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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 January 2008

11 January: Bestselling authors - France, 2007 | Bestselling books - Germany, 2007 | Kertész profile | Ngugi on the situation in Kenya | Wolf Totem hype goes global | Omega Minor reactions | May in the Valley of the Rainbow review
12 January: New Martin Amis book | Arts Council issues, cont'd. | More Kertész coverage | Eugenides talk
13 January: Translation in India | 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award finalists | Ian McEwan Q&A | Israeli literature | Night Train to Lisbon cultural divide ? | In her Absence review
14 January: Urdu anthology | Ayu Utami coverage | Pinter exhibit | New York interviews: Mamet and Lee Siegel | Nazi Literature in the Americas review
15 January: AUC Press profile | Krúdy Gyula profile | POD today | 'Princeton University Reads' course
16 January: Ruth Franklin on Irène Némirovsky | Gabriel Okara interview | Bookslut profile | Pandora in the Congo review
17 January: The fate of The Original of Laura | Japanese literary prizes | Zhang Ailing revival | Arnon Grunberg interview | The NY Sun's book review archive | Sales of translated books | Mills & Boon success in India | The Whistler review
18 January: Reconsidering literary prizes ? | Goncourt legacies | Schiffrin on French publishing | Chinese literature overview | Spanish literature at Suhrkamp | Whitbread Costa betting
19 January: Spanish success | Profiles: Peter Carey - Guo Xiaolu | NYTBR insights | Getting ready to judge the Man Booker | The Game of Cards review
20 January: New Oe novel | Ishmael Beah 'controversy' | Prize talk | The Loser review

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20 January 2008 - Sunday

New Oe novel | Ishmael Beah 'controversy'
Prize talk | The Loser review

       New Oe novel

       In the Asahi Shimbun Shin Osanai writes a bit about Oe Kenzaburo's new novel, 臈たしアナベル・リイ 総毛立ちつ身まかりつ, which came out a few months ago (no word yet on any forthcoming translation ...) in Nobel laureate Oe breaks free from his old style with a new novel:
Kenzaburo Oe, whose 50-year writing career includes winning the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1994, has published a new full-length novel, Routashi Anaberu Rii Souke Dachitsu Mimakaritsu (The beautiful Annabel Lee was chilled and killed), with Shinchosha. Oe says that with this book he intended to "break free" from his earlier works with a "style of later life" that aims to defy maturity, referring to On Late Style: Music and Literature Against the Grain, the last book by literature scholar Edward Said (1935-2003), who corresponded extensively with Oe.
       (We're not exactly sure what that means -- defying maturity ? does that equal: embracing immaturity ?)
       But also of interest the comments:
Oe explains that the fascination of translating English and French poems drew him to literature.

"Two languages collide and draw each other into a magnetic field," he says. "I decided to lead my life in that place."
       Yet another author who has benefitted from practising translation !
       See also the Shinchosha publicity page, or get your copy from

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Ishmael Beah 'controversy'

       This will probably be much-discussed in the coming days, so here the links to the articles that started it all, at The Australian, where they find what look like some inaccuracies in Ishmael Beah's bestselling child-soldier memoir A Long Way Gone (see also the official site for the book): Twist in the tale of a child soldier by Shelley Gare and Peter Wilson and Africa's war child by Shelley Gare. (The latter offers the fuller account -- including the interesting follow-ups with the publishers, etc.)
       Gare writes:
What followed turns out to be even more bizarre. It tells us a lot about story-telling and modern publishing, about the Western world's hunger for stories of terror and exploitation from the undeveloped world. As well, an eventual version of past events that emerged was revealed only by a remarkable series of coincidences.

Ishmael Beah, sadly for him, appears indeed to be an orphan, but the lab assistant's odd and misleading intervention has led to the revelation of a possible key discrepancy in Beah's story.
If confirmed, the revelations do not mean Beah's tale isn't truly terrible. They don't mean that he hasn't been through experiences that most of us in the developed world will never have to face even in our nightmares. They don't detract from the fact that, as his New York agent Ira Silverberg told Inquirer, of the inspiring book, "Beautiful things have come from the success he has seen. " [...] But this does raise questions about the way Ishmael Beah's book came about and how thoroughly his story was checked out.
       Almost more interesting than the questions of the accuracy of Beah's account are the reactions of those making their money off him and the book -- and it'll be interesting what those with closer industry ties will be able to root out in the coming week.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Prize talk

       A few more days until the Whitbread Costa Book of the Year winner will be announced and Joanna Trollope -- chairing the judging -- has her general say about this and other literary prizes, in And the readers lived happily ever after at The Telegraph.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Loser review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Fatos Kongoli's The Loser.
       A pleasant surprise -- but what does it say about contemporary English-language publishing that this 1992 title is only now available in English translation, and that from a publisher specialising in Welsh books (Seren, who deserve a big hand (and maybe some subsidy-money ?) for taking this on) ? Compare that to the lucky French, where Payot-Rivages offer half a dozen Kongoli-titles .....
       (Also worth a mention: co-translator Robert Elsie's exemplary Albanian literature information site -- the kind of resource the Internet was made for, and one of the best national-literature sites out there (and all the more remarkable because there's not some well-endowed national literature-promotion organisation behind it).)

       (By the way: The Loser is our 2000th review. A milestone of sorts, we suppose, but not really more than just another number (and review). Still, nice that it's a worthwhile title.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

19 January 2008 - Saturday

Spanish success | Profiles: Peter Carey - Guo Xiaolu | NYTBR insights
Getting ready to judge the Man Booker | The Game of Cards review

       Spanish success

       The Economist looks at Spanish-language publishing and finds it's Lost in translation no more, as: 'Sales of books in Spanish are booming, and there is plenty of room for growth'.
       Among the points of interest:
Novelists and poets in Latin America are often prominent public intellectuals. In Mexico writers can still benefit from generous tax breaks, stipends and government appointments. "The idea is that culture generates the nation," says Álvaro Enrigue, a novelist. This system may produce fine literature, but the resulting work does not always have broad appeal: a well-received Mexican novel may sell only 5,000 copies worldwide, though political non-fiction can sell 100,000 and be very influential.

Things are better in Argentina, by contrast. It has a bookshop for every 48,000 people, more than 2,000 public libraries, and avid readers. Its publishers produce nearly eight times as many titles as Mexico's, even with less than half the population.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Profile: Peter Carey

       In The Guardian Nicholas Wroe profiles Peter Carey, in Between two worlds, as his new novel, His Illegal Self, is due out next month.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Profile: Guo Xiaolu

       In The Times Helen Rumbelow profiles A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers-author Guo Xiaolu, in Xiaolu Guo's cultured revolution.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       NYTBR insights

       GalleyCat points us to Samuel Breidbart's Yale Daily News piece on The New York Times Book Review editor Sam Tanenhaus' visit to Yale, in Tanenhaus offers glimpse of NYT Book Review.
       Alas, it's not much more than a glimpse -- and what explanations there are are often more confusing than informative:
Unlike The New Yorker or the New York Review of Books, in both of which the objective is to deliver the "definitive review" of a book, Tanenhaus explained that The New York Times Book Review has an obligation to publish the review that -- for its timeliness and "consumer report" style -- will be most important to a book’s commercial success or failure. As part of a newspaper, the Book Review takes a journalistic approach to informing the reader of what is available to read, he said.
       Apparently a "journalistic approach" means: extremely limited in reach and ambit, and determined solely according to the interests of those wielding power over the publication. (That's certainly how we do things here, but we'd have hoped a newspaper would see its mandate to be in the larger public interest .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Getting ready to judge the Man Booker

       In The Telegraph Alex Clarke writes about how she's looking forward to being a judge for the Man Booker prize.
       We hope there will be a follow-up piece when she's done, too .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Game of Cards review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Adolf Schröder's The Game of Cards.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

18 January 2008 - Friday

Reconsidering literary prizes ? | Goncourt legacies
Schiffrin on French publishing | Chinese literature overview
Spanish literature at Suhrkamp | Whitbread Costa betting

       Reconsidering literary prizes ?

       In The Telegraph John Sutherland asks Does the world need book prizes ? The answer is, obviously: No. But here they are and, perhaps recognising that, Sutherland in fact offers something different here.
       First he focusses on what he thinks is wrong with the current leading batch of literary prizes -- the same thing, of course, that he's found to be wrong with book reviewers:
What are reviewers, after all ? They are judges, advising readers how to choose among the huge over-supply of fiction barraged every week into the public domain.

And what is the Booker panel ? It is exactly the same thing: judges, advising the public where they can best invest their valuable time and energy.
       It's an inaccurate statement, and an unfair comparison: the Man Booker panel is, in fact, limited to a sliver of the "over-supply of fiction barraged every week into the public domain" -- generally only considering about a hundred or so titles a year. The Man Boker panel has to ignore all American fiction (not eligible) and all translated fiction (not eligible) -- and is further limited by the ridiculous submission requirements, which limit every British publisher to two (!) titles (with a very few exceptions: former winners and recently shortlisted authors' books are automatically eligible, titles can be (but generally very few are) 'called in', etc.) Publishers wield far too much power in deciding what kind of a prize they want the Man Booker to be -- by the books they submit -- and when, for example, Ian Rankin complains about genre novels not getting the proper respect because they never make the Man Booker long- or short-list he's completely missed the point: we'd bet good money his publisher, for example, has never ever ever submitted one of his novels for Man Booker consideration (because those books don't need the sales-push the prize offers, and submitting one of those titles would take away the guaranteed slot from some (inevitably more 'literary') title that would get a lift from Man Booker-approval). Ridiculously, the Man Booker folk don't even reveal the names of the titles that are in the running for the prize .....
       Shockingly, however, Sutherland sees a better way of doing things in one of the few examples of a literary prize that is actually worse than the Man Booker:
There are alternative judicial systems: systems which draw less on the Old Bailey model than the reality TV show. The Quills Prize, based in New York, has devised an elegant and adventurous judging system which, I think, Trewin and his coadjutors could think about as they review the moth holes in their own.
       The Quills ?!??
       Yes, he thinks:
The Quill machine may seem over-engineered. But it works. And it is less of a wild turkey shoot than the Man Booker, where winners (as last year) come from nowhere and, all too often, go back there in terms of sales and common reader approval.
       We haven't heard that the Quills give a sales boost anywhere comparable to that the Man Booker winner gets (but then there's only one Man Booker, and there seem to be a few dozen Quill awards). And how many people takes that award seriously ?
       More significantly, the Quills -- "an industry qualified awards program for books", as they describe themselves -- is similarly elitist, at least in the sense of imposing strict restrictions on what books are eligible for consideration for the prizes. In focussing solely on books already programmed for -- or having already achieved -- success -- i.e. in being almost by definition populist -- there is a bit of a self-fulfilling prophesy about them: sure, these books are books that people buy, that really are popular (not like those often unreadable Man Booker titles ...), but what exactly is the point of rewarding that popularity in yet another way when the public is already aware of their success via bestseller lists, massive marketing campaigns (ads, prominent displays in bookstores, etc.), etc.
       Surely what literary prizes should focus on is literary excellence -- which (though no one seems to believe this) can overlap with actual popularity. Certainly no one should take the Man Booker seriously until that jury is willing (or allowed) to consider all the best books out there -- i.e. even the Ian Rankins of the (Commonwealth) world are in at least the first mix. But to see the Quills-model as an alternative, when in fact it is just as limited (just in a different way) is ridiculous.

       (Interesting titbit: Sutherland mentions that the Man Booker judges are paid £7,000 for their troubles, which seems like pretty good money to us.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Goncourt legacies

       Always a fun exercise: to see how literary-prize winners of yesteryear have fared since their triumphs. In Le Figaro Mohammed Aïssaoui looks at Gloire et déboires des anciens Prix Goncourt, finding that, for example 1978 Prix Goncourt-winner Patrick Modiano is still going strong, his most recent book already near the 100,000-copies-sold mark. Meanwhile there's 1979 winner Antonine Maillet; her most recent book came out in March last year and still hasn't sold 500 copies .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Schiffrin on French publishing

       Three Percent point us to André Schiffrin's Controlling words at Eurozine. It's "based on an speech given at the Sorbonne in 2005, organized by Sens Public" -- and it's too bad that it wasn't a) updated, and b) the English wasn't tidied up.
       Lots of dire warnings -- but a bit more attention to (and explanation of) detail might have helped:
In America, the consequences of this kind of merger have been dramatic. These publishing houses control not only books but newspapers. They have a monopoly. Consequently, they demand huge sums of money from anyone who wants to become a subscriber. A subscription to a basic economics journal now costs 16 000 dollars a year. By doing this they drain the budgets of university libraries, which are obliged to spend all the funds they have in order to subscribe to essential journals.
       Valid issues, but not exactly clearly presented or argued.
The result: there is no money left to buy books published by the university presses, which used to sell something like 1200 copies per title. Last year, they were selling no more than 350 copies, which means that only 350 libraries across the world bought a copy. They were on the verge of bankruptcy. What is more, in the US, university presses have changed their lists. Now they are publishing books about baseball so as to balance their budgets. On the other hand, they have cut down on their scientific publications.
       Again, the vagueness and over-simplification -- is there really that much money in baseball books ? or even just that type of book ? and who is this 'they' on the verge of bankruptcy ? every university press ? hundreds ? a few ? -- make us feel less confident about his other claims.

       Still,as far as the French market goes, recall that we just recently mentioned Le Figaro's list of the ten top-selling French authors in France -- who together accounted for over one-fifth of the French (i.e. not translated) fiction titles sold, an astonishing concentration on the top.

       (See also our review of Schiffrin's The Business of Books.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Chinese literature overview

       In The Guardian Richard Lea offers a useful two-part overview of the contemporary Chinese literary and publishing situation, in A new cultural revolution and Interesting times.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Spanish literature at Suhrkamp

       In the FAZ Paul Ingendaay reports on the continuing turmoil at German publisher Suhrkamp, as Mechthild 'Michi' Strausfeld, responsible for their Spanish- and Portuguese-language list, has announced he's leaving at year's end -- apparently because he doesn't think they're supportive enough of what he'd like to do.
       Given how well-developed their Spanish (including Latin and South American) and Portuguese list was under his tenure this looks like a major loss.
       Interestingly, his two greatest successes were in getting Isabel Allende on board, from The House of the Spirits on -- a book that Ingendaay says was a major money-earner for them for years --, and, more recently Carlos Ruiz Zafón's The Shadow of the Wind, which he says has sold a staggering 1.8 million copies in German (about three times the latest US sales figures ...). The sales-success of these titles is hard to ignore, especially what it does for the bottom line, but they don't fit Suhrkamp's literary image very well, and it's not hard to imagine that some at the publishing house desperately want to move away from such stuff .....
       (Suhrkamp has been in considerable turmoil since long-time leader Unseld's death, but it's not a straightforward decline: several areas -- their eastern European list, in particular -- seem to have been reinvigorated over the past few years.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Whitbread Costa betting

       The Whitbread Costa Book of the Year winner will be announced on the 22nd, and in The Times Elsa McLaren reports that Bookies pick Kennedy as favourite to win Costa Book of the Year award.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

17 January 2008 - Thursday

The fate of The Original of Laura | Japanese literary prizes | Zhang Ailing revival
Arnon Grunberg interview | The NY Sun's book review archive | Sales of translated books
Mills & Boon success in India | The Whistler review

       The fate of The Original of Laura

       At Slate Ron Rosenbaum writes about Dmitri's Choice, as 'Nabokov wanted his final, unfinished work destroyed. Should his son get out the matches ?'
       Yes, Vladimir Nabokov apparently wanted what there is of his last work, The Original of Laura, destroyed -- so what's a son to do ?
       Rosenbaum thinks:
Dmitri's predicament goes beyond Laura. It's one that raises the difficult issue of who "owns" a work of art, particularly an unfinished work of art by a dead author who did not want anything but his finished work to become public. Who controls its fate? The dead hand from the grave ? Or the eager, perhaps overeager, readers, scholars, and biographers who want to get their hands on it no matter what state it's in ?
       Much as we'd love to have any additional scrap of Vladimir Nabokov's writing this seems a pretty easy choice, just like Max Brod's should have been: the author's express wishes trump everything else.
       What really troubles us is where Dmitri's mind is at:
In the interview, Dmitri initially says that he is reserving judgment as to whether to preserve or destroy the manuscript, but he subsequently admits to feeling protective about Laura, especially in light of the treatment of his father's works by certain writers he regards as deeply misguided in their "psychological" analyses of Lolita and other works, analyses he characterizes as virtually criminal idiocy. In particular, he singles out critics who have used close readings of Nabokov's work to suggest that V.N. himself was molested or abused.

And though Dmitri hasn't made a final decision, he says the desire to spare Laura similar molestation by the "Lolitologists" inclines him to obey his father's wishes and consign the manuscript to oblivion.
       Of all the possible reasons to do the right thing this is the worst -- and a completely ridiculous one. Nothing will ever be able to protect Nabokov and his work from the silliest interpretations and accusations, and withholding this particular ammunition would surely barely stem the flood. Get over it.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Japanese literary prizes

       The Japan Times reports on the most recently announced winners of Japan's biggest literary prizes in Akutagawa, Naoki prizes awarded:
The 138th Akutagawa Prize for promising new writers of serious fiction has been awarded to Mieko Kawakami for Chichi to Ran (Breasts and Egg), while the Naoki Prize has been given to Kazuki Sakuraba for Watashi no Otoko (My Man), the selection committees for the prizes announced Wednesday.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Zhang Ailing revival

       In the IHT Sheila Melvin reports on A postmortem revival for China's acclaimed author Zhang Ailing -- better known, at least hereabouts, as Eileen Chang.
       (New York Review Books Classics recently brought out her Love in a Fallen City; see their publicity page, or get your copy at or

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Arnon Grunberg interview

       At Publishers Weekly Jonathan Segura talks with Arnon Grunberg in Anything But Nice -- mainly about the recently-published-in-the-US (but apparently not in Germany) novel, The Jewish Messiah.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The NY Sun's book review archive

       As we've frequently noted, The New York Sun's book review coverage is among the best (in terms of book-selection) of any newspaper (though most of it appears on Wednesdays) .
       We don't know how long the little notice "NEW! NY Sun Book Reviews Archive" has been up, but this is the first time we noticed it and what a great find ! The archive (which you can also sort by book author and title, as well as article author and title) immediately vaults The New York Sun's site up to one of the most useful (for what we do and what we're interested in) !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Sales of translated books

       At Three Percent Chad Post points to and discusses Rachel Deahl's article in Publishers Weekly on Selling ... en Español
       In the article we read:
Colchie also believes that given the dearth of translations published in the U.S., their hit ratio is similar to, or better than, English-language titles. "If you take the performance of the 200 to 300 translations published a year and compare them to the performance of the 200,000-plus [American] titles published, you won't see a big difference."
       We'd still love to see the actual numbers .....
       And, much more troubling:
Colchie, who has been in the business since the late '70s, noted that while fewer translations are being bought, many are drawing bigger money. According to him, with the consolidation of publishing, the number of translations being published decreased, but the money remained. "I now sell fewer books in a year, but sell them for a lot more money," he said, claiming that it's not unheard of to sell a translation for anywhere from $200,000 to $500,000.
       If true it paints a terrifying picture, of money thrown away on lowest-common denominator international bestsellers .....

       (But good to see a few semi-hard (i.e BookScan) numbers -- and, for what it's worth, Shadow of the Wind was by far the most-purchased-via-the-Amazon-links of all the titles under review at the complete review in 2007 (topping the number two title by more than two to one).)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Mills & Boon success in India

       Talk about cultural differences: Vikram Doctor reports (in a slightly exaggerated headline) that Most Indian males read Mills & Boon, as Harlequin Mills & Boon bodice-rippers apparently enjoy a huge male readership in India.
       That's worth a giggle, but what we found more interesting is that:
For most Indian readers, it will come as a surprise that M&B was never actually distributed in India. The novels have been so much a part of our lives, stacked in the hundreds in circulating libraries, borrowed dozens at a time by women (especially in hostels, where the trick was for one girl to borrow them and ten to read them the same night), laid out for sale second hand on pavements.


But all of this was achieved with Harlequin ever selling directly. "We had some idea about this market, but we never really followed it up," admits Go. "At the Frankfurt Book Fair, we would meet Indian distributors who would offer to take on consignments and we never bothered beyond that."

Except that at some point, he says, they would always run into payment problems with the distributors and break off relations. To some extent, copies would also come as overruns from other markets. "People would buy up consignments of books from the UK or South Africa and sell them here," he says.
       If there's a market, the books will find a way there ..... Pretty amazing.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Whistler review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Angolan author Ondjaki's The Whistler.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

16 January 2008 - Wednesday

Ruth Franklin on Irène Némirovsky | Gabriel Okara interview
Bookslut profile | Pandora in the Congo review

       Ruth Franklin on Irène Némirovsky

       As best we can tell, The New Republic never bothered reviewing Irène Némirovsky's Suite Française -- among the few major publications that (occasionally) cover serious literature that didn't review it -- but in the 30 January issue Ruth Franklin now makes up for it with 'Scandale Française' (the article appears to only be available online to subscribers at this time, but try the link (or, preferably, the single-page version); maybe they'll free it up at some point). Ostensibly it's a review of the new four-novella Everyman's Library collection (see our review), Fire in the Blood (though she devotes more space to several of Némirovsky's still untranslated works), and Jonathan Weiss' Irène Némirovsky: Her Life and Works, but the main focus is on David Golder -- and what Franklin considers Némirovsky's very dubious character.
       Primarily, Franklin wants to debunk the Némirovsky-myth:
The real irony of the Suite Française sensation is not that a great work of literature was waiting unread in a notebook for sixty years before finally being brought to light. It is that this accomplished but unexceptional novel, having acquired the dark frame of Auschwitz, posthumously capped the career of a writer who made her name by trafficking in the most sordid anti-Semitic stereotypes.
       She argues:
Suite Française, it must be said, is a fine novel. It is charmingly written, its moments of gentle humor are balanced by sharp ironies, its characters are expertly sketched. But had it not been certified by its tumultuous origins, by the harrowing circumstances of its composition, it is hard to imagine that it would have been published in this country at all. (How large is the American market for minor literary classics in translation ?)
       She may have a point -- Suite Française doesn't strike us nearly as minor as she makes it out to be, with or without its backstory, but then again, getting anything translated into English ..... Well, you're familiar with that situation ..... But certainly she underestimates Némirovsky's reputation: to say that even in France "her work was out of print until recently" is misleading -- yes, Suite Française led to a boon in Némirovsky-books, but they've regularly reappeared in print over the years (and, for example, relatively new German editions of David Golder and The Courilof Affair appeared several years before Suite Française was discovered -- i.e. came (back) to market without the whole Suite Française baggage).
       She argues, too, that at that time and now:
Certainly, very few readers would still remember David Golder, her first novel and, until Suite Française, her greatest success.
       Really ? We, for one, posted our review more than a year before the English translation of Suite Française was published. And some of the reviews -- most notably and usefully Alice Kaplan's in The Nation -- discussed both that novel and Némirovsky's complicated history and writing.
       Franklin maintains that: "very few readers in our day know anything about Irène Némirovsky" (by which she actually means that she believes very few know anything about specific parts of Némirovsky's biography) -- though everywhere from Kaplan's review to our own fairly extensive coverage the sordid details seemed to have gotten quite a few mentions (though it is possible that many have ignored the facts because they don't fit with the picture they'd like to have of the author -- something Franklin does not consider). So Franklin makes her case, and the case is based on the now once again readily accessible David Golder (a book that The New Republic does appear to have reviewed (which Franklin doesn't mention) -- back in 1930 -- though we've not been able to get a copy of that review yet), "an appalling book by any standard".
       Its appallingness is attributed to a specific facet of the book:
Were it not for the Jewish dimension of this lurid plot, David Golder would be only a semi-tragic tale of money-lust and family cruelty. The racial component transforms it into something uglier. The Jewish caricatures are, frankly, shocking.
       No doubt this dimension is, to put it mildly, problematic. But is it really that simple, that that specific (highly charged and historically weighted though it is) component alters everything so much ?
       Franklin goes so far as to argue:
David Golder appeared in 1929. Would it be too much to say that such a book published in such a year was complicit, as many similar books were complicit, in the moral degradation of culture that became one of the causes of the imminent genocide ? It has been painful to watch Némirovsky's contemporary defenders tying themselves into knots to explain this racist travesty of a novel.
       And she goes further, determined to pull Némirovsky down off any pedestal:
Marnham is correct that a single character -- even a single book -- does not an anti-Semite make. But here's the thing: Némirovsky did it over and over again.
       It's a familiar problem -- though she's right, that Némirovsky was more consistently beyond the pale (in this respect) than most objectionable authors: while most usually just slipped up for a while (Pound, Hamsun), Némirovsky is in Céline-territory as far as objectionable writing and behaviour goes.
       Anyway, it's interesting to see that here's a book -- the four-novella Everyman's Library collection -- that The New Republic gets to so quickly (aside from ours this review is the first we've seen) when they've been almost completely ignoring fiction pretty much ever since Foer took over (the last fiction covered was -- like the translated fiction favoured by the NYTBR -- also by a dead author, Leo Tolstoy (and, as is the case with David Golder, a new translation of a book previously available in English ...)). Of course, Franklin's 'review' is less about the fiction -- only two of the four novellas in the new collection are discussed, and the other fiction title, Fire in the Blood, is also summarily dismissed -- than about Némirovsky's person.
       No question, and despite her tragic and outrageous end, Némirovsky sounds like a pretty sorry human being. But to what extent does that taint her works ? Certainly, if one of them is tainted it is David Golder -- but we'd still have to say that we'd rather have the work than for it never to have existed. It was a disturbing read, but we're not sorry we read it.
       And now we're really curious as to what the next reactions to the new collection will be like.

       (Aside: Readers may recall that we mentioned weighing whether or not to renew our subscription to The New Republic last fall, ultimately deciding (in no small part because of the lack of book-reviews devoted to fiction) not to renew it. Our subscription ran out with the issue of 19 November -- but they keep on sending us the magazine (with the 19Nov07 expiration date on the mailing label) ..... Given that we've probably mentioned the magazine more often in the past four months than in all the previous years we've been at this maybe a wise choice on their part .....)

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        Gabriel Okara interview

       In the Nigerian Tribune Akintayo Abodunrin interviews Gabriel Okara, in I write for passion, not profit.

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       Bookslut profile

       In Publishers Weekly Claire Kirch profiles Bookslut -- "regarded as one of the most provocative and, at the same time, erudite of the book review sites" --, and finds Jessa Crispin Rewrites the Rules of Reviewing .
       It begins:
"I don’t have the background people in publishing have," literary blogger Jessa Crispin freely admits. "Bookslut is on the outside: we’re not located in New York, we’re not print, and we take things less seriously than the New York Times Book Review.

"But that’s why we became popular. I talk about books in a casual, off-the-cuff way. We’re making book reviews more accessible without dumbing it down. That’s what was missing in the national discussion of books," explains the 29-year-old founder of Bookslut.
       Nice profile -- though we can't remember the last time anyone could claim (with a straight face) that the NYTBR takes (literary) things in any way seriously .....

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       Pandora in the Congo review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Albert Sánchez Piñol's Pandora in the Congo, which will be available (in the UK) in a few months.

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15 January 2008 - Tuesday

AUC Press profile | Krúdy Gyula profile
POD today | 'Princeton University Reads' course

       AUC Press profile

       In Arab News Lisa Kaaki writes about AUC Press: A Cultural Bridge Between East & West, profiling the American University in Cairo Press.
       Somewhat worrying, however:
Arab writers are particularly eager to have their works translated.

Echoing columnist Dalal al-Bizry, who wrote: "The majority of writers have the feeling that what they write has no value unless it’s translated into a foreign language."
       Presumably this is in part because validation is so hard to come by locally.

       See also the AUC Press titles we have under review.

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       Krúdy Gyula profile

       hlo have a portrait of The Knight of Fogginess, Krúdy Gyula.

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       POD today

       At Publishers Weekly Calvin Reid finds that POD Heads to the Mainstream.
       There's still a way to go, but the print-on-demand role is definitely increasing:
CEO J. Kirby Best recites a list of print-on-demand milestones: Lightning Source has grown from three employees in 1997 to more than 500 today; the company digitally scans about 2,000 books a week and prints 1.2 million books a month. "It took us seven years to print 10 million books," says Best as we stroll through the 159,000-sq.-ft. building. "This year we published 10 million books in the first 11 months."
       (We've noticed more books -- and the occasional ARC -- published via Lightning Source come across our desks, too.)
Over at S&S, Dennis Eulau, executive v-p for operations, doesn't believe POD is cost-effective for prime-time frontlist printing. "The cost is still up, " he says, about $4–$5 a book, compared to roughly a little more than a $1 per book for offset. "Most people want POD for the long-tail effect. Most of our authors just want their books to be available. " But Eulau also said, "You just don't know. We've had books go into POD, find a community and have to be moved back to offset. " In fact, Eulau says, when it comes to picking backlist titles for the program, "nonfiction, fiction—it doesn't much matter. " S&S has about 2,600 titles in its POD program and, he says, "We're adding about 300 to 400 titles each year. "
       And surely the POD prices can only come down over time .....

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       'Princeton University Reads' course

       At the Princeton Weekly Bulletin Jennifer Greenstein Altmann describes how Renowned Princeton writers join together to teach one class, 'Princeton University Reads'.
       Most universities offer events with the on-campus writers, but it's pretty cool to get so many of them to come to one class.

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14 January 2008 - Monday

Urdu anthology | Ayu Utami coverage | Pinter exhibit
New York interviews: Mamet and Lee Siegel | Nazi Literature in the Americas review

       Urdu anthology

       OUP India have published their two-volume The Oxford India Anthology of Modern Urdu Literature to considerable (local) fanfare. At The Hindu Ziya Us Salam talks to editor Mehr Afshan Farooqi about the books and Urdu literature, in Of continuity and change, while at Outlook India Khushwant Singh is less enthusiastic about it -- "Unforgivable omissions, insipid choices of prose and poetry and a novel theory on the origins of Urdu -- these anthologies do scant justice to their grand design" -- in his review, Brevity, A One-Eyed Duchess.
       Still, given how little Urdu literature is readily available in English translation .....
       See the OUP India publicity pages for volume 1 ('Poetry and Prose Miscellany') and volume 2 ('Fiction'), or get your copies at (volume 1 and volume 2) or (volume 1 and volume 2).

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       Ayu Utami coverage

       In The Jakarta Post Kunang Helmi writes that Indonesian author dazzles literati at Paris conference, as Ayu Utami's Saman has now come out in French (see the Flammarion publicity page) .
        Saman is one of the rare contemporary Indonesian titles that's made a bit of an impression abroad -- though Helmi notes that:
The book represents only the tip of the iceberg of work by young Indonesian writers during the past decade.
       The book is also available in English translation, from Indonesian publisher Equinox -- see their publicity page, where they note that: "Saman has taken the Indonesian literary world by storm and sold over 100,000 copies in the Indonesian language". (Get your copy at or
       You can also read an excerpt (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) at the University of Iowa's IWP site.

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       Pinter exhibit

       There's an exhibit of 'His Own Domain: Harold Pinter, a Life in Theatre' at the British Library through 13 April; see the BL press release, as well as Ben Hoyle's Early works show Harold Pinter in a time of verbosity in The Times.

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       New York interviews: Mamet and Lee Siegel

       Boris Kachka talks to both David Mamet (about his new play, November) and to Lee Siegel in this week's New York.
       November is opening soon -- see the official site -- but, oddly, the published version won't be available until 24 June (pre-order your copy at

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       Nazi Literature in the Americas review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Roberto Bolaño's Nazi Literature in the Americas, which surpassed even our expectations. Sure, on the one hand it's 'just' a literary exercise that's gotten completely out of hand -- in the way some of the Oulipo authors get carried away with the rules they impose on their writings -- but there's a lot of depth to it, too. Certainly one of those books that sticks with you (or us, at least) -- and it's worthy of much closer consideration than a cursory review (or at least ours) can offer.
       We are curious as to how it will do -- after all, who is going to pick this up on the display table at their local bookstore ? Anyone attracted to the title will likely be disappointed, while those to whom it might appeal may very well be put off by the title (if they haven't heard what's behind it, etc.).
       A hell of a hard title to market -- but we hope word gets around (and the Bolaño-name attracts potential readers, too): it sure looks like it is destined to go down as one of 2008's most remarkable books.

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13 January 2008 - Sunday

Translation in India | 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award finalists
Ian McEwan Q&A | Israeli literature | Night Train to Lisbon cultural divide ?
In her Absence review

       Translation in India

       With the upcoming 'Translating Bharat'-conference, as part of the Jaipur Literature Festival, there's some discussion in India about local translation issues, and the Deccan Herald has two interesting takes on the local situation.
       In Found in translations Dipti Nair offers a general overview -- and hears:
"Translations are the next big thing in this era of globalisation. We will be doing great disservice to the wealth of our literature in all languages if we don’t wake up now and move forward on this front," feels Kapoor.
       Meanwhile, in Enter, the elephant Mini Krishnan 'feels that Indian languages have constantly been shortchanged and the power of translation as a unifying force is grossly underrated' -- and argues that:
Translation is empowering because it enables a cultural understanding of different language worlds. It is the cement of multilingualism which nimbly crosses many bridges and promotes insights into the national psyche. The literary face of India, a composite of more languages than there are on the huge continent of Africa, can be integrated by the English language nativised and playing the role of a super visa-tongue.

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       2007 National Book Critics Circle Award finalists

       The 2007 National Book Critics Circle Award finalists have been announced.
       The only nominees we have under review are (no surprise) in the fiction category: Vikram Chandra's Sacred Games and Hisham Matar's In the Country of Men (the latter to us a baffling choice).

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       Ian McEwan Q&A

       Arts & Letters Daily points us to the The New Republic's online Q&A with Ian McEwan, conducted by Isaac Chotiner.
       A variety of points of interest, but presumably the online-reactions will focus on:
Do you read any online reviews ?

I don't read the blogs much. I don't like the tone-the rather in-your-face road-rage quality of a lot of exchange on the Internet. I don't like the threads that come out of any given piece of journalism. It seems that when people know they can't be held accountable, when they don't have eye contact, it seems to bring out a rather nasty, truculent, aggressive edge that I think slightly doesn't belong in the world of book reviewing.
       It certainly makes us wonder what online sites he is reading the rare times he does stray into those areas, because this is certainly not our experience among the vast majority of book-related content we come across online. What are we missing ? And where are those sites where people aren't being held accountable ?

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       Israeli literature

       In 'We'll never be normal' in Haaretz Alon Hadar talks with Yigal Schwartz, of the Hebrew Literature department at Ben-Gurion University. It's mainly about the intersection of politics and literature in Israel, but the conversation ranges pretty widely.
       Among the observations Schwartz makes:
"I read 400 letters that were written to Amos Oz after A Tale of Love and Darkness. For a certain group in the population, this was a formative text. Now the question is -- for whom ? There are a million Russians in Israel. I don't think this is a formative text for them. Orly Castel-Bloom's Dolly City is a formative text.
       For more about Dolly City -- selected for the UNESCO Collection of Representative Works, by the way -- see the ITHL information page, or get your copy at or

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       Night Train to Lisbon cultural divide ?

       After some decent American reviews Pascal Mercier's Night Train to Lisbon takes a heavy one-two beating from Michelle Huneven (in The Los Angeles Times) and Liesl Schillinger (in The New York Times Book Review; here in the IHT) today.
       Huneven calls it: "feverishly overwritten", and says:
Think of W.G. Sebald recast for the mass market: stripped of nuance, cooked at high temperature and pounded home, clause after clause. Some of the clumsiness derives from Barbara Harshav's inelegant translation -- we're often aware of her struggle -- but she can't be blamed for the pervasive bloat.
       Meanwhile, Schillinger writes:
The book was a hit in Europe, where the reading public has patience for turgid (Mercier might prefer to call it "bombastic") introspection
Mercier's wording is so dense and overwrought, and Barbara Harshav's translation so ham-handed, that unpacking each sentence is like decoding a cryptic crossword in hieroglyphs.
       We read it in German, and while Mercier certainly stretches the story didn't feel it was particularly turgid -- and by comparison to some (indeed, a lot) of what's being produced on the continent it seems fairly sprightly. (We also didn't think of W.G. Sebald, recast or not .....) We can imagine that the translation might trip things up a bit; nevertheless, these are pretty strong (and strongly negative) reactions. In the NYTBR we aren't surprised (Schillinger's reaction sounds like it's exactly what Tanenhaus hopes for and expects regarding this sort of book), but two such reactions on one day suggest there's at least a bit more at issue here.

       (Updated - 20 January): See now also the Boston Globe review, which also wonders about the translation.

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       In her Absence review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Antonio Muñoz Molina's In her Absence.
       Several of his books have been translated into English (with Sepharad the only other one that seems to be (more or less) readily accessible), but here's definitely an under-translated author. Harcourt is bringing out a translation (by Edith Grossman) of his 1986 (!) Beatus Ille, as A Manuscript of Ashes this summer -- see their information page, or pre-order your copy at -- but that still leaves a lot that remains inaccessible.

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12 January 2008 - Saturday

New Martin Amis book | Arts Council issues, cont'd.
More Kertész coverage | Eugenides talk

       New Martin Amis book

       Martin Amis' new book, The Second Plane, is only due out at the end of the month in the UK, but at The Times David Aaronovitch already reviews it.
       Apparently it contains all the stuff Amis has been winning friends over with for the past few years -- mainly the Islam(ists)-focussed non-fiction, but also the stories 'In the Palace of the End' and 'The Last Days of Muhammad Atta'. But who knows, all the controversy might even help the collection sell well .....
       See the Cape publicity page for a bit more information, or pre-order your copy at, or (if you're willing to wait a bit longer) at .
       Is it a coincidence that Knopf is publishing the US edition on April Fool's Day ?
       Note also that the UK subtitle is apparently: 'September 11, 2001-2007', while in the US they're apparently going with what we're presuming is the far more apt subtitle: 'September 11: Terror and Boredom'.

       (Updated - 13 January): See now also Tim Adams' review in The Observer.

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       Arts Council issues, cont'd.

       We've mentioned how the recent Arts Council cuts affect some publishers, notably Dedalus, and at least a fair amount of noise is being generated about this.
       In The Times Dalya Alberge and Paul Dunn report that Publisher sues Arts Council as funding cuts bite:
A small, independent publisher is to sue Arts Council England over the ending of its funding. Dedalus accuses the council of failing to follow its own "disinvestment guidelines" for giving clients ample warning if their grant is to be withdrawn.
       And several of those affected, including also the British Centre for Literary Translation, have a letter in The Guardian warning Arts cuts will devastate literary translation.
       And remember that the petition to 'save Dedalus' is still open for more signatures -- they had 1014 last we checked.

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       More Kertész coverage

       Good to see that with Detective Story coming out the Kertész Imre-coverage continues. Translator Tim Wilkinson continues to spread the word, this time with Imre Kertész's heart of stone in Eurozine, while in the Financial Times Ben Naparstek reviews the book.

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       Eugenides talk

       Last week there was a long profile of Jeffrey Eugenides in The Telegraph by Mick Brown, and now this weekend he's interviewed (well, asked a few questions) by Anna Metcalfe in Small Talk in the Financial Times
       (See also our reviews of Middlesex and The Virgin Suicides.)

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11 January 2008 - Friday

Bestselling authors - France, 2007 | Bestselling books - Germany, 2007
Kertész profile | Ngugi on the situation in Kenya | Wolf Totem hype goes global
Omega Minor reactions | May in the Valley of the Rainbow review

       Bestselling authors - France, 2007

       Le Figaro has their annual round-up of Les 10 romanciers français les plus vendeurs en 2007 -- the French-writing novelists who sold the most books in 2007. And they give the numbers ! -- including the interesting observation that these ten authors account for over a fifth (21 per cent) of all French fiction sold in 2007.
       This year's chart-topper is, yet again, Marc Lévy -- the fourth straight year he's outsold everyone else, with a total of 1,462,000 copies shifted.
       Among the surprises is the number two -- Guillaume Musso, the only other author to top a million in sales, with 1,213,000.
       Guilaume who ? you may well ask. Well, his Will You Be There ? will be coming out in the UK from Hodder & Stoughton later this spring (pre-order your copy at The XO editions foreign rights page gives a bit more information -- a page that both suggests some of the reasons this hasn't been picked up in the US but, given the US setting, also makes you wonder:
Elliott has been professionally very successful. He is a sixty-year-old famous surgeon who lives in San Francisco and whose private life is illuminated by his daughter Angie.
       Yeah, we can just imagine that Angie, lighting up his private life like a 60-watt bulb .....
       But who could resist a book where:
Since then, the two Elliotts weirdly face each other behind close doors, in a succession of tender and intense moments which is the amazing fit of this novel and which characterizes the "Musso touch", a mix of suspense and psychological appropriateness.
       It's those sales-figures that are presumably the "Musso touch" foreign publishers hope to replicate, as the story itself sounds pretty hopeless (and presumably still would even if explained by someone familiar with the English language).

       As to the other bestselling authors: Amélie Nothomb does well again -- number four, with 796,000 books sold -- and Anna Gavalda impressively rounds out the top five -- all the more impressive since she hasn't published a new book since 2004. And Daniel Pennac does well this year too, with 538,000 books sold -- good for eighth place -- with the prize-winning Chagrin d'école leading the way for him.

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       Bestselling books - Germany, 2007

       A reader kindly alerts us to the buchreport end-of-year bestseller lists for Germany -- the top hundred titles in each of four categories (hardcover and paperback lists for fiction (well, 'Belletristik', which is close enough) and non).
       No surprise who takes the top spot(s) on the hardcover fiction list -- as it did presumably nearly everywhere else in the world. Meanwhile, Daniel Kehlmann's Measuring the World comes in at number seven (amassing 117 weeks on the weekly bestseller lists since it came out).
       Among the interesting findings on the paperback fiction list: Pascal Mercier's Night Train to Lisbon is in second place for the year -- and has been on the bestseller list for a whopping 89 weeks. Just out in the US, don't look for it to repeat that success -- though maybe this weekend's review in The New York Times Book Review will help sales a bit (the NYTBR reviewing contemporary fiction in translation ! a rarity ! so maybe readers will be impressed !).
       Leonie Swann's Glennkill -- which probably has and probably will continue to do better than the Mercier in its English version -- is right behind it.
       And, impressively, Bernhard Schlink's The Reader continues to sell: it's been on the bestseller list for a stunning 332 weeks (that's over six years !), and sold strongly enough to make it to number 26 for the year.

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       Kertész profile

       With Kertész Imre's Detective Story coming out the Nobel laureate has been getting some decent attention recently, and today The Independent adds to it, with Tibor Fischer's profile, Imre Kertész: Memoirs of a survivor.

       (But: What's up with the author-description at the end of the piece ? "Tibor Fischer's latest novel is 'The Thought Gang'" ?
       We're Tibor Fischer-fans -- and The Thought Gang is our favourite. But it came out in 1994, and he's published two novels and a story collection since then: The Collector Collector (1997) , Voyage to the End of the Room (2003), and Don't Read This Book if You're Stupid (2000).
       Have they not used anything of his for so long that that's the most up-to-date author-description they had on file ? Or is Fischer trying to forget the last decade ... ? )

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       Ngugi on the situation in Kenya

       Good to see some Ngugi wa Thiong’o-reactions to the situation in Kenya, after the recent elections (and election-fraud) there: the BBC has Ngugi laments Kenya violence, while at Jungle World Doris Akrap interviews him (sorry, German) (per e-mail).

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       Wolf Totem hype goes global

       We recently noted (yet again) the English-language build-up for the now imminent publication of Jiang Rong's Wolf Totem -- but the hype is going global: in Le Monde Alain Beuve-Méry reports on L'offensive mondiale du "Totem du loup".
       Bourin bought the French rights for 50,000 euros, and plan a first printing of 15,000 (with a publication date of 31 January). It seems safe to say that the book will be widely reviewed there. As to its sales potential and success ... well, we'll see.

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       Omega Minor reactions

       We've mentioned quite a few times that we thought Paul Verhaeghen's Omega Minor has some break-out potential -- but it certainly hasn't grabbed the attention of too many reviewers. Maybe things will pick up in the UK, if not in the US, as The Independent now has a go at it, with Matt Thorne finding it: "undoubtedly a curate's egg" but concluding:
For all its flaws, this is an uncommonly intellectually stretching -- and satisfying -- experience.
       Sounds about right to us.

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       May in the Valley of the Rainbow review

       Talk about a book which didn't attract much attention: Funado Yoichi's May in the Valley of the Rainbow -- not quite your typical Vertical offering, which probably helped throw reviewers -- doesn't even seem to have been covered in the trades. Well, now the most recent addition to the complete review is our review -- and though it's nothing extraordinary, the book seems worth at least a mention here or there (and there's probably a reasonably-sized audience for it).

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