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opinionated commentary on literary matters - from the complete review


The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 30 September 2017

21 September: Promoting books with booze | Aberrant review
22 September: 'World literature' | New issue of the Swedish Book Review | The Greek Classics review
23 September: Q & As: Donald Rayfield - David Shulman | Avant le polar review
24 September: Anna Zielińska-Elliott on Murakami | Science fiction in ... India | Bookselling in ... Bengaluru
25 September: Indian-language publishing | Chetan Bhagat on Delhi University syllabus | Sofia Petrovna review
26 September: Cundill History Prize longlist | Writing in ... Bangladesh | Ondaatje archive bought by HRC
27 September: Nobel Prize countdown - getting closer | Prix de la Littérature arabe | To the Back of Beyond review
28 September: Literary prize shortlists: DSC Prize For South Asian Literature - Goldsmiths Prize | The DADA Caper review
29 September: Voroshilovgrad - the movie | French literary prize shortlists | Jan Michalski Prize finalists
30 September: Yu Hua abroad | The Consequences review

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30 September 2017 - Saturday

Yu Hua abroad | The Consequences review

       Yu Hua abroad

       Via I'm pointed to the piece at Specimen by Yu Hua, explaining: How My Books Have Roamed the World.
       A fascinating look at one author's publication history abroad -- including:
To Live (tr. Michael Berry) and Chronicle of a Blood Merchant (tr. Andrew Jones) were translated into English in the 1990s, but I kept hitting a brick wall with the American publisher.

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



       The Consequences review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Niña Weijers' award-winning The Consequences, recently out in English from (new to me) DoppelHouse Press.

       Impressively, they have quite the US tour planned for her; rather surprisingly/shockingly, there's been essentially no English-language review-coverage to date (notably, nothing in the usual trade publications). It's disappointing because it's a book deserving some attention -- and Weijers looks to be a talent to look out for; certainly, this was enough for me to be curious about what she does next.

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



29 September 2017 - Friday

Voroshilovgrad - the movie | French literary prize shortlists
Jan Michalski Prize finalists

       Voroshilovgrad - the movie

       In the Kyiv Post Anna Yakutenko reports -- at some length, and with quite a few photographs -- that Filming in Donbas gives peek of Zhadan's 'Voroshylovhrad'.
       The Serhiy Zhadan novel it is based on was published by Deep Vellum -- and reviewed by me -- as Voroshilovgrad, and maybe the big-screen release will get it more attention .....
       (Okay, maybe not -- but it is worth a look.)

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



       French literary prize shortlists

       More French literary prize shortlists, as the Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française has announced its nine-title première sélection.
       (Worth keeping an eye on: more winners of this prize are under review at the complete review than Goncourt-winners (and another has just come out in English, Hédi Kaddour's The Influence Peddlers; see the Yale University Press publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).)

       Meanwhile, the prix Médicis is on to round two in the French novel category -- except that there are now more longlisted titles (15) than there were in the first go-around (14), as they've added Julie Mazzieri's La Bosco to the mix.
       They've also now released the delayed first-round selections in the foreign novel category -- 12 books, including Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead and books by Han Kang and Eka Kurniawan -- as well as eleven titles in the non-fiction category.

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



       Jan Michalski Prize finalists

       The 2017 Jan Michalski Prize -- "awarded for works of fiction or non fiction, irrespective of the language in which it is written", making it one of the rare truly international literary prizes -- has gone through two previous rounds, and now they're down to three finalists -- with the shortest (just over 100 pages) and the longest (three volumes) left in the running.

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



28 September 2017 - Thursday

Literary prize shortlists: DSC Prize For South Asian Literature - Goldsmiths Prize
The DADA Caper review

       Literary prize shortlist: DSC Prize For South Asian Literature

       They've announced the five-title shortlist for the DSC Prize For South Asian Literature. (The announcement was made in London, of course; the prize is denominated in US dollars .....)
       The winner will be announced on 18 November (in South Asia, no less -- at the Dhaka Literary Festival).

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



       Literary prize shortlist: Goldsmiths Prize

       They've announced the six title shortlist for this year's Goldsmiths Prize, a prize to: "reward fiction that breaks the mould or extends the possibilities of the novel form", so certainly some interesting titles there.
       See also Tom Gatti's overview in the New Statesman, Modernist masters and oddball challengers: the Goldsmiths Prize shortlist.
       The winner will be announced 15 November.

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



       The DADA Caper review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of the first in Ross H. Spencer's Chance Purdue series, from 1978, The DADA Caper.

       Of course I was hoping for something even more Dadaist -- but the presentation is certainly unusual for a mystery (though in other respects it has not aged well -- or presumably was already jarring back in the day ...).
       I came across it as a Diversion Books re-issue -- and they actually have quite an interesting list of titles, with more than a few odds and ends of this sort.

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



27 September 2017 - Wednesday

Nobel Prize countdown - getting closer
Prix de la Littérature arabe | To the Back of Beyond review

       Nobel Prize countdown - getting closer

       This year's Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced on a Thursday in October; next Monday we'll find out if they will award it on 5 October (they give a few days advance warning of the announcement); if they're silent, then -- like last year -- we wait for another week.
       After the prize went completely off the rails last year, the big question is: will they continue down this path of way-out-of-the-box selections, or will they return to more familiar and traditional literary territory ?
       It's worth noting that however unusual the last two choices have been, in a sense they also do fit the long-established pattern of selecting winners with a long-established record: 2015 winner Svetlana Alexievich had, after all, won her first literary prizes in the old Soviet Union, while last year's winner was already a household name in the 1960s. Still, even if they're unlikely to opt for any semi-fresh talent -- 2006 winner Orhan Pamuk was about the freshest face we've seen on the Nobel rolls the past few decades -- the winner-selecting Swedish Academy seems at least in other respects to be willing not just to push the envelope, but to ignore it.
       Where that leaves us, I don't know. On the one hand, we seem due for a real traditionalist, if only as a sop to the pissed off Academicians (and you know there must be a sizable faction) who are surely still complaining about last year's award (which, aside from the merits, did not go well in the awarding-execution -- which, believe it or not, a lot of these folks care a lot about). On the other hand -- they gave it to Dylan, so they've shown they're willing to give it to anyone. From J.K.Rowling to Jenny Holzer, almost nothing would surprise me. (Almost -- but Dylan proved they are capable of even the truly unthinkable .....)
       As I've often noted, the betting sheets remain the best guides as to who might be in the running -- the winners tend to appear somewhere there (yes, even Alexievich and, year after year after year, Dylan showed up on the sheets -- and recall, for example, Mo Yan suddenly popping up late in the going the year before he went on to take the prize), so the long Ladbrokes list deserves your attention. Odds are up at Unibet now too -- roughly similar, with a few less names, and a few different ones. (The Dylan-selection has ... broadened the field: at Unibet you can now place bets on not just Kanye West but also Donald Trump (hey, who knows what the Swedish Academy is thinking ...).)
       The odds themselves should be taken with more than just a grain of salt -- they really only get interesting at the end of this week (when the Swedish Academy has met, and perhaps finalized their selection, and the possibility of leakage increases ...), and movement rather than the odds themselves are the signs to watch for (it's only in the hours before the announcement that it's likely that the winner really rises to the top of the betting-boards). That said, the current front-runners -- top five, top ten, whatever you want -- are all more or less plausible selections (and have mostly been in the discussion for some, or many, years). There are a few lower down that can be discounted -- notably Jussi Adler-Olsen, even at 50:1 (Ladbrokes), seems utterly implausible (except ... they chose Dylan ...), and it's hard to understand how he could have the same odds as what seem to me under-rated choices such as Les Murray and Olga Tokarczuk. But overall, the sheets look like a decent guide.
       There are a few more names that I would toss in the mix: from (East) Asia Ko Un remains the most plausible, I suppose, but I'm increasingly inclined to see Furukawa Hideo as the most likely prose-author from the region; I can see him slipping ahead of Murakami, especially as more of his work gets translated. (The limited number of translations works against him; he's probably also still on the young side.) I also think Tawada Yoko might get some attention, with the whole culture-/language-spanning thing (though you'd figure Ngũgĩ would be hard to beat if that weighs in the decision-process).
       As far as neglected regions/languages goes, I'd once again put forth/remind you of the eminently worthy Mahmoud Dowlatabadi and Shahrnush Parsipur .....

       For (much) more discussion, see also -- and join in ! -- the boards at:        Things should get more interesting as the announcement-date approaches -- and there should be more coverage elsewhere (there's been very little so far); I'll try to report anything of interest.

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



       Prix de la Littérature arabe

       They've announced that The Corpse Washer, by Sinan Antoon, has won this year's Prix de la Littérature arabe, a €10,000 prize awarded for a book by an Arab League-author, written in or translated into French.

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



       To the Back of Beyond review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Peter Stamm's new novel, To the Back of Beyond, which came out to good reviews in the UK over the summer, and is now (just about) out in a US edition too.

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



26 September 2017 - Tuesday

Cundill History Prize longlist | Writing in ... Bangladesh
Ondaatje archive bought by HRC

       Cundill History Prize longlist

       You know the Cundill History Prize wants to be taken seriously because, even though they are Canada-based, their $75,000 prize isn't loonie-denominated but in actual US dollars .....
       Anyway, this prize for a: "book that embodies historical scholarship, originality, literary quality and broad appeal" has now announced its 2017 longlist. Certainly some interesting-sounding titles -- though, predictably, I haven't seen, much less gotten to, any of them.
       The shortlist will be announced 26 October.

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



       Writing in ... Bangladesh

       "It's a great time to be a writer in Bangladesh", says translator Arunava Sinha in this Q & A with Kanishk Singh at inUth (which opens with the sad near-truth: "Translations of non-English fiction into English have a universal problem: they don't sell").
       Much of the discussion is devoted to the anthology, The Book of Dhaka; see the Comma Press publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
       Interesting throughout -- including:
That said, how important do you think are literary prizes in that context, as you have won the Crossword Translation award twice ?

They are helpful but they sort have stopped making an impact because not many people seem to care about them now. An international prize like the Man Booker Prize has certainly more impact, but the literary awards in India frankly just don't.

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



       Ondaatje archive bought by HRC

       The Harry Ransom Center has acquired (for an amount that, annoyingly, they're apparently not particularly eager to share ...) the archive of yet another major contemporary literary figure, Michael Ondaatje; see their press release, as well as a Q & A with Ondaatje (though it includes Stephen Enniss absurdly asking: "Can you tell us how you came to place your archive at the Ransom Center ?" with no mention of/reference to the (surely huge) amounts of cash that changed hands in the process ...)

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



25 September 2017 - Monday

Indian-language publishing | Chetan Bhagat on Delhi University syllabus
Sofia Petrovna review

       Indian-language publishing

       At Scroll.in Kanishka Gupta has a Q & A with Oxford University Press' Global Academic Publishing director, Sugata Ghosh, discussing: Why is Oxford University Press entering Indian language publishing after over 100 years in India ?
       While translation-into-English gets the most attention, it's good to see there appears to be growing interest in translation into other languages as well -- and it's great to hear that: "The non-English translation market is getting crowded and competitive" (and interesting to learn that: "Amazon has big plans for this segment" ...).

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



       Chetan Bhagat on Delhi University syllabus

       In the Times of India they report that: Inclusion of my book in DU syllabus validates my work: Chetan Bhagat, as Bhagat's Five Point Someone is, along with Little Women, Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express and J.K.Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone on the Delhi University English literature syllabus.
       Bhagat crows:
It is obviously a huge honour, and validates my work's value even in academia, something elitists have tried to deny me for long.
       (I actually do believe his books make interesting and worthwhile case-studies, but probably not in quite the way he means/hopes .....)

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



       Sofia Petrovna review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Lydia Chukovskaya's Soviet classic, Sofia Petrovna.

       (This also led me to Anatole Broyard's bizarre 1976 review in The New York Times of her later Going Under, which begins with a paragraph on the praise Sofia Petrovna received when it came out (it was originally published in English as: The Deserted House), and then leads to the astonishing:
Now that I have read Going Under, I must gently disagree with Miss Greer. The book is dull, stodgy, amateurish and almost wholly bereft of ideas. And while I have not read The Deserted House, I am convinced, in my "heart," that it cannot have been a good book. If It had been, some trace of its competence would have shown itself in this one.
       He didn't read it, but on the basis of a single other work, in a translation by a different translator, he's comfortable dismissing it out of hand ? That's a mighty big leap to take -- and I have to wonder why Broyard didn't just go out and get a copy of The Deserted House/Sofia Petrovna before condemning it so easily. Seems like pretty bad form for a reviewer .....
       (As to his larger point re. '"protest" literature', sure, maybe he has a point -- but he'd be far more convincing if he didn't present 'examples' based solely on the praise they got from others without taking a look and seeing for himself whether or not the praise might have been warranted, at least in this case .....))

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



24 September 2017 - Sunday

Anna Zielińska-Elliott on Murakami | Science fiction in ... India
Bookselling in ... Bengaluru

       Anna Zielińska-Elliott on Murakami

       I mentioned this fascinating Christian Science Monitor profile of Murakami Haruki's Polish translator Anna Zielińska-Elliott, Meet the woman who brings Haruki Murakami works to an enthusiastic Poland, when it came out -- and now she's going to be speaking at Princeton, tomorrow (12:00-13:30) on Arbitraging Japaneseness: Translating Haruki Murakami in the West.
       Looks very promising indeed:
This talk analyzes how Murakami’s writings have been modified through translation for different markets, mainly the American market, in order to make him appear less “Japanese” and more “relatable” for the American reader, often by making extensive cuts, abridgments and other editorial changes. The talk also discusses the differences between the American and European approaches to Murakami translation (the latter of which tend to be more foreignizing) using examples from his old and new works. It will also touch the collaboration of Murakami translators into different languages.
       This isn't discussed nearly enough -- not just re. Murakami, though his is a particularly prominent case -- so it's great to see it getting some attention.
       Attend if you can; I wish I could !

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



       Science fiction in ... India

       Via I'm pointed to Tej Haldule's GQ (India) piece on The Meteoric rise of Indian sci-fi.
       The only one of these titles under review (I think) at the complete review is Samit Basu's Turbulence -- though there are certainly a few more I'd love to see.

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



       Bookselling in ... Bengaluru

       At Scroll.in Satyavrat KK reports that 'It's not just Church Street': In Bengaluru, these three Kannada bookshops have their own identities.
       Sounds good.

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



23 September 2017 - Saturday

Q & As: Donald Rayfield - David Shulman
Avant le polar review

       Q & A: Donald Rayfield

       At Georgia Today there's a Q & A with Donald Rayfield on Researching Georgia, Literature & Politics.
       Fascinating stuff -- especially about Georgia, which is ... not well covered.
       The press he runs is Garnett Press, and one of the Otar Chiladze titles he's translated, Avelum, is under review at the complete review (and I have and still expect to eventually get to A Man Was Going Down the Road ...) -- but as he notes:
The problem is, Chiladze is not selling in the West: it's very difficult to get literature in translation even reviewed, at least in Britain. I have a small publishing house and Iíve managed to help one novel to reasonable success (that is, to sell 1300 copies) but with Chiladze it would be getting over the 200 mark.
       It is dispiriting that he still has to prod: "What the Georgians really need is some sort of marketing system", as they have made an effort to be more pro-active over the past few years (with limited results, so far, it seems ...), with Dalkey Archive Press bringing out a Georgian series (most of which are under review at the complete review) and, more significantly, Georgia taking the spotlight as 'Guest of Honour' at next year's Frankfurt Book Fair (though the Georgian National Book Center doesn't seem to have progressed very far with online-available information about that yet ...).
       Rayfield even suggests:
Maybe the Georgian novel is not exportable
       I sure would love to see more, to be better able to judge -- and at least Frankfurt will assure that a few more titles are made available in German and English next year, so there's some hope .....

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



       Q & A: David Shulman

       In Frontline A.S.Panneerselvan has a Q & A with Indian language and literature scholar (and MacArthur Fellow) David Shulman -- who notes:
The truth is that you need to learn Tamil, Telugu, Kannada, Malayalam and Sanskrit at a minimum, really, if you want to do serious work.
       Three of his translations are under review at the complete review -- all from the Telugu -- and I have and do hope to get to the interesting-looking Tamil: A Biography discussed here (see the Harvard University Press publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).

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



       Avant le polar review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of the slim 99 notes préparatoires à l'écriture d'un roman policier by Paul Fournel, Avant le polar.

       Worth it alone for pointing me to fellow-Oulipian Frédéric Forte's 99 notes préparatoires aux 99 notes préparatoires. But also fun beyond that .....

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



22 September 2017 - Friday

'World literature' | New issue of the Swedish Book Review
The Greek Classics review

       'World literature'

       At Aeon Martin Puchner writes about: 'How markets, Marx, and provincial elites created world literature to fight both empire and nationalism', in Readers of the world unite, a useful introductory overview.

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



       New issue of the Swedish Book Review

       The 2017:2 issue of the Swedish Book Review is now available, with much of the content freely accessible online.
       The reviews are the most useful, of course, but see also Sara Stridsberg's Inaugural Address to the Swedish Academy (warning ! dreaded pdf format !), delivered on the occasion of her installation to the august body (Stol nr 13).

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



       The Greek Classics review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Aldus Manutius' prefaces to The Greek Classics, one of two volumes of his prefaces in Harvard University Press' I Tatti Renaissance Library-series.

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



21 September 2017 - Thursday

Promoting books with booze | Aberrant review

       Promoting books with booze

       Alcohol and literature -- well, alcohol goes with most human activity, and if it can loosen up potential purchasers (or even readers ...), why not ? When it comes to fiction in translation, in particular, a bit of additional lubrication certainly can't hurt ..... So apparently the thinking at Latvian Literature, where they're offering ... branded beer. Yes, Latvian Literature Launches a Range of #iamintrovert Beers:
The new selection of beers has been created as part of the #iamintrovert campaign, designed to promote Latvian literature and prepare Latvia for the participation in the London Book Fair 2018 which the Baltic states will be attending as market focus countries.
       I'm not sure about that "#iamintrovert"- slogan/campaign (which the beer is apparently meant to counter ?)
       But, hey, maybe those: "quotes from literary works of five Latvian authors" on the bottles will make drinkers demand the full books to go with the beer .....
       Still, I think they're anticipating/hoping for greater enthusiasm than is realistic:
The exciting thing is that you don't know which quote you're going to get when buying the beer. That's decided by fate, luck or the bartender.
       I'm also not sure about this:
The beer is unique not only for the quotes, but also for the special recipe that includes one of Latvia's most loved food items -- potato.
       While I swear by potato-based vodka -- none of this grain crap for me --, potatoes in my beer ... ? I'm going to need some convincing. Or a test-case ...?

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



       Aberrant review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Marek Šindelka's unusual Aberrant, recently out in English from Twisted Spoon Press.

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



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