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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 January 2006

11 January: Finland conquering the literary world ? | Foreign titles in Israel | Translation subsidies in Germany | The Accidental review
12 January: Another Shivaji ban | German translation issues | Hindi literature | Keene column | January/Winter issues
13 January: First Lolita, now Gerard Manley Hopkins in Tehran ? | Rushdie in Russia -- finally | Bulgarian literature | Wat reviews
14 January: Kadare translation comments | Redundant 'literary' fiction ? | Susan Hill looks independent | Canadian book-buying
15 January: Beats in San Francisco | Es geht uns gut review
16 January: Arundhati Roy turns down award | Bestselling French authors | Literary editors blogging ? | LBC Read This selection | Glass Soup review
17 January: NBCC finalists | US as Frankfurt Book Fair Guest of Honour ? | LNR Books Diary turns into The Midnight Bell
18 January: A different book publishing strategy | Akutagawa and Naoki Prizes | Mahfouz and the censors | Night translations | Orphan of Asia review
19 January: Rushdie on Islamists' sexual fear | Premio Grinzane Cavour and conference | Hutch Crossword Book Award shortlists | Mulisch contoroversy (?)
20 January: Translating respect | Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist | CIBF | Chicago Tribune books section | David Irving commentary | Lolita in China, finally unabridged | Company review

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20 January 2006 - Friday

Translating respect | Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist | CIBF
Chicago Tribune books section | David Irving commentary
Lolita in China, finally unabridged | Company review

       Translating respect

       So yesterday we got an e-mail from Random House publicity asking us to: "Please note the correct spelling below of the translator's name for your review of American Vertigo." The book in question is by Bernard-Henri Lévy, the translator's name -- correctly spelt -- Charlotte Mandell.
       We actually don't have the book under review -- in fact, we just received our (unsolicited) copy after we got the e-mail -- and the e-mail obviously wasn't directed specifically at us but rather at all and sundry. It suggests, however, that somewhere along the line a misspelt variation on Ms.Mandell's name had been put into circulation -- or so we thought.
       We got the press release for the book a couple of weeks back, and find there the translator's name correctly spelt -- and in nice big letters, too, almost as big as the author's name. So we wondered why this issue cropped up. And then we got the book .....
       So, of course, we looked to see how Ms. Mandell's name had been spelt in the book. We needn't have bothered. It turns out they didn't bother spelling it at all -- or making any mention that this is a translated work (at least not in any of the obvious places -- maybe there's a hidden reference somewhere in the text itself, which we haven't gotten too).
       No mention on the front cover, or the back cover.
       No mention on the flaps.
       No mention on the copyright page (!).
       There's a page 'About the Author', just short of 100 words on BHL, and there's a page 'About the Type' (about the type, for god's sake, 90+ words worth), but there's no indication that the book was not originally written in English.
       Yes, readers are informed that: "This book is set in Fournier ...", Simon M. Sullivan was responsible for the book design, Jan Glinski was responsible for the jacket design and photograph, and Thierry Dutoit took the author photograph -- but there's not a clue that this book is a translation. In fact, the fact is well-obscured: portions of this volume first appeared in The Atlantic Monthly, which might lead readers to believe it was written in English. And it's not a translation of a book that previously or also appeared in France (so far this volume appears to be tailored specifically to the US market), hence no mention of a French title on the copyright page. And since it's not unheard of for authors who have penned books in other languages to try to conquer the American market by trying to write in English -- and since it's described as offering "interview-based portraits", which suggests a lot of English-speaking going on -- readers might be led to believe that BHL did write this in English.
       In fact, it's not that easy to figure out that this is a translated book even for those who suspected as much but didn't get the press release. The Random House publicity page makes no mention of it being a translation either, and neither does the page. (But see the interview with Mandell at ReadySteadyBook, where she mentions it.)
       Given what is said to be the deeply ingrained aversion American readers (and some book review editors) have to works originally written in foreign languages this subterfuge probably makes sense, business-wise. Hell, by not openly acknowledging it was originally written in a foreign language they probably doubled the odds that Sam Tanenhaus would deign to allow it to be covered in The New York Times Book Review (though impressively Mr. Tanenhaus did give a full page to a review of Bouvard and Pécuchet in this coming Sunday's issue -- though Flaubert has the advantage that he is long dead (which makes him ultra-conservative Sam's favoured sort of foreign author)).
       It's not like Random House is totally denying that this is a translated work -- witness press release and e-mail -- but that's not information your average book-buyer is going to come across. 'Forgetting' Mandell's name and not giving her any prominent (or at least visible) credit in the book itself is simply shameful.
       A book originally written in a foreign language is transformed by its translator. We're not always pleased with what they do, but we damn well appreciate it (something is a lot better than nothing when it comes to texts that would otherwise be inaccessible to us). The knee-jerk reaction (at least that's what we're told) of American readers against translated works suggests a fundamental cultural problem that must be addressed. And part of that is acknowledging that another hand beside the authors had a part in making the book available in English. Just mentioning the translator's name is a start -- though we would hope for more. Covering up what are perceived as inconvenient facts -- like that a book is actually a translation -- does nothing to further reader-confidence in publishers or their products.
       New translations of previously translated works might be a good place to start. The recent new translation by Edith Grossman of Don Quixote was one of the few recent occasions when translation-issues were widely discussed (helped by the fact that the author was unavailable for publicity purposes, but the translator wasn't). Oprah's choice of Elie Wiesel's Night for her Book Club brings another (see our previous mention), as will, soon, a new translation Grass' classic The Tin Drum -- or, to mention it again, the new translation of Flaubert's Bouvard and Pécuchet

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist

       Boyd Tonkin announces The long-list for this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, the major English-language foreign fiction award (sadly, there aren't too many prizes in the running for that title).
       Sixteen works from a dozen countries made the cut, and we have four of the titles under review:        He also mentions four titles that: "failed by a slim whisker to feature on this long-list, but still carry the judges' warm endorsement", including Yamada Taichi's Strangers, and Elias Khoury's Gate of the Sun, which we'll be covering soon.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -


       The Cairo International Book Fair has opened; Al-Ahram Weekly provides the extensive schedule.
       Al-Ahram Weekly also profiles Mohamed Salmawy, President of the Egyptian Writers' Union, who sounds a bit less than enthusiastic about CIBF: "Let's talk about more interesting topics" is the best he can muster on the subject.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Chicago Tribune books section

       The Chicago Reader reports on what the Chicago Tribune is doing (and was considering doing) with their Sunday books section -- apparently "one of only five freestanding book sections in American newspapers" (link first seen at Romenesko).
       They're going tabloid-size starting 22 January -- but they were considering something even more radical: moving the section from the Sunday to the Saturday edition:
But the big reason the change appealed to the Tribune is that Saturday's press run is some 400,000 copies smaller than Sunday's. The annual savings in newsprint alone would reach half a million dollars.
       Yes, reaching 400,000 less readers is considered a good thing. Why stop there ? Think of the savings in newsprint if they just stopped putting out a newspaper at all !
       But even if they couldn't swing getting fewer readers, at least they have less space to offer actual books-coverage -- which they don't seem to mind either:
Books editor Elizabeth Taylor (...) says she's happy to go tabloid, even though she'll wind up with less space. Readers also prefer a tabloid, she tells me: "It feels more bookish."
       Hey, bind it between hard-covers and it will feel even more "bookish" .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       David Irving commentary

       We've mentioned the widespread indifference to David Irving's continuing pre-trial incarceration in Austria before, and remain surprised how little attention it's gotten. At least Ben Macintyre turns his attention to it in The Times today, in We can't deny the deniers.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Lolita in China, finally unabridged

       Xinhuanet report that Unabridged Chinese version of Lolita published:
A dozen Chinese versions of the novel have been published since summer 1989 when the novel was first translated into Chinese, but all with abridgements.
       The uncut Lolita went on sale Wednesday.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Company review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Max Barry's Company.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

19 January 2006 - Thursday

Rushdie on Islamists' sexual fear | Premio Grinzane Cavour and conference
Hutch Crossword Book Award shortlists | Mulisch contoroversy (?)

       Rushdie on Islamists' sexual fear

       Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown has just come out in Germany, and so he's doing the rounds there. An interview appears in Stern today; only a preview is available at the site at this time, but an AFP report (here at the Daily Star), West underestimates sexual fear among Islamists says Rushdie, describes much of the exchange:
British author Salman Rushdie said the West had failed to grasp the extent to which Islamic extremism was rooted in men's fear of women's sexuality, in an interview to be published Thursday.

Rushdie told German weekly magazine Stern that his latest novel, Shalimar the Clown, dealt with the deep anxiety felt among many Islamic men about female sexual freedom and lost honor.

When asked if the book drew a link between "Islamic terror and damaged male honor," Rushdie said he saw it as a crucial, and often overlooked, point.
       Well, it should make for some fun discussions.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Premio Grinzane Cavour and conference

       Assia Djebar gets to pick up the Premio Grinzane Cavour this year, but it's the literary conference surrounding it, 'Writing without Veils. Words and Women from the Maghreb to Iran', that makes this get-together worthwhile.
       See Convegno "Scrittura svelata". Venti donne arabe e del vicino Oriente al Grinzane Cavour at the official site for all the participants and the programme, and the AKI report, Arab and Iranian Women's Literary Conference Kicks Off, for more detail.
       Grinzane Cavour president Giuliano Soria is quoted as saying:
The purpose of the Turin conference is to foster greater knowledge of Arab and Islamic culture in Italy, from a female perspective, transcending widespread stereotypes that prevail in Western countries

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Hutch Crossword Book Award shortlists

       The shortlists for the Indian Hutch Crossword Book Award are out. See Jai Arjun Singh's report, In the crossfire for the award, for a rundown of the finalists and some commentary, as well as the UNI report, Amitav Ghosh announces shortlisted candidates for Hutch Award Mumbai.
       We only have two of the shortlisted titles under review, both in the English fiction category: V.S.Naipaul's Magic Seeds and Salman Rushdie's Shalimar the Clown.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Mulisch contoroversy (?)

       Not much information available about this yet, and we're not sure we should dignify it with a mention, but it will be interesting to see how this plays out: it seems that a Dutch journalist, Dick Verkijk, has published a pamphlet claiming that Harry Mulisch wasn't always as anti-Nazi as he claims. Harry Mulisch - Anti-Nazi is provocatively subtitled: "Maar sinds wanneer ?" -- 'But since when ?' Based on two separate eyewitness accounts, Verkijk claims Harry was a member of the Nationale Jeugdstorm, the youth organisation of the NSB -- i.e. the Dutch variation of the Hitler-Youth. (Mulisch figures they must have mistaken his "padvindersuniform" with that of the Nationale Jeugdstorm.)
       The only English-language report we have found is the brief note, Mulisch denies NSB link (last item), at Expatica -- but we haven't come across much Dutch information either. Pamflet: ‘Mulisch was lid van Jeugdstorm’ at de Volkskrant is about as extensive as it gets -- and does have Mulisch's reaction, including his assessment of his denouncer: "Verkijk is een psychologisch geval, een creep" ('Verkijk is a head-case, a creep'). (Mulisch also offers: "Waarschijnlijk is hij jaloers op mijn succes, dat is nog het beste wat je ervan kunt zeggen" ('Probably he's jealous of my success -- which is still the best thing you can say about him'.)
       For more information about the book -- of the publisher-publicity sort -- you can check out the Uitgeverij ASPEKt catalogue (a big pdf file) -- it's on page 2.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

18 January 2006 - Wednesday

A different book publishing strategy | Akutagawa and Naoki Prizes
Mahfouz and the censors | Night translations | Orphan of Asia review

       A different book publishing strategy

       So here's a different book publishing strategy, aimed not at your average consumer but at the dedicated -- really, really dedicated -- sports fan with large amounts of disposable income.
       A few weeks ago Andrew Murray-Watson reported in The Telegraph on one of the forthcoming ventures from 'Kraken Media' (an off-shoot of the Kraken Group -- though we couldn't find any information about what they're up to at their website), in Read the Formula 1 story - for $3,000:
The contract will see Kraken produce a limited 10,000 print run of an F1 "opus" book, costing a minimum of $3,000 each.
The luxury tome, which will be half a metre square in size and run to more than 1,000 pages, will include the story of Ecclestone's management of F1. It will be the first time the F1 maestro has given permission for his involvement to be documented
       Two weeks later Adam Fresco reported in The Times that Fans pay £100,000 for their own piece of sporting history:
The first on the market is a leather handbound 900-page opus on Manchester United that weighs 36kg and measures 50cm by 50cm. It includes 2,000 pictures, many of which have never been seen before.

Some 10,000 of the books are being produced and they will be signed by Sir Bobby Charlton, but 1,000 copies will also contain the signatures of Sir Alex Ferguson, Eric Cantona and other famous Manchester United names.

The books cost £3,000 each, with the special editions going for about £5,000
       And yesterday Richard Sandomir described their book on the so-called 'Super Bowl' (that American football championship game), in the (reluctantly linked to) Super Bowl Excess for a Sturdy Coffee Table.
       It has a sizable print run (20,000), and even more sizable dimensions (85 pounds !) and content (500,000 words) and price tag ($4,000 for each of the first 19,600 copies, $25,000 (!) for an MVP-edition, signed by every living 'Super Bowl' MVP ...).
       Not much information elsewhere -- none of the books seem to be on sale at any of the expected outlets (the ManU site,, etc -- but the 'Super Bowl' book is only due out in early fall) or at -- but it'll be interesting to see whether this is a viable publishing formula.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Akutagawa and Naoki Prizes

       Two of the major Japanese literature prizes have been awarded, the Akutagawa and the Naoki.
       See:        Nothing by Akutagawa-winner Itoyama Akiko appears to be available in English, but Naoki-winner Higashino Keigo's earlier novel, Naoko, is available (from Vertical) -- see also our review.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Mahfouz and the censors

       As reported by Riad Abu Awad, here at Middle East Online, Mahfouz seeks clerical ‘OK’ for ‘Children of Gebelaw’ (story first seen at Bookslut).
       Mahfouz's novel has not been released in Egypt in book form (it was, however, originally published there in serial-form), and as the article points out, not everyone is thrilled that Mahfouz is asking for permission.
       He addressed some of these questions in an interview with Hamdi Abdin published two weeks ago in Asharq Alawsat, A Talk with Nobel Prize Winning Author Naguib Mahfouz:
Q: Why did you tell Dar al Shorouq [publishing house] to seek al Azhar’s consent if they wanted to publish your novel The Children of Gebelawi and make it available across Egypt ?
A: During the reign of Abdul Nasser, I agreed with the censorship authorities to publish the novel outside Egypt. He said I could publish here but I would need the consent of al Azhar first. I respect this agreement and will continue to abide by it for the rest of my life.
       And perhaps people are right not to be thrilled about this step, as Mahfouz's opinions on the subject are fairly disturbing:
Q: Do you support the censorship of artistic creations ?
A: Censorship is necessary because art is shown to a wide audience. It requires guidance and restriction. This does not harm art but protects producers as well as artists.
Q: How does censorship protect the producer ?
A: If censorship was nonexistent, producers would do as they please. But when a censorship department guides them and advises them, it is protecting them from attacks and potential losses.
       Meanwhile, there are also issues concerning the English version -- or rather versions. It's been translated twice, first by P.J.Stewart, as Children of Gebelaawi (get your copy at or, or see the MELA Notes review), and then by Peter Theroux as Children of the Alley (get your copy at or Usefully, Stewart comments on the situation and the Theroux translation at (it's the first reader-review), but we haven't been able to find any thorough third-party coverage. The NYTBR review (Mary Hawthorne, 18 February 1996), for example, only notes:
Children of the Alley actually marks the second publication in English of the novel. The first was brought out in 1981, to little notice, by the American University in Cairo Press, under the title Children of Gebelaawi.
       We have quite a bit of Mahfouz under review, but not this title - but now we're really intrigued.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Night translations

       As widely noted, the popular TV book-club hosted by Oprah is tackling Elie Wiesel's Night.
       This book has done very well over the decades, but it was originally translated from the Yiddish Wiesel wrote it in into French, and then into English. (Wiesel wrote his later books in French, but that one in Yiddish.) Now a new edition is coming out, truer to the original. At the official site Wiesel explains the situation (more or less):
The reader would be entitled to ask: Why this new translation, since the earlier one has been around for forty-five years ? If it is not faithful or not good enough, why did I wait so long to replace it with one better and closer to the original ?

In response, I would say only that back then, I was an unknown writer who was just getting started. My English was far from good. When my British publisher told me that he had found a translator, I was pleased. I later read the translation and it seemed all right. I never reread it. Since then, many of my other works have been translated by Marion, my wife, who knows my voice and how to transmit it better than anyone else. I am fortunate: when Farrar, Straus and Giroux asked her to prepare a new translation, she accepted. I am convinced that the readers will appreciate her work. In fact, as a result of her rigorous editing, I was able to correct and revise a number of important details.
       Pre-order your copy -- of the right, new edition ! -- at and

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Orphan of Asia review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Wu Zhuoliu's Orphan of Asia -- and it too is unusual: Wu was a leading Taiwanese writer, but he wrote this book in Japanese.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

17 January 2006 - Tuesday

NBCC finalists | US as Frankfurt Book Fair Guest of Honour ?
LNR Books Diary turns into The Midnight Bell

       NBCC finalists

       As widely reported, the National Book Critics Circle has announced the finalists for this year's awards. (Rather daringly, the NBCCAs are a pure prestige award: no money changes hands.) See, for example, the much-reprinted AP report -- or, more usefully, The Written Nerd's on-site report of the festivities. ((Updated - 18 January): See now also the report at House of Mirth.)
       Six categories and we actually have one of the finalists in each, except Poetry, under review: Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go (Fiction), Svetlana Alexievich's Voices from Chernobyl (General Nonfiction), Jonathan Coe's Like a Fiery Elephant (Biography), Orhan Pamuk's Istanbul (Autobiography), and Eliot Weinberger's What Happened Here (Criticism).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       US as Frankfurt Book Fair Guest of Honour ?

       Korea was the 2005 'Guest of Honour' at the Frankfurt Book Fair, India is up this year, 'La cultura catalana' (i.e. Catalonia) in 2007 ... and the US in 2008 ?
       Those are the fears reports in Germany -- though since the cause for all the talk is that German chancellor Angela Merkel apparently floated the idea to the American president on her recent visit to the US there's probably not too much reason for concern. (The poor guy probably had no idea what the hell she was talking about ... a bookie fair ? 2008 ? Frankfurters ? Huh ?)
       The trade paper report, Bundeskanzlerin Angela Merkel schlägt USA als Gastland vor, sounds less than thrilled, but the dpa report (see, for example, Buchmesse hofft auf USA) tries to put a positive spin on it. Apparently there have been previous efforts to have the Americans take on guest-honours, but given their international market dominance -- especially in Frankfurt, year after year -- they never thought it worth their while.
       No reports in the American press yet. (Maybe this is just something the Merkel people are floating to the German press, to pretend that she and the jr. Bush actually touched upon such cultural-business matters .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       LNR Books Diary turns into The Midnight Bell

       The London News Review Books Diary got a lot of good press (including making a few top-ten literary weblog lists) -- perhaps out of proportion to what was actually on offer at the infrequently updated site. For a while it disappeared entirely -- but now it's back, as The Midnight Bell.
       Which we hope will be updated more regularly.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

16 January 2006 - Monday

Arundhati Roy turns down award | Bestselling French authors
Literary editors blogging ? | LBC Read This selection | Glass Soup review

       Arundhati Roy turns down award

       James English's much-discussed and reviewed The Economy of Prestige apparently teaches that what every good literary award needs is a bit of controversy. Arundhati Roy is doing her part to help out the Sahitya Akademi folk: they awarded her the 2005 Sahitya Akademi Award in English for The Algebra of Infinite Justice (get your copy at or -- and she has turned it down.
       She wasn't too picky about her reasons either: as India Daily reports in Arundhati Roy stands up against Indian oligarchs and special interests:
Roy (...) said in a letter to the Akademi that "we are witness to police lathicharge on workers in Gurgaon, the killings of those agitating against big dam in Manipur and of tribals demonstrating against a steel unit in Orissa".

The government was also keeping mum on "unconstitutional capture" of Afghanistan and Iraq by the US, she said.
       We're all against mum-keeping too, but .....
       What's really interesting, however, is that Roy's book appears to have only been the third choice. As Kounteya Sinha reports in Arundhati declines Akademi honour in the Times of India:
Before Arundhati Roy, the jury had two other people in mind. But both turned out to be British citizens. An official told TOI: "The jury had first selected Lahore-born, Glasgow-bred and now Mumbai-settled Imtiaz Dharker for her collection of poetry

Then we found out she had recently become a British citizen. So the announcement was not made. Then another poet was chosen, whose name was never revealed. He also turned out to be UK-based. Finally, Arundhati Roy was chosen for her book 'The Algebra of Infinite Justice'."
       All of which should make for considerable -- if not very flattering -- press coverage for the award.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Bestselling French authors

       Which French authors sold the most books in 2005 ? In Les dix romanciers français qui ont vendu le plus de livres en 2005 in Le Figaro Mohammed Aïssaoui and Dominique Guiou offer answers -- of sorts.
       What they're looking at is French authors and their book-sales in France. So Goncourt-winner François Weyergans whose Trois jours chez ma mère reportedly (see Le prix Goncourt, ça change tout in La Presse) sold close to 400,000 copies in 2005 -- albeit in all the Francophone markets, not just France itself -- isn't counted, presumably since he is Belgian (though we're not sure how fellow Belgian Amélie Nothomb slips in at number 3 ...).
       Click through Les dix best-sellers français de 2005 -- and learn that ... Marc Lévy was number one (thanks to great backlist sales), with 2,313,000 copies sold. (Marc who ? Actually, you might have heard of one of his books -- apparently the only one available in translation -- the basis for the 2005 Reese Witherspoon vehicle, Just Like Heaven (and published under both that title and as If Only it were True; get your copy at
       Number 2 is another guy who hasn't been much-translated into English, Bernard Werber, with 1,225,000 copies sold, followed by Nothomb, Anna Gavalda, and Fred Vargas.
       Michel Houellebecq barely makes the top 10 with 410,000 -- and just slips in on the basis of solid sales for his newest, La Possibilité d'une île, with around 260,000 copies sold (we'd have thought sales of his older books would have been higher ...).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Literary editors blogging ?

       In The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette books editor Bob Hoover is unsure whether To blog or not to blog ?
       We're all for it ! Frank Wilson of The Philadelphia Inquirer (Books, Inq.) and TLS-man Peter Stothard have led the way, and we'd love it if more editors took the leap as well.
       Hoover has his doubts -- and it's amusing to see him write on the one hand: "Also, outside of their mothers, it's hard to figure out whom these bloggers are targeting" and then write about his own columns that have received: "little or no feedback". About the latter he claims:
but I don't write them because I'm lonely and want mail. I do it to let you know what's happening.
       It doesn't seem to occur to him that 'bloggers' might be doing the same (rather than "targeting" an audience) ....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       LBC Read This selection

       By the time you read this, the next Litblog Co-op Read This selection should be available at the official site -- with much more information to follow there.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Glass Soup review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Jonathan Carroll's Glass Soup.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

15 January 2006 - Sunday

Beats in San Francisco | Es geht uns gut review

       Beats in San Francisco

       Lots of coverage of the opening of The Beat Museum in San Francisco -- as well as of an exhibit at the San Francisco Public Library, On the Road: The Jack Kerouac Manuscript (the whole a 120-foot long scroll-manuscript). See, for example, Carl Nolte on New museum, public display pay homage to Beat generation in the San Francisco Chronicle or Justin Norton's AP report.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Es geht uns gut review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Arno Geiger's Es geht uns gut.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

14 January 2006 - Saturday

Kadare translation comments | Redundant 'literary' fiction ?
Susan Hill looks independent | Canadian book-buying

       Kadare translation comments

       Ismail Kadare's The Successor is getting decent review coverage. We hope eventually also to get to it, but for now we're keeping our eyes on the translation-reception (as with almost all of Kadare's work this one is presented second-hand: David Bellos' translation is from the French translation; see also, of course, Bellos on The Englishing of Ismail Kadare at our very own crQ).
       Two more British reviews this week: in The Times today Misha Glenny takes it on and opines:
Kadare is a great author so it sad that, 15 years after the fall of communism in Albania, his work is still translated into English via French and not directly from Albanian. This results in some awkwardness and offers further evidence of the decline in interest among British publishers in embracing foreign literature. Had Kadare not won the International Booker then this strange, enlightening novel would have been denied us. How many other Kadares dwell in such unwarranted obscurity ?
       We're not so sure we would have been denied -- Kadare has a pretty good record of being published in English, and, as we recall, Canongate signed him up before the prize was announced -- but we're pretty sure that there are many other worthies who do dwell in unwarranted obscurity.
       Meanwhile, in The Spectator this week (not freely accessible) Francis King also reviews it -- and notes:
Some people knowledgeable about Albania have criticised Kadare for having been far more cosy with Hoxha than he would have us now believe. However that may be, The Successor must nonetheless be hailed as a brilliant autopsy on the corpse of a ghastly regime. My only dissatisfaction is with the translation. I know no Albanian but I cannot help feeling that something is amiss. (...) Oddly, the translator David Bellos worked not from the Albanian original but from a version in French.

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       Redundant 'literary' fiction ?

       The Sydney Morning Herald offers part of Malcolm Knox's recent Overland lecture as Fiction as reality check, where he weighs in on an old debate, arguing:
What is literary fiction anyway ? Usually it is posed as an opposite for "commercial", and so commercial fiction is what sells in large numbers, and literary fiction is what doesn't sell. But this ignores the fact that most fiction that is written to a formula, for a mass audience, does not sell any more than non-formula fiction. Your average Australian thriller or chick-lit novel sells no more than a work of literary fiction. And sometimes, as in the case of Tim Winton, non-generic fiction sells in large quantities.

We are confused because we have no viable working definition for what is "literary". Let me propose such a definition.
       Ah, but is 'literary' fiction down under the same as in the US or the UK ... ?

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       Susan Hill looks independent

       A week ago Macmillan-man Richard Charkin published some commentary from Susan Hill at his weblog, as A message from Susan Hill: Small bookshops, in which she voices her disappointment with how some independents she visited go about their business.
       There's been some reaction (Indies clash with author at Publishing News) and mention (The underside of independent bookselling at GalleyCat), but she'll get a wider hearing (and presumably more reactions) now that her piece has been reprinted in today's issue of The Guardian, as How David can fight Goliath.
       The PN piece already suggests that someone will be willing to take her up on her offer/challenge -- "I wish someone would give me the chance to stock a small independent bookshop" -- and we look forward to reading about the outcome a few months from now.

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       Canadian book-buying

       The National Post reports on Cross-border reading, finding that: New tracking info shows Canadians prefer U.S. titles to home-grown books.

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13 January 2006 - Friday

First Lolita, now Gerard Manley Hopkins in Tehran ? | Rushdie in Russia -- finally
Bulgarian literature | Wat reviews

       First Lolita, now Gerard Manley Hopkins in Tehran ?

       Azar Nafisi tried Reading Lolita in Tehran, with considerable success, but there are other literary discussion groups in town too. In the New Statesman (not very readily accessible) Cyrus Shahrad writes about the Tehran Hopkins Club -- which looks pretty darn impressive. (Shahrad previously wrote about it for The Iran News; the article is available at the club-website, here (scroll down).)
       As they explain:
The Club was founded by a few students as the inevitable consequence of the growth of the popularity of English in Iran and, on the other hand, the scientific shortcomings of the universities offering English literature courses.

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       Rushdie in Russia -- finally

       We wouldn't have thought that one of Salman Rushdie's books getting published in Russia is a big deal -- but it turns out it is. As Victor Sonkin points out in his Salon-column in The Moscow Times, none of his work had previously been translated into Russian:
With the publication of Midnight's Children (Дети полуночи) by St. Petersburg's Limbus Press last month, Russia saw the first major work by Salman Rushdie in print.
Limbus Press announced plans to publish a four-volume collection of Rushdie's works. It is notable that the publishers deliberately excluded The Satanic Verses from the list. A news release on their web site concedes the omission and describes the trail of violence tied to the novel.

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       Bulgarian literature

       CESLIT points us to Magdalena Rahn's article on Recommended reads from The Sofia Echo, a fairly extensive survey of leading Bulgarian authors (some from way back) whose works have been translated into English: Elisaveta Bagriana, Georgi Gospodinov, Stefan Kisyov, Aleko Konstantinov, Elin Pelin, Georgi Rakovski, Ivan Vazov, and Yordan Yovkov.
       We've reviewed Gospodinov's Natural Novel -- but good luck finding editions by most of these other authors .....

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       Wat reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two books by Aleksander Wat:        My Century got great reviews and is widely hailed as a classic. No question: it's powerful, and filled with interesting detail -- but let's be honest, this truncated English version is also a mess.
       What seems to win everyone over is, of course, the sense of 'authenticity', which compensates for and apparently excuses many other flaws. (It must be said that Wat also has quite a few interesting things to say, but the best thing that can be said about the presentation -- a transcript of his conversations with Czeslaw Milosz, radically cut and with no annotations -- is that it's better than nothing .....)
       We've never gotten this memoir-fascination (especially pronounced in America) which is now in the spotlight due to the ridiculous James Frey's twist on autobiography. (Nevertheless, the genre is unavoidable, and we have more than our fair share under review.) But publishers know that readers love to believe that what they're reading is a real life story. (We don't understand why more people don't see what we do: that fiction is so obviously superior .....)

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12 January 2006 - Thursday

Another Shivaji ban | German translation issues | Hindi literature
Keene column | January/Winter issues

       Another Shivaji ban

       A while back we reported on the ugly reactions to James Laine's Shivaji in India; see our crQ-coverage here.
       Pathologically Polymathic now alerts us to the banning of another Laine title -- the earlier Epic of Shivaji. As widely reported -- see, for example, Maharashtra bans another book on Shivaji, copies seized:
Police seized 24 copies of James Laine's book, Epic of Shivaji, from publisher Orient Longman on Tuesday after the Maharashtra Government banned the book.

It was banned on Monday under Section 95 of the Criminal Procedure Code. This is the second book by the American author to be banned in the State.
       If it weren't so serious it would be hilarious. Sadly, they are serious. It took them a while to fiugure it out - the book came out in 2001 -- but:
"The second book calls Shivaji an oedipal rebel and therefore we sought the ban in a complaint to the Deputy Chief Minister, R.R. Patil," said P.N. Godge, lawyer of Shivaji's 13th descendant, Udayan Raje Bhosale. Mr. Bhosale is a party in the case against the first book.
       Truly, we're having trouble holding back the laughter behind the tears. But at least we're relieved to hear there hasn't been any book-related rioting -- yet.
       And you have to be impressed that:
The Government said in a press note that the book had hurt the feelings of the people.

"The Government has taken serious note of writings on Chhatrapati Shivaji and his parents which are objectionable, in bad taste and done with ill-motive. The distribution of the book having mischievous writing could threaten law and order and overall stability in the society," it said.
       At least not everybody is aboard with this insanity: see, for example, Don’t subvert freedom to express at DNA.

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       German translation issues

       About a month ago we mentioned a court decision regarding remuneration for (literary) translators in Germany that was widely feared could have major repercussions on the publishing of translated works in Germany (making it prohibitively expensive, so the publishers).
       Hannes Hintermaier goes into it in more depth in the FAZ, in Dann wird dieses Land andere Literaturverlage bekommen, as the Arbeitsgemeinschaft Publikumsverlage meet these days to discuss the issue. Hintermaier gets lots of hard numbers from one of the leading popular-literary publishers, Hanser, which supposedly demonstrate the catastrophic impact the ruling would have. (Note that some of the reader-comments express some doubts about some of the maths, and that the spin in the article is certainly very one-sided.)
       Regardless of the numbers-games being played, the article does offer good data about quite a few of their titles. According to the article, Hanser published 42 fiction titles in 2005, 23 in translation. Sixteen of these sold less than 10,000 copies, one over 100,000 (by Anna Gavalda), and three more over 50,000 copies (books by Philip Roth, Orhan Pamuk, and T.C. Boyle). (Among the 19 German titles, only two (!) sold more than 10,000 copies -- but both sold a lot more, Arno Geiger's Es geht uns gut (our review should be up by the end of the week) leading the way with a slightly too specific sounding 177,803 copies sold.)
       Other titbits: the last volume of the collected works of Elias Canetti sold a mere 679 copies, and essays (it's unclear whether one or all the books of essays from the backlist are meant) by Jorge Luis Borges solid a pathetic 466. (Don't the Germans know how lucky they are -- most of Borges' non-fiction is available in German translation, while little more than a sampling is available in English .....)

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       Hindi literature

       Neha Sharma reports in The Asian Age that Romance of Hindustan lies in its language: Hina.
       Pakistani writer Zahida Hina is in town, and:
Though fond of India and its people, what upsets her the most about the country is how Hindi is being ignored. "The romance of Hindustan lies in its traditions and language, Hindi. But not many people use it in their day-to-day conversation these days, which is unfortunate," she says.

In addition to the growing popularity of the English language, Zahida feels that an increased penetration by the multi-nationals and foreign brands into the Indian market is not a healthy sign. According to her, "actual imperialism has now hit the country", and "people are grabbing the opportunity to be colonised".
       But there's still a bit of interest -- witness Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh presiding over the release of new editions of two Premchand titles -- see, for example: Premchand's work greatly influenced progressive forces: PM:
Complimenting the National Book Trust for the simultaneous release of the translations, Dr Singh said he was hopeful that the trust will take up the cause of promoting Indian literature and "unleash a powerful movement for national integration".
       (See also our review of Premchand's The Gift of a Cow.)

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       Keene column

       We're not quite sure this is something to look forward to, but starting 14 January Donald Keene will be offering a column "provisionally titled Chronicles of My Life in the 20th Century" in The Daily Yomiuri. See Keene's 'Chronicles' to start from Jan. 14, as well as a brief preview-interview, Keene in his own words.

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       January/Winter issues

       A few January/Winter issues are now available online:
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11 January 2006 - Wednesday

Finland conquering the literary world ? | Foreign titles in Israel
Translation subsidies in Germany | The Accidental review

       Finland conquering the literary world ?

       Culture Vulture, the arts-weblog at The Guardian, has launched an admirable bi-weekly literary tour, All around the world:
The plan is this: every fortnight we’ll open up the blog for suggestions of books and authors from a particular country, as well as nominations for the country we should visit next. We’ll create a page on Guardian Unlimited Books for the country that you’ve covered and include all the best suggestions. Ideally we'd like fiction written by native authors which is available in translation -- but nominations of books set in the country in question which provide a flavour of the place, or good history or travel books, are also welcome.
       A great idea -- but we were a bit surprised by their first choice: Finland. Not that there's not enough worthy Finnish literature, it's just that there's very little available in (English) translation. But it seems Finnish literature isn't doing all that badly.
       Inroads in the UK/US market are still limited, but the past two weeks have seen two good (if brief) reviews of The Dedalus Book of Finnish Fantasy, edited by Johanna Sinisalo -- in the Independent on Sunday and Scotland on Sunday ("Every entry left me wanting to know more about these eerie authors."). (See also the Dedalus publicity page, or get your copy at or
       Meanwhile, in Helsingin Sanomat Jukka Petäjä reports: Finnish books in translation finding their way onto European shelves.
Increasingly many Finnish books are being translated into other languages, as Finnish literature begins in the 21st century to grab an ever more prominent position in the gritty European market for translated fiction.
       Of course, the English-speaking countries are not exactly leading the way -- in fact, they're at the back of the pack:
So, the Scandinavian bloc, Germany, and France are all starting to be under control, while the U.K. remains almost a blank spot on the map.
       (The US presumably isn't even worth a mention .....)
       Things look brighter elsewhere, Iris Schwanck notes:
"Germany is a veritable Eldorado for Finnish book exports, since books in translation account for around half of the entire fiction market there -- and you can compare that with Britain, where the figure is around 2%."
       And we're reminded:
The brightest star in the Finnish translated-literature firmament remains Arto Paasilinna, who goes down particularly well with French readers.
       We actually have two Paasilinna-titles under review, Hurmaava joukkoitsemurha and Paratiisisaaren vangit -- but, as you can guess from the titles, they haven't been translated into English.
       In another Helsingin Sanomat article Jukka Petäjä introduces some of the names of interest in In search of new literary faces.
       The one other Finnish title which has done well in English translation is, of course, Johanna Sinisalo's Ennen päivänlaskua ei voi -- though confusingly it was published as Not Before Sundown in the UK and Troll in the US .....
       And there is more to look forward to -- from (who else ?) Dalkey Archive Press, who have titles by Anita Konkka and Rosa Liksom in the works.

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       Foreign titles in Israel

       In Pssst. Got any hot books ? in Ha'aretz Shiri Lev-Ari describes the foreign-fiction-in-Israel game. Apparently:
Working with scouts has become a necessity in Israel, too, in the past few years, as competition increases in the publishing industry, and with the growing prevalence of the Internet and e-mail which incessantly relays information to everyone at the same time.
For the past few years, the world of translation rights in Israel has been experiencing turmoil: quite often publishers find themselves having to bid against the competition in a tender for translation rights, and such tenders boost the advances paid for books, sometimes beyond realistic terms.
       Competition for works in translation ... it's like a fantasy come true ! Sure, publishers in the US have an excuse for not engaging in such silliness (English is a popular source language, not so much a popular destination language), but still .....

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       Translation subsidies in Germany

       Most countries where a lot of translations are published generally have a decent selection of subsidies on offer -- the market alone isn't enough to sustain them. Germany, for example, does a decent job of this -- and they even have a special Deutscher Übersetzerfond ('German Translators' Fund') which hands out some money to help out. They just announced the most recent grants (totaling € 104,000).
       Now we'd have figured that most of the money would go to translators of the obscure, books which their publishers couldn't expect to earn big money on. Like Jürg Laederach doing another Maurice Blanchot translation -- that makes sense to us. But imagine our surprise to learn that among the other subsidised (to the tune of €1,500 to €6,000) projects are for translations of Richard Ford's The Lay of the Land, David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest (okay, that's really long, so maybe it could use some subsidy help ...), and ... John Irving's latest (presumably the much panned Until I Find You). Sure, there are two translators working on the Irving, but this would sell incredibly well in Germany even if they had a monkey translate it. And we understand that in the US grants are awarded for translating prominent foreign works too. Still, it doesn't seem like the best or most reasonable use of the money on hand.

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       The Accidental review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Ali Smith's The Accidental.

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