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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 30 September 2009

21 September: Reviews of Disgrace - the movie | The Golden Calf review
22 September: Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and ... Princess Diana ? | Millennial fiction ?
23 September: Nobel Prize in Literature preview: the odds (?) | 2009 MacArthur Fellows | 2009 Dayton Literary Peace Prize | Irina Bokova beats out Farouk Hosni to head UNESCO
24 September: Luis Goytisolo -- Nobel candidate ? | David Hawkes tribute | The Informers review
25 September: Book that most influenced world writing in past twenty-five years ? | Arab publishing hub | Nobel speculation | Hecate and Her Dogs review
26 September: 'Best of the Millennium' ? | International Literature Award | The Times WHSmith Paperback of the Year longlist
27 September: Profiles: Stieg Larsson - P.D.James | Dubravka Ugrešić interview | Suicides: Nelly Arcan - James B. Irwin, Sr.
28 September: Generosity review | Tibetan classic ?
29 September: German publisher denied entry to US | René Kartheiser (1926-2009) | (Possible) Frankfurt deals | Prize-winning Sacred Defense books
30 September: World literature in Germany | Joyce estate pays for over-zealousness | Poetry in translation | Dead Man's Share review

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30 September 2009 - Wednesday

World literature in Germany | Joyce estate pays for over-zealousness
Poetry in translation | Dead Man's Share review

       World literature in Germany

       At DeutscheWelle Christel Wester reports that 'A new literature prize aims to give African, Asian and Latin American authors more exposure on the German book market and show what "world literature" can really mean', in World literature expands its horizons in Germany. The prize is the International Literature Award - Haus der Kulturen der Welt -- see my previous mention.
       However, if: "The aim is to attract attention to Asian, African and Latin American writers and expand the common definition of world literature" then they fell a bit short with their inaugural prize: as I noted, four of the six finalists wrote their books in 'American English'. Yes, that includes Lebanese-Canadian author Rawi Hage (De Niro's Game) and the winning author, semi-Peruvian (because ... American English writing) Daniel Alarcón with Lost City Radio -- more exotic than straightforward American authors, but not that much more .....
       Indeed, the Germans appear to have an ... American problem:
However, the same cannot be said for African authors, Bilstein added. Even the prominent among them are "relatively unknown, and the young African writer generation will have a much more difficult start."

The more foreign a country or culture appears, the harder it is to sell its literature in Germany, Klefisch noted.

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

       Joyce estate pays for over-zealousness

       I'm a big supporter of literary estates that protect the artistic integrity of the authors/works they control but some go overboard in their attempts to exert control. In my opinion, among the worst estates (of popular authors) are the Beckett, Borges, and Joyce estates -- but now one of them has been nailed for its overzealousness: as Cynthia Haven gleefully reports, Stanford researcher gets six-figure settlement from James Joyce Estate.
The Stanford scholar who wrote a controversial biography of James Joyce's daughter has settled her claims for attorneys' fees against the Joyce Estate for $240,000. The settlement successfully ends a tangled saga that has continued for two decades.

As a result of an earlier settlement reached in 2007, consulting English Professor Carol Loeb Shloss already had achieved the right to domestic online publication of the supportive scholarship the Joyce Estate had forced her to remove from Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake (2003). She also had achieved the right to republish the book in the United States with the expurgated material restored.
       At the root of this evil:
The estate of the celebrated Irish author of Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, under the guidance of Joyce's grandson, Stephen James Joyce, had become notorious in scholarly circles for its conflicts with scholars, authors and Joyce enthusiasts. The estate's history of suits and threats of suit has been the subject of many articles.
       (Ah, yes, good ol' Steph .....)
       What's particularly disappointing about this case is that it's yet another example of a publisher not doing the right thing:
In 2002, when Shloss' book was nearing publication, Joyce pressured her publisher, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, to delete material from the book or face a lawsuit. The publisher complied rather than fight the issue.
       Sure, sure, that was the sensible 'business' decision -- but with 'business' decisions like that is it a wonder that it's evermore difficult to take publishers seriously ?

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

       Poetry in translation

       In the Boston Review Jordan Davis argues that 'Poetry in translation takes off', in Exchange Rate, as:
At the moment, major anthologies of contemporary poetry from Germany, Russia, and Vietnam are appearing in the United States. Though the influence of these poetries on American letters has been muted, or at least restricted to a narrow list of headliners for the last fifty years, that may be about to change.
       Still, consider that this is a guy whose eyes are opened by Michael Hofmann's Twentieth-Century German Poetry (get your copy at; UK edition: The Faber Book of Twentieth-Century German Poems, see the Faber publicity page or get your copy at to the poetry of Bertolt Brecht, leading him to suggest:
Hofmann's selections (and especially his translations) make a case for "poor B.B." as not a playwright-theorist who dabbled in verse, but a major poet of twentieth-century Germany.
       As longtime readers know, I've long argued that there is a triumvirate of greatest twentieth century German poets, consisting of: Rilke, Celan, and Brecht. And I'm hardly the only one with this opinion.

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

       Dead Man's Share review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Yasmina Khadra's Dead Man's Share -- the best of his Inspector Llob mysteries so far, I think.

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

29 September 2009 - Tuesday

German publisher denied entry to US | René Kartheiser (1926-2009)
(Possible) Frankfurt deals | Prize-winning Sacred Defense books

       German publisher denied entry to US

       Here I thought I'd be spending the next few weeks reporting about the authors the Chinese government won't let travel to the Frankfurt Book Fair but it sadly turns out that restricting travel remains popular sports among other governments as well -- notably the American one.
       Of late, of course, the Americans have focused most of their excluding on Muslims, for real or perceived connections to 'extremists'. Beyond that, I had been under the impression that the ideological exclusion provisions of the outrageous McCarran-Walter Act (the Immigration and Nationality Act, which covers this sort of thing) under which many, many writers (including subversive, threatening folk like Graham Greene) were kept out of the country had been repealed. But apparently other, remaining provisions are being very liberally broadly interpreted.
       Over the weekend Stroemfeld Verlag-publisher Karl Dietrich Wolff ('KD Wolff') arrived at Kennedy Airport. He had been invited to speak at Rutgers University today, on Back to the Sources? From the Student Revolt to the Classics ..., and was then to participate in a Vassar College conference on African American Civil Rights and Germany in the 20th Century, running from 1 to 4 October.
       At Kennedy Airport Wolff was detained for several hours, told that his multiple-entry visa, (theoretically ...) valid until 2010, had been revoked in 2003, and sent back on the next plane to Germany.
       Wolff was a member of the leftist German SDS student organization in the late 1960s, and he formed a 'solidarity committee' for the Black Panthers at the SDS. For this association (and presumably insulting Strom Thurmond on a visit to the US back then didn't help either -- though I would have thought that would count in his favor today) he had been barred from travelling to the US for eighteen years; since the ban was lifted in 1987 he has visited the US three times, without any problems. Until this weekend.
       As he says in Claus-Jürgen Göpfert's article in the Frankfurter Rundschau, Von der Vergangenheit eingeholt (with picture of this dangerous man !), he was not told why he was being denied entry into the US (beyond that his visa had been revoked six years ago -- not that anyone apparently ever mentioned that to him), and can only imagine it has to do with his support for the Black Panthers 40 (!) years ago -- support which does not appear to have gone in any way beyond what one might term moral support. (Hey, he probably took part in a few demonstrations against the Viet Nam War, too .....)
       PEN-Germany has issued a (German) protest (Wolff is a member of PEN); look for the American PEN to follow suit shortly.
       This will, no doubt, be a big story in the coming days -- as well it should.

       (Updated): See now also this statement from President of Vassar College Catharine Hill and Director of German Historical Institute Hartmut Berghoff; good to hear that Wolff will at least be able to: "participate in the conference via video-conferencing" (unless, of course, some American government official cuts that feed ...).

       (Updated - 30 September): See now also Alison Flood's report, US refuses entry to radical German publisher in The Guardian.

       (Updated - 2 October): See now also the PEN American Center's press release on the matter, and their letter on behalf of Wolff.

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

       René Kartheiser (1926-2009)

       The Luxembourg (or, more appealingly, the lëtzebuergesche -- or, even more appealingly, the luxembourgeois) author René Kartheiser has passed away.
       The Dictionnaire mondial des littératures suggests: "René Kartheiser peut être considéré comme le créateur de la prose moderne en luxembourgeois avec De Rik", but, needless to say, nothing of his seems to have been translated into English. But a Russian translation of Rick was published in 1998, Ястреб Рик .....

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

       (Possible) Frankfurt deals

       In Publishers Weekly Rachel Deahl, Liz Thomson and Nicholas Clee have a nice extensive list of What the Americans, and the British, are bringing to the fair.
       Some foreign titles (where US/UK publishers or agents are the rights-holders) in the mix, but, of course, what I'm looking forward to is what the foreign publishers are bringing to the party.

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

       Prize-winning Sacred Defense books

       Yes, it's that time of year: as MNA report Winners of Sacred Defense book festival announced. (The 'Sacred Defense' is what Iran calls the Iran-Iraq conflict of the 1980s -- a subject matter that, astonishingly and sadly, is still a major (and I mean major) one in contemporary Iranian literature.)
       Among the winners:
In the novel section, the books Blood Augury by Davud Ghaffarzadegan, and Palms and People by Nematollah Soleimani were awarded.
       Amazingly a book (yes, a Sacred Defense novel ...) by Davud Ghaffarzadegan has been translated into English -- and is under review at the complete review: Fortune Told in Blood.

       (Updated - 30 September): See also the post at ReadySteadyBook (and my comment -- the fourth one). And I take this opportunity to again commend Fariba Vafi's My Bird to you, showing that there is (or, at least a few years ago, was) at least something more to Iranian fiction.

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

28 September 2009 - Monday

Generosity review | Tibetan classic ?

       Generosity review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Richard Powers' new novel, Generosity -- subtitled An Enhancement.
       This should attract a lot of attention in the coming weeks -- it's an interesting work.
       (British audiences will still have to wait a while: even the German translation, Das größere Glück, is due out before the UK edition .....)

       (Updated - 29 September): But see also now James Wood's take-down in The New Yorker.

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

       Tibetan classic ?

       A short notice about a Chinese translation of Penjor Langdün's (Langdun Banjor's) 1985 novel, Turquoise, as Tibetan novel hailed as landmark in modern Tibetan literature writing:
A novel, written in the Tibetan language and depicting the life in old Tibet, was hailed as a landmark in modern Tibetan literature writing at a seminar on the Han version of the novel Thursday.

Turquoise, written by famous Tibetan writer Langdun Banjor, is the first full-length novel in the Tibetan language after the peaceful liberation of the region in 1951.
       ('Peaceful liberation' ... yeah, right .....)
       There's still astonishingly little novel-length Tibetan-language fiction -- and, of course, even Turquoise isn't available in English.

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

27 September 2009 - Sunday

Profiles: Stieg Larsson - P.D.James | Dubravka Ugrešić interview
Suicides: Nelly Arcan - James B. Irwin, Sr.

       Profile: Stieg Larsson

       The third volume of Stieg Larsson's 'Millennium'-trilogy, The Girl who Kicked the Hornets' Nest, is now out -- in the UK (American readers will have to wait until May (!?!) for the US edition); get your copy at, or pre-order your copy at (See also the complete review reviews of the first two volumes, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Girl who Played with Fire; I'll review the concluding volume ... as soon as I get my hands on a copy (i.e. likely in ... June ?).)
       The Sunday Times now has yet another profile of the author -- and Joan Smith reviews the book, finding:
The book is a reminder of Larsson's strengths and a few weaknesses.
       Marcel Berlins reviews it for The Times, and finds:
Stieg Larsson's immensely readable Millennium novels are far from flawless; they are too long and often unnecessarily complex. But they’ve brought a much needed freshness into the world of crime fiction.

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

       Profile: P.D.James

       In The Telegraph Jake Kerridge profiles PD James, Queen of Detective Fiction.

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

       Dubravka Ugrešić interview

       In the Neue Zürcher Zeitung Andreas Breitenstein interviews author Dubravka Ugrešić -- who notes:
Ich bin daher kein Fan der «Festivalisierung» der Literatur. Doch ist es schon so: Literaturtheorie wird zusehends von Literaturmarketing abgelöst, kompetente Buchkritiken werden durch Literaturtipps ersetzt. Die seriöse Buchauswahl ist am Verschwinden, stattdessen ist heute alles eine Geschmacksfrage. Der Markt beeinflusst unsere Wahl, bestimmt unsere Vorlieben und etabliert Werte.

[Therefore I am no fan of the 'festivalizing' of literature . But that's the way things are: literary theory is increasingly being replaced by literary marketing, competent book reviews are being replaced by literary tips. The discriminating selection of books is disappearing, instead everything today is a question of taste. The market influences our choices, determines our preferences, and establishes values.]

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

       Suicide: Nelly Arcan

       French-writing Canadian author Nelly Arcan, born in 1973, has committed suicide; see, for example, the CBC report, Quebec writer Nelly Arcan dies at 35.
       Her only title available in English appears to be Whore; see the Grove publicity page, or get your copy from (where the reader reviews are not very enthusiastic ...) or

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

       Suicide: James B. Irwin, Sr.

       James B. Irwin, Sr., who endowed the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (and generally did a great deal to support writers), has committed suicide; see, for example, The Register Citizen's report.
       See also his biography at the IMPAC site.

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

26 September 2009 - Saturday

'Best of the Millennium' ? | International Literature Award
The Times WHSmith Paperback of the Year longlist

       'Best of the Millennium' ?

       At The Millions they have now run down the top twenty 'Best of the Millennium' works of fiction, both as determined by their panel and voted on by their readers; see Best of the Millennium, Pros Versus Readers for both lists. (As I've mentioned, I think it's way too early (like about 950 years too early) to be doing this kind of thing -- and the 'millennial' label is fairly silly (books of the decade would have sufficed, and they'd have been jumping the gun on that as well).)
       Of the panel-selections quite a few of the titles are under review at the complete review:        C. Max Magee reports that The Corrections "was the panel winner by a landslide", and it seems an entirely defensible selection (though I think 2666 is easily the cream of the crop).

       See also Andrew Seal at his Blographia Literaria on The Millions List: Judging the Judges, where he notes:
I'm not, let me repeat, saying that any of the choices made for this list are unworthy or stupid or "bad." What I'm saying is that they have been shaped by a strongly unified sensibility with almost no opportunity for alternative sensibilities to intrude.
       Good point.

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

       International Literature Award

       On 30 September the German Haus der Kulturen will be handing out their 'Internationaler Literaturpreis' -- their International Literature Award - Haus der Kulturen der Welt "for contemporary prose fiction in the first German translation."
       The French have a few translated-fiction prizes, the British have The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, -- and, of course, in the US there's the illustrious Best Translated Book award, but this is the first year for this German prize.

       A few comparisons to the biggest English-language counterpart -- The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize -- are worth making:

       First there's the money: the IFFP awards £5,000 (ca. $8,000) each to the winning author and the translator; the new German prize awards 25,000 euros (ca. $36,725) to the author and 10,000 euros (ca. $14,700) to the translator.

       The 2009 IFFP had: 126 submissions originally written in 25 languages, from 44 imprints.
       The 2009 German International Literature Award considered: 131 titles translated from 33 languages, from 81 publishers.
       The German International Literature Award shortlist is, disappointingly, dominated by translated-from-the-English titles -- four of the six, and all of them translated from 'American English' (as the Germans like to differentiate -- though that includes Rawi Hage's De Niro's Game; apparently Canadian-Lebanese-English is not yet a category of its own ...).
       While both the UK and German prizes had almost the same number of submissions, the German submissions covered 32 per cent more languages -- and that despite an obvious English-language-of-origin dominance. As significant: a mere 44 imprints provided candidates for the British prize, while 81 publishers -- almost twice as many -- had something to offer for the German prize.

       (Updated - 29 September): Börsenblatt has (prematurely ?) announced that Lost City Radio -- author: Daniel Alarcón, translator: Friederike Meltendorf -- has taken the prize.

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

       The Times WHSmith Paperback of the Year longlist

       It seems a bit early to be judging this as well, but The Times WHSmith Paperback of the Year longlist is now out too, as Erica Wagner and Nicholas Clee introduce it, in The Times picks the 50 best paperbacks of 2009.
       Most noteworthy: what a marketing gimmick this is: the first shortlisted title -- suggested retail price £7.99 -- "will be available for £2.99 from next week when you buy The Times or The Sunday Times at participating WHSmith stores", and on top of that: "Buy one of our 50 Paperbacks of the Year at WHSmith and get another free".

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

25 September 2009 - Friday

Book that most influenced world writing in past twenty-five years ?
Arab publishing hub | Nobel speculation | Hecate and Her Dogs review

       Book that most influenced world writing in past twenty-five years ?

       In The Guardian Alison Flood reports that: 'One Hundred Years of Solitude has most shaped world literature over the past 25 years, says survey', in Gabriel García Márquez masterpiece tops poll of world literature, as:
Indra Sinha, Blake Morrison, Amit Chaudhuri and 22 other authors were asked to pick the title that they felt had most influenced world writing over the past quarter-century. The survey was conducted by the international literary magazine Wasafiri -- meaning "cultural traveller" in Swahili –- which celebrates its 25th anniversary today.
       (No information at the Wasafiri site that I could find at this time.)
       One Hundred Years of Solitude is certainly tremendously influential -- but has been around (influencing, presumably) for considerably more than a quarter of a century (and probably had its greatest impact pre 1984). But others named older titles -- Sinha picked Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, for example.
       Looking strictly at the last quarter of a century (in terms of influence, not when the book was written), I'd have to vote for Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children (remember: the question is which book most shaped world literature -- not: which book most shaped world literature in a positive way (it's a very fine novel, but its influence has been pernicious)).

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

       Arab publishing hub

       In Publishers Weekly Teri Tan finds: 'A new publishing hub in the Arab world is set to shine', in Publishing in the UAE.

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

       Nobel speculation

       Everyone loves some good Nobel speculation (see my recent discussions here and here), and discussions about the literature-prize are going on at several sites.
       The Nobel Prize in Literature 2009 Speculation at World Literature Forum has been going for a while, but has now gotten a lot more active.
       Meanwhile, Words without Borders now offers The Nobel Prize in Literature: Our Office Pool.

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

       Hecate and Her Dogs review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Paul Morand's 1954 novel, Hecate and Her Dogs, now available in English from Pushkin Press.

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

24 September 2009 - Thursday

Luis Goytisolo -- Nobel candidate ?
David Hawkes tribute | The Informers review

       Luis Goytisolo -- Nobel candidate ?

       When I discussed the betting line for the Nobel Prize in Literature yesterday, as offered at Ladbrokes, I took it for granted that, with all their misspellings (most of which have been corrected -- though only the ones I pointed out ... see if you can figure out what they missed ...) they also completely flubbed it when it came to listing Juan Goytisolo, instead suggesting 'Luis Goytisola'. Given my great admiration for the work of Juan Goytisolo -- and the fact that his brother Luis has always seemed to me sort of like Peter Weiss' brother Alexander (yes, by that I mean: pretty much no one outside his native country has ever heard of him -- though I actually have read an Alexander Weiss collection, but never anything by Luis Goytisolo ...) -- it seemed obvious to me that they must mean Juan. After all, Juan is one of a dozen or so authors that I would say (and it's not just me ...) is indisputably worthy of the prize -- so even if Luis were also a contender, then at least Juan would be on the list as well.
       But there's only one Goytisolo (well, according to Ladbrokes: 'Goytisola') on the Ladbrokes list .....
       Is it possible that they really mean Luis, and only Luis ?
       It's not unthinkable that his name was submitted for the prize. He is a well-known Spanish author, and the way Nobel nominations work is, as explained at the Swedish Academy site:
Those entitled to nominate candidates for the Prize are the members of the Academy, members of academies and societies similar to it in membership and aims, professors of literature and language, former Nobel laureates in literature, and the presidents of writers' organisations which are representative of their country's literary production.
       So not all worthies necessarily get nominated -- and it is distinctly possible that one of the Spanish institutions or professors put forth Luis' name. (I would imagine Juan's was also put forth, but there are likely more who ... disapprove of him than those who do of Luis.)
       Still, it's a pretty unusual choice -- but that's where the fact that he's so high on the Ladbrokes list does suggest he might be in the running. Even among Spanish authors Luis' certainly isn't the first (or fifth) name that would come to mind as a Nobel contender -- but there he is on the Ladbrokes betting-list. And, since the Swedish Academy notes that as far as their own list goes: "Before the Academy's summer recess the list has usually been further reduced to about five names" ... it's hard not suspect that at least that name was leaked or floated somewhere. How else would anyone come up with it ? (and not, for example, Juan's .....)

       Well, one way they might come up with it is that he is a tremendously worthy author (who happens to have been overlooked by ... absolutely everyone for decades) .
       The fact that someone who has been churning out fiction for five decades is still largely untranslated into most foreign languages does make one (well, me) wonder. (That the Americans (and British overlook him doesn't say that much, but that German and French interest has also largely been lacking ... well, that's not a great sign.) As it turns out, however, Luis Goytisolo has been translated into English -- very recently in fact: Pamela J. Deweese (who seems to have made a career of the author) translated his 360º Diary and Peter Lang brought it out just last year. It actually sounds like one of his more interesting efforts: see also the Peter Lang publicity page, or get your copy at or (Note also, however, that it seems to have received no review (or other) attention -- and has an sales rank of all of 4,214,850 (though that should improve after today).)
       Luis Goytisolo's best-known work is the four-part Antagonía, published between 1973 and 1981; in another bad sign the Times Literary Supplement did review the first two volumes but passed on the final two .....
       Richard Burrows (TLS, 23/5/1975) was no fan of volume I:
Recuento, which is, if one is not put off by the hard words and long sentences, only the exhaustively detailed autobiography of a very ordinary, middle-class Catalan youth
Only the form is unusual, and its complexity does not grow out of any real originality of insight but from a systematic dérèglement of all the rules of clear writing. What is the point of these endless paragraphs, four or five-page sentences, nouns governed by upwards of a dozen adjectives ? (...) The purpose can only be a parade of stylistic and linguistic cleverness; a public trying out of a writer's raw materials perhaps as a prelude to a more serious application, but possibly just for its own sake.
       John Butt (TLS, 4/2/1977) also had his doubts about volume II, Los verdes de mayo hasta el mar -- though admitting:
These novels badly need a reader's guide, so that any single-handed review must be tentative.
       But he concluded:
If Raul flees Rosa and this low company and dedicates himself to measured reflection for a few hundred pages, then Antagonía may become a masterpiece. It will certainly be hailed as such in Spain, a land of complicit reviewers.
       And, as I said, the TLS passed on the final two volumes, and seem to have washed their hands of Luis -- though they gave quite a few of his earlier books a go: John Sturrock, for example, reviewed (27/9/1963) Las mismas palabras -- and found:
In this sort of book documentary restraint has been carried to the point where all sense of relevance vanishes, and although Señor Goytisolo's characters are wholly convincing, they are so skin-deep as to leave one totally unconcerned about their fate.
       So, yes, I figure J.M.Cohen had it right in his review (25/9/1955) of Las afueras when he took the time to point to:
The present author's elder brother, Juan Goytisolo, the outstanding novelist of this new generation
       That's what Cohen thought more than half a century ago, and I don't think Juan Goytisolo has relinquished that title yet.

       For more information about Luis Goytisolo, see also information about those of his books published by Alfaguara, as well the articles by and about him at El País.

       Do I think Luis Goytisolo is a contender for the Nobel Prize ? I find it hard to believe, given his international obscurity (Elfriede Jelinek, J.M.G. Le Clézio, Kertész Imre, and Gao Xingjian were all much more widely translated before they got the prize, even into English). But where there's smoke ... and the appearance of the name on the Ladbrokes list (and the outrageous odds -- he's listed, off the top, as a favorite !) is far too much smoke to ignore.

       (Updated - 27 September): See also Luis Goytisolo's official site.

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

       David Hawkes tribute

       Nice to see Chinese ambassador to the United Kingdom Fu Ying Remembering David Hawkes in The Guardian.
       (Hawkes was responsible for much of the translation of Cao Xueqin's The Story of the Stone, one of the greatest novels of the last millennium.)

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

       The Informers review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Juan Gabriel Vásquez's The Informers.

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

23 September 2009 - Wednesday

Nobel Prize in Literature preview: the odds (?)
2009 MacArthur Fellows | 2009 Dayton Literary Peace Prize
Irina Bokova beats out Farouk Hosni to head UNESCO

       Nobel Prize in Literature preview: the odds (?)

       The 2009 Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced on a Thursday in October; this year the first Thursday falls on 1 October and since the Swedish Academy's deliberations apparently only begin in October it won't be on that day. Last year they were quick and announced it on the 9th; there's a chance they'll manage by the 8th this year, but the 15th looks to be the date to circle on your calendar.

       Ladbrokes has now posted odds for the punters. (Irritated aside: numerous outlets have linked to reports about this -- but no one seems to be linking to the page with the actual odds. Come on, people, it's not that complicated !)
       A first observation: the Ladbrokes folk really don't take this seriously. Among the misspelled author-names are: 'Luis Goytisola' (surely they mean Juan Goytisolo), 'Antoni Tabucchi', 'Umberto Ecco', The Kindly Ones-author 'Jonathan Little' , and 'Michael Tournier'. And, as every year, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o is listed under a name he hasn't published under in decades, James Ngugi. I've complained about these misspellings -- many of which are carried over from year to year -- before (most recently last year) but my complaints have obviously fallen on deaf ears. [Updated: Hey, somebody is paying attention -- they've cleaned up most of the misspellings !]
       [(Updated): As has been pointed out to me, maybe they really do mean Luis Goytisolo (still misspelled ...), Juan's brother -- though that would suggest either some inside information, or really going out on a limb. His Antagonía-quartet may well be Nobel-worthy, but he is not very well known outside the Spanish-speaking world, or much translated -- as far as I can tell, nothing significant of his has been translated into English. [Updated - 24 September: See now also my additional notes on Luis Goytisolo -- Nobel candidate ?]]

       As to the odds themselves, they're at least worth taking a look at. Recall that last year's winner, J.M.G. Le Clézio, started out at around 14/1 (though late action, after the name was apparently leaked, plunged those to 2/1 before betting was suspended) .
       The top ten betting favorites currently -- keeping Ladbrokes' (mis)spellings intact -- are:
  • Amos Oz 4/1
  • Assia Djebar 5/1
  • Luis Goytisola 6/1
  • Joyce Carol Oates 7/1
  • Philip Roth 7/1
  • Adonis 8/1
  • Antoni Tabucchi 9/1
  • Claudio Magris 9/1
  • Haruki Murakami 9/1
  • Thomas Pynchon 9/1
       Last year Magris was a longtime 3/1 favorite; Oz started out as third-favorite, at 5/1. Oates and Roth were also at 7/1 last year, but Don DeLillo slipped from 10/1 last year to 16/1 this. (Last year there were only five authors listed at better than 10/1; this year it's a ridiculous ten -- bad, bad (and unfair) odds-making.)
       Thomas Pynchon has risen fast, and among the interesting newcomers is Goncourt-winner Atiq Rahimi (currently at 16/1 -- and presumably counting on the Afghan-sympathy vote, with bonus points for now having written novellas in both Dari and French -- though the two-language trick is getting to be old hat nowadays). Surprisingly, Peter Handke managed to slip in again -- despite the recent Jelinek-win -- at the good odds of 20/1.
       Overall, the odds are unrealistic -- i.e. Ladbrokes has stacked them way against punters -- but the Nobel Prize tends to be a guessing game anyway: chances are fairly good that the winner is on the longlist Ladbrokes is offering odds against. It will be interesting to follow the movement of the odds as actual money is put down.
       My track record of picking winners/contenders in prizes like this is terrible, so I'll try to avoid doing so (though I ultimately probably won't be able to resist ...), but for now I'll say that of the ten with the best odds now I'd strongly approve of a win by either Oz or Goytisolo. Most of the other eight ... not so much.

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

       2009 MacArthur Fellows

       As widely reported, they've announced the 2009 MacArthur Fellows Program.
       Among the writers to get the big cash payout are Edwidge Danticat and Deborah Eisenberg.

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

       2009 Dayton Literary Peace Prize

       They've announced the winners of the 2009 Dayton Literary Peace Prizes.
       Peace by Richard Bausch won the fiction category (get your copy at or and A Crime So Monstrous: Face to Face with Modern Day Slavery by E. Benjamin Skinner took the non-fiction category (get your copy at or

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

       Irina Bokova beats out Farouk Hosni to head UNESCO

       I'm absolutely stunned that it went this far, but Farouk Hosni's bid to head UNESCO was a hair's breadth away from succeeding. He won most of the voting rounds held by the executive board handily, but came up just short of the number needed to put him over the top until everyone else was out of the running and it came down to the showdown between him and Irina Bokova in a fifth round of voting. Bokova won 31-27. (See, for example, Bulgarian wins bitter contest to head Unesco in The Times.)
       (The full UN still has to vote on the appointment, but that should now be pretty much pro forma.)
       Sad that an election for such an important international post degenerated into a battle of wills (and nationalist pride).

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

22 September 2009 - Tuesday

Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and ... Princess Diana ? | Millennial fiction ?

       Valéry Giscard d'Estaing and ... Princess Diana ?

       It was hard to sympathize with the ridiculous figure that was 'Princess Di' while she was alive, but the way she's been treated in death surely makes even the staunchest anti-royalist feel a bit of pity. As if she hasn't suffered enough, that old lecher geezer, former French president Valéry Giscard d'Estaing has now penned a 'romance' novel (!) titled La princesse et le président (due out in October; no listing yet) in which he suggests they were a lot closer than anyone thought ......
       Étienne de Montety has the preview and sordid story in Le Figaro, Les amours romanesques de la princesse et du président, and every paper on earth has by now written an article based on it -- see, for example: Charles Bremner's Valéry Giscard d’Estaing novel hints at affair with Diana, Princess of Wales in The Times, Angelique Chrisafis' Former French president hints at romance with Princess Diana in The Guardian, and Valery Giscard d'Estaing novel hints at affair with Princess Diana in The Telegraph.
       Presumably all the major US and UK publishers are on the phone this morning, trying to snap up the English language rights to this thing.
       Let us please hear no more about it.

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

       Millennial fiction ?

       It seems way too early to be doing this kind of thing to me, but it's always a fun exercise: The Millions has gotten together 48 writers, editors, and critics to try to figure out what The Best Fiction of the Millennium (So Far) is.
       Five new titles revealed every day this week -- 16-20 look pretty dubious to me so far. (The only one under review at the complete review is Jeffrey Eugenides' Middlesex -- perfectly readable, but hardly book of the year/decade/millennium material.)
       Off the top of my head I can't think of many titles that I'd seriously consider, beyond Roberto Bolaño's epochal 2666 (no doubts about that one, and I'm sure it'll figure higher on the list).
       Among the other titles I'd consider tossing into the mix: Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections (which I'm sure also made the English-language-heavy list), J.M.Coetzee's Slow Man, and Jean Echenoz's Piano.

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

21 September 2009 - Monday

Reviews of Disgrace - the movie | The Golden Calf review

       Reviews of Disgrace - the movie

       J.M.Coetzee's unpleasant but very fine Disgrace was made into a movie last year, starring John Malkovich, and is now slowly opening in the US. It is now showing in New York, so there were quite a few reviews the past week:
  • Andrew Dunn's at Bloomberg -- he gave it four stars and found: "Bleak and disquieting, Disgrace offers little moral resolution. Monticelli hews closely to the novel"

  • Stephen Holden's in The New York Times -- who found: "A hard-headed allegorical meditation on the bestial side of human nature and its reflection in a poisoned social climate in the throes of change, Disgrace is all the more devastating for being so coolly dispassionate."

  • Keith Phipps' in The Onion -- who found: "And yet, after a compelling opening act and some shocking late-film developments, the film feels disengaged from the action at hand and the issues raised. It's as if director Steve Jacobs and his screenwriting partner Anna Maria Monticelli set out to make a movie characterized by the distance Coetzee's detractors have found in his books."

  • Bob Mondello's at NPR

  • V.A. Musetto's in the New York Post -- he gave it three stars
       Meanwhile, in The National David Mattin profiles Coetzee, in The work of his life -- finding fit to describe (or have him described) as "austere" three times and not mentioning his time in the US at all (despite the significance of that period in terms of Coetzee's new book, Summertime).

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

       The Golden Calf review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of a new translation of Ilf and Petrov's classic, The Golden Calf, forthcoming from Open Letter.

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

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