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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 November 2013

11 November: Sami Rohr Prize | New Swedish Book Review | Gao Xingjian on translation
12 November: International IMPAC DUBLIN Literary Award longlist | Restless Books profile | A True Novel review
13 November: Prix Médicis | New Literature from Europe festival | Judging pseudonymous (and other) work | Laziness in the Fertile Valley review
14 November: Prizes: Jan Michalski Prize for Literature - Goldsmiths Prize - GGs | Translation in ... India | Writing from ... South Korea
15 November: Book reviewing in ... Finland | Museum Strauhof to be shut | Murnane archive | Saltire Society literary awards | The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly review
16 November: William Weaver (1923-2013) | French literary prize male/female divide | Luis Goytisolo wins Premio Nacional | The King of China review
17 November: Anthea Bell profile | Festus Iyayi (1947-2013) | Finlandia shortlist
18 November: Doris Lessing (1919-2013) | Popular fiction in ... Indonesia | The Mongolian Conspiracy review
19 November: English PEN translation support | FT&GSBBotY award | Alberto Manguel profile | 金瓶梅(nia) | Alfred Hayes reviews
20 November: Premio Cervantes to Elena Poniatowska | Orwell's Burmese Days wins Burmese literary award | Dhahan International Punjabi Literature Prize

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20 November 2013 - Wednesday

Premio Cervantes to Elena Poniatowska
Orwell's Burmese Days wins Burmese literary award
Dhahan International Punjabi Literature Prize

       Premio Cervantes to Elena Poniatowska

       They've announced that Elena Poniatowska galardonada con el Premio Cervantes 2013, as the Mexican author has taken the most prestigious Spanish-language author prize (worth €125,000); see also, for example, the Latin American Herald Tribune report.
       This prize has an impressive list of winners -- scroll down at the official announcement -- though they do tend to wait until the authors are really old before honoring them, especially in recent years (providing cover for them having so far, for example, overlooked the Goytisolos): Poniatowska is over 80, but her win actually lowers the average age of the prize-winner these past four years: none of the last three was under 85 when they got the prize (and Nicanor Parra was closer to 100 than 90 when he won in 2011).
       For more information on her, see the Fundación Elena Poniatowska Amor site.
       Several of her books have been translated into English -- though not yet her recent fictional biography of Leonora Carrington (see the Seix Barral publicity page). But her Massacre in Mexico, about the 1968 killings, is one place to start; get your copy at or

       (Updated - 26 November): But see now the press release announcing that Serpent's Tail To Publish Elena Poniatowska's Novel About The Life Of British-Mexican Artist Leonora Carrington -- revealing that: "The book is currently being translated by acclaimed translator Amanda Hopkinson and is scheduled for publication in spring 2015". Good news indeed.

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

       Orwell's Burmese Days wins Burmese literary award

       Yes, Orwell's Burmese Days came out in 1934, but as Kyaw Phyo Tha reports in The Irrawaddy:
Nearly eight decades after George Orwell's Burmese Days first hit bookshelves, the book has won the highest literary award in the country where it is set: Burma.
       It won the: "the 2012 National Literary Award's informative literature (translation) category" -- one of sixteen different categories, and not even the one for 'creative literature' (a translation of Dostoevsky's Crime and Punishment won that one), but still .....
Burmese Days was also translated in the 1950s and 1960s. But, according to Maung Myint Kywe, all editions were pulped.
       Still: certainly good to see that this (and other previously unpublishable work, by Orwell and others) is being made available in Burmese.
       Get your copy of the English original at or -- or check out Emma Larkin's Finding George Orwell in Burma (a.k.a. Secret Histories).
       And in The New York Times' Travel-section Lawrence Osborne recently wrote about being In Myanmar, Retracing George Orwell's Steps.

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

       Dhahan International Punjabi Literature Prize

       This one is still in the preparation stages, but they've announced the Dhahan International Punjabi Literature Prize, a C$25,000 prize for Punjabi literature.
       I like the triple-hit of variations on their not being quite ready at the official site:
  • Information for call for submissions coming soon
  • Our website is currently being written
  • Our brochure will be available for download shortly
       But they've put out some press releases -- complete with the appealing (if perhaps overly optimistic) catch-phrase: "Punjabi literature speaks in a language we can all understand; this Prize will give us a chance to hear it" -- and in The News (Pakistan) Shahab Ansari has now written about The idea behind $25,000 Punjabi literature prize.
       Given that Punjabi is the language that -- according to Wikipedia -- has the tenth largest population of native speakers of all world languages one would expect that there's some wrtiting of interest going on in it, and maybe such a prize will help get it more international attention, too.

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

19 November 2013 - Tuesday

English PEN translation support | FT&GSBBotY award
Alberto Manguel profile | 金瓶梅(nia) | Alfred Hayes reviews

       English PEN translation support

       English PEN has announced their latest batch of translation support grants -- English PEN Awards for promotion, given to publishers to help promote specific titles, and the English PEN grants for translation, given for the translation-work.
       The translation-grants offer a tantalizing glimpse of what we can soon(er or later, we hope) find on offer in English. They include one title already under review at the complete review -- Alek Popov's Мисия Лондон -- as well as books by quite a few authors I am excited about (Sinisalo, Liksom, Topol, Erpenbeck, Gamboa). A bit disappointing: that the Walter Kempowski translation is apparently only of the fourth and final volume of his 'collective diary' of the war years.
       But great also to see that there's a new translation, by Julian Evans, in the works of André Gide's Les Caves du Vatican. I have the 1925 (!) translation by Dorothy Bussy (it was first published as The Vatican Swindle, and soon later as Lafcadio's Adventures (and since, also -- in the Penguin Twentieth Century Classics series -- as The Vatican Cellars)); you can get your copy at or -- but I'd suggest it's worth waiting to see what Evans does with it.

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

       FT&GSBBotY award

       They've announced that Brad Stone's, The Everything Store has won this year's £30,000 Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year Award.
       (A rare award-winning non-fiction title actually under review at the complete review -- though if this is all it takes to take business-book-of-the-year-honors neither I nor you are missing much.)

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

       Alberto Manguel profile

       At Tablet Mark Oppenheimer profiles Alberto Manguel and the Library of Babel at considerable length.
       Quite a few Manguel titles are under review at the complete review:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -


       I fondly remember working my way through the college library's edition of Clement Egerton's translation, The Golden Lotus, back in the day, the naughty bits all in ... Latin (the challenge !). Now David Tod Roy has completed his five-volume unexpurgated translation of this Chinese classic, as The Plum in the Golden Vase (see the Princeton University Press publicity page for volume one, or get your copy at or and work your way forward from there), and it's good to see this getting some proper attention -- now even in The New York Times, where Jennifer Schuessler reports that An Old Chinese Novel Is Racy Reading Still.
       It's no The Story of the Stone -- the greatest of the classical Chinese novels -- but it is a lot of fun. (I'm tempted to revisit it, too .....)

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

       Alfred Hayes reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are my reviews of two Alfred Hayes novels from the 1950s:        With novels of his re-issued in the past couple of years by Peter Owen (In Love), Europa editions (The Girl on the Via Flaminia), and New York Review Books (the two under review here) -- imprints whose taste you can have some faith in -- , it's good to see a bit of a Hayes-revival. If somewhat gloomy -- those black-and-white photographs by Saul Leiter, with their out-of-focus touch, which NYRB uses as cover-illustrations capture the prevailing mood -- they are still damn good reads.

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

18 November 2013 - Monday

Doris Lessing (1919-2013) | Popular fiction in ... Indonesia
The Mongolian Conspiracy review

       Doris Lessing (1919-2013)

       Doris Lessing, the 2007 Nobel laureate, has passed away; see, for example, Helen T. Verongos' lengthy obituary in The New York Times.
       There are a lot of tributes already up -- though the Sunday reactions tend to be literary-editor/journalist dominated.
       See, for example:        See also, for example, Doris Lessing's legacy by Helen Whittle at Deutsche Welle, or RIP Doris Lessing, one of science fiction's most indispensible authors by Charlie Jane Anders at io9.
       See also her lengthy Q & A with Thomas Frick in The Paris Review-series, from 1988, Doris Lessing, The Art of Fiction No. 102, or Nigel Farndale's profile, Doris Lessing: her last Telegraph interview in The Telegraph.

       Lots of books to choose from, of course, but why not start with The Grass is Singing ? Get your copy at or

       And in odd Lessing-related titbits: Paul Krugman notes: "Yes, I had a cat named after her".

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

       Popular fiction in ... Indonesia

       In The Jakarta Post Niken Prathivi reports on the Popularization of literature in Indonesia. (With Indonesia 'Guest of Honour' at the 2015 Frankfurt Book Fair we should (I hope) be hearing a lot more about Indonesian literature in the coming months and year.)
       Among the interesting observations:
Fiction writers nowadays have diverse backgrounds from bankers to statisticians so that casual Indonesian language and insurgent English have replaced the highly-stylized Indonesian used by writers in the 1990s or even the sastra wangi (fragrant literature).
Literary expert Robertus Robet says the line between literary and non-literary fiction today is getting blurred through many themes and styles, a sign of progress in Indonesian literature.
       As always when discussing Indonesian literature, I commend the Lontar Foundation Modern Library of Indonesia to you, your one-stop introduction to the scene.

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

       The Mongolian Conspiracy review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Rafael Bernal's 1969 Mexican international intrigue noir, The Mongolian Conspiracy, just out from New Directions (and good fun).

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

17 November 2013 - Sunday

Anthea Bell profile | Festus Iyayi (1947-2013) | Finlandia shortlist

       Anthea Bell profile

       In The Guardian Claire Armitstead profiles translator Anthea Bell: 'It's all about finding the tone of voice in the original. You have to be quite free'.
       Interesting to learn a bit more about her background -- and that:
Yet it wasn't until she got divorced in her mid-30s that she realised she didn't have to go back to secretarial work: she could earn enough from translating to support herself and her two children.
       Quite a few of her translations are under review at the complete review -- though I was saddened to recently think about the hours of her talent she put into a book like The Ludwig Conspiracy by Oliver Pötzsch. (Yes, I had issues with works such as W.G.Sebald's On the Natural History of Destruction, too, but that, at least, is worth her (and our) while.)

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

       Festus Iyayi (1947-2013)

       Sad to hear that Nigerian author Festus Iyayi was recently killed in a car accident ("hit by a police escort vehicle in the convoy of the Kogi State governor", as The Sun report, Adieu, Festus Iyayi, notes).
       His political fiction is definitely out of favor as far as current literature-from-Africa abroad (and in Africa ?) goes, but recall that his Heroes beat out Bruce Chatwin's Songlines (among others) for the 1988 Commonwealth Writers' Prize (you can try to get your copy at or
       The Sun obituary suggests: "Iyayi's four novels [...] exude Marxist praxis and aesthetics", which certainly is out of favor in these times -- but, honestly, African (and quite a few other ...) literature(s) could use a bit more Iyayi .....

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

       Finlandia shortlist

       They've announced the shortlist for the (30th) Finlandia-palkinnon -- the leading Finnish book prize (and worth a decent €30,000).
       See, for example, the Books from Finland report -- and note that several of the finalists have already have books translated into English (Leena Krohn, Asko Sahlberg, and Kjell Westö) -- though the only one with a book under review at the complete review (Hannu Raittila, with Canal Grande) ... hasn't.
       The winner will be announced 3 December.

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

16 November 2013 - Saturday

William Weaver (1923-2013) | French literary prize male/female divide
Luis Goytisolo wins Premio Nacional | The King of China review

       William Weaver (1923-2013)

       Translator William Weaver has passed away; see, for example, the Hillel Italie's AP report, William Weaver, Acclaimed Translator, Dies at 90, as well as Susan Bernofsky on Remembering William Weaver at her Translationista weblog.
       See also The Paris Review's Q & A with Willard Spiegelman, William Weaver, The Art of Translation No. 3.

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

       French literary prize male/female divide

       With the major French literary prizes now announced, Anne Brigaudeau offers, at the Biblio Thérapie weblog, Prix littéraires 2013: en cinq graphiques et deux photos, la part faite aux romancières, an interesting breakdown of the sex-divide in the judging.
       Among the striking statistics is that men published a lot more novels to begin with -- women-authored novels only made up 36 per cent of the 'rentrée littéraire' publications. But the percentages of titles left over -- on the shortlists, and among the winners -- were even lower.

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

       Luis Goytisolo wins Premio Nacional

       Brother Juan won the Premio Nacional de las Letras Españolas -- a leading Spanish- (as opposed to Spanish-language) author prize -- in 2008, but this year it's the turn of Luis Goytisolo; see, for example, this report. [via]
       No Amazon or catalog listing yet, but Dalkey Archive Press is scheduled to bring out an English translation of his magnum opus, Antagonía; see the Anagrama foreign rights page.

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

       The King of China review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Tilman Rammstedt's The King of China, just out in English from Seagull Books.

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

15 November 2013 - Friday

Book reviewing in ... Finland | Museum Strauhof to be shut
Murnane archive | Saltire Society literary awards
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly review

       Book reviewing in ... Finland

       There's an interesting recent 'Letter from the Editors' at Books in Finland, where they consider Truth or hype: good books or bad reviews ? as writing and publishing are apparently flourishing in Finland -- while critical (and editorial) oversight is increasingly neglected and/or spurned.
       Some fascinating recent examples of the shift, in Finland and beyond -- well worth a read.

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

       Museum Strauhof to be shut

       The Zurich Museum Strauhof has been a center of literary activity and exhibits for a while now (it also currently houses the Zurich James Joyce Foundation), but now the city has decided to shutter the place (with the Joyce foundation to move to new quarters).
       Given the lack of any similar establishment in Switzerland, and the fine work they've done here over the years, there has been considerable outcry about this -- including a website in support of keeping the museum as is, as well as a petition (with 2131 signatures as I write this).
       Serving a unique and valuable function, it would be a shame if they really shut down the place.

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

       Murnane archive

       Gerald Murnane's Barley Patch is one of the most impressive books I've read in recent years. The current issue of Music & Literature devotes considerable space to this still under-appreciated author -- and among the neat things now accessible on their site is The Three Archives of Gerald Murnane.
       A glimpse and suggestion of what's in them, rather than the actual contents -- which: "will not be made public until after his death" -- but still .....
       To list just a random sequence from the list of folders (all of which I'd want to read):
  • GM's list of readable books
  • The passage that made me a magyar
  • The coast near Warrnambool
  • Gerard Windsor's first fuck
  • Brian Porter is revealed as a fool
  • My hatred for literary critics
  • Wimoweh!
  • Masturbation
  • Female masturbation
  • Peter Craven thinks I could win the Nobel Prize
  • My 1,600- word palindrome
       If they're taking applications for that archivist-position, come the day .....

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

       Saltire Society literary awards

       The Scottish Saltire Society has announced its literary awards, and, as Brian Ferguson sums up in The Scotsman, Gaelic science fiction novel wins literary prize, as Air Cuan Dubh Drilseach by Tim Armstrong shared the Scottish First Book of the Year Award. Meanwhile, John Burnside's Something Like Happy took the Scottish Book of the Year Award.
       Neat that something Gaelic -- and science fiction, no less -- was honored; see also the official site for the book.

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

       The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Hwang Sun-mi's The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly -- a: "#1 International Bestseller - More than 2 Million Copies Sold", as the Penguin cover tells readers.
       Yes, likely the most popular Korean title to be published in translation -- though I don't think it will be quite as successful here (though if it reaches its audience it should certainly do okay).

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

14 November 2013 - Thursday

Prizes: Jan Michalski Prize for Literature - Goldsmiths Prize - GGs
Translation in ... India | Writing from ... South Korea

       Prize: Jan Michalski Prize for Literature

       The Jan Michalski Prize for Literature, a book prize for a work of world literature, regardless of language or genre, is admirably far-reaching -- and it's no surprise that they again have a worthy winner, as The Colonel by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi has taken the CHF 50,000 prize this year.
       No official announcement available yet at the site, last I checked -- but they did tweet the news.

       (Updated - 18 November): Still not much up at the official site, but at least they now show who won (and there is a pdf (i.e. pretty useless) press release hidden away on the site -- but no readily accessible one in their 'media' section). Meanwhile, at the PEN Atlas site Sahar Delijani has a Q & A: Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, winner of the Jan Michalski Prize 2013, while Melville House has a nice tribute by Sal Robinson to their author taking the prize.

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

       Prize: Goldsmiths Prize

       The Goldsmiths Prize is a new literary prize, £10,000 to be awarded to, as they explain: "a book that is deemed genuinely novel and which embodies the spirit of invention that characterises the genre at its best".
       They've now announced the first winner of the prize, and it is A Girl is a Half-formed Thing, by Eimear McBride.
       This came out from Galley Beggar Press (after, apparently, many rejections elsewhere) -- but it already received good notices even before this, with, for exmaple, David Collard praising: "McBride's virtuosic phrase-making" and suggesting: "Writing of this quality is rare and deserves a wide readership" in the TLS.
       Text have picked this up in Australia, and presumably someone will in the US, too; for now see the publicity pages from Galley Beggar Press or Text, or get your copy at or

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

       Prizes: GGs

       They've announced the (Canadian) Governor General's Literary Award, which are awarded in several genres, for both French and English works.
       The Luminaries, by Eleanor Catton, took the English fiction prize (I still haven't seen a copy, but hope to eventually get to it; get your copy at or, while a Stéphanie Pelletier story-collection won the French fiction award.

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

       Translation in ... India

       In Frontline K.Satchidanandan writes at length about Translating India -- well worth your time.

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

       Writing from ... South Korea

       In The American Prospect Craig Fehrman finds Korean Lit Comes to America, an overview of South Korean literature, especially in translation -- with a focus on the just-inaugurated Dalkey Archive Press Library of Korean Literature-series.
       See also the index of Korean literature under review at the complete review.

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

13 November 2013 - Wednesday

Prix Médicis | New Literature from Europe festival
Judging pseudonymous (and other) work | Laziness in the Fertile Valley review

       Prix Médicis

       French literary award season is winding down, and yesterday it was the prix Médicis that announced its winner(s); see, for example, the report in Le Monde.

       The Médicis has three categories:

        - the fiction prize went to Il faut beaucoup aimer les hommes by Marie Darrieussecq; see, for example, the P.O.L. publicity page. (Quite a bit of her fiction has been translated into English -- see, for example, Pig Tales -- but it's been a while .....)

        - the foreign fiction prize went to the French translation of Op zee, by Toine Heijmans; see the Dutch Foundation for Literature information page (it's not available in English yet).

        - the non-fiction prize went to recent Nobel Prize favorite, Svetlana Alexievich, for the French translation of her Время секонд хэнд; see the Время publicity page (or that at Actes Sud); it's not available in English yet.

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

       New Literature from Europe festival

       The New Literature from Europe festival -- theme: 'In Transit' -- runs 14 to 16 November in New York.
       The impressive line-up of authors includes The Collector of Worlds-author Ilija Trojanow (who has safely made it into the US -- unlike just a few weeks ago, when he was denied entry), HHhH-author Laurent Binet, The Devil's Workshop-author Jáchym Topol, and The Day before Happiness-author Erri de Luca.
       I have to admit I don't quite get the 'Cab Chat' idea -- but the Writing Under Surveillance-panel (16 November, 14:30 at the NYPL) should be interesting -- especially in light of the just-released PEN report Chilling Effects: NSA Surveillance Drives U.S. Writers to Self-Censor (warning ! dreaded pdf format !).

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

       Judging pseudonymous (and other) work

       Under it's new, post-Sam Tanenhaus administration The New York Times Book Review has tried out a few new things, one of which is a weekly 'Bookends'-column -- where, apparently: "two writers take on pressing and provocative questions about the world of books".
       The topic for this coming weekend's Bookend is How Do We Judge Books Written Under Pseudonyms ? (as the headline writer puts it, anyway), where we can read: "Francine Prose and Daniel Mendelsohn on what readers’ and critics’ reactions say about pseudonymous works".
       Prose seems more interested in the whole thing from the author's perspective and doesn't really have anything useful to say about "readers’ and critics’ reactions" -- and both she and Mendelsohn cite J.K.Rowling-writing-as-Robert Galbraith as an example (which, honestly, just seems sad to me -- yes, as far as sales-volume goes, Rowling and any alter egos she choses may be of interest, but literarily speaking ...).
       Still, Mendelsohn, unlike Prose, is actually on point:
As a critic, the question I want to ask is whether criticism untainted by knowledge of who the author is and what she has already done is desirable in the first place -- or, indeed, valid.
       He goes on to suggest (well, claim):
The most important role of the critic, after all, whether the scholar of literatures past or the reviewer of contemporary literature, is to mediate usefully between a work and its public, to present the novel or play or movie in the fullest possible way so the reader of the review can make sense of it: understand its ambitions, analyze the technical means by which it achieves them. (Or doesn’t.)
       My response, of course, is: really ? I'm not sure what the role of critic/reviewer (two different things in my mind, too, by the way) is -- but I'm especially chary of opining on novels' ambitions. Yes, I'm more than happy to tell you whether or not a novel 'works for me' -- but I'm not sure I wan't to be claiming that has anything to do with the novel's (or its author's) ambitions. Indeed, often enough the author's ambitions are clear enough -- sometimes even made explicit -- yet have little to do with the book's success (or failure) in my eyes. And while I realize I can't discuss the work completely in a vacuum, my preference is to avoid as much context as is possible.
       I can see the validity and usefulness of (some) literary criticism that focuses on context, author, and body of work -- but I'm not a big fan. As for book reviews, I want those to focus essentially entirely on the book at hand (indeed, as longtime readers know, I want books that focus on the book at hand (i.e. solely on the text) -- plain covers, little-to-no-information about the author (forget the name, even, if you can)), etc. (Yes, some context is often unavoidable -- but I wish more reviewers would work harder to avoid it.)
       And so I can only roll my eyes when, for example, Mendelsohn writes:
When I read a review of the new Donna Tartt novel, I want to know not only what it’s about and whether it’s successful, but -- even more so, in the case of this subtle and versatile author -- how a fat Dickensian tome weaving together 17th-century Dutch painting and terrorist plots is related to its two siblings: the academic thriller The Secret History, which made Tartt’s reputation 20 years ago, and The Little Friend, an atmospheric treatment of small-town Southern culture that came out a decade later.
       He couldn't come up with a better (i.e. for me worse) example: Tartt is (currently) omnipresent beyond the reviews of her new book anyway -- I can't open my internet browser without stumbling across yet another profile, interview, or report about her -- , so what need have we of hearing any more about her in reviews of The Goldfinch ? And given how many readers her earlier books had, what need for the reviewer/critic to dredge up that old stuff -- unless for comparative consumer purposes (if you like this about The Secret History you'll like that about The Goldfinch). Yes, some future Tartt-study might have interesting things to say about her evolution as a novelist but at this point that seems entirely premature and not particularly helpful. (Admittedly, I find Tartt and her writing -- two different things which seem to often get conflated -- more uninteresting than most seem to; she shows obvious talent and I've enjoyed reading two of her three books (the other one, not so much) but considered them all flawed; in any case, she still seems at that early stage of her career -- just like similarly-few-books-under-his-belt-Jeffrey-Eugenides -- where she is someone to better (or, preferably: only) consider book by book rather than in any overarching sort of way.)
       Yes, I understand (and occasionally fall in) the trap of considering, say, Bleeding Edge as 'the new Pynchon' rather than anything else (fatally, it seems, in that case) and my ideal world of all-anonymous works might leave us all a bit too much at sea, but for the most part discussion of authors and even of their previous work seems too often to take the place of actual book-discussion.
       What's interesting (at least theoretically) about pseudnoymous work is that that author-image falls by the wayside: The Casual Vacancy wasn't exactly judged -- pre-reveal -- on its own merits (pretty much no one bothered to judge it, after all), but at least it could have been. Now, it's just another book-by-that-Harry Potter-author and can never be read on its own terms. Surely, that's the interesting question this Bookends-column posed: how much does that author-name that's appended to the work (or placed front-and-center) play a role in what we make of the work ? (My wish, of course: not at all -- but even I can't manage that.)
       Making his case, Mendelsohn offers names that aren't impressive pseudonyms -- John Banville’s 'Benjamin Black' (where everyone knows it's Banville-writing-as-Black) is about as good as it gets (he also mentions the entirely unpseudonymous Euripides and film-maker Alfonso Cuarón). And, indeed, most pseudonyms are simply the names we know authors by -- from Stendhal to Mo Yan.
       What about real alter egos and attempts-to-distance-from-the-self ? Pessoa would seem to be an interesting example -- though of course we read him only as: Pessoa. Julian Barnes' Dan Kavanagh-outings are widely ignored in any Barnes'-readings, but hardly very secret. Other dual-identities -- Ruth Rendell/Barbara Vine -- are also so well-known as to hardly count as pseudonyms, and serve simply as handy indicators for her readers. Our most pseudonymous authors remain the likes of Pynchon and Salinger, who use their actual names but seem/try/pretend to hide much of their identity; Tartt too affects an out-of-the-limelight image (though it hardly seems credible any longer after her current publicity-rampage) -- but this has become as much of their story/identity as any more traditional biography would (and to me, as with most publicity-matter, it amounts to little more than distracting noise).
       Sure, authors' personal lives can shed interesting light on their work -- but especially in this day and age there's a lot of artificial marketing-steered image-making that compromises that, rendering it essentially pointless.
       Stick to the individual works themselves, I say, and don't worry who wrote them, and/or what else they wrote.

       (Updated - 16 November): I still don't get it, but apparently there are folks fully in the Mendelsohn-camp: see now Emily St. John Mandel explaining:
Too often I read reviews that are concerned with nothing but the book in question, and there’s a hermetically sealed quality to such reviews, a narrowness of scope. I’ve come to believe that good reviewing requires engaging with the world outside of the individual book. At the very least, the book should be placed in the context of other books, but ideally -- and I recognize that this is an entirely subjective opinion -- I prefer reviews that go beyond talking about literature, so that the book under review is considered in the context of the surrounding world.
       So much to say (and weep about ...), but one thing I would like to point out: context is variable, shifting from culture to culture and era to era (etc.), and the reviewer usually only has a very limited exposure/understanding of one -- usually his or her "surrounding world" (which is usually an extremely limited one as well). So, yeah, sure, the ... say New York literati (whatever that is) can put the latest Brooklyn-novel by recent MFA grad XYZ in 'context' -- or suggest a reading of a classic in that same, extremely limited (in time/place) context. But I say: that's not what I'm looking for, not what I'm interested in, not what I'm going to try to do.

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

       Laziness in the Fertile Valley review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Albert Cossery's The Lazy Ones, just re-issued by New Directions (they first published this William Goyen translation in 1952 !) as Laziness in the Fertile Valley.

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

12 November 2013 - Tuesday

International IMPAC DUBLIN Literary Award longlist
Restless Books profile | A True Novel review

       International IMPAC DUBLIN Literary Award longlist

       They've announced the longlist for the 2014 International IMPAC DUBLIN Literary Award -- a €100,000 prize for which books are nominated by libraries, and which considers any novel "first published in English between 1st January 2012 and 31st December 2012" (whether in translation or not). (More on the issues with that selection process below .....)
       The longlist consists of 152 titles, of which 41 are translations (including 7 from the German, 6 from Italian, and 4 each from the French and Dutch).
       Several longlisted titles are under review at the complete review:        It's great that they are willing to consider literature in translation -- but the lack of translations from many of the world's (non-European ...) languages points to a fundamental flaw in the selection process. Yes, there are no nominations at all translated from the Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or Russian, among other languages. Why is pretty clear: the nominating libraries don't include any from any Arabic-speaking country, nor any from China or Japan. There is a Russian library -- but that's the Library for Foreign Literature, and they actually nominated non-Russian titles -- unlike many of the other flag-waving libraries which preferred to nominate local talent .....
       That's the other problem with the selection process: sure, if the Slovenian library doesn't nominate a Slovenian author we're unlikely to hear about the book ..... I could live with that -- if other literatures (especially major ones, including China, Japan, and the entire Arabic-speaking region, among others) were afforded similar opportunities -- but for some reason they're not. That's problematic.
       I also have a small problem with the "published in English" in 2012 rule -- or rather: its interpretation. Look, I'm thrilled that Lasha Bugadze's The Literature Express has been longlisted (nominated by a Georgian library, of course ...), and I can't wait to get my copy from Dalkey Archive Press (they're publishing it early next year; see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy at or, but it doesn't really seem fair for it to be counted. Yes, apparently it was published -- in this English translation -- in 2012, by Bakur Sulakauri Publishing (ISBN 978-9942-15-730-1), but how many people have had access to a copy ? Where the hell -- outside Georgia -- could you find it ? WorldCat can't find a single library with a copy. I'm sorry, if a book wasn't vaguely readily accessible, it shouldn't be included. (By all means, for the 2016 prize, the Dalkey edition of The Literature Express should be considered -- but now ? no.)

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

       Restless Books profile

       I mentioned new e-publisher Restless Books a few weeks ago, and now at The Los Angeles Times' Jacket Copy Hector Tobar profiles Ilan Stavans' new polyglot project: Multilingual e-book publishing.
       It makes me cringe to see Stavans claim: "Only 3% of books published annually in the United States are translations" -- a 'fact' he offers no substantiation for (because there is none, beyond that it's an oft-repeated claim; the actual percentage may well be considerably lower, but as I've noted ad nauseam (but apparently to little effect) at this weblog, it all depends on what and how you're counting, and even once you've figured that out: no one has done a convincing job of tallying up a percentage yet).
       On the other hand, you have to like his conviction that:
U.S. readers are "fed up of with the parochial diet" supplied by most American publishers
       In any case, their program looks promising, and I look forward to seeing some of these titles (well, given that they're only available in e-formats, my eagerness is somewhat tempered -- but the texts themselves sound like they might be worth even the e-reading hardship ...).

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

       A True Novel review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Mizumura Minae's A True Novel.
       This is just out (today !) from Other Press, who have really had a banner year in translation -- including several similarly sizable books, such as Where Tigers are at Home by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès, one of this year's unfathomably overlooked titles (in the US -- in the UK it has been unfathomably overlooked since Dedalus brought it out in late 2011) which I once again commend to you. A True Novel is another 800-pager -- this one published in a two volume set in a slipcase. (I'm curious how the buying-public will react to the format; my personal preference remains the handier single-volume (and smaller sized -- the Japanese do it right) format.)
       Definitely an interesting work (and a good read) -- and I'm curious whether the Wuthering Heights-variation sales tactic will pan out.

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

11 November 2013 - Monday

Sami Rohr Prize | New Swedish Book Review | Gao Xingjian on translation

       Sami Rohr Prize

       They've announced that The Aleppo Codex: A True Story of Obsession, Faith, and the Pursuit of an Ancient Bible by Matti Friedman has been awarded the ($100,000) 2014 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature. (It's awarded in alternating years to a work of fiction, and of non; this (well, next) was a non year.)
       It's already out in paperback; see also the Algonquin Books publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

       New Swedish Book Review

       Issue 2013:2 of the Swedish Book Review is now up, with much of the content available online -- including the reviews (including of the new Per Olov Enquist, Liknelseboken: En kärleksroman (here) and a three-pack of Maria Langs (here)).

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

       Gao Xingjian on translation

       Nobel laureate (and The Case for Literature-author) Gao Xingjian spoke at the Singapore Writers Festival a couple of days ago, and Clarissa Oon reports in The Straits Times Translation is like "rewriting from scratch": Nobel literary laureate Gao Xingjian
       Among the titbits of interest:
The young Gao devoured European literature in translation. "I never felt I was reading a Frenchman, Russian or Englishman, just an individual whose works I was very interested in."

In today's globalised world, no one can put the brakes on such cross-cultural exchange, he added.
Despite being seen by many as a Chinese writer, the straight-talking Gao said he had long stopped following developments in his home country.

"I'm more concerned about Europe, the crisis that it is in, which is not just financial but intellectual. There are no longer any fresh ideas and philosophies."

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

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