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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 March 2009

11 March: Appelfeld interview | Translating in ... Finland | Nibbies shortlists
12 March: New Bookforum | Commonwealth Writers' Prize regional winners | Football v. books in Riyadh | Crime fiction issues in Kenya | German book fairs
13 March: Leipzig Book Fair prizes | National Book Critics Circle Awards | Brothers review discussion | Salon du livre / Mexico | Catchy opening review line | O'Nan reviews
14 March: Amit Chaudhuri profile | Mo Yan picked up Newman Prize for Chinese Literature | Self-censorship in Kenya ? | Appiah to head PEN | Getting ready for Wetlands ...
15 March: Moses Isegawa interview | Huxley archive | Ruhm review
16 March: International Prize for Arabic Fiction preview | The Kindly Ones watch
17 March: عزازيل takes IPAF | Arabic translation | New 91st Meridian | French authors' favourite books | Cities without Palms review
18 March: Man Booker International Prize finalists to be announced | Orange Prize longlist | Murakami's 1Q84 | Follow-up works | Rajaa Alsanea profile
19 March: Man Booker International Prize: Judges' list of contenders | MBIP: books/authors we have under review | Dead Aid watch | Jim Shepard appreciates John Hawkes | David Cohen Prize to Heaney
20 March: Political protest, French style | Elaine Showalter on reviewing in the US and UK | Claro Q & As | Havana Fever review-overview

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20 March 2009 - Friday

Political protest, French style | Elaine Showalter on reviewing in the US and UK
Claro Q & As | Havana Fever review-overview

       Political protest, French style

       Say what you will about the French, but you gotta love it when they show their displeasure with their leaders by ... reading a book. As widely reported, French protest by reading Nicolas Sarkozy's least favourite book (here in The Telegraph), as:
On the eve of national strikes, the French have found a new way to show their dislike of Nicolas Sarkozy: by reading a 17th century tale of thwarted love that the president has said he hates.
       The book is Madame de Lafayette's La princesse de Clèves, and it does seem to be selling well: sales ranks of various editions were as high 526 last we checked, and 750 for the Folio edition (with the funky cover, which is the edition we'd pick).
       As they write at L'Express, this is: "le phénomène politico-littéraire le plus étonnant du moment" (and how great is it that they actually have literary-political phenomena there ?).
       We're not sure where you can get those 'Je lis la Princesse de Clèves'-buttons, but you can presumably show your support by picking up your own copy of The Princesse de Clèves -- say in the new Oxford World's Classics edition; get your copy at or

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Elaine Showalter on reviewing in the US and UK

       In the 30 March issue of The Nation Christine Smallwood interviews Elaine Showalter (not freely available online).
       Smallwood ends by asking her: "Any thoughts about book reviewing ?", and Showalter expresses her disappoinment re. the closing of The Washington Post Book World and notes how different the situation in the UK is. She calls the Saturday-Guardian Review: "the greatest stand-alone book review in the world", and says:
I don't understand why we can't do that in the United States. It's partly, obviously, an economic problem. I also think that book reviewing in London is more entrepreneurial and creative than it's been here. The inventiveness and humor and wit of something like the Guardian Review could really make a difference to book reviewing here, which is still a pretty serious -- let's abandon all jokes, ye who enter here -- straightforward and kind of elitist occupation. British reviewing: there are so many reviews of any given book that no one cares if the reviewer knows the person, is a former lover, a former enemy. Literary culture feeds literature. The disappearance of reviewing here is a very ominous note about what's going to happen in the culture.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Claro Q & As

       In Libération there's an interview with French translator and author Claro, Jíadore les contraintes, elles produisent de la liberté, and he also takes questions from readers, in La traduction est une affaire de plaisir.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Havana Fever review-overview

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review-overview of Leonardo Padura's Havana Fever, in which he brings back Mario Conde, thirteen years after he left the police, in a Cuba going through considerable economic hardship. Conde is trading in books now, which makes for considerable bibliophile appeal .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

19 March 2009 - Thursday

Man Booker International Prize: Judges' list of contenders
MBIP: books/authors we have under review | Dead Aid watch
Jim Shepard appreciates John Hawkes | David Cohen Prize to Heaney

       Man Booker International Prize: Judges' list of contenders

       They announced the 'Judges' list of contenders' for the third biennial Man Booker International Prize in New York yesterday, and the fourteen authors in the running are:        (Not to nit-pick (too much ...) but note that the official announcement misplaces both Ngũgĩ and Vargas Llosa on their alphabetical list. They also assign Naipaul to "Trinidad/India"; surely "Trinidad/UK" would be more like it.)
       See below for links to books by these authors which we have under review.

       Some general observations:
  • Seven of the authors write in languages other than English (though Ngũgĩ is a twofer, since much of his early work was written in English)
  • Twelve countries are represented, with the US leading the pack with three authors (and note that Lustig and Ngũgĩ are longtime (but not English-writing) US residents)
  • One former Nobel laureate (Naipaul) makes the list (2005: 4, plus Doris Lessing who would go on to get the Nobel in 2007; 2007: 0, plus Lessing who would take that year's Nobel)
  • No one writing in these languages was nominated: French, German, Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, any Scandinavian language (take that, Swedish Academy !)
  • Counting all three MBIP-judges'-lists some languages seem clearly underrepresented: Chinese-0; Arabic-1; Japanese-1; French-1; German-1 (and while there have been some Spanish-language authors, there have been no Spaniards so far ...)
  • Repeat contenders: Carey (2007), Munro (2007), Tabucchi (2005) -- but note that 2-time nominee Lessing doesn't make the list, despite (because of ?) the Nobel stamp of approval she got after the last time around ...)
  • Ugrešić -- born in 1949 -- is the youngest author; three are in their eighties
  • Oates appears to have (by far) the largest body of work -- surprise, surprise (I wonder how many of her works the judges will read in reaching their decision ...)
       At the press conference Jane Smiley noted that they had started out with about eighty authors, and read some 200 books in making this list. She specifically noted that they started afresh; i.e. did not take previous MBIP lists into account.
       Some of the more personal choices seem rather obvious -- just hazarding a guess here, but it seems safe to assume that Chaudhuri brought Devi to the table, Kurkov suggested Ulitskaya (and Ugrešić and Lustig), and Smiley tossed Connell (and Munro) into the ring. What's more interesting, of course, is who is missing: no other Indians (well, they suggest Naipaul as semi-Indian ...), for example. Some remarkably big names with a decent body of work like Murakami, Pamuk, or Coetzee are all 0-for-3 in making the longlist for this prize.
       Some omissions are sort of understandable -- the requirement for a (substantial) body of work available in English makes Arabic (post-Mahfouz) a tough sell, for example. Chinese, too, (even Mo Yan and Yu Hua probably need to publish a couple more before they'll be taken seriously), Korean, arguably even Japanese (lots of widely translated authors, but beyond Murkami Haruki and Oe few literary heavyweights). (More surprising is that over the three times they've done this so few French and German writers have gotten the nod (one apiece) -- both languages have many, many widely translated (and pretty solid) authors).
       The substantial-body-of-work (available in English) requirement is something they seem to take seriously: no Tomás Eloy Martínez this year (who had all of two books available in English in 2005 when he made the list). As to the readily-available-in-English requirement, recall that at the 2005 award then-chair John Carey explained why some authors were ignored:
Frequently they had been translated back in the 80s or 90s, but the publisher had allowed the translations to go out of print. So we were unable to consider, for example, Peter Handke or Michel Tournier or Christoph Ransmayr or Antonio Lobo Antunes or Rachid Boudjedra or Fernando Vallejo.
       That always seemed like a crock to me -- more Handkes were in print in 2005 than books by Tomás Eloy Martínez -- and in 2007 the judges seemed to agree, putting up Tournier, despite the fact that in the meantime presumably more of his books had fallen out of print (and nothing was newly/re-published). This time 'round the only tough sell is Mahasweta Devi. I mentioned to Smiley that I didn't think the local Barnes & Noble carried any of her books (and liked her enthusiastic: 'Well, then they better start stocking her' response); Devi is well-translated into English, but mainly by Indian publishers -- but I'd actually forgotten about Imaginary Maps (my own introduction to her work, back in the day): that and Chotti Munda and His Arrow have been published hereabouts (though note by whom: Routledge and Wiley-Blackwell, respectively -- not your usual publishers of fiction). Still, it will be difficult for American and British readers to get access to most of her work. (But you can get: Imaginary Maps from or, and Chotti Munda and His Arrow from or
       The polyglot Kurkov did express some regret about some of the authors that couldn't be considered because they haven't been translated (or translated enough) -- though he noted that, for example, in Ukraine, while the literary scene is a vibrant and exciting one it is also too underdeveloped to really provide any serious contenders yet. (I also asked him about the fact that all the authors were essentially 60 or older, and he confirmed that while some younger folk had been in the discussion, the whole body-of-work, lifetime-achievement consideration weighed heavily in their selections.) Of the foreign languages Kurkov speaks it didn't give an edge to any writers in German, French, Japanese or Romanian .....
       Smiley also expressed some regret about not-(yet)-translated authors -- even bringing up Devi's son, Nabarun Bhattacharya, and suggesting that if his work were available in English there might have been a mother-son team of authors. (I don't buy it: Bhattacharya seems a too peripheral (and not prolific enough -- it's a fiction prize, after all) figure to be taken seriously for something like the MBIP.)
       Quite a bit was made about the hope that such an international prize would also lead to more awareness of foreign/translated literature. Dismissing Horace Engdahl's infamous comments about American insularity the judges seemed agreed that all nations/readerships are insular; still, Kurkov did note that, as far literature in translation goes, the British do a somewhat better job than the Americans, who still seem pretty much last in line when it comes to anything foreign.
       Smiley also mentioned in her remarks that a writer such as Evan Connell was, in many ways, as foreign as any from abroad, his Mid-West a very different world from that of New York. (It will be interesting to see whether the prize carries enough international clout yet to affect translation in other directions, not just into English -- Connell, for example, or Devi, who aren't that widely translated into other languages.)

       My take ? I've read at least something by all the authors except (predictably) Connell and (embarrassingly) Munro. I'm pleased by some of the fairly original choices, like Kelman and Ugrešić. Obviously, there are any number of authors I think (more) deserving of consideration than some of these, but on the whole the list seems ... defensible (which I think is the most you can ask of this kind of exercise). (And, as Smiley also noted, at least the MBIP is more transparent than the Nobel, where they only announce the winner, without revealing who was in the running.)
       As to who will get the prize -- well, rather than wonder about the merits of the authors/works, the key, of course, lies with the judges, and I don't have good enough a read on these very different characters to have any clear idea who might be the front-runners. (Given my notoriously poor record in guess-hazarding -- recall I said they couldn't possibly give it to Kadare in 2005 (because almost all his work comes to the English indirectly, via the French translations) and I was also absolutely certain that Pamuk was too young to get the Nobel ... -- it's probably for the best that I don't go out on any limbs here.)

       The MBIP will announce the winning author in "early May"; the awards ceremony is 25 June, in Dublin.

       Presumably (well, I hope) there will be much discussion of the prize and authors -- not much yet at the World Literature Forum-thread, for example, but there's time enough to argue about it.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       MBIP: books/authors we have under review

       We have thirty-two books by six of the fourteen authors that made the Judges' list of contenders for the Man Booker International Prize under review:

       Note also that we have several works by two of the judges under review:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Dead Aid watch

       Our review of Dambisa Moyo's Dead Aid has been the most popular at the site for a few days now, as it appears in the US and is getting decent press attention. The latest -- first big -- batch of US reviews are, however, amazingly tame. We relatively reluctantly reviewed the book -- non-fiction, and economics at that, isn't so much our thing -- but it's an interesting argument (though not a new one) and we were curious how she would make it. We were also curious as to what the reactions to it would be, given current global-financial turmoil -- but these reviews don't do much towards furthering debate.
       Okay, in The American Spectator Joseph Lawler's aim is obviously more on taking down Peter Singer and his (admittedly incredibly silly sounding) The Life You Can Save, which is also covered in this two-for-one review. And it is The American Spectator ..... ("Moyo has skin in the game", he also writes, and we rather wish he hadn't.)
       In the Wall Street Journal Matthew Rees expresses disappointment at the absence of ... local colour ? too: "It is too bad that Ms. Moyo did not stop now and then to draw directly on her personal experience", but, like Lawler, does little more than repeat her points without considering them very closely (much less noting even their obvious weaknesses).
       And even in The Nation Sonia Shah writes:
And since the book was written before the global economy's slow-mo train wreck, Moyo's supposition that private investors are itching to sink money into emerging African economies is now, sadly, out of date. Nevertheless, she's right, of course.
       Nevertheless ?
       Well, we're looking forward to the real economists having a go at this -- and, we hope, putting it into the current context. Consider just how the data in The Economist's recent piece on 'The global crisis and the poor', The toxins trickle downward, affect her arguments. So, for example, sure she's right that it would be great for African countries to raise private capital -- but:
African countries have been turning to private capital too. In 2007 they raised $6.5 billion in international bonds, trivial in global terms but not to Africa. In 2008, they raised nothing.
       Nothing !
The World Bank estimates that new private activity in infrastructure was 40% lower in August-November of 2008 than a year before.
       And, in part, her theory will be put to the test -- indeed, it's arguably an ideal time to wean African countries off aid since they can expect considerably less anyway:
Britainís Overseas Development Institute reckons that official aid may fall by about a fifth, or $20 billion, this year, after being more or less flat in 2005-07.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Jim Shepard appreciates John Hawkes

       At The Rumpus Jim Shepard offers An Appreciation of John Hawkes.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       David Cohen Prize to Heaney

       As, for example, Alison Flood reports in The Guardian, Seamus Heaney wins £40,000 David Cohen prize for literature, as he's taken the David Cohen Prize for Literature 2009 (you know the drill: no information at the official site, last we checked).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

18 March 2009 - Wednesday

Man Booker International Prize finalists to be announced
Orange Prize longlist | Murakami's 1Q84
Follow-up works | Rajaa Alsanea profile

       Man Booker International Prize finalists to be announced

       The Man Booker International Prize 'judges' list of contenders' will be announced today; we'll be at the press conference but will probably only report tomorrow; one hopes the finalists will be posted promptly at the official site.
       In case you need reminding: the Man Booker International Prize is:
awarded every two years to a living author who has published fiction either originally in English or whose work is generally available in translation in the English language
       Well, speculation and commentary about it should keep us busy for a while .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Orange Prize longlist

       They've announced the Orange Prize longlist.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Murakami's 1Q84

       Not much information yet about Murakami Haruki's forthcoming (in Japanese) novel, 1Q84, but bits and pieces are coming out.
       It is already listed -- sort of -- at (with two reader-reviews, which, however, provide no actual information about the book itself). How to Japanese had some interesting Predictions for 1Q84, and now Murakami has said a bit more about it while in Barcelona. Clarin, for example, reports on Lo nuevo de Murakami, vinculado a Orwell -- and the most useful titbit is his explanation that:
Orwell escribió 1984 mirando al futuro y yo, con mi novela, quiero hacer lo contrario, mirar al pasado, pero sin dejar de ver el futuro.
       He also says it's his most ambitious and voluminous work -- so we probably shouldn't expect it in English translation anytime soon.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Follow-up works

       In The Times Luke Leitch 'looks at how writers cope with the pressure to write another bestseller' in You're only as good as your second novel.
       He concludes with D.H.Lawrence's comment that:
It's the third that counts, though ... If [a novelist] can get over that ass's bridge he's a writer, he can go on.
       (And beyond that they can shoot for the St. Francis College Literary Prize, designed for a fourth published book of fiction.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Rajaa Alsanea profile

       In The National Philippa Kennedy profiles Girls of Riyadh-author Rajaa Alsanea, in Beyond the book.
       Alsanea says:
"I may be a good writer, but Iím also a very good dentist and thatís what I am going to be. Itís a part of my life that the public donít know about," she says, laughing. "Iím getting the highest results in my specialisation, root canals. Dentistry balances my life. Going to work knowing that youíre not famous puts your feet on the ground. Dentistry is my job and writing will always be my passion," she says firmly, insisting that in her world it is perfectly possible to do both .
       What is it with the popular Arab authors and dentistry ? Recall that it's The Yacoubian Building- (and Chicago-)author Alaa Al Aswany's pastime, too.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

17 March 2009 - Tuesday

عزازيل takes IPAF | Arabic translation | New 91st Meridian
French authors' favourite books | Cities without Palms review

       عزازيل takes IPAF

       As Gemma Champ reports in The National, Egyptian wins Arabic Booker prize -- i.e. the International Prize for Arabic Fiction (predictably: no information available at the official site, last we checked ...) --, the book being ... Beelzebub by Yusuf Zeydan:
Beelzebub is a poetically told story of the religious and cultural schisms caused by the Roman Empireís appropriation of Christianity in the fifth century in upper Egypt, Alexandria and northern Syria.
       At booktrade they refer to winning author Yusuf Zeydan as Youssef Ziedan, and since that's how he styles himself at his official site ( !) that would seem the more appropriate transliteration .....
       Ah, yes, we'd prefer just not to bother with the ongoing nightmare that is transliteration from the Arabic any longer, if we could get away with it: عزازيل by يوسف زيدان won -- isn't that much simpler and clearer ? But we figure not all our readers would approve.

       (Updated - 20 March): See now also Sayed Mahmoud's report on the prize in Al-Ahram Weekly, Lord of the wings.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Arabic translation

       In The National Ed Lake writes about A literary tradition thatís found in translation, noting that:
Translation used to be the lifeblood of Arabic culture.
       Interesting -- and troubling -- to note that:
Denys Johnson-Davies, the most celebrated translator of Arabic into English (...), and the first translator of modern Arabic fiction, notes that for many Arab authors, their work is only remunerated once it enters western markets. Arabic readerships are too small and copyright infringement is too widespread to turn a profit. Stick within the East, he says, and thereís "no way can you make a living out of it". Recalling the careers of Tawfiq el Hakim and Yusuf Idris, Johnson-Davies notes: "Itís only really when these books began getting translated that the whole thing became of some sort of financial interest."
"Because piracy is obviously a big issue in the Middle East and North Africa region," says Kaiser, "we want to encourage publishers to actually acquire the rights when they do a translation...
       Hey ! there's an idea !

       Johnson-Davies also describes his new collection:
In a Fertile Desert includes a tale by the renowned writer Mohammed al Murr, plus 19 pieces by unknown talents whom Johnson-Davies discovered by trawling the internet. "I wanted local stories," he says, "so that the English people who are living here, who know nothing at all about the background of the place, get some sort of idea of the background -- stories about pearl fishing, hunting with hawks, camels, desert ... "
       We recently got a copy and should be covering it soon; see also the American University in Cairo Press publicity page, or get your copy at or

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       New 91st Meridian

       The Winter 2009 issue of 91st Meridian -- the journal of the International Writing Program at the University of Iowa -- is available online now. Among the goodies: two novel excerpts, and Peter Demetz's review of Ivan Blatný's The Drug of Art; see also the Ugly Duckling publicity page, or get your copy from or

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       French authors' favourite books

       MobyLives points us to Télérama's piece on Les 10 livres préférés de 100 écrivains francophones -- the ten favourite books by a hundred French-writing authors. Astonishingly, when all are added up, none of the 24 most-named authors are living -- Proust coming out ahead of Faulkner, who narrowly beat Flaubert.
       The most-cited books: Proust, Joyce's Ulysses, the Iliad and Odyssey, Mme de La Fayette's La Princesse de Clèves, Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury and Absalom, Absalom !, and Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano -- i.e. lots of English-language stuff. (However, we would have figured Light in August over Absalom, Absalom ! .....)
       They're adding a separate page devoted to the top ten by ten of the authors every day, proceeding alphabetically, so it's worth checking back, too -- so you can learn, for example, that Zone-man Mathias Énard is a fan of Bolaño and Sadeq Hedayat ... and one can learn about authors like Faris Chidyaq (see, for example, Ahmad Faris al-Shidyaq's Literary Investigations at Qantara).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Cities without Palms review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Tarek Eltayeb's Cities without Palms.
       American University in Cairo Press is touting this as a: "debut novel from a rising Sudanese writer", but we can't help but notice that this book was completed in 1988, came out (in Arabic) in 1992 -- and in French (as Villes sans palmiers) in 1999 and in German (as Städte ohne Dattelpalmen) in 2000 -- and that Eltayeb has quite a few works since under his belt (i.e. that most of the rising is going on elsewhere) .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

16 March 2009 - Monday

International Prize for Arabic Fiction preview | The Kindly Ones watch

       International Prize for Arabic Fiction preview

       They're handing out the International Prize for Arabic Fiction, and it's getting good preview coverage.
       In The National Ed Lake previews what styles itself the 'Arabic Booker'; usefully, they also provide interviews with the authors of the shortlisted titles (click on titles on the right).
       Meanwhile, at Jacket Copy looks at Controversy and the International Prize for Arabic Fiction.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Kindly Ones watch

       Another batch of reviews of Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones came out over the weekend, including in the:        And check out Living Inside The Kindly Ones by translator Charlotte Mandell at beatrice.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

15 March 2009 - Sunday

Moses Isegawa interview | Huxley archive | Ruhm review

       Moses Isegawa interview

       In In Love with the Rancid in the Mail & Guardian Niren Tolsi interviews Moses Isegawa -- who thinks:
The rancid and the scatological are the only wonderful things to write about. They make us dream of perfumed gardens and places where all is well. Europe with its legislation and babying of people from birth to death is, alas, not interesting at all because everything is flat like expired farts. The confusion and corruption in Uganda and Africa in general is good; it helps stimulate creativity.
       And, worryingly:
Where do you live now, and what consumes you in Uganda ?

I spend a lot of time in Uganda for the sake of my prostate. [The] moment I go to Europe it acts up again. I see myself spending the rest of my years in tropical countries where whores are cheap and sexual perversion is tolerated as long as one is not into deflowering toddlers. I am more pedestrian in my perversions and I will be tolerated for the rest of my days.
       See also our review of his Abyssinian Chronicles and Snakepit.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Huxley archive

       UCLA recently announced that UCLA Library acquires Aldous Huxley's literary archive, and in The Observer Robert McCrum thinks that hence It's surely time to bring Huxley to book, as:
After TS Eliot, the most underwritten 20th century Anglo-American literary biography is perhaps that of Aldous Huxley.
       Recall that Huxley had the misfortune of dying the day JFK was shot -- i.e. nobody noticed. We've long been fans -- and love his titles; Ape and Essence is a favourite (book & title) -- taken, of course, from Measure for Measure:
But man, proud man,
Drest in a little brief authority --
Most ignorant of what he's most assur'd,
His glassy essence -- like an angry ape,
Plays such fantastic tricks before high heaven
As makes the angels weep.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Ruhm review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Daniel Kehlmann's Ruhm, just out in German -- and, as Gloire, in French.
       English ?
       Not so much.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

14 March 2009 - Saturday

Amit Chaudhuri profile | Mo Yan picked up Newman Prize for Chinese Literature
Self-censorship in Kenya ? | Appiah to head PEN | Getting ready for Wetlands ...

       Amit Chaudhuri profile

       In Life sentences in The Guardian Sophie Harrison profiles Amit Chaudhuri, whose new novel, The Immortals, is coming out in the UK (get your copy at; the US edition is only due out at the end of August -- pre-order your copy at
       (No mention of the Man Booker International Prize in Harrison's profile -- too bad: Chaudhuri is one of the judges, and the 'judges' list of contenders' will be revealed in New York on Wednesday (we'll be there ...).)
       Celia Brayfield reviews The Immortals in The Times, and writes:
The terrain of the novel is the battleground of art and materialism. In this it invites honourable comparison with Thomas Mann's Buddenbrooks, extending to fewer generations but a wider view of a mercantile culture.
       Well, we'll certainly be getting to it when it comes around. And we like the UK edition worn-cover cover look.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Mo Yan picked up Newman Prize for Chinese Literature
       We mentioned that he was due to receive this a while back, when they announced he'd won, but it was only last weekend that Mo Yan got to pick up the Newman Prize for Chinese Literature. Not a great deal of press coverage about that ... but at least now Adam Scott reports on the event in the Norman Transcript, in Chinese author first recipient of Newman Prize.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Self-censorship in Kenya ?

       In The Guardian Xan Rice reports: Read all about it: the Kenyan crime blockbuster you can't buy in Kenya -- the book being Michela Wrong's account of corruption in Kenya, Our Turn to Eat. (The book is out in the UK -- get your copy at -- but only due in the US in late June; pre-order your copy at
       While not banned or even challenged, apparently booksellers are scared of the possible consequences and that's why it is unavailable.
       As Wrong notes:
"The reaction to my book is exaggerated, but it is a barometer of what is happening in Kenya today," said Wrong.
       We should be getting to this, too; we have both her previous titles under review: In the Footsteps of Mr. Kurtz and "I Didn't Do It For You".

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Appiah to head PEN

       As, for example, Ghana Business News report: Ghanaian becomes president of American writers group, as Kwame Anthony Appiah (see official site) is to take over from Francine Prose and now head the PEN American Center.

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       Getting ready for Wetlands ...

       Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones sure created a lot of buzz -- with reviews still coming (Laila Lalami's in The Los Angeles Times, this weekend, for example) -- to the extent that the European media had quite a few articles describing English-language critical reactions (most recently in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, where they wonder: Meisterwerk oder Provokation ? -- and quote from (among many others) our review).
       The only book that was more widely discussed in Germany last year was ... Charlotte Roche's Wetlands (which, as we've noted, bears some striking similarities to Littell's book ...), and after quite a bit of British fuss we're curious what will happen now that it is about to arrive stateside (and whether the German media will write about all the American reviews ...).
       Getting things rolling, coverage-wise, in Publishers Weekly Parul Sehgal has a brief Q & A with Roche -- which includes this worrying admission:
Who are your influences ?
I don't read at all. Since my daughter was born six years ago, I've only read one book, and that was because my best friend pushed me to read her favorite book, The Great Gatsby. But I think not being a big reader makes me freer in writing
       Writers who don't read strike us like chefs who don't eat.

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13 March 2009 - Friday

Leipzig Book Fair prizes | National Book Critics Circle Awards
Brothers review discussion | Salon du livre / Mexico
Catchy opening review line | O'Nan reviews

       Leipzig Book Fair prizes

       They handed out the Leipzig Book Fair prizes (Preis der Leipziger Buchmesse) yesterday, and Apostoloff by Sibylle Lewitscharoff won in the fiction category. (A translation of a Saul Bellow book took best translation, and they handed out a prize in the non-fiction category, too.)
       None of Lewitscharoff's books have been translated into English yet, but presumably this one will be hard to resist after picking up this major prize; the Robert Bosch Stiftung has an English summary -- and see also the (German) Suhrkamp publicity page, or get your copy at Note also that it was ranked number two on the recent SWR-Bestenliste (the German critics' monthly list of best books) -- with a more than respectable 100-point total.

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       National Book Critics Circle Awards

       The National Book Critics Circle do right and name Roberto Bolaño's 2666 the winner in the fiction category (despite it not taking the recent Best Translated Book prize ...).
       No mention of the winners of the National Book Critics Circle Awards winners at the official site, last we checked, but see, for example, Hillel Italie's AP report.

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       Brothers review discussion

       We'd like to see more of this: at Paper Republic Bruce Humes posted about Brothers & How Reviewers Review, discussing Jess Row's review of Yu Hua's Brothers in The New York Times Book Review -- and got comments from both translator Eileen Chow and reviewer Jess Row.
       An interesting discussion, too, especially regarding what one can/should expect from American readers of Chinese fiction.
       Row comments:
The larger point I wanted to make with this review was that part of the problem with the reception of a novel like this in the Anglophone world is the level of fundamental ignorance here about basic touchstones of Chinese culture. If I may, Iíd like to illustrate this with a very small example from Brothers. On page 615 of the uncorrected galleys, which I read for my review, there is a sentence, "Who knew that Baldy Li was such a Lin Daiyu?" I seized on this in my review as evidence that Yu Hua was building a parallel between the love triangles in Brothers and in Hongloumeng: a parallel that would be obvious to a Chinese reader but which would mean nothing at all to a typical Anglophone reader. This, I would say, is exactly the kind of problem that no translator can fix without an elaborate, and counterproductive, scholarly apparatus. When I saw the final published edition of Brothers, the line had been changed to "Who knew that Baldy Li was such a sentimental heroine?" That, to me, seems to be the story of this whole translation: itís trying to find English equivalents for Chinese concepts that just donít resonate with readers who have no exposure to Chinese culture.
       A fascinating problem -- and a solution we were disappointed to learn of: Lin Daiyu (of The Story of the Stone/The Dream of the Red Chamber/Hongloumeng) is, of course, one of our favourite literary figures, and one every reader ('Western' as much as Eastern) should be familiar with (even as we understand that that's not really realistic); we're crushed to learn of these simplifications ..... (Our copy of Brothers just arrived this week; we've barely had a chance to glance at it but do hope to cover it.)

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       Salon du livre / Mexico

       It's Salon du livre time, 13 to 18 March, and Mexico is the guest of homour, so there's lots of Mexican-literature discussion in the French press -- notably Carlos Fuentes, suggesting in Le Monde: Cinq romanciers que je voudrais faire connaître -- five Mexican novelists he wants to introduce them to: too bad only two have been translated into French.
       English, too: the Jorge Volpi -- In Search of Klingsor -- is available in both French and English (get your copy at or, but Cristina Rivera-Garza's No One Will See Me Cry has only made it into English (not that it seems to have attracted much notice; get your copy at or For the others, you have to turn to the Spanish .....

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       Catchy opening review line

       Okay, we'd want to get to Jo Nesbø's The Redeemer as soon as possible anyway (see our review of his Nemesis, for example; alas, no US edition of The Redeemer in sight, but the UK edition is just out -- get your copy at, but this opening line from Jane Jakeman's review in The Independent certainly would have caught our attention even if we weren't familiar with the author:
I will never feel happy confronting my vacuum cleaner now that Jo Nesbo has revealed its sinister possibilities.

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       O'Nan reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of Stewart O'Nan's two most recent novels:
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12 March 2009 - Thursday

New Bookforum | Commonwealth Writers' Prize regional winners
Football v. books in Riyadh | Crime fiction issues in Kenya | German book fairs

       New Bookforum

       The April/May issue of Bookforum is now available online. Lots of worthwhile material, as always.

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       Commonwealth Writers' Prize regional winners

       They've announced the regional winners of the Commonwealth Writers' Prize -- not at the official site, last we checked, but see, for example Alison Flood's coverage in The Guardian; they're all listed in the penultimate paragraph.

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       Football v. books in Riyadh

       In Arab News Sheikha Al-Dosary reports that For visitors to Riyadh book fair, Brazil is all about football, as:
Although the Riyadh International Book Fair was honoring Brazil and its rich literary tradition, attendees seemed interested in learning more about football greats like Ronaldo than literary great Coelho.

"The book fair has almost come to an end and I havenít received any questions about Brazilian literature, or even the countryís general culture," quipped one official of the Brazilian Embassy.
       Well, we're more interested in Brazilian football (or pretty much anything else) than 'literary great' Coelho, too, so maybe that's not the best example; still, it sounds like they could have planned this a bit better.

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       Crime fiction issues in Kenya

       Yes, apparently some Kenyans are worried that there is actually too much reading going on there -- at least of certain kinds of books. They wonder, as Maurice Aluda writes in The Standard (Kenya): Does popular literature nurture criminal minds ?
In the wake of escalating wave of crime and hardcore criminals in Kenya, tight security measures are required to revert the trend. Government efforts to launch community policing and village vigilante initiatives are commendable but we need to get into the root causes of the vices to uproot them.

It is at this point that the country needs to rethink the social function of crime literature and its role in the wave of crimes.
       (Village vigilante initiatives are commendable ?)
Kenya saw notable emergence and growth of popular literature in the 1970s and 1980s. Crime and prison literature emerged as sub genres of this populist literature. Actually, it was an important strand in the development of the popular literature.
       And, of course:
Many parents believe many criminals are partly a consequence of the unguided consumption of this Ďdangerousí literature, in addition to the widespread crime movies from the West, which are readily available for our youth.
       Still, it's nice to see that there are people who actually believe that Kenya's crime-trouble can be attributed to too much reading (of the wrong sorts of books).

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       German book fairs

       The Leipzig Book Fair runs from today through the 15th, while the competing litCOLOGNE runs from today through the 23rd.

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11 March 2009 - Wednesday

Appelfeld interview | Translating in ... Finland | Nibbies shortlists

       Appelfeld interview

       In the Forward Adam Rovner talks with Aharon Appelfeld on Living and Dying in Jerusalem.
       Among the interesting points:
How does your work differ from that of other Israeli writers ?
I come from a different world -- a different geography. I come from a world that suffered terrible catastrophe, and this experience requires a different language, a different tone. I came to Israel when I was 13 Ĺ, almost 14. I was without friends, without a family, without parents. I knew a lot of languages, but I didnít possess a written language. Hebrew became my step-mother tongue.

And the other languages you spoke a bit -- German, Ukrainian, Romanian -- did they influence your literary Hebrew ?
Iím not conscious of it though, but I suspect they did. My Hebrew is different from the Hebrew of those who were born in Israel. Itís different in tone, in rhythm. I suppose those voices from other languages entered into my Hebrew, yes.

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       Translating in ... Finland

       At Three Percent Chad Post recently wrote about the: "most depressing study about translation Iíve ever heard about", the CEATL survey of Comparative income of literary translators in Europe (warning ! dreaded pdf format !).
       Now Helsingin Sanomat report on conditions specifically in Finland, and find that the: Income development of Finnish translators has stalled near poverty line.

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       Nibbies shortlists

       Ah, yes, they've announced the shortlists for the Galaxy British Book Awards -- better known as the Nibbies.

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