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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 July 2007

1 July: Mitchell interviews, cont'd | Motion clinging to UK literary 'treasures' | Anthologies: Korean - South Asian women under 40
2 July: Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis | Rentrée preview | Chika Unigwe | Blogging international literature ? | First Among Sequels review
3 July: Every German writer a Nazi ? | Timbuktu treasures | Burma Boy review-overview
4 July: Coe profile | New Words without Borders | Arab World Market Focus at LBF | Borges review-overview
5 July: Girls of Riyadh
6 July: Softcore | Kirino interview | The Art of Murder review
7 July: Irving and Hofmann on Grass | Politically engaged writing | Literary Beirut | Poetry down under | Jones' British debut | 'Smart Pop' reviews
8 July: Marcos crap -- x 7 | 'Multiculturalism'
9 July: Nobel arguments
10 July: Caine Prize | Iranian literature, wanting to go global | Save literature ! Film it ... | Indian reading | Reading more ? | Three Crimes review

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10 July 2007 - Tuesday

Caine Prize | Iranian literature, wanting to go global | Save literature ! Film it ...
Indian reading | Reading more ? | Three Crimes review

       Caine Prize

       "Jambula Tree", by Monica Arac de Nyeko, has been awarded the Caine Prize, the major African short-story award.
       See, for example, the AP reeport, Ugandan wins Caine Prize, 10,000-pound award for African writing, or Ugandan writer wins Caine Prize at the BBC.
       For more about the author, see the Caine Prize Interview: Monica Arac de Nyeko at the BBC.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Iranian literature, wanting to go global

       MNA report that Iran’s contemporary literature must be globalized, literati say.
       Yes, they held the fourth (!) gathering of the "Iran’s Contemporary Literature in the Global Perspective" sessions recently -- where, for example, Fat’hollah Biniaz:
pointed to the importance of translation of literary works, saying, "In order to introduce our contemporary literature to the world, we must translate. At the present time, the private sector can not take responsibility for the translation projects, so the public sector must act and provide good salaries to the translators."
       So don't expect much on that front any time soon .....
       Meanwhile some of the other statements were a bit out there. Consider:
"Undeserved fame is a catastrophe for literature and ruins the name of literary works. Of course, this is not only the case for Iran, it is also the case for other countries. For example, we think a country like Colombia, with a population of 40 million, has only Gabriel Garcia Marquez, but this is not so, they have dozens of writers who are active," he added.
       We have a decent amount of Iranian (and Persian) literature under review, but ridiculously little is available in English. And when a worthy title does come out -- witness Mahmoud Dowlatabadi's Missing Soluch, recently published by Melville House (see their publicity page, or get your copy at or; we will be reviewing it) -- it gets practically no coverage or attention. (We have several of Doulatabadi's other books under review, and he's definitely worth a look.)

       Well, at least it looks like the Iranians won't have to face the 'undeserved fame'-dilemma anytime soon .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Save literature ! Film it ...

       Maybe we're missing something, but we can't follow the argument here. In The Age Peter Craven thinks Our literature and culture must be filmed. Not just that -- he thinks:
Novels are not the same thing as films, but unless there is a determined effort to make literature into film and television then we run the risk that literature will wither or fall into obscurity.
       You know what ? We think that's a risk we're willing to take .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Indian reading

       Apparently in India they're now reading more ... Indian writing. Indian writing in English, to be specific. Yes, in the Times of India Manjari Sabharwal finds Indians are the write choice, baby !:
"The sale of books in the Indian segment has increased by 30-40 per cent in the past four or five years, which is a commendable figure," claims Kapish Mehra, publisher, Rupa Books. "We've observed a shift in interest from Western to Indian writing. The good news is that it is the youth who is displaying a keener interest in Indian authors," Mehra adds.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Reading more ?

       Several outlets have picked up this story of a study that suggests Britons (and others) are actually reading more -- and more books -- than in 1975. See, for example, Nigel Reynolds writing in the Daily Telegraph Britons 'read more than 30 years ago', or the BBC's Books may be the ideal gap-filler.
       The study -- or at least variations on it -- actually seems to have been around for a while: see, for example this abstract of Trajectories of time spent reading as a primary activity: a comparison of the Netherlands, Norway, France, UK and USA since the 1970s.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

        Three Crimes review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Georges Simenon's 1938 (but just translated !) Three Crimes.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

9 July 2007 - Monday

Nobel arguments

       Nobel arguments

       It's apparently the slow season as far as things literary go, and so A.N.Wilson turns to that tried and true filler-material, asking: Do Nobel Prizes stand test of time ? in his 'World of Books'-column in The Telegraph. Hey, no one's ever gone there before, right ? (But we can't judge him to harshly, since we're leading with it too -- indeed, we don't have anything better to offer you .....)
       And at least it gives him a chance to make a few snide remarks, include piling it on about one recent winner, as he judges:
In our own day, no doubt Toni Morrison and Seamus Heaney have their fans, but I would be extremely surprised if, in 100 years' time, anyone rated their work.
       And, in case readers didn't get his point, he adds:
Charles Monteith, Protestant publisher of genius from Faber, produced Seamus Heaney from his top hat, a minor versifier who in quieter times would scarcely have made it into The Oxford Book of Provincial Verse.
       There we go ! Though honestly, looking at the Nobel laureates (and ignoring that very slow beginning) one has to say that, the occasional misstep aside, it ain't all that bad a list. Yes, they could have often done better (and it's easy to pick on individual names ) -- but they could have also done a lot worse.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

8 July 2007 - Sunday

Marcos crap -- x 7 | 'Multiculturalism'

       Marcos crap -- x 7

        The AP reports that Marcos family launch books on the late Philippine dictator's years in power:
The family of late Philippine dictator Ferdinand Marcos launched seven books on Saturday that aim to give a kinder view of his 20-years in power as president, including former aides' accounts of his years in office.

The books and the Marcos Presidential Center within the National Library were launched on July 7, 2007, because Marcos considered seven a lucky number, his family said.
       With all their ill-gotten gains they can, of course, afford to pay for revisionist history left and right -- but we can't believe anybody will be fooled.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -


       In his column in Scotland on Sunday Stuart Kelly is annoyed by 'multiculturalism' -- but thinks: At last, hide-bound traditionalists open a small window on the world.
       As far as 'multiculturalism' goes:
What annoys me is that the word is a fig-leaf, which conceals how un-multicultural British publishing is. It's in translation that this becomes most evident.
       Right on, brother -- right ?
       He chooses to praise what he perceives as Penguin Classics branching out:
But the ones being published at the moment have a real frisson. They're the sort of titles that you look at and think "Who ?" Recent examples include Pu Songling's Strange Tales From A Chinese Studio, Abolqasem Ferdowsi's Shahnameh, Kalidasa's The Loom Of Time, Mir Amman's The Tale Of Four Dervishes, and African Myths Of Origin by, among others, Banna Kanute and Bamba Suso.
       We like the PC list, and we're glad that Kelly finds some frisson there but don't find things quite as groundbreaking (or even new -- and not a one on that list elicits a "Who ?", though we know that's just us ...). Aside from the fact that we've seen god knows how many Pu Songling editions over the past decades, our Penguin Classics edition of The Loom Of Time has a 1989 copyright (reprinted twice already in 1990 ! -- and see our review of that translation of the Abhijnanasakuntalam) -- i.e. is old, old news -- and, on our shelves we find, for example, a PC edition of Sunjata by ... Banna Kanute and Bamba Suso from 1999 (first published in a volume by the SOAS in 1974).
       Yes, Penguin is bringing out worthwhile classics -- but they could try to extend their reach much farther ! (A better example: Rama the Steadfast -- all their own doing, and a truly new addition.)
       (And if you're going to praise Penguin Classics you should also give a nod to the Oxford World's Classics, who continue bringing out truly worldly novelties.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

7 July 2007 - Saturday

Irving and Hofmann on Grass | Politically engaged writing | Literary Beirut
Poetry down under | Jones' British debut | 'Smart Pop' reviews

       Irving and Hofmann on Grass

       We're keeping track of the review-reactions (which are coming fast and sometimes furious) to the US and UK publication of Günter Grass' Peeling the Onion on our review-overview-page, and it's fascinating to see how people are reacting. This weekend brings two particularly noteworthy pieces -- though they can hardly be called reviews.
       In The Guardian Michael Hofmann at least tries to convey his objections -- though his disappointment is so visceral (he had to put aside the book for two weeks after reading the offending passages, "unwilling to continue" ...) that it's hard to believe he might be capable of any sort of objectivity. But at least that's a sort of book review.
       Not so John Irving's enormous piece in The New York Times Book Review (here at the non-registration-requiring IHT). What the hell is that about ? It certainly makes the case for not assigning book reviews to authors who are buddies with the authors they are supposed to review -- not because Irving goes easy on Grass, but because it's not a book review. What do readers learn about Peeling the Onion here ? Practically nothing beyond the -- as Hofmann has it -- kerfuffle around the book. This would be fine in The New York Times Magazine, but surely NYTBR-readers would like to get at least a tiny bit of information about the book (to allow them to decide whether it might be something they'd want to read). We should be pleased that Tanenhaus deigns to allow a book (non-fiction, no less !) originally written in a foreign language to be discussed in the pages of the NYTBR , but he has found yet another way around that: for all intents and purposes, the book isn't discussed.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Politically engaged writing

       In The Guardian Terry Eagleton very summarily complains about the absence of any politically engaged writers in the UK, in Only Pinter remains:
For almost the first time in two centuries, there is no eminent British poet, playwright or novelist prepared to question the foundations of the western way of life. One might make an honourable exception of Harold Pinter, who has wisely decided that being a champagne socialist is better than being no socialist at all; but his most explicitly political work is also his most artistically dreary.
       He thinks:
There are a number of factors in such renegacy. Money, adulation and that creeping conservatism known as growing old play a part, as does the apparent collapse of an alternative to capitalism. Most British writers welcome migrants, dislike Tony Blair, and object to the war in Iraq. But scarcely a single major poet or novelist is willing to look beyond such issues to the global capitalism that underlies them.
       Seems a bit of an oversimplification ... but he didn't have much space to make his argument.
       (Of course, there still is some good politically engaged writing out there (at least elsewhere) -- see Juan Goytisolo and, for example, his novel The Marx Family Saga (which is presumably exactly what Eagleton is looking for).)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Literary Beirut

       At Critical Mass Rayyan Al-Shawaf offers a very good overview of the Lebanese literary scene, in Beirut by the Book.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Poetry down under

       In Pulping our poetry Rosemary Neill looks at poetry-publishing in Australia -- and finds that a lot of the big players have given up on it:
(A) new study by University of Queensland Press poetry editor, Bronwyn Lea, has uncovered a fall of more than 40 per cent in the number of poetry books being published.

Lea's study finds that "in the years between 1993 and 1996, more than 250 books of poems were published in Australia each year. By 2006, this figure had been reduced by about 100 titles."
[David] Malouf's first poetry collection in 26 years, Typewriter Music, was released in hardback at the Sydney Writers' Festival last month. Within three days, its print run of 3000 had all but sold out. Lea says this shows that -- contrary to popular belief -- if poetry is properly marketed, it will connect with readers.
       Is it all in the marketing ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Jones' British debut

       We're glad to see that Lloyd Jones' Mister Pip continues to get good review-coverage: this weekend Olivia Laing reviews it in The Guardian.
       But, as we've noted before, what is it with the British insisting this is the first of his books to appear in the UK ? Laing's is now the fourth review we've come across which claims that:
Mister Pip is the first of Jones's six novels to have travelled from his native New Zealand to the UK.
       We're guessing that the publishers must be making this claim, and the reviewers are just repeating the press-release copy. After all, even if they don't remember it, even the most rudimentary research would lead to the instant discovery that Andre Deutsch published Biografi (to considerable acclaim, by the way) in 1993. Okay, that's a few years ago -- but still .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

        'Smart Pop' reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two anthologies from the Smart Pop-series:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

6 July 2007 - Friday

Softcore | Kirino interview | The Art of Murder review


       It's the first we've heard of it (though we really should be paying more attention to the impressive Telegram list): in the Daily Star William Wheeler writes about An insurgent literary attack hatched in Tehran -- Tirdad Zolghadr's Softcore.
       Definitely something we hope to get our hands on. See the Telegram publicity page, or get your copy at or

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Kirino interview

       In LA Weekly there's an interview with Grotesque-author Kirino Natsuo.
       It's of particular interest because of what she says about the choices of which books will appear in English next -- and how she rates their chances. Apparently Kirino is now 'represented' by Amanda 'Binky' Urban, meaning she is no doubt getting huge advances -- but with 'Binky' (whose Japanese, it appears, is non-existent) deciding what to toss on the American market next it's unclear how Kirino's career stateside will go. Consider her own ... enthusiasm:
What Remains will be your next book published in the States.

It’s a pretty dark story of kidnapping, and appears to be well received [in Japan], but I have my doubts about how it’s going to be received over here because of the sexuality.
       (On the other hand, it's a good sign that Kirino can give answers like this, because it means her 'literary agent' isn't controlling every aspect of her career .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Art of Murder review

       After Zig Zag you may have thought we'd swear off José Carlos Somoza forever, but no: the most recent addition to the complete review is our review of his The Art of Murder.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

5 July 2007 - Thursday

Girls of Riyadh

       Girls of Riyadh

       Girls of Riyadh has gotten considerable press since it first appeared in the Middle East, often called a Saudi 'Sex in the City', and now it's finally due out in the US and UK; see the Penguin Press publicity page, or get your copy at or
       Author Rajaa Alsanea -- currently studying dentistry in Chicago (!) -- is being interviewed and profiled all over the place. See, for example, Sex and the Saudi in The Telegraph, the AP report Saudi author’s ’Girls of Riyadh’ causing a stir, and Rajaa Alsanea, the author of Girls of Riyadh, speaks out in Marie Claire. The latter also has our favourite titbit:
Rajaa's burning ambition is to design and open her own office for dentistry in Riyadh in ten years time and to win the Nobel Prize for Literature by 2015.
       Okay ......

       At Critical Mass Time-man Lev Grossman writes that he is reading it -- and sums up:
Hardly a literary masterpiece, but deeply compelling nonetheless -- it's an almost uniquely candid look at life in a culture that I, as an American, feel an increasingly urgent need to understand.
       (Updated - 8 July): See now also Lesley Thomas' profile in the Sunday Times, Sex and the Saudi girl.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

4 July 2007 - Wednesday

Coe profile | New Words without Borders
Arab World Market Focus at LBF | Borges review-overview

       Coe profile

       We're admirers of Jonathan Coe's work, but we are led to wonder about the forthcoming The Rain Before it Falls by the way Benedicte Page introduces it in his profile of Coe at The Bookseller:
Jonathan Coe's new novel abandons the comic political satire of his recent work in favour of a melancholy family tale about three generations of women scarred by loveless childhoods.
       Still a while until it is available (especially in the US), but see the Penguin publicity page, or pre-order your copy at or

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       New Words without Borders

       The July issue of Words without Borders is up: 'The Russians are Coming' -- though apparently it will be a while for them to all get there, as the site is shifting to putting content up throughout the month .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Arab World Market Focus at LBF

       This announcement didn't attract much attention last week: the London Book Fair will have the Arab World ("defined as the 20 countries and 2 states that have Arabic as their registered official language") as their Market Focus in 2008 (Spain was the 2007 focus).
       It sounds like a decent idea:
The 2008 Market Focus programme will aim to strengthen cultural relations with the Arab World, educate the global publishing industry about Arab literature and allow the Arab publishers to promote their books and literature to all parts of the world via the fair.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Borges review-overview

       When we first heard about it we figured Adolfo Bioy Casares' Borges was definitely the book-event of the year. Not too much coverage yet (or an English translation on the horizon ...), but enough for us to now offer a review-overview.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

3 July 2007 - Tuesday

Every German writer a Nazi ? | Timbuktu treasures | Burma Boy review-overview

       Every German writer a Nazi ?

       They've had their fun with Günter Grass (Peeling the Onion, just out in the US, is so last year's news ...), so now they've gone after fresh meat ... or rather: other old geezers. And they've scored a trifecta with the apparently inexhaustible archives; it's beginning to look like pretty much every German writer of a certain age was a Nazi. The newest charges are that Siegfried Lenz and Martin Walser (as well as Dieter Hildebrandt) were all members of the Nazi party -- though all three deny ever having joined.
       They are on the party rolls -- the question now being whether they signed up (some historians claim that you had to apply for party membership, i.e. it couldn't be bestowed on you without your knowledge or active involvement), while others claim it was possible to be signed up without your knowledge. (Hildebrandt "joined" on 20 April, and has the best case that that wasn't his doing: it sounds plausible that someone was padding the lists as a present on the Führer's birthday .....)
       What's most amazing about this is, of course, that it apparently took over sixty years to notice these guys were on the lists -- whether they knew about it or not.
       Lots of German coverage, of course (and much, much more to follow, no doubt). For a sampling, see: Ohne ihr Wissen ? in the Frankfurter Rundschau, Historiker uneins über NSDAP-Mitgliedschaften in Die Welt, and Mitglied ohne Beitritt and Flakhelferpubertät.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Timbuktu treasures

       The literary treasures of Timbuktu get a fair amount of press attention, but it's always nice to see more -- so, for example, now In fabled city at the end of the earth, a treasury of ancient manuscripts by Xan Rice in The Guardian.
       There is a lot of information about this available on the Internet; Libraries of Timbuktu is a good place to start.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

        Burma Boy review-overview

       We've now added a review-overview of Biyi Bandele's Burma Boy .
       We've admired some of his earlier fiction -- we have two of his novels, still published under the name 'Biyi Bandele-Thomas, under review -- and hope to get a chance to review this as well.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

2 July 2007 - Monday

Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis | Rentrée preview
Chika Unigwe | Blogging international literature ? | First Among Sequels review


       The Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis, where authors read in front of an audience, TV cameras, and a panel of literary judges (who then let the authors know exactly what they think) has been around for ages -- from long before most of the 'Pop-Idol'-type contests (though it hasn't achieved quite the same popular appeal).
       They just held this year's competition, and Lutz Seiler -- best known for his poetry -- took the big prize; for a brief biography, see this page.
       (A book of his poetry is available in English -- In the year one (get your copy at, published by Giramondo (the same good folk who brought out Alexis Wright's recently Miles Franklin-award-winning Carpentaria (see our mention) -- they sure seem to be doing something right down there.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Rentrée preview

       Livres Hebdo preview France's annual fall book-dump, when what seems like all the major books are published, the 'Rentrée littéraire'; their extensive coverage doesn't appear to be freely accessible on the Internet, but several publications summarise what will be on offer; see, for example, Rentrée littéraire: 727 romans !
       Yes, 727 books -- 44 more than last year. 493 French novels, 234 foreign. Interestingly, however, several of the major publishers are releasing fewer novels .....
       Among the big titles: Yasmina Reza's Nicolas Sarkozy-book, L'aube, le soir ou la nuit (pre-order your copy at -- likely to keep the title of the most discussed-book of the year -- and Amélie Nothomb's new novel, Ni d'Eve, ni d'Adam (pre-order your copy at

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Chika Unigwe

        In My exploits in Belgium Henry Akubuiro profiles Chika Unigwe, a prize-winning Nigerian author who lives in Belgium (and has had some Dutch-language success as well) -- an interesting cross-cultural example. See also the Chika Unigwe site.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Blogging international literature ?

       Their site-redesign has temporarily left their weblog hard to reach, but apparently they're working on that at Words without Borders. And it looks like they're looking to expand their coverage, as WWB Seeks Blogger:
Do you love world literature ? Are you excited by the idea of helping foster global cultural literacy ? Are you a rabid consumer of global cultural news ? Words without Borders is looking for a blogger with a unique voice and intriguing points of view to help run our blog. Position involves assisting in the management of an international team of bloggers and posting entries in addition to writing unique posts.
       We can certainly recommend the exercise for anyone interested in international literature -- and WWB sounds like a good outfit to be involved with -- so maybe some of our readers might be interested in applying. We certainly look forward to their expanded coverage !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       First Among Sequels review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Jasper Fforde's new Thursday Next novel, First Among Sequels.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

1 July 2007 - Sunday

Mitchell interviews, cont'd | Motion clinging to UK literary 'treasures'
Anthologies: Korean - South Asian women under 40

       Mitchell interviews, cont'd

       We mentioned Steve Finbow's interview with David Mitchell from The Japan Times, Somewhere between history and the imagination, last week, but it turns out there's more: see more from Mitchell and Finbow at Stop Smiling.
       And if that's not enough, see Tishani Doshi's interview with Mitchell, Secret architectures, in The Hindu.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Motion clinging to UK literary 'treasures'

       Andrew Motion has made this point before, but with a new administration in place in the UK he's at it again: in the Independent on Sunday Andrew Johnson reports on Andrew Motion: US is stripping Britain of its literary treasures.
Professor Motion said on Friday that it was important authors were paid for their work, but also important their work remained in the UK. "We should keep it here because it's ours," he said. "It makes complete sense to have Philip Larkin's work in Hull. There is nothing like holding a manuscript in your hand or looking at it through glass, seeing the revisions, imagining the hand across the page. Let's get off our backsides and look after these things. There should be... tax breaks.
       Sure it's nice to have Larkin's work in Hull, but how far should this sort of possessiveness go ? Surely, once you have to start asking for tax breaks you're headed down the wrong path.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Anthologies: Korean

       In The Korea Herald Yang Sung-jin reports that Literature anthology to be published.
       Some debate about how much North Korean literature should be included, but we hope that's their biggest problem .....
       It is an ambitious project:
The institute has already mapped out a general outline of the anthology. The project will come in 10 volumes, featuring poetry, novels and dramas published since 1919. The books will be published by a major U.S.-based company.
       We wonder if any major US-based companies know their good fortune .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Anthologies: South Asian women under 40

       Maybe not the most original idea, but not the worst either: Indian publisher Zubaan has brought out a volume of 21 under 40: New Stories for a New Generation (see their publicity page), collecting 21 stories by South Asian women writers under the age of 40.
       See also Sheba Thayil's review in The Hindu.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

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