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9 October 2015 - Friday

Svetlana Alexievich, Nobel laureate 2015 | French prize not-so-longlists
(American) National Translation Award shortlists

       Svetlana Alexievich, Nobel laureate 2015

       Belarusian author Svetlana Alexievich was named this year's Nobel laureate (she'll only officially be awarded the prize at the 10 December Nobel award ceremony); my coverage from yesterday provides many of the basic informational links about her, her work, and early reactions to it.

       Was this a surprise ?
       Apparently not -- at least to the extent that a Nobel announcement can be unsurprising. She was -- and long had been -- the odds-on betting favorite (3/1 at Ladbrokes coming into the final day) and, for example, when Aftonbladet asked their critics to name their guesses and their favorites Alexievich was a popular choice.

       Does she deserve the prize ?
       As I suggested in my final Nobel preview -- and as indeed I suggested back in 2013 in assessing her chances back then -- she covers a lot of what one might expect on any Nobel checklist. The Nobel committee continues to show a particular appetite for recent-European-horrors-probing writing, whether about Nazi Europe (Modiano, Kertész), Communist totalitarianism (Herta Müller), or bourgeois society (Jelinek), and Alexievich's bona fides -- a product of the Soviet system (she won Soviet literary prizes back in the 1980s), a citizen of Europe's most totalitarian state, her subject matters -- are unimpeachable. The many other prizes she has won -- quite a variety, too -- suggest there's considerable quality there too.
       English-speaking readers are of course at a disadvantage, because even though she hasn't published very many books, her Voices from Chernobyl is the only one that has been readily available for quite a while, and the only other title that reached much of an audience was Zinky Boys (get your copy at or (She has appeared two other times in English, but neither made much of an impression (and it's unlikely you'd come across copies easily): War's Unwomanly Face was published by Soviet publisher Progress Publishers -- and, widely forgotten, a UK edition, in a different translation, of Voices from Chernobyl came out back in 1999 (the book did not take off until Dalkey Archive Press got US rights and commissioned a new translation which was only published in 2005; see also Chad Post's account at Three Percent, Svetlana Alexievich for the Nobel !).)
       The second translation of Voices from Chernobyl won the National Book Critics Circle award for non-fiction, and her more recent works have been widely hailed and very well reviewed in Europe (where they have appeared in many languages -- the US/UK really lags here).
       So overall it's hard to find fault with the Swedish Academy's decision.

       What do I think ?
       Oh, dear. Longtime readers know that I am a fan of fiction, and not so much of non. I don't like memoirs, and I have an aversion to testimony-writing; the modern journalistic fashion for anecdotal and personal stories drvies me nuts (I want my news impersonal and factual (to whatever extent that's possible)). So I'm not the ideal audience for a 'creative' documentary-style writer like Alexievich; indeed, I'd rather not be an audience for it at all.
       That said, I can't really argue with the prize. I think she's worthy and deserving -- even that she's a good choice. But it's not writing that particularly interests me -- and I already dread the imitators that will follow Alexievich's writing path, emboldened by this validation of it. ('No, no ! Turn back !' I want to yell ....)

       One of the fun things about the Nobel is that it's often small publishers that get a bit of glory here. In the Irish Times Eileen Battersby writes about Nobel Prize for Literature: Courage defines Alexievich's work -- and here John O'Brien also talks about how Dalkey came to publish her.
       Meanwhile, small UK publisher Fitzcarraldo Editions did well in nabbing the rights to rights to Время секонд хэнд ('Second-hand time'; see also the literary agency publicity page), a book that suddenly has a much higher profile. (Translator Bela Shayevich has already written a piece for The Guardian explaining how Svetlana Alexievich builds individual voices into a mighty chorus.)

       Last year at a weblog at The New Yorker Philip Gourevitch had already tried to make the case that Nonfiction Deserves a Nobel, and now he gets to crow Nonfiction Wins a Nobel. Similarly, at Slate Katy Waldman cheers that Svetlana Alexievich’s Nobel Prize Is a Huge Win for Nonfiction Writing.
       (Again: I can't really disagree -- indeed, I can see at least considering many more non-fiction writers (and note that, while none has gotten one in ages, the Swedish Academy used to consider far more authors who did not write fiction, poetry, or drama (which was also a result of many more such writers getting nominated -- remember, as always: only nominated writers are considered for the prize, and most nominators and nominating bodies nowadays are surely much more likely to suggest a writer of fiction (or poetry) rather than non-fiction)). The thing is: I prefer pure fiction.)

       All sorts of other articles and commentary have appeared, too, almost all of it very supportive -- from BelTA (Svetlana Alexievich: It is not my victory alone, but also a victory of our culture and the country Culture) to Jonathon Sturgeon arguing at Flavorwire Why Svetlana Alexievich's Nobel Prize Is Good for Literature.
       And there's also Peter Boxall at The Conversation arguing Svetlana Alexievich exposes the deep contradictions of the literature Nobel. Boxall suggests/claims:
Alexievich's work is difficult to categorise, and hence difficult to sell, and so nearly invisible
       This is both strange logic and false: Alexievich's first book reportedly sold millions in the Soviet Union, and she has done very well these past few years in much of Europe; it's only in the US/UK that she's been low-visibility -- in no small part because no publisher has been willing to take on more of her work and actually try publishing it.

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

       French prize not-so-longlists

       Several more French literary prizes have cut back their longlists in their second rounds this week: the prix Renaudot (see here) and the prix Médicis (see here).
       The big news here is that Boualem Sansal's 2084 didn't survive to this stage in either one's French-novel category.

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

       (American) National Translation Award shortlists

       The American Literary Translators Association has announced the shortlists for the 2015 National Translation Awards in Poetry and Prose.
       Two of the shortlisted prose translations are under review at the complete review -- Running Through Beijing and Why I Killed My Best Friend -- and I've read two of the others (Erpenbck, Jansson). (And I've also read the Tolstoy -- but not in the nominated translation.)

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

8 October 2015 - Thursday

The Nobel Prize in Literature goes to ... Svetlana Alexievich
'Super Thursday' | Governor General's Literary Awards finalists
Their first (Arno) Schmidt

       The Nobel Prize in Literature goes to ... Svetlana Alexievich

       The winner of the 2015 Nobel Prize in Literature has been announced and it is Voices from Chernobyl-author Svetlana Alexievich.
       (That's Святлана Аляксандраўна Алексіевіч in Belarusian and Светлана Александровна Алексиевич in Russian (the language she writes in), and it's transliterated in more ways than you can count or I am willing to list.)
       The Nobel site's pages on her are a good place to start. Her writing is essentially documentary -- evocative non-fiction (about some very dark parts of history). As the prize-citation has it, explaining the award is: "for her polyphonic writings, a monument to suffering and courage in our time"
       Svetlana Alexievich's official site is fairly useful and certainly recommended.
       The Literary Agency Galina Dursthoff Svetlana Alexievich page is also recommended -- especially the information about her individual titles; scroll to bottom and click on title-links.
       English-speaking readers are limited in what they can actually read by her -- the useful bio-bibliography (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) (also with biographical information) shows just how undertranslated she is into English. Voices from Chernobyl is the only title you'll easily find, though Zinky Boys also remains in print (and will quickly be reprinted); get your copy at or But compare that to the number of her titles available in Swedish. (I am amazed that no US/UK publisher seems to have picked up more of her books after the pre-Nobel to-do around her last year, and the success of her most recent book across the continent.)
       (Her War's Unwomanly Face has also been translated into English -- in fact it was the first of her books translated -- but only by Soviet publisher Progress Publishers, and while Amazon lists the title -- get your copy at or -- there are probably only a handful of copies extant and I doubt you'll be able to find/buy one. Since Danius apparently suggested this title as a good starting point, look for it to get picked up (and probably published in a new translation -- I can't imagine they'd stick with the thirty-year-old Soviet one); meanwhile, weep at all the other nations/languages in which it has been published and is readily available. As so often regarding international literature, US/UK lags and prefers to follow others rather than lead the way (or even just hop on the bus early on).)
       Well done, Fitzcarraldo Editions, who just hit the lottery with their wise decision to buy rights to Время секонд хэнд (which, as noted, got raves across Euope as it appeared in various translations) -- see their tweet. No word yet as to a US publisher. (Here's the literary agency publicity page re. the book -- and just check out how late in the game US/UK publishers are getting to this (i.e. how many others picked it up and published it sooner).)
       In his coverage in The Washington Post Ron Charles now reports that Dalkey plans a re-issue of their hardcover of Voices from Chernobyl, while: "Picador will immediately begin printing an additional 20,000 paperback copies [...] with more reprintings expected in the following months".

       Here are links to some (older) interviews with Alexievich:
       Some lengthy English excerpts of some of her writing can be found online:
       Alexievich has won a number of other prestigious prizes (and she probably will also be the last Nobel-winner to have won some Soviet (!) prizes, as she did in the 1980s)        Early reactions that provide a decent amount of information include:        But note that more in-depth coverage will follow -- that takes a bit longer.

       That covers the early coverage; this post will be updated if there is any other significant news or I come across more useful links; otherwise, look for additional reactions and coverage to follow tomorrow.

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

       'Super Thursday'

       It's not just Nobel-announcement day -- in the UK it's apparently 'Super Thursday':
the busiest and most important date in the publishing calendar, when the big firms and big names launch their assault on the Christmas market
       So Robert Colvile explains in The Telegraph, in Too many books ? What 'Super Thursday' tells us about publishing.
       The 383 hardbacks coming out apparently: "represent the publishing industry's best guess at what we actually want to find under our Christmas trees" -- and all I can say is that if that's true I'm relieved I don't live in the UK .....

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

       Governor General's Literary Awards finalists

       They've announced the finalists for the (Canadian) Governor General's Literary Awards (the 'GGs' ...) -- but what I really love about this award is that they have a readily accessible database of all the Titles Submitted to the Governor General's Literary Awards.
       As longtime readers know, I'm a big supporter of transparency in literary awards: an award can have no credibility if it isn't clear what titles are actually being considered for it; the Man Booker notoriously limits what and how many titles can be submitted -- and then won't say what they are (meaning many fine titles might never be in the running in the first place), something that is completely unacceptable.
       Far too few prizes are as open with this information as the GGs are -- and all should be.

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

       Their first (Arno) Schmidt

       I've mentioned the exhibit, Arno Schmidt: Eine Ausstellung in 100 Stationen that's currently at the Akademie der Künste and which sounds like a great overview of the author -- and I remind you that today at 20:00 is the panel on Mein erster Schmidt, as Dietmar Dath, Reinhard Jirgl, Kathrin Röggla, Ingo Schulze, and Uwe Timm talk about their first encounters with Arno Schmidt's work.

       (A reminder, too, that if you can't make it, or need your own introduction to Schmidt, you might want to turn to my Arno Schmidt: a centennial colloquy, conveniently available at, or on Kindle, or at, etc. etc.)

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

7 October 2015 - Wednesday

One more day until the Nobel Prize in Literature announcement
Prix Goncourt (less-)longlist | Writing in ... Nigeria
No posthumous Wallanders (?)

       One more day until the Nobel Prize in Literature announcement

       The Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced tomorrow, at 13:00 local time (Stockholm); you'll be able to watch the announcement live at the Nobel site.
       The Swedish Academy decides who gets the prize, and its (new) permanent secretary, Sara Danius, will make the announcement. (Oddly enough, they've just announced that Danius has received a literary prize -- the Gerard Bonniers essäpris; the SEK 100,000 isn't exactly Nobel-money, but it ain't bad. Former permanent secretary Horace Engdahl also won this, in 2010, a year after he had stepped down as permanent secretary.)

       Most of the media coverage takes the betting-lists as starting (and ending) point -- so, for example, we have Camille Bas-Wolhert's AFP report (here at Yahoo), The tough task of predicting a Nobel literature laureate, noting that: "The real experts are usually reluctant to make a prediction".
       In one of the more interesting variations on that, Christian Lorentzen admits to actually betting on the Nobel (and other literary prizes) -- and even finds he's: "still in the black" thanks to his Alice Munro punt -- in explaining My Book-Prize Betting Addiction: A User's Guide to Making Money Off Alice Munro. He has a system -- "I tend to make three categories of bet: (1) a likely winner; (2) a writer I really admire who’s also a patriotic favorite; (3) a writer I’ve reviewed negatively" -- which sounds as good as any. (He also thinks Lyudmila Ulitskaya is a "more likely Russophone winner" than current betting-favorite Svetlana Alexievich.)
       In Svenska Dagbladet they offer a list of 12 heta kandidater för litteraturpriset -- most of whom are among the betting favorites, while Folkbladet gets a few wider-ranging suggestions (though Alexievich is also the most often mentioned name).
       (Updated): Aftonbladet has their annual fun feature on who their critics think will win, who they would like to see win -- and who would be undeserving. Alexievich gets the most mentions, but there's a surprising amount of Mircea Cărtărescu-love here too (personally, I think it may be a bit early for Cărtărescu to get the prize, but he is definitely someone who should/will be in the running in this, and especially in coming years).
       There are also quite a few Rushdie-supporters out there: a few weeks ago Jochen Hieber argued Gebt Salman Rushdie den Nobelpreis ! in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung -- in a review that panned Rushdie's new book ... -- while today at the Literary Hub Jonathan Russell Clark argues Why Salman Rushdie Should Win the Nobel Prize in Literature. (Much as I admire Rushdie's early work (through The Satanic Verses) and his very active support for free speech, I'm afraid he has written himself out of contention -- his books are simply no longer anywhere near Nobel-worthy, and I can't imagine the Swedish Academy can overlook that.)
       (Updated - 8 October): Late in the day Alex Shephard hedges all the bets at The New Republic in considering Who Will Win the Nobel Prize for Literature ? covering pretty much everyone (and their uncles). (And yet, of course, he can't cover them all -- among those he doesn't name but who I've suggested in the past stand some chance: Ibrahim Al-Koni and Shahrnush Parsipur .....)

       Blogger-speculation includes:        And extensive discussion continues at:        As to those in the discussion, I don't really have all that much to add, but here a few observations regarding some of them:
  • Svetlana Alexievich: is the betting favorite -- down to 3/1 at Ladbrokes as I write this. With pretty much only her Voices from Chernobyl to go on, English-speaking readers might find it hard to judge her (or see what the fuss is about), but it's worth remembering that she is big in Sweden -- a pile of her books have been published there in recent years -- and that her distinctive literary approach (documentary, basically) is a (perhaps welcome ?) change from the usually honored forms. (The prize almost never has gone to a non-fiction author, but the case for her is pretty good.) Throw in the politics -- she's from Belarus, and her critical stance is of the sort that seems to appeal to the Academy -- and the fact that she's a woman (people apparently do keep count, and Danius has mentioned the sex-imbalance among previous winners) and you have a lot of good reasons why they might give it to her. On the other hand, her (relative) overexposure in Sweden the past year or two might suggest it's just her high visibility that's making her all the rage among the bettors.

  • Jon Fosse: was much-discussed last year already, and as an immensely popular playwright (yeah, that doesn't really register in the US/UK, but elsewhere he is, really) as well as novelist is a plausible candidate too. On the other hand, the fact that he's Scandinavian probably doesn't help -- they're probably pretty cautious about giving it to the local authors. I could see them giving it to him -- but I'd be disappointed if he were selected over fellow Norwegian Dag Solstad.

  • Murakami Haruki: has been mentioned as a favorite for years now, but he probably also elicits the most opposition too, considered too lightweight for the Nobel. I think his output is varied and interesting enough to merit consideration, and I wouldn't be shocked if he won, but the Swedish Academy may well be holding out for a slightly weightier Japanese author to give the prize to (though you have to wonder who might be on the horizon -- perhaps A True Novel-author Mizumura Minae, whose attitude towards Japanese literature (which one might sum up as anti-Murakami; see The Fall of Language in the Age of English) might be exactly the sort of thing the Academy is looking for).

  • Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o: well, I've been saying for years Ngũgĩ would/should get the prize, and can still think of no good reason why he shouldn't. You can argue politics regarding some of his work, but I can't imagine that's really much of an issue, and given what he's written, as well as everything else (he's from Africa, writes in Gikuyu, has written significant non-fiction) I'm just surprised they haven't gotten around to giving him the prize yet. Not that that means they'll get around to it this year, but he still seems the obvious choice.

  • Philip Roth: I would be terribly disappointed if they gave it to someone who has stopped writing, as Roth claims he has. Not that he isn't deserving, but they had their chances to reward him and didn't, and I hope that ship has sailed.

  • Amos Oz, Adonis, and Peter Handke: might all be worthy winners -- some more than others -- but all already have piles of awards (indeed have been piling them on in the past few years) and at the same time can't get away from all sorts of controversies, including most recently the fuss about it being announced Adonis was to receive the Erich-Maria-Remarque-Peace Prize. While these choices might be defensible, you really have to wonder whether or not the Swedish Academy wants quite as much fuss as selecting one of them would kick up.

  • Ismail Kadare: has also been in the running seemingly forever, and also would be a bit controversial; still, he seems more likely than any from the Oz/Adonis/Handke group.

  • John Banville: has also received a ton of prizes recently, but I have my doubts that the Swedish Academy wants to honor a very European author who also dabbles in mysteries (as Banville does as Benjamin Black).

  • Krasznahorkai László: I'm warming to the idea of a Krasznahorkai win, but can't imagine this is his year -- the Swedish Academy surely doesn't want to follow the Man Booker International Prize so closely. (This won't be a problem in future years, since they're changing that from an author- to a book-prize.)

  • Joyce Carol Oates, Don DeLillo, Cormac McCarthy, Lydia Davis, Thomas Pynchon, and Marilynne Robinson: are the more or less usual American names tossed in the mix. Yes, they haven't given it to someone from the US in quite a while -- but I can't really see any of them getting it, for a variety of reasons (including simply too much variety (Oates) or relatively too little (Robinson). If anyone has a chance I suppose it might be DeLillo, but I can't really see it

  • Maryse Condé and César Aira: are new names on the betting lists -- something always worth a closer look. Both were also in the Man Booker International Prize running ... which is probably also one of the reasons their names have surfaced, and I don't rate either one's chances very highly.
       And, of course, there are the names that aren't on the lists -- Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, for one, who I would wish was among the favorites.
       If it were up to me I'd have the choice down to one between Ngũgĩ, Dowlatabadi, and the similarly deserving Juan Goytisolo -- but as to what the Swedish Academy might have up their sleeve, I really don't know .....
       Well, there are a few more hours left for speculation .....

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

       Prix Goncourt (less-)longlist

       The prix Goncourt -- the top French book prize -- goes through four rather than the usual three rounds, and they've now announced the deuxième sélection -- the not-quite-so-longlist.
       Boualem Sansal's 2084 and Simon Liberati's controversial Eva have made the cut, as have the books by Alain Mabanckou and Mathias Enard.

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

       Writing in ... Nigeria

       In the Financial Times Tolu Ogunlesi writes about A new chapter in Nigeria's literature, describing a literary scene both vibrant and chaotic, where even success is problematic -- as well as relative ("publishers consider a book that shifts 5,000 copies to be a bestseller") -- as:
Commercial success for writers and publishers can be a curse -- attracting the attention of pirates, who are estimated to control 90 per cent of the book, music and film publishing industries in Nigeria.
       Check out also the list of 'Bright stars' at the end of the piece -- a relief not just to find the usual well-known names.

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

       No posthumous Wallanders (?)

       As I mentioned yesterday, Henning Mankell has passed away, and now AFP reports that his publisher insists there will no more Wallander books (written by others in Mankell's name, as the James Bond books now are, or the new 'Stieg Larsson', etc. etc.).
       "Nothing can be approved without my agreement" the publisher claims, but I suspect if the heirs really want to cash in -- and so often they do -- there won't be much that he can do about it. So I wouldn't be too sure that we've seen our last Wallander yet.

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

6 October 2015 - Tuesday

Nobel Prize countdown
Henning Mankell (1948-2015) | Nagroda Nike
Wilhelm Raabe-Literaturpreis | Giller Prize shortlist

       Nobel Prize countdown

       They've announced that:
The Swedish Academy will announce this year's Nobel Laureate in literature at 1 p.m. on Thursday, October 8 in the Grand Hall in the Exchange.
       It's safe to assume that this announcement signals that they have settled on a winning author (unlike the other Nobels, the literature prize doesn't have a set announcement date; they leave themselves free to announce on any Thursday in October, and so if they had needed more time to deliberate they could have taken it). (Of course, since a new permanent secretary has taken over it's possible she has a different way of doing things and only wants the selection made at the last possible minute, when all the pressure is on .....)

       Media speculation predictably enough focuses on the ready-made bookies' lists -- a good starting point (and movement on them can certainly hint at some of the behind-the-scenes doings), but not something one should rely on too much. Less so this year than most too: there hasn't been that much movement, especially not among authors who didn't feature as favorites last year, and especially not in the time before the final decision (likely) was made. For the most part -- until right near announcement time -- the lists have been probably most useful at the time when the prize had reached the shortlist stage -- not surprisingly, given that that stretches all summer, and when it's more likely that it slips out, one way or another, what authors the academician' are reading -- think Mo Yan a couple of years ago suddenly popping up on the betting-lists, or more recently Jon Fosse and Svetlana Alexievich, who were (and remain) plausible shortlist-candidates. (Of course, it's also worth remembering that the old geezers who seem to be somewhere among the five or ten favorites every year -- think Philip Roth, Adonis, Joyce Carol Oates, Ismail Kadare, and Ko Un this year -- do wind up winning occasionally too: Tomas Tranströmer was a betting-favorite at times in 2010, and in 2011 (when he won it) -- leaving aside the last-hours betting surge obviously due to a leak -- he was among the favorites. (True, 2011 is not a great example, especially regarding the Ladbrokes odds -- Bob Dylan was actually the betting-favorite going into the last days .....)
       Ladbrokes has the most-quoted odds -- but of course that doesn't mean they have the most betting action.
       NicerOdds has a nice odds comparison list, listing odds from various betting shops -- useful because any large discrepancy in odds is highly suspect (why put money down at worse odds when you can get a lot more bang for your bet elsewhere ?). Svetlana Alexievich's consistent range -- 6/1 to 7/1 as I write this -- is reassuring, for example; the Jon Fosse spread 6/1 to 16.5/1 eyebrow-raising, as is John Banville's (11/1 to 29/1). Consistent odds across the board of course don't signal actual odds, but one would expect any author about which there is any inside information to have more consistent odds (since those with that information would surely want to try to maximize their profit from it, spreading their bets and driving the odds to roughly the same level from place to place).

       A dpa (German press agency) Q & A with Nobel-leading Swedish Academy permanent secretary Sara Danius isn't very revealing ('There is really only one criterion: quality') -- though it rubs in that the crack-down of her predecessors on leakage seems to have paid off .....

       I don't have any good sense what the Swedish Academy might be thinking ... but I'll have some final pre-Nobel thoughts tomorrow.

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

       Henning Mankell (1948-2015)

       Leading Swedish crime fiction author Henning Mankell has passed away; see, for example, obituaries in The Guardian (Andrew Brown) and The New York Times (Jonathan Kandell).
       Best known for his Inspector Kurt Wallander series, Mankell was was a major figure in the explosion of Nordic crime fiction worldwide; (somewhat surprisingly) none of his works are under review at the complete review, but start out with the first, Faceless Killers; see the Vintage publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

       Nagroda Nike

       The Nike prize is the leading Polish literary award, and they've announced that Księgi Jakubowe, by Olga Tokarczuk has won the 2015 prize -- beating out shortlisted works by Magdalena Tulli, among others, and longlisted titles by authors such as Andrzej Stasiuk and Adam Zagajewski. See also Tokarczuk awarded Nike literature award at Radio Poland.
       The 912-page work might be a hard sell for foreign publishers -- see the Wydawnictwo Literackie publicity page -- but several of her works have been translated into English, including Primeval and Other Times; see the Twisted Spoon publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

       Wilhelm Raabe-Literaturpreis

       Clemens J. Setz's Die Stunde zwischen Frau und Gitarre -- see the Suhrkamp foreign rights page -- was longlisted for the German Book Prize, but didn't make the shortlist-cut -- but they've now announced that it has won the cash-richer (€30,000, vs the German Book Prize's measlier €25K) Wilhelm Raabe-Literaturpreis.
       Apparently so far only French rights have been sold; at 'ca. 1021 pages' it's a lot for a US/UK publisher to take on -- but Setz is definitely an increasingly up-and-comer. (Though the buying-decision probably depends a lot on how Indigo did .....)

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

       Giller Prize shortlist

       They've now announced the 2015 Shortlist for the (Canadian) Scotiabank Giller Prize -- including one translation, Arvida, by Samuel Archibald, one of two Biblioasis titles to make the final five.

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

5 October 2015 - Monday

French longlists | The Folly review

       French longlists

       If they have reached a decision and are ready to announce the Nobel Prize in Literature this Thursday the Swedish Academy will announce that today; if they remain silent then the prize will be announced, at the earliest, next Thursday. [Updated: They've announced it: the prize winner will be revealed on Thursday 8 October.]

       Meanwhile, the French are keeping busy with various longlist announcements:

       The prix Femina is -- like the Goncourt -- a four- (rather than the usual three-)round prize, with long-, not-quite-so-long-, and short-list before they announce the winner -- well, two-thirds of it is, anyway, the French-fiction and foreign-fiction categories: essays are dealt with in three rounds. A long-winded way of explaining that they've made their second selection in the French- (cutting five titles) and foreign-fiction (cutting seven titles) categories, and their first selection of essays: see here, for example.
       Among the French titles dropped from round one were the novels by Laurent Binet and Mathias Enard; among the foreign novels making the next round were Martin Amis' The Zone of Interest and Jane Gardam's Old Filth.

       The Femina has foreign fiction as one of its categories; the Prix du meilleur livre étranger is devoted entirely to foreign works -- with fiction and non categories, and they've announced their longlists too.

       And then there's the new prize on the block, the 'Grand prix de littérature américaine' -- yes, devoted just to American literature ..... They've also announced their longlist.

       (And, yes, none of these prizes appear to have anything resembling an internet presence of their own (there is this for the prix Femina -- nice URL, but completely uninformative about anything to do with current prize-doings) -- typical for French literary prizes (and their sponsors). Baffling.)

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

       The Folly review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ivan Vladislavić's The Folly, which just came out from Archipelago in the US, and which And Other Stories is bringing out in the UK.
       This was Vladislavić's first novel, and was published in South Africa in 1993 (!). Yes, there was a Serif edition in the UK in 1994 -- but this is its first US appearance (while a German translation came out 1998, a Croatian one in 1999). Amazing.

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4 October 2015 - Sunday

Archives: Maurice Blanchot - Ian Rankin

       Archive: Maurice Blanchot

       Via I'm pointed to the report at Harvard University's Houghton Library's weblog, Modern Books and Manuscripts, that Maurice Blanchot papers acquired by Harvard -- some twenty cartons worth.
       I suspect not everything is ... revelatory ("Real estate transactions including the sale of 48 rue Madame, 27 rue de Vaugirard. 1 folder" or "Wall calendars: 1965, 1971"), but a lot is intriguing -- including the: "Correspondence including Jacques Derrida, Edmond Jabès, Monique Antelme, Jacques Abeille, René Char, and presidents of France" (presidents ! plural !).

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

       Archive: Ian Rankin

       In the Daily Record they're reporting that Rebus author Ian Rankin aims to leave his literary archive to the National Library of Scotland.
       He kindly wants to donate his archive -- including "his boxes of receipts, bills" -- though it's unclear how much insight his faded faxes will offer scholars:
"I was going through some boxes of stuff recently, stuff from the late 80s when the fax machine was god, and I had all these rolls of shiny fax paper, and they have now faded to blank sheets.

"I have just got boxes full of blank sheets of paper, where faxes once were, probably from my publisher.
       (Quite a few of the Rebus-novels are under review at the complete review, beginning with the first, Knots and Crosses.)

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3 October 2015 - Saturday

Brian Friel (1929-2015) | Biblioasis profile | Simone review

       Brian Friel (1929-2015)

       Irish playwright Brian Friel has passed away; see, for example, obituaries in The Guardian (Richard Pine) or The New York Times (Benedict Nightingale), as well as a collection of reflections at the BBC.
       None of his work is under review at the complete review -- not even Translations, which I really should get to (get your copy at or

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       Biblioasis profile

       In The Globe and Mail Mark Medley profiles publisher Biblioasis, in Biblioasis is no mirage.
       It's an impressive and deserved success story -- always great to see a small independent doing so well (and nice to see that works in translation are part of the success-programme ...).

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       Simone review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Eduardo Lalo's Simone, due out shortly from the University of Chicago Press.

       This book won the 2013 Premio Rómulo Gallegos -- a biennial prize that has one of the most impressive winners-lists of any Spanish- (or, indeed, any-)language book prize, including: One Hundred Years of Solitude, Terra Nostra, Palinuro of Mexico, and The Savage Detectives, as well as books by Mario Vargas Llosa, Javier Marías, Enrique Vila-Matas, and Ricardo Piglia. That's some impressive company .....
       So how will Simone fare in the US -- as the first of Puerto Rican author Lalo's books to appear in English ?
       Lalo doesn't make it easy: the beginning of the book isn't bad or anything, but is a kind of writing that is very familiar -- and that many readers have probably had enough of. Anyone who dips in for the first ten or twenty or however many pages to get a feel for the book might well be inclined not to continue. The thing is: that initial feel is upended, as Lalo goes considerably further -- not quite elsewhere, but certainly not just on the same course -- later in the book.
       It's also interesting for its treatment of a more or less 'marginal' culture, including being about being a Puerto Rican writer in a time where Spanish-writing publishing is dominated by publishers in Spain (and much more regionalized in Latin America), with all the consequences of that.
       It was interesting reading this just as Haruo Shirane's What Global English Means For World Literature -- a review of Mizumura Minae's The Fall of Language in the Age of English -- appeared, discussing some of the issues Lalo raises.

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

2 October 2015 - Friday

Park Kyong-ni prize | Goldsmiths Prize shortlist | Bookselling in ... Nigeria
Vilas Sarang profile | Man Tiger review

       Park Kyong-ni prize

       The Park Kyong-ni prize is the big South Korean international literary award founded five years ago, and they've now announced this year's winner -- selected from five finalists: Isabel Allende, Amitav Ghosh, Milan Kundera, Amos Oz, and Philip Roth.
       Last summer, in the NB column on the back page of the Times Literary Supplement J.C. joked about:
devising a new prize, to be given to an author who has already received all the other prizes. What to call it ? The Amos Oz Prize is one suggestion.
       And, indeed, Amos Oz adds to his All the Prizes Prize (the designation they seem to have settled on, though they might be rethinking that right now ...) tally, taking this prize too (and what is apparently $100,000 in prize-money).
       Previous winners include Marilynne Robinson and Ludmila Ulitskaya -- as well as, last year ... Bernhard Schlink.

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       Goldsmiths Prize shortlist

       They've announced the six-title strong shortlist for the Goldsmiths Prize -- "awarded to a book that is deemed genuinely novel and which embodies the spirit of invention that characterises the genre at its best".
       It looks like a decent selection -- though I had issues with the two titles from it I have read (Lurid & Cute and Satin Island). I do hope to get to both the Richard Beard and the Magnus Mills, but neither appears to be available in the US yet.

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       Bookselling in ... Nigeria

       Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani has an interesting piece on the book business in Nigeria, The Secret of Nigerian Book Sales at The New Yorker's Currency-weblog.

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

       Vilas Sarang profile

       Marathi- and English-writing Indian author Vilas Sarang passed away earlier this year (see my mention), and in The Caravan Mantra Mukim's extensive look at 'Vilas Sarang's bilingual modernism', Laughter in the Dark, is now freely accessible -- a good introductory overview.

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       Man Tiger review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of the other Eka Kurniawan novel to appear in English last month, Man Tiger; I reviewed Beauty is a Wound a few weeks ago.

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1 October 2015 - Thursday

Looking forward to the Nobel Prize in Literature
Not the Folio Prize | Writing in ... Indonesia

       Looking forward to the Nobel Prize in Literature

       It's that time of the year again, and the Nobel Prize in Literature may very well be announced one week from today, on 8 October. (The prize is always announced on a Thursday in October -- but the Swedish Academy only reveals the actual date of the announcement on the Monday prior; in recent years they have been announcing the prize during the big 'Nobel week', when most of the other prizes are announced -- which, this year, is next week.)
       This year saw Sara Danius take over as permanent secretary of the Swedish Academy from Peter Englund -- meaning she's in charge of the Nobel proceedings at the prize-deciding body (and will also be the one announcing the winner to the world) -- albeit only at the end of spring, well into the decision-making process. So far things have been fairly quiet during her tenure -- but then the Academy has spent most of it on their summer vacation. The real arguing and deciding has presumably only started in recent days ..... As to gossip and rumors, it's been astonishingly quiet (so far) this year.
       I've been finding it a bit hard to get into the Nobel spirit of things this year, since there's not really much to add to my discussions from previous years: there really aren't (m)any names that haven't previously -- often long -- been in the mix.
       Internationally, Krasznahorkai László has been gaining traction (locally too: they just reviewed his Satantango in the Göteborgs-Posten a few days ago ...), but I think it might be a few more years before he's really in the thick of things (having Hungary as the thematic focus at the just-concluded Göteborg Book Fair probably doesn't help either, not for this year). Elena Ferrante is obviously sizzling hot in the US but don't forget that she has made a much more limited European impression -- including, apparently, not even yet being translated into Swedish (not a precondition to win the prize, of course, but it doesn't hurt) -- though at least she's coming: Elena Ferrante ges ut på svenska 2016 as Dagens Nyheter reports; indeed, for what it's worth (again: not that much) the Swedish Academy's Nobel library only has four of her books in its holdings (and only one is checked out ...) (Krasznahorkai: twenty-two).
       Betting at Ladbrokes pretty much just continued where last year left off, with most of the same names at similar odds. As I've often noted, the betting list is unlikely to get the favorite right, but chances are pretty good the eventual winner is on the list, at pretty decent odds. And, once again we have Murakami and Ngũgĩ right up there, as well as still-less-well-known in the US/UK Svetlana Alexievich and Jon Fosse; Philip Roth is among the few whose odds have edged slightly higher over the summer -- one last gasp for the retiree ? Poets Adonis and Ko Un figure, as always. (And, yes, Bob Dylan, at a ridiculous 33/1.)
       Missing from the Ladbrokes list are a few authors I've mentioned previously as plausible candidate -- Iranians Mahmoud Dowlatabadi and Shahrnush Parsipur, for example, or any number of Arabic-writing authors (Ibrahim Al-Koni ?). Yes, overall it's all pretty much the usual suspects once again.
       Discussion has been pretty active at The Fictional Woods and the World Literature Forum -- all over the place, but covering most of the possible or potential contenders too, so certainly worth checking out and keeping up with.

       I'll try to offer more speculation as announcement-day approaches -- and maybe there will be some hot gossip leaking out of Stockholm .....

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

       Not the Folio Prize

       The Folio Prize was to be an alternative-Man Booker Prize. They handed out the prize in 2014 and in 2015, but sponsor Folio ditched them, and they apparently haven't been able to find a new sponsor (and name ...) -- and now they've announced they won't be handing out a 2016 prize (though they: "intend to return with a full-scale Prize in 2017" -- though one suspects that that too is heavily dependent on their finding a sponsor to pay for the thing ...).

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

       Writing in ... Indonesia

       At Wayan Sunarta 'sheds light on the history of modern Indonesian literature', in The island that literature forgot, a useful introductory overview.

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

30 September 2015 - Wednesday

Korean literature abroad | Agustín Fernández Paz reviews

       Korean literature abroad

       In The Korea Herald Literature Translation Institute of Korea-president Kim Seong-kon considers, yet again, ways of Raising the profile of Korean literature overseas.
       He notes: "my immediate concern is translation" -- and that, apparently:
In the case of English translation of Korean literature, there has been a heated debate on who is the better qualified translator between an American or British translator and a Korean translator. Some people insist that American or British translators are much better than Korean translators because the latter are prone to make mistakes in grammar, syntax and wording, not to mention inadvertently using unstylish sentences and awkward expressions. Others strike back, insisting that Korean translators are better because British and American translators almost always make quite a few mistakes in their translation since they are often unable to comprehend Korean words or phrases and their cultural implications correctly.
       What to do ?
In my experience, both arguments are right. Thus collaboration or cotranslation by two nationals can be a good solution.
       Okay .....
       I'm also not sure pinning hopes on a first wave of: "suspense and mystery" titles to pave the way for 'real' literature is the wisest course of action -- much less the advice that:
Indeed, we should produce literary works that would have strong international appeal. Once the door is open, more serious literature can follow
       Once you start trying to 'produce' a specific kind of literary work -- especially one for a foreign audience (i.e. one that by definition authors are likely to be less familiar with) ... well, that's unlikely to work out well.

       At least more is being published in English -- led by Dalkey Archive Press' Library of Korean Literature.

       See also the Korean literature under review at the complete review.

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

       Agustín Fernández Paz reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are my reviews of two of popular Galician-writing author Agustín Fernández Paz's novels just out from Small Stations Press:        These are apparently nominally 'YA' horror novels, but differ from most US/UK YA fiction in that the characters are adult.

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

29 September 2015 - Tuesday

Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature | Writing in ... Indonesia

       Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature

       The winners of the (Kenyan) Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature -- actually several prizes -- have been announced, with Dust (by Yvonne Adhiambo Owuor) winning the adult English category (a book that's actually available in US and UK editions; get your copy at or and Pendo la Karaha (by John Habwe) winning the adult Kiswahili category (see the not very useful Moran publicity page).
       See also the Daily Nation report, Owuor wins literature prize at book awards.

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

       Writing in ... Indonesia

       In less than a month Indonesia will be Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and at Inside Indonesia Petia Dimitrova has a Q & A with Lontar's John McGlynn about Bringing Indonesian literature to the world.

       Meanwhile, at Bettina David writes about a part of the Indonesian literary market we're unfortunately not likely to see much of, in Frankfurt or elsewhere: 'Sastra Islami' -- Islamic popular literature -- in "God's gift to Indonesia".
       Interesting, for example, that:
Unlike the rather elitist Western-influenced literary scene, Sastra Islami is ruled by an ethos of shared idealism, community and mutual motivation -- which fits with the Indonesian love of collective fellowship and personal contact.
       And also that:
The "most inspiring" book in this new wave of Indonesian literature has of course been Andrea Hirata's The Rainbow Troops
       And shocking to hear that the German edition of the next volumes (apparently a two-for-one abridgement) takes considerable liberties, as:
Its view of the West also seems naive. In Hirata's The Dreame, Arai receives an EU grant for a research project at the Sorbonne in which he tries to refute the theory of evolution with Harun Yahya's bizarre "theories" -- though cut from the German translation, many of his Indonesian readers like to believe in them.
       Surely these are exactly the parts that shouldn't be cut -- we want to see these things: "his Indonesian readers like to believe in". (Never mind that many Americans seem to be pretty receptive to Harun Yahya-type interpretations of evolution in the first place .....)
       And I remain disappointed that Habiburrahman El Shirazy's Ayat-Ayat Cinta (which I first mentioned quite a while back, when first looking at this phenomenon) apparently still isn't available in English.

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

28 September 2015 - Monday

Blurbs ! | Dalkey's new home | Multiple Personalities review

       Blurbs !

       'Blurbs' remain a fascinating part of the odd business that is publishing, and at NPR Colin Dwyer offers an enjoyable overview, in Forget The Book, Have You Read This Irresistible Story On Blurbs ?
       (I tend not to be much moved by blurbs -- though I have found misleading ones (which are often fairly easy to identify/spot, often smelling of desperation ...) a good indicator of lack of quality in a book.)

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

       Dalkey's new home

       As I previously mentioned Dalkey Archive Press has moved on -- to the University of Houston-Victoria, Texas -- and, as the Victoria Advocate reports they've now settled in, as Dalkey publishes first books since relocating to UHV. No full list, alas -- but given the steady impressive flow it doesn't really matter; check out the full list of new releases.
       Also good to see: the Applied Literary Translation programme they're rolling out.

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

       Multiple Personalities review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Tatyana Shcherbina's Multiple Personalities, just out from Glagoslav.

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