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21 August 2014 - Thursday

Rashid al-Din in Edinburgh | Teaching translation | Geek Sublime review

       Rashid al-Din in Edinburgh

       A neat-looking exhibit at the Edinburgh University Library: The World History of Rashid al-Din, 1314. A Masterpiece of Islamic Painting; see now also Si Hawkins piece in The National on it, Edinburgh University gives visitors rare chance to see the 700-year-old The World History of Rashid Al-Din
       It's on through 31 October -- sounds like it is definitely worth a look if you're in the neighborhood.

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

       Teaching translation

       At Words without Borders' Dispatches weblog Margaret Litvin offers a look Between Love and Justice: Teaching Literary Translation at Boston University.

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

       Geek Sublime review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Vikram Chandra's Geek Sublime, due out shortly in the US from Graywolf (after being published in the UK and India earlier this year).
       This was published under the same title by Faber in the UK, but the Indian edition was titled: Mirrored Mind.
       More bizarrely, each edition has a different subtitle:
  • US: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty
  • UK: Writing Fiction, Coding Software
  • India: My Life in Letters and Code
       Publishers -- gotta love 'em.

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

20 August 2014 - Wednesday

PEN/Heim Translation Fund grants | Simin Behbahani (1927-2014)
(African) literary prize debate

       PEN/Heim Translation Fund grants

       They've announced the 2014 PEN/Heim Translation Fund grant winners:
From a field of 120 applicants, the Fund's Advisory Board -- Esther Allen, Barbara Epler, Sara Khalili, Michael F. Moore, Lauren Wein, and Lorin Stein -- has selected fifteen projects for funding.
       (That's a pretty impressive advisory board, by the way.)
       Some great-sounding projects, including work by some pretty big names -- Johannes Urzidil, Arseny Tarkovsky, Romain Gary, and Per Aage Brandt -- as well as a Richard Weiner, forthcoming from Two Lines Press (alas, too many of these other projects are still listed as: 'Available for publication' -- so check them out, publishers, some great things still up for grabs !).
       Among the intriguing projects: Sholeh Wolpé's translation of Farid ud-Din Attar's The Conference of Birds -- somewhat misleadingly presented as: "This artful and exquisite modern translation brings one of the definitive masterpieces of Persian literature to the English-speaking world". 'Definitive masterpieces' is right -- but of course it's hardly new to English-speaking audiences -- hey, there's a Penguin Classic's edition (Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis' 1984 translation; get your copy at or; my own dates to 1991, when I paid the then-list price of $6.95 for it at my local Barnes & Noble-- and even then I was reluctant to pay list, so a pretty significant book if I was willing to shell out that kind of money ...). Peter Avery's 1998 translation, published as The Speech of the Birds (see the Islamic Texts Society publicity page, or get your copy at or, has long seemed the most definitive version, but after more than fifteen years perhaps the time is ripe for a new version.

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

       Simin Behbahani (1927-2014)

       I last mentioned leading Iranian poet Simin Behbahani less than a year ago, on the occasion of her being awarded the Janus Pannonius Poetry Prize. Now she has passed away -- see, for eample, the IBNA report
       Some of her work has been translated into English -- your best bet is still A Cup of Sin: Selected Poems; get your copy at or See also her official site.

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

       (African) literary prize debate

       In The Herald (Zimbabwe) Beaven Tapureta takes on the Caine Prize -- the leading (no doubt about that, for the time being) African short-story prize -- and literary prizes as a way of fostering (African) literature, asking What is an African story ?
       So they're wondering:
Are the Commonwealth Prize for Africa, Caine, Booker, and NOMA prizes doing more harm than good to the telling of a true African story? On what basis are the works by African writers being judged at these prizes which in some cases have part of the juries coming from the continent ?
Zimbabwe’s multi-award winning writer Shimmer Chinodya, who was shortlisted for the Caine Prize in 2000, its inaugural year, was bitter about the Prize for it has become.

One of the biggest crimes the Prize has committed is the way it has degenerated into gender and geographical issues. It has masqueraded as the prize 'for African writing', that’s nonsense. We have had the NOMA Award for Publishing in Africa, the Commonwealth Prize for Africa although it has been downplayed by the Caine Prize which has made the short story look an easier genre to write than a novel. African tradition is not a minimalist tradition. I think the Prize should grow out of the ten-page stories and do something,” he said.
       I've long argued that the Caine Prize -- estimable though it is -- shouldn't be considered the 'Man Booker' of African writing because, after all it is 'just' a short story prize. Nothing wrong with that -- but still, something different from novels (and, as you know, I'm a novel-man, through and through and through ...). Nevertheless, I must point out that the repeatedly mentioned "Commonwealth Prize for Africa" (meaning, surely, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize-African region) and the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa both ... no longer exist, having given up their respective ghosts in 2011 and 2009. Other pan-African (sort of ... northern Africa always seem to get rather left out of these, as does non-English-writing ...) prizes have sprung up, but nothing has established itself as near-convincingly pan-African as the Caine Prize.
       (As always, I note that the bizarre policy of announcing the winner of the Caine Prize in Oxford is perhaps not the best way to sell yourself as an 'African' prize; it's a big continent and there are lots of nice places you could hold an awards ceremony .....)

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

19 August 2014 - Tuesday

African Poetry Book Fund
Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage review
Blasts from the Internet past

       African Poetry Book Fund

       At Sampsonia Way Annie Piotrowski has a Q & A with Kwame Dawes and the African Poetry Book Fund.
       He says
We want to see more African poets in print
       And, well, who doesn't ? This, and their efforts to bring libraries to Africa -- five are slated to open next month -- sounds very worthy and pretty impressive.
       See also the official site, where there's more information about their various initiatives.

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

       Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Murakami Haruki's Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, now also out in English.
       Lots of reviews out already, lots of links. And one of those books that you could easily find fault with -- all over the place --, but which I nevertheless found a very enjoyable read.

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

       Blasts from the Internet past

       So in posting a review of a new Murakami Haruki book -- Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage -- I also went back and cleaned up/updated the links on all the other Murakami-review pages at the site: there are reviews of eleven other Murakami-titles, as well as of two books about him, and an author page. I've ... dusted the older review-pages over the years, as new reviews have been added, but this is the most thorough overhaul I've done in close to a decade (and, yes, it was long overdue).
       It's a dirty, time-consuming, thankless job (yes, yes, I know you appreciate it -- but really, you only notice when the links don't work, and have no idea of the behind-the-scenes maintenance I waste so many hours on), and with this many reviews with this many links (there's lots of Murakami-material out there) it took me several days of heavy drinking and loud cursing -- lots and lots of loud cursing -- to get this done.
       I continue to be amazed by the mutability, fragility, and ephemerality of the Internet (and bless the Internet Archive, which I see as ever-more vital). It's amazing how little seems to be built to last -- or how little that was built is maintained accessibly. Yes, I understand some changes, but, for example, The Guardian changing its URL from the sensible "" to "" -- and not redirecting all the old URLs -- is just a giant fuck you to anyone who sees/wants to use the Internet for anything beyond today. (Yes, most of the content can be found at -- though damned if I can find some of it, and I put a decent (albeit drunken, cursing) amount of effort into trying -- but I don't enjoy the jumping through hoops necessary to get at it, and I assume most people can't be bothered.)
       Of course, The Guardian's URL switch happened like yesterday (to be followed, presumably, by another tomorrow) but in updating the Murakami links I came across some ancient stuff which I thought I'd share.
       My favorites include the 'hijacked' URLs -- abandoned, they've now been taken up by, of course, commercial interests. Among the great examples:
  • Remember when the The Onion's A.V. Club -- now at -- was, perfectly sensibly, at "" ? Well, that site is now 'The A.V. Club of Ecigarettes'
  • Remember litblog Rake's Progress, at (it used to look like this) ? "Rakes Progress - 10 years and still no progress / How I am going to get fit this year with a rowing machine" the site now asks .....
       As always, I encountered Dalkey Archive Press' most misbegotten of their many, many, many misbegotten sites -- the 'Center for Book Culture' at (which once looked like this); unconscionably they didn't even hold onto the URL, so poor unsuspecting fools (like yours truly) still click through ... to now find this 'Center for Book Culture' (and, yes, it always makes me feel like: well, I guess that's what book culture has devolved into in our day and age ...). (Much as I love Dalkey Archive, I find their URL- and site-changes close to unforgiveable, and the china always goes flying when I come across yet another
       Other prominent changes I encountered:
  • Salon ... oh, Salon, Salon, Salon. Now the easy, obvious, but there was "", there was ""; I was almost disappointed not to encounter the other old standard, "" this time around !
  • A puzzler: why did The New York Observer abandon the perfectly good "" (now unclaimed !) for ? (The old URL surely would have been worth preserving just as a mirror-site.)
  • And, okay, I understand why the Evening Standard switched from the bizarre "" to "" (and, hey, the old URL points to the new one ! though, sigh, the old page URLs certainly don't carry over ...)
       Of course, the real fun ones are the sites that moved up in the world:
  • Remember when infinity plus -- now at "" -- was at "" ?
  • When Scott Esposito was publishing the Quarterly Conversation -- now at: "" -- at "" (really ! check it out) !) ?
  • When Critique -- now at: "" -- was at "" ?
       Of course, some of these links go back to when ... Time could be found at: "" .....
       Most disappointing, however, is what's (and how much has) just disappeared -- a Flak Magazine at "" that once looked like this now a front for what calls itself an Art and Jewelry Magazine
       Yes, it's kind of amusing to see how things have changed -- but also kind of depressing. Especially since so much of what is lost seems to go unnoticed.

       (I have no idea what the long-term legacy of the complete review might be, down the line, but its sheer durability and constancy -- if you linked to a page in April 1999 (and any time after that), that link still works, that page is still there -- seem pretty damn impressive, relatively speaking.)

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

18 August 2014 - Monday

Louise Erdrich to get Dayton prize | Literature in(/from) ... Jamaica
The Children Act review

       Louise Erdrich to get Dayton prize

       The Dayton Literary Peace Prizes "is the first and only annual U.S. literary award recognizing the power of the written word to promote peace"; they also award an annual Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award ("formerly the Lifetime Achievement Award") -- and while this year's book-prizes haven't been announced yet, they have now announced that Louise Erdrich will get this year's Holbrooke Award. (Inexplicably, they haven't announced that yet at their site, last I checked , but they did give AP the scoop; see, for example; Writer Louise Erdrich wins Ohio peace prize.)
       The book-finalists usually make for an interesting selection; I hope they'll be announced soon.

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

       Literature in(/from) ... Jamaica

       I think the Caribbean is probably the single most under-represented area at both the complete review and the Literary Saloon -- with Cuba probably the most-discussed/-reviewed country -- so it's good to find some coverage about, for example: Flourishing Jamaican literature, as reported in the Jamaica Observer.
       Okay, the piece is fairly limited -- but at least some enthusiasm, and a lot of names.

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

       The Children Act review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ian McEwan's new novel, The Children Act.
       It did not make this year's Man Booker longlist-cut (though, with McEwan a former winner, it presumably had a free pass to consideration (a high hurdle for many books ...) and was one of the 154 books considered for the longlist).
       After some spring-buzz (New Ian McEwan novel The Children Act to take on religion, etc.) there doesn't seem to have been much recent fuss about it; I wonder whether it will generate much noise/excitement. (As a McEwan it will no doubt sell just fine regardless.)

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

17 August 2014 - Sunday

Kertész to be honored in Hungary | Ivan Vladislavić profile

       Kertész to be honored in Hungary

       20 August is, of course, Szent István ünnepe in Hungary -- St. Stephen's Day, the big national holiday -- and among the honors the state hands out none is higher than the (revived) Magyar Szent István Rend -- the Hungarian Order of St. Stephen. And word is the eminently worthy Kertész Imre is to be so honored this year. Good job !
       Of course, this being present-day Hungary, the choice is, for some, controversial. And so, as reports, Jobbik protests planned state award to Kertész. Yes, the party that won twenty per cent of the vote in the most recent election, has written an open letter to the president, complaining, for example, that Kertész: "failed to use the international attention attracted by his Nobel Prize to promote his country" and:
According to Jobbik, Kertesz does not deserve a Hungarian state award and if Ader decorates him "it will cause indignation among a wide spectrum of society."

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

       Ivan Vladislavić profile

       Via I'm pointed to Greg Penfold's profile of The most famous unknown, Ivan Vladislavić (author of Double Negative, etc.), in Leadership -- worth a look.

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

16 August 2014 - Saturday

Digitizing, at Harvard | A Man: Klaus Klump review

       Digitizing, at Harvard

       At Harvard Magazine they have two articles about digitizing efforts at university-affiliated institutions: Francesca Annicchiarico writes about Tibetan Literature, Digitized, as: "Harvard Library has begun to upload onto its digital storage system 10 million pages of Tibetan literature", and she also writes about the creation of the 'Digital Loeb Classical Library', in Loeb Classical Library 1.0.

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

       A Man: Klaus Klump review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Gonçalo M. Tavares' A Man: Klaus Klump -- the first in his 'Kingdom'-tetralogy, but the last to make it into English.
       Joseph Walser's Machine still seems to me the highpoint of the quartet, but all of Tavares' work is worth engaging with. It's certainly an exemplar of un- (in the sense of '(very) not') American writing: political, but not in a way much American fiction approaches politics (this particular one struck me as particularly in the Brecht-mold, and as Michael Hofmann just pointed out in a TLS-review of a new Brecht biography, Americans don't really do (or get) Brecht) and making no real effort to 'win over' the reader (something that American writers can't seem to avoid trying to do).
       As Saramago noted a while back, Tavares (b.1970) is a talent to keep an eye on.

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

15 August 2014 - Friday

South Asian translations (not) in the US | Moving Words
The Sarashina Diary review

       South Asian translations (not) in the US

       At the Asymptote blog Mahmud Rahman continues his survey of the odd situation, On the Dearth of South Asian Translations in the U.S. (Part II), this time getting reactions from translators about placing South Asian (Indian-language, for his purposes) translations in the US.
       Some pretty discouraging responses -- and even the 'successes' can seem odd. New York Review Books picks up a 1995 translation of Basti, some twenty years later ? (Cool that they're doing Samskara too -- but, you know, not exactly a novelty .....). Then there are the recent Uday Prakash titles, translated by Jason Grunebaum -- The Girl with the Golden Parasol (picked up by Yale University Press, five years after the Indian publication) and The Walls of Delhi, picked up by Seven Stories after originally being published by the University of Western Australia Press. (Aside: now that The Walls of Delhi is out in the US, is anyone going to review it? Hello? Anyone?)
       Interesting that one of the hurdles several mention is: "the absence of dedicated lists". I've been really excited about the Murty Classical Library of India at Harvard University Press, but perhaps/apparently what's really needed is a university press willing to start up a South Asian dedicated list. (Come to think of it, a Southeast Asian one would be welcome too .....) But apparently there's an: "institutional lack of commitment to South Asia within U.S. universities" (which, sadly, sounds entirely plausible). Maybe with an increasing number of Indian billionaires looking for some intellectual street cred someone will think to fund one .....

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

       Moving Words

       Moving Words -- what a great idea:
Reflecting New Zealand's multi-ethnic and multilingual society, our competition aims to celebrate literature, languages and cultures [...] and to inspire and reward excellence in literary translation
       The words I left out ? It's a secondary school prize. How awesome is that ?
       Sure, it's limited to pieces of poetry or prose no longer than 400 words (a pretty small sample), but still ......
       Very cool, too: translations can be into English, te reo Māori, or New Zealand Sign Language.
       And they got Man Booker Prize-winner (and The Rehearsal-author) Eleanor Catton to chair the judging.
       So, yeah: I'm impressed.
       See also the New Zealand Book Council press release.

       And how about it, British Centre for Literary Translation (in the UK) or PEN Translation Committee and American Literary Translators Association (in the US) ? Wouldn't a translation prize for secondary/high school students be a pretty good idea ? I mean a really, really good idea ? (Especially if you can get some big name translators to play along, to get some decent press coverage.) Think about it, okay ? I mean, getting upstaged by ... New Zealand in the translation arena -- come on, show them you can do this sort of thing too !

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

       The Sarashina Diary review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of A Woman's Life in Eleventh-Century Japan, Sugawara no Takasue no Musume's The Sarashina Diary, out in a new translation/edition from Columbia University Press.
       It's been translated before -- including, by Ivan Morris, in a nice Penguin Classics edition titled As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams, but four decades on there's certainly room for another, and this is a nice one.

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

14 August 2014 - Thursday

German Book Prize longlist | Writers review

       German Book Prize longlist

       They've announced the twenty-title-strong longlist for this year's German Book Prize, the Man Booker-like (right down to the outrageous practice of not revealing the names of the 176 titles submitted and considered for the prize ...) which has quickly established itself as the leading German-language book prize (in a culture still dominated by author- (i.e. career-spanning-) prizes)).
       A couple of names that have had books translated into English, but probably not much name-recognition for US/UK readers here.
       Amusingly, Marlene Streeruwitz's Nachkommen -- about a German Book Prize shortlisted author -- has made the longlist (see, for example, the S.Fischer foreign rights page). It's sort of as if Edward St. Aubyn's Man Booker-satire, Lost for Words, had been longlisted for this year's Man Booker .....
       On the whole, the German press seems rather unimpressed: in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Andreas Platthuas bemoans the omission of their favorite -- Nino Haratischwili's 1000-pager Das achte Leben (Für Brilla) -- and the fact that a mere five of the twenty finalists are books by female authors; in Die Welt Richard Kämmerlings goes so far as to find: Diese Longlist ist ein schlechter Witz ('This longlist is a bad joke').
       And, of course, always good to see pathetic nationalism dominate provincial coverage, in Switzerland (Basler Zeitung: Deutscher Buchpreis: Longlist mit drei Schweizern ('German Book Prize: three Swiss on longlist')) and Austria (Der Standard: Deutscher Buchpreis: Fünf Österreicher auf Longlist ('German Book Prize: five Austrians on longlist')).
       The shortlist will be announced on 10 September.

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

       Writers review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Antoine Volodine's Writers, just out in English from Dalkey Archive Press.

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

13 August 2014 - Wednesday

NEA Literary Translation Fellowships | Three-Card Monte review

       NEA Literary Translation Fellowships

       The American National Endowment for the Arts has announced their fiscal year 2015 Literary Translation Fellowships -- US$300,000 shared by 20 translators.
       The recipients -- and descriptions of their projects -- can be found here -- alas, only in the dreaded pdf format.
       Some interesting-sounding projects. As to the languages from which the works will be translated: there are 12 (including one project translating from both Spanish and ... Isthmus Zapotec). With only twenty projects there are only so many languages that can be covered; nevertheless .....
       The number of projects/languages are:
  • 6.5: Spanish

  • 2: French
  • 2: Persian
  • 2: Russian

  • 1: Arabic
  • 1: Chinese
  • 1: Dutch
  • 1: Italian
  • 1: Korean
  • 1: Polish
  • 1: Yiddish

  • .5: Isthmus Zapotec
       Also of interest: they offer a downloadable booklet which: "brings together essays by 19 translators and individuals who help to make translated works available", The Art of Empathy: Celebrating Literature in Translation (warning ! dreaded pdf format !).
       A nice collection of very short pieces (by a pretty stellar cast) about many aspects of literature in translation (including Chad Post on 'The Myth of the "Three Percent Problem"' ...) -- with a bonus of recommended titles-in-translation (not all of which are translations-into-English ...) by each contributor.

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

       Three-Card Monte review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of the second of Marco Malvaldi's 'Bar Lume Mysteries', Three-Card Monte, now out in English.
       Alas, another title where translation copyright is not in the name of the translator (Howard Curtis) but rather the publisher (Europa editions). Not okay. Not at all.

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

12 August 2014 - Tuesday

Character appearances | Moon in a Dead Eye review

       Character appearances

       Book-cover designer Peter Mendelsund's What We See When We Read (see the Vintage publicity page, or get your copy at or has been getting a lot of pre-publication attention, including Q & As at The Los Angeles Times' Jacket Copy and The New Yorker's Page Turner, and there's now an excerpt up at Slate, What Does Anna Karenina Look Like ?
       I'm fascinated by all this attention -- and a similar recent preoccupation with the question of 'relatability' in books (see, for example, Rebecca Mead on The Scourge of "Relatability").
       I've never wondered what Anna Karenina looked like, nor did I ever form any sort of reasonable picture what she did when I read the novel; ask me to describe any character in any book I've ever read and I'm unlikely to be able to give you even the vaguest idea of what s/he might look like; I might remember a missing limb or recall that a character is particularly fat/thin/tall/short, but that's pretty much the extent of it. I don't mind rich physical character-description in the books I read, but it's basically noise to me; I sort of take it in but I certainly don't process it in any meaningful way. I don't want to visualize characters -- and I think I almost never do.
       Mendelsund warns:
Incidentally, one should watch a film adaptation of a favorite book only after considering, very carefully, the fact that the casting of the film may very well become the permanent casting of the book in one's mind. This is a very real hazard.
       It makes me laugh -- that's not how my mind, or eye, or mind's eye, work. Admittedly, I'm not a very visual person (and couldn't for the life of me describe even people I've known for most of my life; I'm also bad at recognizing people generally) and that's never been a big part of the reading-experience for me. I suspect it's also the main reason why I have such disdain for comic books (meaning also graphic novels and all that stuff), where the physical is not only spelled out (which I can ignore) but actually drawn out for me, demanding I see characters in a very particular way (not helped by the fact that the drawings tend not to be particularly realistic). Similarly, it's probably why I prefer my book-covers as plain as can be, preferably entirely without illustration -- because illustrations have nothing to do with the text, for me.
       'Relatability' similarly confounds me -- I have no interest in reading about characters I can relate to (and, honestly, I very rarely encounter one where that seems even conceivable) and it's not important for me to in any way 'identify' with a character. I don't think I could name a fictional character I identify with: they all seem entirely 'other' to me (which is one of the nice things about the worlds literature opens: I could imagine nothing more boring than books filled with characters resembling me, or in which I can see myself (and I think I'd give up reading fast if that's what I kept finding in books)).
       Probably something to examine more closely -- as, no doubt, it also influences how I see read the books I read (and review for you ...).

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

       Moon in a Dead Eye review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of another Pascal Garnier novel (with more to follow -- he's my author-discovery of 2014, so far), Moon in a Dead Eye.
       If you've enjoyed the Herman Koch books (like Summer House with Swimming Pool) you really should pick up some Garnier: he develops a sense menace just as effectively, and likes to use similarly flawed characters -- but he writes so much better.

       Translator Emily Boyce is billed here as: "in-house translator for Gallic Books" -- that's great (every publisher should have an in-house translator (or a dozen ...)), but the translation copyright is all Gallic Books ... sigh. (As I've noted far too often -- and will be repeating tomorrow and in days to come (Gallic is far from the only offender) -- this is unacceptable, folks. Translation copyright must stay with the translator.)

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

11 August 2014 - Monday

Ahn Jung-geun Shot Abe | Thirst review
Twelve years of the Literary Saloon

       Ahn Jung-geun Shot Abe

       In The Korea Herald Ahn Sung-mi reports that Startling novel urges Abe to apologize. 'Abe' would be Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe; as to the sort of 'urging' on offer here ... well, the title of Kim Jung-hyun's [김정현] novel kind of gives away the ending: 안중근, 아베를 쏘다 ['Ahn Jung-geun Shot Abe'], as:
The book is based on the tale of Ahn Jung-geun (1879-1910), a Korean patriot who assassinated Hirobumi Ito, the first resident governor-general of Japanese-occupied Korea on Oct. 26, 1909. Kim brings the incident to the current era and restructures the story, where a reincarnated Ahn assassinates Abe on the same day, at the same place, in the same method as he did Ito about 100 years earlier.
       Well, it's a ... creative idea.
       Nice cover, too:

안중근, 아베를 쏘다

       Not that it isn't obvious from everything about this where Kim is coming from, but you almost have to admire choice quotes such as:
The Japanese wanted to label this incident (Ahn's assassination of Ito) an act of terrorism, not a patriotic deed.
       Death-mongering of any sort never really seems like a great idea, tinged as nastily as this is with nationalism certainly doesn't make it any more palatable. There's understandable lingering resentment that:
Japan has not offered deep remorse or heart-felt apologies over their wartime crimes. Instead, they still visit places like Yasukuni Shrine, paying homage to class-A war criminals, shamelessly and arrogantly.
       Still, it's kind of a dangerous step to go from that to sentencing a contemporary world leader who wasn't responsible for those crimes to death. (And the glorification of any kind of assassin surely is dubious per se.)
       Anyway, I'm curious whether the Literature Translation Institute of Korea pushes this one abroad ... something for Dalkey's Library of Korean Literature, perhaps ?
       (Recall also the to-do about Nicholson Baker's Checkpoint.)

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

       Thirst review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of A Novel of the Iran-Iraq War, Mahmoud Dowlatabadi's Thirst.
       This is just out from Melville House in the US; Haus (seem to have) published a UK edition a couple of months back, but I can't seem to find it in their (perhaps not entirely up-to-date ?) catalogue.
       More disappointingly, it appears to have gone largely unnoticed so far -- I haven't been able to find any reviews whatsoever.
       Come on, folks -- this is the new Dowlatabadi ! The guy is on a stamp, for god's sake !

       Interesting also that this was one of the titles awarded a 2013 English PEN grant for translation, subsidizing the translation -- except the grant announcement has the book being: "translated from the Farsi by Aida Bahrami". Yet the novel now winds up as a translation credited to Martin E. Weir .....

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

       Twelve years of the Literary Saloon

       The first posts at the Literary Saloon date to 11 August 2002; many thousands later ... here I still am.
       Always meant as a complement to the review/book-focused complete review (which started up in 1999), it's served its purpose well enough over the years. It's remained fairly constant too -- the same kind of information, day in, day out (and pretty consistently available, day in, day out, almost all the days of all these years). It is what is -- what it's always been, what it will remain for the foreseeable future.
       Thanks for sticking with it/me, for however long you've managed to -- and I hope you continue to enjoy it (or continue to be annoyed by it, or whatever it is you get out of it ...).

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

10 August 2014 - Sunday

Dowlatabadi goes postal | Półfinał Angelusa
Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award 2015 - call for entries

       Dowlatabadi goes postal

       The Colonel-(etc.-)author (and local favorite) Mahmoud Dowlatabadi gets a nice birthday homage in Iran -- no, the censors haven't yet given the stamp of approval to some of the unpublished novels (like The Colonel ...), but they have unveiled a different kind of stamp: yes, as the Tehran Times reports, Iran issues commemorative postage stamp for writer Mahmud Dowlatabadi, as:
Iran has issued a postage stamp to commemorate the 74th birthday of the renowned Iranian author Mahmud Dowlatabadi
       See also the original report at ISNA -- in Persian, but with more ceremony-pictures.
       And the stamp itself looks pretty neat:

Mahmoud Dowlatabadi postage stamp

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

       Półfinał Angelusa

       They've announced the longlist for this year's Angelus Central European Literature Award (Literacka Nagroda Europy Środkowej Angelus).
       Books -- translated into/published in Polish -- by living writers from twenty-one Central European countries (Albania, Austria, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Russia, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine) are eligible, and the track record of this prize is solid: last year's winner was The Museum of Abandoned Secrets by Oksana Zabuzhko (yes, published by ... AmazonCrossing in English; get your copy at or, and a Svetlana Alexievich title (not available in English ...) took the 2011 prize.
       Among the 14 longlisted titles this year (from 51 (not named, sigh) entries [updated (15 August): I missed this, but a reader kindly alerts me that all the submissions are in fact listed here -- well done !]) are The Accident by Ismail Kadare and The Devil's Workshop by Jáchym Topol.
       Since Polish publishers are more likely to translate eastern European works than even German or French publishers, the list always makes for a good overview of what's happening in Central/Eastern Europe -- and it's interesting to see that, despite being eligible, no titles from either Germany or Austria make the list this year.

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

       Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award 2015 - call for entries

       A reminder that the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award 2015 is still calling for submissions ("from publishers, agents and authors") -- but that the deadline is relatively soon: 18:00 GMT, 26 September 2014.
       "All entries must be 6,000 words or under and entirely original", authors can hail from anywhere in the world -- "as long as they have a previous record of publication in creative writing in the UK and Ireland" (whatever that means ...) -- and it's worth an impressive £30,000.
       C.K.Stead won the first of these, in 2010, and it has a pretty impressive track record, as far as short story prizes go.

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

9 August 2014 - Saturday

Establishing Tolstoy abroad | Online writing in ... China
Twilight of the Eastern Gods review

       Establishing Tolstoy abroad

       In the Financial Times Rosamund Bartlett offers an interesting look at: 'How the works of Russia's greatest writer of genius were introduced to the English-speaking world', in Tolstoy translated. (Editorial aside: "greatest writer of genius" ? Huh ? What the hell is a 'writer of genius' ?)
       The piece includes nice quotes about, for example, an early Anna Karenina translation:
To the critic of the New York Times, his version suggested "the geological subsidence of a layer of Russian into a substratum of English, leaving a number of words to linger fossil-like amid the latter in untranslatable durability".
       Interesting also the conclusion that:
Together with Garnett, the Maudes did more than anyone else to ensure Tolstoy's reputation as one of the world's great writers, ultimately eclipsing his once hallowed status as religious thinker and patron of the pacifist cause.

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

       Online writing in ... China

       In the Wall Street Journal Wei Gu reports that: 'Some of Country's Highest-Paid Authors Write Online-Only Novels Catering to Young Males', as apparently/supposedly In China, Writers Don't Need Books to Make Big Bucks.
       Wave of the future or unique circumstances ?
       I'm not really thrilled by (and have some doubts about ...) the notion that:
Online readership data tells studios, gaming companies and publishers which stories are likely to become hits, and which demographic groups should be targeted.
       A recipe for 'success', of sorts, perhaps, but surely not much that might be enduring (or, you know ... good).

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

       Twilight of the Eastern Gods review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ismail Kadare's Twilight of the Eastern Gods.
       A fairly early autobiographical novel, about his time in Moscow in 1958 (in the famous Soviet MFA programme that was the Gorky Institute), it's now available in the UK, with the US edition to come in November.
       Some great scenes and lines, but few that can top the devastating break-up line with which the local lass the narrator picked up dismisses him:
I'm beginning to believe that you ... you too ... you are a writer !

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

8 August 2014 - Friday

Ko Un Q & A | Gamal El-Ghitani Q & A | Popular in India

       Ko Un Q & A

       In The Korea Times Kim Ji-soo has a profile of and Q & A with (The Three Way Tavern, etc. author) Ko Un -- "If there is a national poet, it may well be Ko Un" -- 'I want to awaken poetry in people's heart'.
       The piece concludes with a 'List of literary awards' Ko has received -- a not so subtle hint that, alas, is explored at greater length in a companion piece, also by Kim, as the Korean obsession with the Nobel rears its foolish head again: Ko Un still young, the headline promises; "At 81, national poet mulls chance of winning Nobel Prize", the lead-in promises.
       Fortunately, Ko at least knows better, sensibly admitting:
That I do not know about, so there is nothing I can say,
       (Eighty-one is, by the way, advanced age for Nobel consideration ... but then Alice Munro was almost exactly the same age (she's just two years older) when she took last year's prize .....)

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

       Gamal El-Ghitani Q & A

       Via I'm pointed to Safaa Azab's Q & A ("an abridged version of an interview originally conducted in Arabic") at Asharq Al-Awsat Gamal El-Ghitani: Nasser should have listened to Naguib Mahfouz.
       Not sure how much went missing in translation, but at least some (starting) points of interst re. the current literary situation in Egypt, with the Zayni Barakat-author finding:
There is a huge amount of talent and it all depends on the skillfulness of cultural institutions in supporting the emerging creative writers.
       But he finds the local cultural institutions (in particular the Ministry of Culture) are failing, "opposing some writers merely because they do not like them", etc. So, to -- and hardly surprisingly:
As a result, young writers have turned their backs on ministries of culture, and this is evidenced by the fact that the output of the best young literary writers has not come out of state institutions but rather out of private publishing houses, such as Merit [Publishing House].
       Government (or private-institutional -- of which there isn't that much in Egypt) support would certainly be helpful, but it's always hard to get that anywhere near right (and for the relevant institutions (and/or alternative support-mechanisms, like tax breaks) to maintain a reasonable objectivity).

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

       Popular in India

       At IndiaTV Vineeta Kumar wonders Is Chetan Bhagat the Salman Khan of literary world ? -- to which the vast majority of even dedicated readers in the US/UK likely would answer: "Sure ... ?" not recognizing either of these names as 'stars' who are "are uber successful in their respective fields".
       There have been any number of domestically incredibly successful Indian authors who have failed to find anything like that success in the US/UK, but they've pretty much all written in languages other than English (I recently posted a review of Sankar's Chowringhee, and US/UK reactions don't seem to have gone beyond yet another shrug ...). Those who have had success abroad have been the ones who wrote in English -- and generally with strong US/UK ties (education, work, domicile), from Salman Rushdie to Vikram Seth, Vikram Chandra, etc. etc (R.K.Narayan being the outlier in the US/UK-ties regard).
       But writing in English, incredibly successful in India -- and practically unknown in the US/UK ? That's been a rare combination. There have been individual titles (The Inscrutable Americans ?), and there has been Shobhaa De, but Bhagat's success domestically is in a whole different league.
       Is it a sign of a maturing market and readership -- that books which are so ... well, to put it bluntly, bad and basic -- can succeed domestically but don't stand a chance of international success ? (There have been US/UK editions of some of his work -- at least the offensive One night @ the call center -- you can see why they went with that one, but it probably wasn't the right choice to try to introduce him to US/UK markets.) I'm tempted to think of Bhagat's success in India -- coming hand-in-hand with the local advances in publishing, English-literacy, online coverage, etc. -- as a good sign, at least. Of course, when I look at the books themselves .....
       Anyway: a fascinating case study that I'm sure I'll return to again.

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

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