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opinionated commentary on literary matters - from the complete review


The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 September 2017

1 September: 'Women in Translation' Q & As | 'Prix Transfuge' | Scar review
2 September: Carlos Palanca Awards | Kurdistan's Book Cafe | Posner off the bench !
3 September: Sundays in August review
4 September: John Ashbery (1927-2017)
5 September: EBRD Literature Prize launched | Premio FIL de Literatura en Lenguas Romances | Prix Renaudot, first selection | Belladonna review
6 September: 2018 Neustadt Prize finalists | Prix Goncourt longlist | Rákshasa's Ring review | 4000 reviews
7 September: Translation from ... Korean | Translation from ... Icelandic | Prix Roman-News | Mohsin Hamid Q & A
8 September: Miles Franklin Literary Award | Such Small Hands review
9 September: Dayton Literary Peace Prize finalists | The last 100 reviews
10 September: Ian Buruma/NYRB profile | The 120 Days of Sodom review

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10 September 2017 - Sunday

Ian Buruma/NYRB profile | The 120 Days of Sodom review

       Ian Buruma/NYRB profile

       Murder in Amsterdam (etc.)-author Ian Buruma was recently named the new editor of The New York Review of Books, succeeding Robert Silvers, and in The New York Times John Williams profiles him and the transition, in Ian Buruma on a New Era at The New York Review of Books.
       As always, I can only hope for more fiction coverage. On the one hand, the new issue -- my copy hasn't arrived in the mail yet -- looks almost promising: Wyatt Mason on Pierre Michon, Joyce Carol Oates on Carson McCullers, and Michael Gorra on the new Claire Messud (plus Ruth Bernard Yeazell also on some Teenage Writings by Jane Austen) but two of the three (plus the Austen) are multi-title reviews (the much-loathed Sammelbesprechungen) ... sigh, surely more author- than book-focused.
       Still, one holds out hope ..... (And continues to read, and occasionally subscribe to, The New York Review of Books.)

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



       The 120 Days of Sodom review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of the Marquis de Sade's notorious classic, The 120 Days of Sodom, or, The School of Libertinage, out in a new translation from Penguin Classics.
       They actually managed to get a lot of coverage for this (well, relatively, for a paperback re-translation), but mainly backstory -- it hasn't been widely reviewed. I'm surprised. It's an odd, and in many ways terrible book -- but it's also significant (as the widespread familiarity with at least its title should already suggest) and can't simply be dismissed (or embraced ...) as some sort of extreme-porn. As objectionable (and ridiculous) as most of the content is, it is not purely terrible; it is a text worth engaging with.
       Anyway, my review is the longest I've posted in a while -- over 3200 words. And that's just scratching some of the surface.

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



9 September 2017 - Saturday

Dayton Literary Peace Prize finalists | The last 100 reviews

       Dayton Literary Peace Prize finalists

       They've announced (hey ! look ! not in the dreaded pdf format ! look how easy that is ! come on, folks, you can do that at your awards site too !) the finalists for this year's Dayton Literary Peace Prize -- awarded for books: "that have led readers to a better understanding of other cultures, peoples, religions, and political points of view" --, in fiction and nonfiction.
       Some familiar names and much-discussed titles, especially in the fiction category. But, yeah, none are under review at the complete review ... I'd add 'yet', but I don't think I'll get to any of these very soon (in part because, as noted, they've been pretty well and widely covered).
       The winning titles will be annunced 3 October; the prize ceremony will be on 5 November.

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



       The last 100 reviews

       We've reached 4000 books under review at the complete review, so it's time for another overview of the past 100 reviewed titles.

       - The last 100 reviews were posted over 188 days (previous hundred: 169), totaling 93,697 words (previous hundred: 98,458); the longest review was 1972 words, and six reviews were over 1500 words long.
       The reviewed books had a total of 25,387 pages (previous hundred: 25,034); despite a higher average page-total than the last hundred, only twelve had over 400 pages (previous hundred: eighteen), and the longest only had 742 pages. The trend of short and shorter books in translation continues, with seven reviewed titles under 100 pages.

       - Reviewed books were originally written in 26 different languages (including English; previous hundred: 28), with a three-way tie between English, French, and Japanese as the top language, with 18 titles apiece, followed by Spanish (10) and then distantly, German (4) Two new languages were added: Armenian and Yiddish. (See also the updated full breakdown of all the languages books under review were originally written in.)

       - Reviewed books were by authors from 36 countries (previous 100: 38), led by Japan (18), France (14.5) and the US (10.5).

       - As always, male-written books were overwhelmingly dominant -- 79 of the reviewed books were written by men (which was nevertheless sufficient to 'improve' the horribly sexist average of written-by-women titles under review ever so slightly, up to ... 15.80 per cent).

       - Two books received a grade of 'A' (down from four in the previous hundred) -- Antoine Volodine's Radiant Terminus and Marian Engel's Bear -- while exactly half the titles rated a 'B'. Only one book rated a 'C'.

       - Fiction dominated, as usual, with 83 titles that were novels/novellas/stories.

       - Eleven of the reviewed titles were first published in 2017 -- but, surprisingly, only two were first published in 2016 (2015:7; 2014:11). (Recall that year of initial publication is in whatever language the book was written in, not the date of the first English-language publication (unless it was wriitten in English, of course ...). Coverage of older titles still lags: only six were from 1900-1945, only two from the nineteenth century, only three from before 1800.

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



8 September 2017 - Friday

Miles Franklin Literary Award | Such Small Hands review

       Miles Franklin Literary Award

       They've announced (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) that Extinctions, by Josephine Wilson, has won this year's Miles Franklin Literary Award, the leading Australian novel prize (and worth A$60,000).
       Published by UWA Publishing -- yes, that's the University of Western Australia Publishing; see their publicity page -- it does appear to be Amazon available in the US (here) and UK (here).

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



       Such Small Hands review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Andrés Barba's Such Small Hands, out from Transit Books in the US and now also Portobello in the UK.

       Hispabooks already brought two of his title into English (see their Barba page), but this should be the breakout-work for him -- though I can understand some hesitance on the part of readers, because it is disturbing, in a way many readers feel uncomfortable being disturbed. But that's also one of the qualities of the book, expertly presented by Barba.
       Translator Lisa Dillman won the Best Translated Book Award in 2016 for her translation of Yuri Herrera's Signs Preceding the End of the World and it's hard to imagine this (similarly short) work won't be in the running for the 2018 prize (and the Man Booker International Prize as well).

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



7 September 2017 - Thursday

Translation from ... Korean | Translation from ... Icelandic
Prix Roman-News | Mohsin Hamid Q & A

       Translation from ... Korean

       In The Korea Herald Joel Lee reports that Translators uplift Korean literature to global heights, reporting on the recent awarding of the Korea Translation Awards -- and thankfully not focused solely on translation-into-English.

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



       Translation from ... Icelandic

       With the Reykjavík International Literary Festival having started yesterday, at Grapevine Björn Halldórsson reports on Found in Translation: Ideas Of Iceland From Across The Globe.
       Among the interesting odds and ends:
Not too long ago, most Icelandic books in translation had cover images of turf houses or other clichés, based on people’s idea of Iceland, rather than what the book was about. The further away you travelled, the stranger the covers became.

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



       Prix Roman-News

       They've announced the winner of the prix Roman-News -- of interest first, because it was (originally ? still ?) called the Prix du Roman-News Stiletto Publicisdrugstore, which takes branding to ... new heights doesn't seem quite the term ..., and second, because it is an interesting idea for a prize: it is awarded to the best French novel that is based on actual events ("une œuvre de fiction française qui s’inspire de l’actualité et la traite comme un roman")
       Not a genre I'm too enthusiastic about -- but of course a very popular, or at least widespread one.
       Anyway, Négar Djavadi's multiple-prize-winning Désorientale apparently takes this year's prize -- with Europa Editions slated to bring it out in English next spring; see this Publishers Weekly over/pre-view.

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



       Mohsin Hamid Q & A

       In The National Robin Yassin-Kassab offers Ahead of NYUAD talk: In conversation with Pakistani author Mohsin Hamid, the author of How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia, etc. -- and just-announced finalist for the 2018 Neustadt International Prize for Literature
       I haven't seen Exit West yet, but do hope to get to it.

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



6 September 2017 - Wednesday

2018 Neustadt Prize finalists | Prix Goncourt longlist
Rákshasa's Ring review | 4000 reviews

       2018 Neustadt Prize finalists

       They've announced the nine finalists for the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the prestigious biennial, US$50,000 author prize.
       Each juror selects one finalist -- see the more detailed finalists-page for who selected whom -- and as usual it's an interesting mix -- if rather heavy on English-writing authors this time around. I'm not sure the mention of 'representative texts' -- at least so prominently, in the press release -- is helpful, given that this is an author prize .....
       Finalist Emmanuel Carrère is certainly having a good week: as I mentioned just yesterday, he's just been named winner of this year's (even more remunerative ...) Premio FIL de Literatura en Lenguas Romances.

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



       Prix Goncourt longlist

       The longlists for the prix Renaudot were announced Monday, as I mentioned, now followed by the first of the four rounds of the prix Goncourt yesterday -- fifteen titles.
       Not too many big or familiar-in-the-US/UK names -- Véronique Olmi and Patrick Deville are perhaps the two best-known.

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



       Rákshasa's Ring review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Vishákha·datta's Sanskrit classic, Rákshasa's Ring, published in the Clay Sanskrit Library.

       While the Murty Classical Library of India volumes are the more imposing and, ultimately, impressive, I do love the Loeb/pocket-sized Clay volumes (despite the transliterated Sanskrit ...).
       And for the many publishers and authors who complain that I haven't gotten to their book yet: never give up hope -- this review was posted 4296 days (yes, almost twelve years) after I received the review copy ..... Yes, that is a new 'record' (though not by all that much). (Obviously I'm never going to get to everything -- I do get more review copies (though not many more ...) than I could possibly review -- but surprisingly few titles ever get completely written off/weeded out.)

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



       4000 reviews

       So, my review of Rákshasa's Ring is the four-thousandth review posted at the complete review. I'm no Harriet Klausner, but it's still a ridiculous amount .....
       But 4000 is not nice and round enough a number to retire on .....

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



5 September 2017 - Tuesday

EBRD Literature Prize launched | Premio FIL de Literatura en Lenguas Romances
Prix Renaudot, first selection | Belladonna review

       EBRD Literature Prize launched

       The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (because, of course ...) has announced the launch of the EBRD Literature Prize, a €20,000 prize for: "a translated work of literary fiction written originally in any language from an EBRD country of operations and published by a UK publisher", with the cash to be split evenly between author and translator -- and two pairs of runners-up to get €1,000.
       The first prize is for books published (in translation, in the UK) between 1 October 2016 and 30 September 2017 -- and publishers have until 31 October to submit their entries. So do !
       OK, there is that limitation: "from an EBRD country of operations" ..... What are those ? Well, quite a mixed bag of 37 countries -- heavy on Eastern/South-Eastern Europe and the former states of the Soviet Union, but extending also as far Mongolia, Morocco, and Egypt.
       I note that several of these countries are unlikely to have a single eligible title available .....
       I do desperately hope the prize at least releases a list of all the submitted title .....

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



       Premio FIL de Literatura en Lenguas Romances

       The Premio FIL de Literatura en Lenguas Romances is a leading author-prize for Romance-language-writing authors -- and pays out a nice US$150,000. It has a solid list of winners -- Claudio Magris, Enrique Vila-Matas, and Norman Manea are the last three, for example -- and they've now announced that Emmanuel Carrère takes this year's prize.

       Quite a few Carrère-titles are under review at the complete review:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Prix Renaudot, first selection

       The French literary prize season now slowly gets rolling with the longlist announcements of the big prizes, and first up is the prix Renaudot, with 17 novels in the running, and (only ...) four works of non-fiction in the non-fiction category.
       They still haven't bothered with a dedicated site -- the French prizes really lag in this regard -- but Livres Hebdo has you covered with great coverage of all of them, so go there.
       Not many names thar are too familiar in the US/UK: Mahi Binebine and Hervé Le Tellier are among the few with (other) works available in English. (On the other hand, that jury is pretty studded: J.-M.G.Le Clézio, Frédéric Beigbeder, Georges-Olivier Châteaureynaud, and Jérôme Garcin, among others. But they got all of one woman on a jury of ten ? What the hell happened there ?)

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



       Belladonna review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Daša Drndić's Belladonna, out in the UK (but woefully under-reviewed there) from MacLehose Press and coming to the US from New Directions at the end of next month.

       Complete with Dubravka Ugrešić-cameo (and translator Ellen Elias-Bursać -- who did Drndić's Trieste, though not this one), and a nice take-down of Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones, including:
Worst of all about Littell's book is that it is written in a language which is not, but aspires to be, the language of literature.
       And the next Andreas Ban-adventure has already been published in Croatian, as EEG; see the Fraktura publicity page.

       Meanwhile, also worthwhile: this Interview with Daša Drndić and Dragan Velikić by Andreea Apostu at Revista de Povestiri.

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



4 September 2017 - Monday

John Ashbery (1927-2017)

       John Ashbery (1927-2017)

       Leading American poet John Ashbery has passed away; see, for example, John Ashbery, a Singular Poet Whose Influence Was Broad, Dies at 90 by David Orr and Dinitia Smith, in The New York Times.

       None of his work is under review at the complete review, but if you want to dig it work, the Library of America editions have you pretty well covered, early (Collected Poems 1956-1987; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) or late (the coming-soon Collected Poems 1991-2000; see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).

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



3 September 2017 - Sunday

Sundays in August review

       Sundays in August review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano's 1986 novel Sundays in August, just out in English from Yale University Press in their Margellos World Republic of Letters series.

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



2 September 2017 - Saturday

Carlos Palanca Awards | Kurdistan's Book Cafe | Posner off the bench !

       Carlos Palanca Awards

       They've announced the winners of the 67th Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards for Literature, a leading Filipino award -- covering quite a bit of literature (22 categories !).
       The official site isn't quite up to date yet, but at InterAksyon Romsanne Ortiguero has the List of 67th Palanca Awards winners and a ceremony-overview.
       Glenn L. Diaz's The Quiet Ones took the novel grand prize.

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



       Kurdistan's Book Cafe

       At Qantara.de Sahar Moqaddem profiles the fairly new Erbil Kurdistan's Book Cafe: In praise of female entrepreneurs.
       Sounds good.

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



       Posner off the bench !

       As even casual readers of the site quickly notice, I don't cover that much non-fiction -- less than 10 per cent of the reviews are of that kind of stuff -- and certainly cover very few non-fiction authors: there are only a handful I have more than two titles under review by. And then there's Richard Posner -- a dozen books ! even a biography of him ! And I can't even come close to keeping up with his output .....
       He's been a judge on the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals since 1981 (yes, a Ronald Reagan appointee) -- and he's stepping down ... today. Which he announced ... yesterday. Which really is quite big news.
       See, for example, the Chicago Tribune report, Richard Posner announces sudden retirement from federal appeals court in Chicago.

       (Updated - 13 September): See now also An Exit Interview With Richard Posner, Judicial Provocateur by Adam Liptak in The New York Times.

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



1 September 2017 - Friday

'Women in Translation' Q & As | 'Prix Transfuge' | Scar review

       'Women in Translation' Q & As

       August was 'Women in Translation'-month, drawing attention to how under-represented woman authors are in translation, and it closed out with some worthwhile Q & As focusing also on women translators:        Meanwhile, at The Guardian Sian Cain also considered Lost to translation: how English readers miss out on foreign female writers -- and while the important basic point -- women are under-represented in translation -- is a sadly obvious one, this is the kind of article that has me pulling out my (few remaining) hairs in frustration.
       I don't weigh in on this issue much because my (reviewing) track record in this regard is beyond abysmal. (In no small part that's because of what's available for review; it's also only one -- albeit the most 'obvious' -- category in which my reviewing track record is abysmal, and I've more or less given up in trying to (artificially/intentionally) achieve balance in all those categories (because there are too many of them and it would get in the way of ... everything I'm trying to do.) (Ironically, my most recent review is of a title both authored and translated by a woman -- and that from notoriously male-author-dominated Dalkey Archive Press ..... Fortuitous, but entirely coincidental.))
       So I am hardly one who should be criticizing -- but here I can't help myself.
       Sian Cain writes:
When Romanian-German Herta Müller won the Nobel prize in 2009, only one of her books had been translated into English; already more than her fellow female Nobel laureates Gabriela Mistral, Grazia Deledda and Nelly Sachs, none of whom had any until after their award. When Svetlana Alexievich won, six years after Müller, none of her books was available in English
       Look, I know The Guardian is hard up (yeah, because the complete review is rolling in cash ...) and probably can't afford any fact-checkers. And sure, we all make mistakes -- aside from (far more than) my share of typos (sorry ...), I'm sure I get facts wrong on (too many) occasion(s). But Sian Cain is apparently: "the Guardian's books site editor" -- not just some free-lancer-- and you'd hope she is familiar enough with the internet to know that it's an incredible resource where you can actually check facts (which means, by the way, more than just looking things up on Wikipedia, the (re)source of last resort).
       I don't know if she just got these anecdotes from somewhere and didn't bother to follow up (i.e. check), but even just a cursory look at the Nobel (or pretty much any ...) site would have yielded ... better information:
  • only one of Herta Müller's books had been translated into English when she won the Nobel in 2009 ? Funny, the Bio-bibliography at the Nobel site listed -- then and now (yeah, they really should update that list ...) -- five (scroll down to 'Works in English'). And I'd certainly seen more than one by then.

  • Nothing by Grazia Deledda was translated until after she had won the Nobel (in 1926) ? After the Divorce was published -- in English -- more than two decades before she won -- look what a nice edition ! -- and the Nobel bibliography lists two other works also translated before 1926.

  • Nothing by Svetlana Alexievich was available ? Ah, well if we stretch the definition of 'available' ... -- though Dalkey Archive Press and Picador might have protested at the time re. Voices from Chernobyl. Beyond that, the Nobel Biobibliographical Notes mention three pre-Nobel translations-into-English, the earliest from 1988 (yes, yes, that Progress Publishers edition was never widely available, or at least not at your local Barnes & Noble, but still ...)
       Come on, folks. This is the easy stuff. If you're going to offer 'facts' and data -- make just a bit of effort to get it right. It really isn't that hard. Really.
       I know that the idea of 'literary journalism' is a joke, but if stuff like this slips through it really is hopeless. Don't give ammunition to the 'fake news'-crowd.

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



       'Prix Transfuge'

       Okay, this doesn't strike me as much of a real literary prize, but apparently French magazine Transfuge name their favorites in fifteen categories, as the rentrée littéraire descends on France -- and I appreciate how they differentiate categories: there's both a 'meilleur livre américain' as well as a 'meilleur roman anglophone'.
       Livres Hebdo runs down all the category winners.

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



       Scar review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Sara Mesa's Scar, just out in English from Dalkey Archive Press.

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



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