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The Literary Saloon Archive

12 - 20 May

12 May: More on Murdoch library | Satrapi profile | Talk of the Devil review | Godine/Black Sparrow | MacShane on lit. in translation | Auckland Festival
13 May: Dubravka Ugresic | Best-loved English books by women
14 May: Büchner Prize | Loathing response | Logue's Homer | David Jones study
15 May: Winchester's Krakatoa | Orlando Figes' still controversial book
16 May: Another Satrapi profile | Miles Franklin shortlist
17 May: More Figes fun ! | Review of new Burn novel | Big Read 100 | Murakami profile
18 May: Incomplete response
19 May: Broch memoir | Satrapi in US
20 May: Cambaceres review

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20 May 2003 - Tuesday

Cambaceres review

       Cambaceres review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Eugenio Cambaceres' 1882 novel, Pot Pourri, now available in an English translation in a nice edition from the Oxford University Press.
       It's sub-titled Whistlings of an Idler, and is a fairly interesting document of the times (and an entertaining read).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

19 May 2003 - Monday

Broch memoir | Satrapi in US

       Broch memoir

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of H. F. Broch de Rothermann's memoir of his father, Hermann Broch, Dear Mrs. Strigl / Liebe Frau Strigl.
       We were made aware of the existence of this volume when we reviewed Broch's Geist and Zeitgeist. That collection was (more or less) translated by John Hargraves -- and mention was made there that he also translated this mysterious little book. It's not available via etc. -- but it turns out it can easily be ordered directly from the source, the Publications Department at Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library. Not only that: the lovely little volume only costs $ 5.00 (plus a bit more for shipping and handling). As far as bang for a buck book value goes it's pretty hard to do better than this.
       Obviously this book isn't for everyone, but it does offer some entertaining anecdotes (if you thought your family was screwed up ...) and is a must for anyone interested in Broch's life.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Satrapi in US

       Reader interest in Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis (see our review) continues to be high. She's now apparently setting off on her American book tour, so here are some readings you can catch her at:        (Check times and places, of course, before heading out -- and note that there are probably a few more stops that we haven't got listed here.)

       For those who can't attend any of the readings, listen to Mark Lawson's conversation with Satrapi at BBC Newsnight (scroll down for link to audio).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

18 May 2003 - Sunday

Incomplete response

       Incomplete response

       Readers of our reviews (and our weblog) will be aware that translation is a touchy subject hereabouts. On the one hand, we rely on translations a great deal (since we are completely illiterate in most of the world's languages and we tend to review a lot of foreign, translated literature). On the other hand we don't like having to rely on translations. Not one bit.
       Gail Armstrong, at Open Brackets, takes us to task for some of our comments, reviews, and attitudes in Incomplete. Here some comments and explanations in response. (Note, however, that translation -- and our attitude thereto -- is a vast, complex subject, and there's a lot more to it.)

       "We at the complete review hate translation", Armstrong quotes (from our review of Robert Wechsler’s book, Performing without a stage). Armstrong says of it: "This kind of facile statement, with intent to provoke, I find disingenuous to say the least". But it's a statement we stand behind. We do hate translation, for a number of related reasons. Mainly:
       Translations may be well and good but they are not the originals. They are something different and what we're interested in is the original. We want to read the author's work, not the translator's work. But being illiterate in languages X,Y, Z, etc. we are unable to read the originals and so have to rely on the translations -- which in some ways resemble the originals but are still -- arguably entirely and fundamentally -- different. Reading a translation makes us feel we are blind and merely listening to someone describe the sights around us. Or: it's like watching a pornographic movie rather than having sex. It is a substitute that we find in no way adequate. (Admittedly, we take our veneration of authenticity and originals to extremes: I suspect even Borges' Pierre Menard's Don Quixote wouldn't satisfy some of us.)
       Also: speaking only from personal experience: I feel comfortable reading in a few languages other than English, and in looking at translations of literary works from those languages I have never (I repeat, emphatically: never) come across a translation I would consider in any way adequate. Yes, many translations result in end-products that are, taken by themselves, fine, and I might consider these books good or even very good if I was unaware (or unconcerned) that they had been translated from a foreign language -- but they are always poor reflections (if that) of the originals (and often they are something very different than even that). (I realize that this is an easy, fanatical position to hold which might not be of interest to anyone, and may not be of much use to readers in discussing translations (since it doesn't allow for much discussion) -- but I think there's some value to constantly harping on it (as we do) in that it perhaps reminds readers of the refracting (and distorting) lens of the translator through which they are reading a text.)

       We can certainly agree with Armstrong that: " a foreword containing an exposé of some of the challenges involved in translating the work -- accompanied by salient examples -- should preface all translated literature". The more information is provided about what the work went through in being recast in a different language, the better. (The four-volume edition of Nabokov's Pushkin translation comes fairly close to our ideal. (Yes, realists we are not -- but then we feel no obligation to be realists.))

       Armstrong quotes from our review : "The many comments by actual translators were a bit much for us, but they do lend the book some authority." -- and then comments: "Not being a Freudian, I have no idea what this means." As best as I can recall, Wechsler's book quotes many translators (presumably rather tiresomely) commenting on their 'craft', and what we surely meant was that this lends the books some authority (i.e. it wasn't just Wechsler explaining things as he saw fit, but actual practitioners credibly explaining how they go about doing what they do). What this might (or might not) have to do with Freud I can not even imagine.

       Armstrong also bashes our histrionics in our review of William Gass’ Reading Rilke. Fair enough, to some extent -- though we note that our review was of Gass' book, not Rilke's poem (though Gass' translation is, of course, part of the whole) and that Gass' book is itself a discussion of the translations of the poem. That said, the Duino Elegies are, as we mention, a perfect example of the failure of translation and there doesn't really seem to be that much to say about them: cut and recast: "Wer, wenn ich schriee, hörte mich denn aus der Engel Ordnungen ?" any way you like it, there is simply no way any English rewording of that could ever satisfy us. Ever. And that's just the first line. (And just thinking about what English verse-makers have made of these poems makes my gorge rise ... admittedly a problem in trying to rationally discuss the issue -- but really, there is no issue here for me: the originals are something wonderful, the English renderings like ... no, I can't even find words for what they are (and all the things they are not). No, thank you.)
       (In our defence regarding our reviews I note that we do occasionally pay more attention to the details of translation -- see for example our comparisons of the Tasso translations by Anthony M. Esolen and Edward Fairfax, or our reviews of different translations of Kalidasa's Meghaduta (by Ryder, the Edgertons, and Nathan).)

       Also: a clarification re. "David Young’s reader review at, complaining about Gass’ (sic) approach". We made mention of that specifically because Young is one of the Rilke-translators Gass attacks -- who then chose this interesting forum to respond to that attack; perhaps we should have been clearer about that. (David Young, by the way, is one of those translators who occasionally make it difficult for us to have much respect for practitioners of that craft: he's done a lot with, among others, beloved poet Miroslav Holub's work, and in his introduction to Holub's Interferon he makes mention of "the Sanskrit epic Gilgamesh". Enough said ?)

       As to our "lazy and unconvincing invective and too familiar a style: if you’re peeved, you must be right". Lazy ? Possibly -- but it's also that there is simply too little space to say all that can (and possibly needs be) said: we choose to offer a general impression and leave it at that. The detailed critique belongs elsewhere (though perhaps we are remiss in indeed not having offered it elsewhere). As to it being entirely unconvincing: I'm not so sure about that. I like to think that visitors to the site (at least the ones who come back) are familiar with our style and predilections and know how to take our occasional over-the-top statements (though regarding translation they tend to be heartfelt). As to being peeved implying we're right, we strongly disagree with that: we try to convince readers to be deeply suspicious of anything we (or indeed anyone) writes -- and the main reason for offering quotes from and links to other reviews (as we do) is to allow potential readers of a book to consider as many different opinions as possible. We have strong opinions, but they're our opinions and should be treated as such -- i.e. not particularly seriously (or rather, only as seriously as a reader's experience with our other reviews -- did we advise well or badly ? -- allows them to be).
       Reviews are subjective things -- selective quotation (as Armstrong also practices in her critique of us) allows for pretty much any case to be made about any book. What little faith we believe users should have in what we say is based solely on the consistency found on the site -- which includes certain biases, some of which (such as that against translation) we try to make as clear as possible so that there's no confusion about where we're coming from.

       Our position on translation -- loud, constant, and occasionally petty complaint, with nary a good word thrown in -- is obviously neither appealing nor particularly constructive. Translation is inescapable, after all, so why don't we just get over it, one might ask. Given that most review fora either ignore questions of translation or focus only on petty details we think there's also room for wholesale denouncement of the enterprise -- or at least calling it into question, a reminder to readers who rarely seem to realise the enormity of what is lost in translation. Translation is the corruption of the text. Whatever the result (and sometimes something fine can result) it's still not the original -- i.e. the real thing. Some readers might simply not mind. More, we suspect, don't even think about it -- blissfully (or ignorantly) unaware. We do mind -- and we do think readers should at least be aware of the fact.

       So, there you have it: a few thoughts in response to Armstrong's -- unfortunately not covering all of them, but at least having a go at some.
       And I'm starting to think it's really getting to be time for us to write up and publish our anti-translation manifesto. There's so much more to be said !

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

17 May 2003 - Saturday

More Figes fun ! | Review of new Burn novel | Big Read 100 | Murakami profile

       More Figes fun !

       A few days ago we mentioned a 14 May article by David Sexton in the Evening Standard, War of the words, in which he wrote about Orlando Figes' Natasha's Dance having made the BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize shortlist despite (or perhaps because of ?) some of the controversy surrounding it.
       Sexton's article -- and our quotes from it -- apparently did not sit too well with Mr. Figes. Yesterday we received a communication from his legal representatives (David Price Solicitors & Advocates) maintaining that the article contained several inaccuracies -- and that Sexton is now the subject of a libel complaint. (They also ... suggested that we 'remove reference to the article' from our site.)
       They inform us that in later editions of the Evening Standard one section that we quoted was omitted (the paragraph beginning "The Johnson Prize judges (...)"); however, last time we checked (17 May, ca. 04:30 GMT) that text was still available in the online edition of the article. (We have no way of ascertaining what was printed in the various print editions of the newspaper.) If the paragraph was indeed removed we're very curious as to the circumstances surrounding these decisions and events: the section in question includes several (unattributed) direct quotes, and we're wondering who decided not to stand behind them.
       We have removed the quotes from our original weblog entry for the time being (we wouldn't want to be helping to spread defamatory material, after all, and at this time we have no way of knowing whether that's what this is or not). We're also very curious to see how this plays out.
       Any legal action of course spotlights the questions raised about Figes' book (by reviewers such as Rachel Polonsky (TLS, 27 September 2002) and fellow Johnson-nominee T.J.Binyon (Blurred vision of Russia, Evening Standard (23 September 2002)) -- which might very well be for the best. A full and public examination of the book by some academic authorities could fully vindicate Orlando Figes -- or point out what minor (or major) faults there are with his book. (Of course, that's probably not what would happen in a libel action against Sexton, which could only address the questions raised in his piece -- which have more to do with, for example, what the Johnson prize-judges said.)
       Mysteries abound in all this. If the Johnson judges had their doubts about aspects of Figes' book, why did they put it on the shortlist ? And there's that forthcoming Penguin paperback edition -- we're very curious to hear what changes (if any) will be made to the text. (Revisions between hardcover and paperback publication are not unusual, but this book seems to be one worth keeping a close eye on regarding the extent of the changes.)
       Amusingly, Sexton is also one of the critics singled out by Jason Cowley in a 3 October 2002 article in The Guardian, Ouch !, about Polonsky's review of Figes' book -- as among the few "genuinely independent critics" in the book reviewing business.

       We're also curious as to the fate of David Sexton's article. Last we checked it was still available at the Evening Standard site -- and we've seen a number of weblogs that have linked to it.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Review of new Burn novel

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Gordon Burn's new novel, The North of England Home Service.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Big Read 100

       The BBC's Big Read culminates later today. The top 100 have already been announced -- but not in order.

       See also this article by Luke Leitch in yesterday's Evening Standard.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Murakami profile

       There's a Murakami Haruki profile by Richard Williams in today's issue of The Guardian.

       See also our Murakami Haruki page.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

16 May 2003 - Friday

Another Satrapi profile | Miles Franklin shortlist

       Another Satrapi profile

       The reviews are appearing in the US (where the book is already available), but the profiles of Persepolis-author Marjane Satrapi are appearing in the UK press (though the book will only be available there starting next week). We've already mentioned David Jenkins's profile (Daily Telegraph, 8 May), and now Esther Addley offers a profile of this Rebel in exile in yesterday's issue of The Guardian.

       See also, of course, our review of Persepolis for additional links.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Miles Franklin shortlist

       The shortlist for the prestigious Australian Miles Franklin Literary Award has been announced.
       The only title we have under review is Kate Jennings' much-shortlisted Moral Hazard.

       See also this article from today's Sydney Morning Herald -- focussing on what is apparently the most important feature of the shortlist. That's right, it has nothing to do with the books, but rather the titillating fact that:
For the first time in the history of Australia's premier literary prize, the Miles Franklin Literary Award, two writers who are also partners have made the shortlist.
       And they apparently don't mean that the two are writing partners (though they aren't very clear about that). And the 'partners' are both women.
       The Age also offers an article on the shortlist -- or rather this aspect of it ("Two writers sharing a vocation, a home and a life").

       God forbid anyone would actually give a damn about the books .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

15 May 2003 - Thursday

Winchester's Krakatoa | Orlando Figes' still controversial book

       Simon Winchester's Krakatoa

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Simon Winchester's book about The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883, Krakatoa.
       Our review of Winchester's The Professor and the Madman (UK title: The Surgeon of Crowthorne) has perennially (for the four years we've had the review available) been among the 25 most accessed, month in and month out. Krakatoa -- which strikes us as the better book -- hasn't gotten that much review coverage yet (and apparently isn't even available in the UK yet) but is already a bestseller nationwide (in the US), and might very well ultimately prove more successful than The Professor and the Madman.
       It's certainly a book that can be recommended as a summer read -- though perhaps not for the beach (there are some mighty big waves in this book, which might make readers scan the horizon nervously all vacation long) or for those going to Hawaii, Martinique, Indonesia, and similarly volcanic areas.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Orlando Figes' still controversial book

       (Updated - 17 May): We have been informed that the article mentioned below is the subject of a libel complaint by Mr.Figes. The entry below has been revised in light of that fact; quotes from the article have been removed.

       Last fall we commented frequently and extensively on the to-do surrounding Orlando Figes' Natasha's Dance, a book with a big marketing budget and attention-grabbing reviews -- some glowing, some highly critical (especially regarding the academic rigour that some appeared to believe was conspiculously absent in the book).
       Recently, Natasha's Dance: A Cultural History Of Russia made the £ 30,000 BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize for non-fiction longlist -- and then also the shortlist. In yesterday's Evening Standard David Sexton offers an article on the War of the words surrounding the book and the nomination.

       Amusingly, one of the other shortlisted contenders is T.J.Binyon (for his Pushkin: A Biography) -- the same Binyon who happened to review Figes' book in the Evening Standard (23 September 2002). Blurred vision of Russia was the title, with Binyon noting:
Poor Pushkin receives the scurviest of treatments. Barely a statement about the poet is without error; the climax is reached on page 87, where 16 lines of Professor Figes's prose contain eight egregious mistakes.
       Not to be out- (or un- ?) done Orlando Figes reviewed Binyon's Pushkin book in The Times two days later, complaining ... about all the academic rigour ? : "There are just too many details for the general reader to cut through" and: "there are many instances where Binyon does not give sufficient explanation of the historical or cultural context for the non-specialist to find his way".

       The award-ceremony should be a barrel of laughs !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

14 May 2003 - Wednesday

Büchner Prize | Loathing response | Logue's Homer | David Jones study

       Büchner Prize

       Alexander Kluge has been awarded this year's Georg-Büchner-Preis, one of the most prestigious German literary awards (and one with a very eclectic winners list -- see the list of previous winners). The actual prize-ceremony only takes place on 25 October in Darmstadt.
       For some (German) articles on this year's prize, see these reports in Die Welt and the Berliner Zeitung.

       For more Kluge-information, visit his official site -- and see also the list of his publications.
       Several of his works have been translated into English -- see, for example, a discussion of Case Histories at Waggish. (See also a review of Peter Lutze's Alexander Kluge: the last modernist.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Loathing response

       There were lots of weblog mentions of Margaret Drabble's opinion piece titled I loathe America, and what it has done to the rest of the world (Daily Telegraph, 8 May), but not too much media attention otherwise. Perhaps to stir things up Barbara Amiel responds in the very same pages, with her opinion piece, Anti-Americans are really against liberal democracy (12 May).

       (For those not familiar with Ms. Amiel: enjoy Max Hastings' Job-hunting Barbara Amiel style (The Guardian, 7 October 2002).)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Logue's Homer

       Jim Lewis enthuses about Christopher Logue's latest volume of re-written Homer, All Day Permanent Red, at Slate. He maintains:
In fact, it's some of the best poetry being written in English today, and it should be read widely and with great pleasure by anyone still interested in the art of verse.
       We haven't taken a look at it, but it sounds like it might be of some interest.

       For additional information, check out the FSG publicity page, an excerpt at The Guardian, or a review at PopMatters.
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       David Jones study

       The 11 May Daily Telegraph offers a Noel Malcolm review of Keith Alldritt's David Jones: Writer and Artist. We're big Jones fans (see our reviews of The Anathemata and In Parenthesis) and are pleased to hear there's some interest in this too-overlooked poet.
       Regarding Alldritt's book Malcolm finds
Important sources have not been used; and the discussions of Jones's writings lack depth. Yet anything that serves to stimulate an interest in Jones's work must be welcomed.
       The only other review we've found is John Phillpott's at This is Worcester.

       The book does not appear to be available in the US, but can be obtained from

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

13 May 2003 - Tuesday

Dubravka Ugresic | Best-loved English books by women

       Dubravka Ugresic

       We were pleased to learn that the wonderful Dalkey Archive Press has signed up Dubravka Ugresic, and will be publishing her "essays on literary trivia", Thank You for Not Reading, in November -- to be followed by Lend Me Your Character in the fall of 2004.
       Ever overeager, we can now already offer you our review of Thank You for Not Reading. (We don't feel too guilty: it was first published back in 2001 (in Dutch) and is also already available in German.) Clever, entertaining, and depressing, it's a nice overview of the contemporary state of literary affairs.

       We've also added a Dubravka Ugresic author page.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Best-loved English books by women

       The Orange Prize poll of "the UK's 50 Best-Loved Books Written by a Woman" has now been announced.
       The classics did well -- Jane Austen, especially -- and J.K.Rowling also had a good showing.
       For commentary, see Maev Kennedy in The Guardian (12 May), noting: Vote goes by the book as Austen wins

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

12 May 2003 - Monday

More on Murdoch library | Satrapi profile | Talk of the Devil review
Godine/Black Sparrow | MacShane on lit. in translation | Auckland Festival

       More on Murdoch library

       We previously mentioned Iris Murdoch's up-for-sale library, and Daniel Johnson's peek at The secrets hidden in Iris's library (Daily Telegraph, 1 May). Meanwhile Derwent May has also had the opportunity to look through the books in the collection and writes about what he found in the 7 May issue of The Times.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Satrapi profile

       Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis (see our review) just came out in the US (and will appear in the UK in a week or two), and we've mentioned it several times. Several visitors have been led to these pages looking for an interview with her in the Daily Telegraph; we didn't have a link to it -- until now: David Jenkins's 8 May profile can be found here.

       (Persepolis got a very good write-up in The New York Times Book Review yesterday, but hasn't been widely reviewed yet. Our review is currently among the most-accessed at the complete review; we suspect the book will do very well.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Talk of the Devil review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Riccardo Orizio's Encounters With Seven Dictators, Talk of the Devil.
       It's a book that elicits many reactions, including (in us) frustration and ambivalence. Even more surprising (to us) were the reactions to the book -- in particular, how little outrage there was. Indeed, a number of the reviews were downright jocular in tone.
       Orizio writes of encounters with some of the truly bad people of recent times -- people who came into positions of great power and abused that power. There's a lot of blood on these hands, a lot of misery and suffering going on even now that is largely the fault of these once-powerful thugs, despite the fact that some fell from grace decades ago. There is something amusing about how far they've fallen but that doesn't in any way lessen their guilt (or make up for their crimes).
       And it's odd to read in the reviews of, for example, Adam Hochschild's seemingly light-hearted disappointment "that he has had to omit my favourite reigning dictator, Saparmurad Niyazov of Turkmenistan" (TLS, 28 February 2003). His "favourite reigning dictator" ? Yes, Niyazov is a cartoon figure, and it's easy -- from a distance -- to have a good laugh at his expense, but, as Orizio's book demonstrates, even cartoon figures can wreak havoc and cause great and lasting harm.
       Hochschild does wonder why dictators are "almost pornographically fascinating", suggesting:
Dictators are like movie stars, the rich and the famous: we can vicariously identify with their power and glory when they're riding high, and, more righteously, enjoy their fall.
       Others also thought aspects of the book were fun: Jon Ronson writes (in the Daily Telegraph, 18 January) about the dictators':
bizarre past megalomanias. These are certainly fun to read about, and if you want a book that does just that -- like a stylishly written Ripley's Believe It Or Not ! -- there's probably none better.
       All in all: a disturbing book, eliciting disturbing reactions.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Godine/Black Sparrow

       Judith Rosen reports in Publishers Weekly about Godine Readying Black Sparrow Imprint.

       Small independent publisher David Godine bought up most of the Black Sparrow rights and is planning on continuing the line. Sounds good to us.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       MacShane on literature in translation

       We recently mentioned a British Foreign and Commonwealth Office initiative "to persuade the public to take a greater interest in European culture, particularly literature".
       In Reading Europe Minister for Europe Denis MacShane responds to reader comments on the question of why translated literature is so unpopular (and so little of it is available) in the UK (The Observer, 8 May). He admits: "I do not know what the answer is."
       But at least he places blame somewhere (ah, politicians -- gotta love 'em):
The long anti-European years of the Thatcher-Major era plunged us into a meretricious world in which speaking or reading English was all you needed.
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Auckland Writers & Readers Festival

       The Auckland Writers & Readers Festival runs from 15-18 May; see their official site A pretty good list of authors are appearing; among those we have under review: C.K.Stead, Jonathan Franzen, and Les Murray.

       Les Murray also gets some pre-festival publicity in the New Zealand Herald, where Graham Reid writes about Les Murray, bard with a barb (10 May). Murray lets his political views be known -- and speaks about poetry and politics more generally too, complaining that even down under:
Poetry has been captured by a class which prohibits the positive. They see themselves as in perpetual rebellion against society, and it's a rather sour, radical rebellion. I don't buy it, particularly as it practises heavy bullying and manipulation of fashion against people.
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

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