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The Literary Saloon Archive

12 - 20 October 2002

12 October: More Zadie reviews | Teachin' evolution in Cobb County | Figes v. Polonsky | Eugenides interview | New reviews
13 October: Alphabetisches Afrika | More on the new Proust translations | Chinua Achebe honoured
14 October: Imre Kertész roundup | Harry Mathews review
16 October: Günter Grass turns 75 | New Paul Muldoon collection
17 October: Baudolino roundup | Reviews of the new Proust translation | Cheesy Eugenides
18 October: Tartt's Little Friend | Shared translating shame | Kertész interview
19 October: More Figes-Polonsky | More Kertész | Self-indulgent whining
20 October: Events of the week: W.H.Gass | Sinclair at the Barbican | Oh, yeah ....

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20 October 2002 - Sunday

Events of the week: W.H.Gass | Sinclair at the Barbican | Oh, yeah ....

       William H. Gass at the New York Public Library

       On Tuesday, 22 October, at 18:30 at the Celeste Bartos Forum, William H. Gass will be lecturing on: The Melodies of Melanctha: Gertrude Stein's Three Lives. Very tempting, if you're in New York. (We actually are -- in part -- in New York, but, with some regret, we've opted for a Paul Muldoon reading instead .....)
       But Gass is hard to pass up. Those who are interested can also consult our review of Three Lives (shamefully not updated for far too long).
       Other recommended links:
(Posted by: complete review)

       Iain Sinclair and friends at the Barbican

       The event of the week, hands down. Go if you can: Iain Sinclairís M25 London Orbital, Friday, 25 October, 19:30, at Barbican Hall.
       The occasion is, of course, the publication of Sinclair's London Orbital, which we've mentioned previously. (Our review, with all the requisite links to reviews and other information, is now also available here.)
       Get this programme: readings by Sinclair, J.G.Ballard, Bill Drummond and Ken Campbell, a screening of Chris Petitís M25-film, and new music performed live by WIRE, Scanner and Jimmy Cauty. Hey, the KLF together again ! (See our reviews of such Drummond-Cauty-fun as K Foundation burn a Million Quid and The Manual (as well as Drummond's 45,which includes his own account of his wanderings with Sinclair).)
       We are terribly jealous of all who are able to attend this grand event !

(Posted by: complete review)

       Oh, yeah, there's that other event .....

       Yes, yes, there's more high drama and black-tie literary fun this week too -- Tuesday, 22 October is Man Booker Day.
       Check out all the excitement at the Man Booker site.
       Or, for some of the media coverage about events, check out Aida Edemariam and Giles Foden on the premature announcement of the Booker winner (sort of), in the 17 October issue of The Guardian, or Robert McCrum in today's issue of The Observer on the changing prize.

(Posted by: complete review)

19 October 2002 - Saturday

More Figes-Polonsky | More Kertész | Self-indulgent whining

       More on Figes-Polonsky

       The TLS only reaches us with considerable cross-Atlantic delay, and so we just received the 4 October issue with Orlando Figes' response to Rachel Polonsky's review of his book, Natasha's Dance (see also our earlier comments).
       Figes writes a nice, tempered letter, "surprised by the accusatory response from Rachel Polonsky in her review." A few things are cleared up, and Figes offers some nice rejoinders, noting that Polonsky was " less than scrupulous in her 'quotations' from my text".
       Still: not quite the fireworks various comments in The Guardian (see D.J.Taylor, et al.) were hoping for.
       The 11 October issue of the TLS (which reached us yesterday, a day after the previous issue arrived) offers no Polonsky-response yet -- but the affair gets some mention in J.C.'s NB column, focussing on Jason Cowley's comments (in -- where else ? -- The Guardian). J.C. suggests: "In the end, no doubt, the book will speak for itself."
       The Polonsky-review also gets a mention in The Economist's review (issue of 19 October) (note: this link will not be freely accessible until on or after 24 October). They write of "a savage, if ill-focused, attack" by Polonsky, and mention that Figes "replied in a robust letter". (The review itself ? They find the book "well written, nicely illustrated and with helpful maps", and believe it's a solid book for those who aren't too familiar with Russian history.)
       Another review of Natasha's Dance has also just appeared: John Bayley's in The New York Review of Books (issue of 7 November) (no link). He finds it a "masterly work".

(Posted by: complete review)

       More Kertész

       We offered a roundup of links re. new Nobel laureate Imre Kertész a few days ago. Now, finally, something worthwhile in English: part of his essay, The Language of Exile (in today's issue of The Guardian).
       Makes you think that the Swedish Academy doesn't do that bad a job after all .....

(Posted by: complete review)

       Self-indulgent whining and apologies

       Yesterday morning the complete review's one and only computer -- chugging along very fitfully for the past couple of weeks -- finally unequivocally collapsed on itself (awash, no doubt, in viruses and pushed over its limits by our riding it so hard). Antiquated as it was -- yes, we were still working on a 486 machine (from a manufacturer who went belly-up about five years ago), running Windows 95 -- it's a surprise it lasted this long. Our precarious financial situation prevented us from upgrading earlier; now we have -- purchasing the cheapest machine we could find on short notice. Even this new piece of junk puts our old machine to shame -- the speed ! the space ! We're quite in awe. Unfortunately the few hundred dollars we spent on it pretty much blows our entire budget -- ah, well ! What we won't do to stay up and running, just to serve you, dear reader !
       Nevertheless, the transition phase is, of course, a complicated one. Well, not that complicated, but terribly time-consuming (as we also try to take advantage of the new machine to get a bit more organized on our desktop .....). Digging into the bowels of our old computer is a major undertaking (it's a mess in there !) and since we only have a single monitor retrieving old files etc. from within will have to wait a while.
       What does mean to you (who probably doesn't give a damn about all this) ? Well, as you may have noticed the past two days, things will move a bit s l o w e r for a while, and we're afraid there will be some delays in getting new material up across the board at the site for a week or two (as well as less new material). Still, we hope to still be able to provide you with enough to keep you entertained .....
       (And note that donations to the site are always welcome (we'd love to upgrade our monitor too ...).)

(Posted by: complete review)

18 October 2002 - Friday

Tartt's Little Friend | Shared translating shame | Kertész interview

       First sightings of Tartt's Little Friend

       Donna Tartt's apparently much-anticipated second novel, The Little Friend, is due to be released 22 October -- at least in the English-speaking world; bizarrely, the Dutch translation, De kleine vriend, already hit the bookshelves a few weeks ago.
       Despite not being available yet it's already number 5 at -- and 10
       A few months ago The Observer called it "the most jealously guarded second novel in publishing history", but now the cat is pretty much out of the bag. Early review sightings include one at Bookslut and -- surprisingly -- Michiko Kakutani's review in yesterday's issue of The New York Times (no link). (We're holding off on our review until the book is available -- expect it in a week to ten days).
       The Kakutani still gushes over "this writer's rich and variegated gifts" -- but thinks the book is pretty much a dud, calling it "ungainly" and finding it:
(...) awkwardly plotted, if keenly observed, and speckled with glittering set pieces that do not add up to a persuasive whole.
       She finds some good points, but overall isn't very enthusiastic -- good writer, mediocre book seems to be the sum of things.
       (Compare this also to our previous comments about her review of Dave Egger's new work, and Zadie Smith's second novel: talented writers turning in apparently disappointing books yet not being considered any less talented ..... An odd way of looking at things.)
       Meanwhile, if you want to get your hands on The Little Friend (a very attractive volume, by the way) before we get around to telling you whether it's worth your while (in a week or two), you can get it at:
(Posted by: complete review)

       Shared translating shame in the US and the Arab world

       An eye-opening (we hope) letter can be found in the November issue of Harper's (not available online). Translator Esther Allen writes in reply to a letter by Paul Kennedy (in the September issue) -- who wrote "An Answer to Edward Said" (re. a July review). Kennedy referred to a United Nations Development Programme report, the Arab Human Development Report 2002, and wrote:
Statistic after statistic included there makes one worry. Is it really true that the number of foreign-language books translated annually for the 280 million people in twenty-two Arab countries is a mere one fifth of the number translated into Greek, Greece having a population of slightly more than 10 million ?
       Apparently it is true: only some 330 books are translated into Arabic annually in the Arab world.
       Which is absolutely shocking and would seem to explain a lot .....
       Except that there is something even more shocking, a statistic that should cause far more embarrassment and shame -- which is pointed out by Allen in her letter:
Here in the United States (...) with a population of 285 million and a publishing industry that churns out well over 100,000 books per year, we publish -- well what do you know -- about 330 books in translation per year. (That figure excludes only technical and scientific treatises.)
       Anybody who doesn't find this absolutely outrageous is very jaded indeed.
       The US has always been a very parochial and anti-internationalist place (surprisingly, given the very international roots of its populace), and these statistics only reflect that. Apparently there isn't that much interest in translated literature (so the excuse from publishers) -- though, of course, if publishers touted translated literature as they do ... say, the latest Donna Tartt (see above), maybe things would look a bit different.
       Just as the Arabic world clearly is neither able nor allowed (domestically as well as on the global stage) to engage with the rest of the world on many issues because of this imposed intellectual isolation, so too America's ignorance of most things international (personified by the man currently leading the country) can have terrible consequences. Recent bluster and what currently passes for American foreign policy suggest some of the dangers of not being familiar with foreign cultures, etc. (We know: it's a lot more complicated, but it seems clear that a bit -- just a bit -- of awareness of and understanding for foreign cultures would make America's international ambitions much easier to achieve.)

       Meanwhile, today we picked up a rare (less than one appearing daily !) translation of a foreign work of fiction -- Ismail Kadare's Spring Flowers, Spring Frost.
       Ismail Kadare is an Albanian author.
       Ismail Kadare wrote this book in Albanian.
       The Arcade book we picked up today is: "translated from the French of Josef Vrioni by David Bellos".
       That's right --- it's a goddamn translation of a translation !!!!!
       We barely kept ourselves from hurling the book out the window. But we did shed a few tears.

       American publishing: it never fails to impress.

(Posted by: complete review)

       Another Kertész interview

       We offered a roundup of links re. new Nobel laureate Imre Kertész a few days ago. Now another interview appeared, in yesterday's Die Zeit (conducted 14 October by Iris Radisch).
       It's nice to see Kertész really revelling in his newfound fame and glory. He comes across as a remarkably decent man too -- "You're frighteningly pluralistic" Radisch says. His reply: "One has to be frighteningly pluralistic".
       Radisch also asks about Martin Walser's Tod eines Kritikers (see our previous comments), asking whether literature is free enough to tolerate such a portrayal of a character who is a Jew; Kertész fortunately does not rise to the bait, certain that literature is indeed so free.
       In closing the only big surprise, and perhaps controversial part, as Radisch asks whether Kertész would not take back Auschwitz (meaning, presumably, his Auschwitz experiences) if he could change something from his past. Kertész says no: "Auschwitz ist mein größter Reichtum."

(Posted by: complete review)

17 October 2002 - Thursday

Baudolino roundup | Reviews of the new Proust translation | Cheesy Eugenides

       Reactions to Umberto Eco's Baudolino

       The book appeared in Italian some two years ago, and even many of the translations appeared by last spring, but William Weaver's English rendering of Umberto Eco's novel, Baudolino, only just came out. We don't see ourselves reviewing this too soon (the Eco-cleverness appeals to us, but not quite enough), so we offer a roundup of other reactions and reviews for the time being.
       For general information you can see recent profiles of Eco in The Guardian (12 October, Maya Jaggi) and Book Magazine, as well as an interview in la Repubblica (11 September 2000) from when the book first came out in Italian.
       See also the publishers' publicity pages from Edition Grasset (France) and Hanser (Germany).
       But of greatest interest are, of course, the reviews. Here a selection, with select quotes:
  • Brooke Allen in The Atlantic Monthly (October, 2002) (scroll down for review). He finds:
    This is an effective novel of ideas but not really a very effective novel. One is always a little too conscious of Eco's intellectual agenda, and Baudolino is an archetype rather than a character, so the reader has nowhere to invest emotion.
  • The Economist (12 October 2002) opines:
    The first ten pages (...) seem promising enough. But the next 500 or so are a gradually palling, tortuously overlong and self-indulgent joke.
  • This stands in contrast to François Busnel's review in L'Express (14 March 2002), who founds pretty much the opposite true: "Il faut avouer que ça commence plutôt mal !" Once things get going he is more enthusiastic, calling Baudolino a "polar turbulent".

  • Robert Irwin writes in The Independent (12 October 2002):
    In the end, Baudolino does not resemble a modern novel so much as a medieval encyclopedia that mingles reliable information with the fantastic. The text cries out for notes and bibliography.
  • In the 16 October 2002 issue of The New York Times (no link) Richard Bernstein judges:
    The problem is that while Baudolino contains plenty of learning and imagination, it is so strenuously fanciful that it becomes tedious, like a Thanksgiving Day parade that lasts all day.
  • And Fritz J. Raddatz writes in Die Zeit: "Umberto Eco hat sich selbst übertroffen" -- somewhat ambiguous words of praise. And while Raddatz is enthusiastic, he also finds too much:
    Die zirzensische Apparatur knarzt und knirscht, weil der in seine Erfindungsgabe verliebte Autor sie überlastet. Das Ding ist zu dick.
       See also: L'Humanité (21 March 2002) and Maike Albath in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (2 September 2002). And note that there are dozens of other reviews available online (though relatively few, as of yet, from the English-language press).
       The consensus: maybe Eco went a bit overboard. It sounds like modest and -- in the proper hands -- engaging fun. (But like we said: we'll take a pass for the time being.)
       For those who do wish to purchase Baudolino, you can do so at your local bookstore or at:        (It seems to be selling well -- when we checked yesterday it was ranked 23rd at in the US, and 56th in the UK. French (4035th) and German (2783rd) sales aren't as impressive, but the book has been out for more than six month in both countries.)

(Posted by: complete review)

       Reviews of the new Proust translation

       We previously mentioned the new Proust-edition, overseen by Christopher Prendergast, rendered into English by a whole stable of translators, and we pointed you to Philip Hensher's review in The Spectator (issue of 5 October). Now a few more voices weigh in. Most compare the new translation(s) to the Scott Moncrieff (and followers) one -- and one wonders whether some didn't just dip into both versions and compare a few passages, rather than making their way all the way through these fat volumes..... Still, these are fairly informative, for reviews.
       There's Graham Robb's review, in the Daily Telegraph (12 October), with a decent Proust-overview -- though he worrisomely does make insightful statements such as: "The most obvious changes are to the titles." Hensher didn't like Sturrock's volume, but Robb finds fault with Lydia Davis' rendering of Du côté de chez Swann (starting with the title): "It is no surprise to find that this is the clumsiest volume."
       Malcolm Bowie's review in the Sunday Telegraph (13 October) is very enthusiastic about the translators, suggesting: "When Proust translators are as good as those mustered here, having more of them therefore makes more sense than having fewer." Well, it's a theory .....
       Overall, Bowie is most impressed: "The latest Penguin Proust is a triumph, and will bring this inexhaustible artwork to new audiences throughout the English-speaking world."
       Finally, there is Alain de Botton's review in The Times (16 October). His favourite translator here ? James Grieve.
       He also offers:
The greatest praise one could pay this new edition of In Search of Lost Time is therefore to say that it allows us to forget both that we are reading the work of many different translators and, for long sections, that we are even reading anything that began in a foreign language at all.
       Which, we suggest, is a very careful way of reserving judgement while appearing to give one.
       But at least, in all this coverage, one finds reviewers paying a great deal of attention to translators, which is quite a novelty.

(Posted by: complete review)

       Cheesy Eugenides

       The reviews of Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex continue to heap up; see our review for links and summaries.
       Choice quote from the most recent ones ? From Caroline Moore's review in the Sunday Telegraph (13 October):
(T)he novel reminded me of a magnificently over-ripe Stilton. The core of it is deliciously deliquescent, a sort of primordial soup, swarming with ideas, wriggling with live linguistic dexterity, with an enticing hint of voyeuristic rottenness. Some over-active ideas become maggots, but it is thoroughly enjoyable.
(Posted by: complete review)

16 October 2002 - Wednesday

Günter Grass turns 75 | New Paul Muldoon collection

       Günter Grass turns 75

       Today is Günter Grass' 75th birthday !

       We don't have any of his works under review at this time, but check out the Günter Grass page at books and writers, or -- if you're still in a Nobel mood -- read Grass' 1999 Nobel lecture.

       (Amusing note: if you search for "Günter Grass" at Google the "sponsored links" that appear along with your search results are for ... lawn care products (Lawn Advice from Scotts and Landscaping 101). Once again: advertising dollars being put to best use, addressing a finely targeted audience .....)

(Posted by: complete review)

       New Paul Muldoon collection

       (Northern-) Irish-American poet -- and Princeton and Oxford professor -- Paul Muldoon has come out with a new volume of poetry, Moy Sand and Gravel. The first reviews are already out -- unusually quickly, for a poetry collection (the US publication date was set for 17 October). Both The Times and, more expansively, The New York Times Book Review have covered it -- as have, now, we: see our review (with review summaries and links).
       It's ... well, pretty much what one expects from Muldoon, and certainly worthwhile -- despite some shocking images, such as that of the poet tearing:
       another leaf from Edward Bulwer-Lytton's
King Poppy to light the barbecue
       (Well, at first sight pretty shocking, but it's Muldoon, so it's more complicated than first impressions suggest .....)
       And we did like the haikus better than the largely hopeless "Hopewell"-ones from Hay .....
       For more Muldoon information, refer of course to our Paul Muldoon page. And note that if you're in New York tomorrow you can catch him (along with Simon Armitage, Glyn Maxwell, and others) at a reading of Brit Lit: New Writing from the UK and Ireland (19:00, Engelman Recital Hall, Baruch College, 150 E. 25th St. at Lexington Avenue). Might be worthwhile.
       (We'll miss that one, but we will be reporting on another reading by Muldoon. a TLS-sponsored one on 22 October.)

(Posted by: complete review)

14 October 2002 - Monday

Imre Kertész roundup | Harry Mathews review

       Nobel laureate Imre Kertész

       Few -- especially in the US and Britain -- had heard of Imre Kertesz before Thursday, but win a million bucks (and the Nobel Prize that goes with it) and all of a sudden people are interested. So there has been a lot of media coverage over the past couple of days. Most of the good stuff -- the thoughtful appraisals -- will probably be some time in coming (especially those written in English, since so few English-speakers are familiar with his work, as so little of it is available in English) but there have been a number of pieces of some interest.
       Here is our roundup of the notable and most informative articles we've come across:

       - The most basic: the Nobel press release.

       - From The Daily Northwestern there's this article about the huge demand for books from the Northwestern University Press -- the publishers of the only two English editions of Kertész's work. And see, of course, the Northwestern University Press homepage, which also offers more Kertész-information (but don't count on getting a copy of either book from them too quickly).

       - Of some interest (though too brief) is this PBS transcript of Jim Lehrer's conversation with Kertész-translator Katharina Wilson. (See also her not very informative faculty page at the University of Georgia.)

       An AP report (printed here at The Jerusalem Post) suggests: Hungarian Nobel winner far from a best seller at home. Choice quote:
But with Kertesz a stranger to most of his countrymen, some were puzzled about why he was picked, or what he has written.
       As to more general reactions, see overviews at the BBC (European press review of reactions) -- and at the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (Reaktionen auf Imre Kertész' Nobelpreis).

       Articles about the award include:        Not surprisingly, the far superior coverage is found in the European foreign-language press. Die Welt, for example, even snagged an interview (12 October) with the new laureate.
       Also highly recommended: these articles        (Note that these links are only a smattering of the coverage out there. Obviously there's a lot more available -- including, no doubt, in the Hungarian press.)

       Finally, also, there's been some coverage -- indeed some interpretation of the award -- that we find very disturbing. See, for example, Jim Hoagland's 13 October editorial in The Washington Post, Inspiring Liberty. There he writes, for example:
Imre Kertesz is a Holocaust survivor, an East European who was persecuted under communism, a free man since 1989 and this year's winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. Who says book critics never get it right ?
       The book critics got it right because Kertész is a Holocaust survivor and was persecuted under communism ? Funny, we thought what the guy actually wrote counted for something. And, insofar as we are book critics (not very far, admittedly), what an author writes is pretty much all that counts for us, not his background or history. But Hoagland -- who, we're guessing, never heard of Kertész before Thursday and certainly never read any of his works -- only admires what Kertész stands for. Holocaust survivor. Communism survivor.
       Hoagland also wrote:
Sweden's remarkable literary jury has for the second consecutive year held up a mirror to the values and politics of our times while honoring the eternality of great art.
       Well, here there's at least a nod towards art -- though we suspect Hoagland isn't in a position to judge whether or not Kertész's output counts as such (we're certainly not: we haven't read it either). But the main thing, what leads Hoagland to call the Nobel judges "remarkable", is that he believes they looked beyond pure literary merit -- to send a message and hold up a mirror.
       We can only hope that this is not an accurate assessment, that Kertész was awarded the prize because he is a deserving literary talent who has written enduring works -- and not for any other reason. To their credit, the Swedish Academy does focus on the writing in their explanation in the official press release.
       Kertész's personal history is, of course, inextricably bound to his writing (indeed, it is apparently what he writes about). Nevertheless, his writing should be judged on the basis of its literary quality and not its symbolic value. (We hope the same would have happened to say Céline, if he had ever been in the running for such a major literary award.)
       Worse than Hoagland is Thane Rosenbaum's op-ed piece in The New York Times (13 October, no link). He writes:
(W)hile the prize is given to an individual, this year's award should be seen as a collective achievement.
       The collective achievement he means ? Having survived the Holocaust.
       Rosenbaum also believes:
Indeed, among well-known Holocaust survivor writers, Mr. Kertesz, Mr. Wiesel, and Mr. Appelfeld stand out because they are still with us. For this reason, and because survival in the camps was nearly always a collective act, perhaps Mr. Kertesz's laurel should be shared as a communal Nobel Prize.
       Art is apparently not an individual act, "Holocaust literature" a simple genre lumping together all the authors who endured these horrors and went on to write about it, as though they didn't have individual voices, as though their victimhood were the only significant thing about them.

       Focussing on Kertész's survivor-status is perhaps the obvious thing to do, especially since so little is known about the author's actual work. And "Holocaust survivor wins Nobel prize" is a much catchier headline than "Imre Kertész wins Nobel prize". But the accomplishment that is being honored is his accomplishment -- and it's for his writing. The surviving part is, fortunately, self-evident .....

       And to purchase Kertész's books in English:
(Posted by: complete review)

       Harry Mathews review

       Harry Mathews' new book, collecting all his short fiction, The Human Country, is now available -- as is our review.
       Two of the stories are also available online:        And for more information about Harry Mathews (and more reviews), check out our Harry Mathews page.

(Posted by: complete review)

13 October 2002 - Sunday

Alphabetisches Afrika | More on the new Proust translations
Chinua Achebe honoured

       Abish's Alphabetical Africa redux

       Walter Abish's 1974 novel, Alphabetical Africa, is largely considered a playful literary oddity (if it is considered at all). A text written using an unusual literary constraint, it looks at first sight to be just that and nothing more. But there is more: surprisingly, it works as a novel (though not everyone will have the patience for this sort of thing). See our review
       The constraint is a big part of it (even though, as we note in our review, Abish didn't get it all right ...), and naturally that complicates matters for anyone wanting to translate the text. And yet that is what someone has now done. Just as Gilbert Adair rendered Georges Perec's e-less La disparition as A Void (we promise we'll review both versions sometime ... soon -- we've been meaning to for years), Jürg Laederach has reworked Abish's text and now offers a German version: Alphabetisches Afrika.
       Jürgen Brôcan likes what Laederach did with it: see his review in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung (8 October).
       See also:
(Posted by: complete review)

       Prendergast on the Proust translation

       We previously mentioned the publication of a new Proust-edition, overseen by Christopher Prendergast and rendered into English by a whole stable of translators.
       In the 12 October issue of The Independent Boyd Tonkin offers an introduction to this edition, complete with a few words from editor-Prendergast. Some nice background information, including: Paul Auster almost had a shot at being one of the translators. (Who knows, his version might not have been ... macaronic (as Philip Hensher complains about the John Sturrock contribution in his more informative review in The Spectator (issue of 5 October)).)
       Also of interest, at the end of the article: part of the famous madeleine-scene is offered in Lydia Davis' translation, as well as the Scott Moncrieff/Kilmartin/Enright version, making for a nice comparison

(Posted by: complete review)

       Chinua Achebe honoured in Frankfurt

       Today Chinua Achebe receives the Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels (Peace Prize of the German Book Trade), awarded by the Börsenverein des Deutschen Buchhandels.
       For additional information see:
(Posted by: complete review)

12 October 2002 - Saturday

More Zadie reviews | Teachin' evolution in Cobb County | Figes v. Polonsky
Eugenides interview | New reviews

       More Zadie Smith reviews

       The Zadie "The Autograph Man" Smith reviews keep pouring in. Two more for your attention (since we still don't have the book under review -- and don't foresee reviewing it for ... quite a while):
       James Wood's in the London Review of Books (3 October) -- certainly recommended, like most of Mr. Wood's work. He's still impressed by some of what she can do, but overall finds the book disappointing -- "The Autograph Man has no moral centre", etc.
       And -- see also our comments re. Ruth Franklin's TNR review -- he also offers the apparently now obligatory Dave Eggers comparison ("Like Dave Eggers, Smith is interested in contemporary self-consciousness.")
       The other review: Ron Charles', in the Christian Science Monitor (3 October). And guess what ? He finds that: "There are light touches of David Eggers's antics here, too".

(Posted by: complete review)

       Teachin' evolution in Cobb County

       Back on 24 August we mentioned the Cobb County school board deciding to consider a new policy on how to teach disputed subjects like ... evolution. Sorry we didn't update you as soon as they reached their final decision (26 September), but we're still dumbstruck ..... (And, surprisingly, there appears to have been considerably less press coverage surrounding the final decision.)
       So, the Cobb County school board unanimously approved Policy Regulation IDBD - Theories of Origin. (See also good coverage at and The Economist (3 October).)
       In a masterly piece of spin, Cobb School Board Chairman Curt Johnston read this statement at the meeting:
Although many media reports indicated we wanted to change our policy to promote creationism, this is not the case. In fact, the opposite is true. We felt the need to revise the policy because the existing policy could be read to restrict the teaching of evolution or to require teaching creationism.
       Which is an interesting way of looking at it. Meanwhile, he also assured:
We expect teachers to continue to teach the theory of evolution. We do not expect teachers to teach creationism. Our intention is to promote a broad-based science curriculum which will acknowledge that there are differences of opinion about the origin of life, and to encourage students and others to be tolerant and respectful of those who may have different beliefs.
       Well, at least the board is on the record as stating that evolution will continue to be taught, which is at least a small victory. Still, Mr. Johnson is being more than a bit disingenuous here, it seems to us.
       We're curious to see what happens. Meanwhile, perhaps the Cobb County school board will want to consider other "disputed views of academic subjects", such as those of the Flat Earth proponents
       See also the index of books on Darwinism and Evolutionary Theory under review at the complete review.

(Posted by: complete review)

       Figes v. Polonsky

       The to-do about Rachel Polonsky's review of Orlando Figes' new book in the TLS (see our earlier comments) continues to be of interest to users -- it's one of the most popular search queries leading readers to our pages. Unfortunately, the Polonsky-review hasn't attracted too much media-notice -- except at The Guardian, where they seem very eager to make something out of it. Yesterday, D.J.Taylor weighed in.
       We'll keep an eye out for new developments .....

(Posted by: complete review)

       Eugenides interview

       Jeffrey Eugenides continues to promote his new novel, Middlesex (see also our review). Big media sighting of the week: this interview at Salon.
       (Recent reviews of his novel include Daniel Soar's in the 3 October London Review of Books, not available online.)

(Posted by: complete review)

       New reviews at the complete review

       The latest additions to the site are reviews of Martin Amis' The War against Cliché and Yasmina Reza's just-translated novel, Desolation.
       We realize we're a book behind the times in trying to keep up with Amis -- everybody is immersed in Koba -- but the big book of reviews is of course much more to our liking (though we do hope to get to Koba sometime soon too).

(Posted by: complete review)

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