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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 30 November 2013

21 November: (American) National Book Awards | Crossword Book Award shortlists | Translating authors | The Creator review
22 November: DSC Prize for South Asian Literature shortlist | Putin and the Russian authors | Writing in ... Lebanon
23 November: Hay Festival Dhaka reports | 'International' fiction, in Canada | Korean literature translation awards | In Times of Fading Light review
24 November: Iranian novel to be published ... in Iran ? | Jalal Al-e Ahmad (non- ?) awards | Vikram Chandra profile | Authors' etc. best of the year compilations
25 November: Fiston Mwanza | Trojanow on surveillance | Consequences review
26 November: Fiction from ... Central Asia | Science fiction in ... North Korea | Yoko Tawada's Portrait of a Tongue: An Experimental Translation review
27 November: Whitbread Costa Book Awards shortlists | Irish Book Awards | Words without Borders anthology | Barnes & Noble assessment | Slamming translations ?
28 November: NYTBR 100 Notable Books of 2013 | Man Booker Prize - open for submissions | Khatulistiwa Awards | The Collini Case review
29 November: Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize shortlist | Stoppard's Darkside | Literature and/on the internet
30 November: Quantifying writing ? | Typographical Translation Award voting | Holiday site demographics | Paranoia review

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30 November 2013 - Saturday

Quantifying writing ? | Typographical Translation Award voting
Holiday site demographics | Paranoia review

       Quantifying writing ?

       In The New York Times Jennifer Schuessler reports on prolific (and Tirza-) author Arnon Grunberg's The Quantified Writer-project, in Wired: Putting a Writer and Readers to a Test: 'Arnon Grunberg Is Writing While Connected to Electrodes'.
       It's an ... interesting undertaking -- and I'm sure we'll see a lot more of this sort of the thing in the future. I'll have a bit more faith in any results when there aren't asides such as: "a technician from a Dutch software company carefully poured water over some of the electrodes to improve their conductivity" ("it can get a bit drippy", Grunberg notes).

       Personally, the most interesting/astonishing fact I gleaned from the piece was that Grunberg apparently writes in his (admittedly almost spacious, by New York city apartment standards) ... kitchen, as suggested by the accompanying photograph:

Kitchen work

       Sure, in New York one makes use of every inch of living-space one can afford, but setting up computers (and bookshelves) in a kitchen seems pretty desperate -- or a sure sign that not much cooking (especially involving frying) is done there. (Or has he only temporarily re-located his work-space because, you know, "it can get a bit drippy" ... ?)

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

       Typographical Translation Award voting

       Typographical Era is running a best-translation-of-the-year competition, where visitors vote for the winner -- from a now-finalized shortlist, which was also determined by popular vote.
       An interesting eight titles are now left in the running -- with Frisch & Co. the only publisher to place two titles in the finals --, and you have until 19 December to vote.
       Only three of the titles are under review at the complete review -- Tirza (by Arnon Grunberg), The President's Hat (by Antoine Laurain), and The Devil's Workshop (by Jachym Topol), but I have dipped into all eight -- and they're all also eligible for the Best Translated Book Award, for which I am a judge; it will be interesting to see how much overlap there is (several of these -- you can guess which -- seem very likely to make the BTBA longlist).
       Sixty-two votes registered as I write this -- add your voice !

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

       Holiday site demographics

       I assume that the data about the demographics of visitors to this site is not of quite as much interest to most readers as it is to me; still, maybe it is of interest to note that the American share of my audience reaches its nadir on Thanksgiving Thursday.
       For the year, to date, 40.37% of site-visitors come from the US; on 4 July that dipped to 28.19% -- the previous low for the year, which has now been topped by Thanksgiving day, where a mere 24.86% of visitors were from the US.
       On the other hand, the site did manage the elusive double of getting visitors from both Sudan and South Sudan on Thursday. (I'm still waiting on anyone from North Korea to drop in, however.)

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

       Paranoia review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Belarusian author Victor Martinovich's (written-in-Russian) novel, Paranoia.
       Very reminiscent of the good old bad old days of the Soviet Union, the book was banned in Belarus shortly after publication -- but things are a bit different in the bizarro-world that is Lukashenko's fiefdom, and it is good to see that this hasn't stopped another of Martinovich's novels from being featured in Books from Belarus; he's a hot (export-)commodity, after all.

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

29 November 2013 - Friday

Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize shortlist
Stoppard's Darkside | Literature and/on the internet

       Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize shortlist

       They've announced the shortlist for the 2014 Jewish Quarterly Wingate Prize -- though apparently not yet at the official Jewish Quarterly site, last I checked .....
       But Booktrade has the press release, and among the titles in the running are books by Edith Pearlman and Ben Marcus.
       The winner will be announced 26 February 2014.

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

       Stoppard's Darkside

       A couple of months ago they aired Tom Stoppard's Pink Floyd/Darkside of the Moon tribute/inspired radio-play, Darkside, on BBC2 radio. (I actually got to hear it, and it's an interesting if odd philosophical-games-filled work.)
       They've now released a fancy CD + bound insert + 'bonus disc' ("with text translations in German, French, Spanish, Italian, Dutch, Portuguese, Japanese, Mandarin and Russian") set; see the official site, or get your copy at or (Looks like a pretty neat Christmas gift idea .....)
       And in The New York Times a few days ago Larry Rohter had a Q & A with Stoppard about the project, An Author Dives Into Pink Floyd.

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

       Literature and/on the internet

       At Books from Finland Teemu Manninen consider Decisions, decisions: the fate of virtual literature, noting that after the initial excitement -- "When the internet was young, I too believed that it would usher in a new age of world literature, a truly global literary culture" -- the over-abundance of information available online has proven near-paralyzing:
when there are so many opinions to be had and so many new writings to get excited about, it's not just decision fatigue which sets in, but a kind of valuation fatigue: how do I know what to concentrate on ? How do I know what's good anymore ? And, more importan[t]ly, how do I know that what's online is actually representative of literary culture on the whole ?
       He argues:
Because of decision and valuation fatigue, only the most prohibitively schematic and the most violently caricaturish gets through to us -- and when that happens, we are likely to stop reflecting and start reacting, exposing ourselves and our readers to meaningless rhetorical debate rather than offering them the carefully considered, distilled ideas that used to be called print-worthy.
       Seems an over-simplification to me -- but what do I know, exposing you to all that: "meaningless rhetorical debate" like I constantly am .....

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

28 November 2013 - Thursday

NYTBR 100 Notable Books of 2013 | Man Booker Prize - open for submissions
Khatulistiwa Awards | The Collini Case review

       NYTBR 100 Notable Books of 2013

       The New York Times Book Review has announced its 100 Notable Books of 2013
       A couple of things are notable about the list itself -- including the fact that all of three titles are works in translation (oh dear, folks are going to take that as confirmation of the infamous 'three per cent' pseudo-statistic ...). This has the making of a disturbing trend -- the 2012 list had four, the 2011 list had five (plus David Bellos' Is That a Fish in Your Ear ?): things are definitely moving in the wrong direction.
       The three titles in translation are:        The fact that they picked The Dinner over Arnon Grunberg's considerably superior Tirza (they reviewed both books) pretty much says it all, for me.
       Or actually, what says it all is that they list a hundred books and don't include the fabulous FSG doorstop, Zibaldone (see the Farrar, Straus & Giroux publicity page, or get your copy at or
       Look, I can get them ignoring a book like Leg over Leg -- as big a deal as that is, it's going to take a while for word to spread and that one to sink into wider consciousness. But the publication of Zibaldone, that's about as notable a publishing event as we've had this year.
       Meanwhile, other than two of the translations, the only other 'notable' book I've read, and reviewed at the complete review, seems to be Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch .....
       So, yeah, I appear to be rather out of the reading-mainstream -- at least as far as defined by The New York Times Book Review .....
       Okay -- I can live that .....

       A bit more fun: the Times Literary Supplement collects lots of writers' picks in their 'Books of the Year' issue, and a selection is now available online.

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

       Man Booker Prize - open for submissions

       In case you missed it: the Man Booker Prize 2014 opened for submissions last Monday, 18 November.
       They have a fancy Rules & Entry Form booklet -- online only in the dreaded pdf format -- with all the information and forms.
       As you'll recall, they've changed the eligibility requirements -- anything written in English and published in the UK goes ! -- as well as the number of books publishers can enter. Publishers are now limited to one entry each -- except that publishers get bonus submission slots (up to a total of four), depending on how many titles they had longlisted over the past five years. (Previously longlisted authors also get byes, and the judges must call in an additional eight to twelve titles (but can only choose titles suggested by publishers (each of whom can suggest up to five ...)).
       I remind you again that this is an awful way to select a pool of books to judge (way too much decision-making power rests with the publishers) -- and that the Man Booker folk know that, which is why they keep secret the pool of titles that wind up in the running for the prize, an outrageous lack of transparency (which I can't believe more folk don't complain about ...).
       What I'd like to point out, though, is that while they've instituted this new bonus-submission-possibility, for publishers who have had titles longlisted in the past five years, they were too damn lazy to draw up a list to let everyone know exactly what that translated into (although they do list all the longlisted titles, with their publishers). I did the math when they first announced it -- no guarantees that that's right, but it should be pretty close (though note that several articles published around that time came to very different results -- maths, even of the simple adding-up variety, is apparently not something many in the literary fields feel comfortable with ...).
       I thinks it's the height of chutzpah for the Man Booker folk not to simply list, publisher by publisher, who gets how many bonus-submission-slots. Surely, that's the least they could do. (Of course, as noted, they won't reveal what titles are submitted either -- which I would have thought was also the least they could -- or should, if they wanted any credibility -- do, so .....)

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

       Khatulistiwa Awards

       As Meghan Downes reports in The Jakarta Post, Literary award gives nod to historically themed work, as they've announced the Khatulistiwa Awards in Indonesia.
       Hard for me to judge how significant this prize is, but it's been around since 2001 -- and when they started it The Jakarta Post suggested:
The Commonwealth countries have the Booker Prize and now Indonesia has the Khatulistiwa Literary Award.
       There is also a Khatulistiwa Award weblog with (Indonesian) information; it certainly looks like it's established itself as the leading national literary prize.

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

       The Collini Case review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ferdinand von Schirach's legal thriller, The Collini Case.
       Interesting to see how a grand-son of a notorious Nazi (yes, Baldur was his grandpa) tries to work some familial Vergangenheitsbewältigung into a novel -- as well as his legal expertise (he is a prominent German attorney).

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

27 November 2013 - Wednesday

Whitbread Costa Book Awards shortlists | Irish Book Awards
Words without Borders anthology | Barnes & Noble assessment
Slamming translations ?

       Whitbread Costa Book Awards shortlists

       They've announced the various category-shortlists for the Whitbread Costa Book Awards -- though, bafflingly, at the official site, only in the dreaded pdf format. [Posting anything in pdf format at your site -- except massive documents that you think it isn't worth anyone's while to re-format because you're pretty sure no one is going to read that shit anyway -- is a giant 'fuck you' to your readers, and I can't believe that a reasonably well-endowed prize like this one couldn't be bothered to put up a more readily accessible 'normal' web page; no doubt they'll get around to it fairly soon, but still .....]
       Meanwhile, the news is in the (UK) dailies, so see, for example, Mark Brown's Costa book awards 2013: late author on all-female fiction shortlist in The Guardian; scroll down for the finalists in all the various categories.
       Regrettably, I haven't seen a one of these -- though I've leafed through Atkinson's Life after Life at the library a couple of times, considering whether or not to take it out.

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

       Irish Book Awards

       They've announced (and, hey ! not even just in pdf format ...) the winners of the 2013 Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards.
       Nice that they could get all that sponsorship, I guess, but there's way too much to a lot of these category-names ('The Books Are My Bag Best Irish-published Book of the Year' ? 'The International Education Services Ltd Popular Fiction Book of the Year' ?). But, hey, they got John Banville -- recipient of something called: 'The Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award' -- to play along, so what the hell .....
       (And, no, none of these titles are under review at the complete review -- and I'm afraid none are likely ever to be, not even Downturn Abbey .....)

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

       Words without Borders anthology

       Words without Borders are, impressively, celebrating their ten-year-anniversary of introducing readers to authors and works from an incredible variety of languages and cultures -- and they've now also put together a big, fat e-anthology, Words without Borders: The Best of the First Ten Years -- see more here, or get your Kindle copy at or
       See also the Q & A on the anthology at their Dispatches weblog.

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

       Barnes & Noble assessment

       Depressing though it is, I can sort of appreciate Matthew Yglesias' cut-to-the-chase assessment, Barnes & Noble Still Doomed Despite Rising Profits at Slate.
       No illusions here:
There's no point in managing Barnes & Noble for long-term growth at this point. But it's not as if nobody is going to ship at a brick and mortar book store next quarter. It's just that there's no future here.
       And as a summing-up you have to appreciate the brutal honesty of:
Ideas that are lame and awful in the context of a company like Apple, make perfect sense in the context of a company where innovation and growth are clearly impossible.

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

       Slamming translations ?

       Look, I support spreading the word about international literature -- and hence literature in translation -- as much as the next guy, and I realize that it's worth trying all sorts of things to help folks see the light in order to get them ... excited about it, but .....
       In The Independent Simon Usborne reports in Translation slam: A war of words on the recently-held Free Word/BCLT 'competitive translation duel' Translation Slam.
       Okay, I'm an old fogey who really doesn't appreciate 'slams' in any context, who is obviously in a foul mood (see above posts -- and just imagine what I'd be writing if The Independent had posted the article in the dreaded pdf format ...), but surely the accompanying picture is proof enough that this is maybe not the ideal way to go about, making a hard sell harder still insofar as suggesting anything about translation could possibly be 'cool'. No matter how you try to spin it:

Translators slamming

       In the article, too: "[Daniel] Hahn concedes" that translation is: "a gloriously nerdy pursuit" -- which already seems to me to concede far too much.
       (The 'slam' idea is, on a fundamental level, pretty intriguing ... still, I have my doubts .....)

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

26 November 2013 - Tuesday

Fiction from ... Central Asia | Science fiction in ... North Korea
Yoko Tawada's Portrait of a Tongue: An Experimental Translation review

       Fiction from ... Central Asia

       As longtime readers know, I have long lamented how little fiction in translation is available from Central Asia -- along with parts of Southeast Asia (Burma, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia), probably the most overlooked-in-English part of the literary world.
       How great to see now Dalkey Archive Press launching their Georgian Literature Serie -- a four title-start that greatly expands what's available from Georgia (or, indeed, anywhere in Central Asia). Garnett Press have admirably brought out some Otar Chiladze (and I have, and will be getting to, A Man Was Going Down the Road), but that's been close to it as far as the sparse pickings have gone, and these Dalkey volumes are a welcome sight indeed.
       [Updated (27 November): As a reader points out, strictly speaking Georgia isn't general counted as 'Central Asian'; instead, along with Armenia and Azerbaijan (and a couple of the still-Russian regions -- Chechnya !) it should be considered part of the Caucasus. I use 'Central Asia' as a (not entirely accurate) shorthand for all these -- and since, for example, UEFA is willing to consider definitely-Central-Asian Kazakhstan 'European' I figure that's not too unreasonable. My point is that literature from all these former Soviet states, from the eastern shores of the Black Sea to the border of Mongolia, are under-represented in English.]
       Among them is also Lasha Bugadze's (dubiously) International IMPAC DUBLIN Literary Award longlisted The Literature Express -- see the Dalkey publicity page, or pre-order your copy at or -- but really the whole batch looks worthwhile. (I got advance copies in the mail yesterday, and should have reviews up as their publication dates approach.)

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

       Science fiction in ... North Korea

       It's been up a while, but only now, via Korean Literature: in translation, have I come across Benoit Berthelier's From Pyongyang to Mars: Sci-fi, Genre, and Literary Value in North Korea at Sino NK.
       North Korean literature is, of course, one of the other last great unexplored-in-English frontiers (despite Dalkey Archive Press doing their Korean part, too -- alas, their new Library of Korean Literature appears to be entirely southern), and genre fiction is even more marginalized, so it's great to hear a bit about what's going on there.
       Would that we could read some of this stuff -- after all: "With action-filled narratives and a broader range of subjects and characters than regular fiction, sci-fi stories make up a particularly interesting and entertaining strand within the DPRK's literature."

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

       Yoko Tawada's Portrait of a Tongue: An Experimental Translation review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Yoko Tawada's Portrait of a Tongue: An Experimental Translation by Chantal Wright.
       This is just out from the University of Ottawa Press, who have quietly been publishing some impressive translation-related work recently -- including a new translation of Christa Wolf's classic They Divided the Sky -- which, incidentally, gets a mention in the Tawada piece -- (see their publicity page, or get your copy at or
       The Tawada, or rather how Wright handles it, is also of considerable interest -- Tawada's work is endlessly fascinating for translators and those interested in language, and Wright's approach is a welcome different sort of presentation, experimentation of a sort that I'd welcome a lot more of.

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

25 November 2013 - Monday

Fiston Mwanza | Trojanow on surveillance | Consequences review

       Fiston Mwanza

       So how adventurous are US/UK publishers ? Who will take a stab at Fiston Mwanza Mujila's Tram 83 ? Because seriously -- someone has to.
       The Congolese author's Le Fleuve dans le Ventre recently came out in French/German bilingual edition (from Edition Thanhäuser) and got a very nice review in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung; see also a French review at africultures, and Tram 83 certainly sounds intriguing. Maybe a bit of a translation challenge, but there should be a few translators with the chops and background to handle it.

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

       Trojanow on surveillance

       At Deutsche Welle Gero Schliess reports on Ilija Trojanow's recent (successful) visit to the US, where he took part in the New Literature from Europe festival; carrying over from his recent German activities, Ilija Trojanow crusades against surveillance -- the author noting that: "Our house was bugged when I was a baby in Bulgaria", as apparently all the authorities have long been keeping an eye on the guy.

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

       Consequences review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Philippe Djian's Consequences.
       This just came out as a paperback original from Simon & Schuster, who seem to be trying to revive the Betty Blue-author's English-language fortunes -- having started (regrettably) with Unforgivable a couple of years back (not a great choice -- but, hey, at least it wasn't the multi-volume epic, Doggy bag ...).
       Consequences comes with an orange sticker on the cover claiming: "France's #1 Bestselling Author" -- presumably meaning they claim Djian is -- but I don't know what definition of 'bestselling' they could possibly be using: he wasn't even one of the top ten bestselling French novelists in France in 2012, or 2011, etc. Interestingly, his European reputation is of being a very 'American' author; meanwhile, Kirkus Reviews called this book: "Bold, elliptical, fashionably inconclusive and very French" .....
       To judge from the (lack of) review coverage and sales rank, it also isn't doing particularly well (yet ?).

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

24 November 2013 - Sunday

Iranian novel to be published ... in Iran ? | Jalal Al-e Ahmad (non- ?) awards
Vikram Chandra profile | Authors' etc. best of the year compilations

       Iranian novel to be published ... in Iran ?

       Hmmm, maybe times really are a'changing, along with the regime ? First Deal Reached With Iran Halts Its Nuclear Program, and now, in really big news, the Tehran Times reports that Culture Ministry mulling publication of The Colonel in Iran.
       As I mentioned last week, the great Mahmoud Dowlatabadi recently won the 2013 Jan Michalski Prize for Literature for his novel, The Colonel -- published first in German, then French, and then in English, first in the UK (by Haus), the US (Melville House) -- but so far not in its original Persian back home.
       But they now report:
Iranian Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance is mulling over publication of the Persian version of Mahmud Dowlatabadi's acclaimed novel The Colonel, Deputy Culture Minister for Cultural Affairs Seyyed Abbas Salehi announced on Monday.
       Indeed, it sounds like they recognize the treasure in their midsts they've been overlooking:
I've read the book; I read all the books written by Dowlatabadi since I was a young man. He is the pride of Iran's literature and the Khorasan region, so the publication of his book in Iran would be an honor for the country, Salehi said.
       Damn if that doesn't sound promising.
       Cheshmeh -- who have published quite a few his books in Iran; see their catalogue -- submitted the book for publication-approval back in 2008, so this is long overdue -- but at least it looks like Iranian readers might finally get to see this important book, too.

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

       Jalal Al-e Ahmad (non- ?) awards

       They held the biggest Iranian literary awards -- and, as IBNA reports, No Winner Announced for Jalal Ale Ahmad Award.
The award had no winners in any of its sections; however several works have been announced as praiseworthy work
       If this all sounds familiar ... well , recall last year's headlines: No winner selected for Iran's most lucrative literary awards this year.
       But hey, they might finally be publishing Mahmoud Dowlatabadi's The Colonel (see above), so there's already a potential front-runner for next year's prize .....

       (Still, always good to get an Al-e Ahmad-mention in: see the complete review reviews of his By the Pen and The School Principal, and recall that new e-publisher Restless Books promises to bring out The Israeli Republic soon.)

       (Updated - 25 November): The Tehran Times now also reports on this year's (non-)prize, in Jalal Al-e Ahmad Literary Awards wraps up with no winner -- offering a bit more data, including that: "Over 4000 works were submitted to the secretariat, out of which 39 works were selected for the final judgment".

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

       Vikram Chandra profile

       In Tech tinker in the Mumbai Mirror Chandrima Pal profiles Sacred Games-author Vikram Chandra -- discussing his interesting-sounding new book, Mirrored Mind: My Life in Letters and Code.
       I can't find a US or UK listing yet, but see the Penguin India publicity page or get your copy from Flipkart; I'd love to see this eventually.

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

       Authors' etc. best of the year compilations

       Slightly better than the usual newspaper best-of-the-year lists are the ones where authors, literary critics and the like offer their picks. The Millions does a nice, big 'A Year in Reading'-round-up (see last year's) -- except that they annoyingly dole it out piece by piece rather than just offering it all in one go -- and the Times Literary Supplement's annual 'Books of the Year' collection (disappointingly only made partially accessible online; see last year's glimpse) remains the gold standard (well, maybe bronze ... the standard really isn't very high with these things).
       The first of these are now out, and at least feature some big name authors and critics naming their favorites. So, for example:        (Meanwhile, I can only think: it's only November, and there are 37 more reading days left in the year (which at a minimum translates into at least two dozen books, and possibly quite a few more). Way too early to be thinking about best-of-the-year selections.)

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

23 November 2013 - Saturday

Hay Festival Dhaka reports | 'International' fiction, in Canada
Korean literature translation awards
In Times of Fading Light review

       Hay Festival Dhaka reports

       The Hay Festival Dhaka ended more than a week ago, but there are still some interesting reports coming out of it -- including on the panel with Eliot Weinberger and Pankaj Mishra that debated: 'Is There a World Literature ?' -- see, for example, Upashana Salam's report, One and Equal ? in The Daily Star.
       Meanwhile, in the Dhaka Tribune, Rohini Alamgir and Rumana Habib and consider all sorts of questions about matters In translation .

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

       'International' fiction, in Canada

       I have relatively little patience for and interest in the flood of best-books-of-the-year lists that has started, but they're near-unavoidable, and one can't really help coming across them. They also offer surprises -- not of the sort: oh, I haven't even seen any of The Washington Post's top ten (that, regrettably, is a frequently repeated observation, from publication to publication) -- but few the likes of what the Canadian newspaper, The Globe and Mail, has managed to pull off with their 'Globe Books 100'.
       They have a variety of categories, including Best international fiction.
       Hey, I like and follow international fiction !
       Nineteen titles, too ! Excellent !
       Or maybe not: more than half the titles have US authors (yes, it's Canada, and technically the US is 'international' for them) and only one work in translation -- Sjón's The Whispering Muse -- makes the cut (while titles from Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch to Stephen King's Joyland do).
       This from a Canadian publication -- a country where a significant minority speak another language. (Of course their Best Canadian fiction list recognizes nary a French title, in either the original or translation .....)
       First Rob Ford, now this: Canada is looking ever-more provinicial (at least in its supposed upper echelons).

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

       Korean literature translation awards

       They actually announced the Winners of 44th Modern Korean Literature Translation Awards several weeks ago, but only now does The Korean Times follow up with The Judges' Report (2013) -- which notes both disappointment that: " only 23 entries had been received for the 2013 Korea Times Translation Awards competition" and about the general quality, as for example:
Although we received many poetry translations this year, almost without exception they had clearly been submitted by Korean translators whose knowledge of English was too limited; in many cases the English grammar was poor.

As in many recent years, we soon decided that no poetry award could be given.
In general, the fiction translations were competent but there were not many we read with real pleasure. This was in part the fault of the translator who had failed to create a convincing English style and in part the fault of the author whose work did not lend itself to translation. Where the translation itself was reasonably accurate, often the English text failed to find a compelling rhythm and flow.
       This may all seem pretty harsh, but it's probably good that they're honest about the generally lacking standards. Korean literature seems poised to reach a larger international audience -- but translation-standards must be upheld for that to work out over anything but the short-term.

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

       In Times of Fading Light review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Eugen Ruge's 2011 German Book Prize-winning (East) German family saga, In Times of Fading Light.

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

22 November 2013 - Friday

DSC Prize for South Asian Literature shortlist
Putin and the Russian authors | Writing in ... Lebanon

       DSC Prize for South Asian Literature shortlist

       They've announced (in ... London, predictably incongruously enough) the six-title-strong shortlist for the 2014 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature
       The only title under review at the complete review is How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid -- though the one I'd really love to see is one of the two titles in translation, Goat Days by Benyamin (see the Penguin India publicity page, or get your copy at or
       The winner will be announced 18 January.

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

       Putin and the Russian authors

       They had a literary conference in Russia yesterday, and with Vladimir Putin joining in the fun some prominent authors didn't want to play along; as D. Garrison Golubock reported in The Moscow Times Writers Snub Putin Prior to Literary Conference.
       It's all a bit nebulous -- including what the purpose to the conference was supposed to be, as:
Additionally, no agenda for the meeting was announced, leaving it unclear what the writers would actually discuss or if the whole event was simply a photo op.
       Sounds wise of Boris Akunin and Dmitry Bykov, among others, to decline the honor.
       Putin did show up, and promised some prizes and government support; see, for example, the (Russian) report, Владимир Путин берет литературу под опеку in Ведомости; somehow I'm inclined to think it's wise to doubt pretty much anything coming out of this guy's mouth (though no doubt there is an opportunity for some cashing-in by so-inclined literary sorts).

       (Updated - 27 November): See now also Masha Gessen's report on the event at The New York Times Latitude weblog, Putin's Dead Poets Society.

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

       Writing in ... Lebanon

       An interesting piece by Jana El Hassan in the Daily Star, who found herself At home and out of place at the Sharjah International Book Fair (where Lebanon was the guest of honour this year).
       Apparently, the authorities missed the boat regarding properly selling Lebanese literature to the fair-audience, as she notes:
This raises the issue of how Lebanon represented itself at the Sharjah Book Fair. The stand representing the country featured no resources that might sate the interest of those keen to learn more about Lebanese literature. Instead, it had the folkloric air of a Tourism Ministry kiosk
       Still, at least the Lebanese literati were well-represented, so the fair seems to have worked out reasonably well in that regard.

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

21 November 2013 - Thursday

(American) National Book Awards | Crossword Book Award shortlists
Translating authors | The Creator review

       (American) National Book Awards

       They announced the winners of the 2013 (American) National Book Awards yesterday, with James McBride taking the fiction prize, for The Good Lord Bird (get your copy at or
       Not a one of the longlisted fiction (or non) titles made it to my desk (not even the Pynchon, yet, sigh) -- yes, I'm completely at sea as far as the current American scene goes .....

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

       Crossword Book Award shortlists

       They've announced the shortlists for the Crossword Book Award, for English-language books in India. One of these is actually under review at the complete review -- The Illicit Happiness of Other People by Manu Joseph -- but, of course, the category I'm really interested in is translation (though I haven't seen any of these yet).
       The 2013 prize is more extensive than usual -- covering publications from 1 January 2012 through 31 March 2013; next year they're back to an annual-cycle, April through March.

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

       Translating authors

       In the new TLS Carmine Di Biase reviews three Italo Calvino-titles in an interesting overview -- but the observation that really struck me was:
Just as enduring was the influence of the translators themselves. Elio Vittorini and Cesare Pavese, Calvino's early mentors, were two of Einaudi's most tireless translators.
       Vittorini and especially Pavese were major writer in their own right -- how remarkable (or not, anywhere outside the English-speaking world ...) that they had such an impact as translators too .....

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

       The Creator review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Icelandic author Guðrún Eva Mínervudóttir's The Creator.

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

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