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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 November 2013

1 November: Nordic Council Literature Prize | Shahnama Project | Most memorable Scottish reads of past 50 years ?
2 November: PW's best books of 2013 | November issues | The Everything Store review
3 November: Neustadt International Prize for Literature to Mia Couto | Translations from ... Bangla | Alex review
4 November: Autumn issue of list | Amharic fiction
5 November: French literary prizes: Prix Goncourt - Prix Renaudot | Double Negative review
6 November: Marketing Jonathan Littell's new book | Murakami in South Korea
7 November: French literary prizes: Prix Femina - Odds and ends | Orange Prize for Fiction jury announced
8 November: 'Bad Sex Award' shortlist | Mircea Cărtărescu Q & A | Leg over Leg review
9 November: Publishing in ... South Korea | Q & As: Amin Maalouf - Boualem Sansal | Jonathan Franzen, the reader | The African Shore review
10 November: The Hindu Prize shortlist | Jonathan Franzen picks up Welt-Literaturpreis | IPAF assessment | Mormon lit

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10 November 2013 - Sunday

The Hindu Prize shortlist | Jonathan Franzen picks up Welt-Literaturpreis
IPAF assessment | Mormon lit

       The Hindu Prize shortlist

       They've announced the shortlist for The Hindu Prize for Best Fiction 2013.
       Disappointingly, the prize is once again English-language books only. Only one of the shortlisted titles is under review at the complete review, The Illicit Happiness of Other People, by Manu Joseph (who took the prize in 2010).
       The winner will be announced 13 January.

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

       Jonathan Franzen picks up Welt-Literaturpreis

       Jonathan Franzen picked up the Welt-Literaturpreis on Friday, and since it is run by a newspaper, Die Welt, they give it lots of coverage. Among the pieces on offer yesterday:        Franzen's speech begins with him describing the TV show Hogan's Heroes as his introduction to Germany -- and he notes that when he first came to Germany he didn't take to Munich: he liked the food and beer, but it turned out that his parents -- from whom he was trying to get some distance/rebel against -- were, despite not having German ancestry, decidedly too Bavarian in spirit, and so he found the Bavarians stiflingly too much like good ol' mom and pop.
       And he notes that one of the qualities he really appreciates about German literature is its humor -- which, I fear, will backfire completely as an endorsement .....

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

       IPAF assessment

       Via I'm pointed to Matovu Abdallah Twaha's Award cycle: Ipaf draws in writers while readers simply lap up winners in The Gulf Today, an interesting look at the impact the International Prize for Arabic Fiction has had.
       Among the interesting suggestions:
More novels should come about, as opposed to magazines and journals. That's how we can rewrite our history.
       (I'm not sure about the whole 'rewriting history' thing, in any form, but I'm always for more novel-production.)

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

       Mormon lit

       In The New York Times Mark Oppenheimer finds Mormons Offer Cautionary Lesson on Sunny Outlook vs. Literary Greatness, suggesting that: "Mormon theology makes otherworldly and escapist genres natural fits for church members", but doesn't lend itself as readily to more serious literature.
     "I think there is a pretty thriving LDS book culture," Professor Madden said. "But a lot of it is faith-affirming and uncomplicated-type writing. Maybe that's why there's a pretty strong thrust of LDS genre writers. Because when you write sci-fi and so forth, things aren't as messy as with realistic fiction."
       And then there's the whole thing about writing YA/kids' fiction:
     "I'll tell you why they write young adult," said Ms. Nunes. "Because they don't have to write the pages and pages of sex. They don't want to spend a lot of time in the bedroom."
       (And here I was thinking the multiple-wives thing would lead naturally to lots of bedrooms and lots of scenes in bedrooms .....)
       Perversely fascinating.

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

9 November 2013 - Saturday

Publishing in ... South Korea | Q & As: Amin Maalouf - Boualem Sansal
Jonathan Franzen, the reader | The African Shore review

       Publishing in ... South Korea

       In The Korea Times Kim Tong-hyung reports that Used books row shows market in rut in South Korea -- but the most striking statistic is regarding new publications:
According to the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, about 94 percent of the country's 42,157 publishers failed to release a single new book in 2012
       Talk about a moribund market .....

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

       Q & A: Amin Maalouf

       In the Daily Star Chirine Lahoud has a Q & A with Amin Maalouf, immortal and back in Lebanon, as he's in town for the book fair.
       Among the things he discusses: how being a member of the Académie française has affected his schedule.

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

       Q & A: Boualem Sansal

       At Aya Bach has a Q & A with The German Mujahid-author (and Peace Prize of the German Book Trade-winner) Boualem Sansal.
       He has little patience for the Islamists who unsettled Algeria:
You have to be pretty crazy to spend the whole day in a mosque, praying, and always saying the same thing over and over: Allah, Allah, Allah !

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

       Jonathan Franzen, the reader

       With the 25th-anniversary-edition of The Twenty-Seventh City just out (I would have figured they would have waited two more years ...), Jonathan Franzen answers Stephan Lee's questions about the books he loves and loathes at Entertainment Weekly's Shelf Life weblog.
       Always a fun exercise, even if not especially revealing here.

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

       The African Shore review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Rodrigo Rey Rosa's The African Shore, just out from Yale University Press in their Margellos World Republic of Letters-series.

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

8 November 2013 - Friday

'Bad Sex Award' shortlist | Mircea Cărtărescu Q & A
Leg over Leg review

       'Bad Sex Award' shortlist

       They've announced the shortlist for the Literary Review's annual 'Bad Sex Award' -- given: "for the most embarrassing passage of sexual description in a novel".
       Last year's winner, Infrared, by Nancy Huston, was actually under review at the complete review, but I'm afraid none of this year's batch is (or seems likely to be, any time soon). But helpfully The Telegraph offers excerpts from all the contenders.

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       Mircea Cărtărescu Q & A

       At Bookforum Morten Høi Jensen has a Q & A with Mircea Cărtărescu, as the first volume of his Orbitor-trilogy recently came out in English, as Blinding, from Archipelago -- see their publicity page, or get your copy at or
       Interesting that he says he wrote the entire novel -- over the course of fourteen years -- abroad, and that:
I have to make a living in Romania, so I can't afford to write there. Instead I try to find grants or opportunities to live abroad.
       I should be getting to this soon; meanwhile, the only one of his titles currently under review at the complete review is Nostalgia.

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

       Leg over Leg review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of the first (of four) volumes of Aḥmad Fāris al-Shidyāq's seminal 1855 classic, Leg Over Leg.
       This is one of the first volumes in NYU Press' new Library of Arabic Literature -- "Arabic editions and English translations of key works of classical and premodern Arabic literature" (i.e. attempting to do something like the Harvard University Press' Loeb Classical Library does for classical Greek and Latin writing) -- and, as my enthusiastic review suggests, it's a big, big deal. Zibaldone -- see the Farrar, Straus & Giroux publicity page, or get your copy at or -- may well be the most impressive translation-achievement of the year, but as far as literary-historical significance goes I think Leg over Leg has it (easily) beat (and Humphrey Davies gives them a run for their money as far as translation goes, too).
       Oh, yeah, it's pretty damn good book, too.
       It will certainly eventually get the review-coverage it deserves -- though I wonder if publications are holding off until the complete four-book set is available (next year).

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

7 November 2013 - Thursday

French literary prizes: Prix Femina - Odds and ends
Orange Prize for Fiction jury announced

       French literary prize: Prix Femina

       The Goncourt is a pure novel play; the Renaudot has two categories, fiction and non; and the third of the major French literary prizes, the Prix Femina, announced yesterday, is actually a trifecta of prizes, honoring fiction, non, and a work in translation.
       Dark Heart of the Night-author Léonora Miano took the fiction prize, for La saison de l'ombre (see the Grasset publicity page), while Richard Ford took best foreign work, with Canada. Meanwhile, the non-fiction prize went to the father-and-son team of Jean-Paul and Raphaël Enthoven for their Dictionnaire amoureux de Proust (and, yes, that's the Raphaël who was married to Nothing Serious-author (and BHL daughter) Justine Lévy, and then had an affair (and a kid) with Carla Bruni before she went on to become Mme Sarkozy, for those of you keeping score at home).
       See, for example, US author wins top French literary prize at France24.

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

       French literary prizes: Odds and ends

       With their meager payouts the top American book prizes are notoriously underfunded by most international standards: the (American) National Book Awards and Pulitzer Prizes each offer only $10,000 while the Man Booker Prize pays out £50,000, the Nigeria Prize for Literature US $100,000, the Premio Planeta €601,000 (hell, the runner-up gets €150,250 ...), etc.
       Among the few other prizes that can get by on reputation and name alone is the French prix Goncourt, just awarded this year, to Au revoir là-haut, by Pierre Lemaitre (see my mention). That prize is worth all of €10; here's a picture of Lemaitre's check:

Goncourt prize-winnings, 2013

       With the Goncourt, the real money is in the additional sales -- and as Mohammed Aissaoui reports in Le Figaro, the original 30,000 first printing for the Lemaitre was already up to 100,000, and they're now going back and printing 220-250,000 additional copies.
       It should pay off: check out the chart of the sales increases attributable to last year's prize-wins (in what was an off-year for the Goncourt, with the Joël Dicker (coming in English next year ...) the big winner):

French literary prize sales boosts, 2012

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

       Orange Prize for Fiction jury announced

       The UK-based prize for fiction by a female author -- best known as the Orange Prize for Fiction, and after that the Women’s Prize for Fiction, and for the moment (though who knows, by the time you read this ...) apparently the Bailey's Women's Prize for Fiction (or WPFF, as they abbreviate it), have announced the jury for the 2014 prize -- and:
To celebrate the first year of the Baileys sponsorship of the Women's Prize for Fiction, Baileys has commissioned acclaimed portrait photographer, Suki Dhanda, to photograph the 2014 judging panel.
       I have to say that I am very disappointed that the women aren't all chugging bottles of Bailey's -- what use a drinks-sponsor if there isn't a constant supply at hand ? -- and I'm surprised there aren't a few subtle hints of orange hidden in the picture (as subliminal reminders of the prize's previous incarnations) but ... whatever.
       There's no timetable as to long- and short-list announcements for the 2014 prize (perhaps they'll do without them ?), just that the prize will be awarded 4 June.

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

6 November 2013 - Wednesday

Marketing Jonathan Littell's new book | Murakami in South Korea

       Marketing Jonathan Littell's new book

       Jonathan Littell's prix Goncourt-winning monstrosity, The Kindly Ones, elicited a ... wide variety of critical responses when it appeared in the US, many of them (very) negative (deservedly so -- it is not a good book).
       Two Lines Press is now bringing out a smaller and very different collection authored by Littell, The Fata Morgana Books -- see their publicity page, or get your copy at or -- and as part of their marketing strategy they've chosen to remind readers and booksellers of some of the less enthusiastic reactions to The Kindly Ones -- such as Ruth Franklin finding it: "one of the most repugnant books I have ever read". At The Washington Post's The Style Blog Ron Charles has a Q & A about the marketing of the book with TLP marketing manager (and Mr. Conversational Reading) Scott Esposito, Jonathan Littell's previous novel made critics want to vomit. What now ?
       Given the strong reactions to Littell's previous book this seems like a viable approach. By acknowledging what's widely known anyway -- that opinions were split on the book, and tended to extremes -- they certainly gain some credibility for a rare bit of honesty in the industry (compare this approach to the usual very ... let's say: creative (to put it politely) blurbing of follow-up books, etc.). And if critics were passionate about a book, that's a selling point that's worth reminding folks of; it's certainly preferable to indifferent reactions.
       Scott acknowledges some risks to the approach, but they seem to have struck the right balance, and he's right that this might also helps foster continuing engagement with both titles. (Coverage of the book should be up at the complete review, too, sometime later this month.)

       Of course, the really brave marketing strategy would have been to dredge up Littell's first book, the notorious Bad Voltage, and bring that into the equation -- showing how truly ... versatile ? Littell is. Surely, it too deserves to be part of any dialogue about Littell's art.
       And, of course, they could not have gone wrong by designing a cover in imitation of (homage to ?) either of the Bad Voltage editions (though, yes, I can see now that the emphasis on bad might seem a bit too front and center ...):

Bad Voltage cover    Bad Voltage cover

       (Get your copy at or

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

       Murakami in South Korea

       Via I'm pointed to Yoon Sang-In's piece in the Asahi Shimbun, which looks in some depth at how Haruki Murakami forms community of 'coolness' in South Korea, as the Japanese author enjoys enormous popularity there.
       Apparently the timing was just right when Murakami's books began appearing there in the late 1980s:
For decades, many South Koreans had been sick and tired of their country's novels, which tended to harp on serious, weighty themes about history, war and ideology. These South Korean readers were quickly enamored with Murakami's urbane, stylish romance fictions, which didn't contain a drop of history or ideology. They deeply sympathized with the dry and cool styles of love he depicted. They also supported the writer's snub to the hypocritical posture of writers who pretended to detest capitalism.
       Always interesting to hear how some authors achieve great popularity in specific countries and cultures -- see also the example of David Vann, profiled in Clare Swanson's An Author Ponders Success Abroad, Struggles In the U.S., in Publishers Weekly (via).

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

5 November 2013 - Tuesday

French literary prizes: Prix Goncourt - Prix Renaudot
Double Negative review

       French literary prize: Prix Goncourt

       They've announced that Au revoir là-haut, by Pierre Lemaitre, has won the most prestigious French literary prize, the prix Goncourt 2013. It immediately vaulted to number one at, where you can get your copy.
       An English translation, by Frank Wynne, is due in 2015 from MacLehose Press. He tweeted:
It's a glorious novel - sort of Céline meets Buster Keaton
       See also, for example, the France24 report, France's top literary prize goes to Pierre Lemaitre.
       Lemaitre is known as a crime writer, and this is his first non-genre novel -- an impressive cross-over success; coincidentally, his Alex just came out in English (and I just reviewed it ...).

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

       French literary prize: Prix Renaudot

       The Goncourt may be the most prestigious French literary prize, but the Renaudot is widely considered the runner-up prize. Lemaitre's Au revoir là-haut -- which took the Goncourt -- was one of the six finalists, but it was Yann Moix's massive ("1,3 kilo et 1 152 pages", as Le Monde helpfully weighs in) Naissance that took this prize.
       Intriguing though it sounds (sort of ...), this one doesn't look quite as likely to appear in English any time soon -- but you can get your copy at

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

       Double Negative review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ivan Vladislaviċ's novel Double Negative, now out in a US/UK edition from And Other Stories.

       Amusing though The National's review-headline is -- Ivan Vladislavic's Double Negative is a no-no -- I think they and Publishers Weekly missed the boat on this one, a profound work of deceptive depth which they seem to have approached with mistaken expectations (see also Edward Nawotka's recent profile of Vladislaviċ at Publishing Perspectives); I hope the US/UK reviews it receives (and it deserves widespread coverage, this is a major work) see what there really is here. (My own review feels entirely inadequate to me too, barely scratching at all the surfaces.)
       And in a few months' time we get The Restless Supermarket, folks -- go ahead, pre-order from or; I think this is still his leading work. (Both of these have, of course, been available for a while in South African editions, but it's time for Vladislaviċ's international break-through -- be there for it !)

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

4 November 2013 - Monday

Autumn issue of list | Amharic fiction

       Autumn issue of list

       The Autumn 2013 issue of list - Books from Korea is now available online.
       I'm not sure about the special section on ... Korea's Apartment Buildings, but at least it is a rather original thing to focus on ..... And as Kim Mansu explains in the issue Foreword:
Korea’s apartments form a type of langue, defining the life of Korean people according to a structuralist perspective. Koreans create their own "parole" in the langue called the apartment.
       So there .....

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

       Amharic fiction

       Very little Amharic fiction -- and, indeed, any fiction from Ethiopia -- makes it into English, so it's always interesting to read about anything from there, even if it hasn't been translated yet.
       Mehiret Debebe's new novel, የተቆለፈበት ቁልፍ, is even available from Amazon -- get your copy at or -- which is pretty neat, and there's a lengthy review (or sort-of-review) of it in The Reporter (Ethiopia). Unfortunately, Neamin Ashenafi's discussion of the book doesn't really give a very good idea of what the hell the book is about (other than ... well, pretty much everything -- "a fictional manifestation of Ethiopian reality" indeed), much less what the story or storylines might be.
       Yes, yes: "The writer narrates the story via fictitious characters that give him more power and space to play with his ideas freely" -- but who these characters are and what the author has them do remains unrevealed.
       I appreciate a reviewer not giving away the whole plot of a novel, but suggesting a book manages to do everything ("in his thoughtful and imaginative investigation of the history, culture, philosophy belief system, social fabric, social organizations of the country") without providing a clue about the actual story isn't very helpful either.
       I suppose it's better than no information at all, given how little one hears of Amharic fiction, but it would be nice to see more revealing coverage -- and maybe a few actual translations, too.

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

3 November 2013 - Sunday

Neustadt International Prize for Literature to Mia Couto
Translations from ... Bangla | Alex review

       Neustadt International Prize for Literature to Mia Couto

       Mozambican author Mia Couto has beat out contenders such as César Aira, Duong Thu Huong, and Murakami Haruki and been named the winner of the 2014 Neustadt International Prize for Literature -- a biennial author-prize that is one of the world's most prestigious. See also, for example, this Q & A at PolicyMic.

       The only Couto title currently under review at the complete review is The Tuner of Silences.

       And no word yet from Murakami-translator Jay Rubin on whether he's 'glad Oklahomans passed on Murakami for now' (cf.), even after it's the third time he's been passed over.

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       Translations from ... Bangla

       In The Daily Star Rifat Munim has a Q & A with Hasan Azizul Haque -- "perhaps the most revered short story writer in contemporary Bangla literature" -- 'Without translation promotion of Bangla literature is impossible'.
       "What we need is to reach acclaimed foreign publishers such as Penguin", he says -- though disappointingly even smaller, less ... acclaimed publishers are largely unwilling to seriously consider much Bangla writing. European and a few well-subsidized other languages still win in the -- alas, often subsidy-driven -- translation game (and, yes, it is very much a game (and subsidy-based business ....), rather than a serious exercise in finding the most worthy literature to translate ...).

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

       Alex review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Pierre Lemaitre's thriller Alex.
       Alex is the first of Lemaitre's books to be translated into English, but his Au revoir là-haut is also one of the four finalists for the prix Goncourt -- the most prestigious French book prize -- to be announced on Tuesday.

       What I like about the MacLehose Press edition: two title pages, one just with title/author, the other with just title/'Translated from the French by'.
       What I don't like about the MacLehose Press edition: this is the second in a trilogy -- and they published the translation of this one before they bothered with the first. Unacceptable.

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2 November 2013 - Saturday

PW's best books of 2013 | November issues | The Everything Store review

       PW's best books of 2013

       Well, they waited until November to release it online, but, yes, Publishers Weekly have already decided on their Best Books 2013 -- a hundred titles in various categories.
       Of the top ten overall one is actually under review at the complete review -- The Silence and the Roar by Nihad Sirees.

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

       November issues

       Among November issues of online periodicals now available is Words without Borders' Celebrating Our First Ten Years-issue (with some 'Writing from Rwanda', too), as well as the November issue of Open Letters Monthly.

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

       The Everything Store review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Brad Stone on Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon in The Everything Store.

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

1 November 2013 - Friday

Nordic Council Literature Prize | Shahnama Project
Most memorable Scottish reads of past 50 years ?

       Nordic Council Literature Prize

       The Nordic Council Literature Prize is the leading Scandinavian literary prize, with an impressive list of winners (see also the ones under review at the complete review), and they've now announced that the 2013 prize goes to the Danish Profeterne i Evighedsfjorden, an historical novel by Kim Leine.
       Rather surprisingly, US/UK rights have already been snapped up (well, it had already picked up a couple of prizes and was apparently a fairly 'hot' book) -- it is scheduled to be published in 2014, as The Prophets of Eternal Fjord, by Atlantic Books in the UK and Norton in the US, in a translation by Martin Aitken; see also the Gyldendal publicity page.

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

       Shahnama Project

       In Varsity Olivia Murphy reports that Persian epic brought to life thanks to £1.2 million gift, describing the latest cash infusion for this very worthy project -- and any excuse to point you to the marvel that is the Shahnama Project at Cambridge is worthwhile: check it out for yourself (but be warned: "There are currently about 1500 manuscripts and single pages recorded, 18,000 records of paintings, and 12,000 images from all over the world, now accessible with a few clicks of a mouse" -- i.e. a lot to keep you busy).

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

       Most memorable Scottish reads of past 50 years ?

       At the Scottish Book Trust Stuart Kelly (and staff at Scottish Book Trust) picked 'the past half-century's most memorable Scottish reads', in 50 Best Scottish Books of the Last 50 Years -- and you can vote for your favorites (through 22 November).
       Alas, they went the one-book-per-author-limit-route, but there's still a lot of very good stuff here.

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

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