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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 July

11 July: Playing softball with John Irving | Claude Simon obituaries | Dark Water - the movie | Goodreports facelift
12 July: Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize | Toni Morrison's honorary degree | Harry Mathews in London | Sun and Shadow review
13 July: New translations of The Tin Drum ? | More Incendiary | A different translation problem | Lessons of the Masters review
14 July: Nominating Quills | | The Invisible Player review
15 July: More poor authors | More on Weidenfeld Translation Prize | Translation in Yemen | Holy Smoke review
16 July: Rankin on Chandler | The Economist on Incendiary | Julian Barnes profile | Saudi reorganisation | Letters to the editor | Door-to-door book-selling
17 July: Stoppard profile | Blaming the Rushdie-fatwa | Japanese library book disposal | Nepali literature
18 July: Baltic adventures | The Big Over Easy review | Kadare-as-dissident dissents
19 July: FrankfurtBook Town | Kwani? ! | Russians stop reading ? | Archiving Japanese websites | Winterson flips for FLIP
20 July: LiBeraturpreis for Fatou Diome | Litblog article | Library difficulties in India and Nepal

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20 July 2005 - Wednesday

LiBeraturpreis for Fatou Diome | Litblog article | Library difficulties in India and Nepal

       LiBeraturpreis for Fatou Diome

       The 2005 LiBeraturpreis has been awarded to Fatou Diome (though, in typical German prize-giving fashion, she'll only get it -- and the measly cash prize (a mere € 500 !) -- in October. (Actually, since she gets invited to the Frankfurt Book Fair to pick it up, that's probably the best part of the prize.)
       It's a somewhat peculiar prize, awarded to a woman author from Africa, Asia, or Latin America, but the list of previous winners is pretty impressive, and it does give some attention to an author that might otherwise be overlooked.
       Fatou Diome won for Le Ventre de l'Atlantique (well, for the German version). See the official site, or get your copy at
       An English version ? Yeah, don't make us laugh .... though the ever-admirable Words Without Borders offer an excerpt (translation by C. Dickson) of it (The Belly of the Atlantic).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Litblog article

       The online summer issue of RainTaxi still isn't available yet -- except for Scott Esposito's (of Conversational Reading-fame) article suggesting that Litblogs Provide a New Alternative for Readers.

       (We appreciate the mention -- though we were surprised to learn that: "the Literary Saloon is blogged from England". It sure don't look like England outside .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Library difficulties in India and Nepal

       Libraries are wonderful institutions, but not always easy to enjoy.
       The Indian Express reports in Books galore, but membership tough here that:
The library at Gujarat Vidyapith has an impressive collection of over half a million books, a fact that should be a matter of pride for any public library. However, stringent guarantee norms make sure that its membership to general public remains difficult.
       Meanwhile in The Kathmandu Post Mahabir Paudyal has no problems getting in his local library but still reports on the Death of the books:
This is a usual scene inside the Central library of Tribhuvan University, which is everyday visited by hundreds of people who want to study and collect reference materials, books and journals for their dissertation and theses, or for a critical understanding of the subject. But they, as in my case, are forced to end up in despair, as they don't find what they want and frequently the pages they need the most are cut off.
       He finds:
The behavior of library-goers thus reflects the level of intelligence and prudence of the Bachelor Degree holders of our country.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

19 July 2005 - Tuesday

FrankfurtBook Town | Kwani? ! | Russians stop reading ?
Archiving Japanese websites | Winterson flips for FLIP

       FrankfurtBook Town

       Not satisfied with all the book fair fuss in October, it's now FrankfurtBook Town all summer long. The centrepiece: from 16 July through 24 October you can enjoy the CowParade-inspired BOOKparade, as dozens of artists (professional and amateur) have painted (and otherwise embellished) book-sculptures that you'll find littered all over town.
       There are two variations: the 1 metre 80 tall 'closed book', and the 1m60 'open book'.
       For a map of where you can find them (or, of course, how to avoid them), click here; you can click on the numbers on the map for additional information about each sculpture, but so far it's pretty feeble.
       For pictures of some of the books, click here. (And, yes, some of them ain't bad.)
       For four pictures of and some background about Haimo Kinzler's contribution, see this article in the Schwäbisches Tagblatt.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Kwani? ! reprint Stephen Derwent Partington's article, Journal Gives Evidence of Literary Growth in the Year, from The Nation (Kenya), in which he discusses and reviews Kwani?3, the third anthology published by The Kwani? Foundation.
       He's enthusiastic: Kwani? is: "Kenya's leading lit-culture journal", and he believes:
Frankly, if it wasn't for Kwani? and its engagement with both the young and the previously snobbishly-rejected "low" culture of this country, I am certain that, within another derivative decade, no-one would be reading any Kenyan Literature beyond prescribed schoolbooks.
Kwani?3 is out. It's as big as ever, and phenomenally better, continuing to publish a vast variety of works. It has found its feet, but found them running rather than standing still, true to its good habit of seeking the new, the excellent, the experimental.
       Excerpts from Kwani?3 are available online: worth a look.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Russians stop reading ?

       Irina Titova reports in The St. Petersburg Times that new surveys indicate: Russians' Love Affair With Books Fading :
About 37 percent of Russian people never read books, and 52 percent never buy them. (...) Surveys showed that only 23 percent of Russians consider themselves active readers, while 17 percent said they read only fiction. Many Russians confessed they limit their reading by literature on their specialty and read only books about health and medicine or cookbooks.
       Other interesting titbits:
The RNL's surveys showed that the book of choice in big cities was the detective novel, in small towns - romance novels. Second place was taken by classical Russian literature, which people in Russia traditionally know about from compulsory school programs.

The survey also said that women read books 1.5 times more than men.
       (Not only are they are reading less, they're even getting rid of books wherever they can: RIA Novosti even report: "Russian frontier guards have offered 11,000 books to their Tajik counterparts". (Just kidding: it's a very nice gesture.))

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Archiving Japanese websites

       In The Asahi Shimbun Keiichiro Inoue reports that in Japan the National library moves to archive `legitimate' domestic Web sites only:
The National Diet Library will be choosy when it adds domestic Web sites to its archives.

With about 90 million Japanese sites in cyberspace, and many of them posting illegal pictures or promoting illegal activities, it will only store data from what it deems legitimate sites, about 20 percent of the total.
       We wish them good luck with that.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Winterson flips for FLIP

       Jeanette Winterson enjoyed her time in Brazil, at FLIP (the Festa Literária Internacional de Parati), and she writes about it in Festivals are art for everyone in The Times.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

18 July 2005 - Monday

Baltic adventures | The Big Over Easy review | Kadare-as-dissident dissents

       Baltic adventures

       In The Herald Robyn Marsack observes: Literature opens door to small nations, if only we’d translate it. She describes a visit to the Baltic states:
Literature Across Frontiers, the Welsh-based organisation that is doing so much for lesser-known languages, invited two London publishers, a publisher from the invaluable Arc in Lancashire and myself, from the Scottish Poetry Library, on a literature-finding trip to Riga and Vilnius.
       Literature Across Frontiers is, indeed, an admirable organisation -- see also their always interesting tri-lingual journal, Transcript.

       These small nations also do a pretty good job of trying to connect with the outside world, inviting folks over on such literature-finding trips and the like. They also all have fairly useful websites that make decent starting points for those interested in the local literatures: check out:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Big Over Easy review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Jasper Fforde's new novel -- the start of a new series --, The Big Over Easy.
       Apparently, he actually wrote this more than a decade ago, but couldn't find a publisher ..... But at least presumably his advance, based on the success of his recent works, was many times what it would have been had he gotten it published back then.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Kadare-as-dissident dissents

       Coverage of Ismail Kadare's Man Booker International Prize win has been pretty limited, and now, rather than focussing on the literary works, there's been some more personal anti-Kadare-backlash. In a column at MobyLives, for example, Irina Renata Dumitrascu writes that: Kadare is no Solzhenitsyn
       Some of the pathetic coverage perhaps simplistically portrays him as a Solzhenitsyn-type dissident (though Russian ultra-nationalist Solzhenitsyn is hardly the dissident-darling he was in the 1970s, either), but surely no one who knows anything about his life and career really believes that.
       The case against Kadare -- his balancing act between regime-darling and true-to-his-art (and hence subversive) writer -- is an interesting one; unfortunately Dumitrascu's attack is all broad brushstrokes (or rather: something more severe) and little detail. Among the issues is: what case is she making ? Kadare does not appear to claim or embrace the dissident label, for one -- well, tacitly, perhaps, but he's careful in how he portrays himself in his acceptance speech, for example, and it's not as your prototypical dissident. ('Dissident' is a simple label that many of the newspapers use -- that doesn't mean it's right or applicable).
       Misleadingly, Dumitrascu writes:
In accepting this year's Man Booker International Prize, Albanian writer Ismail Kadare criticized people from ex–communist countries who claim they were not allowed to be writers by the repressive system. He contemptuously declared "The people entitled to speak about that period are the people who did something and not the people who kept silent and have retrospective nostalgia."
       These words are not -- as implied -- from the speech he made accepting the prize, but rather from comments made to the press (see, for example, this report) -- and they don't appear to target actual silenced writers, but rather poseurs. His full comments don't sound nearly so contemptuous:
"the fashion now in the former communist countries of the ex-Soviet Bloc for people to say 'I could have been a writer but I wasn't allowed,' " he said.

"The people entitled to speak about that period are the people who did something and not the people who kept silent and have retrospective nostalgia.

"It's very easy to give moral lessons but sometimes those lessons are given by people who haven't got moral stature themselves."
       In his actual acceptance speech, Kadare is admittedly a bit full of himself ("We believed in literature. In return for our belief and our fidelity, literature granted us her blessing and protection"), but his description is not of active dissidence:
We propped each other up as we tried to write literature as if that regime did not exist. Now and again, we pulled it off. At other times we didn't. The idea that we could create a few mouthfuls of spiritual nourishment for our imprisoned nation filled us with joy.
       His insistence on a focus on literature rather than politics is obviously the only way for him to go (given his all-too-regime-friendly behaviour and privileged status). Given the alternatives -- exile or silence (imposed, one way or another, by the all-powerful regime) -- the path Kadare chose doesn't seem the worst alternative. Sure, he's not a poster-child for opposition to a horrible wrong, but as far as fellow-travelling goes, there's an argument to be made that his form was justifiable.

       A letter to the TLS by Barry Baldwin (currently available online, but probably not for long) also asks: How dissident was Ismail Kadare ?, making many of the same arguments (albeit with more supporting material) as Dumitrascu, including:
Kadare claims he was frequently banned from publishing (.....) Not so. As Miranda Vickers and James Pettifer write in Albania: From anarchy to a Balkan identity (2nd ed, 2000), Kadare "for a time in the late 1970s was a favoured Party Writer, producing Stalinist-style verse on approved themes". Kadare was adept at churning out such Socialist Realist stuff (.....) Kadare studied at the University of Tirana, in itself a mark of privilege. More so was his being allowed further study at the Gorky Institute in Moscow.
       He finds:
With all this a matter of published record, how can anyone still believe in Kadare the isolated and valiant dissident ?
       But like Dumitrascu's claim -- "there is absolutely no question about what kind of animal he was and what pack he ran with; in fact, his resume screams careerism and conformity" -- the question surely is: what does it matter ?
       At least people are talking and writing about the man -- though we think it would be more interesting if the discussion focussed on (or at least included -- or just mentioned !) his actual literary output -- but we figure all this will amount to is a ready excuse for readers not to bother with his work: why bother with a commie-insider, after all ?
       It is an interesting issue, but it also deserves a considerably broader examination than Dumitrascu or Baldwin allow for.

       (Updated - 20 July): See also More on Kadaré at ReadySteadyBlog.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

17 July 2005 - Sunday

Stoppard profile | Blaming the Rushdie-fatwa
Japanese library book disposal | Nepali literature

       Stoppard profile

       In Shelf stocker in The Observer Geraldine Bedell profiles Tom Stoppard -- the new president of the London Library.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Blaming the Rushdie-fatwa

       In the Sunday Telegraph Matthew d'Ancona argues This horror began with a literary row:
To understand how we got here, you have to cast your mind back long before July 7, 2005, or even September 11, 2001, to February 14, 1989. That was the day that Ayatollah Khomeini proclaimed a fatwa on Salman Rushdie over his novel, The Satanic Verses.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Japanese library book disposal

       The question of what library books can be disposed reached the highest Japanese courts, as reported in this Asahi editorial:
The estimated 3,000 public libraries in Japan have about 300 million volumes in stock for nearly 50 million registered users. On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled in a case concerning the disposal of public library books.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Nepali literature

       The Rising Nepal report that they're concerned: Literature isolated due to lack of translation:
Vice chairman of the Council of Ministers Kirtinidhi Bista has said that Nepali literature can breathe fresh air if it is translated into international languages as it has remained isolated so far because of lack of translation.
       Well, whatever the reason, we wouldn't mind seeing some Nepali translations.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

16 July 2005 - Saturday

Rankin on Chandler | The Economist on Incendiary | Julian Barnes profile
Saudi reorganisation | Letters to the editor | Door-to-door book-selling

       Rankin on Chandler

       In Pope of pulp in The Times Ian Rankin writes about Raymond Chandler -- an author he came to surprisingly late in life (and his career):
It was only in 1992 that I began to read Chandler. I felt I owed him that much, having won the Chandler-Fulbright Prize.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Economist on Incendiary

       We'd love to stop talking about this book, but it keeps popping up: in this week's issue of The Economist the lead review (link should become freely accessible on or after 22 July) is of Chris Cleave's Incendiary.
       The otherwise generally highly commend- and dependable Economist has shown a strange (to our minds) taste in fiction for a couple of years now, so we're not surprised that they don't share our opinion on the book -- but the review is worth a look (and a knock).
       For one, they offer the interesting titbit:
"What captured me entirely when I first read it was the voice," says Knopf's president, Sonny Mehta, who bought the American rights for $100,000 within 24 hours of receiving the manuscript last November
       (Note that Knopf has also announced a first printing of 100,000 copies.)
       It's nice to see some quick decision-making on the part of a publisher -- but the voice ? Cleave's narrator is supposed to be a relatively uneducated working-class woman -- a demographic we're fairly confident Mr Mehta is not intimately (or even superficially) familiar with. Certainly, the writing is far too polished (and, occasionally, refined) to be in any way convincing as truly working-class. (Admittedly, what counts is not whether the narrator is realistically working class, but rather whether readers -- such as Mr Mehta -- believe she is. Mehta was effectively fooled, so Cleave must have done something right .....)
       The Economist thinks the book is good and successful, and they're especially impressed by the "captivating heroine". We'd argue, however, that, like Mehta, they're delusional. Consider simply this approving mention:
(H)er bravery shows up most effectively in the tiny brush strokes with which Mr Cleave depicts her humanity: "I would of shrugged back at him," she admits, "only shrugging isn't easy when you're holding 2 Tesco bags."
       But it's exactly in those details that one finds Cleave's complete failure: it sounds plausible and affecting and properly working class, but it's simply not true: hold a Tesco bag in each hand by its handle, or cradle them in your arms: either way, there's almost no additional effort involved in shrugging. We're pretty sure neither Cleave nor The Economist (nor Sonny Mehta) ever bothered trying it .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Julian Barnes profile

       Peter Aspden lunches with Julian Barnes, and, since the article will only be briefly accessible at the confounding Financial Times site, we point you to it and suggest you read it while you can.
       Regarding the events of 7 July, it's refreshing to hear:
I ask him if he feels an obligation, given his vocation and standing, to try to put what has happened into words.

"I do it occasionally. I wrote a piece about the Iraq war. Between yesterday morning and now I have been contacted by six different newspapers to write something. This is one occasion when words fail me. I could easily come up with some banal verbiage but enough of that is being churned up already. I don’t know what happened, I wasn’t there, I don’t know who did it, and I don’t know why they did it, although we can obviously guess. That’s not to criticise people who do [write about it] because that is also a psychological necessity."

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Saudi reorganisation

       The headline at Arab News promises Cultural, Literary Bodies to Be Reorganized, but the locals have perfected the art of not getting bogged down in details.
Culture and Information Minister Iyad Madani has emphasized his ministry’s plan to reorganize literary and cultural institutions in the Kingdom after studying their present situation and requirements.
       Unfortunately, emphasising is all he does: we learn nothing about what might be reorganised (beyond that women should be involved).

       But everybody will be pleased to hear:
The minister refuted suggestions that his ministry was imposing censorship on media organizations in the country. "There’s no censorship," Al-Watan Arabic daily quoted him as saying.
       Let's see how far that goes .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Letters to the editor

       Some interesting letters to the editor in The Guardian today, about articles we mentioned last week.
       The first letter, referring to Douglas Kennedy's evangelical fiction overview, Selling rapture, notes:
In fairness, it is worth pointing out that even the best-selling Left Behind series has no British distributor because it has no conceivable readership even within this country's large and growing Evangelical movement
       Makes you proud to be American, doesn't it ?

       Also of interest: the last letter, on Lisa St Aubin de Teran's Journey to the interior, which points out:
African language proficiency is far too complex to generalise about, but contrary to Lisa St Aubin de Teran's claims, it is commonplace for Africans in many regions to use five or six often very different languages, including English and French -- nothing like the monoglot English !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Door-to-door book-selling

       Forbes offers an AP article about Southwestern Selling Books Door-To-Door.
       Yes, door-to-door bookselling didn't completely die out with the encyclopaedia-salesman -- but this Southwestern Company -- motto: "We build people" -- is one disturbing enterprise.
       They do sell books, but it might as well be snake-oil or vacuum cleaners: the product is beside the point. What they're about is:
Helping young people develop the skills and the character they need to achieve their goals in life

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

15 July 2005 - Friday

More poor authors | More on Weidenfeld Translation Prize
Translation in Yemen | Holy Smoke review

       More poor authors

       The Guardian reports on Harry Potter and the stony broke authors. No surprise, but not all authors of books for children rake in the big money like Harry Potter-author Rowling does
       A survey which 117 authors (of some 700) in the Society of Authors' children's writers and illustrators group responded to paints an occasionally bleak picture. We can't find the survey -- Not All of Us are Rowling in It (!) -- online yet, but they offer some scary numbers -- including: "that some work for about 2p an hour."
       2 pence an hour ? Any author remunerated at that rate would have to write eleven hours a day, every day of the year, just to pay the £ 80 annual Society of Authors' dues.
       Indeed, common sense suggests that it is impossible to get paid at such a low hourly rate -- even if they're just writing a single word an hour.
       The author(s) in question could surely increase their earning per hour many times over by just setting up shop outdoors, writing in some open area with reasonable foot-traffic, and a bowl on their desk with a small sign asking for donations -- surely they'd get more than a tuppence an hour !
       One of the 2p-authors is identified as Gaye Hicyilmaz -- though they note she also earns "£ 66 a week" (considerably more than 2p/hour, even for a non-stop writer, though perhaps that includes income not from writing). Nevertheless: "She estimated to the Society of Authors that she works for about 2p an hour". We're not familiar with her work, but given that she is published by Faber and Orion, is widely translated, and fairly well-known it seems hard to believe -- or really, really depressing -- that her weekly take averages out, over the year, to a mere £ 66.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More on Weidenfeld Translation Prize

       We mentioned the Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize a few days ago, lamenting the lack of coverage and information about it. Here one more small mention: an Angel Books-representative, Antony Wood, writes to The Bookseller.
       We like his enthusiasm about the "galaxy of British translation prizes" (how many can you name ?), and while we understand his pride in the fact that:
Angel Books is the only publisher devoted entirely to translations of foreign literature
       This also strikes us as a pretty sad fact.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Translation in Yemen

       In the Yemen Observer Zaid Al-Alaya’a writes about Translation: A Cry for Help , an interview with Abdul-Rahman Abd Rabu (link first seen at Languor Management and translation eXchange).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Holy Smoke review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Tonino Benacquista's Holy Smoke.

       Also worth a look: what else Bitter Lemon Press is doing .....
       (P.S. Contrary to Antony Wood's claim (see above), Bitter Lemon looks like another publisher "devoted entirely to translations of foreign literature".)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

14 July 2005 - Thursday

Nominating Quills | | The Invisible Player review

       Nominating Quills

       Bookslut notes that The Quills' nominating process has now begun. Nothing for the masses, yet -- you can't be trusted ! -- but 'The Quills Nominating Board' does consist of "approximately 6,000 invited booksellers and librarians". But check out the criteria: books must meet one of the following:
  • Starred reviews in Publishers Weekly
  • Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Program
  • BookSense Picks
  • Borders© Original Voices
  • Bestseller lists from Publishers Weekly, Book Sense, Barnes & Noble, and Borders
       In other words: the possibilities are very limited.
       They don't really seem too sure (or don't want to specify) exactly what kind of books they're honouring. On the one hand, they say they awards are "designed to celebrate and honor the most popular and prestigious authors of fiction and non-fiction", on the other hand (but the same page) they claim they're honouring: "the current titles readers deem most entertaining and enlightening". And elsewhere they state they're "created to inspire reading while promoting literacy" (how, exactly, demanding nominated titles are bestsellers or got starred review in PW, etc. helps accomplish that is unclear to us).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       We hope you visit all the constituent parts daily anyway (we certainly try to), but BritLitBlogs conveniently assembles them (or at least their headlines) all in one place:
the latest posts from six British blogs about books, literature, culture and more

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Invisible Player review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Giuseppe Pontiggia's The Invisible Player.

       It's a volume in 'The Eridanos Library', which had a great list of translated titles (Musil, Lernet-Holenia, Akutagawa, Bufalino, von Doderer, Pirandello) in very nice editions, but doesn't seem to have survived very long. Maybe the books were too fancy (and too obscure ?) -- but worth keeping an eye out for at used bookstores: it's all interesting stuff.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

13 July 2005 - Wednesday

New translations of The Tin Drum ? | More Incendiary
A different translation problem | Lessons of the Masters review

       New translations of The Tin Drum ?

       Deutsche Welle follows Günter Grass to Danzig (Gdansk) in German Literary Giant Looks Homeward, and tucked in the article is a bombshell:
Not long ago, Grass sat down with his translators to discuss a new version of The Tin Drum.
       Looking around, we do find a couple of mentions of this. This dpa report from a couple of months ago notes that Alfred A. Knopf agreed in writing to either revert the English-language rights or to work on a new translation with Grass. (We'd have figured they would have insisted on one or the other, but, hey, it's the publishing industry, and nothing they do makes much sense to us.) It's not that Grass thinks the 1961 Ralph Mannheim translation is bad, his German publishers emphasise (diplomatically ...), it's that he'd like to see a contemporary version.
       (No surprise that we haven't heard anything in the English-language press about this: Random House surely want to keep this quiet so that they can flog the old version (see their publicity page) as long as possible .....)
       Meanwhile, LCB report on Günter Grass und seine Übersetzer in Gdansk: apparently new translations of The Tin Drum are planned in several languages, and Grass had assembled the translators (as he likes to do) to check out some of the locales and discuss the text. The US representative (and presumably the translator of the new English-language version): Breon Mitchell (see his faculty page and his profile at ALTA).
       We'll try and look into this, and see if we can get you additional information.

       (Updated - 14 July): Coincidentally we received today a copy of Marcel Beyer's Spies, translated by none other than Breon Mitchell -- and the Harcourt press release mentions: "He is currently working on a new translation of The Tin Drum by Günter Grass, which will be published by Harcourt in 2008. " (2008 ??!?!)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More Incendiary

       As we mentioned a few day's ago, the London bombings last week occurred on the same day that Chris Cleave's Incendiary came out -- leading to a quick axing of the ad campaign for it.
       We feel sort of bad for the guy: a tragic turn of events gets him undreamed-for publicity -- of the sort no one wants but from which his book can't help but benefit. We figure that, were it not for this turn of events (and despite the original ad campaign), the book would have attracted some attention but sunk out of sight pretty fast: it's a bad book (reviews have been middling, with Lawrence Norfolk in -- no surprise -- the Telegraph -- the most notable exception). Now readers across the globe have heard about it (lots of weblog mentions, too) and many will be tempted to have a look at it. (People are definitely curious: it's been among our most-accessed reviews for the past couple of days.)
       Cleave (or his PR people) have done a major overhaul of his official site and the publisher's minisite: no more explosive Flash-graphics -- and the message board at his site is certainly of some interest. And now he gets space to publish his reflections on what's happened -- Longing for revenge (in -- hey ! surprise ! -- the Telegraph). If you're going to write something like that -- and we'd have figured it to be a very big if -- then his tack is probably the correct one, emphasising the insignificance of fiction compared to the horrible reality of what happened last week. Still, we couldn't help but feel disappointed to read:
I don't think my book is unusually prescient -- we all knew this was coming -- but none of my months of imagining the horror prepared me for the reality of it.
       Cleave probably had no choice but to admit to failure in this manner, but what does this say about an author ? We agree: Cleave's fiction is feeble -- but what the hell is he doing writing about such horror if he can't even properly imagine it ? Can't -- shouldn't -- fiction transcend reality ? Our (idealised ? unrealistic ?) ideal of the author is someone who can imagine -- and convey -- the horror, whether they have lived it or not, who is convinced of the superiority of his or her vision over any reality (as the best books are). Incendiary offers the ghastly pictures (but anybody can imagine those) but little more (well, there's some weird class-conflict stuff going on too, but that's another issue ...).
       The Telegraph -- Cleave-central -- also offer a profile of the author by Murphy Williams -- from pre-7 July, but only now available online. We learn that previous terrible events affected Cleave:
From then on, Cleave was paralysed. He could no longer take seriously the escapist comedy he had almost finished, about a Brooklyn undertaker married to a pornographer in the 1980s and the joint business venture they dream up. He needed to write something worthwhile, something his son might thank him for one day.
       Ouch ! When writers "need" to write something, that's always dangerous territory. And write something "worthwhile" ? Apparently writing about something tragic and serious is equated with it being "worthwhile" -- but Incendiary proves that's anything but the case. A serious subject-matter -- and what could be more topical and relevant ? -- does not make for a book that's necessarily worthwhile -- or worth anything. And a bad book -- and Cleave's book is frustratingly bad (see, again, our review for why we think so) -- is worth none of your while, regardless of its subject-matter or the specific circumstances when it appears.

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       A different translation problem

       In Under the influence Nicholas Blincoe recounts his own sad translation experiences. The Russian translator of his book finished work in prison, but this was no "heroic dissident, struggling against a soulless state", as Blincoe had hoped:
As you can imagine, it is bad enough to be told that your translator is a psychopath. It is even worse when the novel in question deals with relations between Israelis and Palestinians in East Jerusalem

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       Lessons of the Masters review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of George Steiner's Lessons of the Masters.

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12 July 2005 - Tuesday

Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize | Toni Morrison's honorary degree
Harry Mathews in London | Sun and Shadow review

       Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize

       The Oxford Weidenfeld Translation Prize was announced 8 June, and we first learnt about it through the small advert listing the shortlist and winner in the 24 June TLS, but we figured there'd be additional coverage to be found somewhere eventually, so we held off on commenting. Alas, translation prizes apparently generate about as much interest as translations themselves: little to none. The best we've found regarding this year's prize is a nice profile of the winner (Denis Jackson for his translation of Theodor Storm's Paul the Puppeteer) in the Isle of Wight County Press
       The shortlist is fairly interesting, and leans heavily towards the classic: other shortlisted titles included books by Gogol, Chekhov, and Flaubert. Several of the translations are new versions of previously translated titles.
       But even if there are unsurprising selections (two OUP World Classics volumes, a Penguin), the shortlist is of some interest. First we learned about The Maia Press, for example (Merete Morken Andersen's Oceans of Time -- see their publicity page -- made the shortlist).
       And the prize-winning translation (published by tiny Angel Books; get your copy at leads us to the translator's interesting Theodor Storm site.

       (This is the sort of story that, absent links or much information, we figured we wouldn't bother you with, but even though it's a small prize, there's quite a bit to note and comment on here. We wish we had the patience and time to seek out more detail -- information about each of the shortlisted titles, a bit more about Storm for all you who have no idea who the guy was (though the translator's site provides a good overview and introduction), etc. It's a shame there was not more press coverage .....)

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       Toni Morrison's honorary degree

       Toni Morrison recently picked up an honorary doctorate at Oxford (on 22 June). Not much press coverage, but read the Latin text lauding her (scroll down for the English translation, if you must).
       It just sounds so much better when they intone:
Praesento scrutatricem humani pectoris sagacem ac misericordem, scriptricem arte et epica et lyrica sollertissimam, Antoniam Morrison

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       Harry Mathews in London

       Tonight, at 19:00, Harry Mathews with Mark Ford at the London Review Bookshop, talking about his recent My Life in CIA.
       Mathews is an interesting character and usually puts on a good show; worth checking out if you're in the neighbourhood.

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       Sun and Shadow review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Åke Edwardson's Sun and Shadow.

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11 July 2005 - Monday

Playing softball with John Irving | Claude Simon obituaries
Dark Water - the movie | Goodreports facelift

       Playing softball with John Irving

       John Irving's new book, Until I Find You, is available in bookstores today, so the weekend saw quite a bit of review coverage (see our review for quotes, links, etc.) -- a surprisingly mixed bag.
       Puff-coverage shouldn't surprise us, but Malcolm Jones' anything-but-hard-hitting conversation with Irving in Newsweek, This Boy's Life was particularly disappointing. Such almost entirely uncritical author-conversations aren't unusual, but this one does promise: "John Irving fights for his autobiographical new novel" and "Malcolm Jones and the novelist wrestled over the merits of the book" and neither is really true.
       Jones lobs softball after softball, and when he does throw in a critical comment -- "I had a problem with the omniscient narration. I could never figure out who was telling the story" -- there's not much attempt to get a response. Part of the problem is, of course, also Jones' reading of the book: anyone who can say: "Until I Find You has one of the most satisfying endings I've read in ages" obviously had a very different reading experience than we did.
       The fact that: "Malcolm Jones and the novelist wrestled over the merits of the book at Irving's family vacation spot in Canada" probably didn't help: how hard can you be on a guy when you're visiting him at his vacation retreat ?
       (We generally don't get the whole author-interview thing, but there is more than enough they could have discussed (including the autobiographical basis of the book). The conversation they did have -- or at least what got printed in the magazine -- , however, seems practically entirely pointless.)

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       Claude Simon obituaries

       As we mentioned yesterday, Claude Simon passed away last week. There are now a few obituaries: see, for example, those in:
       (Updated - 12 July): See also:
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       Dark Water - the movie

       The movie-adaptation (actually: the second) of one of the stories in Suzuki Koji's collection, Dark Water, opened on Friday, to very mixed reviews. Here an overview:
       (Updated - 12 July): See also Thomas Hibbs's review in the National Review, who opines: "this film is a real contender for worst film released this year (.....) Dark Water is in a category of bad film all to itself".

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       Goodreports facelift

       After a couple of weeks off, is back -- with a slightly new look.

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