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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 August 2016

11 August: Angelus Award semi-finalists | Johanne, Johanne review | Fourteen years of the Literary Saloon
12 August: PEN/Nabokov Award | Ernst Neizvestny (1925-2016) | Arthur Goldhammer profile
13 August: Success (not) in translation | Writers on Trump
14 August: Françoise Mallet-Joris (1930-2016) | Dante review
15 August: Hermann Kant (1926-2016) | US presidential reading
16 August: James Tait Black Prizes | The Story of My Wife review
17 August: Trojanow's Olympics | German translation subsidies
18 August: Read Russia Translation Prize shortlists | The New York Times consolidates book coverage | 'Sex literature' in Ugandan school | Harry Potter in translation
19 August: Kids' lit (not) in translation | On U.R.Ananthamurthy | The Miner review
20 August: Book awards | Youssef Rakha Q & A

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20 August 2016 - Saturday

Book awards | Youssef Rakha Q & A

       Book awards

       At The Conversation Jason Potts makes the case Why we need more book awards -- pointing to Erwin Dekker and Marielle de Jong's recently published study on 'What Do Book Awards Signal ? An Analysis of Book Awards in Three Countries' (abstract; full article (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) ).
       The Dekker/de Jong piece looks at book awards in the US, France, and the Netherlands, between 1981 and 2015 (though the spans vary by country).
       Among the interesting findings:
  • "very few books win multiple awards"
  • "Out of the books in the American data-set only five out of the 398 books nominated or awarded are also in the fiction best-seller lists of 10 most sold books of the year" (!)
  • In the Netherlands "14 books out of 214 (6.5%) are also on the best-seller list"; in France: "42% of the books (77 out of 184) make it to the best-seller list of 50 best books sold"
       Among the conclusions: there's some consensus in the US -- but:
In the French and Dutch language market there are also clear sings that stakeholders in the market resist the common-opinion regime and the associated standard of quality. The resistance to the publication of best-seller-lists, which would take away attention from 'good' books, was substantial in the both countries
       Too bad they didn't include more countries in the study -- the UK would have been an obvious choice, Germany an interesting one as well. Still, certainly of some interest.

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

       Youssef Rakha Q & A

       At Susanne Schanda has a Q & A with Egyptian author Youssef Rakha.
       Several of his works have been translated into English, but apparently he is now making the leap to reach US/UK audiences without a middleman: he's writing his new novel directly in English:
I felt a need for distance and change. I wanted to get away from the familiar with all its implications, overtones and undertones. English helps me to do that, it feels more neutral and doesn't have the same weight for me, the same burden as Arabic. I need distance from all the things that have happened in Egypt over the past five years since the revolution.
       It'll be interesting to see what results.

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

19 August 2016 - Friday

Kids' lit (not) in translation | On U.R.Ananthamurthy | The Miner review

       Kids' lit (not) in translation

       Just how little is translated into English has gotten lots of attention in recent years, but the focus tends to be on adult fiction, and in fact there are many other areas in which translation-into-English lags (far) behind translation into other languages. So, for example, at Slate Daniel Hahn notes We've Stopped Translating Children's Books Into English. Where Will We Get the Next Tintin ?
       I am impressed by what must have been a fairly arduous counting-exercise:
I recently went to a major London bookshop, a good one, and did some counting. I found 2,047 children's books, of which 2,018 were by English-language writers and 29 were translations. Of those 29, the number of living writers represented was ... 6.
       Those are some pretty shocking and damning numbers. No 'three per cent' here .....

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

       On U.R.Ananthamurthy

       In The Caravan Anjum Hasan writes at considerable length on 'U.R.Ananthamurthy's contrarian wisdom', in The Ambivalent Indian.

       Two of Ananthamurthy's books are under review at the complete review: Bharathipura and Samskara.

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

       The Miner review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Natsume Sōseki's The Miner, in a new edition from Aardvark Bureau, a revised translation by Jay Rubin of his 1988 version; there's also an Introduction by Murakami Haruki.

       (Reviewing a Sōseki also gives me opportunity/reason to remind you of one of the most disturbing stories I have come across in the past few months -- Android Sōseki !)

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

18 August 2016 - Thursday

Read Russia Translation Prize shortlists
The New York Times consolidates book coverage
'Sex literature' in Ugandan school | Harry Potter in translation

       Read Russia Translation Prize shortlists

       At Russia Beyond the Headlines Alexandra Guzeva reveals the shortlists for the Read Russia Translation Prize(s), awarded in a variety of categories and for translations into any language (which, come to think of it, must be very hard to judge -- I can't fathom what system they would use to compare translations (of different works !) into, say, Spanish and Hungarian (as is the case in the 'Classic literature of the 19th century'-category)).
       (Meanwhile, the Read Russia site itself seems rather/way behind in trying to keep up with the latest prize happenings -- you would think that, given the generous prize money on offer they could pay someone a few rubles to keep this vaguely up to date, too .....)
       One of the shortlisted titles is actually under review at the complete review -- Lisa Hayden's, of Eugene Vodolazkin's Laurus.

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

       The New York Times consolidates book coverage

       I always liked the fact that The New York Times Book Review was editorially (at least nominally) independent, with book coverage in the (week-)daily edition of The New York Times under another purview; no longer, alas: Dean Baquet has announced that they're consolidating all the paper's book coverage, and that Pamela Paul to Oversee Daily and Sunday Book Coverage. (Pamela Paul has run the NYTBR since 2013.)
       This certainly appears to be a big vote of confidence in what Paul has been doing -- though note that The New York Times seems to have a recent history of thinking NYTBR-editors don't have enough to do: her predecessor, Sam Tanenhaus, was named editor of (the then still existing) "Week in Review'-section in 2007, while continuing in his NYTBR job at the same time .....
       Obviously, it's easy to argue this is a sensible consolidation -- book coverage is book coverage, right ? On the other hand: the separation of daily and Sunday coverage sure lasted a long time without anyone daring to mess with it, and there's more than a whiff of belt-tightening desperation to this too.
       My book-coverage preference is certainly for more variety, while putting a single person in charge surely makes for a tendency towards sameness. Obviously, if you like what Paul has done with the NYTBR, then more of the same sounds good; if you don't ... tough.

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

       'Sex literature' in Ugandan school

       Every year there are fun stories about over-protective American parents demanding the banning or removal-from-school-libraries of books their kids would be much better off exposed to. This happens elsewhere, too, though generally not on the same hysterical and grand scale -- but a recent Ugandan episode shows adult/parental (and governmental) over-reactions are not limited to the United States.
       In New Vision Paul Kiwuuwa reports that Parliament probes Greenhill Academy over sex literature, with the national Ethics Minister rooting around in the school library, and MPs (!) impounding: "over 100 copies for further scrutiny".
       The prestigious school's motto appears to be: 'Expand your horizons', but apparently these are not horizons meant to be expanded on .....
       So what was this offending porn that has everyone shocked and upset ? Well, with titles like Love Lessons and Girls in Love you have to expect the worst right ? Never mind that they're titles by Jacqueline Wilson, and that the Scholastic publicity page for Girls in Love suggests a 'Grades 6-8' interest for sensitive American audiences (and that there's a TV series based on it ...).
When the MPs probed and scrutinized the library cards, Girls In Love was the most borrowed book by both female and male pupils.
       OMG ! A book both girls and boys like -- and that they actually read ! Can't get that off the shelves soon enough !
       Other offending porn-titles include Daisy Meadows' Juliet the Valentine Fairy -- and you can tell from the Scholastic publicity page just how dangerous that would be for impressionable young minds (and bodies ...) !
       (It does sound/look like all they did with most of these books was look at the titles before deciding they were inappropriate.)
       Amazingly, there doesn't seem to have been much backlash at this ridiculous over-reach, with the school already apologizing and the books apparently gone for good. Disappointing, all around.

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

       Harry Potter in translation

       I recently mentioned that J.K.Rowling's Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (co-written by Jack Thorne and John Tiffany) has enjoyed spectacular sales-success, including in Germany and France, where the original English version has topped bestseller lists. With the translations only due out in five weeks in Germany (see the Carlsen publicity page) and in two months in France (see the Gallimard publicity page), readers apparently haven't been able to wait.
       The rush-to-translation apparently was (mistakenly) not seen as quite so urgent with this one (previous Harry Potters have come out at the same time as the English original) -- but one place they thought otherwise was ... Iran. Yes, as the Tehran Times reports, Iranian Pottermaniacs to roll out red carpet for Cursed Child, as the Persian version (unauthorized, I think it is safe to say) has now been published; see also the Tandis publicity page.

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

17 August 2016 - Wednesday

Trojanow's Olympics | German translation subsidies

       Trojanow's Olympics

       Ilija Trojanow's novel, The Lamentations of Zeno, recently came out in English from Verso -- see their publicity page, or get your copy at or -- but I'm even more intrigued by the book he's just published in German, Meine Olympiade ('My Olympics'), subtitled 'One amateur, four years, eighty disciplines' (see the S.Fischer foreign rights page).
       Apparently he decided after the 2012 Olympics in London to train in all eighty individual Summer Olympic disciplines (i.e. excluding only the team or partnered ones), "with the goal of doing at least half as well as the gold medalist of London". (I'm not quite sure how he measured that in those sports that aren't ... measured (badminton, judo, etc. etc.).) A nice twist, too: he traveled around the world to train with leaders in the various sports -- wrestling in Iran, running in Kenya, boxing in Brooklyn, etc.
       Sounds fun -- too bad no one thought to translate it in time for these Olympics .....

       (Meanwhile, I'm also glad to see that Verso have gone with 'Ilija Trojanow' -- rather than, as Faber foolishly had it when they gave him a go, 'Ilya Troyanov'; see my post (from more than eight years ago !) about that (not-quite-)transliteration problem.)

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

       German translation subsidies

       Litprom is the German 'Society for the Promotion of African, Asian and Latin American Literature', and among their activities is subsidizing translations-into-German from those areas (and the Arab world), and they've just announced the latest batch of nine titles that will get translation-support (scroll down for the convenient list).
       Two of these are actually already under review at the complete review -- and available in English --: Juan Pablo Villalobos' I'll Sell You a Dog and Imraan Coovadia's Tales of the Metric System, while two more are also translations-from-the English; indeed, while the geographic diversity is impressive, the linguistic one is less so -- a translation from the Vietnamese is the only one not from a more or less major European language .....
       Still, always interesting to see what is being translated -- and subsidized -- elsewhere.

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

16 August 2016 - Tuesday

James Tait Black Prizes | The Story of My Wife review

       James Tait Black Prizes

       They've announced the winners of this year's £10,000 James Tait Black Prizes (which apparently get a lot of mileage out of calling themselves 'Britainís oldest literary awards').
       You Don't Have to Live Like This (by Benjamin Markovits) took the fiction prize; see the publicity pages from Harper Perennial and Faber & Faber, or get your copy at or
       (There's apparently also a non-fiction prize, and that went to a Shakespeare-book by James Shapiro.)

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

       The Story of My Wife review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Füst Milán's 1942 novel, The Story of My Wife: The Reminiscences of Captain Störr.
       After the 1987 PAJ Publications hardcover this was published in paperback in 1989 in the Vintage International series; you still find some decent books in that series, but this one is long out of print (and instead you find the likes of ... Paulo Coelho's (no doubt well-selling, sigh ...) Adultery).

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

15 August 2016 - Monday

Hermann Kant (1926-2016) | US presidential reading

       Hermann Kant (1926-2016)

       Leading East German author Hermann Kant has passed away; see, for example, (German) reports in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Die Zeit.
       The latter reports that his best-known work, Die Aula, was translated into fifteen languages -- but English was apparently not one of them; it seems none of his work made it into English. That's somewhat surprising -- if not a top-tier author, he was certainly high second tier, and deserved at least some attention even from English-language readers.

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

       US presidential reading

       The American White House has released The President's Summer Reading List -- five books President Obama is apparently reading this summer.
       The only one of the five titles under review at the complete review is Neal Stephenson's Seveneves -- noteworthy because it was also recommended by former Microsoft man Bill Gates earlier this year.
       A solid little list -- but only five books for summer reading ? Come on !

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

14 August 2016 - Sunday

Françoise Mallet-Joris (1930-2016) | Dante review

       Françoise Mallet-Joris (1930-2016)

       Belgian author Françoise Mallet-Joris has passed away; see, for example, Josyane Savigneau and Jean-Luc Drouin on Mort de la romancière Françoise Mallet-Joris in Le Monde.
       Mallet-Joris was of that generation of French authors that were translated into English as a matter of course from the late 1950s through the early 1980s; now, of course, she is largely forgotten and, in English, apparently entirely out of print. But it's fairly easy to find used copies of her old books -- cheap, too. Get your copy of her fairly recently re-translated-- now as The Illusionist -- controversial debut from or

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

       Dante review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Marco Santagata's Dante: The Story of His Life, recently published by Harvard University Press.
       Santagata is also a well-known author of fiction -- and his Dante-themed novel, Come donna innamorata, was a finalist for the Premio Strega last year; I wonder if it will get translated into English.

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

13 August 2016 - Saturday

Success (not) in translation | Writers on Trump

       Success (not) in translation

       It doesn't come as much of a surprise that Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, by J.K.Rowling (and Jack Thorne and John Tiffany) has sold phenomenally well. Well, perhaps the fact that it is a play-script makes this a bit surprising -- but, as Clarisse Loughrey reported in The Independent, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child becomes biggest selling play script since records began, having sold an amazing 847,886 copies in the UK alone. Meanwhile, as Jennifer Maloney reports in the Wall Street Journal, 'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' Debuts at No. 1 With More Than 4 Million in Sales, as it has also sold some 3.3 million times in North America. (Get your copy at or -- and, yes, it's the top seller at both sites.)
       Perhaps even more impressive: the original English edition tops the current bestseller lists in both Germany and France. Yes, while in the US or UK it's rare to see a book in translation on the bestseller list, here we have a book in a different language that makes it -- essentially unheard of in the US/UK ! (The rather impressive exception: Winnie ille Pu in the US in 1961 .....)
       This is why the Europeans generally try to get translations of the biggest English-language books to appear concurrently with the US/UK release -- or ahead of them, as, for example, the Dutch have done with the latest, Man Booker Prize longlisted, J.M.Coetzee (see the Cossee publicity page).

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

       Writers on Trump

       In The Guardian they have Richard Ford, Joyce Carol Oates, David Hare and more ... leading writers on Donald Trump -- in case you were hoping they could shed some light on this peculiar American ... phenomenon.

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

12 August 2016 - Friday

PEN/Nabokov Award | Ernst Neizvestny (1925-2016)
Arthur Goldhammer profile

       PEN/Nabokov Award

       There used to be a biennial PEN/Nabokov Award for Fiction (2000-2008) -- awarded to Mavis Gallant, William H. Gass, Mario Vargas Llosa, Cynthia Ozick, and Philip Roth -- and now they've upped the prize money (from US$20,000 to US$50,000) and revived it as the: 'PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature'. A nice spin on who qualifies: it's for authors: "born or residing outside the United States for an outstanding body of work over a sustained career". So Ozick, Roth, and Gass couldn't have won this version of the prize !
       Apparently, the prize will be "administered by PEN America", and funded (?) by "the Vladimir Nabokov Literary Foundation -- headed by eminent literary agent Andrew Wylie". (The VNLF 2015 990-PF list all of US$197.00 in disbursements (US$168.00 in legal fees, US$25.00 in taxes, and US$4.00 for 'other expenses', so they're certainly upping their ante.)
       This bears some resemblance to what the Man Booker International Prize used to be -- but the not-born-in/resident-of-the-US qualification is a nice twist that pushes it to being more international. Of course, the Wylie connection is ... something to keep an eye on; the 'VNLF' address is that of the Wylie Agency, and that agency does 'handle' a lot of prominent international authors -- let's hope the "panel of five [not yet named] internationally recognized writers who will serve as judges" can tear themselves away from just considering authors on this list.

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

       Ernst Neizvestny (1925-2016)

       Sculptor Ernst Neizvestny has passed away; see, for example, Ernst Neizvestny, Russian sculptor who stood up to Khrushchev, dies at 91 at DeutscheWelle, or Ernst Neizvestny: A Principled and Uniquely Talented Artist by Ruth Morse in The Moscow Times.
       My introduction to Neizvestny was John Berger's classic, Art and Revolution -- a book that made a tremendous impression on me (ca. anno 1983). (See the Vintage publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

       Arthur Goldhammer profile

       A nice (French) profile of prolific translator ("de plus de 120 livres") Arthur Goldhammer, la French connection by Marc-Olivier Bherer in Le Monde.

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

11 August 2016 - Thursday

Angelus Award semi-finalists | Johanne, Johanne review
Fourteen years of the Literary Saloon

       Angelus Award semi-finalists

       They've announced the 14 semi-finalists (selected out of: "70 good applications" -- admirably also all revealed and listed) for the Polish Angelus Central European Literature Award, which is awarded to a book published in Polish (original or translation) from: Albania, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Germany, Poland, Russia, or Ukraine; see also the report.
       Not many (any ?) names that will strike much of a US/UK chord -- but a good overview of current Central European fiction. So, for example, Varujan Vosganian might not have made it into English yet, but the shortlisted book, Cartea soaptelor, has been translated into French, and German, and Italian, etc. ... So expect to see some of these in English .... someday.
       The seven finalists will be announced in early September; the winner on 15 October.

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

       Johanne, Johanne review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Lars Sidenius' Johanne, Johanne, a text-message novel just out in English from Dalkey Archive Press.

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

       Fourteen years of the Literary Saloon

       The complete review was started in 1999, and this Literary Saloon weblog added just over three years later; today marks the fourteenth anniversary of the first post.
       Fourteen years !
       Anyway, many thanks to the longtime (and new) readers -- hope you continue to enjoy the site, or find it useful, or at least invigoratingly aggravating.
       Cheers !
       (I daren't say: to fourteen more .....)

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

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