Literary Saloon

the literary
weblog at the
complete review

the weblog

about the saloon

support the site





the Literary Saloon on Kindle

to e-mail us:

literary weblogs:

  Arts Journal
  Books, Inq.
  Critical Mass
  Guardian Unlimited
  Jacket Copy
  The Millions
  NewPages Weblog
  Three Percent
  Typographical Era

  Papeles perdidos
  Rép. des livres

  Arts & Letters Daily
  Arts Beat/Books
  Brandywine Books
  Collected Miscellany
  Light Reading
  The Millions
  The Page
  ReadySteady Blog
  The Rumpus
  Two Words
  wood s lot

  See also: links page

saloon statistics

the Literary Saloon at the Complete Review
opinionated commentary on literary matters - from the complete review

The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 31 May 2014

21 May: 2014 translations (in the US) | French publishers (not) abroad | Reading in ... Zimbabwe
22 May: RSL Ondaatje Prize | 'World Cup of Literature' tournament | MetaFilter and Google (and the complete review)
23 May: Independent Foreign Fiction Prize | George Macdonald Fraser profile | A Brit in l'Académie française ? | Half of a Yellow Sun - the film | Sacred River review
24 May: French-American Foundation Translation Prizes | Amazon v. Hachette et al. | The City under the Skin review
25 May: 'This Way Up ?' festival | Changing times in Iran ? | Gerald M. Edelman (1929-2014)
26 May: Assises internationales du roman | African literature | The List of My Desires review
27 May: Jen Lien-kche takes Franz Kafka Prize ! | Q & As: Will Evans - Armenian literature abroad | The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair review
28 May: Oskar Pastior Preis (et al.) | Euregio student prize | French author writing in ... Urdu | ACFNY Translation Prize revived
29 May: Internationaler Literaturpreis - HKW | Amazon grants | Women's Nepali literature conference | Works review
30 May: Abdelrahman Munif | Joël Dicker Q & A | June SWR-Bestenliste
31 May: Georg-Büchner-Preis | ACF Translation Prize | The Tunnel review

go to weblog

return to main archive

31 May 2014 - Saturday

Georg-Büchner-Preis | ACF Translation Prize | The Tunnel review


       The German literary prize announcements have been coming fast and furious, but here's the big one, at least until the German Book Prize in the fall: they've announced who will be getting this year's Georg-Büchner-Preis, the most prestigious of the German author-prizes (pretty much all the heaviest hitters have won this one along the way -- though a few have almost fallen through the cracks (Peter Weiss only got it in 1982, the year of his death, and they did miss Arno Schmidt; on the other hand, they already recognized Thomas Bernhard back in 1970, Peter Handke in 1973, and Durs Grünbein in 1995)).
       They haven't announced it yet at the official site, last I checked (am I the only one who finds it ridiculous how often I have to write those words ?), but it's octogenarian Jürgen Becker who will be picking up the €50,000 prize this fall (25 October).
       Jürgen Becker ? Yeah, not really well-known in the English-speaking world -- but a longtime Suhrkamp author (see their list of his publications). Still, definitely a selection that comes as somewhat of a surprise.

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

       ACF Translation Prize

       The Austrian Cultural Forum New York's ACF Translation Prize is back after a brief hiatus. It's been revised a bit -- it is now: "for outstanding translations of contemporary Austrian literature (both poetry and prose" (expanded to include poetry, but now limited to post-1945 works); apparently it is now also for translations from the: "German or other official languages in Austria" (to the best of my knowledge, German is the only official language of Austria, although several others (notably Slovenian and Hungarian) are officially recognized Amtssprachen (i.e. they can be used to conduct official business with (local) authorities) -- still, probably better to check before submitting your translation from the Slovenian ...).
       The jury for this year's prize includes Fatima Naqvi, Damion Searls (winner of the last ACF Translation Prize, for Her Not All Her), New Vessel Press-co-founder Michael Z. Wise, Daniela Strigl, "content & consulting"-man Rüdiger Wischenbart, and Christian J. Ebner.
       The prize pays out $5,000, and you have until 1 September to submit your: "sample translation (10 pages/ approx. 4000 words of both the English translation and the original)".

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

       The Tunnel review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ernesto Sábato's 1948 classic, The Tunnel.

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

30 May 2014 - Friday

Abdelrahman Munif | Joël Dicker Q & A | June SWR-Bestenliste

       Abdelrahman Munif

       Yesterday would have been his birthday, and at her Arabic Literature (in English) M. Lynx Qualey took the occasion to wonder On an 81st Birthday: Why Does Abdelrahman Munif Not Make the 'World Literature' Canon ?
       I'm not sure he doesn't -- but he does seem to have had a difficult time truly establishing himself in English: Cities of Salt seems to have remained in print (in the US) since its publication a quarter of a century ago (get your copy at, but amazingly (and pretty outrageously) the quintet still hasn't been translated in its entirety.
       Particularly useful: the look she takes at John Updike's review of Cities of Salt in The New Yorker, back in the day. Updike admirably reviewed fiction from all over the world -- in good depth, too --, one of the few American reviewers of note (and, equally importantly, one reaching a larger audience) who did so consistently, but, yeah, he over-reached on occasion. So certainly here .....

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

       Joël Dicker Q & A

       At PEN Atlas Tasja Dorkofikis has a Q & A with Joël Dicker, whose internationally bestselling The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair just came out in the US.
       Among the interesting claims Dicker makes:
I did not have a plan before I started writing the book. The pleasure for me was simply to invent the story as I went along, and to see how the events unfolded.
       (This is surely somewhat of an exaggeration -- the book feels far too intricately plotted to have been written on the fly. On the other hand, it would explain a lot ....)

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

       June SWR-Bestenliste

       The June SWR-Bestenliste, where 30 leading German literary critics vote for their favorite new publications is now up; it's almost always a fascinating mix of titles -- and certainly is this month.
       Top position goes to a rediscovered Arthur Schnitzler novella, Später Ruhm ('Late Fame'; see the Zsolnay publicity page). Most of Schnitzler's works have been translated, and quite a bit remains more or less available (Pushkin Press -- who else ? -- have a trio), but he hasn't hadn't had a modern-day English-language resurgence like Jospeh Roth or Stefan Zweig have; I wonder whether his turn will come too.
       Tied for fourth on the list are Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and ... the diary of Sophia and Nathaniel Hawthorne.
       Tied for eighth are Werktage 2 by Volker Braun (see my recent mention) and a novel by Tomas Espedal (see my recent review of his Against Art).
       That's a pretty eclectic and pretty interesting selection. I suspect a US or UK poll of thirty leading literary critics would come to a very different sort of consensus.

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

29 May 2014 - Thursday

Internationaler Literaturpreis - HKW | Amazon grants
Women's Nepali literature conference | Works review

       Internationaler Literaturpreis - HKW

       The German near-equivalent of the Best Translated Book Award/Independent Foreign Fiction Prize -- in this case, for the first German translation of a work of contemporary international fiction -- is the Internationaler Literaturpreis - Haus der Kulturen. (Not-so-near-equivalent in terms of prize money, actually: BTBA winning author and translator share $10,000; IFFP winning author and translator share £10,000; the winning IL-HKW author gets €25,000 and his/her translator €10,000 .....)
       Previous winners include Teju Cole's Open City (last year) and Maidenhair by Mikhail Shishkin (2011).
       From 154 submitted (but not revealed ... come on, guys ... why not ?) titles, by authors from 64 countries, writing in 27 languages), they've now announced the shortlist.
       Two written-in-English titles make the list (including the only shortlisted title under review at the complete review, How to Get Filthy Rich in Rising Asia by Mohsin Hamid), as well as Georgi Gospodinov's The Physics of Sorrow (forthcoming in English from Open Letter), and a Dany Laferrière-title.
       I'm also curious about Bernardo Kucinski's K -- which was actually published in English translation last year, by the Latin American Bureau; see, for example some information from them, or get your copy at or
       The winner will be announced 3 July.

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

       Amazon grants

       At Salon Neil Drumming wonders about Amazon's last defenders ? Literary nonprofits wrestle with ethics of taking Amazon grants, as the old debate about Amazon doling out money to worthy literary institutions/causes comes up for discussion again.
       Patrick Thomas of Milkweed Editions, Chad Post of Open Letter/Three Percent, and Jeffrey Lependorf of the CLMP are willing to go on the record with comments; very disappointingly the others who take the (blood ?) money chose to duck the issue.

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

       Women's Nepali literature conference

       República reports that the First worlds women's Nepali literature conference takes place today through the 31st.
       I hope there will be reports from the actual conference.

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

       Works review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Edouard Levé's fascinating Works, finally available in English, from Dalkey Archive Press.

       The two other translated Levé-books are under review at the complete review -- and are the sort of dispiriting example of the frustrations of doing what I do here. There seems to be some interest in Levé -- at least to judge by the number of reviews of, especially, Suicide, as well as the number of online pieces more generally about him. But Google buries the Levé-reviews at the complete review far, far down on its results lists, and so the review of Suicide and Autoportrait have had, to date in 2014 (over nearly five months and 150 days) a total of 16 and 14 page-views, respectively.
       Between 21 February and 12 April no one stumbled across or found either review at all. No hits for a stretch of some fifty day !
       Mind you, these are outliers. Few reviews, except of the truly obscure, fare so poorly.
       But these seem to be review-pages that people would be interested in -- and they're just not finding them.

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

28 May 2014 - Wednesday

Oskar Pastior Preis (et al.) | Euregio student prize
French author writing in ... Urdu | ACFNY Translation Prize revived

       Oskar Pastior Preis (et al.)

       Just recently I reported that Marcel Beyer won this year's €20,000 Kleist-Preis; his banner year continues as he's now added the €40,000 Oskar Pastior Preis (scroll down for the announcement), which he gets to pick up 14 September) to his winnings.
       As also previously noted, several of Beyer's works have been translated into English; the unsettling Goebbels-novel, The Karnau Tapes remains your best bet, get your copy at or (I still have no idea what the deal is with that cover).

       In other German prize news, Rüdiger Safranski will get this year's Thomas Mann-Preis (worth €25,000) -- no word yet at the official site, last I checked, but see, for example, the (German) Boersenblatt report.
       Several of his works have been translated into English, and conveniently his Romanticism: A German Affair is due out shortly from Northwestern University Press; see their publicity page, or get your copy from or

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

       Euregio student prize

       'Euregio' is the really sad, cringe-inducing name they chose for a:
a section of the Dutch-German border area covering parts of the Dutch provinces Gelderland, Overijssel, and Drenthe as well as parts of the German federal states Nordrhein-Westfalen and Niedersachsen
       (That doesn't make it any better, does it ?)
       Still, the whole beyond-borders idea is a good one, and I am impressed by this student-prize they have there. They have students select a best book from six titles -- two each Dutch, French, and German (see this year's titles) -- a pretty awesome way of getting younger readers involved with foreign (but not too foreign) literature.
       This year the prize went to The Dinner-author Herman Koch's Summer House with Swimming Pool -- conveniently due out in the US next week (and in the UK in a month); pre-order your copy at or (I haven't seen it yet, but I do hope to.)

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

       French author writing in ... Urdu

       After English, French seems to be the most common foreign language for writers from other countries to adopt, from Chinese authors such as Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian to American author Jonathan 'The Kindly Ones' Littell, but here's a still much less-seen leap: as Issam Ahmed reports in the Daily Star Julien Columeau has become: "one of the country's most innovative Urdu novelists".
       Pretty neat -- though given how little gets translated from Urdu into English, I'm not sure we'll be seeing any of this any time soon.

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

       ACFNY Translation Prize revived

       After a hiatus of a couple of years, it appears the Austrian Cultural Forum New York Translation Prize is being revived -- with a launch-announcement at Book Expo America on Friday; see also the ACFNY literature-page. Definitely something for translators-from-the German to keep an eye on.
       (I was a judge for this during the years of its first incarnation, but this is the first I'm hearing of its come-back, so I'm not sure about the when and where; I'll try and keep you posted -- if and when anyone bothers to tell me what the deal is.)

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

27 May 2014 - Tuesday

Jen Lien-kche takes Franz Kafka Prize !
Q & As: Will Evans - Armenian literature abroad
The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair review

       Jen Lien-kche takes Franz Kafka Prize !

       The Franz Kafka Prize attracted some attention about a decade ago when two years in a row they honored the author who would go on to be awarded the Nobel Prize later that year (Elfriede Jelinek in 2004 and Harold Pinter in 2005), and ever since folks have been keeping a closer eye on the prize announcement.
       This year's winner has been now been announced. Not at the official site yet, last I checked, but see for example the České noviny report, Cenu Franze Kafky letos dostane čínský prozaik Jen Lien-kche.
       Jen Lien-kche ? I know this site has a really well-read and knowledgeable audience but kudos to anyone (outside the Czech Republic and Slovakia) that recognized the author as 阎连科. Or, as you are perhaps more likely to know him, Yan Lianke. (I've mentioned how big a fan I am of non-uniform transliteration, haven't I ? See what happens .....)
       In any case, good to see some more attention being paid to Chinese authors on the international stage. (Even if the focus tends to be on the same, widely-available-in-translation ones -- Yan was, after all, also a 2013 Man Booker International Prize finalist.)
       Two of Yan's titles are under review at the complete review: Serve the People ! and Lenin's Kisses.

       (Updated - 28 May): See now also the English-language report in The Prague Post.

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

       Q & A: Will Evans

       At Asymptote there's a Publisher Profile: Will Evans of Deep Vellum by Frances Riddle.
       Will's Deep Vellum -- 'Publishing translated literature in Dallas, Texas' -- is currently launching, and looks to be a great addition to the growing roster of translation-focused independent publishers sprouting up in the US.

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

       Q & A: Armenian literature abroad

       At hetq Anush Kocharyan talks with 'literary' agent Arevik Ashkharoyan, finding Armenian Authors' Works Attract Interest in International Literary Market.
       Ashkharoyan runs the 1st Armenian Literary Agency -- and while the Armenians seem a bit behind, say, the Georgians, at least in the broader English-speaking market (they do pretty well in the diaspora market, but little seems to travel beyond that), it's good to see they're making an effort.
       Interesting, too, the exchange:
On one occasion, in conversation, you said that European publishers are particularly interested in the works of female writers.

Yes, when they see our catalogue where only male writers are represented, they always ask if there aren't female writers.
       Writing by women remains woefully under-represented in translation-into-English, from almost all languages, (see also Will Evans' comments, mentioned above). It's a bit disappointing that outside pressure/notice seems necessary to nudge locals towards looking into it, but one hopes it helps a bit.

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

       The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Joël Dicker's incredibly successful novel, The Truth about the Harry Quebert Affair, which has now (today is the official publication date !) made it to the US.
       A prize-winning French (well, Swiss-French) novel set in the US, I'm very curious to see the reception it gets hereabouts. My review is 3600 words long, so I certainly found a lot to say about it .....

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

26 May 2014 - Monday

Assises internationales du roman | African literature
The List of My Desires review

       Assises internationales du roman

       They held the eighth edition of les Assises internationales du roman -- the International Forum on the Novel -- at the Villa Gillet last week; disappointingly, there doesn't seem to have been much English language coverage, despite an international guest-list that included a number of English-writing authors.
       Lots of French coverage -- including Catherine Simon in Le Monde on Assises du roman. Dans le miroir de la traduction.

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

       African literature

       In The Herald Etinosa Agbolahor makes the case for Why you should be reading African books.

       See also the index of African literature under review at the complete review, if you're looking for some suggestions.

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

       The List of My Desires review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Grégoire Delacourt's The List of My Desires -- as it was titled in the UK; it just came out in the US under the title My Wish List.

       This is the first of his works translated into English -- not that he's written too much else -- but he recently attracted international attention/got a great PR boost by getting himself sued by Scarlett Johansson, whose handlers apparently object to the way her likeness is used in his recent novel, La première chose qu'on regarde. This isn't a new story -- you read about it here almost a year ago -- but with it now coming to trial (or tribunal ...) it's back in the news; with only €50,000 in damages being sought it seems rather a lot of fuss about something that most of her fans likely would never have even heard of otherwise, but, hey, it gets press-attention .....
       See, for example, Elia Alexander's report in The Independent, Scarlett Johansson suing French author for using her likeness in a new book.

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

25 May 2014 - Sunday

'This Way Up ?' festival | Changing times in Iran ?
Gerald M. Edelman (1929-2014)

       'This Way Up ?' festival

       From 29 May to 1 June they're having the Australia & New Zealand Festival of Literature & Arts, This Way Up ? in London -- looks good (well, other than the dizzying, over-busy official website ...).
       A great line-up, and see also Nick Miller's preview in The Age, Festival of Australia and NZ arts launches in London.
       (See also the Australian/NZ literature under review at the complete review.

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

       Changing times in Iran ?

       The recent rounding-up and detention of some Iranians for posting a video on YouTube of themselves dancing to an innocuous pop song -- see, for example, the story in The Guardian -- suggests the local authorities still aren't showing much cultural flexibility -- and yet a few days ago at IBNA "scholar, author and translator of philosophy Babak Ahmadi" is quoted as saying about the current state of literature and (non-reading) in the country:
I think we have to trace a resolve to this problem somewhere else, where the government is not honest with people and books are irrationally censored, so people are no longer interested in books
       Admirable of him to say -- and them to be able to print -- that maybe the governmnt should at least explain what's okay, and what isn't. Open criticism and discussion seems to be a good first step to sorting things out .....

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

       Gerald M. Edelman (1929-2014)

       There are only a few books by non-literature Nobel laureates under review at the complete review, but A Universe of Consciousness, co-written by Gerald M. Edelman, is one of them.
       He's now died; see the obituary by Bruce Weber in The New York Times.

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

24 May 2014 - Saturday

French-American Foundation Translation Prizes | Amazon v. Hachette et al.
The City under the Skin review

       French-American Foundation Translation Prizes

       They announced the winners of the: "27th Annual Translation Prize for superior English translations of French works published in 2013" awarded by the French-American Foundation and the Florence Gould Foundation. In the fiction category Adriana Hunter's translation of Eléctrico W by Hervé Le Tellier took the prize.
       (There's a non-fiction category too; Alison Dundy and Nicholas Elliott won for their translation of The Falling Sky by Davi Kopenawa and Bruce Albert; see, for example, the Harvard University Press publicity page.)

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

       Amazon v. Hachette et al.

       I tend to stay away from the controversies-of-the day that everybody weighs in on (sorry, no 'trigger warning'-commentary hereabouts), but the dispute is hard to avoid.
       Apparently folks are surprised and upset that is playing hardball/dirty in negotiating a new arrangement with mega-publisher Hachette, delaying -- or at least really taking their time -- with orders for Hachette-titles (which does seem pretty petty) and making it impossible to pre-order forthcoming Hachette titles (which seems .. well, not really a big deal). For an overview see, for example, Amazon Flexes Its Muscles in Fight Against Publishers, by David Streitfeld and Melissa Eddy in The New York Times.
       One can, and should debate these tactics, but what I have a bit of trouble with is the voices of surprise and hand-wringing. So, for example, Farhad Manjoo writes -- also in The New York Times -- that Amazon's Tactics Confirm Its Critics' Worst Suspicions, as if this were something new or unexpected. But Amazon has done this before -- Amazon Removes Macmillan Books The New York Times reported in 2010. In Germany they did the same with Diogenes more than a decade ago -- see, for example, the (German) report in Der Spiegel.
       Come on, folks -- this is how they operate. And while they seem to be getting bad PR, annoying writers, and while Manjoo and many others argue: "There are a couple obvious reasons this is a bad strategy", surely they've done the cost/benefit sums -- and are well aware how short consumers' memories are -- and decided it's worth it.
       (As I've mentioned many times before, the 'business' that is publishing (or the way publishers go about pretending to be businesses) completely baffles me; the current situation does little to help reassure me that anyone of any competence is involved (unlike Amazon, who, like it or not, know how to play). I'd like to have more sympathy even for a juggernaut like Hachette but find that during the course of these negotiation they apparently haven't even disabled/removed Amazon from their 'Where to buy this book'-reseller pages -- see the one for 'The Silkworm' by Robert Galbraith, one of the books that is currently unavailable for pre-order at Amazon -- which suggests they aren't even serious about asserting their position (but rather are offering a little posturing for show but basically will roll over soon enough). Come on, guys, even if it's just symbolic, put a little effort into at least pretending you're taking some sort of stand .....)
       I'm not really sure what people expect, now. We've all helped create the monster, but it's not like we weren't aware of what monstrosities to expect from it. (Again: publishers don't seem to really understand how business works, so when a business acts like ... a business (using its market position and power to exact better terms) they're suddenly shocked ?)

       I am not a very good capitalist-consumer, even of books: publishers generously send me most that I ask for, free of charge (much appreciated !); I borrow about fifty books a year from the library, and buy maybe fifty to a hundred more -- but practically all used. Other than the occasional gift-purchase, I haven't paid retail for a book in a long, long time (but when I do pay retail I do so at a local bookstore). The only title I have ever purchased directly from the American was in cashing in a ten-dollar coupon provided by them, well over a decade ago; I have bought two or three other books from Marketplace sellers over the years -- and I do cash in, in books, some of the Amazon-earnings I make as an Amazon-affiliate (getting a commission when readers click on the Amazon links on this site) from the German and French Amazons. (I do make some -- though by now relatively little -- money via the Amazon-click-throughs on the site, so I do have some vested interest in people using Amazon.)
       All of which is to say I have no idea how (more normal) consumers will react to the Amazon shenanigans. I suspect memories will be short -- if indeed they even notice. I suspect Amazon will continue to get its way, more or less.
       I do hope publishers get a bit more aggressive in their negotiating tactics. Or learn some tactics .....

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

       The City under the Skin review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Geoff Nicholson's new novel, The City under the Skin.
       That's the eighteenth (!) Geoff Nicholson title under review at the complete review; only Naguib Mahfouz (23) is better-represented.

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

23 May 2014 - Friday

Independent Foreign Fiction Prize | George Macdonald Fraser profile
A Brit in l'Académie française ? | Half of a Yellow Sun - the film
Sacred River review

       Independent Foreign Fiction Prize

       They've announced the winner of this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, the leading literary prize for a translation in the UK, and it is: The Iraqi Christ, by Hassan Blasim, translated by Jonathan Wright.
       In the UK this was published by Comma Press; see their publicity page, or get your copy at
       In the US, Penguin have bundled it with The Madman of Freedom Square in a volume titled The Corpse Exhibition; get your copy at

       In addition, the IFFP judges:
also wanted to give a special mention to The Mussel Feast, the debut novel by German writer Birgit Vanderbeke translated by Jamie Bulloch
       Judge Nadifa Mohamed called it: "a tiny book that leaves a strong impression".

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

       George Macdonald Fraser profile

       On the occasion of Heywood Hill putting George MacDonald Fraser's Working Library up for sale (2 June to 31 July), publisher Christopher Maclehose reminisces about The derring-do that created Flashman in The Spectator.
       I'm a big fan of the Flashman-books -- but Maclehose also suggests:
His best book is Quartered Safe out Here, which I have often heard described as the finest military memoir ever written.
       Not all that many books are purchased by visitors to the complete review via the on each page, but Quartered Safe out Here is one of those purchased in a (still tiny) volume all out of proportion to the limited number of page-views the review gets (other unlikely (relatively) best-sellers: The Wittgenstein House and Yoruba Proverbs).

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

       A Brit in l'Académie française ?

       Michael Edwards was actually elected to the Académie française well over a year ago, but he only yesterday finally took his fauteuil -- succeeding the great Jean Dutourd.
       Gotta love the Le Figaro headline: Damned, un Anglais à l'Académie française !

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

       Half of a Yellow Sun - the film

       The film based on Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's much-praised Half of a Yellow Sun -- see the official site -- is now making the rounds --- except, apparently, in Nigeria, where it was scheduled to open a month ago but where there's been a hold-up with it getting the necessary stamp of approval from the National Film and Video Censors Board.
       At CNN film director Biyi Bandele wonders Why can't Nigerians watch country's biggest movie ? Meanwhile, the NFVCB have only released a short statement 'explaining':
certain aspects of the film have some unresolved issues which have to be sorted out in accordance with the law and laid down regulations
       Well, that clears things up .....

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

       Sacred River review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Syl Cheney-Coker's new and long-awaited novel, Sacred River, just out from Ohio University Press.

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

22 May 2014 - Thursday

RSL Ondaatje Prize | 'World Cup of Literature' tournament
MetaFilter and Google (and the complete review)

       RSL Ondaatje Prize

       They've announced the winner of the Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize -- a £10,000 literary prize notable because it pits fiction, non, and poetry all against one another, the main criteria being that it is a work: "evoking the spirit of a place"
       The 2014 prize went to This Boy, by Alan Johnson; see the Corgi publicity site, or get your copy at or

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

       'World Cup of Literature' tournament

       The FIFA World Cup™ starts in Brazil on 12 June and will keep a lot of folks very (pre)occupied for the following month; at Three Percent they're getting in the competitive spirit by launching a World Cup of Literature (no "™" yet ??!?) -- "pitting all of the World Cup qualifying countries against one another in a battle for world literature supremacy" in a "32-book knock-out tournament".
       They're still in the process of selecting books (and judges); they're hoping to get: "books published from 2000 onwards". (Ideally, I imagine, they'd get football- (soccer-)themed books from each country, but that seems like a bit much to ask.)
       Sounds like fun -- though of course a lot depends on the books that are selected to represent their nations. Of course, choosing what players to field for the national side is always tough .....

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

       MetaFilter and Google (and the complete review)

       MetaFilter reported on the State of MetaFilter a couple of days ago, and Matt Haughey expanded on that at Medium, writing On the Future of MetaFilter; David Auerbach has now also written about this at Slate in Deranked.
       Basically, they report:
Unfortunately in the last couple years we have seen our Google ranking fall precipitously for unexplained reasons, and the corresponding drop in ad revenue means that the future of the site has come into question.
       Regrettably, the story strikes much too close to home -- the total ad revenue graph Haughey shares bears an eerie resemblance to the rise and fall of (total) revenue for the past few years at the complete review (though it peaked earlier here), a site that is coincidentally also fifteen years old (and also very much (or even more so): "from 'two or three Internets ago'"). Here, too, the cause is largely Google-based, since Google continues to be the source of (the no longer so large ...) vast majority of traffic to the site and complete review-results have, for several years now, fared far, far worse on the almighty search engine.
       I've noted my annoyance with Google repeatedly -- both in where complete review pages show up, as well as in using it to find links to other review and book-information to link to (in essence: there's generally little rhyme or reason -- at least in terms of value-of-content, in my eyes -- to what gets ranked high, and what gets buried way, way down the results-lists). A recent update of all the sites' Geoff Nicholson-review pages (new review coming soon) was frustrating proof again of how awful the results lists can be -- though they did spit up a seemingly endless number of sites where I could apparently illegally download the titles I was looking for information/review-links to; I block these with a Chrome extension so they don't appear in future searches, but Google helpfully seems to constantly find hundreds more .....
       Adding insult to injury, my trawling for links has fairly frequently been interrupted in recent months by Google warnings that: "Google automatically detects requests coming from your computer network which appear to be in violation of the Terms of Service" and so they want to ascertain: "it's really you sending the requests, and not a robot". I understand that there might be something robotic-maniacal about the way I search for links -- scrolling through endless 100-results-per-page pages (since, as noted, Google does not rank useful review/information links very highly, and if I stuck to the top ten search results would basically be linking to ... Amazon and not much else) -- but it does really make me wonder what the 'human' search behavior they're looking for looks like (and how anybody who just looks at the top few results of a given search finds any actual information ...) .....
       The Internet has changed over these many years, and there's a lot that might contribute to/cause the decline in overall traffic: there are a lot more book review sites (and, especially, book review weblogs) out there now, so often there is a lot more content to choose from/search for (though of course I think the linkage you find with each review at the complete review makes it slightly more useful than most review-only offerings ...), there are alternatives such as Goodreads which seem to be popular, and there's presumably a lot of other (non-book(-review) content that folks are flocking to (instead). The complete review is also very different from, for example, MetaFilter; still, this shared fate suggests to me that Google has chosen to tailor its results to ... well, not to the most useful information/content. (Given their market dominance I can't say they doing it wrong -- after all, they still seem to be faring very well.)

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

21 May 2014 - Wednesday

2014 translations (in the US) | French publishers (not) abroad
Reading in ... Zimbabwe

       2014 translations (in the US)

       At Three Percent Chad Post announces the exciting news of the Translation Database Update, Including 442 Titles Coming in 2014, as he's off to a great start in collecting the (first-time fiction and poetry) translations that will be (readily) available in the US in 2014. Yes, the databases still have to be downloaded to be perused (get the latest versions here), and are only available in the horrific .xlsx format (hey ! something that can make even the dreaded pdf look good !) -- come on, Chad, how about a nice simple html spread so that people can actually easily consult this ... ! -- but at least the information and data is there.
       This has been the most comprehensive the database has been this early in a year (and, given publishing, it isn't definitive yet), and it makes a great resource.
       Some interesting early statistics, too. As far as publishers-of-fiction goes, Dalkey again leads the way with 31 titles (well, maybe 30 -- I don't think Dagny is a translation ...) -- trouncing the nearest competition (which, impressively is a tie between Europa Editions and Gallic Books (18 each), with AmazonCrossing down to fourth (17)). India-based Seagull (16) and Other Press (15) are the only other double-digit fiction publishers.
       No surprise that translations from the French crush the competition (93 -- both fiction and poetry (the database doesn't separate these stats, and I'm too lazy to)), with German a poor runner-up with 50. (Worth a closer look: how are the French so incredibly successful, despite so many folks complaining about how tired the French literary scene has become ? I guess maybe not .....) It's shaping up to be a decent Chinese year (19 titles -- surprisingly beating out Japanese (17)) -- and while sub-continental languages are still way under-represented, fictional representation has doubled over last year, with .... one title each in Hindi and Urdu (sigh). And while there are translations (again -- both fiction and poetry) from 38 (or 39, if you include 'various' ...) languages (Dutch and Flemish surely count as the same, and -- sorry all you nationalists -- Serbian and Croatian too ...), many notable languages remain unrepresented (Thai is an obvious standout, as are (m)any Indian and African ones (Afrikaans, Arabic, and the colonial languages are represented; beyond that ...))

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

       French publishers (not) abroad

       In The Guardian Pierre Astier and Laure Pécher suggest French book publishers risk being lost in translation without global reach -- a somewhat misleading headline, since what they focus on is the failure of French publishers to expand internationally and corner, so to speak, the Francophone market.
So books, it would seem, travel in one direction: from France to Switzerland, Belgium and Canada; from France, the former colonial power, to its ex-dependencies in Africa, the Caribbean and the Indian Ocean. Even more worrying, the big names in French literature have been sucked into the centre. Paris imports talent and exports books, but neither trade names nor rights. Why has a firm like Hachette not started subsidiaries in South America, India, China or Russia ?
       (Maybe I'm missing something, but between its big US presence with Hachette Book Group (Little, Brown; Grand Central; etc.) and (admittedly not very Franco-centric) Hachette India they, at least, have spread their tentacles abroad -- and do have that subsidiary in India. And who the hell has -- or would, in their right mind -- started a subsidiary in Russia ?)
       Still, the French do seem behind the times; the Spanish-language market was very fragmented but has seen a lot of cross-border consolidation -- but, of course, it's a different kind of market. France remains the French-speaking heartland, with few competing markets of the size/significance Spain had in Argentina, Mexico, etc.

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

       Reading in ... Zimbabwe

       In The Herald Beaven Tapureta has a Q & A with Ignatius Tirivangani Mabasa on reading culture, technology.
       Some interesting observations -- as well as the old canard (and too easy excuse):
As a country, we have left the book sector in the hands of commercial publishers who are after profit-making. This means their business is based on money coming through, but this limits the availability of a variety of books for the country to read for enjoyment. The economic hardships and lack of policies have also contributed to reading habits not developing.
       Given the current situation, he may be right that: "if we all put our shoulders to the wheel, I am sure we will start seeing the change we desire" -- but placing so much hope in government action to lead the way (especially given the current state of Zimbabwean governance) seems ... expecting a bit much.

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

previous entries (11 - 20 May 2014)

archive index

- return to top of the page -

© 2014 the complete review

the Complete Review
Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links