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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 31 August 2013

21 August: Dayton Literary Peace Prize finalists | Finnish alcoholism subsidizes Estonian literature ? | Days in the History of Silence review
22 August: IWP fall residency 2013 | Erik Neutsch (1931-2013) | Delhi Book Fair | Adonis and Mo Yan on translation | Literature in ... Egypt | The Goddess Chronicle review-overview
23 August: LRB does Mo Yan | Prescient Lem | Scissors review
24 August: Guardian first book award longlist | What the Ayatollah read
25 August: Prizes: James Tait Black - Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation | When Adam Opens his Eyes review
26 August: More Salinger | Boris Pahor celebrates 100th birthday | Stoppard's Dark Side of the Moon-radio play | Avoiding the classics | The Infatuations review
27 August: September/October issue of World Literature Today | Literary journals in ... Pakistan | The President's Hat review
28 August: Andrey Kurkov profile | Alat Asem profile | Goethe Medal ceremony
29 August: (Mrs.) Knausgaard's Helioskatastrofen | Ruth Rendell Q & A | The Parrots review
30 August: Laziest literary list ever ? | Cairo bookshop profile | Left behind books
31 August: Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) | Ruth Franklin Q & A | Andrea Hirata profile | Publishing translations | Warwick Prize for Writing shortlist

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31 August 2013 - Saturday

Seamus Heaney (1939-2013) | Ruth Franklin Q & A | Andrea Hirata profile
Publishing translations | Warwick Prize for Writing shortlist

       Seamus Heaney (1939-2013)

       As very widely reported, 1995 Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney has passed away.
       I can't really add much to the many, many pieces that have appeared in the past day (and I'm afraid none of his works are under review at the complete review), but here a few links to obituaries and tributes:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Ruth Franklin Q & A

       Prospect is running a series of 'Critical thinking'- Q & As "about the art of criticism", and in this month's installment David Wolf has An interview with the literary critic Ruth Franklin.
       Among the interesting observations, the difference between reviewing for The New Republic or The New York Review of Books, and The New Yorker ("more of a general circulation magazine") -- and her explanation:
When I first came to the magazine I remember reading one long piece that was ostensibly a review of a new edition of Coleridge. In fact it barely mentioned the book at hand. I asked James, why doesn't the book come up ? And he said, well it's not really about the book. At the time I was really puzzled by that -- I thought, how can we run a book review that isn't really about the book ? And of course a lot of people will say that's exactly what's wrong with the way magazines like the New Republic and the New York Review cover books. But it's simply another method of criticism. It's not about telling the reader what books to buy but rather telling him or her how to go about thinking about books. It's about the reader's education.
       Sorry, I don't buy that -- why the switch and bait ? If what you're presenting is "not really about the book", then why dress it up as "ostensibly a review" ? I have no problem with pieces telling me: "how to go about thinking about books" -- bring 'em on ! -- but don't dress them up as reviews, okay ? Thanks.

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

       Andrea Hirata profile

       In the Los Angeles Review of Books Pallavi Aiyar writes 'On Andrea Hirata and the bestselling Indonesian novel of all time', in The Rainbow Troops: A Visit with Indonesia’s Bestselling Author. Hirata is the author of that bestselling title, The Rainbow Troops, which came out in the US from Farrar, Straus & Giroux earlier this year.
       Unfortunately, the piece's credibility is undermined by Aiyar's claim that:
Since The Rainbow Troops, Hirata has written several more novels, including three sequels to his debut. But none have done as well as his first book, which is also the only work of Hirata's to have been translated into English.
       I know literary journalism has the lowest of standards, but for god's sake, even I know (and even the most rudimentary research reveals) that two other Hirata-titles have been translated into English -- The Dreamer (translated, like The Rainbow Troops, by Angie Kilbane) and EdensoR (translated by John Colombo; check out the cover). Yes, they haven't been published in 'the West' (the measure of all things ?) -- but they have been available for a while -- just as The Rainbow Troops was available in English translation years before it came out in the FSG edition -- even if it was pretty hard to come by outside South-East Asia.
       I'd be more tolerant of such a slip in a more general piece, but come on, Aiyar sat down with the author. She couldn't be bothered to ask whether any of his other novels had been translated ?
       Shoddy journalism (and poor fact-checking by whatever editor signed off on this) -- and a disservice to the author (as interested English-speaking readers won't even try to seek out these titles, left unaware of their existence).

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

       Publishing translations

       Ross Ufberg, co-founder of New Vessel Press, thinks the publishing-in-translation scene is looking pretty good nowadays, in a piece at Publishing Perspectives, Of Saint Jerome and Prostitutes and Thieves.
       A nice shout-out to several of the new and newest players on the publishing-in-translation scene, and more power (and books sales !) to all of them (though I wish he wouldn't use the unattributed (and should-be-laden-with-so-many-caveats-that-it's-useless) claim that: "2008 to 2012, there was a twenty-six percent increase in the number of translations published in this country, from 360 to 453" (relying, I'm presuming, on the Three Percent database, which, though a useful starting reference point, doesn't come close to capturing the actual numbers, then or now (beginning with the genres it does and doesn't consider))).
       But I certainly like the general attitude strutted here (and also at many of these other ventures (yes, all the way to AmazonCrossing ...)).

       (I missed this a couple of weeks ago, but in The Jewish Chronicle Gerald Jacobs profiled New Vessel Press, in The more interesting face of publishing.)

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

       Warwick Prize for Writing shortlist

       They've announced the shortlist for the biennial (but now apparently themeless) Warwick Prize for Writing -- "unique as an international, cross-disciplinary award open to substantial pieces of writing in the English language, in any genre or form".
       That does make for an interesting mix of books, but at least when they were all about a common theme there was some sort of unifying element -- I have no idea what the prize represents this year; it seems entirely random.
       The winner will be announced 24 September.

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

30 August 2013 - Friday

Laziest literary list ever ? | Cairo bookshop profile | Left behind books

       Laziest literary list ever ?

       There are some sites that I will only link to in extremis, because the site-pages are so annoyingly busy, or otherwise so unpleasant to deal with/navigate that regardless of the content I'd rather not send readers there; The Huffington Post is a case in point -- in particular, because it actually occasionally has content that would otherwise be of sufficient interest for me to direct you there. Here, however, is a case where it is the abysmal quality of the content of a piece that leads me to mention and link to it, an instance of such lazy and shoddy work that I can't keep myself from venting.
       I like a list -- a literary list, especially -- as much as the next person (though I probably loathe lists-presented-in-slideshow-format even more than the next person ...), and, of course, lists abound on internet; just yesterday Mark O'Connell wrote about the phenomenon, in 10 Paragraphs About Lists You Need In Your Life Right Now at The New Yorker's Page-Turner weblog.
       It's gotten to the point that the list has to be something pretty compelling for me to even bother to have a look -- but claims of an Ultimate List Of Literary One Hit Wonders, such as found at The Huffington Post yesterday, can still pique my interest -- I've seen lists of literary one-hit wonders before, after all, but this one promises to be the ultimate one; if true, I wouldn't ever need to bother with any more of these .....
       They actually have a parenthetical caveat, explaining that they don't solely mean one-offs (like the inevitable top choice for this and all similarly-themed lists, Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird):
(For the record, by "one hit wonder," we mean books that were actually HITS. They don't just have to be good. They have to be popular. Therefore, some of these authors probably wrote other good books, but they just didn't reach popularity).
       (Okay, the fact that they put the final period outside the parentheses should have tipped me off that there wasn't much editing going on here, but there's so much wrong with this list that doesn't even rank very high ..... Also: "they just didn't reach popularity" ? Who edits this shit ? I know, I know: nobody. What editors there might be must be on vacation, and they've clearly unleashed some (high school-age ?) interns to fill up the pages.)
       Anyway, here we have a list that includes, for example, Upton Sinclair's The Jungle -- sure, his most lasting (in terms of influence and how often it is assigned for classroom reading) work -- but Sinclair wrote many dozens of other books -- and guess what ? a lot of them were pretty damn successful. Take the Lanny Budd-series -- almost a dozen titles right there, which sold very well, thank you.
       Then there's All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque -- the point at which I completely lost it. Sure, that's his biggest hit -- but Remarque was one of the bestselling novelists of the 1920s through 1940s, worldwide: as this convenient year-by-year listing of the top ten bestselling works of fiction in the US for the 20th century shows, The Road Back was one of the bestselling titles of 1931, Arch of Triumph a top-ten seller in 1946. By any definition these were 'hits' -- much bigger hits than some of the one-hit wonders they list, at least sales-wise.
       The piece also claims: Joseph "Heller's only notable novel was Catch-22." Funny, then, that Catch-22 -- admittedly a perennial (lower-level) bestseller -- was not an overnight sales-sensation: it did not rank among the year's top ten when it came out. You know what did ? Heller's Something Happened, in 1974.
       So again, by their own criteria, they're ignoring bona fide 'popular' books -- just because they apparently haven't heard of them, or couldn't be bothered to do the least bit of research.
       Other lowlights: "No one has ever heard of another novel she wrote, we don't think", about Mary Shelley and Frankenstein (hey, I enjoyed The Last Man ...); they admit Milan Kundera: "published other fiction" but think The Unbearable Lightness of Being is his one-hit wonder; they include Milton (!). Oh, yes, and they list one of the one-hit wonders as: "A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Tool" [sic]; it's pretty clear who the tools here are .....

       As it turns out, a lot of these titles figure on older lists, too -- including a variation from The Huffington Post from just a few years ago, The 12 Greatest Literary One-Hit Wonders (with a few mind-boggling alternate selections -- though the "Ultimate' list easily has this one beat). Others lists can be found at Listverse, The Telegraph, More, and Mental Floss. There are some very debatable selections on these too -- but this 'Ultimate' one really seems to take the cake.
       I get that it's hard to decide what makes a 'hit' in the definition of one-hit wonder. Harper Lee is easy, since there's just the one -- but when an author has written several or many books it gets more complicated. The Huffington Post list seems to consider just current sales and reputation (and they aren't even on very solid footing there); the fact that they have no sense at all of popular literary history (like the fact that Remarque was beyond huge, and not just for the one title) dooms this particular exercise.
       I know it's late in the summer, and presumably I shouldn't be surprised by such lazy-ass filler pieces (for which, tellingly, no one seems to be willing to take credit ...). But pretty much zero effort went into this thing, from the selection of the books to the editing. Obviously there was nothing resembling fact-checking (including of authors' names ...).
       Sadly, this list is the 'ultimate' only in a very different sense from which they mean it .....

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

       Cairo bookshop profile

       At Deutsche Welle Holger Heimann writes about The dangerous job of selling books in Cairo, profiling "the famous German bookshop Lehnert & Landrock in downtown Cairo".
       Sad to hear that:
There are days when not a single customer comes into the shop
       Just one more sad sign of the times and circumstances.

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

       Left behind books

       The always fun Travelodge survey of which books are most left behind by guests at their hotels is out; see, for example, Liz Bury's piece in The Guardian with the full top-twenty list.
       E.L.James, Sylvia Day, and Jennifer Probst carry the day, with a trio of titles each, but Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn seems a somewhat surprising number four on the list (followed by The Casual Vacancy by J.K.Rowling); The Great Gatsby by F.Scott Fitzgerald also makes a (slightly) surprising appearance, at number twenty.

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

29 August 2013 - Thursday

(Mrs.) Knausgaard's Helioskatastrofen
Ruth Rendell Q & A | The Parrots review

       (Mrs.) Knausgaard's Helioskatastrofen

       My Struggle-author Karl Ove Knausgaard has gotten lots of attention -- especially in Scandinavia, but also in the US and UK -- but his wife, Linda Boström Knausgård, has also been publishing, albeit nothing that's nearly as ... thinly-veiled autobiographical (or as best-selling).
       Her Helioskatastrofen just came out from Modernista (see their publicity page) -- and one of the things that struck me about coverage of it is that the few reviews I've looked at -- Josefin Holmström's in Svenska Dagbladet and Lidija Praizovic's in Aftonbladet, for example -- make no mention whatsoever of her famous-writer husband. Okay, maybe here's an instance where he (and their relationship) is so well-known that there's no need to mention it, taken as a given for anyone likely to read the review, but I doubt that US/UK reviewers would be similarly able to avoid the gossipy mention of the much-more-famous author-spouse.

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

       Ruth Rendell Q & A

       In The Guardian Laura Barnett has a Q & A with Ruth Rendell.

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

       The Parrots review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Filippo Bologna's The Parrots.
       It seems a good time to get to this literary-prize satire, given that we are just entering the high season of literary prizes -- the Man Booker and German Book Prize longlists are out, with the first round of the big French prizes, led by the Goncourt, to follow, building up to the early October announcement of the Nobel. (Though admittedly the Premio Strega -- the inspiration for the prize in the book -- was already announced back in early July -- but then outside of Italy few pay much attention to that one .....)

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

28 August 2013 - Wednesday

Andrey Kurkov profile | Alat Asem profile | Goethe Medal ceremony

       Andrey Kurkov profile

       In The Telegraph Jake Kerridge profiles Russian-writing Ukrainian author Andrey Kurkov: 'Before starting to hate or love, you analyse'; see, for example, the complete review review of his Death and the Penguin.

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

       Alat Asem profile

       In China Daily Liu Jun profiles a Niche literary leader, Uygur writer Alat Asem.
       You don't find much Uygur fiction in English translation .....

       (Unrelated take-away from the article: there's a Chinese literary magazine called Chutzpah ! ??!? Damn right there is ! (Though somewhat disappointingly, its Chinese name is simply 天南, the English and Chinese names: "reflecting its outer image and inner spirit".))

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

       Goethe Medal ceremony

       They announced who would be getting these a while back, but today is when they hold the official ceremony handing out the Goethe Medals 2013.
       The idea is to:
honour figures who have performed outstanding service for the German language and international cultural relations.
       Winners are: S. Mahmoud Hosseini Zad, as: "Due to his efforts in particular, authors such as Judith Hermann, lngo Schulze, Uwe Timm, Peter Stamm and Julia Franck are accessible to Iranian readers"; Seagull Books founder and managing director Naveen Kishore, and Zone Defence (etc.) author Petros Markaris -- a most worthy trio.

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

27 August 2013 - Tuesday

September/October issue of World Literature Today
Literary journals in ... Pakistan | The President's Hat review

       September/October issue of World Literature Today

       The September/October issue of World Literature Today, focused on 'Queer Lit in the 21st Century', is now available, with a good portion accessible online (though not, disappointingly, the interview with David Albahari ...).
       Entirely available is the invaluable review-section, World Literature in Review.

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

       Literary journals in ... Pakistan

       In Dawn Rauf Parekh finds that in Pakistan It's raining literary journals this summer, as:
Whether people read or not, whether Urdu literature is as popular or not as it used to be, the fact is during the last few months Urdu's literary magazines have been pouring in and in addition to the monsoon showers, this summer we enjoyed a heavy downpour of literary magazines as well.
       Sounds like a good foundation to help foster local literary culture; let's hope it spreads and grows (and finds lots of readers ...).

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

       The President's Hat review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Antoine Laurain's novel, The President's Hat (featuring François Mitterrand's chapeau), out from Gallic Books.

       Much as I enjoy what Gallic Books does I did find it ... surprising that the translation is credited only as: "Translated from the French by Gallic Books", without a mention of the people behind the translation anywhere in the volume (it turns out there were several of them -- Jane Aitken, Emily Boyce, and Louise Rogers Lalaurie). There's a Q & A with the translators at the a discount ticket to everywhere weblog, so at least they get some credit; still .....
       I assume the PEN Translation Committee and British Centre for Literary Translation have already registered formal complaints.

       [Updated:: As Gallic Books points out to me, there is mention of the three translators -- albeit not on the copyright page, and not on the title page (which maintains: "Translated from the French by Gallic Books"), but at the end of the text, where attribution is given: "Daniel Mercier voiced by Louise Rogers Lalaurie, Fanny Marquant and Bernard Lavallière voiced by Emily Boyce, and Pierre Aslan voiced by Jane Aitken". Since the novel is not written in the first person(s) it didn't occur to me when I saw this that this referred to the translators (I figured it must have to do with an audio version of the text, or something along those lines -- especially given that there also additional frills like a set of ''Reading Group Questions', as well as an 'Interview with Antoine Laurain' after that). But at least there is acknowledgement of who did the actual translation (and, sort of, what each translator was responsible for) -- though I think a clearer statement to that effect (and in the places where it belongs -- most notably on the copyright page) would be more appropriate.

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

26 August 2013 - Monday

More Salinger | Boris Pahor celebrates 100th birthday
Stoppard's Dark Side of the Moon-radio play | Avoiding the classics
The Infatuations review

       More Salinger

       As widely reported, J.D.Salinger is apparently joining the ranks of the posthumously-published -- differing, however, from the usual case (desperate heirs flogging every last scrap left behind by a dead author in order to cash in while they can) in that he supposedly planned this all along. Famously silent for the last four decades or so of his life, it's been widely reported that he kept writing all the while -- and now it's suggested that he had made plans for some of that to be published after his death.
       The most extensive reports can be found in The New York Times (Film on Salinger Claims More Books Are Coming, by Michael Cieply and Julie Bosman) and the AP (New Biography Claims More Salinger Books Due Out, by Hillel Italie); at Entertainment Weekly Tina Jordan conveniently sums up what the five expected titles apparently will be.
       Hey, I'll read them (well, maybe not that: "manual of the Hindu Vedanta religion" ...).

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

       Boris Pahor celebrates 100th birthday

       It isn't too often that you can wish a living author a happy hundredth birthday to, but today you can: Slovenian great Boris Pahor hits a hundred today, and is apparently still going strong; see The Slovenia Times article (way in advance), Tribute Paid to Writer Pahor Before His 100th Birthday or now Paul Jandl's (German) article about meeting the man recently, from Die Welt.
       Notoriously under-translated into English, Dalkey Archive Press admirably re-published his Necropolis (previously published as Pilgrim among the Shadows) fairly recently; see their publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

       Stoppard's Dark Side of the Moon-radio play

       Tom Stoppard's radio play to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Pink Floyd's classic album, Dark Side of the Moon, Darkside, is being aired on BBCRadio2 today at 22:00 GMT -- though fortunately if you (like me) can't catch it then, it should be available for listening at that link a while after that, too.
       For a preview and some background, catch the BBCRadio4 interview with Stoppard on frontrow.

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

       Avoiding the classics

       At The Guardian's Comment is Free Ashley Thorne discusses Why are American universities shying away from the classics ? summarizing the findings from the fascinating report she co-authored, Beach Books: 2012-2013 - What Do Colleges and Universities Want Students to Read Outside Class ? (warning ! dreaded pdf format !).
       They focused on the 'common reading' assignments for incoming college freshmen popular at many American colleges -- and, as she sums up:
Last year, 309 colleges made such assignments. It's a great tradition, but something curious has happened since my days as a college student. Only eight schools assigned anything published before 1990, and only four assigned books that could by any stretch be considered classics.
       The report lists the outliers:
  • Antigone and King Lear, The King's College

  • Frankenstein, Fairmont State University

  • Bartleby, the Scrivener, Le Moyne College

  • An Enemy of the People, Goucher College

  • A Canticle for Leibowitz, Belmont Abbey College

  • The Life Before Us, Cornell University

  • To Engineer Is Human, University of Virginia (School of Engineering and Applied Science)

  • In the Time of the Butterflies, Queens University of Charlotte
       So Thorne finds and wonders:
For American college students, 1990 appears to be a historical cliff beyond which it is rumored some books were once written, though no one is quite sure what. Why have US colleges decided that the best way to introduce their students to higher learning is through comic books, lite lit, and memoirs ?
       The report is well worth perusing, with lots of fun/shocking data: for 66 books "a film version exists or is in production", 17 are comic books or 'graphic novels', only 6 are translated from another language -- but 20 deal with orphans and 18 with animal rights and food.
       Among the devastating conclusions:
colleges typically settle for Midcult books. They select as common reading popular books that affect to have higher standards than mass culture books but are in fact merely faddish.
       Higher education indeed .....

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

       The Infatuations review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Javier Marías' The Infatuations, now available in the US, too.

       I'm kind of disappointed that Balzac's Colonel Chabert -- discussed at length in the novel -- isn't anywhere among the many books 'Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought' (it does make the British list, albeit not the top dozen). Is it because American readers haven't read that far in their copies of the Marías yet (or haven't opened it at all, content to have the handsome copy lying around for others to admire ...). Too bad: a great, great deal of Balzac is worth reading (I've made my way through three or four thousand pages of his work and still can't get enough), and surely Marías makes a strong case for Colonel Chabert here (so get your copy at !).

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

25 August 2013 - Sunday

Prizes: James Tait Black - Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation
When Adam Opens his Eyes review

       Prizes: James Tait Black

       They've announced the winners of this year's James Tait Black Prizes, with The Deadman's Pedal, by Alan Warner, winning the fiction prize.
       See the Vintage publicity page, or get your copy at

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

       Prizes: Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation

       They've announced the winners of this year's Science Fiction and Fantasy Translation Awards, and in the long form category the prize went to Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City, by Dung Kai-cheung (with an honorable mention to, among others, the new translation of Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky).

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

       When Adam Opens his Eyes review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jang Jung-il's 1992 novel, When Adam Opens his Eyes, forthcoming soon from Dalkey Archive Press.
       This is a book that also comes with one of the best publicity-material-copy descriptions (or at least one displaying the most chutzpah) that I've seen in a long time:
A preposterous coming-of-age story, melding sex, death, and high school in a manner reminiscent of some perverse collision between Georges Bataille and Beverly Cleary
       (I wonder if any other book has ever been described as resembling both Georges Bataille and Beverly Cleary .....)

       This is part of Dalkey Archive Press' new 'Library of Korean Literature' (or 'Library of Korea' ? I'm still unclear about that detail ...), an interesting collaborative effort with the Literature Translation Institute of Korea; see Dalkey head John O'Brien's recent piece on Creating a Library of Korean Literature, which offers some background.
       I recently got ARCs of seven of the first ten titles (and was very excited):

       There are some impressive numbers being thrown around here -- twenty-five titles to be published in just the next two years, for example -- and: "The entire project will cost approximately $750,000".
       Also interesting:
In the fall of 2013, the first 13 books in the Library of America [sic] will be published, and 12 will be published the following year. These books will all be published on the same day in the U.S., the U.K., and Ireland, and will thereby become a media event because of the large number of books being published and the simultaneous publication.
       [That 'Library of America'-slip -- missed also by the Korean editors here -- looks uncomfortably Freudian to me.]
       I certainly do hope that 'media event' materializes -- that's kind of hard to orchestrate. (I note also that the publication dates listed at Amazon differ for the US and UK -- 24 October in the UK (but 19 September for the Kindle edition), and 7 October in the US (19/26 September for the Kindle version) -- a forceful, precise statement as to when exactly this media event is meant to happen would probably be helpful (the ARCs and publicity material also provide no precise date).
       (I am slightly concerned that there is no information about any of this yet up at the Dalkey Archive site -- still in some transition from its previous incarnation, I understand (sigh), but still ..... Not only are there no pages for the individual books or the whole series, or any relevant press releases (that I could find), but the catalogue index that lists countries-of-origin for all the Dalkey titles doesn't even include Korea .....)
       The Jang novel is the first one I tackled, but I'm looking forward to working my way through all of these -- and wonder if this series will help establish a necessary critical mass of available works that will allow for a true breakthrough of K-lit in the English-language market. It will be interesting to see .....

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

24 August 2013 - Saturday

Guardian first book award longlist | What the Ayatollah read

       Guardian first book award longlist

       They've announced the Guardian first book award 2013 longlist -- eleven titles.
       It's a bit of an exaggeration that: "The first book award is unique among literary prizes in judging fiction against non-fiction" (the Whitbread Costa Book Award also pits non-fiction against fiction (and poetry) at the final stage; the Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize considers both fiction and non for its finalists, etc. etc.) -- and I'm not really sure it makes sense to lump the two together anyway; still a reasonably interesting list -- though I haven't so much as seen any of these.
       (I note also that the rather strict/demanding requirements for entry -- including a £150+VAT per book entry fee and a Man Booker-like limit of two submissions per publisher -- which presumably limited the field (i.e. publishers were careful in what they submitted). But good for them for being at least open to books in translation (as long as the original didn't appear more than five years earlier -- which actually also cuts down that field quite a bit too); I wonder whether any in-translation first-timers were submitted.)

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

       What the Ayatollah read

       It's always interesting -- though not always illuminating -- to see what those wielding great political power read, and in Akbar Ganji's look at 'The Worldview of Iran's Supreme Leader' in the September/October issue of Foreign Affairs, Who Is Ali Khamenei ? there's some discussion of what the Ayatollah read:
As a young man, Khamenei loved novels. He read such Iranian writers as Muhammad Ali Jamalzadah, Sadeq Chubak, and Sadeq Hedayat but came to feel that they paled before classic Western writers from France, Russia, and the United Kingdom. He has praised Leo Tolstoy and Mikhail Sholokhov and likes Honoré de Balzac and Michel Zévaco, but he considers Victor Hugo supreme.
       He's quoted as saying:
I've read The Divine Comedy. I have read Amir Arsalan. I have also read A Thousand and One Nights ... [But] Les Misérables is a miracle in the world of novel writing .... I have said over and over again, go read Les Misérables once. This Les Misérables is a book of sociology, a book of history, a book of criticism, a divine book, a book of love and feeling.
       (That's right: Amir Arsalan -- under review at the complete review.)
Khamenei felt that novels gave him insight into the deeper realities of life in the West. "Read the novels of some authors with leftist tendencies, such as Howard Fast," he advised an audience of writers and artists in 1996. "Read the famous book The Grapes of Wrath, written by John Steinbeck, ... and see what it says about the situation of the left and how the capitalists of the so-called center of democracy treated them." He is also a fan of Uncle Tom's Cabin
       Of course, it would be great to see him tackling and recommending some more contemporary work. Local stuff, too -- The Colonel by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, maybe .....

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23 August 2013 - Friday

LRB does Mo Yan | Prescient Lem | Scissors review

       LRB does Mo Yan

       Rather late in the day the London Review of Books gets to a take-down of 'controversial' Nobel laureate Mo Yan -- rehashing the familiar arguments that his work (and he) are not regime-critical enough, as well as finding the fiction itself limited (as well as making far too much of the Swedish Academy's stamp of approval). Nikil Saval does the honors, in White Happy Doves, in what is ostensibly a review of three works by Mo -- Sandalwood Death, Change, and Pow !
       I note that the first mention of Change comes 2291 words into the 'review'; the first mention of Sandalwood Death comes 3683 words into the review; and the first mention of Pow ! comes 3793 words into the review. Saval's 'discussion' of these three titles amounts to a few stray comments -- Change is dismissed as his: "otherwise evasive memoir", Sandalwood Death is: "a staid historical novel", and Pow !: "reuses the satire of gluttony from The Republic of Wine". Indeed, whatever this piece is, it is decidedly not a review or any sort of critical piece on these three titles.
       Saval has a lot more to say about some of Mo's other work, and that's fine -- but they really could properly bill it as such, and not pretend Saval is doing something which he obviously is not.
       (As to the whole argument re. Mo and his attitude and the quality of his work ... I think Saval overstates the case and, to some (or a great) extent has ideological blinders on that prevent him from considering the work(s) fully (and, specifically, as literary (as opposed to 'literary-with-a-message') texts): Sandalwood Death, for one, is a superior work of fiction -- seen as fiction -- than he allows (or, it would seem, bothers to consider).)

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       Prescient Lem

       As widely reported -- here, for example, in USA Today -- Sales of '1984' spike amid NSA spying scandal. In the Neue Zürcher Zeitung Matthias Hennig argues [in German] that Stanisław Lem, in his 1961 novel Memoirs Found in a Bathtub, saw all this coming, and that that is the more appropriate novel to turn to; get your copy at or It's a solid argument -- indeed, I'm surprised Lem isn't much more widely read generally, since few have thought as well about the future (and the implications of technology) as him.

       (In the September issue of Harper's American author William T. Vollmann reports on looking into his FBI file (as much as they'd let him see, anyway ...), in Life as a Terrorist [full article only available to subscribers], finding that for a while they even suspected him of being the 'Unabomber' (see, for example, Ron Charles' post at The Washington Post's The Style Blog), suggesting that incompetence at dealing with 'intelligence' remains par for the course for the government -- and that citizens should be very worried indeed about the new powers and the new abilities for so-called intelligence-gathering that have been widely adopted. It does not bode well. Not well at all.)

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       Scissors review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Stéphane Michaka's Scissors.
       A 2012 French novel that's already available in English translation in 2013 -- how is that possible ? It is a rarity for any but the biggest authors' books to appear in English translation so quickly -- but the opening lines of the jacket-flap copy help explain, as it is a novel: "Based on the life of the great short-story writer Raymond Carver".
       I'm curious how big a selling-point that will be for American audiences -- is that the secret for foreign authors: they should write books about Americans ?

       (But what is it with the French and based-on-real-people-fiction recently ? There's Laurent Binet's (bafflingly) much-praised HHhH, there are recent prix Goncourt winners like Jacques-Pierre Amette's Brecht's Mistress, Jean-Jacques Schuhl's Ingrid Caven, and Gilles Leroy's Zelda Fitzgerald novel, the still untranslated Alabama song. And, of course, Jean Echenoz has been on a whole tear of these sorts of novels -- Ravel, etc. It almost makes you wish for the heyday of autofiction .....)

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22 August 2013 - Thursday

IWP fall residency 2013 | Erik Neutsch (1931-2013)
Delhi Book Fair | Adonis and Mo Yan on translation
Literature in ... Egypt | The Goddess Chronicle review-overview

       IWP fall residency 2013

       At the IWP weblog @ Shambaugh House Ashley Davidson reports on the incoming group of thirty-four writers in the fall 2013 residency of the International Writing Program, in The World Comes to Iowa -- with residents coming: "from 31 countries and territories and every continent except Antarctica".
       Among the most striking statistics:
Collectively, the works of 2013 residents have been translated into more than 22 languages; two books by participants have been published in the U.S.
       By my eyes-glazing-over-as-I-scroll count they're still a few short at the official site where they've (annoyingly) slowly been adding residents' names day by day (come on, folks: one-and-done, not this pseudo-tease). The one familiar-to-me name: Simon Urban, whose Plan D was recently published by Harvill in the UK (but not, so far, in the US), in a translation by love german books-blogger Katy Derbyshire; get your copy at, or see also the Harvill publicity page -- or the information at new books in german (complete with video pitch by Derbyshire).

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       Erik Neutsch (1931-2013)

       East German author Erik Neutsch has passed away; see, for example, the (German) mention in Die Zeit.
       His big claim to lasting fame is Spur der Steine -- which, if you had to assign half a dozen novels in an introduction-to-the-literature-of-the-GDR course, would be a shoe-in. Deservedly so, too, though Neutsch doesn't fit neatly with the more regime-critical authors that would dominate any such course. It doesn't appear to have been translated into English, but you can get the DVD of Frank Beyer's very good film adaptation (hey, it stars Manfred Krug, so that's already a pretty solid foundation); get your copy at or see the IMDb page.
       The only Neutsch-in-English I've come across -- after a very cursory look -- is a few pages in The German Library collection, The New Sufferings of Young W. and Other Stories from the German Democratic Republic -- but, hey, you should read the Plenzdorf-novella that gives the collection its title anyway (arguably one of the two or three most significant works of fiction published in the GDR), so why not get a copy ? Get yours at or

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       Delhi Book Fair

       The Delhi Book Fair starts tomorrow and runs through 31 August -- and it sounds like it's worth a look if you're in the neighborhood; after all:
Delhi Book Fair is playing a pivotal role in reiterating the might of the pen and the printed word and has come to be recognised as the biggest annual cultural event and book bonanza keenly awaited by students, teachers, scholars, authors, intellectuals, librarians and book lovers.

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

       Adonis and Mo Yan on translation

       In China Daily Han Bingbin reports on a recent panel held in Beijing, where poet Adonis and Nobel laureate Mo Yan weighed in, arguing Translators need to strike a balance.

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

       Literature in ... Egypt

       Via I'm pointed to the Al-Fanfar piece by Daria Solovieva, in which she finds Universities Missing in Action in a New Egyptian Literary Wave.
       I'm not sure this is all a bad thing -- but from the sound of it the local university scene is not fertile ground in any literary way, and that is a long-term problem; they can do without creative writing classes (or, god forbid, MFA courses), I think, but a significant on-campus role for literary production and debate (and learning ...) is certainly something to be encouraged.

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

       The Goddess Chronicle review-overview

       The most recent addition to the complete review is a review-overview of Kirino Natsuo's The Goddess Chronicle -- her contribution to The Myths-series.

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

21 August 2013 - Wednesday

Dayton Literary Peace Prize finalists
Finnish alcoholism subsidizes Estonian literature ?
Days in the History of Silence review

       Dayton Literary Peace Prize finalists

       They've announced the finalists for the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, in both the fiction and non categories. The idea is for the nominated books to be the best from the past year: "that have led readers to a better understanding of other cultures, peoples, religions, and political points of view"
       Looks like a pretty solid list -- though not a one is under review at the complete review (leading me to wonder whether I avoid books that might lead me: "to a better understanding of other cultures, peoples, religions, and political points of view"" ...).
       The winners in both categories (and the two runners-up) will be announced on 24 September.

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

       Finnish alcoholism subsidizes Estonian literature ?

       Apparently looking for a way to spin the fact that 84 per cent of Finns who visit nearby Estonia load up on cheaper liquor there Yle find the silver lining: Finnish booze rally helps fund Estonian literature.
Finns crossing the Gulf of Finland to stock up on booze are helping to fund Estonian literature and cultural activities, as a portion of alcohol taxes in the Baltic country are allocated to culture foundations.
       It's a bit of a stretch -- 29 per cent of the measly 3.5 of all alcohol tax revenue reserved for the Eesti Kulturkapital fund goes to sports, and a mere 6 per cent to literature -- so I don't know that this rationalization/patting themselves on the back is particularly convincing .....
       Still, there are some actual numbers of interest here -- such as:
The cash has helped fund a boom in publishing, with the peak year of 2008 seeing nearly 4,700 titles hitting the shelves. That has declined to around 4,000 Estonian publications in 2012, but that is clearly more than in Finland when adjusted for the smaller population.

       I am also amused by the suggested 'Read also'-link at the end of the article: an article that finds -- stunningly ! -- Majority opposes pricier alcohol, as:
An Yle-commissioned poll shows that nearly 70% of the Finns oppose any further restrictions on alcohol sales. However, 80% want to see consumption of alcohol cut
       Helsinki, I think we have a(n alcohol) problem .....

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

       Days in the History of Silence review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Merethe Lindstrøm's Nordic Council Literature Prize (2012) winning Days in the History of Silence, coming out from Other Press next week.
       Lindstrøm, who just turned fifty earlier this year, hasn't been widely translated -- not even into Swedish, oddly enough; this apparently was the first work of hers (she's written more than a dozen) translated into Swedish, and now also English. Nevertheless, she's racked up a few top prizes -- and has notably appeared on the Nobel betting sheets in recent years (or also this year: betsson, for example, has her at 65/1) -- this despite the fact that, as noted, she hasn't even been widely translated into neighboring Swedish (not that the original Norwegian should pose much of problem for the Swedish Academicians). Worth noting: among her prizes is one from the Nobel-awarding Swedish Academy itself: the Norwegian half of the Doblougska priset, 2008.
       Hard to judge, on the basis of this novel alone -- which many have called her best work. There's obvious talent at work here -- but as Jan Arnald wrote in his review in Dagens Nyheter, she's really pushing a particular envelope here: "Merethe Lindstrøm driver på sätt och vis den traditionella nordiska prosan till dess slutpunkt." So it'll be interesting to see where she (and many of the other Scandinavians) go from here.

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