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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 December 2015

1 December: Overlooked books | Spooky Action at a Distance review
2 December: Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye (1928-2015) | Edwar El Kharrat (1926-2015) | Q & As: Gabriel Josipovici - Ivan Vladislavić | The Case of the Missing Moonstone review
3 December: Translation numbers | December Words without Borders | The Lost Garden review
4 December: NYTBR 10 Best Books of 2015 | Dutch best book choices | Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz review
5 December: Prizes: Русский Букер - Joseph Conrad Literary Award | Naja Marie Aidt Q & A | The New Sorrows of Young W. review
6 December: William McIlvanney (1936-2015) | Writing in English, in India
7 December: Alexievich's Nobel lecture | AmazonCrossing saves the (translation) day ? | Fiction v./& non | The Truth and Other Lies review
8 December: Alexievich's Nobel lecture | '100 greatest British novels' | The Story of My Teeth review
9 December: Korean literature abroad | Impending literary-fiction crisis in India ? | At the Writing Desk review
10 December: Nobel candidates - 2025 ? | Fariba Vafi Q & A | After the Circus review

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10 December 2015 - Thursday

Nobel candidates - 2025 ? | Fariba Vafi Q & A | After the Circus review

       Nobel candidates - 2025 ?

       At Svenska Dagbladet Henrik Sahl Johansson suggests 16 Nobel Prize contenders ... for 2025 -- though some have already been considered well in the present-day running (Mircea Cărtărescu).
       Some of these I really can't see (although who knows what they'll do in the next decade ...): Ben Okri ? Michel Houellebecq ? A few haven't shown me enough yet -- Ignacio Padilla (especially given how strong the current/coming crop of Mexican/Latin American authors is) ? Hassan Blasim ?
       If I had to put my money down, I'd rate Tokarczuk and Marlene van Niekerk, along with Cărtărescu, as those most likely to pick up the prize by then.
       What's striking is how few Latin/South American candidates they rate -- and, even, more so, how few from Asia: east of Iraq, French-writing Linda Lê is the closest they get to any representative; that seems pretty (ridiculously) limited.
       A fun exercise, however; maybe I'll try to come up with my sixteen .....

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

       Fariba Vafi Q & A

       At they have a Q & A with Iranian My Bird-author Fariba Vafi.
       (Her Tarlan recently came out in German; in English .. not so much.)

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

       After the Circus review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano's After the Circus, a 1992 novel just out in English in Yale University Press' Margellos World Republic of Letters-series, in Mark Polizzotti's translation.

       This is now the tenth Modiano under review at the complete review, and the one difficulty I now have in judging each new work is how much the accumulated familiarity with his story/stories affects my perception of the latest variation (which is often an old variation, on top of it, since these aren't being translated/published in sequence ...).
       I think familiarity with the Modiano-basics -- his backstory -- helps, but even aside from that, this seems a standout -- in part because it also stands well alone, apart form all that backstory.

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

9 December 2015 - Wednesday

Korean literature abroad | Impending literary-fiction crisis in India ?
At the Writing Desk review

       Korean literature abroad

       In The Korea Herald Robert J. Fouser writes On Korean literature in translation, noting that things seem to be going well, certainly in comparison to previously.
       Of course:
The stream of good news raises some interesting questions: Why now, and what, if anything, can be done to sustain it ?
       While he ignores the galvanizing effect of South Korea's 2005 turn as guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair I think he pegs it right by noting the huge role played by (and enormous investment of) LTI Korea. He notes:
The problem with market approaches to Korean literature in translation is that the market for literature in translation in the Anglophone world is so small. There really is no market for translations, except for a few stars and Nobel Prize winners.
       That's a bit of an exaggeration -- though it is noteworthy that in the one area that does best by market rules, crime/mystery writing, Korean is one of the few major world languages that doesn't have any international players. Still, the LTI-dependence -- and let's face it, the wonderful Dalkey series wouldn't exist in anywhere near this size and range without those generous subsidies -- can hardly be a long-term solution.
       There are potential bright spots ahead: Han Kang and Bae Suah look like they have breakout-potential. But, of course, didn't Kim Young-ha ? (He's doing fine, but has hardly established himself on the international market.) Or, even earlier, Yi Mun-yol ? (Both, in my mind, deserving of bigger international reputations than they've managed so far.) Meanwhile, Shin Kyung-sook is on her third American publisher -- one per book, so far; that can't be good .....
       Among the other good points in the piece: that the focus has been on fiction (though there's always Ko Un, leading the poetic way ...): as he notes, few plays have been translated. Surprisingly little non-fiction (at least beyond the escape-from-North-Korea sort) too.

       See also the Index of Korean Literature under review at the complete review.

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

       Impending literary-fiction crisis in India ?

       At Arunava Sinha worries that in India: 'Publishers are not putting out enough 'good' books to ensure variety on literary award shortlists', in The DSC Prize shortlist points to an impending crisis of literary fiction.
       Once you stop laughing -- no, go ahead; take your time; it took me a while too -- you can see that he does sort of have a point. And apparently the situation in India is particularly bad:
Frankly, it's come to a point in Indian publishing where an informed reader can predict a literary award shortlist with a high degree of accuracy, simply because there are so few to choose from.
       And there's something to his diagnosis:
The trouble is, by responding to the market instead of trying to restructure it, publishers are further reducing the space for anything other than commercial or genre fiction in India.
       But hoping publishers will restructure the market ... yeah, that doesn't sound very realistic.
       (Meanwhile, it's interesting to note that the one Indian publisher to break through internationally -- with a very ambitious and uncompromising program -- is one specializing in translation -- and mainly of the 'big' European languages, at that -- Seagull Books.)

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

       At the Writing Desk review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Werner Kofler's Bernhardian Alpine Saga / Travelogue / Acts of Vengeance, his 1988 novel At the Writing Desk, now in English from -- who else ? -- Dalkey Archive Press.

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

8 December 2015 - Tuesday

Alexievich's Nobel lecture | '100 greatest British novels'
The Story of My Teeth review

       Alexievich's Nobel lecture

       Svetlana Alexievich delivered her Nobel lecture, On the Battle Lost, yesterday and the text is now available online -- in Jamey Gambrell's English translation, as well as in the original Russia, Swedish, French, and German.
       You can also read Swedish Academy permanent secretary Sara Danius' Introductory Speech.

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

       '100 greatest British novels'

       At the BBC they polled book critics outside the UK -- "82 book critics, from Australia to Zimbabwe" -- to see what outsiders consider The 100 greatest British novels. (Apparently however only English-speaking/reading critics were polled -- though of course it would be kind of fun to see what linguistic outsiders would choose.)
       Each critic: "submitted a list of 10 British novels, with their pick for the greatest novel receiving 10 points". The point-totals are, unfortunately not revealed -- just titbits, such as that the top title was named on 42 per cent of the ballots; surprisingly, only 228 novels in all were named, suggesting considerable agreement among the critics.
       Several of the choices are under review at the complete review -- including the top choice:        The list is classics-heavy, with Atonement, at 15th, the top-ranked post-1950 novel. Virginia Woolf and Charles Dickens, with four titles apiece (and two and three respectively in the top eight) did particularly well; there are also four Jane Austens, but she didn't crack the top ten. There are definitely some odd selections -- including the Julian Barnes (of all the Barnes, that one ?). There's a single Iris Murdoch, a single Amis (père).
       Ah, well, always fun stuff to complain about and debate.

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

       The Story of My Teeth review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Valeria Luiselli's recent The Story of My Teeth.

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

7 December 2015 - Monday

Alexievich's Nobel lecture | AmazonCrossing saves the (translation) day ?
Fiction v./& non | The Truth and Other Lies review

       Alexievich's Nobel lecture

       It's Nobel week, with all the prize ceremonies and the fancy banquet and everything else -- including the Nobel lectures.
       Literature laureate Voices from Chernobyl-author Svetlana Alexievich lectures today, at 17:30 CET (11:30 EST) -- and it is being streamed, so you can watch it live (or replay it at your leisure):

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

       AmazonCrossing saves the (translation) day ?

       I recently mentioned the depressing totals Chad Post reported last week on the Translation Databases he collects at Three Percent (of new translations of fiction and poetry published/distributed in the US), but it turns the news wasn't quite so grim (at least in terms of raw numbers) as a large number of AmazonCrossing titles were overlooked; he has now added them, and reports on what that means for the numbers, in Translation Database Updates: AmazonCrossing Is the Story.
       The good news is that the totals are now ... better: in 2015 there were (will be ?) 549 total titles: 468 works of fiction and 81 of poetry -- though this is still down significantly from 2014 (600 total titles). And AmazonCrossing is indeed the news: 75 of the titles -- presumably close to if not all fiction -- were published by them. That's three times as many as the next publisher (Dalkey Archive Press), and a shocking almost one out every seven translated titles.
       Worth noting however is how easy it was for Chad to overlook these -- or rather, how hard it was for him to get the relevant information. On the one hand there's something to be said for translated titles blending in so well you're barely aware of their existence; on the other .....
       (As best I can tell, I've only reviewed one of these -- Bae Suah's excellent Nowhere to Be Found -- and I think I've seen three or four others (and been dimly aware of the existence of a few dozen); see also the index of all reviewed AmazonCrossing titles at the complete review.)
       It is great that it turns out more is available in translation -- and even if one can debate the literary quality of many of the AmazonCrossing offerings I think there's a lot to be said for this stuff being available (and they do slip in some high-quality stuff here and there, just to keep everyone on their toes). Still, the combination of AmazonCrossing being (by far, far) the major publisher of titles-in-translation and what those titles are is probably not an ideal situation.

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

       Fiction v./& non

       In The Observer a variety of writers consider and debate fiction versus/and non, in ‘Based on a true story’: the fine line between fact and fiction.
       Longtime readers -- hell, anyone who has probably spent more than a few minutes on the site -- knows which side on the (to-me-non-)debate I stand on. Still, it's interesting to see the variety of opinions and arguments -- even if a lot of the responses seem rather wishy-washy. And of course no one comes close to possibly convincing me why I should pick up a work of non-fiction if there's a novel -- almost any novel ! -- at hand.

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

       The Truth and Other Lies review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Sascha Arango's thriller, The Truth and Other Lies.

       I vaguely recall seeing some reviews of this when it came out, but I didn't see or seek out a copy until I saw it was one of the fourteen translated titles to make The New York Times Book Review's 100 Notable Books of 2015-list.
       It's fine, but I do wonder about it making the NYTBR's top 100. (Their review offers praise -- "a clever plot that always surprises, told with dark humor and dry wit and bustling with aperçus that show no signs of jet lag from Imogen Taylor's clean translation" -- but ultimately comes across as only tepidly enthusiastic: "The Truth and Other Lies feels hollow at the center, like its protagonist".)

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

6 December 2015 - Sunday

William McIlvanney (1936-2015) | Writing in English, in India

       William McIlvanney (1936-2015)

       Scottish author William McIlvanney has passed away; see, for example:        McIlvanney is best-known for his Laidlaw-trilogy -- recently re-issued by Europa Editions and definitely worth picking up.

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

       Writing in English, in India

       At Amitabha Bagchi wonders Why does Indian writing in English still have to defend itself against charges of siding with oppressors ? -- and since he has to ask it's apparently still an issue.

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

5 December 2015 - Saturday

Prizes: Русский Букер - Joseph Conrad Literary Award
Naja Marie Aidt Q & A | The New Sorrows of Young W. review

       Русский Букер

       It's Russian prize season, with the Большой книги ('Big Book') prize to be announced next week. First up, though, is the Русский Букер ('Russian Booker'), which they've now announced, with Alexander Snegirev's Вера ('Vera') taking the prize; see also the Russia Beyond The Headlines report.

       Snegirev's Petroleum Venus has been translated into English; get your copy at or I have a copy, so maybe I'll get a review up some time.

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

       Joseph Conrad Literary Award

       The Joseph Conrad Literary Award, awarded biennially by the Polish Institute in Kyiv: "is given to a Ukrainian author for consistency in realization of the creative development, innovative form, breaking of stereotypes and universality of the content" -- whatever that might mean -- and they've announced that Sofia Andrukhovych -- Laureate of the Conrad Award 2015.
       Her Фелікс Австрія -- last year's BBC Ukrainian Book of the Year -- looks like the sort of thing that might eventually get translated into English.
       She is also a translator -- apparently of, among others, J.K.Rowling and ... Ayn Rand.

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

       Naja Marie Aidt Q & A

       Mieke Chew has a lengthy interesting Q & A at Bomb with Greenland-raised, Brooklyn-resident Rock, Paper, Scissors-author Naja Marie Aidt.

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

       The New Sorrows of Young W. review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ulrich Plenzdorf's The New Sorrows of Young W. -- a new translation (by Romy Fursland) just out from Pushkin Press.
       This 1972 novel might well be the bestselling (outside the Soviet bloc, at least -- locally, who knows ?) East German novel ever -- it has reportedly sold over four million copies -- and it certainly is one of the most significant works of fiction of GDR-times; you'd be hard pressed to make any meaningful reading list of three or more GDR titles on which you wouldn't include it (and I'd go so far as to rate it a strong contender for one of the ten most significant works of postwar German fiction -- both because it covers a lot of bases, and because it's pretty damn good). With its Goethe-connection (and teenage protagonist -- an East German Holden Caulfield), it's also an ideal school text, ensuring it will continue to be widely read regardless.
       While it has been available in translation for quite a while -- and has long been a staple of college German literature courses -- it never really seems to have made much of an impression in the US or UK. This very attractive Pushkin Press edition is certainly more reader-friendly -- maybe it will finally get the recognition the book deserves.

       (As the Christmas-gift-giving season approaches I also note that there's a Christmas connection of sorts here -- but, no, maybe not ideal .....)

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

4 December 2015 - Friday

NYTBR 10 Best Books of 2015 | Dutch best book choices
Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz review

       NYTBR 10 Best Books of 2015

       Less than a week after The New York Times Book Review announced its 100 Notable Books of 2015 they narrowed down the list to their 10 Best Books of 2015.
       Two of the ten titles are under review at the complete review: The Door, by Szabó Magda and One of Us, by Åsne Seierstad.
       It's noteworthy that three of the top ten are works in translation -- I remind you that as recently as 2013 there were only three translated titles among the notable hundred. Also interesting: two of the books -- the two translated fiction titles, in fact -- were paperback originals.
       The Door in particular is a fascinating case-study of fiction in translation and the hurdles it faces in reaching American audiences. Szabó's book in fact first appeared in the US in Stefan Draughon's 1995 translation -- from East European Monographs (see their publicity page) -- a publication that went pretty much entirely unnoticed. Len Rix's translation then came out in the UK in 2005 -- but, despite getting great reviews and much praise, it took another ten years before a US edition appeared; since it was published by NYRB Classics -- great taste, but not exactly cash-rich -- it seems safe to say there was no bidding war for it. But The New York Times Book Review thinks it's one of the ten best books of the year.
       A success story for publishing-in-translation in the US ?
       I guess, in a way. But quite a delayed one -- and, as such, not exactly a confidence(-in-the-publishing-industry-)inspiring one; it's shocking that it took this long for the book to (re)appear and catch on.

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

       Dutch best book choices

       NRC Handelsblad have selected what they think are the top twenty-four Dutch fiction titles of the year, and now are letting readers vote for their favorites.
       Interesting to see what the prominent local titles of the year were, with quite a few authors who have had other books published in English, too (though I don't think any of these have made it into English yet).
       You still have a few days to vote.

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

       Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of German author Maxim Biller's novella, Inside the Head of Bruno Schulz -- which, in this lovely little Pushkin Press edition, also comes with bonus of two actual Bruno Schulz stories (familiar from The Street of Crocodiles).

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

3 December 2015 - Thursday

Translation numbers | December Words without Borders
The Lost Garden review

       Translation numbers

       At Three Percent Chad Post offers Translation Database Updates for 2014-2016 !
       While the 2016 database is, of course, still very preliminary, the 2015 one should be close to the final count -- and it's troubling to see that there's apparently been a (fairly considerable) decline compared to 2014: 423 works of fiction (503 total) in 2015, compared to 499 works of fiction (597 total) in 2014.
       Chad notes he may have missed some, and stray titles will surely be added, but it's unlikely there's a missing batch big enough to bridge this enormous gap. (Bigger, yet, I'd suggest: the Violette Leduc doesn't belong (previously translated), and I'd question the inclusion of the Trakl-collection too; surely all his poetry has been published in book form in English at some point or another (i.e. this isn't anything new either).)
       So what gives ? Is translation-interest cyclical, peaking in 2014 ? Has the downturn (or backlash ?) started ? Are we in for even worse (i.e. less) ?
       Chad opts for the glass-half-full view: "Not many people read 500 books a year, so it's not like you don't have access to great works in translation". Which is true -- and remember that the Three Percent database only covers previously untranslated works, so it doesn't count books like this year's new The Tale of Genji (Dennis Washburn's; see the W.W.Norton publicity page, or get your copy at or, Karl Kraus' The Last Days of Mankind (tr. Fred Bridgham and Edward Timms; see the Yale University Press publicity page, or get your copy at or, or Eugène Sue's The Mysteries of Paris (tr. Carolyn Betensky and Jonathan Loesberg; see the Penguin Classic publicity page, or get your copy at or -- which I'm thinking of making my big Christmas-read.
       Still, I'm pretty shocked and disappointed. The US (and UK) still lag terribly in publishing translations compared to much of the rest of the world, and can hardly afford to take such a big (mis)step in the wrong direction .....
       (Updated - 7 December): Chad has now updated the databases with previously overlooked AmazonCrossing titles, which greatly inflates the numbers, as they alone published 75 titles -- almost one out of seven newly translated workss of fiction or poetry released in the US last year (and since they're (practically ?) all fiction titles, an even greater percentage in that category); see his post Translation Database Updates: AmazonCrossing Is the Story. The 2015 totals are now: 549 titles, of which 468 are fiction and 81 poetry -- but still considerably fewer than the now 600 recorded 2014 releases.

       It's also always good to see more specific national/linguistic lists, and at Paper Republic they now list 2015 Translations from Chinese (not all US-distributed, so not all eligible for Three Percent database-listing).

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

       December Words without Borders

       The December issue of Words without Borders focuses on 'Knowing the Unknowable: Writing from Madagascar' -- great to see, since it's little-seen -- as well as a look at: 'After Inger Christensen: New Danish Poetry'.

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

       The Lost Garden review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Taiwanese author Li Ang's The Lost Garden, just out from Columbia University Press.

       Best-known for The Butcher's Wife, that was long the only one of her novels available in English; it's about time another one appeared -- but there are still a lot to get to .....

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

2 December 2015 - Wednesday

Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye (1928-2015) | Edwar El Kharrat (1926-2015)
Q & As: Gabriel Josipovici - Ivan Vladislavić
The Case of the Missing Moonstone review

       Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye (1928-2015)

       British-born Kenyan author Marjorie Oludhe Macgoye has reportedly passed away.
       Feminist Press did bring out two of her books in the US -- see their publicity page -- and even The New York Times Book Review reviewed Coming to Birth, but she doesn't seem to have achieved the recognition abroad she deserves for her central place in modern Kenyan literature.
       Get your copy of Coming to Birth from or

       (Updated - 3 December): See now also George Orido in The Standard reporting Atieno Yo author Marjorie Oludhe MacGoye takes the final bow

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

       Edwar El Kharrat (1926-2015)

       Egyptian author Edwar El Kharrat has also passed away; see, for example, Mohammed Saad's ahramonline report.
       He's best-known for Rama and the Dragon -- see the American University in Cairo Press publicity page, or get your copy at or
       I have a copy of this, and I'll try to get a review up at some point.

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

       Q & A: Gabriel Josipovici

       There's an interesting in-depth Q & A with Gabriel Josipovici by Victoria Best at Numéro Cinq.

       The only Josipovici title under review at the complete review is of What Ever Happened to Modernism ?

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

       Q & A: Ivan Vladislavić

       At 3:AM Tristan Foster has a more limited Q & A -- eight questions -- with Ivan Vladislavić.

       There are half a dozen Vladislavić titles under review at the complete review, most recently of his debut, The Folly.

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

       The Case of the Missing Moonstone review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of the first in Jordan Stratford's The Wollstonecraft Detective Agency-series, The Case of the Missing Moonstone.
       A rare foray into unadulterated kids' fiction, I was curious about the premise and protagonists -- Ada Lovelace and Mary Shelley as youngsters. Of course, that pairing also proves problematic, since Stratford can only make it ... work by playing rather fast and loose with history.
       I'm not sure that stretch is worth the cost -- or does one have to be more forgiving, 'cause it's just meant for immature audiences ?

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

1 December 2015 - Tuesday

Overlooked books | Spooky Action at a Distance review

       Overlooked books

       A worthwhile variation on the best-books-of-the-year lists that continue to flood the internet (with a month still to go in the year, sigh ...) is Slate's The Overlooked Books of 2015, where: 'Slate Book Review critics recommend 27 books you'd probably love if only you knew about them'.
       I've only reviewed two of these: The Librarian, by Mikhail Elizarov (recommended by Jeff VanderMeer), and He Who Kills the Dragon, by Leif G.W. Persson (recommended by June Thomas) -- and while I can't quite agree with the latter choice I'll go along with it because Thomas is right about Persson's overlooked threesome (not of 2015 ...) that begins with Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End:
His trilogy about the unsolved 1986 murder of Prime Minister Olof Palme and other politically motivated crimes in recent Swedish history are the best books I've read all year: creepy, conspiratorial, and insanely compelling.

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

       Spooky Action at a Distance review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of George Musser's Spooky Action at a Distance.
       This title is noteworthy for its subtitle, too -- one of the longest in recent memory --The Phenomenon That Reimagines Space and Time -- and What It Means for Black Holes, the Big Bang, and Theories of Everything.

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

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