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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 April 2009

11 April: Another writer quits ? | The Harvard Crimson's books coverage | Novels in Three Lines review
12 April: Corin Tellado (1927-2009)
13 April: Dalisay self-promotion | Hebrew translation | Wilbur Smith profile | The Confessions of Noa Weber review
14 April: Amazon mania | Cologne papers salvageable ? | James Wood on ... Geoff Dyer
15 April: Chinese literary concerns | Da enthusiasm | International PEN's Free the Word ! | The White Tiger film ?
16 April: Hesse and Weiss | Russian Literature Week | Stone's Fall review
17 April: Indian literature in translation | Reading in ... Viet Nam | Miles Franklin shortlist | Iranian-Japanese success
18 April: Chaudhuri and Mishra on Indian literature | Writing in French | Miguel Syjuco profile | NYTBR take on Wetlands
19 April: Madame Bovary site | A.S.Byatt profile | Edward FitzGerald's Rubaiyat revisited
20 April: J.G.Ballard (1930-2009) | Revising old work | Op Oloop review

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20 April 2009 - Monday

J.G.Ballard (1930-2009) | Revising old work | Op Oloop review

       J.G.Ballard (1930-2009)

       As widely reported, J.G.Ballard has passed away; the only book of his under review at the complete review is Crash.
       There will be a good deal of coverage in the media; for now see, for example, obituaries from:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Revising old work

       In The Age Jehan Casinader reports on Maori writer Witi Ihimaera Putting the words to rights, as:
Ihimaera is proud of his contribution to New Zealand's indigenous culture, but seems to regret that some of his work has fallen short of his standards. To satisfy his conscience, he has begun an ambitious effort to revisit and rework his most significant books.
Ihimaera suspects his readers have embraced his fiction for all the wrong reasons, because he wrote within a European framework, and did not let his culture speak for itself. He fears the stories were not honest enough to rock the "waka", the boat, of European literature.
       But not everyone is thrilled with the new versions: Ihimaera admits: "Some copies have actually been sent back".

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       Op Oloop review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Argentine author Juan Filloy's 1934 novel, Op Oloop, finally available (sorry, only in August ...) in English.
       Filloy -- who lived to 105 -- sounds fascinating; see, for example, El Cuenco de Plata's Biblioteca Juan Filloy for some of his other work.

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19 April 2009 - Sunday

Madame Bovary site | A.S.Byatt profile | Edward FitzGerald's Rubaiyat revisited

       Madame Bovary site

       The immense Les manuscrits de Madame Bovary-site is now up, offering the 'édition intégrale sur le web' -- and they do mean intégrale.
       John Lichfield reports on it in The Independent, in Think you've read Madame Bovary ? You've barely begun.
       See also the cr-review of Madame Bovary.

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       A.S.Byatt profile

       In Scotland on Sunday Stuart Kelly profiles A.S.Byatt.
       Her new novel, The Children's Book, is due out soon in the UK (pre-order your copy at, but only in October (?!?) in the US (pre-order your copy at

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       Edward FitzGerald's Rubaiyat revisited

       In The Telegraph Tony Briggs 'looks back at Edward FitzGerald's translation of The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam' (see also the cr-review).
       As he notes:
But something has gone wrong. FitzGerald, far from being recognised as a leading poet, has been disregarded by the literary establishment. There could be several reasons for this. Has the poem proved too popular for its own good ? Is it perhaps lightweight doggerel quickly seen through by experts ? Does its origin (in translation) invalidate it as an independent work ? Is The Rubaiyat affected by the way poetry is taught nowadays, with a ban on learning anything by heart ?

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18 April 2009 - Saturday

Chaudhuri and Mishra on Indian literature | Writing in French
Miguel Syjuco profile | NYTBR take on Wetlands

       Chaudhuri and Mishra on Indian literature

       With India set to be the center of much attention at the London Book Fair the articles about Indian literature keep coming. In The Guardian Amit Chaudhuri has a nice long piece, In search of India -- suggesting:
In other words, the book fair should bring some intimation to audiences in London of an explosion in writing that is not 30 but perhaps 200 years old, the consequence of a venerable, many-tongued, and still astonishing lineage in modernism.
       One can only hope .....
       Meanwhile, Pankaj Mishra writes about The world of 'world' literature -- and finds:
This Tandoori-Chickenisation of the literary palate in the west has happened at the same time as Indian outposts of Anglo-American publishers have helped to expand the domestic market for McLiterature.

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       Writing in French

       A week after The Guardian Weekly printed a translation of Florence Noiville's piece in Le Monde, Pourquoi ils écrivent en français, Tobias Grey takes another look at how: 'Non-French Novelists Embrace the Language of Balzac' in Le Mot Juste in the Wall Street Journal.
       He does offer a decent overview, however.

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       Miguel Syjuco profile

       Ever since winning the Man 'Asian' Literary Prize for Ilustrado Miguel Syjuco has been getting increased attention -- leading now also to strange puff pieces such 'Montreal is perfect -- for now' ("as told to Elka Requinta" -- in the Financial Times !).
       But there is some interesting information, including:
I had the misfortune of living in the Philippines under the most inept president, Joseph Estrada. Then I moved to New York and lived under [George W.] Bush for four years, followed by living in Australia under his lackey John Howard and now here I am in the bland yet sinister shadow of the Conservative Stephen Harper regime. For once, I would like to live in a country where there is a sense of optimism rather than cynicism, where smart people are engaged in change rather than marginalised into an unhappy group bewildered at the materialism and selfishness of the ruling government.

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       NYTBR take on Wetlands

       Sallie Tisdale reviews Charlotte Roche's Wetlands in this Sunday's issue of The New York Times Book Review -- and doesn't like it one bit.
       That's fine, but unfortunately she seems more obsessed with how the book is being hyped than the book itself, arguing, for example:
Yet the most unsettling part of Wetlands is its authorís belief that she is a pioneer. Roche seems to know nothing about the extensive literature of womenís sexuality, a genre broad enough to merit its own section in most bookstores. In interviews, she sounds like a long-secluded inventor who emerges to announce she has developed the wheel.
       For god's sake, who cares what authors say in interviews ? Can't we leave the authors out of it ? (Tisdale is more or less on the money regarding how Roche and her publishers are flogging this book -- but marketing shouldn't be confused with whatever it is that is being sold.)
       Getting herself in a tizzie, Tisdale reads the book on their terms, not the book's own, and ties herself in knots about its pornographic or erotic content -- when, of course, the book is neither pornographic nor erotic (nor feminist in any particularly meaningful way), as the CR-review (and quite a few since) have pointed out. (What it certainly is, is dirty.)
       Tisdale even gets it right when she notes:
Self-confident Helen is just a lost little girl at heart.
       Bingo !
       Her advice is correct, in a way, when she says:
I can only wish that the young women who think Wetlands sounds intriguing will head to the erotica section of the nearest womenís bookstore first.
       But her mistake is to mistake this book for something that is erotic (or pornographic or feminist) in the first place.

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17 April 2009 - Friday

Indian literature in translation | Reading in ... Viet Nam
Miles Franklin shortlist | Iranian-Japanese success

       Indian literature in translation

       In The Independent Boyd Tonkin offers A glimpse of India's hidden treasures -- books not originally written in English.

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

       Reading in ... Viet Nam

       VNS report that in Viet Nam Foreign book titles in demand by the young -- and also that:
The increasing availability of foreign literary titles has encouraged young Vietnamese writers to discover new writing styles.

Novels by young writers Tran Nha Thuy and Nguyen Dieu Linh have been all the rage this year.

Thuyís Su Tro Lai Cua Vet Xuoc (The Return of Scratching) and Linhís Trai Hoa Do (The Camp of Red Flowers), for example, are mystery stories featuring the supernatural.

Written in a simple and engaging style, both of the books have struck a chord among young readers in urban areas.
       Also interesting:
Other bestsellers include Oxford Thuong Yeu (Beloved Oxford) by Duong Thuy and Chuyen Tinh New York (Love Stories in New York) by Ha Kin, both written by female writers who have travelled and studied overseas.

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       Miles Franklin shortlist

       They've announced the shortlist for the Miles Franklin Literary Award.

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

       Iranian-Japanese success

       Shirin Nezammafi has lived in Japan for less than a decade, but Iranian woman wins Japanese prize for rookie novelist -- just the second foreigner to do so.
       I was just complaining about the Iranian insistence on continuing to dwell on the Iran-Iraq war -- in its so-called 'Sacred Defense' literature -- but Nezammafi's winning work, 白い紙 ('White Paper'), apparently also: "depicts a romance between two students at the time of the Iran-Iraq war during the 1980s" ..... Maybe it really is a winning formula .....

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16 April 2009 - Thursday

Hesse and Weiss | Russian Literature Week | Stone's Fall review

       Hesse and Weiss

       As longtime readers of the site know, among the few authors I venerate is Peter Weiss -- as much (more, actually) for his prose as his drama. (Mati Unt's Brecht at Night (see the Dalkey Archive Press publicity page, or pre-order your copy at or would have been one of the most-anticipated titles hereabouts under any circumstances, but the fact that he references The Aesthetics of Resistance puts it near the top of the list .....)
       Suhrkamp recently published a volume of Weiss' correspondence with Hermann Hesse, »Verehrter großer Zauberer«; see the Suhrkamp publicity page, or get your copy at
       The young Weiss approached Hesse when he was just starting out, and Hesse was very supportive -- even commissioning him to illustrate some of his books, as Weiss was a talented painter. A considerably more promising painter than writer, apparently: in a letter of 1937 -- before he really got to know Weiss better, and became something of a mentor -- Hesse gave Weiss some friendly advice:
     Ich wünsche, Sie möchten Ihren Weg finden. Geht es mit dem Zeichnen nicht, so müßten Sie einen anderen, gewöhnlichen Broterwerb suchen -- nicht aus Ihrer Dichtung Brot zu machen suchen ! Nur dies nicht !

     [I am hopeful that you find your way. If it doesn't work out with drawing, then you'll have to turn something else to live off -- but don't try to live off of your writing ! Anything but that !]
       I wrote my college honors thesis on the early prose of Peter Weiss, and of course I used this infamous quote; surprisingly (or perhaps not), it has long been glossed over both by Hesse and Weiss-scholars. Hesse's mentorship of Weiss, and Weiss' later literary success seem to have excused it, yet I still find it incredible that the old master would have been so harsh in his judgment. Recall that Weiss was only twenty (!) at the time, and yet Hesse felt strongly enough about Weiss' misguided talent to try crush all his literary ambitions.
       At the time Weiss was a typical young artist still trying to find his way, uncertain whether to paint or write (and that also in particularly difficult personal and historical circumstances). In a way, what's most remarkable is that despite turning to Hesse -- whom he naturally was in awe of -- for advice, and getting such a clear and forthright opinion, Weiss still went his own way: he simply couldn't be dissuaded, even against better (perhaps even his own) judgment.
       Writing success did not come easy to Weiss: he couldn't even figure out which language to write in, trying first Swedish before settling on German, and self-published his early work. It was another twenty years before he had even the slightest literary success. But he had it in him, and it finally came out -- and I've always seen that as a demonstration that anyone who really, really feels compelled to write will do so (and find a way to do so), no matter what.

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       Russian Literature Week

       Coinciding with the London Book Fair, they're holding Russian Literature Week 20-26 April. Looks pretty good.
       (They'll also announce the shortlist for the Rossica Prize that week.)

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

       Stone's Fall review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Iain Pears' forthcoming Stone's Fall.
       Amusingly, the publicity material for this book repeatedly claims that this book is: "a return to the form that launched Iain Pears onto the bestseller lists", and the like -- suggesting, of course, that his publisher thinks and/or acknowledges that his last effort(s) -- The Portrait, in particular, methinks (though I haven't seen it) -- were duds.

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15 April 2009 - Wednesday

Chinese literary concerns | Da enthusiasm
International PEN's Free the Word ! | The White Tiger film ?

       Chinese literary concerns

       A China Daily piece wonders Should literature be linked to the topical ? on the occasion of the 7th Media Award for Chinese Language Literature.
       They wondered about questions such as: "Where is Chinese literature going ? What is its relevancy to our lives? "

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

       Da enthusiasm

       MNA report on a ceremony held at ... MNA HQ, as the Writer and creator of novel Da honored, as:
Da, written by Seyyedeh Azam Hosseini, contains recollections by Seyyedeh Zahra Hosseini of the time when the Iraqi army captured Khorramshahr in the early days of the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war. It is a true-life story of a teenager who experienced the early days of the war in Khorramshahr.
       It doesn't sound like much of a novel (i.e. it sounds a lot more like a memoir) -- but then that's what they seem to want. And they do certainly seem enthusiastic about this thing:
"The appearance of Da blew a new breath into the contemporary literature, the likes of which no one could believe. Gathering the recollections of a woman narrated within a 1000-hour time limit was not an easy task. Da is an ingenious literary work that will encourage others to produce such stories," he stated.

MP Mirtajeddini described the book as beautiful, influential and lasting, and said, "Both the central theme (Sacred Defense) and its narration via a female writer are very appealing. Da is quite different from other novels. It is a true story and is very impressive.
       Given the ongoing popularity of World War II literature in Western literature it's hard to say that they seem to be overdoing it with the Sacred Defense fiction in Iran (fiction about the Iran-Iraq war) but I'm finding it disappointing how one hears about little else from there at this time. (While there as been a lot of distracting additional turmoil in Iraq in the meantime, it is interesting to note their relative indifference to that long-bygone conflict.) But they're still going at it -- and hoping for more:
Esmaeili also expressed his regret that there is a recession in producing works on Sacred Defense especially in cinema, while this genre is full of life and creativity.
       Sounds like a lot of wishful thinking .....
       Yet Morteza Sarhangi even sees this as a starting (!) point:
"The grammar of war is a commercial one and people need to be encouraged during the war, but the post-war grammar is a conceptual one, and today there is no sign of war in the book. Da is a beginning to start the wheel of war literature turning," he explained.
       I'd think even Iranian chick-lit is preferable to war-lit, but Da isn't available in English yet, and maybe it really is something special .....

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       International PEN's Free the Word !

       International PEN's festival of world literature, Free the Word ! runs 16 to 19 April, and sounds worth your while.

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

       The White Tiger film ?

       Surprisingly, the film rights to Aravind Adiga's Man Booker-winning The White Tiger were only finalized now: in the Hollywood Reporter Steven Zeitchik reports that Smuggler Films captures 'The White Tiger'; see also the official Smuggler Films site.
       While I'm not a great fan of the book, it does have decent cinematic potential. Most importantly, the film can dispense with -- as the book should have -- the silly epistolary device .....

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14 April 2009 - Tuesday

Amazon mania | Cologne papers salvageable ? | James Wood on ... Geoff Dyer

       Amazon mania

       As has been widely, widely reported, has shot itself in the foot (and then found that foot embedded deep in mouth) by a bizarre policy of deranking 'adult'-themed material (basically not listing the actual sales-rank of certain books, which, as a consequence, makes them harder to find at the site). For full coverage see, for example, Edward Champion's updated rundown, with links to various reports and commentary.
       What on earth they were thinking -- and, despite claims it was some sort of 'glitch' somebody obviously thought this through (well, not to the consequence-level, but a step or two) -- is unclear, since Amazon's one great claim to fame is that it is comprehensive -- all-covering, without distinctions. Start with the distinctions, and the whole idea breaks down .....
       Worse yet, their implementation was terrible: as Bobbie Johnson and Helen Pidd report in The Guardian:
The ranking removal seemed to depend on how Amazon filed each book. The 2003 paperback edition of Fry's autobiography Moab Is My Washpot, which Amazon tags as "gay", is unranked, whereas the original hardback , filed under "memoir", has a ranking.
The New Joy of Sex, an updated version of the 70s classic, which is filed under the subject "sex/sexuality", has lost its ranking, while the original edition (subject "love/sex/marriage"), from 1974, is ranked.
       I.e. this policy was doomed to failure in any case.
       Worse yet, of course, it is a public relations nightmare which will take ages to repair, as people have (appropriately) reacted very strongly.
       On the whole, I find this more silly than shocking -- this policy never had a chance to fly (though apparently it's been implemented, on a smaller scale, for a while now) and once discovered it was clear there would be the reaction Amazon now faces (and it was equally clear that Amazon would have to back down). What bothers me most is Amazon's refusal to acknowledge their mistake: to suggest this was a 'glitch' of some sort is ridiculous. I understand that American business doesn't much care for accountability, but they better serve somebody's head up on a platter soon: someone made a bad mistake here, and whoever it was deserves to be crucified.

       One more observation: at The Daily Beast Sara Nelson writes about this in Is Amazon Really Anti-Gay ? and writes:
Yes, taking gay books -- or any books -- off the rankings list seriously limits how many will sell, but isnít it up to the bookseller to decide what the market wants, what it will sell and how it will sell it ? Moving certain books out of contention for bestseller lists doesnít seem a whole lot different from moving them out of the display window or even, leaving them in cartons in the stockroom -- all of which are legitimate sales techniques, assuming a bookseller hasnít taken co-op dollars from a publisher and promised certain placement.
       I have a problem with much of that statement -- it's not quite as cut and dried as that, and part of the beauty (and success) of Amazon is (was ?) that it removed so many of the usual bookselling-barriers --, but Nelson's opinion sums up much of what I find is wrong with the publishing industry in America today, in particular when she writes:
isnít it up to the bookseller to decide what the market wants
       My understanding of capitalism and the free market is that it is the market that decides what the market wants. Much as I'm tempted to embrace dirigiste policies -- sure, I think I know better ! why are you reading Grisham and Twilight when you could be reading Mulisch and Goytisolo ? listen to me and read the books I praise and you will be a better person and the world will be a better place ! -- I think the limited success others (mainly publishers) associated with the bookselling-market have had in telling the market what it should want, or what's good for it, etc. should be proof enough that booksellers, too, (and, alas, me as well) have no business deciding what the market wants.
       But Nelson's silly statement is typical of the arrogance of the publishing world; with that attitude, I often think, they really don't deserve any better.

       Given the many links at the complete review I suppose I also should make some sort of policy statement, justifying and explaining them and why I haven't immediately terminated my association with Amazon, etc.
       For one, despite the big to-do, I don't take this all too seriously. It was a stupid thing thing to do, and it shouldn't have happened, but I'm fairly confident that Amazon has realized the grievous and self-defeating error of their ways and will rectify it.
       And, despite, all its faults (and there are quite a few), and its foreign affiliates do offer the most comprehensive and useful selection and by far the most supplementary information of all the alternatives, at least for the titles covered at the complete review. They also offer other products visitors seem to be eager to acquire, purchases for which I appreciate getting a commission: as I've noted, last year as many pairs of shoes were sold via the Amazon links on the site as Kindle downloads -- neither of which are available at other online booksellers.
       That said: if such derankings are maintained, or become widespread, I'd certainly have to think about my continued association with

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

       Cologne papers salvageable ?

       Can the papers from the catastrophic Cologne archive collapse be saved ? The Deutsche Welle piece, Cologne's historical archive faces a long road back, strikes an optimistic note; I have my doubts.

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       James Wood on ... Geoff Dyer

       Can't really complain: at The New Yorker James Wood tackles local long-time favorite Geoff Dyer, reviewing his new Jeff in Venice, Death in Varanasi.
       Is it a rare walk on the wilder side, or something we can expect more of ? Dyer wouldn't have been my first choice (by a long shot) for who I want to see Wood write about (and, honestly, the book has already gotten more attention than it deserves -- though I'm pleased for the worthy Dyer), but it's certainly better than what Wood usually bothers with (and it's not a bad take).

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13 April 2009 - Monday

Dalisay self-promotion | Hebrew translation
Wilbur Smith profile | The Confessions of Noa Weber review

       Dalisay self-promotion

       In The Philippine Star Jose 'Butch' Dalisay -- one of the authors who will be at the PEN World Voices Festival in NY in a few weeks -- goes in for some Shameless self-promotion.
       He thinks: "Itís a good time for Philippine literature" -- but also notes parenthetically that:
My own Soledadís Sister has yet to find a publisher in English outside the Philippines, but I was glad to recently receive my authorís copies of the published Italian edition from Isbn Edizioni, translated by Clara Nubile.
       Available in Italian before it is in the US and UK ?

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       Hebrew translation

       In The Jerusalem Post Benjamin Rosendahl reports on a recent Israel Translators Association conference in Lost in translation ?

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       Wilbur Smith profile

       In Ends of the earth in The National Philippa Kennedy profiles Wilbur Smith.

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       The Confessions of Noa Weber review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Gail Hareven's The Confessions of Noa Weber.

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12 April 2009 - Sunday

Corin Tellado (1927-2009)

       Corin Tellado (1927-2009)

       Amazingly popular -- 4,000 books ! 400 million copies sold ! -- Spanish author Corin Tellado has passed away.
       See, for example, the AFP report, Best-selling Spanish novelist Corin Tellado dies at 81, or her official site.
       There doesn't seem anything of hers readily available in English -- which doesn't sound like all too much of a loss.

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11 April 2009 - Saturday

Another writer quits ? | The Harvard Crimson's books coverage
Novels in Three Lines review

       Another writer quits ?

       In The Telegraph Tim Walker reports that Margaret Drabble quits writing novels, as: 'Although it's not inhibited many of the country's best-known writers, Dame Margaret Drabble is to give up writing novels because she is worried about becoming repetitive'.

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

       The Harvard Crimson's books coverage

       College newspapers occasionally offer book reviews, but few do so consistently -- much less consistently cover interesting books. The Harvard Crimson's weekly book coverage (scroll down for links) has been more extensive than most, but in recent years often focused on more popular fiction. Lately, however, it's been very impressive -- last week they tackled three (!) Open Letter titles (see the round-up at Three Percent), this week it's two titles from Princeton University Press: Madeleine Schwartz's review of Andrei Codrescu's The Posthuman Dada Guide (see also the PUP publicity page, or get your copy at or and April Wang's review of Kurt Schwitters' Lucky Hans and Other Merz Fairy Tales (see also the PUP publicity page, or get your copy at or
       (I hope to cover the Codrescu at some point too, if I can get my hands on a copy.)

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       Novels in Three Lines review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Félix Fénéon's Novels in Three Lines.

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

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