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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 31 October 2008

21 October: Nederland Leest | Pat Kavanagh passes away | Günter Grass profile | Der Turm review
22 October: Man Booker bounce | Saviano support | The GGs
23 October: Don Quixote translations | Man 'Asian' Literary Prize shortlist | Selling Le Clézio | Lee Moon-yeol ! Yi Munyol? | MobyLives lives ! | Bonsai review
24 October: Arabic translations | Alan Bennett papers | Turkmen commission | Gabriel García Márquez biography | Beckett biographer Q&A | Russian literary agents ? | John Updike profiles
25 October: Somali Literature Festival | Nobel Literature Chair at Harvard | Peter Avery (1923-2008) | Sebald stage adaptation | Murakami Q & A | Calcutta as city of literature ? | Wetlands review
26 October: Another Swedish prize for Le Clézio | Bring back the quotation mark ?
27 October: Grinzane for Africa | International fiction roundup | New slang | A.N. Wilson on Moby-Dick
28 October: Bulgarian Novel of the Year | Manga as global cultural product | Persephone Books | Pigeon Post review
29 October: Canada-Japan Literary Awards | E'skia Mphahlele (1919-2008)
30 October: Presidential candidates' favourite books | German critics' favourites for November | Australia-'Asia' Literary Award shortlist | More criticism of The White Tiger | Eder on New Lives | I Kill review
31 October: Le Clézio overview | More on the presidential candidates and books | Senselessness review

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31 October 2008 - Friday

Le Clézio overview | More on the presidential candidates and books
Senselessness review

       Le Clézio overview

       Bookninja points us to a decent overview of new Nobel laureate J.M.G. Le Clézio at the Wall Street Journal, Richard B. Woodward's A Nobel Undertaking: Getting to Know Le Clézio, as:
I have immersed myself in his fiction, reading seven novels and two story collections -- eight in English, one in French. I sampled his untranslated writings on cinema as well. Many works from the '60s and '70s have dated so badly -- as he moved from existential despair to political outrage -- that it took many cups of coffee to turn their pages. But most also contained passages of gorgeous writing -- and one, the 1967 novel Terra Amata, was transcendent.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More on the presidential candidates and books

       Yesterday we mentioned a piece on the (American) presidential candidates' favourite books, and there are several more dealing with the subject.
       Heidi Benson has the Local literati rate candidates' reading lists in the San Francisco Chronicle, which is well worth a look, while John Freeman 'hears literary voices of a nation on the brink of change' in The Independent, in Hopes for a happy ending: Literary voices on the American Election. Those hopes are pretty high: John McCain, who we understand is also running for the office, isn't even mentioned.
       Freeman finds:
So it is with an enormous sense of relief that writers face an election which might bring to power a President who has a very different story to tell about America. But will his election have some impact on literary culture ? The bare-bone facts bode well. Barack Obama, who now leads all national polls, does not just respect language: he is an accomplished writer.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Senselessness review

       We finally got our hands on a copy, so the most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Horacio Castellanos Moya's Senselessness.
       This is the first and so far only one of his books available in English; we're also really curious about his best-known novel (and the one that led him to leave El Salvador), El asco. Thomas Bernhard en San Salvador , -- it's been translated into Serbian (!) but not English ..... Meanwhile, check out how lucky the French are, as a whole pile of his books have been translated into French; see the rights listings at his agent's information page.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

30 October 2008 - Thursday

Presidential candidates' favourite books | German critics' favourites for November
Australia-'Asia' Literary Award shortlist | More criticism of The White Tiger
Eder on New Lives | I Kill review

       Presidential candidates' favourite books

       Katie Couric -- who we were astonished to learn still has a TV job -- asked the American presidential candidates all the important questions, and has the scoop as Candidates Name Their Favorite Books.
       "What is your favorite book of all time ?" she asked, and Barack Obama responded:
Well, the bible is the book that shaped me and moved me the most. But, in addition to that, Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon might be one of my favorite books.
       (We're generally sympathetic to Obama, but find his religiosity deeply disturbing; we hope he's just pandering here and that it ain't true -- Bible-shaped folk in high office ... not a good combination.)
       He also voted for:
Shakespeare's tragedies, whether it's Hamlet or [King] Lear. There's so much in each of those tragedies. You can read them once a year and each year, there's something new, there's something you didn't notice. There is some insight into the human dilemma. It's powerful stuff.
       Pretty brave of a guy who already has two daughters to be pushing Lear .....
       Meanwhile Sarah Palin's running mate responded:
For Whom the Bell Tolls. It's about a fella from Montana that goes to Spain to fight for a cause he believes in.
       We look forward to reading what everybody reads into these selections.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       German critics' favourites for November

       The German critics' monthly selection of the books they think are most worthy of readers' attention, the SWR-Bestenliste -- yes, the least catchiest possible name for such a thing -- for November 2008 is now available.
       Surprisingly, Uwe Tellkamp's Der Turm, fell from favourite to third (so much for a German Book Prize-bump in critical affection ...), while local favourite Volker Braun (we have seven of his books under review) jumped from 7/8th position to top spot with Machwerk oder Das Schichtbuch des Flick von Lauchhammer (which we recently received and are very much looking forward to).
       Meanwhile someone has to explain to us why Ōe Kenzaburō's さようなら、私の本よ! is already available in German (as Sayonara, meine Bücher) -- and number five on the list -- but nowhere in sight in English (despite sounding like one of his more approachable texts). Well, see the Fischer Verlag publicity page, or get your copy the German version at (as we well might).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Australia-'Asia' Literary Award shortlist

       They only announced the longlist for the Australia-'Asia' Literary Award -- "the richest literary award in Australia and Asia"-- last week, but apparently they've now already culled it down to a shortlist: no word at the official site, but that's what the Sunday Times (Perth) is reporting, in Region's richest literary award shortlist announced.
       Amazingly, Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist continues to be in the running, while J.M.Coetzee's Diary of a Bad Year didn't make the cut; neither did the only other longlisted title we had under review, Murakami Haruki's After Dark.
       (And we repeat once again: this prize is about as 'Asian' as ... well, something that's only Asian to a very limited extent: as it does not allow submissions from so many Asian nations it is surely completely misleading for it to call itself in any way an 'Asian' prize.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More criticism of The White Tiger

       We had our problems with the Aravind Adiga's Man Booker-winning The White Tiger -- see our review -- and so have quite a few others (admittedly mainly from the subcontinent). Sanjay Subrahmanyam now piles on in the London Review of Books.
       Among his problems with the book:
What we are dealing with is someone with no sense of the texture of Indian vernaculars, yet claiming to have produced a realistic text.
       Indeed, he finds:
Adiga gets the tone right only when he writes of the world of the bourgeois.
       And concludes:
We canít hear Balram Halwaiís voice here, because the author seems to have no access to it. The novel has its share of anger at the injustices of the new, globalised India, and itís good to hear this among the growing chorus of celebratory voices. But its central character comes across as a cardboard cut-out. The paradox is that for many of this novelís readers, this lack of verisimilitude will not matter because for them India is and will remain an exotic place. This book adds another brick to the patronising edifice it wants to tear down.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Eder on New Lives

       Nice to see that The New York Times (whose book coverage is handled by a completely different department than the foreign-fiction-phobic Sam Tanenhaus-led The New York Times Book Review) is among the first to cover John E. Woods' translation of Ingo Schulze's New Lives, reviewed yesterday by Richard Eder.
       He finds:
Yet this very long novel describes a moral, social and economic plundering by an invading capitalism -- unrestrained in the absence of any countervailing force.
       But don't look for much of a sales-boost from a review that concludes:
Largely, though, the novel is a failure. Its unrelieved bitterness is part of the problem, particularly because it extends through so fat a book. Purging should not go on too long.
       See also the Alfred A. Knopf publicity page, or get your copy at or

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       I Kill review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Giorgio Faletti's I Kill.
       Okay, we have got to get more discriminating in what we review. But we're always curious about mega-selling foreign titles, and this was intriguing for a number of reasons.
       For one, as Elisabetta Povoledo reported in Italian job: Thriller coming to U.S. in the International Herald Tribune:
I Kill, an Italian thriller about a serial killer on a murder spree in Monaco, has been translated into two dozen languages and sold five million copies worldwide.
       But the Italian publishers couldn't find a US house willing to take it on -- so they did it themselves:
So I Kill became the first fiction project of the American imprint of Baldini Castoldi Dalai. And it was a substantial investment: Adding up translation and editing costs and setting up marketing and distribution channels, the publisher spent about Ä500,000, or $780,000.
       We usually complain about how American publishers don't know what they're doing, and how foolish they are in staying away from fiction in translation, but for once we must acknowledge they got it right. This is a piece of crap that could, at best, have been published as a cheap mass-market paperback and that has essentially nothing to recommend it. (Of course, the way it was translated -- apparently by committee (of four !), with them only going so far as to take credit for being part of an: "Editorial team of the English language edition" -- whatever that might mean -- and not for actually translating it -- might have something to do with it, though we suspect this is no diamond that just got roughed up along the way .....) No, this is one of those completely unnecessary books, a thriller of the dime-a-dozen sort -- and where any other example is likely to prove far superior.
       Very disappointing -- and we apologise for not spending our reading and reviewing time bringing you coverage of a better book.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

29 October 2008 - Wednesday

Canada-Japan Literary Awards | E'skia Mphahlele (1919-2008)

       Canada-Japan Literary Awards

       The Canada Council for the Arts has announced the winners of the 2008 Canada-Japan Literary Awards, which:
recognize literary excellence by Canadian authors writing on Japan, Japanese themes or themes that promote mutual understanding between Japan and Canada.
       We're curious whether the Japanese have a similar set of prizes recognising literary excellence by Japanese authors writing on Canada, Canadian themes, etc. ..... Somehow, we have our doubts.
       (The winning titles were Odori by Darcy Tamayose (in the English-language category) and Marcher le silence - Carnets du Japon by André Duhaime and André Girard (in the French-language category) .)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       E'skia Mphahlele (1919-2008)

       South African author E'skia Mphahlele has passed away; see, for example, the BBC's report, Anti-apartheid writer dies in SA or The Times' BookCase weblogs post, E'skia Mphahlele Has Died.
       See also the Es'kia Institute, "inspired by the life and work of Professor Esíkia Mphahlele"

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

28 October 2008 - Tuesday

Bulgarian Novel of the Year | Manga as global cultural product
Persephone Books | Pigeon Post review

       Bulgarian Novel of the Year

       They've announced that Фото Стоянович by Евгения Иванова has taken the 2008 Vick Prize for the Bulgarian Novel of the Year -- though the information wasn't available at the official site (in any language) last we checked; see, however, the (Bulgarian) report in Стандарт.
       For some English-language information, see the descriptions of all six shortlisted titles, where Evgenia Ivanova's Photo Stoyanovich is described as follows:
Evgenia Ivanovaís book is an educated attempt to think of the past as necessary to form existential foundations of the present; at the same time, she uses the post-modern techniques of the game and the mystification, an interplay between you and the others, reality and fiction. In this sense, the author skipped the last twenty years' experiments of fiction, using a whole new style of writing that may be further developed in the near future of Bulgarian literature.
       (We have to admit that this doesn't really tell us much about the book .....)
       The Vick Prize is an admirable attempt to support and publicize Bulgarian literature; as they note:
The prize is a monetary award of BGN 10,000 and the option of a translation of the work into English.
       However, that option hasn't seemed to work out too well yet: they've been handing this thing out since 2004, and we haven't come across a translation of any of the winning titles yet.

       (Updated - 31 October): See now also the longer report at Radio Bulgaria, Evgenia Ivanova wins Vick Prize for best novel.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Manga as global cultural product

       In Eurozine Jean-Marie Bouissou wonders: Why has manga become a global cultural product ?, arguing:
The world of manga, far better than that of comics, has been able to tune itself into the zeitgeist, to meet this demand for new meaning, however hare-brained.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Persephone Books

       In The Telegraph Gill Hornby finds that Neglected masterpieces given another day in the sun -- by Persephone Books:
The days are closing in, the pound is dropping, but there is comfort to be had: the latest Persephone Books catalogue arrives this week, and it is a cracker.
       Hornby notes:
The strain of fiction championed by Persephone has been the victim of outrageous literary snobbery. It is domestic fiction
       Sounds like it's worth a look.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Pigeon Post review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Dumitru Tsepeneag's Pigeon Post -- one of the works the Romanian author wrote in French, using the pseudonym 'Ed Pastenague'.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

27 October 2008 - Monday

Grinzane for Africa | International fiction roundup
New slang | A.N. Wilson on Moby-Dick

       Grinzane for Africa

       As we've noted before, we don't really understand how the Premio Grinzane works -- they seem to have thousands of categories and everyone seems to have won one of them -- and now they've added three more, with the Grinzane for Africa. As the African Press Agency reports
Kenyan writer Ngugi wa Thiongío won the African Heritage Prize while Nigerian writers Ben Okri and Angolan Ondjaki won the African Mainstream and Young Writer prizes respectively.
       Well, if it gets African authors and literature some more recognition, we're all for it. See also the report at Walta Information Center.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       International fiction roundup

       This week New York magazine's occasional 'Is This Book Worth Getting ?'-roundup considers recent 'international literary superstars', including Nobel laureate J.M.G. Le Clézio's The Prospector, as well as two books we have under review, To Siberia by Per Petterson and Chicago by Alaa Al Aswany.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       New slang

       The Telegraph provides Recent additions to the Chambers Slang Dictionary, and John Preston profiles the man behind the book, Jonathon Green, in Chambers Slang Dictionary: chavs, chuddies and Sally Gunnell.
       See also the publicity page for the new edition, or get your own copy at

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       A.N. Wilson on Moby-Dick

       In The Telegraph A.N. Wilson writes on Moby-Dick, noting that:
The United States is the ultimate land of optimistic promise, but it also gave birth to quintessentially pessimistic tragedy: Moby-Dick.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

26 October 2008 - Sunday

Another Swedish prize for Le Clézio | Bring back the quotation mark ?

       Another Swedish prize for Le Clézio

       The Franz Kafka Prize went to both Elfriede Jelinek and Harold Pinter the same years they each went on to win the Nobel Prize, and now the Stig Dagermanpriset looks like another decent predictor: they too named Jelinek their winner the year she went on to get the Nobel Prize, and they had announced in June that Le Clézio was getting this year's award (as he now has; see, for example, the AFP report, Nobel laureate Le Clezio receives Swedish literature prize). It's only worth about $6,300 and doesn't boast quite as impressive a list of winners as the Kafka (or Nobel), but certainly more people will be paying attention next summer when they announce the next winner.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Bring back the quotation mark ?

       In the Wall Street Journal Lionel Shriver thinks authors are Missing the Mark, finding 'Quotation marks have fallen out of favor, and that's bad for books':
You'd think literary writers would be bending over backwards to ingratiate themselves to readers -- to make their work maximally accessible, straightforward and inviting. But no.

Perhaps no single emblem better epitomizes the perversity of my colleagues than the lowly quotation mark

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

25 October 2008 - Saturday

Somali Literature Festival | Nobel Literature Chair at Harvard
Peter Avery (1923-2008) | Sebald stage adaptation | Murakami Q & A
Calcutta as city of literature ? | Wetlands review

       Somali Literature Festival

       The Somali-speaking Centre of International PEN announce The Word and the Way to a Better World, a Somali Literature Festival with a Touring Book Display, to be held in London 28 October - 4 November; we regret we're not in the neighourhood to enjoy it, as:
The event will bring together prominent Somali writers and acclaimed poets coming from the Horn of Africa as well as from within the UK.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Nobel Literature Chair at Harvard

       Not too much inside information was revealed, apparently, but in The Harvard Crimson Jillian K. Kushner reports that Nobel Literature Chair Talks Harvard. That would be Per Wästberg (class of '55 ...), not the permanent secretary (of infamous comment-fame) Horace Engdahl; see also Wästberg's Swedish Academy personal page.
       The Engdahl comments are, of course mentioned, and:
"[Engdahl] said many things out of frustration at the end of an interview...that were not wise," Wästberg said. "I regret that."

He went on to say that he agreed with Engdahlís view of the American literature as provincial, explaining that Americans do not read enough international literature. But Wästberg added that he disagreed with Engdahlís claim that America is removed from the worldwide literary dialogue.
       Really ? They're in the thick of things ? Could have fooled us ... (but then people often have).
       And even if the US generally is participating in the 'worldwide literary dialogue', Harvard students don't seem all that interested:
Lenfield added that he was "caught off guard" by what he saw as a low turnout for the event -- the Fong auditorium was only half-full.

However, those who did attend said they gained important insight.

"What I came away from the event with was a much stronger snapshot of how someone in the Nobel committee evaluates the state of literature in the world at this moment," Lenfield said.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Peter Avery (1923-2008)

       With all the literary news of the last few weeks we missed the fact that renowned Iranologist Peter Avery has passed away.
       Payvand report that Funeral of Iranologist Professor Avery held in Cambridge, while last week Hugh Carless' obituary was published in The Guardian, and there was also a good one in The Times.
       The only one of his translations we have under review is the one he did with John Heath-Stubbs of The Ruba'iyat of Omar Khayyam.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Sebald stage adaptation

       The Volcano Theatre Company is putting on a stage-adaptation of The Rings of Saturn by W.G.Sebald, i-witness; see also Karen Price's report, Falling under literary spell of Sebaldís words in the Western Mail.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Murakami Q & A

       In the San Francisco Chronicle Heidi Benson tries to learn What Haruki Murakami talks about.
       See also our review of his What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Calcutta as city of literature ?

       In The Times Swapan Chakravorty puts the case for Calcutta as the next city of literature, arguing:
The core of Calcutta's claim is that its literatures fashioned protocols of literary commerce before most places in the world. The rudiments of its literary life are marked by cultural translation and exchange, with the literature in each language implicated in that of any other. It is in such mutual entailment that Calcutta finds its identity, its festive openness almost compensating for its admitted material failures. If other cities tend to define their literatures, Calcutta invents itself as a city only in its literatures.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Wetlands review

       Sometimes we wonder what we're thinking when we pick a specific book to review, and Charlotte Roche's German mega-bestseller (over the million mark by now) Feuchtgebiete is certainly one where we thought twice (and then twice again once we started reading it). Nevertheless, the most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Charlotte Roche's Wetlands, due out in Tim Mohr's translation in February in the UK and a few months later in the US.
       We'd say more, but we have to go out and buy some more soap, and take another shower .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

24 October 2008 - Friday

Arabic translations | Alan Bennett papers | Turkmen commission
Gabriel García Márquez biography | Beckett biographer Q&A
Russian literary agents ? | John Updike profiles

       Arabic translations

       Denys Johnson-Davies' Memories in Translation offers a good overview of contemporary Arabic literature (much of which he has translated into English), and this week in Al-Ahram Weekly he reviews David Tresilian's A Brief Introduction to Modern Arabic Literature -- and finds:
While several books have been written that seek to give the ordinary reader a background to the Arabic novels that are being made available today in English translation, none does the task better and more entertainingly than David Tresilian's A Brief Introduction to Modern Arabic Literature.
       He also offers these mind-boggling numbers:
Recently modern Arabic literature seems to have made several long strides all at once. It is interesting to note that in the 20 years from 1947 to 1967 a mere 20 titles from modern Arabic literature appeared in English translation. In the next 20 years the situation improved slightly with 84 titles being published in translation between 1967 and 1988. I do not have figures for the yearly number being published these days, but the position has greatly improved.
       (Presumably about half of the titles until 1988 were books by Naguib Mahfouz, too .....)
       See also the Saqi publicity page for Tresilian's book, or get your copy from or; we definitely hope to have a look.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Alan Bennett papers

       With one author after another flogging their papers to more or less the highest bidder it's nice to see that the marvelous Alan Bennett (see, for example, our review of The Uncommon Reader) is just handing over his to the Bodleian Library.
       The official announcement is only coming on the 27th, but everyone is already reporting it: see, example, Andrew Ffrench's report in The Oxford Times, Alan Bennett gives papers to Bodleian:
Mr Bennett stressed that the donation was not costing the Bodleian or the taxpayer, and added: "I say with some pride that I had a state education: school, university. None of it cost me or my parents a penny. Itís a situation which young people in education today can only dream of and this is wrong.

"I believe that free education is a right and would dispute the notion that unless one pays for education it will be undervalued.

"I think it is appropriate, too, that my stuff should be here in Oxford. My writing is nothing if not English, and however universal and unboundaried scholarship may be these days I wouldnít want to be lodged in some mid-western university in America.
       The Economist also reports on An uncommon gift.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Turkmen commission

       As best we can tell, literature is not exactly thriving in Turkmenistan -- how many Turkmen books have you read (or even just come across) lately ? Don't look for conditions to improve, either: it looks like it would be a wonder if anything worthwhile came out of there in the near future, now that, as report, Turkmenistan sets up commission to assess literary works:
A special state commission was set up under the Turkmen Cabinet of Ministers to assess the artistic level of literature works, theatrical plays and film scripts.

Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov signed a decree to this effect on 21 October "with the aim of ensuring higher quality and substance of film scripts, plays, novels, stories and poems".

The commission is authorized to assess the artistic level of creative works and give permission to publish them, stage plays and film scenarios.
       Laudable though those aims may be, you know that that's not what this is about. Anytime permission is required to publish novels (etc.) -- and anytime the state gets involved in 'assessing' artistic levels (yeah, right, that's what they're going to be assessing ...) -- you know it's pretty much over as far as any sort of free expression goes.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Gabriel García Márquez biography

       Gerald Martin's biography of Gabriel García Márquez is now available -- in the UK; see the Bloomsbury publicity page, or get your copy from (American audiences will have to wait until May, 2009 before Knopf deigns to publish it here; pre-order your copy at
       The first reviews have now appeared: in The Spectator Philip Hensher writes:
Only sometimes do the bones of a very different biography peep through; a satirical one, in which a novelist who is taken up worldwide for reasons, principally, of radical chic spends years wooing a ridiculous dictator, ponders the dilemma of whether to support a Latin American fascist regime like Galtieriís, and bewilders a tiny Venezuelan groupuscule with the very public gift of $22,750.
       In The Independent Jason Wilson writes:
This first biography in English, with minimal repetitions and some Marquesian "many years later", catches the private man's outer self, airs its frustrations at pinning him down, and helps readers to ground his exceptional fiction in history. (...) The biography may be too action-packed, with little on mind-life, but it is worth the journey. We don't need the 2,000-page version.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Beckett biographer Q&A

       At Colorado State University they're having some sort of 'Beckett Project', and The Coloradoan uses the opportunity to offer a Q&A with James Knowlson, The man Samuel Beckett trusted to be his authorized biographer.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Russian literary agents ?

       In his Salon-column in The Moscow Times Victor Sonkin reports on Russian literary agents, noting:
"The only difference between the work of a literary agent here and in the West is that in the West, an unsuccessful book means little money for the agent; here, it means a lot of time uselessly spent and perhaps even financial loss," says Alexander Gavrilov, director of the "Book Review" publishing house. "Also, I don't know about foreign agents, but in Russia, speaking from experience, an agent often acts as a shrink for the author. Russian writers are extremely sensitive and vulnerable."

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       John Updike profiles

       John Updike apparently has a new book out (The Widows of Eastwick; get your copy at or pre-order it at, so he's getting a fair amount of coverage. In The Telegraph Mick Brown profiles him, while at Reader's Digest Jesse Kornbluth has a Q&A with him.

       (Updated - 26 October): See now also Peter Conrad's profile in The Observer, in which Updike weighs in on this year's US presidential election:
McCain is blameable for choosing Palin as his running mate. She's a bird-brain, she annoys me terribly. McCain himself is worse.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

23 October 2008 - Thursday

Don Quixote translations | Man 'Asian' Literary Prize shortlist
Selling Le Clézio | Lee Moon-yeol ! Yi Munyol?
MobyLives lives ! | Bonsai review

       Don Quixote translations

       In Humanities Ilan Stavans writes about 'Don Quixote in translation', in One Master, Many Cervantes -- and makes the astounding claim that:
What gets published in English today sets standards worldwide, even of the classics.
       What he means, surely is: especially (or: at least) of the classics. His focus is on them -- and on the long-term (i.e. the past hundreds of years of translation), which makes for a slightly different picture than just looking at the past few decades (during which the English standards have been of a rather different sort).
       So he notes:
There are several full-fledged renditions of Madame Bovary into Spanish, but, by my own estimation, not nearly as many as those available in English -- to use conservative numbers, half a dozen, by translators like Stephen Heath, Mildred Marmur, Francis Steegmuler, and Eleanor Marx Aveling. Reading them in comparative fashion, as Iíve done recently, is both a treat and a threat, an endless form of joy as well as a source of puzzlement. Is it really Flaubert who is behind them all ?

I canít think of a more rancorous translation surfeit, a fiesta of larger possibilities, than the multiplications in English of Don Quixote, by far my favorite book
       As far as Don Quixote goes he writes:
Iíve counted eighteen different complete English versions, although some might exist under the radar. No other classic has been revamped as often into Shakespeareís tongue, and, yes, as atrociously. What a gang of divergent souls Cervantesí translators are: postmen, surgeons, linguists, painters, playwrights, poets, journalists, teachers, scholars, editors, collectors, naughty craftsmen, and downright plagiarists. There are rumors that at least one didnít even know Spanish.
       And he even goes so far as to suggest:
All this is to say that, while it might seem preposterous to suggest that the fanciful adventures of Don Quixote are far richer in English than in Spanish, the proof is in the pudding. By rich, I mean abundant and comprehensive. There are more Quixote possibilities in English.

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       Man 'Asian' Literary Prize shortlist

       They've announced the shortlist for the 2008 Man 'Asian' Literary Prize (which, despite its name, does not allow entries from a vast number of Asian countries, including all the Arabic-speaking ones, Iran, and the Central Asian states -- though they are slightly more inclusive than the even more outrageously named Australia-Asia Literary Award).
       Once again, a Chinese novel is the obvious front-runner, and once again it's by an author who has had many books published abroad (and in English), Yu Hua's Brothers -- coming out in English in January (and available in French since the spring ...) -- which seems to defeat at least two of the three main objectives of this prize, "To bring exciting new Asian authors to the attention of the world literary community" and "To facilitate publishing and translation of Asian literature in and into English" .

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Selling Le Clézio

       A fascinating post by Chad Post at Three Percent on A Non-Deal at Frankfurt, as he describes Gallimard rights director Anne-Solange's approach to selling newly minted Nobel laureate Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio:
Rather than jumping on the Nobel buzz and trying to auction the rights to the new Le Clezio book to a commercial U.S. publisher, Anne-Solange decided not to even try to sell the rights at the Fair. "When an American publisher asks me about the book I reply with ĎWhy are you interested in this Le Clezio ? What do you know about his other books?,í" she said, clearly getting some well-deserved pleasure out of the baffled responses. "I tell them that Iíll note their interest, but this is a new book, I donít need to rush the sale, Iíll sell the rights later. Instead I want to focus on getting a lot of Le Clezio in print."
       An admirable ambition -- sort of the anti-Wylie approach (his being: let's see the cash, who cares about the books) -- though it'll be interesting to see how it pans out. As Chad points out:
Simon & Schuster have the rights to four titles, but isnít really jumping at the chance to make these available. This is in contrast with Le Clezioís German publisher which put ten titles back in print (and in bookstores) three days after the Nobel announcement. As is common in the U.S. publishing scene, most publishers are only interested in the new book and hesitate to go back to do an authorís older work. (Which is ridiculous and emphasizes how the commercial market trumps quality in America.)
       Recall how poorly treated Kertész Imre -- a real Nobel discovery who deserves much more attention -- has been both in the US and especially the UK (at least after the admittedly admirable retranslation efforts that saw new versions of Kaddish for an Unborn Child and Fatelessness get published).
       Or even worse: recall that Elfriede Jelinek's 1995 (!) magnum opus, Die Kinder der Toten ('The Children of the Dead') still isn't available in translation (though as Gitta Honegger explained in a letter to the editor at The New York Review of Books it is in the process of being translated -- and will be brought out by Yale University Press (!)).

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       Lee Moon-yeol ! Yi Munyol?

       We've mentioned this before: the Koreans have got to get their act together and settle on uniform transliterations of authors' names. Sure, our well-read readers realise that when KBS publishes an article extolling Leading novelist of our time, Lee Moon-yeol the man they mean is the great Yi Munyol. Or Yi Mun-yol. But who else does ?
        Sure, it's easiest to write: 이문열, but how far does that get most of us ?
       Uniform transliteration, people ! Settle on one spelling for the name !
       After all:
Novelist Lee Moon-yeol has the largest stable reader base in Korea. His work Poet, which has sold the least amount of copies among his works, still sold 200,000 copies and cumulated some W10 billion in royalties. It's difficult to find a more successful writer than Lee, whether in a cultural or literary sense.
       And any reader who just sees that article and looks for his books at Amazon -- or even 'googles' that name, won't get very far. Not even to our reviews of his Our Twisted Hero or The Poet.

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       MobyLives lives !

       A new URL, but much-loved pioneering literary weblog MobyLives is back -- for good, we hope.

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       Bonsai review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Alejandro Zambra's Bonsai.

       It's part of Melville House's The Contemporary Art of the Novella-series -- of which we also have under review:        The Duteurtre was a bit of a disappointment, but the Adair is wonderful, any Kertész a must-read, and this Bonsai also worthwhile. Zambra is also a very young author, and we're curious to see what else he comes up with.

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22 October 2008 - Wednesday

Man Booker bounce | Saviano support | The GGs

       Man Booker bounce

       Those prizes do pay off: as Philip Stone reports at The Bookseller, there was an impressive Booker bounce for Adiga:
A 2000% sales increase week-on-week has propelled Aravind Adiga's Man Booker Prize winner, The White Tiger (Atlantic) into the top 50, in a strong week for hardback fiction. Adiga's début sold 8,024 copies across all editions through the market last week, up from 383 copies the previous week, taking its total sales to date 13,212 units.
       We can attest to the fact that there was a great deal of increased interest in the book, as our review was (and continues to be) much-accessed in the wake of the Adiga-win, even briefly topping the 1000-page-view per day level (a very, very rare occurrence for any review hereabouts). However, while quite a few users also clicked-through to the Amazon pages for the book, exceptionally few went on to purchase the book.

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       Saviano support

       The criminal death threats against Italian author Roberto Saviano for his Mafia-exposé, Gomorrah, have led to quite a backlash against those pathetic thugs making them, as Alessandra Vitali reports that there's a Boom di solidarietà per Saviano at La repubblica (see also the AFP report, Support balloons for anti-mafia author Saviano).
       They're appealing to people to Sign for Roberto Saviano (scroll down for English version), as some 140,000, at last count, have, including Nobel laureates like Orhan Pamuk, Günter Grass, Mikhail Gorbachev, and Desmond Tutu, as well as authors such as Martin Amis and Ian McEwan. As they say: "it's intolerable that something like this could happen in Europe in 2008". (The Italian government presumably sees this as a useful distraction, but it remains to be seen whether there will finally be a comprehensive crack-down on these hoodlums.)
       (Gomorrah is coming out in paperback in the US in a few weeks (pre-order your copy from -- and already available as such in the UK; get your copy from

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       The GGs

       Literary prizes are often burdened with terrible names -- the ridiculous 'Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year' our latest (least) favourite example (though the IMPAC Dublin-whatever-the-hell-that-award-is is also a perennial front-runner in that worst-of category). Sponsorship and/or personalized names can grow on you after a while -- we're used to the (Man) Booker, Pulitzer, Goncourt by now -- and the unimaginative 'national book prize'-variations are at least to the point, but otherwise a lot of these are simply terrible. Hence our admiration for a prize burdened with a horrible name -- the Canadian Governor General's Literary Awards -- re-branding itself as The GGs. That's the way to go !
       They've now also announced their finalists for this year's awards -- and while these were chosen from 1,469 nominated books it looks and feels like there are about that many finalists left (in about that many prize categories ... yes, the GGs still have a few kinks to work out).
       Stunningly -- well, maybe not, given the number of finalists and categories ... --, we actually have one of the titles under review, Rivka Galchen's Atmospheric Disturbances.

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21 October 2008 - Tuesday

Nederland Leest | Pat Kavanagh passes away
Günter Grass profile | Der Turm review

       Nederland Leest

       De papieren man points us to Nederland Leest -- the Big Read, Dutch style. The book they're all reading is Harry Mulisch's Two Women -- which has apparently racked up a pretty staggering 1,000,000 in sales over its (admittedly fairly long) lifetime.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Pat Kavanagh passes away

       Julian Barnes' wife, Martin Amis' former agent, and, reportedly, Jeanette Winterson's one-time lover, Pat Kavanagh has passed away. With an impressive list of clients she was certainly among the best-known British literary agents.
       Among the articles and obituaries, see:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Günter Grass profile

       Alison Flood gets her ten minutes with Günter Grass and profiles him in The Guardian, in Not coming to terms with the past, focussing on the second volume of his autobiography, Die Box, now out in German, but still a ways away in English (but see, for example, the information page at new books in german).

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       Der Turm review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Uwe Tellkamp's recent German Book Prize-winning epic, Der Turm.

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