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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 31 March 2016

21 March: Best Translated Book Award preview | Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award shortlist | Fay Weldon on changing times | Ruined City review
22 March: Best Translated Book Award preview - my picks | Prix de la BnF | 'The Daoud Affair'
23 March: Man Booker International Prize Q & As | Prize-winningcompeting AI fiction ? | Y.T. review
24 March: Aharon Megged (1920-2016) | Wendy Doniger profile
25 March: 'Reading Europe' | Optimistic Burmese poets | Translator-summaries | The Murdered Banker review
26 March: Top Russian authors ? | Blue Metropolis prizes | One Hundred Twenty-One Days review
27 March: Jerry Pinto Q & A | Ngũgĩ story in 30 (African) languages
28 March: Prémio Sonangol de Literatura | Jim Harrison (1937-2016)
29 March: Prizes: British Science Fiction Association awards - Anton Wildgans-Preis | Empty Streets review
30 March: Best Translated Book Award - the fiction longlist | The Story of Hong Gildong review
31 March: Musil biography in ... Japanese | Prix de la page 112 | Karl May poisoned ! (?)

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31 March 2016 - Thursday

Musil biography in ... Japanese | Prix de la page 112
Karl May poisoned ! (?)

       Musil biography in ... Japanese

       Among the books that have long tempted me is Karl Corino's Robert Musil biography -- a 2000-page (!) hardcover published by Rowohlt over a decade ago (see their publicity page, or get your copy at I'm not waiting for an English translation -- though that three-volume Princeton University Press edition of Reiner Stach's biography gives me some hope -- but am holding out for a paperback edition .....
       But while a complete English translation may not be soon in coming, the Japanese have proven themselves more Musil-dedicated: Hosei University Press has now brought out the final volume in their three-volume translation of the Corino ! Oliver Pfohlmann reports on it, in Das Zen des Übersetzens in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung -- noting also that the Japanese translation-team (it took a team !) found some two hundred typos in the German original .....

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

       Prix de la page 112

       I mentioned the Prix de la page 112 at the beginning of the month -- and they've now announced the winner -- not yet at the official site, last I checked, but Livres Hebdo reveal: Julia Kerninon remporte le prix 2016 de la page 112.
       Her Le dernier amour d'Attila Kiss took the prize -- beating out Philippe Dumez's Basse fidélité, seven votes to four -- ; see also the Rouergue publicity page, or get your copy at And note that at 128 pages it barely had a page 112 to get to .....
       Kerninon gets a tidy €1200 -- and a magnum of Bourgogne.
       (See also Kerninon's ... unusally named tumblr.)

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

       Karl May poisoned ! (?)

       Karl May (1842-1912) never made it big in English, but he is likely still the bestselling German author of all time (in no small part due to his Cowboy-and-Indian novels set in the US).
       They had to tidy up his grave recently, and while they were at it they decided to take a look at the remains -- for one, to be sure that it was really still Karl buried there (what with the Second World War -- and the fact that the remains of his best friend and his mother-in-law were removed from the grave in 1942 (itself a story I'd love to hear more about ...) -- they weren't completely sure there hadn't been a mix-up somewhere along the way) but also to see if they could determine a cause of death.
       Good news: the Karl-May-Stiftung press release assures us: it's Karl ! And in testing the theories as to cause of death, the evidence speaks against two of the apparently popular hypotheses -- rickets and lung cancer -- but there is a lot of trace evidence of lead- and cadmium-poisoning.
       Apparently, however, foul play is not suspected -- May seems to have managed to have poisoned himself, over an extended period of time (with well water and 'nicotine use' (a bad smoking habit)).

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

30 March 2016 - Wednesday

Best Translated Book Award - the fiction longlist
The Story of Hong Gildong review

       Best Translated Book Award - the fiction longlist

       They've announced the fiction longlist for the Best Translated Book Award, and the twenty-five titles are:
  • Arvida by Samuel Archibald, translated from the French by Donald Winkler (Canada, Biblioasis)

  • Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan, translated from the Indonesian by Annie Tucker (Indonesia, New Directions)

  • Berlin by Aleš Šteger, translated from the Slovene by Brian Henry, Forrest Gander, and Aljaž Kovac (Slovenia, Counterpath)

  • The Big Green Tent by Ludmila Ulitskaya, translated from the Russian by Polly Gannon (Russia, FSG)

  • The Body Where I Was Born by Guadalupe Nettel, translated from the Spanish by J. T. Lichtenstein (Mexico, Seven Stories Press)

  • The Complete Stories by Clarice Lispector, translated from the Portuguese by Katrina Dodson (Brazil, New Directions)

  • The Four Books by Yan Lianke, translated from the Chinese by Carlos Rojas (China, Grove Press)

  • French Perfume by Amir Tag Elsir, translated from the Arabic by William M. Hutchins (Sudan, Antibookclub)

  • A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa, translated from the Portuguese by Daniel Hahn (Angola, Archipelago Books)

  • I Refuse by Per Petterson, translated from the Norwegian by Don Bartlett (Norway, Graywolf Press)

  • The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud, translated from the French by John Cullen (Algeria, Other Press)

  • Mirages of the Mind by Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi, translated from the Urdu by Matt Reeck and Aftab Ahmad (India, New Directions)

  • Moods by Yoel Hoffmann, translated from the Hebrew by Peter Cole (Israel, New Directions)

  • Murder Most Serene by Gabrielle Wittkop, translated from the French by Louise Rogers Lalaurie (France, Wakefield Press)

  • Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah, translated from the Korean by Sora Kim-Russell (South Korea, AmazonCrossing)

  • One Out of Two by Daniel Sada, translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver (Mexico, Graywolf Press)

  • The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov, translated from the Bulgarian by Angela Rodel (Bulgaria, Open Letter)

  • Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera, translated from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman (Mexico, And Other Stories)

  • The Sleep of the Righteous by Wolfgang Hilbig, translated from the German by Isabel Fargo Cole (Germany, Two Lines Press)

  • Sphinx by Anne Garréta, translated from the French by Emma Ramadan (France, Deep Vellum)

  • The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante, translated from the Italian by Ann Goldstein (Italy, Europa Editions)

  • The Story of My Teeth by Valeria Luiselli, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Mexico, Coffee House Press)

  • The Things We Don’t Do by Andrés Neuman, translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia (Argentina, Open Letter)

  • Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila, translated from the French by Roland Glasser (Democratic Republic of the Congo, Deep Vellum)

  • War, So Much War by Mercè Rodoreda, translated from the Catalan by Maruxa Relaño and Martha Tennent (Spain, Open Letter)
       That's three of the top ten from my wishlist (what I (probably) would have picked had I been a judge), and ten overall. (I did better with my guess list -- 5/5 among titles I was near-certain would make the longlist, 5/6 of those I very much expected to see, and a handful of others I thought stood a good chance; I also called a decent number of the titles that I thought wouldn't make it.)

       Some observations about the longlist:
  • Languages:
    • A nice mix-- though French and Spanish, with five each, do stand out
    • The one major language that's missing: Japanese.

  • Publishers
    • A nice selection, led by four New Directions titles, and three from Open Letter
    • Surprisingly absent: any books by New York Review Books, Yale University Press/Margellos World Republic of Letters, Seagull, Dalkey Archive Press
    • Only two 'large(r)' houses represented: FSG and Grove Press; proof yet again that in the US, it's the small and independent (and, by and large, 'non-profit') houses that lead the translation-way

  • Four (of seven possible) Man Booker International Prize-longlisted titles made the longlist: the books by Agualusa, Ferrante, Fiston Mwanza Mujila, and Yan Lianke (and the other Kurniawan made it, though this one was eligible as well)

  • The Nobel laureates were shut out: none of the three eligible books by Modiano, nor those by Ōe, Pamuk, or Vargas Llosa made the cut

  • None of the authors with three eligible titles (Modiano, Vila-Matas (and Pascal Garnier)) placed a title on the longlist

  • Four of the authors with two eligible titles placed a title on the longlist: Wolfgang Hilbig, Eka Kurniawan, Per Petterson, and Gabrielle Wittkop
       Surprisingly, I've seen all but two of these book (the Aleš Šteger and the Amir Tag Elsir), and none of the selections really shock/surprise me -- maybe Moods as a pleasant surprise, as I figured that might easily slip under the radar.
       Of course, I'm disappointed about quite a few titles being overlooked (or, more likely, well-considered and dismissed ...) -- Vila-Matas Because She Never Asked, in particular, but also that there isn't a Modiano (specifically: After the Circus) or Ōe's Death by Water or Spiró's Captivity. Simenon's The Mahé Circle and Yi Mun-yol's Son of Man are also two titles that I'd like to have seen get more attention. And with a several strong Russian titles (including Before & During and Laurus), the Ulitskaya wouldn't have been my first (or second ....) choice.
       I hope that there will now be more discussion and argument about what's deserving than there was in the run-up to the longlist -- you can comment and debate at The Mookse and the Gripes's Best Translated Book Award-discussion board at goodreads, for example. And there's the Three Percent series on 'Why This Book Should Win', which should be fun to follow, as a case is made for each title.

       Meanwhile, they also announced the longlist for the Poetry award -- and I even have one of those under review: Frédéric Forte's Minute-Operas. (Not only that, I have two of the other titles -- and actually mean to get to them .....)

       The shortlists will be announced 26 19 April -- when the fiction-list gets pared down to ten titles. (No guesses yet from me as to what will survive, but there will be some commentary to come .....)

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

       The Story of Hong Gildong review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of the Korean classic, The Story of Hong Gildong, now out in a nice little edition -- and new translation -- from Penguin Classics.

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

29 March 2016 - Tuesday

Prizes: British Science Fiction Association awards - Anton Wildgans-Preis
Empty Streets review

       Prize: British Science Fiction Association awards

       They've announced the winners of this year's British Science Fiction Association awards -- and it's an impressive (and unprecedented) double for Aliette de Bodard, who takes both the best novel award, for The House of Shattered Wings, and the best short fiction award; see also, for example, David Barnett's report in The Guardian, Aliette de Bodard picks up two sci-fi awards for 'startlingly original fiction'.
       I haven't seen the book, but it sounds intriguing; see the Gollancz publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

       Prize: Anton Wildgans-Preis

       The Anton Wildgans Award is a literary prize awarded by the ... Federation of Austrian Industries (yes, in Europe this is the kind of thing industrial organizations still do). They've been giving it out since 1962, and it's now worth €15,000; and it probably counts as the top Austrian-author award -- and pretty much every major Austrian author of the past few decades has won it ... well, sort of: Handke declined (1984), Thomas Bernhard ... well, you can imagine what happened (I refer you to My Prizes, which you should read anyway).
       But the list of winners who did pick up the prize is long and (locally) illustrious: Ilse Aichinger (1968), Ingeborg Bachmann (1971), Josef Winkler (1980), Friederike Mayröcker (1981), Julian Schutting (when he was still Jutta, in 1983), Christoph Ransmayr (1988), etc.
       Anyway, they've now announced that Erich Hackl will get the 2015 prize. (Yes, 2015 -- and he only gets it in May.)
       Several of Hackl's works have been translated into English; the out-of-print Farewell Sidonia remains the best-known, while the most recent appears to be Argentina's Angel; get your copy at or

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

       Empty Streets review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Michal Ajvaz's Empty Streets, just out from Dalkey Archive Press.

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

28 March 2016 - Monday

Prémio Sonangol de Literatura | Jim Harrison (1937-2016)

       Prémio Sonangol de Literatura

       The Prémio Sonangol de Literatura is an apparently now biennial prize, worth a tidy US$50,000, for the best work by a PALOP-author (PALOP= Países Africanos de Língua Oficial Portuguesa, i.e. African countries where Portuguese is an official language), and this year it has gone to Mozambican writer Suleimane Cassoma Abdulumaine “Peniwaku Sassa”, for A Carta da Mbona; see, for example, the Angop report.

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

       Jim Harrison (1937-2016)

       As widely noted, American author Jim Harrison has passed away; see, for example, Margalit Fox's obituary in The New York Times.
       See also 'his 'The Art of Fiction' Q & A at The Paris Review, as well as his By the Book Q & A from The New York Times Book Review from just last week.
       None of his books are under review at the complete review (and I don't see myself getting to any in the foreseeable future), but in that The New York Times Book Review Q & A he says Dalva "has the greatest range", so maybe you'll want to try that; get your copy at

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

27 March 2016 - Sunday

Jerry Pinto Q & A | Ngũgĩ story in 30 (African) languages

       Jerry Pinto Q & A

       At Jai Arjun Singh has a Q & A with Jerry Pinto -- recently awarded a (prestigious and remunerative) Windham-Campbell Prize.
       Two of Pinto's books are under review at the complete review: Em and the Big Hoom and Helen.

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

       Ngũgĩ story in 30 (African) languages

       What a great idea: the great Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o wrote a story in Gikuyu ('Ituĩka Rĩa Mũrũngarũ: Kana Kĩrĩa Gĩtũmaga Andũ Mathiĩ Marũngiĩ') and in Jalada Translation Issue 01 they publish an English translation -- as well as translations into dozens of African languages.
       See the Books Live blog post New Ngugi wa Thiong’o story translated into over 30 African languages in record-breaking issue of Jalada Africa for more about this -- including the observation that:
The aim of the project was to renew interest in publishing in local languages and increase access to such stories.
       Which is certainly a useful and important thing -- and it would be great to see more ventures of this sort.

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

26 March 2016 - Saturday

Top Russian authors ? | Blue Metropolis prizes
One Hundred Twenty-One Days review

       Top Russian authors ?

       At Russia Beyond the Headlines Oleg Krasnov summarizes two recent Levada Center polls asking Russians who they consider the most outstanding Russian writers and poets, in Alexander Pushkin and Leo Tolstoy greatest Russian writers - poll.
       As Krasnov notes: "There is not a single modern writer in the top 10" (of the writers-list) and: "None of Russiaís living poets is on the top 10 list" (of poets).
       Tolstoy leads the writer-poll, named by 45 per cent, ahead of Dostoevsky (23%) and Chehkov (18%), while fourth placed Pushkin (15%) easily tops the poet-poll, with 58% -- ahead of surprise (?) second-place finisher Sergei Yesenin (41%).

       See also the Levada Center's (Russian) press releases on each of the polls -- writers and poets -- for more results. So, for example, the top living poet is Yevtushenko, who comes in 12th, with 3 per cent.
       Living writers ? Darya Dontsova slips in just ahead of Boris Akunin, in 15th place (four ahead of Nabokov ...), with 3 per cent (poll margin of error: 3.4% ...).
       [Not quite sure whether I should note this with embarrassment or to show off, but, yes, the (not-yet-translated-into-English) Dontsova rates a mention in my about-to-be-published The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction. It's barely more than an aside, but she does rate a mention -- and, for better or worse, this poll-result suggests to me: good call (though I hasten to add: no need to seek her out, even if/when anything appears in translation ...). In case you were wondering how thorough my Guide is ..... (Though, of course, a lot of names are missing that you could -- and no doubt will ! -- argue should have been included .....)]
       Pelevin managed to make the 1 per cent hurdle, but authors such as Voinovich and Ulitskaya came in under, and Sorokin doesn't seem to have rated at all.

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

       Blue Metropolis prizes

       The Blue Metropolis Festival runs 11 through 17 April and they've announced the prizes they will be handing out, with a solid list of prize winners that includes Anne Carson, Valeria Luiselli, and Abdourahman Waberi.

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

       One Hundred Twenty-One Days review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Michèle Audin's One Hundred Twenty-One Days, forthcoming from Deep Vellum.

       This is her first novel, but far from her first work to be translated into English. A member of Oulipo and a mathematician, she has published (and been translated) widely -- mainly mathematical works, but also some that go beyond that.
       I have to say, I'd really love to see her Remembering Sofya Kovalevskaya; see the Springer publicity page, or get your copy at or (You can sample the text at Amazon -- looks fascinating.)
       And I hope her most recent work, La formule de Stokes is also slated for English translation soon(est); it sounds awesome .....

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

25 March 2016 - Friday

'Reading Europe' | Optimistic Burmese poets
Translator-summaries | The Murdered Banker review

       'Reading Europe'

       With the UK set to vote on a referendum as to whether or not to leave the European Union -- simple, obvious answer: are you nuts ?!?? seriously, are you ? -- Dedalus has a nice Reading Europe from UK Independent Publishers-list, allowing voters (and others) to consider what they're considering breaking away from. Forty-nine recommended titles from all over the EU -- and all from independent presses ! A great selection (and many of the titles are under review at the complete review).

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

       Optimistic Burmese poets

       There's a new administration in town, so maybe they're right to be hopeful; still .....
       Well, in the Myanmar Times Nyein Ei Ei Htwe reports that Burmese Poets look forward to new government, with several speaking: "about their hopes for the poet society now that the new government is in place and their thoughts on the future".

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


       A nice little quick overview of six leading (really leading) translators at the Wall Street Journal, where Liesl Schillinger gives us the basics about 6 Esteemed Literary Translators, in Their Own Words.

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

       The Murdered Banker review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Augusto de Angelis' The Murdered Banker.

       This (1935 novel) is the first of several de Angelis titles coming out from Pushkin Press' Vertigo imprint. They're really putting together a nice little list here, with some re-discoveries (Boileau-Narcejac; Leo Perutz) as well as some why-haven't-these-been-translated-yet like the de Angeliss, and the forthcoming Frédéric Dards.

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

24 March 2016 - Thursday

Aharon Megged (1920-2016) | Wendy Doniger profile

       Aharon Megged (1920-2016)

       Leading Israeli author Aharon Megged has passed away; not many reports yet, but see, for example, Literary giant Aharon Megged dead at 95 in The Jerusalem Post.
       Not as well-known abroad as many from the next generation, he's nevertheless well worth reading -- with The Flying Camel and the Golden Hump an absolute favorite of mine.
       See also the Institute for the Translation of Hebrew Literature author page on him.

       (Updated - 26 March): See now also Benjamin Ivry's Remembering the Inspirational Legacy of Aharon Megged in Forward.

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

       Wendy Doniger profile

       I recently reviewed Wendy Doniger's new book, Redeeming the Kamasutra, and at livemint Sidin Vadukut has piece about how Wendy Doniger takes on the Kamasutra.

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

23 March 2016 - Wednesday

Man Booker International Prize Q & As
Prize-winningcompeting AI fiction ? | Y.T. review

       Man Booker International Prize Q & As

       At the Man Booker (International Prize) site they're posting Q & As with the longlisted authors and translators: first up the Q & A with The Four Books-author Yan Lianke and translator Carlos Rojas.
       Definitely a series worth checking in on regularly.

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

       Prize-winningcompeting AI fiction ?

       At the Asahi Shimbun Maiko Itagaki reports that Short stories co-authored by AI pass 1st stage of literary award; there's also a Yomiuri Shimbun report at The Japan News that calls the works in question 'novels' (but that article itself reads like it was written, or at least translated by a (rudimentary) artificial intelligence program ...).
       The competition in question is the Nikkei Hoshi Shinichi Literary Award -- which actually states in its rules/submission guidelines: "人間以外(人工知能等)の応募作品も受付けます": non-human submissions, AI or otherwise, are welcome (but you're asked to refrain from simultaneous submissions to other prizes ...) -- , and you can now read the winning (all human-written, apparently) entries at the site. But at least one of the semi-AI-submissions -- computer-co-written, by a team from the (wonderfully named (by an AI program ?)) Future University Hakodate -- made it past the first cut.
       What exactly this means is hard to say -- it's not clear how good/bad the competition was (maybe anything that was vaguely grammatical gets through the first of the four rounds -- a distinct possibility, given what's submitted to open literary prizes/publishers' slush piles ...) -- but heaven help us when not only every living human has a novel in the drawer, but their laptop does too .....

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

       Y.T. review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Russian-writing Ukrainian author Alexei Nikitin's Istemi, which Peter Owen brought out in the UK a couple of years ago, and which is now forthcoming from Melville House in the US as Y.T.

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

22 March 2016 - Tuesday

Best Translated Book Award preview - my picks
Prix de la BnF | 'The Daoud Affair'

       Best Translated Book Award preview - my picks

       Yesterday I posted my Best Translated Book Award preview -- the books I think might make the to-be-announced-one-week-from-today BTBA longlist. Now I get to list the titles I would like to see on the longlist. (I'm not a judge for the prize this year, but here I pretend: what would I choose -- except that, unlike the actual judges, who only get to select their top ten (plus one bonus choice per judge) I'm selecting a full slate of 25 !)

       Notes on my selections:
  1. Since I wasn't a judge this year I didn't see as many of the eligible titles as usual -- and didn't seek out as many, to at least have a look at -- and so I'm much more likely to have missed some good stuff
  2. My selections are according to (my idea of) BTBAesque criteria -- which includes trying to get varieties of variety, for example (not all translations from the French; not all published by X; not all novels with first-person narrators who are writers; etc.). That said, I didn't try nearly as hard to ... keep some personal preferences in check -- hence, for example, the list(s) are completely novel dominated. (If I never see another story(-collection) again, I'd be fine with that .....)
  3. The judges rank their top ten selections in order of preference; since I don't have to play favorites (or have an incentive to try to position titles so they (might) make it onto the longlist ...), mine are listed strictly alphabetically; same for the remaining fifteen

       My top ten:
  • After the Circus by Patrick Modiano -- among my favorites of the recent Modiano-flood, and among his most impressive novels

  • Against Nature by Tomas Espedal -- compact Knausgaard ? No, also considerably more

  • Beauty is a Wound by Eka Kurniawan -- big, wonderfully messy (and, yes, something different, from an area/language from which much too little has been translated)

  • Because She Never Asked by Enrique Vila-Matas -- perhaps the perfect Vila-Matas novel(la), which is saying a lot

  • Captivity by Spiró György -- not a huge fan of historical fiction, but this is grand fun

  • Death by Water by Ōe Kenzaburō -- very impressive work by the Nobel laureate

  • The Mahé Circle by Georges Simenon -- amazingly, a previously untranslated Simenon; dark stuff, but very impressive

  • Son of Man by Yi Mun-yol -- very impressive

  • Sphinx by Anne Garréta -- Oulipo and gender-fun, and a wonderful translation-challenge, well-handled

  • Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila -- raucous, ambitious (and quite the translation-challenge, too)
       Rounding out the longlist -- since I can round it out to twenty-five titles ... - my remaining choices would be:        More observations:
  1. Hmmm ... that's still pretty Francophone-heavy, at least in the top ten (4/10)
  2. Otherwise, impressive: 15 languages represented !
  3. But: no translation from the German ? (Marianne Fritz's The Weight of Things came closest; I still haven't quite taken to the Hilbigs -- but would have put more effort into them as a voting judge)
  4. No translation from the Arabic ? (I didn't see either Gamal Ghitany's (apparently eligible) Traces (did anyone ?) nor Ibrahim al-Koni's The Scarecrow, which are certainly titles I'd have wanted to have a closer look at as judge ...)
  5. No translation from the Chinese ? (Li Ang's The Lost Garden ? Mo Yan's Frog ? Neither totally convinced me ...)
  6. No title from Archipelago ?
  7. No title from New York Review Books ?
  8. Very little (as almost always ...) from the majors -- the Simenon (Penguin -- but a paperback original), the Houellebecq (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), the Bae Suah, if you want to think of AmazonCrossing as major ...
  9. Somewhat shamefacedly I note that, a day after I said I expected half the longlist-places might well go to books written by women I only find five in my top 25 (and only one in my top ten ...).
       I'm very curious to see how many of my top-25 make the longlist -- if it's more than ten I'd be (pleasantly) surprised .....
       Meanwhile, I hope more of you post yout own guesses/choices -- I'd love to see what others think are/should be the contenders !

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

       Prix de la BnF

       The prix de la Bibliothèque nationale de France is a fairly new French author prize, but with a decent list of winners so far -- including Patrick Modiano (2011), Milan Kundera (2012), Yves Bonnefoy (2013), and Michel Houellebecq (2015) -- and they've now announced their 2016 laureate, and it's another fine choice, Jean Echenoz; see the Livres Hebdo article, or the official (but, alas, only pdf-formatted) press release.
       Nine of his titles are under review at the complete review -- and while most of them are definitely worth your while, Piano is my favorite.

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

       'The Daoud Affair'

       At Tablet Paul Berman and Michael Walzer write about how 'How Western intellectuals turn themselves into the enemies of an entire class of liberal writers from Muslim backgrounds', in The Daoud Affair.

       (See also my review of Daoud's The Meursault Investigation.)

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

21 March 2016 - Monday

Best Translated Book Award preview
Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award shortlist
Fay Weldon on changing times | Ruined City review

       Best Translated Book Award preview

       The longlists for the Best Translated Book Awards (BTBA) will be announced next Tuesday, 29 March. In previous years I have been a judge for the BTBA (in the fiction category), but since I'm not this year I can now speculate (and pontificate) with reckless abandon (and also try to influence those late-deciding judges ?).
       As judge I could only choose my top ten, plus one bonus-pick (which each judge gets, to round out the top-twenty-five). Generally, only a handful of my preferences made the longlist -- last year I think it was four + one, so five out of twenty-five ..... But here I can choose as many as I want !
       Among the many wonderful things about the BTBA is that everyone knows exactly what books are being considered. (This is not the case for the Man Booker International Prize (which recently announced its longlist), for example -- and even though the eligibility requirements for that prize are public (i.e. we know what could be entered), it all depends on what books publishers submitted .....)
       For the BTBA: there's a Translation Database, and you just download the list of books, and there you pretty much have it -- so even if you get a bit confused by the BTBA eligibility requirements (first published or distributed in the US in the calendar year in question; no previously translated works), you can check whether or not a title is on the list, and if it is, it will be considered !
       (Okay, the databases aren't necessarily entirely up to date, and so there might be a few titles still listed which should/will be ruled ineligible (Buddha's Return by Gaito Gazdanov (previously translated by Nicholas Wreden; Dutton, 1951) and -- I presume -- Confessions of an Italian by Ippolito Nievo (previously translated -- admittedly only in an abridged version, but, hey, at 589 pages, substantial enough, I would think ... -- by Lovett F. Edwards, 1957) are the ones that immediately catch my eye; there probably are a few others), as well as a few that are eligible but haven't been listed yet, but basically you have the whole list of books the judges are looking at. (Actually, the 2015 database currently listed on the Translation Database page isn't the latest one; it's been superseded by the 1 February 2016-version, which is the one you should/can rely on .....))

       So how does this year's fiction prize shape up ? Interestingly, no doubt. I haven't read, much less looked at, as many of the apparently 480 eligible fiction titles (well, 478 without the Gazdanov and Nievo ...) as I did in my judging years, but think I have a good enough overview to hazard some wild guessing (and play favorites ...). (Since I'm not judging this year I haven't been nearly as careful and systematic, and so no doubt I've overlooked and missed some obvious and great titles in these considerations .....)

       There have been a number of posts by the judges at Three Percent over the past few months -- though disappointingly none for quite a while (presumably the judges are too busy finishing off with reading/considering all the titles -- there's a lot to get to). (Note that not all of the judges' posts seem to have made it to the dedicated BTBA-page, so you might want to scroll through Three Percent itself, where they can all be found.) I'm not sure how much one can read into these -- a couple of books obviously get a lot of love, but note that individual judge's enthusiasm alone may well not be enough to get a book on the longlist (I speak from experience ... lots of experience) .....

       Because of differing US/UK publication dates (and publishers), there is limited overlap between the recently announced Man Booker International Prize longlist and BTBA-eligible titles; of the thirteen MBIP longlisted titles only these are also eligible for this year's BTBA prize
  • Death by Water by Ōe Kenzaburō
  • The Four Books by Yan Lianke
  • A General Theory of Oblivion by José Eduardo Agualusa
  • Man Tiger by Eka Kurniawan
  • The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante
  • A Strangeness in My Mind by Orhan Pamuk
  • Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila
       Several of these should make the BTBA longlist as well; it will be interesting to see how large the overlap is.

       So what do I think will make the BTBA longlist ?
       There are five titles where I would be stunned if any one of them did not make the longlist -- they seem to hit most of the necessary marks, or hit a few hard enough, that there's no way past them. (I'm not saying they should -- though most of them should -- just that I expect them to be there):        (And, yes, I know I should be listing the translator along with the author -- it's a translation prize ! -- but I'm sorry, at this stage that is just too complicated and too much work for me.)

       One thing to look out for this year in considering what titles will make the longlist is the (remarkably large) number of authors with multiple eligible titles -- where the judges' votes might be split among them, possibly leaving them out in the cold. So, for example, there are three Enrique Vila-Matas titles in the running -- but will judges do the right thing and pick the obvious best of the lot, the sublime Because She Never Asked, or will they go for the not nearly as good but much more widely reviewed The Illogic of Kassel (or even outlier A Brief History of Portable Literature) ? Or will the Vila-Matas votes get hopelessly split ?
       True, just last year two Bohumil Hrabals made the longlist, so there's room for more than one -- but this year there are a lot of very good authors with multiple eligible titles, including several with three (Vila-Matas, Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano, and (okay, he's probably not going to make the cut ...) Pascal Garnier).
       Authors with two eligible titles include: César Aira, the great Emmanuel Bove, Wolfgang Hilbig, Eka Kurniawan (whose Man Tiger was just Man Booker International Prize-longlisted, though I say Beauty is a Wound (not MBIP eligible this year) is the superior contender), Andreï Makine, Máirtín Ó Cadhain, Per Petterson, Sergio Pitol, Antonio Tabucchi, and Gabrielle Wittkop.

       One interesting case that I had as a shoe-in but now am not completely sure about -- I still think it will be on the longlist, but I don't think it's guaranteed a place, like the above five -- is Ó Cadhain's The Dirty Dust. This is the great Irish novel that has finally come out in English translation, and an obvious BTBA-contender -- except that Yale University Press (who published this, too) just brought out another translation of the book (which, as a second/re-translation, will not be BTBA-eligible for next year's prize ...), and I'm wondering whether that will weigh on the judge's minds in evaluating this one. (If it were the only available translation it would be a slam dunk for the longlist; as is ... maybe not.)

       There are quite a few other titles that I think are highly likely candidates -- but recall that even very good works can fall through the longlisting-cracks: Susan Bernofsky's translation of Jenny Erpenbeck's The End of Days, which seems to have won close to every translation prize out there in the past year did not even make the BTBA longlist last year .....
       My own preferences (e.g. novels over short story-collections) are blinders, but among the other titles I expect to see on the longlist (because of the reactions to them so far, and the attention they've gotten -- and the fact that they're pretty good) are:        Ferrante has made the shortlist (top ten) the past two years -- is this finally the year she takes the prize ?

       Filling out the longlist, there are a lot of titles to choose from -- and the judges' individual picks should widen the net considerably (but also makes things harder to predict).
       Among the works I would imagine to be vying for remaining longlist spots are:
  • The Big Green Tent by Ludmila Ulitskaya -- big, panoramic novel, the sort of thing which seems to appeal to some

  • Imperium by Christian Kracht -- seems to have had some quirky appeal, and did better than I expected (critically and otherwise), so maybe ...

  • Lies, First Person by Gail Hareven -- a book by a former BTBA winner

  • Mirages of the Mind by Mushtaq Ahmed Yousufi -- has language, locale, ambition, humor going for it

  • Mr. Kafka and Other Tales from the Time of the Cult by Bohumil Hrabal -- there's always lots of love for Hrabal at the BTBAs (two titles longlisted last year !), and to top it off Hrabal-translator (though not of this) Stacey Knecht is a judge this year, so I am thinking: deck stacked

  • My Documents by Alejandro Zambra -- got a lot of praise and attention, and Zambra usually does well at the BTBAs

  • Rock, Paper, Scissors by Naja Marie Aidt -- one of the many Open Letters titles that seems like it might have a good shot

  • Signs Preceding the End of the World by Yuri Herrera -- lots of praise and attention for this

  • Submission by Michel Houellebecq -- opinions tend to be strong (and often not good) about Houellebecq (and this book), but I could see it slipping in

  • The Weight of Things by Marianne Fritz -- definitely has a lot going for it

  • An Aira ? Always a BTBA favorite .....

  • One of the Wolfgang Hilbig titles -- 'I' or The Sleep of the Righteous -- but I'll be damned if I can guess which one

  • A Modiano ? Three to choose from .....

  • One of the Enrique Vila-Matas (and while all three are worthy, it really should be Because She Never Asked)
       Among the big names, I expect Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa (The Discreet Hero) as well as Milan Kundera (The Festival of Insignificance) to fall short; I think the Pamuk also gets left by the wayside. (And, yes, I still think no Knausgaard -- but he'll be a front-runner with volume six (BTBA 2018).)

       Observations about my speculation:

        - Almost nothing that's close to genre (Apocalypse Baby as mystery/thriller ?) ? I hope the judges are more receptive to it than I seem to give them credit for here.
        - No Dalkey Archive titles that I am reasonably confident will make it ? (Again: maybe I should have more confidence in the judges ...)
        - With much discussion about the gender-divide in translation -- and evident in what's in the running (as Chad notes: only 29% of the eligible fiction titles were written by women) -- it still looks like a strong year for works by women: as you can see, a lot of the titles I think will make the cut are by women, and I'd be very surprised if less than ten made the longlist and can easily see half the titles or more being by women.

       Tomorrow I will offer my picks/hopes, which will throw quite a few more titles into the mix (but, alas, I suspect that my make-the-actual-longlist percentage will not be any higher than it was in the years when I was a voting judge ...).

       Meanwhile, enjoy/contribute to the discussion at The Mookse and the Gripes (now-at-)Goodreads discussion group thread on 2016 BTBA Speculation !

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

       Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award shortlist

       They've announced the shortlist for the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award -- and you can read all the stories at the official site.
       The winner will be announced 22 April.

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

       Fay Weldon on changing times

       In The Independent 'Fay Weldon looks back over changing times in the books industry', in Fay Weldon: 'How I started a punch-up at the Booker', an amusing quick overview.
       The Booker-episode is fun (especially the observation: "I'd given the speech to concerned parties to peruse beforehand, but no one actually read it"), the changes in how publishing 'works' less so ("Life was easier when publishers didnít ask for a synopsis, but simply read your novel" -- indeed ! what a concept !).
       Only three of Weldon's novels are under review at the complete review (e.g. Big Girls don't Cry) but I've read pretty much of all her work up to The Bulgari Connection, which I couldn't quite get over. But on the whole I have to say I admire and enjoy her work a great deal.

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

       Ruined City review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jia Pingwa's 1993 novel, Ruined City, finally out in English, from University of Oklahoma Press in their Chinese Literature Today series.

       It's been ages since any of Jia's books have been translated -- despite the only previous one, Turbulence, winning the solid-record Pegasus Prize, back in the day (1991, sigh ...) -- which I've always been surprised by: in my Nobel speculation before Mo Yan won the 2012 prize, I had him pegged as the likeliest Chinese candidate:
  • In 2010 I wrote that he had: "probably not enough of an international presence, but I suspect he'd be the likeliest of the Chinese choices" (as he was one of what I saw as three potential Chinese candidates -- yes, Mo Yan was one of the others -- that year)

  • In 2011 I felt they wouldn't: "give it to another Chinese expatriate -- strike Ma Jian -- and Mo Yan might be a bit too popular for them as well, leaving Jia Pingwa as, to my mind, the likeliest Chinese contender"
       Ruined City confirms my instincts: no doubt, Jia is in the top tier of contemporary Chinese novelists. Now let's see some more of his work in translation.

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

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