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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 October 2012

1 October: Michael Henry Heim (1943-2012) | Dayton Literary Peace Prize winners | The Forbidden Kingdom review
2 October: 2012 MacArthur Fellows | The next Gass: Middle C | October issues
3 October: Canadian literary prize shortlists | Stanisław Barańczak profile | Jalal Al-e Ahmad Awards | Translation credit | The Woman who Died a Lot review
4 October: How William Gass wanted The Tunnel published: loose-leaf pages, in a box -- and with a pop-up/out penis ! | Bulgarian Vick prize | The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira review
5 October: Pre-Nobel buzz | 'Should literature be political ?' | Prize shortlists: Prix Goncourt - Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction
6 October: SILA report | Howard Jacobson on 'bad boys' books' | The Polish Boxer review
7 October: One Thousand and One Nights conversation | The Island of Last Truth review
8 October: Nobel Prize to be announced Thursday, 11 October | Nobel Prize watch | Ubud Festival reports | Chris Anyokwu Q & A
9 October: Nobel Prize countdown: two days and counting | Prizes: German Book Prize - Nike Nagroda Literacka - Athens Prize for Literature - Newman Prize for Chinese Literature | The Shadow of Memory review
10 October: Nobel Prize countdown: one day and counting | Prizes: EU Prize for Literature - Nigeria Prize for Literature shortlist - Harvill Secker Young Translators’ Prize | Frisch & Co.

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10 October 2012 - Wednesday

Nobel Prize countdown: one day and counting
Prizes: EU Prize for Literature - Nigeria Prize for Literature shortlist
Harvill Secker Young Translators’ Prize | Frisch & Co.

       Nobel Prize countdown: one day and counting

       Tomorrow at 13:00, Stockholm time, the winner of this year's Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced.

       So what of note has happened since yesterday, as the announcement draws near ?

        - The Ladbrokes odds have shown a bit more movement -- and the biggest surprise is that Nádas Péter has moved up to 5/2. I have no idea where this is coming from -- he isn't really figuring in many of the ongoing discussions -- so that's something to consider; if any movement so far looks like it's leak-led, it would be this one. There have been other jumps -- John Banville is up from 66/1 to 14/1 in just the past day -- but the Nádas is the one that might be worth paying attention to. It will be interesting to see whether there are any last minute big swings (since leaks become more likely as the announcement approaches).

        - The AFP has Camille Bas-Wohlert's widely reprinted article, under headlines such as Time for a woman to win Nobel Literature Prize, say pundits, which has a couple of local commenters (not always of the very helpful sort: "'You can never know or guess how the Academy is thinking,' Lina Kalmteg, a literary critic for Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet, told AFP").

        - The Fictional Woods helpfully sums up a Svenska Dagbladet video discussion, in Entertaining and well-informed discussion at Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet among a couple of top level critics and publishers about the Nobel (there's also a Swedish summary at Svenska Dagbladet's Kultur Blogg).
       Among the observations: "The stuff about not knowing which Thursday it's announced is probably largely for show these days" (though I think they made a big mistake announcing it on the 11th this year: just consider how many prizes and shortlists I've reported on in the past two days -- and just this morning they're announcing the shortlists for the American National Book Awards; sure, the Nobel will get good attention at the Frankfurt Book Fair, where much of the publishing industry is assembled -- but surely the press coverage would be better next week, when they'd have the whole Nobel -- and most of the literary -- field all to themselves).
       Also: the consensus appears to be that: "Favourites this year: Adonis, Roth and Oates are out" (little surprise there) .
       And I'm not surprised that: "The speculation should have started in earnest last week, but this year it's been unusually quiet at the newspapers since everyone just discusses Ladbrokes odds instead; 'the betting firms have ruined it for us know-it-alls.'" (The Ladbrokes/betting focus definitely skews discussion, and I think people have gotten too focused on it: it's a good springboard, but shouldn't be the be-all, end-all.)

        - I like how the Prague Writers' Festival site has latched onto the Nobel, suggesting PWF Candidates | 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature (and, hey, with names like Maraini, Djebar, Bonnefoy, they might be onto something ...).

       So what are my final thoughts ? (After yesterday's thoughts .....)
       I'm intrigued by the Nádas-possibility (and I think he'd be a good choice), and figure Murakami stands a decent chance; I don't think Mo Yan will get it (though as I've noted for years, he's probably the strongest Chinese candidate). I don't think a poet will get it a second year in a row (if one did, my favorites would be Ko Un and Les Murray).
       So my very personal shortlist of candidates comes down to:
  • Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o (Ladbrokes odds: 12/1) - strong all-around contender
  • Juan Goytisolo (Ladbrokes odds: 100/1) - most impressive body of work
  • Amos Oz (Ladbrokes odds: 16/1) - best safe, uncontroversial choice
  • Mahmoud Dowlatabadi (no Ladbrokes odds) - personal favorite
  • Anita Desai (no Ladbrokes odds) - under the radar candidate: she's been Booker-shortlisted three times and between Indian/multi-cultural background, quality of work, and sex would make for a plausible winner (ahead of any other Indian candidate, I'd say)
       Sure, I'd be thrilled if Englund announced, say, Chart Korbjitti's name on Thursday, but I don't think they'll venture that far out on a limb.
       Watch those odds, and stay tuned.

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

       Prizes: EU Prize for Literature

       Yes, Winners of the 2012 European Union Prize for Literature announced at Frankfurt Book Fair.
       Given that they announce a dozen winners it feels a bit watered down; still, the money -- and translation support -- mean we might be hearing more about some of these. See also the euronews report, EU Prize for Literature picks 12-to-read.

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

       Prize: Nigeria Prize for Literature shortlist

       And then there were three, as, for example, The Guardian (Nigeria) reports, Three vie for Africa's biggest literary prize, as:
The Advisory Board for the Nigeria Prize for Literature sponsored by gas giant, Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) Ltd., has approved a final shortlist of three books out of the initial shortlist of 10 released last month, a statement from the Corporate Communication and Public Affairs Manager, Mr. Ifeanyi Mbanefo, said yesterday.
       With a prize of US$100,000 it does, indeed, appear to be Africa's richest prize.

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

       Prize: Harvill Secker Young Translators’ Prize

       They announced the winner of the Harvill Secker Young Translators' Prize a few days ago, and Granta prints Philip Hand's winning translation of Han Dong’s story 'The Wig'.

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

       Frisch & Co.

       Here's an interesting new fiction-in-translation publisher: Frisch & Co. who:
will publish contemporary foreign fiction in English-language translation for e-book reading devices.
       Yes, they're going all-e -- no accompanying print editions. Is that the future ? Will that make fiction in translation more attractive to readers ? (Not this reader, I'm afraid: the more e-books I'm confronted with, the less I'm enjoying them -- but that's a technological hurdle that will at, some point, be overcome. Not for a while, however, I fear .....)
       Partnering with venerable German mega-publisher Suhrkamp, one of their first two offerings is ambitious indeed: Uwe Tellkamp's massive, German Book Award-winning novel, Der Turm ('The Tower') (which begs the question: how did Suhrkamp not manage to place this with any traditional US or UK publisher -- even as it has been translated into over a dozen other languages ... (see their foreign rights page).
       Sweet timing, however: just as they announce the first two publications the author of the second, Anna Kim, takes one of the dozen 2012 European Union Prizes for Literature (see also my mention above).

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

9 October 2012 - Tuesday

Nobel Prize countdown: two days and counting
Prizes: German Book Prize - Nike Nagroda Literacka - Athens Prize for Literature
Newman Prize for Chinese Literature | The Shadow of Memory review

       Nobel Prize countdown: two days and counting

       - We know the Swedish Academy has settled on who to award the Nobel Prize in Literature to, and that the winner's name will be announced on Thursday, 11 October, at 13:00. (I'd suggest that the (relatively) early date indicates a not particularly controversial choice -- i.e. they didn't have to argue about it for too long, i.e. there was no strong opposition. Of course, last time there appears to have been strong disagreement -- the choice of Jelinek -- they announced on 7 October .....)

       - At his weblog, Swedish Academy man-in-charge Peter Englund offers two bits of 'kuriosa', but nothing revealing.

        - As far as the betting shops go: Unibet appear to have closed their book yesterday -- which is very early to pull the plug. [Updated: They didn't: it wasn't up for a while, but came back -- with odds largely unchanged -- yesterday here (scroll down).]
       The Ladbrokes odds have seen more movement now, with Murakami Haruki the heavy favorite at 2/1 at day's end yesterday, and William Trevor moving up a bit more (7/1), followed by Mo Yan, Alice Munro, and Nádas Péter at 8/1. Other movers include Thomas Pynchon (from 20/1 to 12/1), Assia Djebar (20/1 to 14/1), Milan Kundera (66/1 to 16/1), and ... Olga Tokarczuk (100/1 to 20/1).
       More-or-less Swedish betting shop -- closer to the action ? -- Betsson have a book too -- and their favorite, by a hair, is ... Joyce Carol Oates (a stagnant 33/1 at Ladbrokes -- those were her starting odds, too [note that this mention here will be enough to see her get some action and probably change the odds on her by the time you read this]). The Betsson list is pretty thin, but does cover several of the likely contender-names.

       - New articles of interest include:        And, so, what do I think ? Here a run-down of some of the possible contenders:

       Murakami Haruki:
  • Pro: Internationally recognized, decent range, from a country/area that hasn't won in a while
  • Contra: Too 'popular' an author; Swedish Academy seems to prefer a more distinctive voice (but note that no other Japanese authors would seem to rate at this time)
  • Current Ladbrokes odds: 2/1
  • Chances: Good - a Murakami Nobel looks like a good bet somwhere down the line, and 1Q84 might have been enough to already put him over the top
       Mo Yan:
  • Pro: Leading Chinese writer, international appeal (even if English editions tend to get edited/cut down to size, sigh ...)
  • Contra: Other Chinese authors (Ma Jian, Bei Dao) politically more palatable for Swedish Academy
  • Current Ladbrokes odds: 8/1
  • Chances: Slim - I think he might have been in the shortlist mix, but new to it (and they rarely pick a first-time-shortlisted author); still, if the Academy is looking beyond Europe he's an obvious possible choice
       Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o:
  • Pro: Solid body of work, important figure, also writes in an African language
  • Contra: Early writing arguably too political and limited
  • Current Ladbrokes odds: 12/1
  • Chances: Good - I still think Ngũgĩ is the leading sub-Saharan African contender (though Achebe and Farah would certainly be worthy choices too) and his Gikuyu magnum opus, Wizard of the Crow should be enough to put him over the top
  • Pro: Leading Arabic-language poet; considered a contender for ages already
  • Contra: The current Syrian turmoil might lead the Academy to shy away from choosing him; they gave it to a poet last year
  • Current Ladbrokes odds: 14/1
  • Chances: Slim - I just can't see them giving it to a Syrian author, given the current situation
       Ko Un:
  • Pro: Leading Korean poet; considered a contender for ages already
  • Contra: They gave it to a poet last year
  • Current Ladbrokes odds: 14/1
  • Chances: Good - a safe and worthy east Asian pick -- though I have my doubts about them awarding it to a poet two years in a row
       Mahmoud Dowlatabadi:
  • Pro: Leading author from a region that's never won the prize; a very impressive body of work
  • Contra: Not enough has been translated/is known abroad; did anyone even nominate him for the prize ?
  • Current Ladbrokes odds: not listed
  • Chances: Slim - The Colonel-author is a longtime local favorite, but still trails in the international-recognition area -- and its unclear that anyone would even have nominated him. While he would make my most-worthy shortlist, it's not clear that he has enough traction to figure in these proceedings
       Juan Goytisolo:
  • Pro: Incredible body of work, displaying an impressive range; Maghreb-connection makes him (slightly) more than just a European author
  • Contra: He's surely been in the running for ages and hasn't gotten it yet; arguably he's ticked off too many people/institutions
  • Current Ladbrokes odds: 100/1
  • Chances: Good - despite the Ladbrokes odds, Goytisolo is surely among the handful of most-deserving-authors who haven't won the prize
       Amos Oz:
  • Pro: Impressive body of work; no Hebrew-writing author has won for nearly half a century; of the Israeli contenders -- Grossman, Yehoshua -- clearly seems the strongest
  • Contra: He's surely been in the running for ages and hasn't gotten it yet
  • Current Ladbrokes odds: 16/1
  • Chances: Good - another in the most-deserving-authors who haven't won the prize ranks, and certainly worthy
       The US authors: Roth, Pynchon, McCarthy, DeLillo, (Oates):
  • Pro: Americans arguably due, arguably worthy
  • Contra: Arguably all too one-note (even if that one note is, in the case of Oates, simply excess)
  • Current Ladbrokes odds: from 12/1 (Pynchon) to 33/1 (DeLillo, Oates)
  • Chances: Slim - sure, maybe they figure it's time to toss a Nobel to the US (in which case Roth seems the most likely candidate), but I don't see it
       The Canadians: Atwood, Munro:
  • Pro: solid bodies of work, under-represented region, widespread appeal (and being women surely can't hurt)
  • Contra: maybe just short of Nobel stature
  • Current Ladbrokes odds: 8/1 (Munro) and 16/1 (Atwood)
  • Chances: Middling - either one would mix things up nicely, an English-writing female author from not-quite-the-US -- but I don't really see it
       Nádas Péter:
  • Pro: Impressive body of work
  • Contra: Hungarian -- and between Kertész Imre and recent eastern European (Herta Müller) and central European (Jelinek) winners, I just can't see it
  • Current Ladbrokes odds: 8/1
  • Chances: Slim - I just can't see them giving it to a Hungarian author -- but he would be a worthy choice
       Ibrahim al-Koni:
  • Pro: Leading Arabic-writing author; quite well-known internationally; something pretty different from most of what the other contending authors are writing
  • Contra: Not well-known enough, too limited a body of work
  • Current Ladbrokes odds: not listed
  • Chances: Slim - the Academy surely must be on the constant lookout for an Arabic-writing author, and al-Koni would be one of the authors who might make sense this year -- less controversial that Adonis or any of the Egyptians (like Gamal al-Ghitani) -- but maybe too much of an outlier
        Other names to keep in mind (Ladbrokes odds):
  • William Trevor (7/1)
  • Ismail Kadare (14/1)
  • Milan Kundera (16/1)
  • Les Murray (20/1)
  • Javier Marías (66/1)
  • Claudio Magris (66/1)
       Writers of interest but who I don't think have a chance:
  • Cees Nooteboom (12/1; solid body of work, but pales when compared to the great and bypassed Dutch authors; they're going to have to wait a decade or two, when Arnon Grunberg will be their top contender)
  • Tom Stoppard (16/1; I'd like to see it, but the Swedish Academy seems to like their drama more radical (Fo, Pinter, Jelinek))
  • Enrique Vila-Matas (20/1; great stuff, but too consistently variations on similar themes)
  • Peter Handke (33/1; fellow Austrian Jelinek got it, and Handke may just still be too politically toxic)
  • Gerald Murnane (50/1; much as I love Barley Patch, the body of work probably just isn't big enough to get a Nobel)
       Writers who are too young/haven't published enough:
  • Olga Tokarczuk (20/1)
  • Mircea Cărtărescu (25/1)
  • Karl Ove Knausgård (33/1)
  • Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (50/1)
       'Authors' who have no chance of getting the prize but are listed at Ladbrokes:
  • Bob Dylan (10/1) (I'm embarrassed even to mention him in conjunction with the Nobel Prize ...)
  • Andrea Camilleri (50/1)
  • Herman Koch (66/1)
  • Jonathan Littell (100/1)
  • E.L.James (500/1)
       More tomorrow .....

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

       Prize: German Book Prize

       They've announced that Landgericht, by Ursula Krechel, has won this year's German imitation-Man Booker Prize, the German Book Prize, from among 162 entries. Though it's only been around for a few years, it has established itself as the premier German-language book prize (as opposed to author prize, which have a longer tradition in the German-speaking countries).
       See also the New Books in German information page, and the Jung und Jung publicity page.
       Meanwhile, Conor Dillon explains at Deutsche Welle that German Book Prize shows which books matter.
       One of Krechel's books is available in English, Voices from the Bitter Core (in a bilingual edition !): see the Host publicity page, or get your copy at or

       (Updated - 10 October): See now also Ricarda Otte's piece on the winning title at Deutsche Welle, An unflinching look at post-war Germany.

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

       Prize: Nike Nagroda Literacka

       They've announced that Książka twarzy by Marek Bieńczyk has been awarded the Nike Nagroda Literacka -- the leading Polish literary prize [via].
       See also the PAP report, Poland's top literary award goes to essayist Marek Bieńczyk, which notes:
The book is a collection of essays which blend elements of various genres, including poetry, press articles and criticism, and merge intellectual discourse with autobiographical reflections on a wide range of subject matter, from literature and films to tennis and wine.
       See also the Świat Książki publicity page.
       Bieńczyk's Tworki is under review at the complete review, and Dalkey Archive Press recently brought out his Transparency -- which is probably a lot closer to the prize-winning title; see the Dalkey publicity page, or get your copy from or (I found Transparency interesting, but haven't gotten around reviewing it; it is a bit ... diffuse.)

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

       Prize: Athens Prize for Literature

       They recently held the Athens Prize for Literature at the Greek National Library, awarded for a best Greek novel and a best novel in translation; that page has all the finalists -- which, in the foreign category, included:        το βημα reports on the winning titles -- and has foreign category winner Leonardo Padura's thanks (all in Greek ...). Padura's El hombre que amaba los perros won the foreign fiction category -- a book not yet available in English, though many of Padura's other books are (see, for example, Adiós Hemingway). See also the Tusquets publicity page, Alfredo Fernandez Rodriguez's report in the Havana Times, or listen to an Instituto Cervantes of Chicago event, History and Fiction in The Man Who Loved Dogs with Leonardo Padura
       The winning Greek work was Το δάσος των παιδιώ ('The Forest of Children') by Χρήστος Αγγελάκος (Christos Angelakos); see also the Μεταίχμιο publicity page.

       (Thanks as always to Theodoros Grigoriadis for alerting me to the award.)

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

       Prize: Newman Prize for Chinese Literature

       They've announced that Taiwanese poet Yang Mu (楊牧) has been awarded the 2013 Newman Prize for Chinese Literature.
       It's a biennial prize with a good track record so far -- Mo Yan and Han Shaogong were the first two winners.

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

       The Shadow of Memory review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Bernard Comment's -- director of the excellent French imprint, Fiction & Cie -- 1990 novel, The Shadow of Memory, now out from Dalkey Archive Press.
       This has one of the best opening lines I've come across in a while:
So much reading, in vain.

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

8 October 2012 - Monday

Nobel Prize to be announced Thursday, 11 October
Nobel Prize watch | Ubud Festival reports | Chris Anyokwu Q & A

       Nobel Prize to be announced Thursday, 11 October

       So the Swedish Academy has now decided on a winner, as they've announced that the Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced on Thursday, 11 October, at 13:00 (Stockholm time).
       Now the speculating gets fun -- more tomorrow !

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

       Nobel Prize watch

       We'll find out sometime today whether or not the Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced on Thursday -- the Swedish Academy will either announce that it will or, if they keep mum, that means it will likely be announced the following Thursday, the 18th. [Updated: And they have, indeed, now announced that the winner will announced this Thursday.] (The date of the announcement is not without significance: a delay would suggest they're having a harder time settling on a winner, an announcement on the 11th suggests they had a relatively easy time coming to a consensus (suggesting also a less controversial choice).)
       The widely- and closely-watched (probably too widely and closely ...) Ladbrokes odds had Murakami Haruki a 2/1 favorite early this morning, followed by Mo Yan and Nádas Péter at 8/1. Given that Unibet still offers much more bang for your Murakami-betting-buck it's hard to take the Ladbrokes frontrunner's odds too seriously (it means the betting is strictly amateur: a serious punter would play the better odds); the surging Nádas (who started at 33/1 and was at 14/1 just a few days ago (see my previous mention)) is an intriguing mover, but after recent eastern European wins still has to be considered a longshot.

       Meanwhile, the Chinese press has noted that Mo Yan is one of the bookies' favorites, leading to quite a variety of commentary:

        - Sun Xiaobo reports that Chinese writer best bet for Nobel Prize in the Global Times

        - On the other hand, John Kennedy finds Appal at Nobel literature prize rumour in the South China Morning Post, as:
News that Chinese author Mo Yan may have been shortlisted for this year's Nobel Prize in Literature, the winner of which will be revealed sometime this month, has been met with hope but also strong opposition. Critics say little about the merit of his literary works, pointing instead to other aspects of his career.
       Always great to see the focus on "other aspects" rather than the only thing that counts: the written works.

        - Finally, Yu Jincui tries to dampen expectations, arguing Let's be realistic about Nobel Prize prospects in the Global Times -- though it's a pretty ugly argument he makes:
Chinese should be aware that by selecting the winning author the Nobel Prize in Literature has a strong influence over the political and cultural life of one country, as elements such as values, aesthetic and moral standards and national spirit are the core of the works.

As the other Chinese winners have demonstrated, mainstream Chinese values are hardly compatible with the choices of the Nobel Prize committee.
       The 'mainstream Chinese values' he seems to be arguing for don't sound all that appealing -- good for the Swedish Academy if they entirely ignore them.

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

       Ubud Festival reports

       They just held the Ubud Readers & Writers Festival in Bali, and there are a variety of reports out now:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Chris Anyokwu Q & A

       In Vanguard McPhilips Nwachukwu has a Q & A with Chris Anyokwu -- who argues that in Nigeria Old generation writers better than the present:
I must say that the past is better than the present. And that is true. When you look at the writings of Wole Soyinka, Achebe and members of their generation, when you pick up their works to read, you find out that their works are better than what is produced now.

A number of reasons can be adduced for this: a culture of excellence was there. They had better teachers, who were expatriates. They had better environment. Even when they started writing, they had reverence for the written word. They also had mentors, people they looked up to as their role models, particularly from abroad and they wanted to write like them.

But these days, people are not taking time to learn their craft.
       I think it's safe to say that, while Soyinka and Achebe are certainly towering figures, I wouldn't give all the "members of their generation" such an easy pass -- a lot of their writing is pretty weak. Conversely, there are quite a few contemporaries who seem to me to be pretty good at what they .....

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

7 October 2012 - Sunday

One Thousand and One Nights conversation | The Island of Last Truth review

       One Thousand and One Nights conversation

       At Guernica Erica Wagner has a Q & A with Marina Warner and Hanan al-Shaykh, asking: 'What can The One Thousand and One Nights teach the modern world ?' in Cunning and Guile.

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

       The Island of Last Truth review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Flavia Company's The Island of Last Truth -- a castaway-tale translated from the Catalan, and now coming out in English from Europa Editions.

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

6 October 2012 - Saturday

SILA report | Howard Jacobson on 'bad boys' books' | The Polish Boxer review

       SILA report

       They held the 17th Salon International du Livre d'Alger 20 to 29 September, and at Martina Sabra finds that it was A Missed Opportunity.

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

       Howard Jacobson on 'bad boys' books'

       Hmmmm ... in The Guardian Howard Jacobson 'explains why he likes his fiction black, bitter and without redemption', in In praise of bad boys' books.

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

       The Polish Boxer review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Eduardo Halfon's The Polish Boxer -- noteworthy, among other reasons, because it is a co-translation that involved five translators (for a less-than-200-page-book ...).

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

5 October 2012 - Friday

Pre-Nobel buzz | 'Should literature be political ?'
Prize shortlists: Prix Goncourt - Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction

       Pre-Nobel buzz

       So next week they'll start announcing the winners of the various Nobel Prizes, beginning -- probably -- with the one for Medicine on Monday (the small caveat is because all the prizes except the Peace Prize (to be announced Friday 12 October) are still listed with "at the earliest" times, suggesting possible delays (though these are in fact unlikely)). On Monday, 8 October we'll find out if the Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced on Thursday the 11th; if the Swedish Academy remains silent (they always give a heads-up a few days ahead of time, and would announce on Monday that they're announcing the winner on Thursday), then we have to wait at least another week, until the 18th (and possibly -- though it's extremely unlikely, until the 25th).
       Ladbrokes opened betting on the Literature Prize more than a month ago (see my previous mention) and their odds have been getting much of the attention (in lieu of much else to go on ...). Now that the Swedish Academy has actually gotten down to deliberations -- they've presumably been arguing about who should get the prize, from a shortlist of about five authors (whose names are also kept secret), for at least a week now -- the chances of some good leakage begin to improve dramatically, and any movement as far as the odds go begins to look a lot more interesting and significant.
       As for example Alison Flood noted in The Guardian yesterday, William Trevor's odds for Nobel literature prize tumble, as Trevor has been -- besides Bob Dylan (sigh) -- one of the few authors whose odds have changed dramatically since they were first posted. She reports:
"Trevor's odds have tumbled in the last week following a string of decent bets. We didn't see a penny for him until someone had £50 at 100/1 (meaning a potential return of £5,000 should he win) which was the first of several bets at the price," said Ladbrokes spokesman Alex Donohue.

"We had to slash his odds to 20/1 but this did nothing to abate the flow of money and he's now into 8/1. It bears all the hallmarks of a good, old-fashioned gamble which we've become accustomed to seeing over the years when we bet on awards. That's not to say at all that there is anything untoward going on, merely that there are people out there who thought the odds looked appealing. Often when odds shorten so dramatically it adds to the intrigue for those who like the idea of it being a 'hot tip'."
       Before you get all excited, a couple of notes: first and foremost, it's unlikely the Swedish Academy had actually chosen a winner by the time his odds dropped this far (or, indeed, that they have chosen one yet); if this is based on any 'insider knowledge' than at best it might suggest he's one of the shortlisted authors. Beyond that: Trevor is one of the closest-to-home contenders for British punters to put their money on, so it's distinctly possible money was put on him more or less just for that reason (Tom Stoppard's odds have also improved). Still, the jump is a pretty impressive one.
       Among the names listed at Ladbrokes, the ones whose odds have improved most are:

Name 22 Aug. 4 Oct.
Murakami Haruki 10/1 3/1
Mo Yan 12/1 8/1
William Trevor 100/1 10/1
Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o 20/1 12/1
Nádas Péter 33/1 14/1
Tom Stoppard 66/1 16/1
Milan Kundera 66/1 16/1

       (I refuse to list Bob Dylan -- who improved from 33/1 to 10/1 thanks to the generosity of people who aren't interested in making any money off of who wins the Nobel Prize, but rather are just looking for an easy way to simply donate money to Ladbrokes (since that's what they're in effect doing).)
       Before you get all excited and start reading too much into this, note that almost all the other names have had no odds-movement whatsoever -- suggesting very limited betting so far. Also worth considering: except for the two front-runners, Unibet, which also takes Nobel bets doesn't offer any of the big movers from Ladbrokes -- they don't even bother listing Trevor, Ngũgĩ, Nádas, Stoppard, and Kundera. As important: if there were significant betting, then the odds would converge (i.e. everyone who thought Mo Yan would win would bet at Ladbrokes, everyone betting on Murakami at Unibet, until the odds were roughly the same at both betting shops -- they're not right now); as is the 'market' looks suspiciously thin (as also the Ladbrokes Dylan-odds suggest: if you really believed he had any chance you'd bet your money on him at Unibet, where you'd get a considerably higher payout for the same wager).
       What's really striking to me is that Ladbrokes doesn't seem to have added any names since they opened betting (well, aside from E.L.James at a joking 500/1) -- last year (and in previous years) there were numerous and regular additions along the way. While they have a strong starting list, it's surprising that they haven't really picked up any new names -- either from various public Nobel-discussions or stray Stockholm gossip. I imagine names will still be added (Mahmoud Dowlatabadi ! Krasznahorkai László ! Álvaro Mutis !), but it's odd that practically none have been so far; the fact that none have suggests there simply isn't much good gossip floating around yet (or all that much general betting interest either).
       The Swedish Academy man in charge, Peter Englund, has a weblog, but there's not much to divine from the entries there either -- though in the most recent entry he does describe running into last year's laureate, Tomas Tranströmer, and mentioning: "Jag berättar att snart kommer någon annan ta hans roll som “Årets Nobelpristagare”." (yeah, that's not really at all helpful ...).
       I'm still hedging my bets; nothing I've sniffed is very suggestive so far, though if pressed I'd bet even money that Mo Yan is one of the shortlisted authors (and William Trevor isn't) -- but that's about as far as I am willing to go for now. But now is when it really starts to get interesting, and odds (and inside-information-getting-out) can start changing fast.
       Stay tuned !

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

       'Should literature be political ?'

       The Guardian has an: 'an edited version of Njabulo S Ndebele's keynote speech at Open Book Cape Town', Should literature be political ? -- but, of course, you'd do better to go to the source, where you can find both the Keynote addresses by Antjie Krog and Ndebele on the subject.
       See also the complete review review of Ndebele's The Cry of Winnie Mandela.

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

       Prize shortlist: Prix Goncourt

       They've announced the (second) shortlist for the Prix Goncourt; see also, for example, the report at L'Express, Prix Goncourt: il n'en reste que huit.
       They cut the list down one more time, for a third shortlist, on 30 October, and then finally get around to selecting a winner, to be announced on 7 November.

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

       Prize shortlist: Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction

       They've announced the shortlist for the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-Fiction -- not yet at the official site, last I checked, but Alison Flood already reports that Six books to 'change our view of the world' on shortlist for non-fiction prize in The Guardian.

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

4 October 2012 - Thursday

How William Gass wanted The Tunnel published:
loose-leaf pages, in a box -- and with a pop-up/out penis !

Bulgarian Vick prize | The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira review

       How William Gass wanted The Tunnel published: loose-leaf pages, in a box -- and with a pop-up/out penis !

       William H. Gass was at the Sprachsalz 2012 festival in Austria a couple of weeks ago, and the Falter now prints Sebastian Fasthuber's Q & A with him, in which Gass reveals something I'd never come across anywhere before:
Sie wollten The Tunnel ursprünglich als eine Sammlung loser Blätter in einer Schachtel herausbringen.

Gass: Und auf dem Cover wäre William Frederick Kohler als Autor genannt worden. Ich wollte außerdem, dass ein Penis herausklappt, wenn man die Schachtel öffnet. Kohler ist doch immer sehr mit seinem Penis beschäftigt. Aber so etwas macht natürlich kein Verlag.

[Originally you wanted The Tunnel to be published as a collection of loose leaves in a box.

Gass: And on the cover William Frederick Kohler as author. I also wanted a penis to pop out when one opened the box. After all, Kohler is always so preoccupied with his penis. But naturally no publisher is willing to do that.
       [Kohler is, of course, the narrator of the novel.]
       I'm actually kind of disappointed that Dalkey Archive Press -- who recently re-issued the book (see their publicity page) -- didn't do that. Surely they could have done a premium-priced boxed collector's edition or something like that (recall for example New Directions beautiful edition of B.S.Johnson's boxed novel, The Unfortunates (see their publicity page, or get your copy from or
       Of course, they can still do it ... I can see it now:

       [Resigned to a bound and jacketed version when the book was first published in 1995, Gass still had some pretty precise instructions as to Designing The Tunnel. No dangling penises, however.]
       (Note also that Conversational Reading is currently doing a 'The Tunnel-Big Read'. I wonder if any enterprising participants have torn (or now will be moved to ...) the binding off their copies, boxed the loose pages, and installed a pop-up penis to go along with it .....)

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

       Bulgarian Vick prize

       The Vick Prize for the Bulgarian Novel of the Year seemed like a pretty good idea, supporting local literature -- and giving local talent some international exposure. Alas, Edward Vick has pulled the plug, as he explains in an interview with Svetlana Dicheva at BNR:
The patron of the competition itself, the English businessman Edward Vick, explains his decision to stop the contest with the fact that his idea of promoting Bulgarian novel both inside and outside the country was met with resistance by the Bulgarian literary lobby, which closed in its elitist circle and propagated only intellectual works disliked by the general public.
       Who knew there was a 'Bulgarian literary lobby' ? (Though I suppose we all sensed that, if there was one, it was elitist and "propagated only intellectual works disliked by the general public" .....)
       Given how little Bulgarian literature is translated especially into English (it does a bit better into, for example, German) I would have figured everyone even vaguely associated with anything literary in Bulgaria would be doing everything possible to see that this thing continued -- note, for example, that Open Letter has/is publishing both 2009 winners, Thrown into Nature by Milen Ruskov, and 18% сиво (forthcoming as 18% Gray) by Zachary Karabashliev (see the Open Letter publicity page).

       The situation isn't entirely bleak in that corner of the Balkans -- there's still the admirable Elizabeth Kostova Foundation -- but it's certainly a loss for Bulgarian literature abroad (specifically: getting it there ...).

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

       The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of César Aira's The Miracle Cures of Dr. Aira -- one of those books it's almost impossible to write anything about without giving too much away (in large part because it's basically just a short story).

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

3 October 2012 - Wednesday

Canadian literary prize shortlists | Stanisław Barańczak profile
Jalal Al-e Ahmad Awards | Translation credit
The Woman who Died a Lot review

       Canadian literary prize shortlists

       Several of the big Canadian literary prizes have announced their finalists/shortlists -- and in The Globe and Mail John Barber diagnoses that these show that this is The year of discord among the literary experts, as:
Dissension flowered in the fall literary sweepstakes with Tuesday's announcement of the short list of five books competing for the 2012 Governor-General's Literary Award in fiction, none of which appeared on the just-announced short list of nominees for the 2012 Scotiabank Giller Prize.
       (Worth noting, too: Alix Ohlin's William Giraldi-shredded Inside is Giller Prize-shortlisted .....)

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

       Stanisław Barańczak profile

       In The Harvard Crimson Tara W. Merrigan profiles Polish poet and translator Stanisław Barańczak, in Even When No One is Looking.

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

       Jalal Al-e Ahmad Awards

       I often ridicule prizes such as the Man Booker, which consider only 100 or 120 books each year (from the entire Commonwealth .... seriously ?), but there might be such a thing as being too open to submissions: IBNA reports that Over 4000 works submitted for 5th Jalal Al-e Ahmad Award (4595, actually).
       Okay, only 1551 of those were fiction (the only category that really matters, after all) -- 1071 were literary criticism , 849 'documentaries', etc. -- but it's still a lot to sort through. Disappointingly, they not only don't reveal the 1551 titles considered, they don't even let us know (here, or anywhere I could find, though there's more background information (in Farsi) about the prize here) what the eight books that: "have been shortlisted for the 2nd phase" are.
       (Note that the winner receives: "110 Bahar Azadi gold coins" -- which, given the current collapse of the rial, might be one explanation for why everyone submitted something in the hopes of winning .....)

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

       Translation credit

       Online polls (like all polls) have to be taken with many grains of salt, but it's still worth noting that a recent German poll asking how translators should be credited on books garnered 1356 votes, and just under 90 per cent said translators' names should be mentioned on the covers of books. The rest said an inside-mention sufficed; surprisingly (honestly -- you'd figure at least one in a thousand would suggest it), no one at all appears to have said it was fine not mentioning the translator at all .....

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

       The Woman who Died a Lot review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jasper Fforde's latest Thursday Next-novel, The Woman who Died a Lot.

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

2 October 2012 - Tuesday

2012 MacArthur Fellows | The next Gass: Middle C | October issues

       2012 MacArthur Fellows

       They're announcing the 2012 MacArthur Foundation fellows today -- the $500,000 (!) five-year "unrestricted fellowships to talented individuals who have shown extraordinary originality and dedication in their creative pursuits and a marked capacity for self-direction" -- and while they're not up at the official site, last I checked (but probably are by the time your read this ...) the AP has spilled the beans -- and the literary fellows are Junot Díaz and Dinaw Mengestu (sorry, nothing by either under review at the complete review).

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

       The next Gass: Middle C

       Oh, the wait .....
       At Conversational Reading they've started the 'Big Read' of William Gass' impressive The Tunnel -- but looking ahead, at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Book Blog Jane Henderson has a brief 'Literary event' preview: new Gass fiction, offering the Library Journal preview of Gass' forthcoming (in March ...) Middle C -- with a main character who: "dreams of founding an Inhumanity Museum".
       You can (and surely should ...) pre-order it at

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

       October issues

       Among October issues of online periodicals now available are:
  • Words without Borders' October issue: Oil
  • Open Letters Monthly's October issue
  • Bookslut (they have an October issue page, but not all the October reviews can be found there yet, so stick to the main page)

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

1 October 2012 - Monday

Michael Henry Heim (1943-2012) | Dayton Literary Peace Prize winners
The Forbidden Kingdom review

       Michael Henry Heim (1943-2012)

       As Susan Bernofsky reports at her Translationista weblog in Saying Goodbye to Michael Henry Heim (1943-2012), the noted translator -- remarkable for the number of languages from which he translated, and recipient of numerous major translation awards (see his UCLA faculty page for a list of many of his translations, publications, and awards) -- has passed away.
       Quite a few of his translations are under review at the complete review, including Dubravka Ugrešić's Fording the Stream of Consciousness and The Ministry of Pain (as well as several of her works that he co-translated), as well as A Bohemian Youth by Josef Hiršal, and Wonder by Hugo Claus.

       (Updated - 2 October): See now also Chad W. Post's nice (and informative) tribute at Three Percent, Michael Henry Heim (1943-2012)

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

       Dayton Literary Peace Prize winners

       At The New York Times' ArtsBeat weblog Julie Bosman reports that Winners Named for Dayton Literary Peace Prize (though not, I note, at the official site, last I checked ...).
       The winners apparently are: in fiction, The Sojourn, by Andrew Krivak -- yet another prize for admirable Bellevue Literary Press; see their publicity page, or get your copy from or -- and, in the non-fiction category, To End All Wars, by Adam Hochschild.
       They'll be honored 11 November (for which they will have to travel to Dayton).

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

       The Forbidden Kingdom review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of David Mitchell's Jan Jacob Slauerhoff's 1932 novel, The Forbidden Kingdom, just out from Pushkin Press.
       Okay, the Mitchell comparison probably isn't quite fair -- but aspects of this really are eerily Mitchellesque. And I've rarely come across a novel that shifts so easily and comfortably from being one kind of novel into something entirely different -- very impressive, how Slauerhoff pulls that off. The rare book that's a real surprise (and just plain good, too).

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

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