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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 June 2016

1 June: Peter Owen (1927-2016) | Alaa al-Aswany Q & A | Tamil literature | Farewell my Friend review
2 June: Christiana Hills Q & A | Brandes's Decision review
3 June: Rentrée Littéraire preview | Litprom 'Weltempfänger'
4 June: Griffin Poetry Prizes | In Other Words review
5 June: Le Clézio in South Korea | Manga museum
6 June: Arno Schmidt reviewed | Tropic Moon review
7 June: Prizes: Prix du Livre Inter - Commonwealth Short Story Prize | Cold Shoulder review
8 June: 'Book Marks' | Charlotte review
9 June: Women's Prize for Fiction | Android Sōseki | Football review
10 June: Prizes: International DUBLIN Literary Award - Europese Literatuurprijs shortlist | Reading in ... Malaysia | Author appearance/talk

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10 June 2016 - Friday

Prizes: International DUBLIN Literary Award - Europese Literatuurprijs shortlist
Reading in ... Malaysia | Author appearance/talk

       Prize: International DUBLIN Literary Award

       The International DUBLIN Literary Award (formerly IMPAC-subsidized, but no longer) is that weird prize for books written in, or translated into, English that are nominated by libraries from (sort of) all around the world, making for a long 'longlist' (for some of the problematic issues surrounding this procedure, see my discussion of this year's longlist). They've now announced this year's winning title -- Family Life (by Akhil Sharma), which has received much praise elsewhere as well (and has also been out for quite a while -- one of the other issues with the prize is that its timetable means it isn't entirely ... au courant).
       Not a title under review at the complete review, I'm afraid, and I suspect it won't be any time soon(er or later); but see also the W.W.Norton publicity page, and get your copy at or

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

       Prize: Europese Literatuurprijs shortlist

       Translation prizes in other languages/countries are always interesting, revealing what's being translated elsewhere. So also with the Dutch Europese Literatuurprijs, which has now announced its shortlist -- which, rather surprisingly, includes no translations from the English.
       The only shortlisted title under review at the complete review is Michel Houellebecq's Submission.

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

       Reading in ... Malaysia

       The debate about Malaysians' reading habits -- too low for some folks' comfort (if and when there's any reading going on at all ...) -- rages on, and Syareen Majelan has a nice overview in Malaysian Digest, Flesh Eating Zombies And Playboy Doctors, The Problem With Malaysian Reading Habits.

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

       Author appearance/talk

       If you're in the Massachusetts-Berkshires vicinity on Monday, 13 June, you can see and hear me talk about my The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction at The Bookstore in Lenox, at 17:30 !
       Even if you already have a well-thumbed copy (as I assume you do -- how could you go this long without one ?), surely it's worthwhile to hear me speak, right ?

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

9 June 2016 - Thursday

Women's Prize for Fiction | Android Sōseki | Football review

       Women's Prize for Fiction

       They've announced the winner of this year's Women's Prize for Fiction (which has appeared under various sponsorships over the years, most notably as the 'Orange' Prize), and it is The Glorious Heresies (by Lisa McInerney).
       This is actually only coming out in the US in August (pre-order your copy at, but you can get the UK edition at

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

       Android Sōseki

       Natsume Sōseki -- author of Botchan, Light and Dark, and Sanshirō, among other classic Japanese works -- died in 1916, but the Japanese won't let that stop them. As Tomoko Otake reports in The Japan Times, hey, sure: Android version of literary giant Natsume Soseki to return to alma mater to lecture, as:
Nishogakusha University is getting a new professor, an android version of literary giant Natsume Soseki that will teach classes in commemoration of the opening of the 140-year-old institution next year.
       That settles it, I guess. The end of times are nigh. Time to pack it in.
       There's no room or reason left to even try, is there ? not when:
We value Japanese language education. By recreating Soseki through the help of professor Ishiguro, we would like to nurture interest in reading and literature among students.
       But, hey: "it is said the android might be friendlier than the writer himself was" .....
       If you're not running for the exits (as I am), see also the official (android) site at Nishogakusha U.

       Good luck to all of us !
       But there's not really much hope left, is there ?

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

       Football review

       Just in time for Euro 2016, the most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jean-Philippe Toussaint's Football, just out in a lovely little volume from Fitzcarraldo Editions.

       (I also just got the ARC of his Naked (forthcoming from Dalkey Archive Press; see their publicity page), so there will be more Toussaint coverage soon.)

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

8 June 2016 - Wednesday

'Book Marks' | Charlotte review

       'Book Marks'

       As long-time readers know, I have often expressed my disappointment and surprise that there are so few sites which do something like what I do at the complete review -- link to and aggregate (other) reviews of books. Movies and TV shows have their Rotten Tomatoes and metacritic, but as far as books go ..... (In fact, metacritic did cover books for quite a while -- but then found it just wasn't worth the effort.)
       So it's great to see the Literary Hub give it a go, with the ambitious, brand new Book Marks. As they explain, they scour "the most important and active outlets of literary journalism in the US -- from established national broadsheets to regional weeklies and alternative litblogs -- and log[s] their book reviews" daily, and once three of their approved outlets cover a title they'll include it. They quote from the reviews, assess the review for a grade -- for cumulative-grade purposes -- and provide a link to the review.
       It looks fairly promising, and they might have the means to pull it off -- though I note the aggregating game is not an easy one. (Somewhat surprisingly to me, no one from the Lit Hub sounded me out for any advice about this kind of undertaking; on the other hand, maybe not so surprising: while I have been doing this for over seventeen years now, among the few things I've learnt in that time is that on the internet -- as also in publishing itself, as well as the media, online and off, in general -- experience counts for pretty much nothing.)
       In recent years, I've gotten excited about similar efforts: CultureCritic got up to over 500 titles -- but they're "on hold for the time being"; The Omnivore got off to a good start -- and tons of media coverage for its 'Hatchet Job of the Year Award' -- but doesn't seem to have managed to aggregate anything since September, 2014. Oh, and there are old standards, like, which seems to have stopped trying in June of 2012. Which pretty much just leaves iDreamBooks, which looks an awful lot like what Book Marks is trying to do (down to the claim that: "we are like RottenTomatoes or Metacritic of the book world", as they want to be: "a book discovery tool with a rating and recommendation system that is based on reviews from critics"), but they don't really seem to have caught on, either.
       So, yeah, it'll be interesting to see whether Book Marks can keep this up.
       I do hope they can. My wish for more aggregating sites is largely self-serving: there's only so much I can cover, and I wish someone would cover all the books that I can't; with their focus on big, widely-covered titles Book Marks nicely fits the bill of much that I miss. (A rough guess has about one of ten titles reviewed at the complete review qualifying for inclusion at Book Marks (i.e. getting reviewed by at least three of their approved outlets), while most of what I cover doesn't come close.)

       Still, a few observations about how they're going about this:

        - while sort of understandable, it's a bit disappointing that they're limiting themselves to US-publications for review-sources, especially since the UK coverage (in everything from the TLS to the New Statesman to the Financial Times to the Literary Review) of smaller (and often larger) titles is often better/more extensive. Beyond that, there are other English-language publications that are excluded, including the excellent coverage in the Irish Times, or the extensive coverage in the UAE The National, as well as all the Indian publications. (Note also that they do not include reviews from the 'trade'-publications -- Publishers Weekly and the like. This is noteworthy: for a not insignificant percentage of the titles under review at the complete review, reviews in trade publications are often the only US-print reviews I can find.)
       (I of course link you to and quote from reviews published anywhere in the world, including from many publications and sites in other languages.)

        - if US-limited, Book Marks' list of 'Our Sources' is still, by and large, reasonable enough -- and it's nice to see a few internet-only publications included (though given that Bookslut just closed shop it seems an odd left-over).
       More problematic is that the links they provide to many reviews lead not to the full review but to a teaser, the full review only accessible for subscribers or pay-for-access; that's unacceptable: either there should be a warning at the link, or the review should be fully accessible for those clicking through via the site (as, for example, Wall Street Journal reviews are if clicked through as a Google-result).
       (At the complete review I try to only link to fully freely-accessible reviews, though I will have summaries of and quotes from those that are not; given sites' changing policies it's often hard to keep up and get this right, but I try my best.)

       Book Marks does seem to have the resources to keep this up -- but I do note that the aggregating game is not an easy one. Comparing one of the few reviews up at both the complete review and Book Marks, Jhumpa Lahiri's In Other Words (here and here), I note that Book Marks has missed at least two major reviews by sites they claim are 'Our Sources' -- The New York Review of Books (24/3/2016) and Harper's (1/2016). Yes, it's hard to catch them all .....
       Meanwhile, they also 'link' to three reviews that are not, in fact, readable by non-subscribers (Wall Street Journal, Bookforum, Time) -- an annoying waste of users' time that makes user such as me much less likely to rely on the site (much as I'd like to).

       It's still early days, as they only have some 70 titles covered (not wanting to rub it in too hard, but: the complete review: 3753 titles covered ...), and I hope they really are willing to commit the resources to do this job properly. As noted: it ain't easy.

       Most of the early reactions seem to be concerned with the grading of the books; the most extensive first-day reaction is Alex Shephard at The New Republic considering Does Literary Criticism Have a Grade Inflation Problem ? (As readers know, I also assign a grade to many of the outside reviews of books I quote from/link to at the complete review -- though for a long time, more often than not, I have left it blank, it often too hard to assign a grade that accurately reflects the (often non-commital) review.)

       (Updated - 9 June): See now also Cassandra Neace wondering Lithub's Book Marks: The Book World's Answer To Rotten Tomatoes ? at Book Riot (where she concludes: "the concept of a site that aggregates book reviews is an intriguing one, but it seems to fill a niche that didn't need to be filled in the first place".

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

       Charlotte review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of David Foenkinos' mega-bestselling (half a million copies in France alone, apparently) 2014 prix Renaudot-winning novel, Charlotte, which seems to have arrived very, very quietly in the US (I can't even find an Overlook Press publicity page, and there's been little press-notice to date either).
       I am curious how US/UK readers (and critics) take to it; reactions were certainly divided in Europe; see, e.g. this take on this "roman assez détestable" .....

       This is yet another in the unfortunate popular French trend of fiction that hews closely to fact -- and in which the author makes a cameo appearance (other recent examples include Laurent Binet's HHhH and Adrien Bosc's Constellation); if there's any way to make them stop, please .....
       Unless you are a young-teen reader, I would steer you away from this thing -- but at least some good comes of it: Overlook is also publishing what sounds like a really nice (alas, also pricey) edition of Charlotte Salomon's too-long-out of print Life ? or Theatre ? (the "principal source" for his own work, Foenkinos acknowledges) in November. Now that's a book you might/should want to get your hands on; pre-order your copy at or

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

7 June 2016 - Tuesday

Prizes: Prix du Livre Inter - Commonwealth Short Story Prize
Cold Shoulder review

       Prize: Prix du Livre Inter

       It's not yet the big French prize-season -- the majors are all announced in November -- but among the earlier prizes of some note is the Prix du Livre Inter, which just announced its winner.
       With titles by Jean Echenoz, Camille Laurent, Eric Laurrent, Laurence Cossé, and Simon Liberati among the ten finalists the competition seems to have been pretty good this year -- but it was (still relative) youngster Tristan Garcia whose 7 took the prize; see also the Gallimard publicity page, which describes the 500-pager as consisting of: "Sept romans miniatures".
       Garcia is definitely an up-and-comer on the French scene, though to date only his Hate has made it into English; see the Faber and Faber publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

       Prize: Commonwealth Short Story Prize

       Alas, the old Commonwealth book prize has long since been reduced to a mere short story prize, but, hey, they get a decent number of entries, from a decent spread of (Commonwealth) nations -- "nearly 4000 entries from 47 countries" -- so that's something. And they've now announced that ‘Cow and Company’ -- which you can read here -- , by Parashar Kulkarni, has won this year's prize.

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

       Cold Shoulder review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Markus Werner's Cold Shoulder, just (about) out from Dalkey Archive Press.
       This is a tough sell -- and tough to review --, because it's one of these understated novels that nevertheless packs something of a punch -- which, not wanting to give away too much , I only obliquely address in my review; admirably (?) the Dalkey summary also goes entirely without so much as hinting at the critical plot-turn, either -- though I fear it goes a bit too far in giving the wrong impression of the book (it is only "a comic portrait" so far, and not further ...).
       The novel is translated by Michael Hofmann, so there's the hope that that name-recognition helps get it some attention; his previous Werner translation -- Zündel's Exit -- did get a decent amount of coverage, so .....

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

6 June 2016 - Monday

Arno Schmidt reviewed | Tropic Moon review

       Arno Schmidt reviewed

       I am very pleased to see that my little monograph, Arno Schmidt: a centennial colloquy, is reviewed, by Stefan Hoppner, in the most recent issue (89.2 (Spring 2016)) of The German Quarterly. It's not freely accessible online -- but you have a subscription, right ?
       Well, in case you don't, a few quotes from the nicely thorough review -- beginning with the conclusion (since that's surely also the major point of my book):
Orthofer's book makes for a fine introduction to this intriguing writer, especially now, as Dalkey Archive Press has just announced that Woods' translation of Bottoms Dream will finally be published in September 2016. So, it's now time for English-speaking readers to finally go and discover Arno Schmidt.
       Yes !
       (It's nice to see the pre-orders for Bottom's Dream at Amazon -- publication date 23 September; join in and pre-order your copy at and -- seem to be going very well; that pricing is certainly a great deal for this massive work.)
       Hoppner also notes:
Orthofer is careful to cater to the English-speaking novice, beginning with Schmidt's German translations of Faulkner, Poe, and Cooper, among others. It is also a felicitous choice to leave Joyce mostly out of the picture and compare Schmidt to more recent, more popular, but no less ambitious reading fare, namely to David Foster Wallace and Roberto Bolano.
A Centennial Colloquoy makes for an enjoyable and entertaining read. The book clearly aims at a general rather than at an academic audience, and Orthofer is to be commended especially for making Schmidt accessible.
       And, of course, I enjoy observations such as:
At the surface, Orthofer's dialogue has a vaguely Platonic feel to it. Even the pub setting may or may not allude to the original Symposion, which, after all, means "drinking party" in Ancient Greek. However, the form is much more directly indebted to Schmidt's own "radio dialogues," late-night features for West German public radio,
       (Long-time readers will perhaps be more inclined to see the pub setting as this hard-drinking site itself, but I'll take a Platonic feel any day, too.)
       Anyway, I appreciate the attentive reading and consideration of the book -- and hope it inspires a few more readers (and libraries -- yours has ordered a copy, right ?) to get their hands on the book.
       (Get your copy at or -- though your favorite other retailer, online or off, should have no trouble getting it for you either; it's also available on Kindle (get your copy at or

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

       Tropic Moon review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Georges Simenon's 1933 novel, Tropic Moon -- his first book set outside Europe, colored by his visit to Africa the year before, and as feverishly bleak as anything he wrote.

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

5 June 2016 - Sunday

Le Clézio in South Korea | Manga museum

       Le Clézio in South Korea

       Nobel laureate and long-time (South) Korean lit. fan J.M.G.Le Clézio was back in town (Seoul) again, and gave a lecture on 'Korea, a Culture of Desires', and in The Korea Herald Rumy Doo reports on the event.
       So, for example:
He also addressed the Korean sentiments of "han" and "jeong" -- "emotions that are untranslatable into French" and which talk of "bitterness and hopelessness" as well as "sharing and generosity," respectively -- that are seen as defining postwar Korean literature.
       He also discussed Han Kang, who recently won the Man Booker International Prize for The Vegetarian:
"I had the opportunity to meet (writer Han) when I was teaching at Ewha Womans University. I asked her about 'han' and 'jeong,' and she said 'Those are not my topics. I'm past that generation.' I do not know if that is true, but she is more interested in questions of language and communication between individuals.

"She has a very subtle approach to reality. It's not objective, but it shows ... individuality," he added.
       I'm not quite sure, however, what to make of his explanation:
"What hit me was the good humor of Koreans," he said when asked what drew him to the country. "I found they were extremely funny people, not serious like the Chinese and not sad like the Japanese.
       Meanwhile, interesting to see that his The Prospector is now available (in the UK) in a new translation, by C.Dickson. The old one -- by Carol Marks -- isn't that old -- just over two decades -- but maybe they're hoping to re/jump-start English-language Le Clézio-enthusiasm ..... (Good luck with that -- see, e.g. J.M.G.Le Clézio -- Nobelized, but much read ? by Adrian Tahourdin at The TLS Blog recently.)

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

       Manga museum

       Apparently benefitting from desperate Japanese government efforts to plow money into the far reaches of the economy -- and, hey, it's better than the usual bridge-to-nowhere construction projects they pour so much into -- the Akita manga museum boosts manuscript items to 77,000, as Tsutomu Yamatani reports for the Asahi Shimbun.
       And points for ambition, too:
They intend to build a world-class "sacred place for manga"
       While my manga-enthusiasm remains ... limited (but, hey, there are some under review at the complete review), the museum -- see the official site -- does look quite impressive, even before they get around to this big renovation.

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

4 June 2016 - Saturday

Griffin Poetry Prizes | In Other Words review

       Griffin Poetry Prizes

       They've announced the winners of the Griffin Poetry Prizes, with The Quotations of Bone (by Norman Dubie) taking the International prize, and Infinite Citizen of the Shaking Tent (by Liz Howard) the Canadian one. The winners each received C$65,000 in prize money.
       Nice also to see Adam Zagajewski pick up the Lifetime Recognition Award, 2016.

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

       In Other Words review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jhumpa Lahiri's In Other Words -- the book she wrote in, and about writing in, Italian.

       Neat that the English edition is a bilingual one, the original text of In altre parole facing Ann Goldstein's English translation.
       Not so neat: that the translation copyright is: "© by Alfred A Knopf".

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

3 June 2016 - Friday

Rentrée Littéraire preview | Litprom 'Weltempfänger'

       Rentrée Littéraire preview

       Still a few weeks until the big flood of books of the French 'rentrée littéraire' is upon us, but the Sur la route de Jostein-weblog has a useful (title-)overview of what's coming -- arranged by publisher.

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

       Litprom 'Weltempfänger'

       Litprom have announced their most recent 'Weltempfänger'-best list, their recommended titles, in German translation, of Asian, African, and Latin American works -- always interesting to see.
       Unfortunately -- because they're not that interested in folks actually seeing the list ? -- they only make it available in the dreaded pdf format. (Well, no, to be entirely accurate I have to acknowledge they also make it available in the (even more useless) jpg image format.) This defies my -- or surely any -- comprehension, but what do I know ..... (Really, folks: HTML -- it's not that complicated.)
       With four titles translated from the Spanish (including Tomás González's In the Beginning was the Sea, the only title under review at the complete review), and two from the English, the selection seems a bit ... narrower than usual; still, some good stuff.

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

2 June 2016 - Thursday

Christiana Hills Q & A | Brandes's Decision review

       Christiana Hills Q & A

       At the new Open Letters Monthly Steve Danziger has Rabbit Trails into History: An interview with translator Christiana Hills -- the translator, most recently, of Oulipo-author Michèle Audin's One Hundred Twenty-One Days.

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

       Brandes's Decision review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Eduard Márquez's Catalan novel, Brandes's Decision, coming out from Hispabooks.

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

1 June 2016 - Wednesday

Peter Owen (1927-2016) | Alaa al-Aswany Q & A
Tamil literature | Farewell my Friend review

       Peter Owen (1927-2016)

       As reported at the official site, publisher Peter Owen has passed away.
       He was responsible for an impressive and interesting list -- and many of the Peter Owen titles are under review at the complete review.

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

       Alaa al-Aswany Q & A

       At Deutsche Welle Sabine Peschel has a Q & A with The Yacoubian Building-author Alaa al-Aswany.

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

       Tamil literature

       In The Hindu Madhumitha Dhanasekaran has a piece on Legends of Tamil literature, helpfully introducing several leading authors and offering 'Our picks' of their major works.
       Sounds good -- except that you won't find these titles at your local bookstore, or, indeed, in most cases anywhere, at least in English .....

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

       Farewell my Friend review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Rabindranath Tagore's 1929 novel, Farewell my Friend.
       The 1913 Nobel laureate is best known as a poet, but he also wrote quite a bit of fiction, including several novels -- not all of which, amazingly, have been translated into English yet (though this one has, repeatedly). Most of the fiction is also damned hard to find in English -- disappointing, because it really is quite good.

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

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