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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 June 2011

11 June: Finnegans Wake | 1Q84 update
12 June: Vodafone Crossword longlists | Ozick on winging it | More Google failures
13 June: David Albahari profile | A Caring Man review
14 June: Sonallah Ibrahim interview | Publishing in ... Malaysia | E-book pricing
15 June: 'Greatest' non-fiction books | Samuel Johnson prize shortlist | The New Moscow Philosophy review
16 June: Solaris, translated directly from the Polish | Let the Great World Spin takes IMPAC | World Literature Weekend | Writing in ... Angola
17 June: French Global | Peirene Press profile | Truth review
18 June: Fake writers | Authors' holiday reads | Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prizes | Asterix and traumatic brain injuries
19 June: Mao Dun Literature Prize entries | Daniel Kehlmann Q & A | The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine review
20 June: Writing in ... Colombia | Hector and the Secrets of Love review

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20 June 2011 - Monday

Writing in ... Colombia | Hector and the Secrets of Love review

       Writing in ... Colombia

       In The Los Angeles Times 'Juan Gabriel Vasquez and Hector Abad Faciolince are asked about Colombia's violence and 'literature of conflict'' by Chris Kraul, in Cultural Exchange: Colombian authors consider their country's violence.

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

       Hector and the Secrets of Love review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of François Lelord's Hector and the Secrets of Love.

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

19 June 2011 - Sunday

Mao Dun Literature Prize entries | Daniel Kehlmann Q & A
The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine review

       Mao Dun Literature Prize entries

       As Xinhua report, Internet novels to compete for China's prestigious literary prize, as:
Eight items of literary works published on the Internet will join another 170 novels to compete for the Mao Dun Literature Prize [茅盾文学奖], one of China's most prestigious literary awards, according to the Chinese Writers Association (CWA), the prize's sponsor.
       That seems to be the headline, and I suppose it's of some interest; more interesting, surely, is what books were submitted and found eligible -- and admirably the Chinese Writers Association has published the list (warning ! dreaded pdf format !). [As I always remind you: you can't take a literary prize seriously unless they tell you what books are actually in the running -- as the hence not-to-be-taken-seriously Man Booker and many other British and American prize do not.] Kind of a pain to work one's way through, but certainly a convenient list of recent Chinese fiction. Among the titles in the running: books by Su Tong and Mo Yan -- and by far the longest entry, Zhang Wei's twenty-years-in-the-making, 10 volume mega-epic, 你在高塬.
       See also the Chinese Writers Association's (Chinese) press release.

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

       Daniel Kehlmann Q & A

       In The Observer Hannah Olivennes has a brief Q & A with Daniel Kehlmann: 'I have no idea how well most of the translations work'.

       See also the complete review's Daniel Kehlmann-page; all of his works (even the many not yet translated) are under review at the complete review.

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

       The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Alina Bronsky's The Hottest Dishes of the Tartar Cuisine.

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

18 June 2011 - Saturday

Fake writers | Authors' holiday reads
Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prizes
Asterix and traumatic brain injuries

       Fake writers

       At The Guardian's 'comment is free' weblog former Granta-editor Ian Jack has an interesting piece on Jiri Kajanë, leading to the question: Albania's 'second greatest living writer' was a hoax, but does it really matter ?
       Seems two Americans weren't having much luck placing their own fiction anywhere, so they made up an Albanian author and submitted stories by him -- and guess what ?
Many US editors liked and published them. In the 1990s, they appeared in serious literary journals such as Glimmer Train, the Chicago Review and the Michigan Quarterly Review. A high point was his inclusion in The Killing Spirit: An Anthology of Murder-for-Hire, which was published by Canongate in 1996 and two years later by the Overlook Press in New York.
       Granta didn't publish any of Kajanë's stories, having learned what/who was behind them -- but:
at our meeting Phelan had asked a good question: if we liked the stories when we thought an Albanian had written them, why did we like them less when we knew their true authorship ?
       Yet does anyone doubt that if the magazines that did publish this stuff had known the truth they wouldn't have passed ? Sadly, 'authenticity' matters, even in fiction -- because, of course, often as not it's the author (and his/her background/situation/etc.) that's being sold rather than the story.
       I always tell you to ignore the authors (as far as fiction goes; non is, of course, a different matter), and wish everybody would; the Kajanë pieces sound like decent fun, regardless of who wrote them.

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

       Authors' holiday reads

       The Guardian gets a fair number of writers to 'recall their most memorable holiday reads', in The best holiday reads -- always an interesting sort of exercise (though a lot of them tackle some big/heavy work, so it may not be exactly what you were hoping for).

       In addition, these kinds of articles are useful for titbits like Jonathan Franzen revealing:
In 1997, when my mother knew she didn't have long to live, she spent a good part of her life savings and took her three kids and their families on a cruise to Alaska. I'd been working on a piece of fiction about cruises, and I'd rushed to finish it before getting on the ship, because I didn't want to be influenced by a real cruise experience.
       Now I'm as opposed as anybody to the 'write-what-you-know' school of writing, but this seems to take things to the wrong extreme -- if an opportunity for relevant experience is available, surely one has to take advantage of that and then use that in writing about it. (I'd actually admire Franzen if he acted this way about everything, and only wrote about things without first having experienced them, but since so much of his writing is obviously colored by experience this seems just .... plain nutty,)

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

       Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prizes

       In A Writer's Estate to Yield $150,000 Literary Prizes Charles McGrath reports in The New York Times that:
Yale University is announcing the establishment of some of the most lucrative literary prizes in America.
       (Not sighting of such an announcement at the Yale University site, as of this writing, however .....)
       They certainly sound very impressive:
Called the Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prizes, they will be given annually starting in late 2012 or early 2013, with seven to nine grants of $150,000 each awarded to playwrights and writers of fiction and nonfiction.
       (I look forward hearing about the size of that endowment -- it must be huge to be able to pay out those kind of sums.)

       (Updated - 20 June): In the Yale Daily News Tapley Stephenson now reports that Yale to administer Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prizes for literature, with the official announcement from the university to come later today.

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

       Asterix and traumatic brain injuries

       As Alison Flood reports in The Guardian, Asterix books contain 704 victims of brain injury, study finds, as:
A paper published in the European Journal of Neurosurgery, Acta Neurochirurgica, examines the much-loved books in detail, discovering that of the 704 victims, 698 were male and 63.9% were Roman. One hundred and twenty were Gauls, 59 were bandits or pirates, 20 were Goths, 14 were Normans, eight were Vikings, five were Britons and four were extraterrestrials.
       The paper in question is Traumatic brain injuries in illustrated literature: experience from a series of over 700 head injuries in the Asterix comic books, authored by Marcel A. Kamp, Philipp Slotty, Sevgi Sarikaya-Seiwert, Hans-Jakob Steiger and Daniel Hänggi; see the abstract (which also includes such fun titbits as: "A helmet had been worn by 70.5% of victims but had been lost in the vast majority of cases (87.7%)", which really seems to defeat the whole helmet-purpose (and suggests pretty bad helmet-design (and no improvements, despite repeated failure rates at this level))).

       Casey Brienza is not so amused, finding in The Telegraph that "this research sets a troubling precedent" (Brienza opining that comics book injuries and serious medicine apparently don't make such a good mix).

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

17 June 2011 - Friday

French Global | Peirene Press profile | Truth review

       French Global

       Among the interesting books I've been slowly working my way through is the anthology of essays French Global: A New Approach to Literary History, from Columbia University Press (see their publicity page, or get your copy from or
       I'm terrible at covering anthologies -- defeated by being pulled in different directions by the individual pieces and then trying to sum things up re. the overarching whole -- but I do hope eventually to get up a review of this volume. It's been disappointing, however, to see so little other coverage -- but at least now Pierre Assouline has a look at it in Le Monde, in L'histoire de la littérature vue du satellite.

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

       Peirene Press profile

       At Publishing Perspectives Amanda DeMarco offers a profile of Peirene Press, in European Lit Published with Passion, Promoted with Wine.
       A small list so far, but a very fine-looking one, and they seem to be onto something with how they're doing things.

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

       Truth review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Peter Temple's Truth.

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

16 June 2011 - Thursday

Solaris, translated directly from the Polish | Let the Great World Spin takes IMPAC
World Literature Weekend | Writing in ... Angola

       Solaris, translated directly from the Polish

       So that loud triumphant cheer you might have heard, that was me, reveling in what may well be the publishing announcement of 2011 (that David Foster Wallace book ? get serious ..... Okay, there is 1Q84, but otherwise ...): yes, apparently the First ever direct English translation of Solaris published -- so reports Alison Flood in The Guardian:
The first ever direct translation into English of the Polish science fiction author Stanislaw Lem's most famous novel, Solaris, has just been published, removing a raft of unnecessary changes and restoring the text much closer to its original state.
       The English edition of Stanisław Lem's classic (and twice-filmed) Solaris has long been one of the abominations of contemporary American and British publishing, only available in a translated-from-the-French-translation edition (shame on the publishers -- yes, you too, Faber & Faber !), but apparently now there's hope.
       Let's not get carried away -- Flood is liberal in her interpretation of 'published':
It has just been published as an audiobook download by Audible, narrated by Battlestar Galactica's Alessandro Juliani, with an ebook to follow in six months' time. Lem's heirs are hoping to overcome legal issues to release it as a print edition as well.
       Hoping ? Well, we keep our fingers crossed .....
       The translation is by the estimable Bill Johnston -- and he gives some sense of why this is a big deal:
"Much is lost when a book is re-translated from an intermediary translation into English, but I'm shocked at the number of places where text was omitted, added, or changed in the 1970 version," said Johnston. "Lem's characteristic semi-philosophical, semi-technical language is also capable of flights of poetic fancy and brilliant linguistic creativity, for example in the names of the structures that arise on the surface of Solaris. I believe this new translation restores Lem's original meaning to his seminal work."
       Lem is one of the great and still under-appreciated writers of the second half of the twentieth century; a decent amount of his work has been translated into English, but too little remains readily available (and there are still huge gaps -- first and foremost his Summa Technologiae). This -- if it ever appears in actual print -- might help revive interest.

       [Lem is among the authors that I've read the most words by -- well over 3,000,000 (most in German translation); the others in my 10,000+ page club being Paul Theroux and Edward Bulwer-Lytton .....]

       Get your audio download here .....
       I refuse to link to the currently available print edition of Solaris, but until the new translation is available in (real, not 'e-book') print, maybe you want to check out Andrei Tarkovsky's film version: get your copy at or, or see the Criterion Collection publicity page.

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

       Let the Great World Spin takes IMPAC

       Let the Great World Spin, Colum McCann's 2009 (American) National Book Award-winning book has now also been named the 2011 International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award-winner.
       Get your copy at or, and see also his official site, as well as Eileen Battersby's Irish Times profile, 'I decided to write the great Irish novel but couldn't. I wasn't messed-up enough'.

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

       World Literature Weekend

       The London Review Bookshop's World Literature Weekend runs 17 - 19 June and it has a pretty decent list of events -- worth checking out, if you're in the neighborhood.

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

       Writing in ... Angola

       A very brief piece, but always interesting to hear when Writer outcries low literary production, as Angop reports about the situation in Angola.
       And that call for: "the writers to improve their writings" surely applies elsewhere as well.

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

15 June 2011 - Wednesday

'Greatest' non-fiction books | Samuel Johnson prize shortlist
The New Moscow Philosophy review

       'Greatest' non-fiction books

       The Guardian offers a "list of the very best factual writing", The 100 greatest non-fiction books.
       A bit Anglo-centric, and certainly open to much debate -- but a handful of titles are under review at the complete review:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Samuel Johnson prize shortlist

       They've announced the shortlist for the BBC Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction, with the winner to be announced 6 July.
       (None of the shortlisted titles are under review at the complete review.)

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

       The New Moscow Philosophy review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Vyacheslav Pyetsukh's 1989 novel, The New Moscow Philosophy, now available in English (from the admirable Twisted Spoon).

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

14 June 2011 - Tuesday

Sonallah Ibrahim interview | Publishing in ... Malaysia | E-book pricing

       Sonallah Ibrahim interview

       Arabic Literature (in English) points to Elliott Colla's interview with Sonallah Ibrahim at Jadaliyya, The Imagination as Transitive Act.
       (See also, for example, the complete review review of Ibrahim's Zaat.)

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

       Publishing in ... Malaysia

       In The Star Elizabeth Tai looks at a Foray into fiction by writer and independent filmmaker Amir Muhammad -- his new Bahasa Malaysia fiction-publishing house, Fixi.
       The kind of fiction they're looking for ? "Urban & kontemporari" -- and with one-word titles ..... (I hope some get translated into English, too !)
       And good to hear that:
In terms of sales, the Malay publishing industry is booming and is populated by publishing heavyweights such as Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka, which publishes large numbers of books. And one of the market leaders is probably Alaf 21, which publishes about a dozen new novels a month. Their Facebook page has over 60,000 fans.

"A bestselling Malay romance novel can sell up to 50,000 copies," says Amir. "I'm not looking at those kinds of numbers, though, they're not my yardstick -- that's why I need to diversify," he said.

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

       E-book pricing

       At Publishing Perspectives Chad Post discusses the Open Letter Books-foray into e-publishing (and the pricing of e-books) at greater length, in Why Selling E-books at 99 Cents Destroys Minds.
       Lots of comments already, too (including from John Locke ...) -- but the most interesting thing looks to be Chad's promise that he'll post an update in late-July, "breaking down all the ebook sales we can. (And including any print related data that makes sense.)"

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

13 June 2011 - Monday

David Albahari profile | A Caring Man review

       David Albahari profile

       In the Calgary Herald Eric Volmers profiles Calgary's literary man of mystery, David Albahari, whose Leeches (full review to follow shortly) just came out in English.
       Among the interesting points:
In fact, in other parts of the world -- particularly Serbia -- he is a bona fide literary superstar.

But in Calgary, his home since leaving the civil warravaged former Yugoslavia in 1994, he revels in his under-the-radar status; his ability to write in the shadow of anonymity and emerge only occasionally when his work is translated into English.

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

       A Caring Man review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Arai Akira's A Caring Man.
       I'm very pleased to see Vertical bringing out some Japanese fiction again, even if this is not a particularly ... memorable book.
       Part of the problem: the book won something called the 'Golden Elephant Award' , which seems like yet another misguided Japanese attempt to place their fiction abroad: the jacket copy describes the prize as one for "genre novels that augur worldwide appeal" -- and notes that the prize "supports their simultaneous international releases" (i.e. presumably there are cash inducements to foreign publishers to print this stuff). This way of going about trying to appeal to global audiences ... yeah, not the way to go, I think. Or, if you're going to do it, then go all out, and pay the big bucks for an American editor who can whip this into shape: there's potential, both in the premise and the writing, but a crash-course in Thriller Writing 101 is definitely called for .....

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

12 June 2011 - Sunday

Vodafone Crossword longlists | Ozick on winging it | More Google failures

       Vodafone Crossword longlists

       The longlists for the 2010 (Indian) Vodafone Crossword Book Awards (in four categories) have been out for a month now, but somehow I overlooked that (the fact that official site is ... opaque, with no mention of dates when announcements were or will be made, doesn't help). Annoyingly, the longlists are only officially available to download as xls spreadsheets (to think -- there's a worse way of doing this than making people open pdf files !), but fortunately several sites have copied them -- The Asia Writes Project version is as good as any.
       Even so late in the day, mention of the longlists seems worthwhile to me, because they are not so much mere longlists but rather entry lists, consisting of all the eligible titles that were submitted -- and I always like literary competitions that reveal those (and remind you that you should always be highly suspicious of those -- led by the Man Booker -- that, for no good reason, won't provide this information). A bonus: the lists give you a good list of what was published in India in 2010, especially as far as fiction and post-1947-Indian-fiction-in-translation goes.
       Of course, at 326 entries it's all a bit overwhelming (even if the Children's and Non-Fiction lists can safely be ignored).
       Quite a few of the authors under review at the complete review have titles in the running, but apparently the only title under review is Corporate Atyaachaar by Abhay Nagarajan (as it continues to prove rather difficult for me to get my hands on recent Indian publications, with also only a few of the 2010 titles already available in the US and/or UK).

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

       Ozick on winging it

       In The Observer Cynthia Ozick reports on a public appearance some two deacdes ago when she was pressured into 'winging it', in Once upon a life: Cynthia Ozick.
       At least she learned her lesson:
Which is how a flight -- a flight of fancy -- changed my life. I vowed then that never again would I tell a Big Lie in public. (A little one, maybe.)
       Seems wise.

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

       More Google failures

       At his Oxford Blog Danny Yee reports that Google no longer likes my book reviews :-( as his site -- Danny Yee's Book Reviews -- has also been slammed by Google's failed re-jigged algorithm (which I have also repeatedly complained about over the past few months), with traffic to his reviews down some fifty per cent.
       Danny Yee's Book Reviews is one of the few book review sites that's been online even longer than the complete review, and one which I've been linking to since ... well, I suspect literally day one; I'm too lazy to check, but I'm sure among that first batch of several dozen reviews I posted in April, 1999 several linked to his reviews (albeit at different URLs, as the switch to a dedicated site only came a few years later). As I've also frequently noted, what I particularly admire about the site is the simple, stripped-down-to-its-essence presentation: this is the way content should be presented on the Internet, with as little distraction and excess as possible; by comparison even the complete review pages are already terribly cluttered.
       With review-pages dominated by reviews, and very little else -- a few links (to Amazon and to indices) -- these pages presumably aren't faring worse under Google-searches for exactly the same reason as the link-heavy complete review pages are -- but they seem to be faring similarly badly. Meanwhile, I notice reviews-on-weblogs (and, even more ridiculously, weblog-mentions-of-reviews-found-elsewhere) tend to fare much better under the new Google algorithm than the old one.
       As I've noted repeatedly: I think Google has gone way off track with the new algorithm, and my frustration grows each time I search for reviews to link to for whatever books I'm currently working on; Danny's experiences just confirm that once again.

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

11 June 2011 - Saturday

Finnegans Wake | 1Q84 update

       Finnegans Wake

       The publication of the fine Houyhnhnm-edition of Joyce's Finnegans Wake occasions Don Anderson's piece in The Australian -- though it might be more impressive if the title of the piece weren't Such a loon werrabackwoods in revised Finnegan's Wake .....
       The Penguin Modern Classics edition -- get your copy at or -- will probably have to do for most. (My copy is the handy mass market paperback Penguin edition (purchased 1978, list price US $3.95 -- and apparently still available at near that price via

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

       1Q84 update

       There's still a ways to go before the October publication of the US and UK editions of Murakami Haruki's 1Q84, but the UK covers have now also been revealed (two covers, for volumes 1+2, and then volume 3), and they'll look like this:

1Q84/1+2 - UK    1Q84/3 - UK

       Meanwhile, the covers for the French editions haven't been revealed yet, but publisher Belfond has a countdown-clock to the publication date on their home page -- still over 1800 hours, as of this writing, but that's still sooner than the US and UK publication .....

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

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