The AKO Literatuurprijs used to be one of the foremost Dutch literary prizes; now it is the ECI Literatuurprijs -- and, still paying out €50,000 and otherwise largely unchanged, should still be as significant as in its previous incarnation.
They've now announced the twenty-five-title strong longlist (selected from more than 400 submissions).
Familiar-to-US/UK authors with titles in the running include: Adriaan van Dis ... and Toon Tellegen.
Susan Bernofsky's translation of Jenny Erpenbeck's The End of Days has picked up several translated-book prizes -- the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (the last one ever !), the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize -- and now the Dutch translation of that novel, by Elly Schippers, has won the Europese Literatuurprijs, the Dutch best-(European-)book-in-translation award.
No word yet at the official site, last I checked (though it should pop up here, eventually) -- but see, for example, the impressive longlist.
At DeutscheWelle Klaudia Prevezanos has a Q & A with Zone Defence-author Petros Markaris, mainly about the current situation with Greece and the EU, 'What Tsipras sees as strength will be weakness tomorrow'.
His novels -- not enough of which have been translated into English -- are among the best in giving a general sense of contemporary Greece.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Amélie Nothomb's Pétronille, forthcoming in October from Europa editions.
That's the nineteenth Nothomb under review at the complete review .....
It includes a Vivienne Westwood cameo, and a Jacques Chessex fan-letter.
And lots of champagne (though there might actually may be more champagne-consumption in Barbe bleue ...).
The Man Booker International Prize was, from 2005 to 2015, a biennial prize honoring: "a living author who has published fiction either originally in English or whose work is generally available in translation in the English language".
The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize was a prize that ran from 1990 to 1995 and was then revived and ran from 2001 to 2015, honoring: "the best work of fiction by a living author, which was translated into English from any other language and published in the United Kingdom in the previous year"
And now they are one, as the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize has been swallowed whole and renamed the Man Booker International Prize -- with a nice heap more of prize-money tossed in for good measure -- while the author-prize that the Man Booker International used to be has been tossed by the wayside (apparently, you see, it was beyond the comprehension of British readers that a prize might be: "awarded for a body of work rather than an individual title" (so Man Booker Foundation chair Jonathan Taylor, in this report in The Bookseller)).
To sum up what's changed:
The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize no longer exists
The Man Booker International Prize no longer is a prize for an author's life-work (like the Nobel)
The Man Booker International Prize is no longer a biennial prize, but rather will be awarded annually
The Man Booker International Prize is now, in fact, identical to what the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize used to be -- except that they'll pay out more money
Apparently the Man Booker folk weren't having all that much success with their author-prize and figured a book-prize was the better bet -- they do okay with the Man Booker Prize for (English-language) Fiction, after all.
And rather than compete with the UK's other big translation book prize, why not just take it over ?
Lost in the shuffle is the author-prize, which is a bit disappointing.
But it really does seem to be an odd cultural thing: US/UK literary prizes tend much more to be book- rather than author-prizes (while, for example, in Germany the opposite is true -- most of the big prizes are author prizes, with the German Book Prize, for example, a relative newcomer to the prize-scene).
The additional money -- £50,000 for the winning title, to be shared equally between author and translator, plus a bit more just for getting shortlisted -- is certainly welcome, and maybe that will help atract more attention for the prize (personally I thought the IFFP did pretty well, publicity wise, but admittedly the Man Booker Prize for Fiction is in a different league; whether this new-version Man Booker International Prize will be in the same league ... I have my doubts).
It's good to see publishers can submit as many titles as they want (unlike the severely restricted Man Booker Prize for Fiction) -- presumably because the pool of eligible titles is so (relatively) small in the first place.
Among the restrictions in place however is that both author and translator must be alive -- which really cuts into the eligibility-pool (recall that eleven (I think ...) of the twenty-five authors with works longlisted for this year's Best Translated Book Award were deceased ...).
The Rules & Entry Form (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) does not specify whether or not the list of submitted titles will be made public (the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, for example, outrageously promises to keep the list secret); given that there are no limitations on how many titles publishers can submit (unlike with the Fiction prize, where publishers thus have a great incentive to lie to their authors and say they submitted titles they did not actually submit) one hopes and prays that they will publicize the list -- since that would also be a very useful resource for readers.
See also the official statements from the two prizes:
In The Straits Times (here at AsiaOne) Akshita Nanda writes about Chasing the elusive literary prize -- seen as the key to success, especially abroad.
A couple of Malaysians seem to have made the leap, so:
all this begs the question of why no Singaporean writer of fiction has ever achieved international acclaim for literary quality.
It doesn't help that:
Asian literary writing in English is relegated to speciality shelves rather than front-of-store displays unless one or more authors make headlines.
(And I don't even want to ask about 'Asian literary writing not in English ...'.)
In The New York Times Benjamin Moser pleads for more attention and support for literature in translation in (the embarrassingly titled -- come on, NYT, really ?) Found in Translation.
Moser specifically blames: "the increasing global dominance of English" for the obscurity of foreign literature.
It seems a bit of a circular argument to me -- and while it's understandable he harps on Clarice Lispector (he wrote a biography of her, and has been instrumental -- including via retranslations of her work -- in fostering an impressive Lispector-in-English revival) she surely wasn't that obscure in the first place, even in English (several of her works were available -- I have novels of hers first published in translation in 1986 and 1988) but especially elsewhere (meaning also: not just in Brazil).
For every Karl Ove Knausgaard or Elena Ferrante, who are translated almost as soon as they appear in Norwegian or Italian, there are many Lispectors.
But surely the real problem is the many, many great writers who are not available in any form in English.
(You can quibble, or outright dismiss the early Lispector translations, but at least it was possible, even as an American reader, to get a sense of the author almost three decades ago.)
Some of his examples also are somewhat underwhelming: sure, Jonathan Franzen published a translation of Spring Awakening -- but it was something he did at college and just polished up a little (also: it's not like that piece hasn't been translated before ...).
And while I admire the work of the Elizabeth Kostova Foundation it seems a bit of an exaggeration to suggest here was the final necessary piece and: "Thanks to Ms. Kostova, contemporary Bulgarian writers have a chance at being known internationally".
Quite a few have been translated into continental European languages -- foremost among them German -- and have been doing just fine, 'internationally' (as long as one accepts that means: not necessarily in the US/UK ...).
Getting translated into English is still, of course, the holy literary grail: it is the most-desired and most useful transmission language, but French and German seem to still hold their own in the spreading-the-authors'-words department; indeed, audiences there (and elsewhere) seem more receptive to the foreign, and I often wonder whether it wouldn't be wiser for national literary organizations to try harder in those markets, rather than putting all their eggs in the still dubious and fickle English-language market.
They announced the winner of the Caine Prize yesterday -- not at the official site yet, last I checked, but see, for example, the report at the Books Live weblog -- and the prize whose: 'focus is on the short story, reflecting the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition' went to The Sack (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) by Berkeley-professor Namwali Serpell (see her faculty page).
The Millions' Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2015 Book Preview is now up -- "at 9,100 words strong and encompassing 82 titles, this is the only second-half 2015 book preview you will ever need" they claim .....
It's a nice overview of (mainly) the bigger titles due out over the next ... eight months (it actually goes through February 2016 ...) but far from comprehensive -- and it's particularly disappointing regarding fiction-in-translation, with almost none that's not published by the big(gest) houses included; a rare exception is Krasznahorkai's 'reportage', Destruction and Sorrow Beneath the Heavens (see the Seagull Books(' distributor's) publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
(Especially for those interested in books in translation, Typographical Era's The 2015 Visual Guide to Translated Fiction and the 2015 Translation Database at Three Percent (latest version here) are far more useful.
Caveat and warning: the visual guide really is visual -- arranged by book covers -- rendering it enervatingly busy/near-unusable for some of us (all I want/can bear is text !), while the Translation Database is an 'Excel Worksheet' which, sigh, has to be downloaded (i.e. you can't open it directly in your browser).)
The Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis -- where authors read their texts in front of an audience and are publicly judged by a jury -- concluded with Nora Gomringer taking the prize with her text Recherche (warning ! dreaded pdf format ! and: German !).
In The Guardian Taiye Selasi (author of Ghana Must Go) writes at some length, arguing that we should stop pigeonholing African writers (whereby she apparently means -- as almost always happens in discussions of 'African' writers and literature -- only Sub-Saharan Africa ...).
A wide-ranging and interesting discussion, including some examples of the terrible domestic situations as far as any publishing and book-distribution/selling infrastructure goes:
I am often asked why Ghana Must Go, a story about a Ghanaian-Nigerian family, was not published in Ghana or Nigeria.
The answer is: we tried.
Ghana, where my parents live, has no credible local publisher.
To launch the novel in Accra, as I was determined to do, we had to go it alone.
After an attempt to form a partnership with a bookshop failed (not wanting to pay the customs fees, they abandoned the shipment of books at the port), we organised two public events.
After the book sold out, my mother ordered more directly from Penguin and sold them from her clinic.
I know of what Nwaubani speaks when she writes: "Any Nigerian in Anchorage who so wishes can acquire my novel.
But here in my country [my] book is available only at a few bookstores."
The identity-politics/issues are, of course, more complicated -- and hardly limited to 'African' authors: writers from all regions of the world face many of the same questions and similar criticism.
As she argues, however:
We need more stories about more subjects, more readers in more countries. Not fewer.
It is precisely because there are so few novels by African writers in global circulation that we ask those novels to do too much.
No one novelist can bear the burden of representing a continent and no one novel should have to.
And I'd certainly agree that:
African books for global eyes must be written by a broader range of Africans, including those writing in non-European languages.
One marvelous resource to find at least some more names is the African Books Collective, which distributes books by many African publishers (currently 149), making them fairly easily obtainable anywhere (and offering titles you won't find at your local Barnes & Noble).
See also the index of African literature under review at the complete review.
In The Sun Solomon Ojehonmon writes at length about the dismal publishing situation in Nigeria, in Death of the last publishing house in Nigeria: Matters arising.
While it seems premature to worry about every last publisher in Nigeria dying off -- indeed, there seem to be some promising efforts underway -- Ojehonmon's fundamental complaint, about a failed industry, rings true.
He also argues that publishers themselves are to blame, because they bought into the concept of 'African Literature' and ignored the writers and stories of more obvious and immediate interest to a local readership (making this piece a nice companion-piece to Taiye Selasi's, mentioned above).
So our once popular fables on witchcraft, sorcery and other African myths went out of the window as well as African thrillers, mysteries, action adventures, science fictions and romances.
What we have, instead, are depressing books on politics, poverty, civil war, prostitution, adultery, disease, colonial era and slave trade.
Nepotism, favoritism, accusations, counter-accusations, back-stabbings, lies and hatred now dominate the pages of our novels.
I once submitted a book for consideration to an English publishing house.
The editor replied that my novel is so un-African it cannot be accepted for publication, querying the absence of bloodshed, disease, noise, dirt, dust, poverty etc.
While he goes overboard with some of his claims, it certainly can't hurt to nudge the powers that be -- publishers, especially -- to rethink some of their approaches.
Of course other fundamental problems, especially of infrastructure (the printing and distribution/selling of books, in particular) also have to be addressed.
In a deeply unscientific survey of nearly 50 writers, editors, publishers, critics, and translators, representing 30 countries, we asked them to name three quintessentially American books, and tell us about their choices.
The (€25,000) Thomas-Mann-Preis has been around for ages (well, in one form or another -- it's actually apparently only been the 'Thomas-Mann-Preis' one year (2008) and is currently officially the: 'Thomas Mann Preis der Hansestadt Lübeck und der Bayerischen Akademie der Schönen Künste') and boasts an impressive set of previous winners.
They did well again this year -- surprisingly selecting an author who doesn't write in German, Lars Gustafsson; see, for example, the report in Die Welt.
New Directions published quite a few of his works -- fiction and poetry -- but seem to have given up on him; too bad, there's a lot still unavailable in English, and he really is very good.
They've started the 39th Tage der deutschsprachigen Literatur ('Days of German literature'), the annual festival around the Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis, where authors read their texts out loud in competition (all broadcast on TV (and now, of course, also livestreamed)).
They used to have good English-language information -- and even translations of the texts -- but they can't afford to do that any longer.
Still, as you can see from the list of previous winners, a lot of soon-famous authors have passed this way: Wolfgang Hilbig, who you'll be hearing a lot more about this year, with the first English translations of his work (two books, no less) won in 1989, and other authors whose works have appeared in English in the past few years inculde Sibylle Lewitscharoff (1998), Inka Parei (2003), Uwe Tellkamp (2004), and Tilman Rammstedt (2008); 2011 winner Maja Haderlap's Angel of Oblivion is due out from Archipelago next year (see their publicity page).
So probably worth paying some attention to.
More than a month ago I mentioned they were pulling the plug on the wonderful Books from Finland site -- keeping it only as an archive -- and now they've gone and done it: here's the final post.
Yes, after: "almost 10,000 printed pages and 1,500 posts" they've decided it's no longer worth adding content, so they're calling it a day.
One of the more entertaining literary estate trials of recent years may have run its course, as a Tel Aviv District Court has rejected an appeal by the not-quite-heirs of Max Brod's remaining Kafka holdings (further appeals are, apparently, possible, however); see reports:
As you might recall, Esther Hoffe wound up with a suitcase (and millions of dollars') worth of Kafka-papers from Max Brod -- and then lived forever (well, past the century mark, anyway).
She sold some of them, and then passed on the rest to her daughter (the appellant here); the court seems to have frowned upon the cashing-in efforts - albeit with the rather curious argument:
"As far as Kafka is concerned, is the placing of his personal writings, which he ordered to be destroyed, for public sale to the highest bidder by the secretary of his friend and by her daughters in keeping with justice ?
It seems that the answer to this is clear," wrote the judges.
But, rather than doing right (finally !) by Kafka and ordering the long-overdue bonfire the papers are (probably) going to the National Library of Israel.
The court said Hoffe had no rights, and could not have any such rights -- as well as not having rights to any royalties -- for the documents Brod took from Kafka's apartment after his death.
As for her holding on to such documents after Brod’s death, she did do illegally and had no right to decide on the fate of the estate
This is presumably correct, going by the letter of the law (well, the facts suggest there is some wiggle room here, legally speaking ...); the fact that Brod surely had no right (morally as well as by the letter of the applicable laws) either to do all the things he did with Kafka's manuscripts unfortunately was not up for debate.
I find it fascinating that everyone seems to be willing to give Brod the benefit of an overwhelming amount of doubt -- wink, wink, we all know what Kafka really meant (why ? because that's what we want to believe) -- while no one is willing to give Esther Hoffe the same courtesy: who is to say, after all, that Brod didn't intend for her to be the true beneficiary (he left her the papers, for heaven's sake, so she was already the nominal beneficiary), to be able do as she wished with the papers ?
After all, if he hadn't, surely he would have seen to the proper disposal, one way or another, of the papers when he had the chance, rather than expecting the ambiguous testamentary dispositions he made to resolve things -- that's the argument re. Kafka, isn't it ? isn't it ?.
(Even if Brod's instructions seem clear (and they really aren't), they are still nowhere as clear as Kafka's very precise instructions to Brod were: burn the stuff ! all of it !)
Việt Nam News reports that First Vietnamese literature museum opens to public.
Apparently: "construction did not begin till 2004" on the three-story building -- and it seems it took over a decade, until now, to get it all done.
The first floor covers the 10th through 19th centuries, the second "writers of the early 20th century", the "third floor is reserved for writers of the anti-French revolution period (1945-54)".
Apparently there's no room for anything resembling contemporary literature -- or it's been relegated to the basement .....
They announced the winners of the (UK) Crime Writers’ Association yesterday, and the CWA International Dagger, for a crime-book "not originally written in English and has been translated into English for UK publication during the Judging Period" went to Pierre Lemaitre's Camille, in Frank Wynne's translation.
Among the titles it beat out is Leif GW Persson's Falling Free, as if in a Dream, the last in his under-appreciated trilogy, and Deon Meyer's Cobra.
(Bonus points and big applause for the CWA listing all the entries in the various categories: why can't all book prizes do this ?)
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of A New Translation of Wer pa Lawino by Taban lo Liyong, his translation of Okot p'Bitek's The Defence of Lawino.
I reviewed p'Bitek's own translation, and it's always interesting to compare translations; certainly, these make for a great comparative case-study.