Nuclear tests be damned, the South and North Koreans have gotten together as: Koreas launch first joint literary association, "a joint private association of literary writers".
You can get a pretty good idea of this thing from the quotes:
"The establishment of this inter-Korean literary body will be an epoch-making turning point in the literary history of the divided Koreas," said Yom Moo-ung, a South Korean literary critic who was appointed to head the association in conjunction with North Korean novelist Kim Deok-chul.
"Now, we'll polish our linguistic beauty under the name of the national literary spirit and sing a poem of peace, which will touch the heartstrings of people around the world," he said.
SNA report that Bulgarian University Dean Grabs Novel of the Year Award, as Sofia University's Dean Boyan Biolchev has taken the Vick Prize for novel for his Varoe's Amazon.
The official site doesn't have him up on the winner's page yet, but there's more information about this title and the others that made the shortlist here.
The prize seems like a pretty decent idea -- and the winning title gets translated into English .... but we haven't seen any of the previous winning titles commercially available in translation yet .....
First, let's ask if there is indeed a growing body of local literature of merit.
Does there still exist a literary culture -- like there was in the days of Professor Edwin Thumboo and Dr Goh Poh Seng -- that can spawn Singaporean works of world standing ?
Too many of our local works, though well written, do not exude the Singapore breath and breadth of life.
They could be works produced of any place. Except for the names of the characters and a sprinkling of Singlish, they are almost un-identifiable in that respect.
So is Paul Theroux's Saint Jack the top Singaporean novel ?
(It does "exude the Singapore breath and breadth of life", doesn't it ?)
Henry Akubuiro writes that Writers converge on Yenagoa for 25th ANA Convention.
Among the events: on 4 November they're handing out the various awards and fellowships; see the ANA shortlists at the end of the article.
Particularly noteworthy: number 8, the ANA/Chevron Prose Prize for Environment -- yes, an oil company supporting a prize to do with the environment.
Perhaps not much of a surprise: no shortlist -- indeed: "NO AWARD !"
(Last year only one title made it onto the shortlist for this particular award (and presumably took the prize): Fire in my Backyard by Aliyu Kamal.
("Fire is not only a major literary achievement but also an encyclopedic treatise of botanical names of the different species of trees found on Hausa farmlands, grasslands and shrublands" writes Emmanuel Uba in his review in the Weekly Trust).)
In The Tribune Pratik Kanjilal looks back at India being the guest of honour at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair, in India strikes the write note.
Things seem to have gone well on the whole, but disappointingly:
"The National Book Trust, which anchored the Indian presence, leaves a lot to be desired," said an independent publisher.
"They were running around with their star writers, while the Frankfurt Book Fair is about publishers."
Added Ripken, who had brought several Indian publishers to the show: "I think NBT is doing a lousy job.
The way translations are organised is a disaster.
If an author comes to a promotional reading in Europe with a bad translation, he’s dead on arrival.
I had hoped for a breakthrough in the translation problem this year.
They were going to produce an anthology of writers who had never been translated into German -- a literary atlas cum business card that would have helped us to generate interest.
But the material did not come in on time."
We recently mentioned the first reactions to the English translation of Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek's Greed we had come across -- and they weren't pretty.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Financial Times -- of all places (actually, they really do have very solid literary coverage) -- proves considerably more open-minded, as Ben Naparstek gets considerable space to profile her in High anxiety.
And now in The Guardian Lucy Ellmann offers something approaching a rave in her review -- and begins it with the discussion-worthy claim:
Philip Roth says the novel is dead, but it would be more accurate to say the audience is dead -- we're all just too polite to mention it.
What is killing the novel is people's growing dependence on feel-good fiction, fantasy and non-fiction. With this comes an inability or unwillingness to tolerate any irregularities of form, a prissy quibbling over capital letters, punctiliousness about punctuation.
They act like we're still at school !
Real writing is not about rules.
It's about electrifying prose, it's about play.
For anyone who wants to write or read daredevil, risk-taking prose, therefore, it was tremendously encouraging that Elfriede Jelinek won the Nobel prize for literature in 2004.
As to the book itself:
Jelinek's work is brave, adventurous, witty, antagonistic and devastatingly right about the sorriness of human existence, and her contempt is expressed with surprising chirpiness: it's a wild ride.
She has also developed a form of cubism, whereby she can approach any subject from any angle, sometimes within the same sentence, homing in with sudden tenacity on some detail such as dirndls or murderers' female pen-pals.
So it doesn't look like there will be a consensus about Jelinek anytime soon .....
We recently reviewed Kertész Imre's new memoir, K. dosszié.
It's available in German -- as Dossier K., and that's the title we would expect it to have in the English and French versions.
Or would have.
It turns out a French book with the title Le dossier K (by Gérard de Villiers) just came out -- but as the cover and the subject matter (it's a novel about hunting down Radovan Karadzic ...) suggest, it's a very different sort of book.
Kertész's French publishers will clearly have to come up with a new title to avoid confusion.
We mentioned that there was a new Man prize -- the Man Asian Literary Prize -- back when they first announced it this spring, and didn't bother with the recent flurry of mentions, but given that they now have an official Man Asian Literary Prize (of moderate usefulness at this point) and they will begin accepting submissions starting 1 November it's worth pointing to again.
We're very curious as to how successful they will be (as they're looking for unpublished English translations ...).
They handed out the first of the big French literary prizes yesterday, the Grand Prix du Roman de l'Académie Française, and Jonaathan Littell's Les Bienveillantes won, taking 12 votes (to 4 each for the other two finalists); see also the Reuters report Debutant American takes top French literary prize.
Is it the start of a clean sweep of the big French prizes for Littell's bestseller ?
(Putting the Grand Prix du Roman de l'Académie Française in some perspective, however, the only recent winners English-speaking readers are likely to be familiar with are Amélie Nothomb's Fear and Trembling (1999) and Paule Constant's White Spirit (1990).
(Other winners we have under review: Pierre Benoit's Queen of Atlantis (1919) .....))
Meanwhile, Littell might be pleased with the 7500 prize money, but the big money is obviously pouring in from the foreign rights sales -- which, as widely reported, finally include the US (HarperCollins) and UK (Chatto & Windus).
Regretably, how much the publishers forked over has not been made public.
(See the AP report, Debut World War II novel by Jonathan Littell, featuring Nazi officer, to come out in 2008.)
With this starting gun shot to the French literary prize season the newspapers have been filled with articles about the whole circus.
Of particular interest: in Le Monde Alain Beuve-Méry looks at the sales-boost that various prizes can expect to give in Le juste poids des prix:
En terme de ventes, un bon Goncourt est estimé ŕ 300 000 exemplaires, contre près de 500 000 il y a vingt ans.
La performance d'un Femina tourne autour de 100 000 exemplaires.
Le Renaudot connaît des évolutions beaucoup plus erratiques et imprévisibles, allant de 50 000 á plus de 300 000.
Quant au Médicis, il se situe clairement un ton en dessous : il s'agit plus d'un prix de découverte.
Meanwhile, in his overview of the current batch of French titles in the NZZ Jürgen Ritte wonders why Jacques Roubaud's Nous, les moins-que-rien, fils aînés de personne (see the Editions Fayard publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.fr ) was ignored by all the juries.
It certainly sounds like one of the most appealing titles to us .....
While there are no current plans for a Czech version of LOA, Rudin likes the idea of one.
"We're certainly open to the notion of potentially sharing our experiences with the relevant Czech authorities," he says.
"Other than my handing out a few business cards, I can't speak to anything concrete.
Someone should do it, though. Nemcová, Palacký, Hrabal, Hašek, Kundera, Havel, Škvorecký, Kafka ... that's an amazing foundation right there."
Also of interest:
"Let me tell you right off the bat, it's really a labor of love," Rudin admitted.
"We're first and foremost a cultural institution, so while the lion's share of our operating revenue comes from book sales, the Library of America is not a Random House.
We unfortunately continue to bleed over a million dollars a year in losses, and it's been a challenge to convince funders to place their money in our nonprofit."
Recall that Jason Epstein -- closely involved with the creation of the LOA -- saw no reason why it shouldn't be a money-printing operations, the only hurdle being the obscene compensation the directors received (see his Book Business -- and note that we have no idea whether directors or others involved with the project at this time still receive ridiculously high compensation).
The fifth issue of the Green Integer Review is now up, and it is really developing into a useful (though Douglas Messerli-dominated) resource.
Among the pieces of interest this time around: Messerli reviews Harry Mathews' My Life in CIA and Brian Evenson reviews Jon Fosse's Melancholy -- one of the most anticipated (by us) titles of the fall, which we should have under review soon.
And Messerli also writes on Witold Gombrowicz.
The seminal books of the world must be made available to our people and a translation program has to be actively pursued.
Imagine, Mr. President, just how the life of a 15-year-old boy in Zavkhan province or of a 16-year-old girl in Ulaanbaatar city and the lives of many other students or men and women could change by reading these golden pages in Mongolian.
See also the list of books he suggests at the end of his letter -- not exactly what we would have chosen, but one could do worse.
Václav Havel is coming to Columbia University in New York today, and boy are they taking this seriously.
They've even set up a packed Havel at Columbia site -- well worth checking out, there's tons of stuff here (as well as information about the many, many events that are planned).
Apparently he's going to be there for a while:
At the invitation of President Bollinger, Václav Havel arrives at Columbia University October 26th 2006 for a seven-week residency featuring lectures, interviews, conversations, classes, performances, and panels centered on his life and ideas.
The visit is being organized by the Arts Initiative at Columbia University.
In addition, there's also good information at the Untitled Theater Company about The Havel Festival:
With one world premiere, five English language premieres and five other new translations, this is a must-see event for fans of Havel, political theater, absurdist theater, or simply theater in general.
Columnists need to fill space, so they sometimes come up with pretty dumb pieces -- and Helen Rumbelow's The personal library - now there's an idea in The Times certainly qualifies.
It's almost too ridiculous to even bother with, but it's hard to pass up quoting 'reasoning' such as:
What about those who, like me, used to enjoy exchanging juvenile comments with others in the margins of library books ?
Well, the internet can do that kind of thing too.
It’s called blogging.
And what about:
At the Idea Store I had a radical idea.
Let us admit that people can buy their own books if they want to.
The one exception to this is children -- libraries are vital for encouraging reading and literary tastes.
We buy tons of books, and get more than we know what to do with sent to us, and yet we're still regular and fairly intensive users of the local public libraries (for the purpose of looking at, referring to, and borrowing books).
Even if we had the money, we couldn't -- and wouldn't want to -- purchase all the books that we want to have access to (and the local Barnes & Nobles don't come close to offering what we need or want either -- though they are superior if we want to leaf through the most recent publications (and they do have better hours)).
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of 'John Pen''s 1946 Temptation.
Not a great book (though entertaining enough), but one hell of a story behind it and its author -- see our brief piece on John Pen, John S. Toldy, and Székely János: Another Hungarian author lost -- and found ?.
Sure, we were excited to get the new Pynchon (see our mention yesterday), but a few days earlier we got one of the few real drop-everything titles of 2006: 2002 Nobel laureate Kertész Imre's autobiographical effort, K. dosszié (well, the German translation).
And now our review is available -- along with our review of his 1977 novella, Detektívtörténet
Given that the British only now published Liquidation (which Knopf at least got out to US audiences two years ago -- not that they've done anything since then) -- making a grand total of three of his works available in English -- it would presumably be too much to expect that the 'K. Dossier' be quickly made available to English-speaking readers.
In fact, it so frequently and intensively references several of his other, still untranslated, works that it arguably doesn't even make much sense to translate it yet.
Your loss, however -- it wasn't what we expected, at all, but it's still pretty remarkable.
In a decade or two English-speaking readers might finally find out as well .....
Milan Kundera wrote The Unbearable Lightness of Being in Czech (Nesnesitelná lehkost bytí) back in 1982 (when he was still writing in Czech -- the most recent works have been penned in French), and it did appear in its original form in 1985 -- published by Josef Skvorecky's Sixty-Eight Publishers in Canada.
Amazingly, it's never been published in Czechoslovakia or the Czech Republic -- until now.
But now, as Linda Mastalir reports, Milan Kundera's The Unbearable Lightness of Being finally released in Czech Republic:
Why the ridiculous delay ?
Jiri Srstka, Kundera's Czech literary agent, feebly explains:
At first glance this doesn't appear to be a big deal, but in the case of Milan Kudnera, who is known for his perfectionism, this is a huge job.
Also because the Toronto edition was published under difficult circumstances, and therefore Kundera had to read the entire book again, re-write sections, make additions, and edit the entire text.
So given his perfectionism, this is was a long-term job, but now readers will get the book that Milan Kundera thinks should exist.
Unlike in the US and the UK, where they spread these things out, the French hand most of their big literary prizes out in one big flurry, and starting with the Grand Prix du Roman de l'Académie Française (announced tomorrow) it'll be one prize after another for the next couple of weeks.
The place to keep up to date is, of course, the exemplary Prix-Litteraires: Le blog (and we're still waiting for someone to set up the US and/or UK equivalent ...).
The second and/or final cuts of most of the prizes have now been announced.
The Grand Prix du Roman is down to three finalists, and two of the titles are this season's heavy favourites across the board, Jonathan Littell's Les Bienveillantes and Michel Schneider's Marilyn, dernières séances, which both also made the second/final cuts of the Femina, Roman France Télévisions, Interallié, and Renaudot -- as well as the grand-daddy of them all, the Goncourt (which is the only one the first-round Littell-runner-up favourite, Alain Fleischer's L'Amant en culottes courtes, also made).
So Littell is still selling well, and looks to have a couple of prizes in the bag -- but what about the US and UK rights ?
Recall that it was widely mentioned (for example in Mark Landler's Hot new talent - American writing in French ) that:
Knopf, HarperCollins and other publishers have until Oct. 17 to lay their bets.
On that date Littell's agent, Andrew Nurnberg, will auction off the American and British rights to Les Bienveillantes.
Publishers say it could command $1 million, a staggering sum for a book by an unknown writer that plumbs untold misery and depravity at the length of Tolstoy.
So what the hell happened ?
We haven't seen or heard a word about this auction or the results.
Did it even take place ?
Was it a flop ?
Did the publishers request extra time so they could actually finish reading the damn book ?
We don't follow the trade too closely, and maybe there's been a mention somewhere, but we haven't seen it.
Given the 'success' (ha, ha) of recent Goncourt winners in the English-language markets (think Brecht's Mistress (which we're guessing probably didn't sell a hundred copies in the US ... and it's one of the better recently translated Goncourts ...)) it wouldn't be surprising if interest was .... limited.
Though dad's (Robert Littell) coattails must be worth something in the US/UK market -- and since Jonathan is actually translating it himself publishers might even be able to pretend it isn't one of those annoying 'foreign' works (hell, Sam Tanenhaus might even assign it for review ...).
(Updated - 26 October): No sooner do we wonder than Galleycat reports that The Bookseller reports (not freely accessibly) that Chatto & Windus have taken the British rights for Les Bienveillantes -- for that popular undisclosed sum.
We didn't get a personalized proof of Thomas Pynchon's Against the Day (as others did), but yesterday -- a month before the 21 November on-sale date -- a beautiful hardcover finished copy was delivered:
Not quite the drop-everything event for us that it is for some others, but certainly something we look forward to spending much of the next month with.
It weighs in at 1085 pages, and around 410,000 words.
The opening scene is aboard: "the hydrogen skyship Inconvenience, its gondola draped with patriotic bunting", as some members of the Chums of Chance are on their way to Chicago .....
It's divided into five sections:
The Light Over the Ranges
Against the Day
Rue du Départ
The epigraph is from Thelonious Monk.
And the first impression is that the Pynchon book it most resembles is, indeed, Gravity's Rainbow.
But that's just a very quick first impression: this is definitely a text it's going to take a while to deal with.
Pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk (the Penguin Press publicity page is -- so far -- useless).
In Time Jeffrey Ressner wondered about the difficulties of Promoting Pynchon; it certainly looks like there will be extensive and intensive Internet coverage.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Arnaldur Indriðason's Jar City.
(It's another of these series (Scandinavian, in this case) that don't appear in their original order in translation: this is the first that made it into English, but is apparently the third in the series.
Apparently, the two earlier ones were too 'Icelandic' .....)
In Literary licence in the Financial Times Angel Gurria-Quintana looks at previously translated works that have been re-translated, including War and Peace and Pamuk's The Black Book:
Despite this notion that something valuable is always lost in the transit between languages, translation at its best mixes scholarship, a deep understanding of the original context and literary inventiveness in the target language.
In the case of recently retranslated works of literature it can act as a salvage operation, recovering nuances and meanings that a previous translator may have obscured, deliberately or by omission.
Anthony Briggs -- who recently re-did War and Peace -- notes, for example:
Even the most successful previous translation, by Louise and Aylmer Maude (1923), was, he believes, marred by the fact that they were "of a particular social and cultural background".
They were able to reproduce the polite language of the drawing room, but not of the battle field.
(See also Scott Esposito's most recent Friday Column: Reading War and Peace -- he read the Maude translation.)
It's the more recent examples that we find most interesting the Pamuk -- or, for example, Breon Mitchell's forthcoming new version of Günter Grass’ The Tin Drum.
In And the winner is ? in The Observer Jason Cowley looks at the proliferation and influence of (literary) prizes -- noting, for example:
In the book world, prizes have long since supplanted reviews as our primary means of literary transmission, and now they are taking on the task, from the professional critics, of judgment as well.
A pretty decent overview.
Note: he repeats the far too frequently made mistake of calling the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award "the world's richest award for a single work of fiction".
As we have mentioned repeatedly (and to apparently absolutely no effect), that's just not true.
Yes, it is -- as they note on their site --: "the world’s richest literary prize for a single work of fiction published in English" (emphasis added) -- in translation or original.
But it is far from the richest prize for a single work of fiction.
As, for example, we mentioned just last week, the Spanish Premio Planeta de Novela has a winner's-payout of 601,000 (over US $750,000) -- a hell of a lot more cash than the IMPAC.
As a French person translating into a language which is neither stressed, like English, nor tonal, like Yoruba, there is a problem when it comes to recapturing the musicality of the original as well as its meaning.
Steven Arnold, the Canadian scholar, said that Niyi Osundare is not an anglophone poet, he is a Yoruba poet who writes in English.
So, when I translate, I also try to capture that difference between say, British English and Yoruba English, and to render that edge of strangeness that clings to it.
Among the most annoying things (and there are so very, very many) about the publishing industry is the 'book embargo'-concept, an attempt to prohibit the sale of or quoting from/reviewing of titles before a publisher-specified date.
As Jo Graham points out in a letter to The Bookseller, Embargoes -- why bother ?, the situation re. selling books in the UK is currently unacceptable, because supermarket and other retailers who don't sell only books couldn't care less about embargo dates -- and aren't punished for ignoring them:
We need to rethink the embargo rule.
Before supermarkets started selling books, the embargo was there for stores to create a feeling of an event taking place and to offer an even playing field for all involved.
This, however, is not happening.
Instead, the supermarkets are off their marks before the starting pistol has been fired, but they are not being disqualified from the field.
Meanwhile, Marcela Valdes looks at embargoes in her Book Notes-column in The Washington Post this week, noting:
But embargoes have also grown popular because they're great marketing tools.
Embargoes help publishers synchronize news outlets all over the country and sometimes all over the world.
They help books open big, the way Hollywood movies open with single nationwide screening dates.
"You don't want a book dribbling out at a slow rate of sale," says W.W. Norton president Drake McFeely.
"You want to get the highest velocity you can for the book over a few days around the publication date."
High velocities land books on bestseller lists and breed follow-up reports that keep people talking.
How very, very sad.
But she gives us reason to admire -- of all people -- Sam Tanenhaus, who may not have our kind of standards regarding the books he chooses to have reviewed, but at least in this regard is exemplary:
Already several editors have made it a policy never to sign such agreements, even if it means missing out on advance copies of important books.
Sam Tanenhaus, who edits the Sunday book review at the New York Times, is among those who won't be herded by embargo schedules -- and he refuses to hide embargoed books from the daily news sections.
"Just give us the book when you're ready for [the newspaper] to have it," he tells publishers.
That policy means he usually doesn't see embargoed books until they're out in stores.
Good for him !
And how disappointing that, for example, the folk who have copies of the forthcoming Pynchon book haven't spilled all the beans about it yet.
It's good to see that Thomas Bernhard's Frost has finally been translated into English (by Michael Hofmann) -- and published by a major publisher (Knopf; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
And good also to see it getting reviews right out of the gate.
Even foreign-literature phobic Sam Tanenhaus assigned it for review (though as far as books not written in English go it certainly fits his preferred type: ancient (it was written over four decades ago, even if the translation is brand-new) and by a dead guy), and Christopher Benfey writes in The New York Times Book Review (here at the IHT):
Possibly the bleakest of all Bernhard's books, Frost is a sort of Magic Mountain without the magic, though it's occasionally leavened by a quirky gallows humor.
Meanwhile Christopher Byrd reviews it in the San Francisco Chronicle, concluding:
Make no mistake, Frost is a pugilistic book that refuses to play nice.
There is something striking in the way it makes one take refuge in the smallest things: the procurement of newspapers, an interest in another's comfort, a stove's warm air.
This is psychological horror of a most dismantling kind.
And Benjamin Lytal reviewed it in The New York Sun earlier this week.
2004 Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek's Greed has finally been translated, too -- at least it's available in the UK (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk), though apparently not yet in the US.
Andrea Mullaney reviews it in Scotland on Sunday, and found:
Greed is thought-provoking, certainly, though the thought it most often provoked in me was that I really, really wanted to put it down.
Nevertheless, the power with which Jelinek creates such a claustrophobic, disturbing narrative is impressive.
Meanwhile, Philip Hensher was much more emphatic in his disdain for her writing in his review in the Sunday Telegraph, beginning:
About 100 pages into this atrocious novel, I suddenly couldn't bear it one second longer.
He's not surprised that it's taken time to get this published:
She has written only four novels before this one, and in normal circumstances one might express astonishment that conglomerate publishers haven't been queuing up to publish her next big novel.
It might be Jelinek's loyalty to Serpent's Tail; on the other hand, it might well be that no one else would touch this ghastly thing with a barge-pole.
And he's clearly not looking forward to her next effort:
Jelinek, no doubt, is intending to subvert the traditional modes of the novel, blithely throwing characterisation, description and dialogue to the winds, and instead absorbing everything into a hysterical stream of monologue.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Yokomori Rika's Tokyo Tango.
Here's a book that has gotten essentially no attention: a Library Journal review seems about the extent of it, and it is one of those rare books at Amazon.com that have no sales rank -- meaning not a single copy has been sold via Amazon (and it's been out for almost two months).
But then it's not a great book.
It is one of the titles in the Japanese Literature Publishing Project, an idea we basically like (and we have six of their titles under review already, with more to follow), but also highlights one of the weaknesses of this approach.
Instead of subsidising foreign publication of foreign-publisher-selected titles, they select the titles, and then fob them off on foreign publishers.
In the case of Tokyo Tango they've chosen a contemporary novel that might have captured the late 1980s economic frenzy fairly well but now reads as quite dated (though first published in Japan only in 1994).
Presumably JLPP subsidised it to the extent that Duckworth/Overlook could be convinced to publish it (though it doesn't look like they've spent a nickel on marketing it ...) -- but whose interests are served here (other than ours, since we are glad and willing to devour almost any foreign crap in the hopes of finding something good) ?
In Russian renaissance in Ha'aretz Shiri Lev-Ari looks at Russian expatriate writing, from the familiar (Wladimir Kaminer, Andreï Makine, Lara Vapnyar, David Bezmozgis) to the Russian literary scene in Israel, wondering: "What are the writers who left Russia in the past two decades writing about ?"