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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 October 2010

1 October: Nobel Prize in literature to be announced 7 October | Pulped Freedom ? | Translation support in ... New Zealand | New African Writing | German critics' recommendations
2 October: Nobel Prize in Literature speculation: the other contenders | Granta's Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists | Writing in ... Sri Lanka | Salman Rushdie profile | October issues
3 October: Reading the Nobel odds: Ngũgĩ | Claude Lanzmann takes WELT-Literaturpreis | Hindu Best Fiction Award shortlist | Michael Cunningham on translation (and writing) | Freedom review
4 October: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, 2010 Nobel laureate ?
5 October: Nobel Prize speculation, continued (P.S. I say: Ngũgĩ got it) | International literary prizes: German Book Prize - Nike Prize | 'Global Canon' | Beauty and Sadness review
6 October: The Nobel Prize in Literature - one last day of speculation | Literary events at the Commonwealth Games | I am a Japanese Writer
7 October: The 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature goes to ... Mario Vargas Llosa ! | Publishing doomsaying | French reactions to Andrew Wylie | The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist review
8 October: Mario Vargas Llosa, Nobel laureate | New RCF: Slovak Fiction | Purge annoys Estonians ? | Paul Muldoon Q & A | John Ajvide Lindqvist profile | Literary consumer protection
9 October: Prizes: Judging the Man Booker - Premio Nacional de Narrativa - Nobel Peace Prize | The Blind Owl, re-issued | Taking comic novels seriously ? | Words and Money review
10 October: Iceland at Frankfurt, 2011 | Penguin in China | Plot lines of the 19th century today ? | Revenge review

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10 October 2010 - Sunday

Iceland at Frankfurt, 2011 | Penguin in China
Plot lines of the 19th century today ? | Revenge review

       Iceland at Frankfurt, 2011

       And even as the Frankfurt Book Fair 2010 isn't yet over, guest of honor 2011 Iceland is already vying for more attention: as Iceland Review reports, Iceland Takes German Literature Market by Storm, as:
Contracts have been made on the publishing of around 100 works of literature in Germany in the next 12 months that will be translated from Icelandic or feature Iceland. The first press conference in relation to Iceland being the guest of honor at the 2011 Frankfurt Book Fair was held on Thursday.
       100 works ! (No word as to how many (if any ?) are contracted to be made available in English .....)
       They also mention the official 2011 guest of honor site, Fabulous Iceland (which I've praised before, and recommend again), where they also report on the press conference.

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

       Penguin in China

       Mixed reviews for Penguin's Chinese efforts in this China Daily report, You can't please all the critics all the time, as:
While most critics and industry-watchers agree that Penguin has made a good start promoting Chinese literature to the world, others feel the company still has a long way to go before it gets a firm grip on the Chinese reader's pulse.
       Reviewer Tu Zhigang sums it up:
While he doesn't mind acknowledging Penguin's well-intended drive toward "doing books that represent the vigor and trends in contemporary Chinese writing", Tu feels the multinational publishing house "hasn't yet grasped the overall situation and context of contemporary Chinese literature". Its interest, so far, is limited only to "the so-called best-sellers and popular books", he says.

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

       Plot lines of the 19th century today ?

       Arts & Letters Daily points me to George Packer's Dickens in Lagos at Lapham's Quarterly; the tags -- "Charles Dickens, literary criticism, poverty, slums" -- already give some idea where this is going. Yes, Packer finds:
In vast, impoverished cities like Bombay, Cairo, Jakarta, Rio, or Lagos, the plot lines of the nineteenth century proliferate. Not ignorant mass suffering, but the ordeal of sentient individuals who are daily exposed to a world of possibilities through a sheet of glass -- satellite TV, the Internet -- that keeps them out. The extreme conditions of megacity slums contain the extravagant material that animated Dickens. In the gap between what their inhabitants know and feel and what they can have lies all the poignancy of Hardy.

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

       Revenge review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of of an early (1992) novel by Taslima Nasrin, Revenge, in a new (!) translation that The Feminist Press has just brought out.

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

9 October 2010 - Saturday

Prizes: Judging the Man Booker - Premio Nacional de Narrativa - Nobel Peace Prize
The Blind Owl, re-issued | Taking comic novels seriously ? | Words and Money review

       Prizes: Judging the Man Booker

       With the Man Booker Prize winner to be announced 12 October, it's judge Rosie Blau who offers the obligatory My year as a Man Booker Prize judge-piece, this one in the Financial Times.
       She notes:
I can't imagine ever not wanting to read a novel but I did occasionally suffer mediocrity overload. I was shocked how many writers and editors allowed into print redundant adjectives, clichés and overwritten narratives.
       She also writes:
More than 10,000 novels are published in Britain every year. That's a lot of words. Some of those words, and some of those books, are better than others. That's how you get on to a list: your book is better. There is no snubbing, no conspiracy and no favouritism. Why did some books and not others make the shortlist from the longlist ? Because we liked them more.
       I have to object -- strenuously. This is a misleading claim: yes, there are (something like) 10,000 novels published annually in Great Britain -- but only 124 were submitted for the prize (by publishers, the only ones allowed to submit books for consideration) -- with an additional 14 'called in' (see the official press release). That's actually more than in recent years, but still only a fraction of all the worthy, much less possible titles. And this shows obvious snubbing, outrageous conspiracy, and determined favouritism -- true, all on the part of the ones responsible for deciding which books are even going to be considered for the prize, the publishers (though the Man Booker folk make it so easy for them by not even revealing which books have been submitted, maintaining this ridiculous veil of secrecy), but nevertheless.
       And might I suggest -- because it is certainly something I am completely convinced of -- that the main reason Blau and her fellow judges had to wade through so much mediocrity is because publishers submit exactly that kind of book, the ones stuffed with "redundant adjectives, clichés and overwritten narratives" (as opposed to the best books). Making the first stage of the selection process more open (i.e. don't let publishers have a thing to do with it, except deliver copies of the books) and transparent (i.e. make public which books are actually being considered for the prize) -- as well as not limiting submissions to a ridiculous two titles per imprint (as is the current rule) -- could, I am convinced, do wonders to improve the overall quality of books the judges have to deal with.

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

       Prizes: Premio Nacional de Narrativa

       As the Latin American Herald Tribune reports, Javier Cercas Wins Prestigious Spanish Literary Prize, as his Anatomia de un instante (get your copy at has taken the Spanish Premio Nacional de Narrativa:
He said he was thrilled to win this prestigious award for a work he described as the most difficult of his career because it delved into the attempted coup of Feb. 23, 1981, known in Spain as "23-F."

"23-F was like the assassination of (President John F.) Kennedy in the United States. Putting yourself there is like putting yourself in a real waspís nest, with real people, with transcendental events for Spanish history," the author said shortly after learning he had been awarded the prize.
       I imagine it will make it into English eventually; for now see reviews of his Soldiers of Salamis and The Speed of Light at the complete review.

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

       Prizes: Nobel Peace Prize

       As widely expected, Chinese human rights activist and political prisoner Liu Xiaobo has been awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize. He served as President of the Independent Chinese PEN Center from 2003 to 2007, and the PEN American Center has been at the forefront of lobbying for his release and for his getting the award; see also their Liu Xiaobo page.

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

       The Blind Owl, re-issued

       The Rumpus prints Porochista Khakpour's new introduction to a re-issue of D.P.Costello's ancient translation of Sadegh Hedayat's classic novel, The Blind Owl.
       As she notes -- perhaps overly optimistically:
Indeed The Blind Owl barely needs introducing -- itís the most famous Persian novel in Iran and the West (U.S. and Europe), and Hedayat is without argument the father of Persian modernist fiction.
       This is one of those books I haven't gotten around to because I read it long before I started the site, but I'll probably get to it eventually (if I can get a copy ...); I have sort of been hoping for a new translation to appear, but .....
       Meanwhile, get your copy at; the same translation -- sans Khakpour's introduction -- is also available from

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

       Taking comic novels seriously ?

       In The Guardian Howard Jacobson wonders -- at considerable length -- 'why we don't take comic fiction more seriously', in Howard Jacobson on taking comic novels seriously.
       He apparently believes:
But we have created a false division between laughter and thought, between comedy and seriousness, between the exhilaration that the great novels offer when they are at their funniest, and whatever else it is we now think we want from literature.
       I must be missing something, because I hadn't noticed. Indeed, far too much of modern fiction seems to me to be trying way too hard to be funny.
       Jacobson doesn't manage to cite all (or any) of those contemporary examples that try not to be funny -- indeed, the best he seems to be able to do is:
For some reason we are running scared. Aspiring writers of pornography are warned by publishers who specialise in such work not to let comedy anywhere near. This precaution makes perfect sense. Comedy breaks the erotic trance. Comedy breaks every trance -- that's its function. Comedy is nothing if not critical.
       Admittedly, I don't manage to get my hands on many works by aspiring writers of pornography (and here too he doesn't name names, so I could seek some out); still, this seems a pretty weak example to use just so he can get in those clever lines .....

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

       Words and Money review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of André Schiffrin's Words and Money.

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

8 October 2010 - Friday

Mario Vargas Llosa, Nobel laureate | New RCF: Slovak Fiction
Purge annoys Estonians ? | Paul Muldoon Q & A
John Ajvide Lindqvist profile | Literary consumer protection

       Mario Vargas Llosa, Nobel laureate

       Mario Vargas Llosa's Nobel win of course dominates literary news, with a lot of coverage (and more still incoming) to digest. Of course, the general reaction has been a sigh of relief -- an author whose name is known ! (some of) whose books are in print ! who is long overdue ! who isn't one of these lefty nuts those Swedish Academy types seem to fall for (like Naipaul, I guess ...) ! -- and on the whole there isn't that much to complain about.
       My personal reaction ? Well, with 16 of his titles under review at the complete review he ranks as the third most 'popular' author (by that measure) -- after Naguib Mahfouz and ... Geoff Nicholson (yeah, I suggest this is a rather inexact measure ...) -- on the site and I haven't even gotten to some of my favorite of his works, such as Aunt Julia and the Scriptwriter (get your copy at or and The War of the End of the World (get your copy at or But I have to say I'm a bit disappointed: yes, he's worthy, but he's also a safe and, it seems to me, politically very correct (if in a right-leaning rather than traditionally left-leaning way). Yes, his books are often "powerful" -- and thankfully, unlike so many other writers from Latin America, he doesn't programmatically go about in painting good and evil -- but too much of his work has been too workmanlike and conservative (from a writing standpoint, never mind content-wise) for my liking. (Naipaul, by comparison, is a radical writer (and of a completely different 'right', one which I am not particularly sympathetic to) -- and a different order of writer (as are Coetzee, Kertész, etc.).) Admittedly, my general dislike for fiction based on historical figures -- a literary crutch I think is much overused -- doesn't help, and Vargas Llosa sure does like to base -- if not drown -- his fiction on/in history (the new one is on Roger Casement ? oh dear ....). That said, I'll still read pretty much everything he writes -- and I think his non-fiction/critical writing (when he isn't repeating himself ...) is very good. Yes, among the grand old men waiting for the prize I think certainly Mulisch and Oz are the more deserving -- but I can see the case for Vargas Llosa too; it is no bad choice.

       To the reports: the first and most interesting is the small Svenska Dagbladet collection of reactions, Glädje från hela världen -- noteworthy because everyone's favorite Swedish Academy non-member, Knut Ahnlund, the man who no longer plays along (but can't get out of the club), has his insider (until recently) say -- a say that includes revealing that Vargas Llosa has apparently been in the mix since the 1970s (!) -- though take it with a grain of salt, since Knut only joined the Academy (and the deliberations) in 1983 .... And, while he says Vargas Llosa was always "min kandidat" -- i.e. he wholeheartedly endorsed him -- it's interesting to see that Vargas Llosa prevailed even without Knut's vote or support. The reason why he didn't get it earlier ? Apparently his active involvement in politics is what essentially disqualified him: it was unthinkable to name someone laureate who was so politically active. Something to keep in mind when considering who likely winners are in future years .....

       Among English-language reports there's already tons to choose from:
       - Seth Colter Walls reports on Vargas Llosa's New York press conference at Newsweek, Mario Vargas Llosa the Politician Shows Up to Talk About His Nobel Prize
       - The Kakutani offers 'an appraisal' in The New York Times, A Storyteller Enthralled by the Power of Art, while David L. Ulin writes Mario Vargas Llosa's work and life push boundaries in The Los Angeles Time (noting: "it may not matter that, as an author, Vargas Llosa's best days as a novelist are behind him" -- really ? people aren't more bothered by that ? I know I am).

       Among the profiles and appreciations are also:        Foreign Policy offers a trio of pieces:
  • Elizabeth Dickinson offers the 2010 Nobel laureate in literature, in his own words, in Latin America's Literary Conscience
  • Literature and Liberty, as 'Renowned Mexican historian and journalist Enrique Krauze on how Mario Vargas Llosa's novels revealed Latin America's soul -- and exorcised its demons'
  • The Revenge of the Novel by William Egginton, arguing 'Mario Vargas Llosa, the new Nobel laureate, has always seen fiction as much more than just stories'
       Also of interest: Eduardo Lago's (Spanish) interview in El País -- where you'll also find Antonio Muñoz Molina's El lector en el laberinto.
       And the Christian Science Monitor digs up a profile from 1977.

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

       New RCF: Slovak Fiction

       The new issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction, on Slovak Fiction, is (practically) out -- none of the Slovak fiction part is available online (so get your copy from the site, or at or, but the always interesting book-review s(el)ection is -- worth checking out !

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

       Purge annoys Estonians ?

       Helsingin Sanomat reports that International acclaim for Sofi Oksanen's Purge annoys some in Estonia, as the novel (see my review) apparently presents the wrong 'image' of the country:
Some Estonian intellectuals are annoyed by Purge, saying that the image of Estonia created by the award-winning and bestselling novel is likely to become the prevailing truth of the country and its history.
According to Piret Tali, Purge confirms the image of Estonia, which is why Estonians still have to see themselves as Eastern European whores onboard the Finnish ferries and in the nightclubs of hotels.
       Wow .....

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

       Paul Muldoon Q & A

       I'll be getting to Paul Muldoon's new collection, Maggot, soon (meanwhile, see the publicity pages at Farrar, Straus & Giroux and Faber, or get your copy at or, but check out the Q & A at The Economist's Prospero weblog.
       The final question-and-...question goes:
Where is the literary culture more interesting, America or Britain ?
Do you have a witness protection programme ?

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

       John Ajvide Lindqvist profile

       In The Independent Boyd Tonkin profiles John Ajvide Lindqvist: A magician of genre fiction, yet another Swedish author who has stealthily established himself in English -- and not even in the traditional mystery genre.
       His Harbour is just out in the UK (see the Quercus publicity page, or get your copy at, or see, for example, Louise Welsh's review in the Financial Times). In the US, typically behind, Handling the Undead has just come out (get your copy at

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

       Literary consumer protection

       I have to say, I find myself (against my better judgment) very enthusiastic about the idea of literary consumer protection -- there's a lot of crap that should be outlawed ! -- though Timothy Noah's look at Regulatory Lit Crit at Slate, wondering 'Can the government recall a book ?' only addresses a very limited set of examples.

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

7 October 2010 - Thursday

The 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature goes to ... Mario Vargas Llosa !
Publishing doomsaying | French reactions to Andrew Wylie
The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist review

       The 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature goes to ... Mario Vargas Llosa

       The 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature goes to ... Mario Vargas Llosa !
       Considered a leading candidate for the prize for years, he's certainly a worthy winner. Considerable information about him is already available at the complete review -- see the Mario Vargas Llosa-page, and links to the sixteen (!) of his books of under review here (see full list below).

       [Updated]: Lynn Andriani reports at Publishers Weekly that Vargas Llosa Wins Nobel; Picador Reprints 10 Paperbacks -- which is good (if unsurprising) to hear; more noteworthy (for a short while) she also reports:
Vargas Llosa is giving a press conference today at 1:00 PM in the auditorium at the Cervantes Institute in New York City. The institute is located at 211 E. 49th Street
       No word at the official site, but rush over while you can if this your kind of thing.

       In the first few hours after the announcement little substantial coverage yet -- it's more along the lines of the Nobel press release, which really does say, in full, only:
The Nobel Prize in Literature for 2010 is awarded to the Peruvian author Mario Vargas Llosa "for his cartography of structures of power and his trenchant images of the individual's resistance, revolt, and defeat".
       (Still, "cartography of structures of power" ... you can just imagine them mulling over that phrasing for hours until they got it ... right .....)
       Of some interest: Vargas Llosa is currently serving as 2010 Distinguished Visitor in Princeton's Program in Latin American Studies, and Princeton has been quick with the release of a press release to that effect; they also have a profile from a few days ago, as Jennifer Greenstein Altmann reported that Novelist Vargas Llosa imparts writing insights to students .
       Otherwise, the most interesting places to check out for now are the discussions: see Mario Vargas Llosa: a worthy Nobel prize for literature winner ? at The Guardian's Book Blog, and the thread at the World Literature Forum.

       Here, then, links to all the review of all the Mario Vargas Llosa titles under review at the complete review:
       (And: so much for following the betting action too closely: early action moved Vargas Llosa up to 25/1, but that's where he stayed: doesn't look like there was much betting on him -- and, more pleasing to the Swedish Academy, it doesn't look like there was a leak ! (And Ladbrokes must be thrilled: they did very well this season with the Nobel betting.))

       Meanwhile, some last pre-award notes:
  • The closing Ladbrokes list had Murakami (5/1) move past Ngũgĩ (11/2) into second place, with McCarthy holding firm as favorite at 3/1. Note, however, that late betting pushed Bob Dylan (!) up to a ridiculous 33/1, and sees, for example: Juan Gelman at 17/1 and Ulrich Holbein at 20/1 (also silly odds). Meanwhile, Tomas Tranströmer's have stealthily improved, leaving him tied with Ko Un at 8/1.

  • Svenska Dagbladet asked literary critics and editors from all over the place -- including Michael Dirda and litteraturbloggare/Bookslut Jessa Crispin -- for their opinion; in Swedish, but you can figure it out (and no, no one asked me -- but then I've made my position clear, haven't I ?)

  • In the Sydney Morning Herald Jason Steger takes an Australian look, as Our Nobel men of letters crunch the numbers -- and close the books, as he gets Gerald Murnane and Les Murray to have their pre-award say. Among the interesting titbits: three of Murnane's books have been translated into Swedish, with a fourth on the way (more than will be available in the US, even after Dalkey brings out the two they have planned ...), and Murnane would follow in the no-show tradition of recent years (Jelinek, Pinter), since: "There's no question of me going. Patrick White didn't go. I've never been on airplane and I wouldn't get on one for anything."

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

       Publishing doomsaying

       What with the Frankfurt Book Fair going on one finds the obligatory articles along the lines of John Walsh's Is the publishing industry doomed ? (this in The Independent).

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

       French reactions to Andrew Wylie

       No surprise, French publishers aren't pleased with 'literary' agent Andrew Wylie's doings, and now they finally have something really concrete to complain about: as Barbara Casassus and Philip Jones report in The Bookseller, French publishers in revolt over Andrew Wylie's rights grab. Yes, they wrote a letter and everything .....
       Still, one interesting bit of information:
The Bookseller Daily understands that at least four French publishers have suspended negotiations with Wylie since July. Gallimard told The Bookseller: "We are one of them, and I know several of my colleagues have done the same."
       That's a fairly big deal, and I remind you again of the state of a publishing-reporting industry that hasn't managed to get a single Wylie author to comment -- positively or negatively -- about these situations (first the US to-do, now this), which you know they can't be very happy about. Is there a journalist in the house ? Hello ? Anywhere ?

       (Updated - 9 October): Wylie and the French publishers are apparently happily back in bed together again: in The Bookseller Philip Jones reports that Wylie backs down after French resistance.

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

       The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of 2006 Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk's 2009 Charles Eliot Norton Lectures, The Naive and the Sentimental Novelist, forthcoming from Harvard University Press.

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

6 October 2010 - Wednesday

The Nobel Prize in Literature - one last day of speculation
Literary events at the Commonwealth Games | I am a Japanese Writer

       The Nobel Prize in Literature - one last day of speculation

       The Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced tomorrow (13:00 CET, 11:00 GMT), leaving one last day for frantic speculation. It should be fun.
       [I'll post updates here throughout the day, if/when there's anything to report on.]

       (Updated - 1): Early afternoon GMT finds at least one last-minute surprise: Ladbrokes have added Péter Nádas to their list -- and at 9/1 odds, no less ! (I ask you however: another eastern European author (and one with a strong German connection at that) so recently after Kertész and Müller ? I think not.)
       As expected, McCarthy goes into the final hours as the betting-favorite (but Ngũgĩ remains on his heels); no big movement (yet) among the other lurkers.

       (Updated - 2): No sooner do I mention Nádas than he's already falling fast -- down to 14/1. But there's something a bit fishy about the yo-yoing of some of these odds: yes, Néstor Amarilla is now where he belongs -- bottom of the heap, at 150/1 (along with poor, not-taken-seriously Yevgeny) -- but it's tough for odds to fall so fast if any money was bet on him -- and, since he rose so quickly and high, there must have been some action on him ..... (Note also that equally unlikely candidate Ulrich Holbein is back up to 25/1.)
       Meanwhile, it's interesting to hear that, as reported by Katie Allen at The Bookseller, Booker betting halted as C out in front, as: "Betting agency Ladbrokes has halted betting on the winner of this year's Man Booker Prize after a proliferation of punts on Tom McCarthy's C". Apparently the bigger action is still in the purely domestic market. Possibly also the bigger leak .....

       (Updated - 3): Late evening, GMT, and with betting soon to close there hasn't been a great deal of movement on the Ladbrokes list: Cormac McCarthy should finish as the betting-favorite, despite a last-minute slip from 5/2 to 11/4, with only Murakami (5/1, from 6/1) and Tranströmer (11/1, from 13/1) edging higher among the front-runners. (Meanwhile, Néstor Amarilla has slipped even further, down to 200/1 -- something ain't right here: if there was any money on him -- and since his name moved up and down the list with much better odds earlier, there should have been --, the odds should not be this low.)
       The lack of movement across the list suggests there was a lot of talk and not much action: it really may have been very little money that moved just a few of the candidates.
       (Yes, there's also that Unibet-list, led by Ngũgĩ, but with Amarilla still listed absurdly high (which makes his odds at Ladbrokes all the more baffling: anyone putting money on him would take the many-times better potential payout at Ladbrokes and wager there ...) it's still not to be taken seriously.)
       Oh, and on an amusing (to me) final note: I'm tickled to see the Literary Saloon 'featured' on Italian TV.

       Tuesday saw a decent bit of turbulence:
  • A few more names were added in the Ladbrokes mix, as they added Juan Gelman (15/1), John Ashbery (25/1), and John le Carré (at 100/1)
  • As predicted, Cormac McCarthy overtook Ngũgĩ in the odds, closing at 5/2 (to Ngũgĩ's 7/2) Tuesday night; I suspect he'll remain the betting-favorite for the (limited) duration
  • Wild(est) card Ulrich Holbein briefly shot up to 5/1 before settling back down at 18/1-- he doesn't stand a chance in hell, but might be the kind of candidate that punters expect the Swedish Academy to choose
  • Unibet is back in the Nobel-business, as they've resurrected their list -- but with Néstor Amarilla still installed as favorite (closely followed by Ngũgĩ) it's hard to take too seriously. Still, bettors should compare odds on their favorites to see where they can get the better pay-off
       Previous late addition Gerald Murnane seems to have stalled in the mid-teens -- but just in case he does win, note that Dalkey Archive Press have two of his titles in the pipeline: Barley Patch (see, for now, the Giramondo publicity page) in the fall of 2011, and Inland (see the Sydney University Press publicity page) in spring 2012 (and, yes, both can be expected earlier if he does pull off the upset).

       I still maintain that the prize is Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's (see below for most of my reasoning). In a way, I hope someone else takes it -- in large part so that I can offer you information about that author (which I would, unless it's McCarthy, in which case I can't help you -- but enough others surely will be able to).
       In any case, I'll be tuned in at 11:00 GMT tomorrow and I'll start posting shortly after that.

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

       Literary events at the Commonwealth Games

       The Commonwealth Games are being held in India right now, and Shreya Roy Chowdhury reports in the Times of India that Commonwealth writers gather for literary fest, as the Sahitya Akademi has put a literary spin on things:
For the duration of the Games, it has organized a host of literary events including an exhibition of Commonwealth literature, writers' meets and a seminar, all with Commonwealth literature -- the jury's out on whether that's a legitimate literary category -- as theme.
       A pretty decent roster of writers.

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

       I am a Japanese Writer

       I reviewed Dany Laferrière's I am a Japanese Writer a while back, and it's now been translated into English. Despite Laferrière's nearby connection -- he's from Haiti, and lives in Canada -- there haven't been any US reviews I've come across -- but what do I find now ? a review in The Australian.
       The Australian !
       Yes, sometimes the state of reviewing in the US does worry me .....

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

5 October 2010 - Tuesday

Nobel Prize speculation, continued (P.S. I say: Ngũgĩ got it)
International literary prizes: German Book Prize - Nike Prize
'Global Canon' | Beauty and Sadness review

       Nobel Prize speculation, continued (P.S. I say: Ngũgĩ got it)

       So, another exciting day in Nobel Prize in Literature speculation (see also my discussion yesterday why Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o will/won't get the prize on Thursday (more on that below, too), as well as previous speculation-discussion here and here).
       As always, the Ladbrokes odds remain the main reference point -- and Monday they offered lots of speculation-fodder. First off, Ngũgĩ continued his now inexorable climb to the top: after starting 6/1 -- and still second choice -- he closed the day finally topping the list, at 3/1 -- quite the climb from his starting 75/1. Even before his Monday-climb Betting Pro reported that: "Ladbrokes believe the massive gamble is the biggest of its kind in Nobel Prize betting history", and:
Spokesman David Williams said: 'We've never seen anything like it. Ngugi was a rank outsider when we first looked at the candidates but we fear we've got it horribly wrong. Punters cant get enough of him and we're dreading him being announced the winner.'
       But that was just the beginning: Cormac McCarthy's odds exhibited behavior that more closely follows the tip-offs of previous years, languishing until now (at 66/1) before shooting up on Monday to 6/1, putting him solidly in second spot. As if that weren't enough, a new name was added to the list -- only the second I've picked up, after Eduardo Galeano. But whereas Eduardo Galeano was put on the list at 50/1 (and has now dropped to 66/1) the other one entered at 14/1 and finished the day at 11/1. The mystery man ? Gerald Murnane.
       He's been here before -- listed at 33/1 in 2006 (see my previous mention) -- but talk about coming out of nowhere ..... Which, of course, makes it a name one has to take into consideration -- what other explanation is there for its sudden inclusion than a well-placed leak that he was in the running or possibly even the winner ? (A reminder: the Swedish Academy has already selected the winner -- so there are people in the know -- they just haven't announced it yet, and won't until Thursday.)
       [Updated: A few new names have appeared on the Ladbrokes list on Tuesday, most notably Juan Gelman, all the way up at 15/1 (maybe D.G.Myers has more influence than previously thought (or he put his money where his mouth is)); as I noted, I don't see it. Also listed now: John Ashbery, at 25/1. Oh, yes, and also: John le Carré, at 100/1.]
       Meanwhile, longtime frontrunner Tomas Tranströmer has, like almost all frontrunners, fallen by the wayside, down to 9/1 (and, I'd suggest, sinking fast). (His falling odds at least suggest there's a decent amount of action now being placed on this list: when it's just a few odds improving you know not much money is being wagered.)
       So where do things stand ? Well, first of all, a reminder that the Ladbrokes list must be taken with great care: this is, after all, a list that in all (pseudo-)seriousness lists Bob Dylan as a contender (at 150/1, admittedly, but still) -- and where both Néstor Amarilla and Ulrich Holbein's odds have actually improved (from 100/1 to 25/1 and from 66/1 to 40/1, respectively !), despite their being two authors who have absolutely no chance of winning the prize.
       Nevertheless, the Nobel laureate tends to be on the list (occasionally even as frontrunner -- as was the case with Pamuk), and if not leading the pack early on tends to shoot up the list in the days before the prize is announced. So Ngũgĩ, McCarthy, and Murnane need to be taken seriously.
       [Updated: Early afternoon (GMT) Tuesday, Ngũgĩ is up a bit to 11/4 -- an McCarthy significantly improved at 3/1 (like I said (below), I can still see him overtaking Ngũgĩ); Murnane, however, remains stuck at 11/1. Meanwhile, Tranströmer continue to sink like a stone (now 17/1) -- and the odds take a reliability hit as Bob Dylan shoots up from 150/1 to 100/1 ..... At least both Amarilla (back down to 40/1) and Holbein (50/1) have faded.]
       As far as other names go, I think Tranströmer was in the (frontrunning) position he was because Ladbrokes figured it would be a poet this year but since there's been no indication from any quarter that he actually won the thing it's safe to say he's out of the running. And I can't see Murakami taking it this year (he's still holding onto third, at 7/1, rising from his starting 11/1) because such a major work -- 1Q84 -- hasn't made it very far into European language circulation, and I think they'd want to have some idea of how good/bad that is before honoring him.
       I'm fascinated by Murnane's appearance. I can't see him getting the nod ahead of Les Murray (or C.K.Stead, for that matter -- though Peter Carey ... sure). So where did this name come from ? If it's a faked leak (or a Ladbrokes-planted name), it's brilliant -- a true head-scratcher that can only serve to confuse. If he's a real leak -- i.e. he actually is the Nobel laureate ... no, I have a tough time seeing it. I just don't think he has the body of work to support the prize.
       As to McCarthy ... I can't see it either, though it's also a good name to confuse the punters (finally a name Americans recognize !). I wouldn't be surprised if McCarthy overtakes Ngũgĩ in the final betting (on sheer name-recognition alone) -- giving Ladbrokes a chance to win some of their money back .....
       There's (betting) evidence that speaks both for and against Ngũgĩ -- his current chart-topping position as odds-on favorite; the appearance and success of McCarthy and Murnane -- and there are many other worthy of consideration but, yes, I'm now willing to make the call: I say Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o is the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature winner (see below for most of my reasons).

       Elsewhere, there hasn't been all that much Nobel coverage. David L. Ulin considers Literature as a competitive sport in The Los Angeles Times, taking a different (but no less critical) tack in a more general literary prize critique; see also Carolyn Kellogg's mention/discussion at Jacket Copy, the literary weblog of ... The Los Angeles Times. Nilanjana S. Roy's look at The rise of the Prize in the Business Standard is a more general look at the prize over the decades.
       Significantly, the European -- including the Swedish -- press has been very subdued. So obviously no Swedish Academy members have (publicly) flown off the handle because of some leak yet (though maybe they've just grown philosophical about their inevitability ...).
       I look forward to what happens in the last days and hours before the prize-winner's name is revealed. (And, yes, I say: it's Ngũgĩ.)

       [Updated] Additional stories now available include:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       International literary prizes: German Book Prize

       They've announced that Tauben fliegen auf, by Melinda Nadj Abonji, has won the 2010 German Book Prize, probably the leading German book-prize (though not the leading author-prize -- which is still the preferred literary prize type in the German-speaking countries).
       You can read an (English) excerpt at (where they translate the title as 'Falcons without Falconers'), or get your copy at

       (Updated - 6 October): See also Gabriela Schaaf's German Book Prize winner surprises in bridging cultures at Deutsche Welle.

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

       International literary prizes: Nike Prize

       They've awarded the leading Polish book prize, the Nike, and have announced that it went to Nasza Klasa ('Our Class'), a drama by Tadeusz Słobodzianek; see also the Polske Radio report, Poland's top literary prize goes to playwright.
       What's really neat:
Interestingly enough, the world premiere of Our Class was held in the National Theatre in London, in September 2009.
       See the National Theatre production page, or get your copy of the (English) text at or

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

       'Global Canon'

       The current issue of World Policy Journal has several pieces devoted to the subject of a 'Global Canon' -- several of which are freely accessible online (albeit in the dreaded and detested pdf format); see here (via).

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

       Beauty and Sadness review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of 1968 Nobel laureate -- it is Nobel week, after all -- Kawabata Yasunari's Beauty and Sadness.

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4 October 2010 - Monday

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, 2010 Nobel laureate ?

       Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, 2010 Nobel laureate ?

       So here I was, thinking I could bide my time and milk these Nobel speculations (see previous installments here and here) for all they're worth, but the sudden shift in the Ladbrokes odds has pointed decidedly in Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's direction (yes, I've immediately posted an author-page to provide at least a bit of information about him).
       So, is Ngũgĩ the man whose name will be announced on Thursday (13:00 CET, 11:00 GMT) ?

       Let's consider:

       Why Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o will get the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature:
  • The odds have it: Ngũgĩ started out at 75/1 and has rapidly risen up the list: down to 25/1, then 15, and, at the close of 3 October, 6/1. Sure, he's still ranked behind 4/1 'favorite' Tomas Tranströmer -- but the Swedish poet only inched up from a 5/1 start. Very few other authors can boast of improved odds: Murakami Haruki is up a decent bit, from 11/1/to 7/1, and Mario Vargas Llosa went from 45/1 to 25/1 -- but it's Ngũgĩ that is the really big mover (yes, Néstor Amarilla has gone from 100/1 to 25/1, but I feel confident that that is entirely irrational speculation), which suggests someone in the know decided to cash in (which is what has happened in previous years).
  • Ngũgĩ's Marxist-Leninist background is right up what is perceived as the Swedish Academy's alley. (It's all much more complicated than that, but it's true that his politics are probably something that finds general Swedish approval -- more so than Chinua Achebe or Nuruddin Farah (or someone I figure deserves more attention, Ayi Kwei Armah).)
  • Has the first-rate anti-colonial bona fides -- and that's always a great selling point.
  • Ngũgĩ has written major works in each of the past four decades; compare for example Achebe, whose (writing) career peaked very early.
  • Ngũgĩ writes in Gikuyu ! He also writes in English, but still would be the first author writing in what would truly be considered an originally African language (leaving aside debates about Mahfouz's Arabic ...). And his support for writing in non-colonial languages also goes over really well.
  • Has a bit of a Scandinavian connection -- he spent extended periods in Sweden previously, so awareness of/familiarity with him there is greater than for many other authors. (As it happens, he was also just at the Göteborg Book Fair, but that's not what I mean.)
  • He's a very good writer, with several major novels under his belt -- not least of which is the recent Wizard of the Crow --, as well as being a major and very active voice in the African cultural debates. And, beside the fiction and non-fiction, he's written several plays, too. (Admittedly, he doesn't have Achebe's poetic touch .....)
  • There hasn't been an African winner in a while, and of the generation of writers that came of age as colonialism came to an end in their countries -- whose members include Soyinka, Achebe, and Armah, among others -- he is certainly one of the most significant.
  • He'd be a worthy winner.
       Why Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o won't get the 2010 Nobel Prize in Literature:
  • You can't read too much into the odds (see also below).
  • Isn't this supposed to be the year of the poets ?
  • His international presence, especially in Europe, isn't anywhere near that of many other African writers; the English-language perspective skews his standing elsewhere.
  • Too neatly fits what is expected of the Swedish Academy, politics-wise -- don't they want to shake that image and the inevitable American backlash ('Of course they selected Ngũgĩ; he espoused Marxist-Leninism !') ?
       Most of the speculation at this point is based on the Ladbrokes odds, so it's worth lingering a bit over these. First note that Ngũgĩ started out at a ridiculous 75/1 -- one of the obviously under-rated authors: he opened and closed last year's betting at 25/1, which seems more reasonable. Indeed, it's possible the first drop in the odds was simply due to Ladbrokes' own reassessment, and their resetting of the odds (same with Vargas Llosa).
       One does have to remember that it doesn't take much to move these odds: a few hundred pounds probably suffice, especially in lowering the odds from 75/1 and the like. But the lower they get, the more money it takes to move them -- hence Murakami's and Tranströmer's smaller improvements also can't be discounted. Still, from the looks of it, it's Ngũgĩ that has had the most money wagered on him. [Updated: This seems now to have been confirmed: Betting Pro report that: "Ladbrokes believe the massive gamble is the biggest of its kind in Nobel Prize betting history" -- and: "Spokesman David Williams said: 'We've never seen anything like it. Ngugi was a rank outsider when we first looked at the candidates but we fear we've got it horribly wrong. Punters cant get enough of him and we're dreading him being announced the winner.'" Note, however, that he is still not the odds on favorite.]
       Possibly the improved odds come from the online speculation at sites like this -- even at 6/1, after all, that's pretty good money if he suddenly seems like a sure-fire bet ..... (Indeed, I suspect betting will be halted before Wednesday night, because enough news coverage will lead enough amateur punters to have a go.) Recall also that in previous years it took longer for the money to flood in -- the number of people (leakers) in the know presumably increasing as the announcement date approaches (as secretaries, web-designers, etc. get involved in the last-minute preparations) -- it seems terribly early for a leaker to have risked the wager (on the other hand, those 75/1 odds were mighty tempting, and once the odds start dropping like a stone one has to jump on board to make whatever gains are still within reach).
       Finally, it's possible the Swedish Academy followed my advice (and the obvious course) and placed some bets themselves (or at least had someone place them); what speaks against that is that it's odd that there's been so little other movement: the better course would be to spread the fake bets across a couple of non-contenders.
       I think the Ladbrokes odds are worth continuing to keep an eye on. I don't know that they can tell us much more about Ngũgĩ: his will continue to improve, just because of all the press attention he'll be getting. The thing to look out for now is another candidate following the more usual course -- a last minute skyrocketing of odds .....
       [[Updated] And look here, we have some skyrocketing going on: Monday morning (EST) finds Cormac McCarthy having shot up from a starting 66/1 (where he had languished through the weekend) to a very impressive 8/1. Something to think about .....]
       [[Additional update] Late-breaking (16:00 EST) news: Ngũgĩ overtakes Tranströmer as betting favorite, at 7/2 -- but also significant: a new name has popped up on the Ladbrokes list: Gerald Murnane, at a to-be-taken-seriously 14/1. Reeks of leak .....]
       (Do I really have to address the Néstor Amarilla situation ? Yes, Unibet installed him as 4/1 favorite while they were taking bets; yes Ladbrokes now list him at 25/1 -- but look at his writing record. This man is supposed to be Nobel-worthy ? Maybe in thirty years, when he has a real body of work that can be considered. For now, just ignore this name. Here there's nothing to read into the odds -- except that a lot of people have made a lot of mistakes.)

       What other tea-leaf news is there to report ? Well, Ladbrokes did add Eduardo Galeano to their list (at a middling 50/1), one of (but far from the only, as I noted) obvious omissions on their original list, his Stig Dagerman win enough to make him a person of interest. And, while there still seems to be a strong lets-give-it-to-a-poet sentiment, Murakami and Ngũgĩ have made for a more plausible mix extending beyond poets (there's surely no way it was an all-poets shortlist, for example).
       Among other Nobel prognosticators D.G.Myers goes about Predicting the Nobel at his A Commonplace Blog -- suggesting Juan Gelman (well, actually only suggesting: "If the winner is to be a poet from South America, though, my prediction is Juan Gelman of Argentina" -- but he doesn't suggest that it could be anything but a poet from South America). He obviously means it very tongue in cheek (though I'd respect his 'humor' more if he spelled "Nicaraguan liberation theologian Ernesto Cardinal"'s name correctly ... (yes, Ladbrokes still haven't fixed that either ...)), but at least a Ngũgĩ-win will also affirm (in his mind) a good number of his prejudices re. (and expectations of) the Swedish Academy. I mention this because only two additional names have been suggested to me by readers as plausible candidates ... and one was Juan Gelman ! (And, no, it wasn't D.G. who suggested it to me .....) (I don't see Gelman taking it because he simply doesn't have enough of an international presence, especially compared to the other poets considered contenders.)

       [Apologies to those seeking additional/real literary news at the Literary Saloon (i.e. the usual daily fare): I figure this is enough of a post for one day (1400+ words) -- and warn that the rest of the week will continue to be Nobel-heavy (oh, yes, I still have a lot to say and speculate about ...). Besides, aren't there enough people reporting about Frankfurt already ?]

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

3 October 2010 - Sunday

Reading the Nobel odds: Ngũgĩ
Claude Lanzmann takes WELT-Literaturpreis | Hindu Best Fiction Award shortlist
Michael Cunningham on translation (and writing) | Freedom review

       Reading the Nobel odds: Ngũgĩ

       I'm wary of reading too much into this too soon, but it's worth noting and mentioning: there hasn't been much movement of the Ladbrokes odds regarding the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature (already decided upon by the Swedish Academy, not yet announced) -- with one exception: Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o. He started out at 75/1, was up to 25/1 yesterday, and is now sitting at 15/1. Which is -- given the lack of movement among the other names (Murakami is up slightly, as are Alice Munro and Carlos Fuentes, but that's about the extent of it) -- getting very close to what can be called 'suspicious'. I.e. this is well worth keep an eye on.
       As to Ngũgĩ being deserving, I'd say yes; see also his official site, and the complete review's review of his novel Wizard of the Crow, the classic study Decolonising the Mind, and his new memoir, Dreams in a Time of War.
       And stay tuned.

       (Updated): Ngũgĩ has shot up to 6/1 and the writing is on the wall (though of course all of us discussing this could just have fueled this speculation ...). In preparation I have put up a Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o page at the complete review; I'll be adding to it in the coming hours and days.

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       Claude Lanzmann takes WELT-Literaturpreis

       Claude Lanzmann -- best known for the film Shoah -- has taken the WELT-Literaturpreis, for his autobiographical Le lièvre de Patagonie; see Tilman Krause's (German) report in Die Welt. It's a fairly prestigious prize -- Philip Roth got it last year -- but, no, you don't have to add Lanzmann to your list of Nobel-contenders .....
       For more about Le lièvre de Patagonie see Frederic Raphael's review in the Times Literary Supplement (or get your copy from or -- as to an English edition ... yeah, good luck ...).

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

       Hindu Best Fiction Award shortlist

       The 11-title strong The Hindu Best Fiction Award 2010 shortlist has been announced (recall: no foreign-language/translated fiction eligible ...), it looks fairly interesting (and the Manu Joseph has gotten decent US/UK attention).
       The winner will be announced 1 November.

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

       Michael Cunningham on translation (and writing)

       Michael Cunningham has an op-ed in The New York Times today, Found in Translation (aside: as so many others have already complained over the years: can't we just retire this line and get on with it ?), on translation (and writing).
       Among his claims:
Here's a secret. Many novelists, if they are pressed and if they are being honest, will admit that the finished book is a rather rough translation of the book they'd intended to write.
       And as a consequence:
The translator, then, is simply moving the book another step along the translation continuum. The translator is translating a translation.

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

       Freedom review

       A bit late in the game -- even Svenska Dagbladet have their review up -- I finally get around to reviewing Oprah's pick, Jonathan Franzen's Freedom. (Hey, I only got my copy two weeks ago .....)

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

2 October 2010 - Saturday

Nobel Prize in Literature speculation: the other contenders
Granta's Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists | Writing in ... Sri Lanka
Salman Rushdie profile | October issues

       Nobel Prize in Literature speculation: the other contenders

       With the announcement that the winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature 2010 will be announced 7 October, at 13:00 CET (which I believe will also be 13:00 GMT [Updated: sorry ! it's 11:00 GMT !], and 7:00 EST), there's not much time to speculate wildly, but I'll do my best today and over the next few days .....

       First, a few updates:
  • Unibet seems to have pulled their odds, leaving the Nobel field to Ladbrokes. Given their nutty selections (Néstor Amarilla as 4/1 favorite), probably not a bad idea.

  • The Ladbrokes odds have remained virtually unchanged 48 hours into betting. At the close of 1 October the only changed odds I registered were Les Murray at 13/1 (down from 11/1), and Bella Akhmadulina at 45/1 (down from 35/1). Since there wasn't any other movement in the odds, these new odds can only have resulted from internal reassessments (odds would have improved if anyone had placed any money on anyone) -- are we being steered away from Akhmadulina ? Certainly at these odds she doesn't look quite as attractive any longer .....

  • The World Literature Forum thread is still the thread to follow for commentary and guesswork, but Russian readers can check out a fairly active Russian Nobel forum too.
       In my first round of speculation on this year's Nobel Prize, I focused on the Ladbrokes odds: the list of contenders they think are in the running, and the odds they post are among the few tea-leaves to read -- and now that the winner has been ascertained any odds-movement is something to watch closely, as a growing number of people learn who the winner is and may be out for an easy killing at the bet-shop (the academicians have to let the web-page designers etc. know -- last year extensive information was posted immediately about the winner, as soon as she was announced --; if they were clever they'd have several dummy-sets of pages be prepared, for a variety of names ...).
       As I noted, the Ladbrokes-list may be well-informed, but for the most part relies on guesswork -- with the odd bit of actual inside-information (Luis Goytisolo seems really to have been in the running last year, for example).
       Indeed, the list looks far from complete, and so today I'll be tossing out the names of some possible contenders that were left off. (I will narrow things down in the coming days -- for now I want to suggest the entire likely field.)

       So who is missing from the Ladbrokes list that we might want to think about ? (Note that in considering names I have taken into account their international presence: despite all the jokes by American media-commentators, it's exceedingly rare for any of the winners not to have been extensively translated into -- in rough order of importance -- French, German, English, and/or Swedish. They also tend to have picked up a lot of international prizes, often second-tier ones that don't get that much publicity (i.e. you've never heard of them).)

       Old masters: names that have been in the mix over the years but which Ladbrokes ignored include:
  • Juan Goytisolo: would seem to me a very solid candidate, and certainly deserving
  • Per Olov Enquist: a local (but not Academy-member), which probably hurts him; otherwise, a solid candidate.
  • Lars Gustafsson: another local, another one who is not an Academy member. The American connection, and his philosophical and poetic bent make him a strong candidate; maybe considered a bit too light/frivolous.
  • Álvaro Mutis: Not really sure why he isn't taken more seriously; also a poet -- and a Neustadt International Prize for Literature-winner (as are Tranströmer, Djebar, Malouf, and Zagajewski among the Ladbrokes-listed authors)
       Naturally, all of them might be seen as a bit over the hill, though except for Mutis they still all seem fairly active and have produced interesting work in the past decade.

       Arabic authors: as I noted, the Ladbrokes list is weak on Arabic authors; there are quite a few who are widely enough translated (a prerequisite, I'm afraid) that they might be in the running, including, I'd suggest:
  • Ibrahim al-Koni: seems like a natural Nobel choice, though I wonder if his European residency works against him.
  • Bensalem Himmich: interesting selection of works, including serious non-fiction
  • Ibrahim Abdel Meguid: fairly well-translated into French and English, and maybe the kind of representative describer of modern Egyptian life the Academy would go for
  • Sonallah Ibrahim: he's been an important writer for a while, several noteworthy books under his belt
  • Gamal al-Ghitani: another author with a a very solid body of interesting work
  • And French-writing Amin Maalouf and Tahar Ben Jelloun often get mentioned in this mix; I don't really see it, but they're certainly authors for whom a case could be made
       Persian authors: another overlooked area (by everyone, not just Ladbrokes), but politically perhaps interesting:
  • Mahmoud Dowlatabadi: perhaps not enough of an international presence, but definitely one of the most underappreciated of world-authors
  • Reza Baraheni: a higher international profile -- led PEN Canada for a couple of years, has the French and American connections -- and writes poetry, fiction, and non
       Of course, one of the problems these two authors have, as is also the case for some others on the list, is: who the hell is going to propose them in the first place ? (Candidates for the prize are proposed -- by national literary institutions, former winners, Swedish Academy members, etc. -- and some authors presumably don't have the local/official support that gets someone like Néstor Amarilla or Kant Ibragimov (see here) on the list of contenders.)

       African authors: outside the Arabic-writing North African writers a few others seem worth considering, especially:
  • Nuruddin Farah: I can't see how Ladbrokes forgot about him; also a Neustadt International Prize for Literature-winner.
  • Ayi Kwei Armah: has maybe too low of a European profile -- and has done his best to isolate himself -- but still one of the most significant African authors of the past half century.
       Chinese authors: also overlooked by Ladbrokes -- though the to-do around Liu Xiaobo (i.e. the pressure to get him the Peace Prize) might well make this something the Academy wants to stay away from. But if they were thinking about Chinese authors (as they should be), maybe:
  • Mo Yan: widely translated, a variety of entertaining books, would appear to be the strongest Chinese candidate.
  • Wang Meng: an interesting holdover selection from the transitional period, fairly well-known on the international literary scene (he was Minister of Culture for a while).
  • Jia Pingwa: probably not enough of an international presence, but I suspect he'd be the likeliest of the Chinese choices
       Some Taiwanese authors are probably also worth considering, but I don't have a good enough feel for who stands out internationally to suggest any particular name.

       Japanese authors: I'm embarrassed to say that I can't think of any additional ones that might be considered contenders. Really.

       Korean authors:
  • Yi Mun-yol: solid body of interesting work.
  • Hwang Sok-yong: seems to have caught on fairly well abroad, would be an obvious 'Korean' selection.
       Russian authors: I don't really see any of the Russians fitting the bill, but if there were names to consider I suppose they'd include:
  • Andrei Bitov: the most interesting holdover from Soviet times, and he's won a couple of international awards.
  • Victor Pelevin: too young, I think, but hard to overlook interesting variety.
  • Ludmila Ulitskaya (or Oulitskaïa, as the much-preferred French transliteration has it): solid body of work.
       South/Latin America: the old guard is already well-represented on the Ladbrokes list, and the new generations don't have enough under their belt. Still:
  • César Aira: seriously, someone I think deserves very serious consideration.
  • Eduardo Galeano: hey, he won the Stig Dagerman prize this year, so the Scandinavians have him on their radar, and some of his work is of the sort that might be Academy-appealing
  • Sergio Ramírez: too political ? Maybe, but until the next generation really comes along certainly one of the ones to consider. And the Academy likes a bit of politics .....
  • Geoffrey Hill: how could Ladbrokes forget him ? Presumably he and Les Murray split the conservative/religious vote between them .....
  • Nicanor Parra: fascinating character, fascinating stuff -- and ancient.
  • Paul Muldoon: yeah, it probably won't go to an Irish poet; but if it did .....
  • Friederike Mayröcker: yeah, the Jelinek win means she probably won't get it, but she was also always considered a perennial contender.
  • Jaan Kaplinski: multifaceted work, interesting range, the type of semi-obscurity the Academy seems to like
       Odds and ends:
  • Bernardo Atxaga: again, the type of semi-obscurity the Academy seems to like
  • Shashi Deshpande: yeah, I figure Mahasweta Devi has the female/Indian-writer vote locked up (with the added benefit of not writing in English, as Deshpande does), but Deshpande probably gets some attention.
  • Hélène Cixous: sure, after Le Clézio it's unlikely, but she's perennially thought to be in the running
  • Patricia Grace: a Neustadt win, and antipodean appeal -- probably counts for something.
  • Tom Stoppard: unlikely, after Pinter, but hard to believe someone didn't put him up.
       Academy members: not many of their own that I think they would ever think of considering -- though inactive Kerstin Ekman would be a fun choice. Still, Torgny Lindgren is worth a mention.

       So there you have it -- for now. In the coming days I'll add the names (many, surely) I've forgotten -- but I'll also narrow down the whole list (Ladbrokes plus the Ladbrokes-omitted) to those I think most likely to be in the running.
       And I'll be keeping an eye on the changing Ladbrokes odds, and commentary elsewhere.

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

       Granta's Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists

       Granta have announced their Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists.
       Only two are under review at the complete review: Santiago Roncagliolo (Red April) and Alejandro Zambra (Bonsai, The Private Lives of Trees), but quite a few haven't even been translated into English yet.

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

       Writing in ... Sri Lanka

       In the Daily News (Sri Lanka) Chaminda Perera reports that Literary famine over, as:
President Mahinda Rajapaksa yesterday said that the literary famine faced by the country for the past 30 years ended with the eradication of terrorism and the members of the literati have complete freedom for creative activities.
       I think I'll take a wait-and-see attitude for a while.

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

       Salman Rushdie profile

       In The Guardian Susanna Rustin profiles Salman Rushdie, in Salman's children, as: 'The fatwa, the four marriages, the party image -- Salman Rushdie has become known for more than his prizewinning novels. But his sons are what matter most, so he has written a book for teenagers'.
       The book is something called Luka and the Fire of Life; get your copy at or

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

       October issues

       Among October issues of online periodicals now available is the new Words without Borders, Beyond Borges: Argentina Now (good prep for the Frankfurt Book Fair, where Argentina is guest of honor), and the new Open Letters Monthly, The 2010 Bestseller Feature, in which they review current bestsellers (as well as taking a look at that classic bestseller, Gone with the Wind).

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

1 October 2010 - Friday

Nobel Prize in literature to be announced 7 October
Pulped Freedom ? | Translation support in ... New Zealand
New African Writing | German critics' recommendations

       Nobel Prize in Literature to be announced 7 October

       The Swedish Academy has been quick to decide on a laureate, and it's been announced that the winner will be announced 7 October, at 13:00 CET -- and you can catch it live at the Nobel site.
       So only a few days of speculating left -- you'll find a lot more of my thoughts here in the coming days.

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

       Pulped Freedom ?

       In The Guardian Rowenna Davis reports that Jonathan Franzen's 'book of the century' pulped over print error, as:
Franzen told the audience at a reading of the book at London's Southbank Centre that the printers had opened and copied the wrong computer file, rather than one containing the final proof.

The book was released in the UK earlier this week by HarperCollins; it is not yet known how many copies will have to be pulped. Franzen told the audience that all copies would be exchanged or refunded, including postage and packaging.
       Actually, those copies of Freedom are probably worth holding on to .....
       But someone please explain to me again how the big publishers are the guarantors of quality control in the publishing business, and how their (maybe not so) professional editorial input and oversight and all that should reassure readers (as opposed to the works of those uppity and entirely untrustworthy self-published authors and the like who think they can do without real publishers).
       Is there a production manager/ copy editor/ editor left at any of these houses ?
       Is there anyone who bothers reading the books any longer ?

       (Updated - 2 October): See now also Rowenna Davis and Alison Flood's Jonathan Franzen's book Freedom suffers UK recall (suffers ?) in The Guardian, where they note: "More than 8,000 copies of the American author's latest opus have been recalled due to hundreds of typesetting errors", and:
Franzen told the Guardian that the book, the follow-up to 2001's Pulitzer Prize-nominated The Corrections, contained "a couple of hundred differences at the level of word and sentence and fact" as well as "small but significant changes to the characterisations of Jessica and Lalitha" -- the daughter and the assistant of one of the novel's central characters.
       Franzen also stressed that: "the error was not the publisher's".
       Okay .....
HarperCollins, which runs the 4th Estate imprint, said the crucial mistake happened when a small Scottish typesetter, Palimpsest, sent "the last but one version" of the book file to the printers.
       How is this not the publisher's mistake ? What is a (Scottish !) typesetter doing with early drafts of the book ? Surely, this wasn't Palimpsest's mistake to make.
       See also Tim Walker's report in The Independent, Franzen's latest book, minus the corrections, to be withdrawn.

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

       Translation support in ... New Zealand

       The Arts Council of New Zealand announced that New Zealand literary voice offered to international publishers for translation, as:
Creative New Zealand will support the translation of New Zealand literature into foreign languages with a new Translation Grant Scheme announced today.

The new scheme was developed in response to 2009 research by the New Zealand Book Council which found that the leading international models for promoting a country's literature focused on a translation grant scheme.

Administered by the Publishers Association of New Zealand (PANZ) the scheme will contribute up to 50 percent of the translation cost per title, to a maximum $5000. It was developed after further consultation with the Book Council, PANZ, publishers, overseas funders and members of the literary community.
       This is interesting because it involves translation from the English -- not something one usually thinks of as requiring translation-support. But it shows how localized even English-language publishing remains (as is also obvious from the very limited selection of New Zealand titles available in the US (or even UK), despite already being (for the overwhelming most part) in English).

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

       New African Writing

       Issue 10 of African Writing is finally available, though only a very limited amount is freely accessible online.

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

       German critics' recommendations

       The (near-)monthly SWR-Bestenliste, where German literary critics choose their most-recommended new titles is out for October, and Thomas Lehr's September. Fata Morgana comes in first with one of the highest point-totals I've seen in a while (and almost twice as many as the second-place title) -- does that make it a favorite for the German Book Prize ?
       (Franzen's Freedom comes in a fairly weak tied-for-sixth place.)

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

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