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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 August 2014

1 August: Kenneth Fearing/prose and politics | Bookslut Jessa Crispin moves on | The Walls of Delhi review
2 August: Writing (in English) in ... Bangladesh | Hermans' typewriters ! | August issues | Hard to be a God review
3 August: Evie Wyld Q & A | 'Light' Hungarian reads
4 August: (Erotic) writing in ... India | ZIBF reports
5 August: Arabic literature in ... (German) translation | Popular fiction in ... Viet Nam | South Asian translations (not) in the US
6 August: ALTA NTA longlist | Dip in US titles | Print-runs in Iran
7 August: BTBA 2015 preliminaries | Elfriede Brüning (1910-2014) | Whiskey Tango Foxtrot review
8 August: Ko Un Q & A | Gamal El-Ghitani Q & A | Popular in India
9 August: Establishing Tolstoy abroad | Online writing in ... China | Twilight of the Eastern Gods review
10 August: Dowlatabadi goes postal | Półfinał Angelusa | Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award 2015 - call for entries

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10 August 2014 - Sunday

Dowlatabadi goes postal | Półfinał Angelusa
Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award 2015 - call for entries

       Dowlatabadi goes postal

       The Colonel-(etc.-)author (and local favorite) Mahmoud Dowlatabadi gets a nice birthday homage in Iran -- no, the censors haven't yet given the stamp of approval to some of the unpublished novels (like The Colonel ...), but they have unveiled a different kind of stamp: yes, as the Tehran Times reports, Iran issues commemorative postage stamp for writer Mahmud Dowlatabadi, as:
Iran has issued a postage stamp to commemorate the 74th birthday of the renowned Iranian author Mahmud Dowlatabadi
       See also the original report at ISNA -- in Persian, but with more ceremony-pictures.
       And the stamp itself looks pretty neat:

Mahmoud Dowlatabadi postage stamp

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

       Półfinał Angelusa

       They've announced the longlist for this year's Angelus Central European Literature Award (Literacka Nagroda Europy Środkowej Angelus).
       Books -- translated into/published in Polish -- by living writers from twenty-one Central European countries (Albania, Austria, Belarus, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Russia, Romania, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Ukraine) are eligible, and the track record of this prize is solid: last year's winner was The Museum of Abandoned Secrets by Oksana Zabuzhko (yes, published by ... AmazonCrossing in English; get your copy at or, and a Svetlana Alexievich title (not available in English ...) took the 2011 prize.
       Among the 14 longlisted titles this year (from 51 (not named, sigh) entries [updated (15 August): I missed this, but a reader kindly alerts me that all the submissions are in fact listed here -- well done !]) are The Accident by Ismail Kadare and The Devil's Workshop by Jáchym Topol.
       Since Polish publishers are more likely to translate eastern European works than even German or French publishers, the list always makes for a good overview of what's happening in Central/Eastern Europe -- and it's interesting to see that, despite being eligible, no titles from either Germany or Austria make the list this year.

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

       Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award 2015 - call for entries

       A reminder that the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award 2015 is still calling for submissions ("from publishers, agents and authors") -- but that the deadline is relatively soon: 18:00 GMT, 26 September 2014.
       "All entries must be 6,000 words or under and entirely original", authors can hail from anywhere in the world -- "as long as they have a previous record of publication in creative writing in the UK and Ireland" (whatever that means ...) -- and it's worth an impressive £30,000.
       C.K.Stead won the first of these, in 2010, and it has a pretty impressive track record, as far as short story prizes go.

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

9 August 2014 - Saturday

Establishing Tolstoy abroad | Online writing in ... China
Twilight of the Eastern Gods review

       Establishing Tolstoy abroad

       In the Financial Times Rosamund Bartlett offers an interesting look at: 'How the works of Russia's greatest writer of genius were introduced to the English-speaking world', in Tolstoy translated. (Editorial aside: "greatest writer of genius" ? Huh ? What the hell is a 'writer of genius' ?)
       The piece includes nice quotes about, for example, an early Anna Karenina translation:
To the critic of the New York Times, his version suggested "the geological subsidence of a layer of Russian into a substratum of English, leaving a number of words to linger fossil-like amid the latter in untranslatable durability".
       Interesting also the conclusion that:
Together with Garnett, the Maudes did more than anyone else to ensure Tolstoy's reputation as one of the world's great writers, ultimately eclipsing his once hallowed status as religious thinker and patron of the pacifist cause.

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

       Online writing in ... China

       In the Wall Street Journal Wei Gu reports that: 'Some of Country's Highest-Paid Authors Write Online-Only Novels Catering to Young Males', as apparently/supposedly In China, Writers Don't Need Books to Make Big Bucks.
       Wave of the future or unique circumstances ?
       I'm not really thrilled by (and have some doubts about ...) the notion that:
Online readership data tells studios, gaming companies and publishers which stories are likely to become hits, and which demographic groups should be targeted.
       A recipe for 'success', of sorts, perhaps, but surely not much that might be enduring (or, you know ... good).

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

       Twilight of the Eastern Gods review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ismail Kadare's Twilight of the Eastern Gods.
       A fairly early autobiographical novel, about his time in Moscow in 1958 (in the famous Soviet MFA programme that was the Gorky Institute), it's now available in the UK, with the US edition to come in November.
       Some great scenes and lines, but few that can top the devastating break-up line with which the local lass the narrator picked up dismisses him:
I'm beginning to believe that you ... you too ... you are a writer !

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

8 August 2014 - Friday

Ko Un Q & A | Gamal El-Ghitani Q & A | Popular in India

       Ko Un Q & A

       In The Korea Times Kim Ji-soo has a profile of and Q & A with (The Three Way Tavern, etc. author) Ko Un -- "If there is a national poet, it may well be Ko Un" -- 'I want to awaken poetry in people's heart'.
       The piece concludes with a 'List of literary awards' Ko has received -- a not so subtle hint that, alas, is explored at greater length in a companion piece, also by Kim, as the Korean obsession with the Nobel rears its foolish head again: Ko Un still young, the headline promises; "At 81, national poet mulls chance of winning Nobel Prize", the lead-in promises.
       Fortunately, Ko at least knows better, sensibly admitting:
That I do not know about, so there is nothing I can say,
       (Eighty-one is, by the way, advanced age for Nobel consideration ... but then Alice Munro was almost exactly the same age (she's just two years older) when she took last year's prize .....)

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

       Gamal El-Ghitani Q & A

       Via I'm pointed to Safaa Azab's Q & A ("an abridged version of an interview originally conducted in Arabic") at Asharq Al-Awsat Gamal El-Ghitani: Nasser should have listened to Naguib Mahfouz.
       Not sure how much went missing in translation, but at least some (starting) points of interst re. the current literary situation in Egypt, with the Zayni Barakat-author finding:
There is a huge amount of talent and it all depends on the skillfulness of cultural institutions in supporting the emerging creative writers.
       But he finds the local cultural institutions (in particular the Ministry of Culture) are failing, "opposing some writers merely because they do not like them", etc. So, to -- and hardly surprisingly:
As a result, young writers have turned their backs on ministries of culture, and this is evidenced by the fact that the output of the best young literary writers has not come out of state institutions but rather out of private publishing houses, such as Merit [Publishing House].
       Government (or private-institutional -- of which there isn't that much in Egypt) support would certainly be helpful, but it's always hard to get that anywhere near right (and for the relevant institutions (and/or alternative support-mechanisms, like tax breaks) to maintain a reasonable objectivity).

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

       Popular in India

       At IndiaTV Vineeta Kumar wonders Is Chetan Bhagat the Salman Khan of literary world ? -- to which the vast majority of even dedicated readers in the US/UK likely would answer: "Sure ... ?" not recognizing either of these names as 'stars' who are "are uber successful in their respective fields".
       There have been any number of domestically incredibly successful Indian authors who have failed to find anything like that success in the US/UK, but they've pretty much all written in languages other than English (I recently posted a review of Sankar's Chowringhee, and US/UK reactions don't seem to have gone beyond yet another shrug ...). Those who have had success abroad have been the ones who wrote in English -- and generally with strong US/UK ties (education, work, domicile), from Salman Rushdie to Vikram Seth, Vikram Chandra, etc. etc (R.K.Narayan being the outlier in the US/UK-ties regard).
       But writing in English, incredibly successful in India -- and practically unknown in the US/UK ? That's been a rare combination. There have been individual titles (The Inscrutable Americans ?), and there has been Shobhaa De, but Bhagat's success domestically is in a whole different league.
       Is it a sign of a maturing market and readership -- that books which are so ... well, to put it bluntly, bad and basic -- can succeed domestically but don't stand a chance of international success ? (There have been US/UK editions of some of his work -- at least the offensive One night @ the call center -- you can see why they went with that one, but it probably wasn't the right choice to try to introduce him to US/UK markets.) I'm tempted to think of Bhagat's success in India -- coming hand-in-hand with the local advances in publishing, English-literacy, online coverage, etc. -- as a good sign, at least. Of course, when I look at the books themselves .....
       Anyway: a fascinating case study that I'm sure I'll return to again.

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

7 August 2014 - Thursday

BTBA 2015 preliminaries | Elfriede Brüning (1910-2014)
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot review

       BTBA 2015 preliminaries

       At Three Percent Chad Post offers the first Best Translated Book Award information for next year's award (covering books published in the US in 2014), in BTBA 2015: The Judges !
       I am (again) one of the judges for the fiction prize, joining an impressive panel. And the important dates are already set:
  • 31 December 2014: Publishers should have gotten in any books they want considered. (We'll consider any eligible title, even if not publisher-submitted, but let me tell you, it's a hell of a lot easier if the publishers do send us copies ...)

  • 2 March 2015: the longlists (25 fiction titles !) are announced

  • 13 April 2105: the finalists (10 fiction titles !) are announced

  • 27 April 2015: the winners will be announced

  • 1 May 2015: wild celebrations in New York
       A preliminary list the fiction judges are working with already has 415 titles (but a handful will likely be ruled ineligible, and quite a few probably haven't been included yet); I haven't tallied how many I've read so far (but several dozen are under review at the complete review); I already have well over a hundred.
       No really heavy early favorites from what I've read to date so far -- a couple of strong contenders for longlist-spots (The Symmetry Teacher by Andrei Bitov; The Light and the Dark by Mikhail Shishkin; 1914 by Jean Echenoz; Mr. Gwyn by Alessandro Baricco), with quite a few titles on the horizon, but none that strike me as clear front-runners.

       I strongly encourage publishers to send us any and all eligible titles; mailing information is accessible via Chad's post (but no need to send me titles that you've already provided for review purposes, many thanks ...).

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

       Elfriede Brüning (1910-2014)

       Maybe not a big name, but noteworthy: Elfriede Brüning was the last survivng member of the Weimar-era (!) 'Bund proletarisch-revolutionärer Schriftsteller' -- the 'Association of Proletarian-Revolutionary Authors' (hey, there's even an English-language Wikipedia-entry) -- an organization whose members included Anna Seghers, Egon Erwin Kisch, Erwin Piscator, Friedrich Wolf, and apparently -- after some initial hesitance -- Bertolt Brecht. Like many from the Bund she remained in East Germany after the Second World War.
       See, for example, obituaries in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Die Welt. And she had her own website !

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

       Whiskey Tango Foxtrot review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of David Shafer's much buzzed-about debut, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot.
       It's just out, and with a rave from Dwight Garner in The New York Times on publication day (suggesting it: 'may be the novel of the summer' ...) will no doubt get a lot of attention.

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

6 August 2014 - Wednesday

ALTA NTA longlist | Dip in US titles | Print-runs in Iran

       ALTA NTA longlist

       The American Literary Translators Association has announced the fifteen-title-strong longlist for its 2014 National Translation Award; see also the official press release (warning ! dreaded pdf format !).
       The NTA is a translator-prize -- US$5,000, all for the translator -- and: "includes a rigorous examination of the source text and its relation to the finished English work". (The criteria do have their own fun quirks: titles can have been: "published anywhere in the world" (i.e. don't have to have been published -- or, apparently, even made available in the US), but they do have to have been: "translated by an American citizen or permanent resident".)
       One thing stands out among the fifteen longlisted titles: the absence of any 'Big Five' publishers. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is the only semi-sizable publisher on the independent- and university-press dominated list. Which suggests to me, yet again, that for all the apparent inroads literature-in-translation may appear to be making in the US market, a lot of those are peripheral side roads. Yes, it's great what these smaller presses are doing with and in translation -- but there's a problem when the big players aren't in this mix at all.

       Several of the longlisted titles are under review at the complete review (oddly, three of the four university press titles -- and none of the others):
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Dip in US titles

       Bowker reports Traditional Print Book Production Dipped Slightly in 2013, as:
Production of print books by traditional publishers slowed in the United States in 2013, declining from 309,957 titles in 2012 to a projected 304,912 titles in 2013
       (Recall the usual caveats: 'titles' doesn't mean new titles -- any new edition counts, including the many paperback editions of previously-published-as-hardcover books -- and that many of these titles are not 'books' of the sort that it would ever occur to you to read, and include everything from cookbooks to dictionaries, etc. etc.)
       Fiction titles (again, remember: these include new editions of previously released titles) increased from 49,853 to 50,498 (still below the 2007 high of 53,590).
       What's really striking, however, is that:
The non-traditional publishing sector had a far more significant decline over 2012. Its print output for 2013 was projected at 1,108,183 titles, a decrease of 46 percent from its production of 2,042,840 titles in 2012
       As they note, most of this is: "comprised primarily of reprint houses specializing in public domain works and by presses catering to self-publishers and "micro-niche" publications". I suspect the reprinters found that it was hardly worth the effort of registering these public domain works -- I wouldn't be surprised if a significant percentage of the 2,042,840 2012-titles failed to sell a single copy (and, since most of them are print-on-demand, never really existed beyond theoretically (since no copies were ever printed)).

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

       Print-runs in Iran

       Yet more that suggests some change is in the air: the disapproving survey-piece at IBNA finding that Unlike Hashemi and Khatami, during Ahmadinejad government books had the worst print runs.
       Not the sort of tone they'd have taken until recently:
But during the presidential term of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, due to taking severe measures of censorship and banning many Iranian books, the abovementioned average print run of the books was dramatically dropped to 3349, despite the fact that the population of Iran had increased.

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

5 August 2014 - Tuesday

Arabic literature in ... (German) translation | Popular fiction in ... Viet Nam
South Asian translations (not) in the US

       Arabic literature in ... (German) translation

       At Ruth Renée Reif has a Q & A with Arabic-to-German literary translator Hartmut Faehndrich, the disappointingly titled: "What I don't see is an on-going interest in Arabic literature".
       He describes the German market -- and, hey. it doesn't sound that different from the US/UK one:
The German-speaking market has a preponderance of literature by Egyptian and Lebanese authors. Other countries, by contrast, are not represented at all. The Arabian Peninsula, for example, is totally under-represented. You can search in vain for Yemeni or Omani literature. Saudi literature is likewise virtually non-existent. Maghrebi literature is usually translated from the French only. There are only one or two works from Tunisia that have been translated from the original Arabic into German. The same goes for Algeria and Morocco. To my knowledge, nothing from Mauritania has been translated from Arabic. Iraq is represented by a few books; Libya by a single author.
       ("If there were a hall of fame for hardest countries in the world to find literature from in English, Mauritania would be up there with the best of them" noted Ann Morgan at her A year of reading the world-weblog.)
       Perhaps most shocking:
In the case of Arabic literature, though, most publishers prefer to get their information from the Internet. I find that demoralising. It means that they can only translate the titles that are already available in English or French.
       (Not that I place much faith in scouts, either, but come on .....)

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

       Popular fiction in ... Viet Nam

       At VietNamNet Bridge T.Van reports how Light entertainment genre thriving in Vietnam literature -- as they're apparently surprised that:
A new trend has emerged in literature, which focuses on entertaining.
       Surprise, surprise:
most of the best-selling books are market literary works, which write about love and romantic relations
       And you gotta love some of the spin:
Dr. Nguyen Manh Hung said: "I donít think that reading market literary works is enjoyment. Enjoyment is reading big works of art and education. Market literary books are only for entertainment and for fun."
       (Yes, yes -- some of the nuance has no doubt been lost in translation .....)

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

       South Asian translations (not) in the US

       At Asymptote Mahmud Rahman begins a series on On the Dearth of South Asian Translations in the U.S..
       As he notes, according to the Three Percent translation databases:
South Asian languages barely make these lists: in the last five years, out of 2121 books, only 19 were from South Asian languages (only Urdu, Hindi, Bangla, Tamil).
       (And he's not even looking at even less represented non-Indian languages (Thai, Burmese, Malay, Indonesian, etc.).)
       These numbers are for both poetry and fiction, by the way -- and, for example, the only works of fiction translated from the Hindi published in US editions over the past two years appears to have been works by Uday Prakash -- The Girl with the Golden Parasol and The Walls of Delhi -- both of which were licensed (i.e. not commissioned by the US publishers, but rather previously published abroad (the latter by University of Western Australia Publishing (seriously), as I recently mentioned)).
       I'm looking forward to the next installment in the series, where Rahman will be: "talking about the experiences of six Hindi/Urdu translators and their encounters with U.S. publishers". Sounds like some depressing reading .....

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

4 August 2014 - Monday

(Erotic) writing in ... India | ZIBF reports

       (Erotic) writing in ... India

       In the New Indian Express Shilpa Raina looks Between the Sheets: Sex and Sensuality in Indian Literature, as the country of the Kama Sutra has long also had a very prudish side.
       I'm not sure I'm encouraged learning that:
For many, the defining moment for "erotica" came in India in 2011 with British author E.L.James' 50 Shades of Grey in which lust rode over the storyline, and in many ways its worldwide success resurrected the genre of erotica.
       And what to make of the claim:
Initially, it still was a struggle to convince writers to write erotica.
       See also Pradhuman's piece in The Asian Age, on Literature of desire.
       (And see also the Index of Erotic, Pornographic, and Sex-related books under review at the complete review.)

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

       ZIBF reports

       I haven't found much coverage of the Zimbabwe International Book Fair but a brief report in The Herald summarizes ZIBF: Writers challenged to preserve culture, norms and Stanely Mushava sums things up with his Postscript: ZIBF getting back its mojo (with "a post-mortem of the book fair" promised for Wednesday).

       (Updated - 5 August): See now also Ignatius Mabasa on finding: ZIBF a case of truth decay -- noting also that: "While it may be good to look big, it is also a fact that egos are not reality."

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

3 August 2014 - Sunday

Evie Wyld Q & A | 'Light' Hungarian reads

       Evie Wyld Q & A

       At Guernica Meara Sharma has a Q & A with Evie Wyld, Felt Not Known.
       Wyld has been racking up the literary prizes -- including recently the Miles Franklin Literary Award, for All The Birds, Singing; get your copy at or

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

       'Light' Hungarian reads

       At hlo they try to: "combat the view of Hungarians as gloomy and serious" by making a few suggestions for Holiday reads with a bit of a lighter side.
       Three of the four titles are actually under review at the complete review (all rather highly rated, too) -- and I happened to pick up the fourth (Füst's The Story of My Wife) just last year. The reviews can be found at:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

2 August 2014 - Saturday

Writing (in English) in ... Bangladesh | Hermans' typewriters !
August issues | Hard to be a God review

       Writing (in English) in ... Bangladesh

       Shougat Dasgupta's piece in The Caravan on how 'Bangladeshi writing in English joins a global conversation', East Is East, is from last month, but is only now freely accessible online -- well worth a look (though of course what I'd like to see is writing in/translated from Bangla in the global conversation; alas, almost none gets translated, much less made US/UK available ...).
       Much discussion of: "Bangladeshi writer Zia Haider Rahmanís much-touted debut, In the Light of What We Know" -- though Rahman seems about as Bangladeshi to me as Rushdie is Indian, i.e. deeply-rooted, but long and terribly (in the sense of 'very' more than 'badly', but with more than a hint of that too) UK-tainted.

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

       Hermans' typewriters !

       I think I must make a pilgimage to Belgian Ghent, to the Limerick bookstore; from afar I express my great admiration for their Hermans kamer, a room -- shrine ! -- holding the ... typewriter collection of the great W.F.Hermans.
       I can not express how in awe I am of this.
       I mean ... well, take a look:

Hermans kamer

       First off ... typerwriters !
       Second: Willem Frederik Hermans ! The list of under-appreciated, under-translated Dutch and Flemish authors is long, but Hermans is one of the greats -- Beyond Sleep and The Dark Room of Damokles have made it into English, Au Pair, De tranen der acacia's, and too much else hasn't.
       I know nothing about this bookstore, but next time I'm anywhere near that neighborhood ..... And if you're passing through or near Ghent, how could you not go ! (Meanwhile: pick up some Hermans, wherever you can !)

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

       August issues

       Some August issues of online periodicals are out, including Words without Borders' A New North: Contemporary Writing from Finland-issue (with a timely bonus of: 'New Writing from Ukraine').
       Open Letters Monthly also have a new issue up -- and the August issue of the Literary Review is up (with a review of the new Murakami, among other things).

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

       Hard to be a God review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Arkady and Boris Strugatsky's 1964 classic, Hard to be a God, just out in a (long overdue) new translation by Olena Bormashenko, from Chicago Review Press.

       Great to have the new translation, etc. etc. -- but, shockingly, the copyright page reveals:
English language translation copyright © 2014 by Chicago Review Press Incorporated
       Folks, this is not okay. This is not acceptable. This is outrageous.
       The Amazon-Hachette dispute has led to many comments about the need to foster and sustain a literary culture, and how Amazon's actions are undermining that. Well, publishers have a role too, and any publisher that is commissioning 'work for hire' translations, or that retains the translation copyright, is not doing right by authors, translators, readers, or the literary culture in general.
       I remind you that PEN explicitly advises translators: "We do not recommend accepting work-for-hire agreements". No kidding. But translators often don't have bargaining power; publishers with any sort of integrity shouldn't even be suggesting it. (Alas, many, many still do -- you know who you are, and shame on you.)
       I harp on it specifically in this case, because this is a translation that was: "Published with the support of the Institute for Literary Translation (Russia)" and Transcript, an International Project of the Mikhail Prokhorov Foundation. I.e. this was a well-subsidized translation.
       Now, I realize that individual translators can face a difficult situation trying to stand up to publisher arm-twisting about terms, and that even translator-groups may be leery of being too direct in their complaints, but this seems an area where pressure could usefully be exerted: surely for example the PEN Translation Committee or English PEN's Global Translation Initiative can exert their influence in making sure that translation-subsidizing groups (and there are lots of them) make support conditional on translators' rights being upheld (something that should be a matter of course, but, as we see, isn't) -- first and foremost: if a translation is subsidized, the subsidy is conditional on translators getting (and really holding) copyright on their work.
       How about it ?

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

1 August 2014 - Friday

Kenneth Fearing/prose and politics | Bookslut Jessa Crispin moves on
The Walls of Delhi review

       Kenneth Fearing/prose and politics

       At Tablet Ron Capshaw reminds readers that The Forgotten Founder of 'Partisan Review' Wrote Porn and Thrillers -- looking, sort of, at: 'What happened when Kenneth Fearing's Communist sympathies came up against his ideas about art ?'
       Best known as author of The Big Clock (you've heard about the movie versions -- read the book !), Fearing was sympathetic to the Communist cause -- apparently responding to the HUAC-posed question:
"Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Communist Party ?" -- he answered, "Not yet." While this was possibly a throw-away line or an attempt at humor, Fearing was more right than he knew. He never quite made the leap into social realism. Instead, when writing hardboiled mysteries, he served the story rather than the Party's aesthetic dogmas.
       Americans' ideological blinders (witness the claim: Obama-is-a-socialist -- an insult to every possible conception of socialism) continues to baffle me, but this is the kind that really bugs me. Communist sympathies can not be equated with an embrace of Zhdanovite (non-)aesthetics: just because authors were/are sympathetic to Communism or Marxism does not mean their writing must fit some simplistic template:
The typical proletarian novel had a protagonist, either apolitical or vaguely liberal, who watches a strike from the sidelines. The story usually ends with the murder of a union organizer friend by the bosses. The murder radicalizes the protagonist, who in Tom Joad fashion, pledges to carry on the work of the martyr.
       Certainly, that kind of 'literature' exists/existed -- especially in the Soviet/satellite states -- but as elsewhere the best literature was and is nowhere near as ideologically obvious or simplistic. (The laughable in(s)anity of Adam Bellow's Liberty Island is an example of seeing so-called 'conservative fiction' in a similarly ideologically blinkered fashion -- and where, predictably, there's also no art at all.)
       Capshaw's hypotheses of, for example: "a Marxist ending" are as limiting as the worst directives of Soviet-censor times; leftist/Marxist/Communist fiction could (and can) be, and often is, more nuanced than he allows for -- and the fact that Fearing's work is not simply categorizable as 'Communist fiction' speaks for it, without necessarily denying or undermining its author's ideological sympathies.

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

       Bookslut Jessa Crispin moves on

       The complete review went online way back in 1999, but it started solely a book review site; this Literary Saloon weblog was only added in August, 2002 (yes, the twelve-year-anniversary is around the corner ...) -- a place to report on daily literary news, comment on literary happenings, and link to book-related matter of interest. Among the handful of sites that inspired me to start it -- whose approach I basically copied -- were Dennis Johnson's original MobyLives (reincarnated -- and no longer just his baby, as it was back then -- as the Melville House house blog), MoorishGirl (as Laila Lalami then styled herself), Maud Newton, and Jessa Crispin's Bookslut (with an honorable mention to the sui generis wood s lot).
       I can't find my way into her archives (sigh), but the ever-helpful Wayback Machine offers Jessa's first posts -- beginning with the 26 February entry:
I used to have a grand idea for a book-based website. Book reviews, articles about publishing trends, the life of a total bookslut. It all just kind of fell apart at some point. Probably the point where I realized I would actually have to do something. So here I am now, dipping in a toe to see what will come of it. Maybe it'll just sit as a blog. And maybe I'll finally get around to doing something again.
       Now Jessa has has announced her retirement from the weblog (though not from the monthly magazine). At least it will continue, with new 'bloggers' (central Europe based ...).
       As longtime readers know, I don't deal well with change -- hence the near unchanged look, and unchanged approach to what's on offer, at this site, over so many years -- and I am, of course disappointed that another old reliable is moving on. But I keep my fingers crossed that even with new programming/programmers the Bookslut weblog will continue to be a destination-to-bookmark (or have in your RSS feed, or whatever you do to follow it).

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

       The Walls of Delhi review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of a collection of three stories by Uday Prakash, The Walls of Delhi.
       Just as last year his The Girl with the Golden Parasol appears to have been the only translation-of-a-work-of-fiction-from-the-Hindi published in the US, so this year this work appears to be ... the only translation-of-a-work-of-fiction-from-the-Hindi published in the US. (That is sad, folks. Sad.)
       It's not even a US-commissioned translation: this first came out in 2012 in an edition from University of Western Australia Publishing, before Seven Stories picked up the US rights. (Seriously -- UWA Publishing !)
       But apparently translations-from-Indian-languages really are beyond US publisher/critics/audiences -- this one doesn't even seem to have been picked up by the trades (no Publishers Weekly or Kirkus Reviews reviews, as far as I can tell). What gives ? What's the problem ?

       Possibly interesting aside: I hadn't noticed this when I covered The Girl with the Golden Parasol, but the Library of Congrtess has him down as ''Uday Prakash' (well, it's the Library of Congress, so: 'Udaya Prakāśa') -- i.e. they (and your local library) file him under 'U' (just as they file Mo Yan under 'M', Halldór Laxness under 'H', etc.). Seven Stories didn't get the memo -- or doesn't want to confuse booksellers, who will continue to file him under 'P' -- the spine of this book says: 'Prakash The Walls of Delhi', but apparently it should be Uday all the way .....

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

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