that the Korean government, the L.T.I., will just declare victory and shut down," Charles Montgomery said. Charles La Shure expressed a similar sentiment. "It will happen at some point: Korea will win the Nobel Prize in Literature," he said. "I hope it doesn't happen too soon."
       (And of course we can all dream that the Nobel goes to a ... North Korean author, which would throw everyone into a wonderful tizzy.)

       (Updated - 30 January): See now also at the TLS-weblog Toby Lichtig on A glittering Korea.

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

       Wajdi al-Ahdal on Günter Grass

       At Yemeni A Land without Jasmine-author Wajdi al-Ahdal recalls The intervention of a Nobel Laureate, when Günter Grass admirably stood up for him (and more).
       Not exactly a happy ending, but still .....

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

       Garaczi László

       In the Neue Zürcher Zeitung Ilma Rakusa reviews Garaczi László's latest to be translated into German, the 2006 MetaXa, now out from Droschl -- and, yeah, she kind of likes it ("ein Glanzstück").
       So where are the English translations of his stuff ? I thought Hungarians were hot -- or is he too far out, even compared to Krasznahorkai, Nádas, etc. ?
       See, for example, the Publishing Hungary Author's Page.
       I do hope he's on at least some publishers' radar .....

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

28 January 2016 - Thursday

Zaw Zaw Aung (1937-2016) | The Rose of Cikembang review

       Zaw Zaw Aung (1937-2016)

       As, for example, The Irrawady reports, Zaw Zaw Aung, Writer Famed for Ushering in Modernism, Dies at 79.
       None of this Burmese writers' work appears to be available in English translation, but he was an important figure, especially in introducing post-modernist theory to Burma.
       Still, what I fond most intriguing:
he also became popular among young readers for his spy novels in the 1980s
       Man, would I love to see those in translation .....

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

       The Rose of Cikembang review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Kwee Tek Hoay's 1927 novel, The Rose of Cikembang, another volume in Lontar's Modern Library of Indonesia-series.

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

27 January 2016 - Wednesday

Whitbread Costa Book of the Year | Premio Rómulo Gallegos can't pay
On the Edge review

       Whitbread Costa Book of the Year

       They've announced (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) the winner of this year's Whitbread Costa Book of the Year -- and it is The Lie Tree by Frances Hardinge.
       The winner of this prize is selected from the category-winners, and it's the first time in a while that the kids-category winner has come out on top.
       The book isn't out in the US yet (it's due in May) -- pre-order at -- but see the Macmillan Children's Books publicity page, or get your copy at

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

       Premio Rómulo Gallegos can't pay

       The Premio Internacional de Novela Rómulo Gallegos is one of the most illustrious Spanish-language novel prizes, with a list of winners to rival pretty much any other book prize; it also comes with good money attached (though there's some confusion about the denomination -- most sources have given US$100,000, but some say euros, some say bolívares; as it turns out the latter -- abbreviated: BS -- might be the most appropriate).
       As I mentioned last June, the 2015 prize went to Pablo Montoya, and he got to pick up the prize in August. Pick up the prize, and give a speech -- everything except pick up the cash.
       Hey, at least the check didn't bounce -- but apparently the cash-strapped Venezuelan government didn't even cut him one, and they still haven't paid up; see, for example, the EFE report at Fox New Latino, Venezuela apologizes for delay in paying winner of literary prize.
       Montoya -- still hoping for the money, apparently -- generously says it's no big deal:
"What the Romulo Gallegos Prize represents is so much more important than the economic amount. It's an award that puts you in the literary arena," said Montoya, adding that he is "aware of the situation" of economic crisis besetting Venezuela.
       All true -- and yet: poor show.
       I hope they're adding interest to the amount, whenever they finally get around to paying him.

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

       On the Edge review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Rafael Chirbes' On the Edge, just out from New Directions (with a UK edition from Harvill Secker due out in a couple of months).
       As I mentioned ... years ago, this was pretty convincingly the Spanish book of the year, 2013, and calling it Chirbes' magnum opus (in a pretty impressive and solid opus, by the way) is surely right. I actually went through a Chirbes-phase a while back, reviewing (cursorily) three of his novels back in ... 2000, but I didn't entirely take to him, and this is the first I've read of his since then (helped by the fact that nothing of his has been translated into English in some two decades ...). I still have similar issues with him, but this is an undeniably impressive work -- though, yeah, it is a bit hard to really like.
       Still: worth it, ultimately.

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

26 January 2016 - Tuesday

Ibrahim al-Koni | Ottaway Award nominations | Jantar books

       Ibrahim al-Koni

       At Marcia Lynx Qualey (of the invaluable Arabic Literature (in English)) reviews Ibrahim al-Koni's National Translation Award (in William Hutchins' translation) prize-winning New Waw, Saharan Oasis (see also the University of Texas Press publicity page, or get your copy at or
       I actually haven't seen this one yet -- somehow I haven't got my hands on a copy, and the New York Public Library doesn't even have a circulating copy ... -- but I've long been touting al-Koni as a Nobel contender, and it's good to see that his profile is rising, especially with his recent Man Booker International Prize (in its previous incarnation/format, sigh) longlisting. As Qualey notes:
This is the fourth of al-Koni's novels that Hutchins has translated. The prolific US-based translator says that he's generally "wary of 'global' novels that seem to have been written expressly to appeal to Westerners." The New Waw: Saharan Oasis is decidedly not that. It follows neither conventional characterisations nor timelines and seems to expand in multiple directions as it follows the group.
       Among the interesting mentions here, too:
Currently, Hutchins says, he is at work on another novel by al-Koni.

"I have to date translated 450 of the 700 pages of 'Al-Majus', which I am translating as 'The Fetishists' for various reasons. He [al-Koni] says it is his masterpiece and I agree."
       That's surely المجوس -- and that's great news. But I am curious whatever happened to American University in Cairo Press' The Animists -- Elliott Colla's translation of this same novel, which made it to an Amazon (etc.) listing -- complete with cover picture and everything -- but then never seems to have seen the light of day.
       (Still, I have to believe The Fetishists is the more attention-grabbing title-variation .....)

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

       Ottaway Award nominations

       At Words without Borders they've put out their Call for Nominations: The 2016 Ottaway Award -- that's the 'Ottaway Award for the Promotion of International Literature', recognizing: "individuals who have taken extraordinary steps to advance literature in translation into English" (previously recognized: Drenka Willen, Carol Brown Janeway, and Sara Bershtel).
       You have until 15 February to get your nominations in (via online form) -- and it's nice to see that nowadays there are so many folks doing so much that there are actually any number of worthies to nominate.

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

       Jantar books

       I mentioned Czech Republic-based Jantar Publishing a couple of weeks ago, and they've now kindly sent me a couple of their books, and while I should be getting to these sooner rather than later, hot damn, they deserve a mention just at first sight.
       If you've gotten your hands on some Twisted Spoon Press titles you've probably admired not just the content but the physical books as well; well, apparently it's something in the local water (or at least the local printing presses), because Jantar's volumes are just lovely physical objects as well. (And for someone like me -- basically solely concerned with content -- to be impressed by the look and the feel of a book is already saying something.)
       As I noted last time, it's great to see -- finally ! -- some more Michal Viewegh in English. But there are also those two volumes by Daniela Hodrová -- the 2012 Franz Kafka Prize-winning author, a prize that Jelinek and Pinter won the same year they picked up their Nobels, and that has also gone to the likes of Handke, Amos Oz, and Yan Lianke -- and it's great to finally get a closer look at her work. And there's GraveLarks, by Jan Křesadlo -- a book originally published in Czech by Josef Škvorecký's '68 Publishers in 1984.
       I can't wait to dig in -- and while I'll let you know what I think, title by title, you might want to get started already, too .....

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

25 January 2016 - Monday

Réparer les vivants in English | The Deep Sea Diver's Syndrome review

       Réparer les vivants in English

       I was impressed by Maylis de Kerangal's Birth of a Bridge, and ever since have been looking forward to her more recent, also multiple-prize-winning novel, Réparer les vivants.
       It's due out in English shortly, and I'll be covering it soon -- the Farrar, Straus and Giroux edition, Sam Taylor's translation, The Heart; see their publicity page, or get your copy at
       It's also coming out in the UK -- there from MacLehose Press. But there it is coming out as Mend the Living, in a translation by Jessica Moore; see their publicity page, or get your copy at (In a few months Talonbooks is following up with the Canadian edition, in this translation and with this title.)
       Having different translations and/or different titles on the two sides of the Atlantic is not unheard of, but it is unusual; Yasmina Reza's Happy are the Happy is the last bigger title I can recall with different US/UK translators (though at least both had the same title)
       This is the rare book that might get enough attention that it can readily support separate translations -- Kerangal is the real deal, and this has the stuff to be her break-out(-in-English) novel -- but I do have to wonder why publishers make it hard on themselves -- and on readers. MacLehose's excited announcements surely will just draw blank stares from US readers, and while those who take a closer look at the reviews should fairly quickly realize the same book is being talked about (the premise is a very straightforward one), I still wonder how many readers will make the leap.
       You'd figure -- well, I would ... -- that given the difficulties fiction-in-translation has in getting an(y) audience publishers might want to pool efforts, especially in this Internet age, when information is so readily available beyond national borders. But apparently that go-it-alone attitude wins out more often than not.
       (I have no idea how Kerangal's foreign rights are handled or who her representative is, but this is on them too: it would obviously be in Kerangal's interests, long- and short-term, for her books-in-English to be presented as a ... united front. That's something whoever handled the English-language rights should have seen to.)

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

       The Deep Sea Diver's Syndrome review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Serge Brussolo's The Deep Sea Diver's Syndrome, just out from Melville House.

       Brussolo is an immensely popular -- and prolific -- French author, the kind of writer where, when they post a list of his top novels they can easily go 40 deep, but this 1992 novel is apparently the first of his to make it into English. Presumably one reason for that is that he's hard to peg down -- the variety of his work is dizzying.
       That he's got some qualities is undeniable, and this is a very good book. I'm surprised it hasn't gotten more attention -- not even pre-publication Publishers Weekly or (full) Kirkus Reviews reviews -- but it's strong enough that word-of-mouth and internet attention should help it find its appreciative readership. (Yes, it is kind of science fiction -- but hardly just.)
       Really -- give it a try.

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

24 January 2016 - Sunday

The Arab spring, five years on | Fardwor, Russia ! review

       The Arab spring, five years on

       In The Guardian they have Writers look back at the Arab spring five years on, as:
In January 2011, days after the first uprising in Tunisia and the protests in Tahrir Square, the Guardian invited leading writers from across the Arab world to reflect on the revolutionary fervour sweeping the region. Then, they expressed great optimism for the future. Here, they revisit their responses and ask, is there still room for hope ?

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

       Fardwor, Russia ! review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of A Fantastical Tale of Life Under Putin, Oleg Kashin's novel Fardwor, Russia !, just out from Restless Books, in a translation by Deep Vellum-man Will Evans.

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

23 January 2016 - Saturday

Writing in ... Africa | Taiwan indigenous literary awards
Julian Barnes profile

       Writing in ... Africa

       Oscar Kimanuka seems to think the situation is dire, wondering in his piece in The New Times (Rwanda): What can we do to save the dying African literature ?
       Dying ?
       Yes, apparently:
It is seriously threatened by rapid rate of urbanisation, large-scale migration, industrialisation and environmental change. Globalisation and rapid socio-economic change exert complex pressures on our rich cultural heritage.
       (Because none of that is an issue elsewhere, right ?)
       And so he's left to wonder:
Where are the Achebes' of today ? Seemingly, the generation has declined to carry on the legacy of African literature.
       What he's mourning and worrying about is a specific kind of literature -- traditional literature and stories, as the damn young'uns disappoint by ... looking ahead ("We no longer tell stories to our children and instead stuff them with laptops, ipads and smartphones. Unlike the curiosity we had to hear more of our past, the generation's attention is fully immersed into the devices").
       Fair enough (well, not really, not argued like this, but you know ...), but as with any article that lumps together all of Africa, or all of its literatures, all of this is way too overbroad. And if we're going to generalize -- well, 'African literature', in its many varied manifestations and many languages (even if not enough of these make it into (especially English) translation ...) isn't doing all that badly at all. Certainly not as badly as the picture he paints.

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

       Taiwan indigenous literary awards

       Taiwan Today reports that MOE honors Taiwan indigenous literary awards winners, as: "The winners of Taiwan Aboriginal Literary Awards" were honored a few days ago -- 36 recipients from a "a 99-strong field in the categories of essay, novella, poetry and translation".

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

       Julian Barnes profile

       In the Financial Times Caroline Daniel has Lunch with the FT: Julian Barnes (which comes with a very odd cartoon portrait of the author). The mix of food-commentary ("not delicious in a conventional way"), sartorial observations ("dressed elegantly in a brown mackintosh, Margaret Howell dark checked suit with a blue shirt" -- and, boy, do I hope someone got slipped a fiver for that mention), and many odds and ends revealed in the conversation makes for an odd but interesting piece.

       Barnes' new novel is the Shostakovich-story, The Noise of Time -- only out in the US in May (pre-order your copy at, but (almost) out in the UK; see the Jonathan Cape publicity page, or get your copy at

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

22 January 2016 - Friday

Writing in ... Afghanistan | Multifractality in literature
The Decagon House Murders review

       Writing in ... Afghanistan

       At Afghan author Taqi Akhlaqi writes about The not-so-universal art of writing -- noting:
A work that comes out of Afghanistan exists, like its author, in a struggle with the bare essentials of life and basic human needs. Thus we writers live on separate islands. Afghan writers during the period of the civil war and of the Taliban became reporters and elegists and in the modern period employees and food-seekers.

The most difficult challenges we face are the lack of readers and the absence of a market. Writers and artists cannot live off what they create and receive no backing from local institutions.

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

       Multifractality in literature

       Ah, the fun of crunching the literary numbers ! At the ... Institute of Nuclear Physics (where else ?) of the Polish Academy of Sciences they've been checking out sentence-length, in Quantifying origin and character of long-range correlations in narrative texts (warning ! dreaded pdf format !).
       That's the pre-print; the paper now appears in Information Sciences -- and a press release from the IFJ PAN press office tries to put it in somewhat more accessible terms, explaining: The world's greatest literature reveals multifractals and cascades of consciousness !
       The Appendix lists all the considered literary works -- quite a bit of Polish fiction, unsurprisingly, (including The Doll, which I just reviewed ...), and maybe a bit little German stuff (just two novels ?).
       Some modestly interesting diagrams, but as to how insightful these insights are .....

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

       The Decagon House Murders review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ayatsuji Yukito's The Decagon House Murders, a 1987 Japanese mystery that apparently helped revive Golden Age-style whodunnits there (though few of these have been translated).
       Reviewing it in The Washington Post, Michael Dirda was very enthusiastic .....

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

21 January 2016 - Thursday

George Weidenfeld (1919-2016) | More on the 1965 Nobel Prize
Dylan Thomas Prize longlist

       George Weidenfeld (1919-2016)

       The eminent publisher George "Lord" Weidenfeld has passed away; see, for example, obituaries in:        Among his many contributions to the literary world: his part (and money) in the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize.

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

       More on the 1965 Nobel Prize

       The Nobel site has been very slow in updating their nomination database (as all the 1965 nominees are now, fifty years after the fact, revealable -- but not yet revealed here), but at least they finally posted their summary on Candidates for the 1965 Nobel Prize in Literature (which, despite the 4 January dateline claim, has just been up a day or two).
       Not much new beyond what the journalists who first checked out the archives reported more than two weeks ago -- see my previous mention -- though a more definitive statement that:
In the end, the Nobel Committee suggested three candidates for the 1965 Nobel Prize in Literature to the Swedish Academy:
  1. Mikhail Sholokhov
  2. Shmuel Joseph Agnon
  3. W.H. Auden
       It seems Sholokhov really was the popular choice -- recall that he was also one of just two names the committee proposed in 1964 (the other being Sartre, who took the prize that year)
       Interesting also to see how close Auden came -- as he was one of three finalists both in 1965 and 1963 (and it'll be interesting to see how many other times he came close, as he only died in 1973 and thus may well have been in the running quite a few more times).

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

       Dylan Thomas Prize longlist

       Yes, Longlist announced for 2016 International Dylan Thomas Prize -- international, but monolingual, as only English-language stuff is considered worthy of consideration. The other main requirement for the £30,000 prize: the submitted work must be: "written by an author aged 39 or under".
       I'm afraid none of the longlisted titles are under review at the complete review.
       The shortlist "will be announced in March".

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

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