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opinionated commentary on literary matters - from the complete review

The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 30 September 2021

21 September: End of The Guardian Review | A Single Rose review
22 September: German Book Prize shortlist | The Buru Quartet | Journey to the West
23 September: Dayton Literary Peace Prize winners | In the Shadow of the Yali review
24 September: FT McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award shortlist | Cundill History Prize shortlist | Joshua Cohen Q & A
25 September: Kjell Askildsen (1929-2021) | Wole Soyinka Q & A
26 September: Another Wole Soyinka Q & A | Literary reputation
27 September: Jhumpa Lahiri Q & A | PEN International presidency
28 September: New World Literature Today | Vondel Prize longlist | Earthly Powers review
29 September: Nobel Prize in Literature countdown | Wilhelm Raabe-Literaturpreis | MacArthur Fellows
30 September: Royal Society Science Book Prize shortlist | Premio Strega Europeo finalists | Night Train review

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30 September 2021 - Thursday

Royal Society Science Book Prize shortlist
Premio Strega Europeo finalists | Night Train review

       Royal Society Science Book Prize shortlist

       They've announced the shortlist for this year's Royal Society Science Book Prize, six titles selected from the 267 submissions (by comparison: the Booker Prize for fiction only considered 158 novels for this year's prize ...).
       I haven't seen any of these.
       The winner will be announced 29 November.

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

       Premio Strega Europeo finalists

       I'm a bit late to this, but they've announced the five finalists for this year's Premio Strega Europeo, an Italian prize for best translated European novel, with a very solid list of national-prize-winning novels.
       The winner will be announced 17 October.

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

       Night Train review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Lydia Davis' translation of a selection of A.L.Snijders' zeer korte verhalen, Night Train, just (about) out from New Directions.

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

29 September 2021 - Wednesday

Nobel Prize in Literature countdown | Wilhelm Raabe-Literaturpreis
MacArthur Fellows

       Nobel Prize in Literature countdown

       They're announcing who will be awarded this year's Nobel Prize in Literature soon -- next Thursday, on 7 October (at 13:00 CEST; you can watch live at the Nobel site).
       (The Nobel folk are still keeping the prize-announcing Swedish Academy on a shorter leash, hence also the already fixed announcement date; in the good old days the Academy reserved the right to announce it on some Thursday in October and would only announce/confirm that they were going to reveal the name on the Monday of that week, i.e. we wouldn't know that they were announcing it next week until ... next week. (They would have let us know on the 4th.))
       It seems likely that they have already settled on a name; I have no sense or feel for who they might have chosen.

       A few betting shops have set odds on the prize, but it doesn't look like there has been much betting yet; At Ladbrokes six authors share the spot of 'favorite', at 10/1 odds: Margaret Atwood, Anne Carson, Maryse Condé, Murakami Haruki, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, and Lyudmila Ulitskaya. (The fact that they spell Margaret Atwood's name wrong is, of course, not a great sign .....) With a North American poet having won last year, Carson seems particularly unlikely, but I suppose it's a reasonable sextet of plausible candidates.
       Jon Fosse is somewhat surprisingly far down their list -- though still at decent 25/1 odds -- but that's the same as they rate Ko Un .....
       At Nicer Odds you can compare all the odds currently on offer -- though there aren't many odds-discrepancies among the different shops, yet.

       The one place where there has been a lot of Nobel Prize speculation on the internet is at the World Literature Forum's Nobel Prize in Literature 2021 Speculation thread, with already close to 1750 posts, last I checked. (Last year's speculation thread topped out at 1551 posts.) I haven't been following this one this year, but it certainly seems to be the place to go for speculation.
       There isn't much elsewhere, with, for example, The Mookse and the Gripes discussion at Goodreads on the 2021 Nobel Prize up to all of ... 22 posts, last I checked.

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

       Wilhelm Raabe-Literaturpreis

       They've announced the winner of this year's Wilhelm Raabe Literary Prize -- a book prize that, at €30,000, pays out more than the German Book Prize does -- and it is Besichtigung eines Unglücks, by Gert Loschütz.

       Good on Seagull Books, who have published one of his previous books and have already secured world English rights for this one; see also the Schöffling & Co. foreign rights page.

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

       MacArthur Fellows

       They've announced the latest class of 25 MacArthur Fellows, who now receive: "a stipend of $625,000 [...] paid out in equal quarterly installments over five years", no strings attached.

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

28 September 2021 - Tuesday

New World Literature Today | Vondel Prize longlist | Earthly Powers review

       New World Literature Today

       The Autumn, 2021 issue of World Literature Today is now available -- and it's the 'All-Translation Issue'.
       As always, lots of great material -- including the extensive book review section.

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

       Vondel Prize longlist

       They've announced the longlist for the 2022 Vondel Translation Prize, a biennial prize for the best translation into English of a Dutch work "of literary merit and general interest".
       Two of the titles are under review at the complete review:        The shortlist will be announced on 16 November.

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

       Earthly Powers review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Anthony Burgess' 1980, Booker Prize-shortlisted novel, Earthly Powers.

       Fairly late in the novel, Burgess' novelist-narrator, Toomey, recounts:
I went to my study and, sighing, numbered a new sheet of foolscap (140), recalled some of my characters from their brief sleep and set them talking. They started talking, to my surprise, about the novel which contained them, rather like one of those cartoon films in which anthropomorphic animals get out of the frame and start abusing their creator.
     'A novelist friend of mine,' Diana Cartwright said, 'affirmed that a satisfactory novel should be a selfevident sham to which the reader could regulate at will the degree of his credulity.'
       It (only) takes a page before Toomey takes action:
I went back to my novel, crumpled the sheet I had started, and forced the characters back into total servitude to my will. Slaves, sort of, with only the illusion of freedom. Like all of us. The novel form was no sham.
       As is, it's a nice little side-step, and makes his point -- but part of me wishes he'd left the characters unleashed and let them continue down that path .....
       (The excellent sentence Cartwright quotes is, verbatim, out of Flann O'Brien's At Swim-Two-Birds; in the same passage O'Brien wrote: "The modern novel should be largely a work of reference", advice Burgess nicely took here.)

       Meanwhile, much as I enjoy adding to my favorite review-index -- that of Real People in Works of Fiction -- I do find myself wishing more and more to find fewer and fewer real people and events worked over in works of fiction .....

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

27 September 2021 - Monday

Jhumpa Lahiri Q & A | PEN International presidency

       Jhumpa Lahiri Q & A

       The English translation of Jhumpa Lahiri's Whereabouts -- she wrote it in Italian -- came out a couple of months ago, and in The Age Emma Alberici now has a Q & A with her, Jhumpa Lahiri: ‘I’ve never lived in a place where I felt completely accepted’
       Among her responses:
I don’t know really what my native language is. I’ve always had a complicated relationship with every language I’ve known and I’ve felt both that it is one of my languages and not my language at the same time. I felt that with Bengali, which was technically my first language, and then English, which became my dominant language, and then with Italian, which arrived rather late. There are degrees of belonging and not belonging with all three.
       This isn't the only work she wrote in Italian, and it's interesting to hear:
None of the characters I’ve created in Italian have had names. I sometimes describe who they are in relation to other people, so they’re called the translator, or the husband, or the wife. I’ve written nine short stories in Italian and none of the characters have names. Writing characters without names means they are free to roam in the reader’s imagination more than if you provide a name. Names are identifiers. Names are containers.

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

       PEN International presidency

       They've announced that Turkish author Burhan Sönmez has been elected the new president of PEN International, succeeding Jennifer Clement.
       Several of Sönmez's books have been translated into English -- most recently Labyrinth, which Other Press brought out a couple of years ago; see also their publicity page.

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

26 September 2021 - Sunday

Another Wole Soyinka Q & A | Literary reputation

       Another Wole Soyinka Q & A

       With his Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth just (about) out, Wole Soyinka is really doing the publicity-rounds: there's now yet another Q & A, this one at The Guardian, with Chibundu Onuzo, Wole Soyinka: ‘This book is my gift to Nigeria’.
       Among his responses:
Do you have hope for Nigeria’s future ?

Oh, hope. Again, that’s another word that I don’t use, like happiness. When you even mention the word Nigeria, I don’t know what that is. I feel nothing for it because it’s totally diverged from what I knew as Nigeria as a child. I don’t recognise this country. That’s the truth. And so to that question, my answer is very mixed.

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

       Literary reputation

       In City Journal Jonathan Clarke finds: 'A decade after his death, one of our greatest literary stylists has fallen into critical disfavor', in John Updike and the Politics of Literary Reputation.
       He suggests:
Updike’s reputational decline coincides with a decisive shift in the aesthetic preferences of the American literary mainstream. Much of American literature is now written in the spurious confessional style of an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Readers value authenticity over coherence; they don’t value conventional beauty at all.
       Dead authors do tend to fade fast these days -- sometimes to be resurrected after a decent interval has passed, sometimes not --, which would seem to me to explain a lot. As to 'the American literary mainstream', I have far too little familiarity with it; indeed, I'd be hard pressed to guess what/who qualifies as that.

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

25 September 2021 - Saturday

Kjell Askildsen (1929-2021) | Wole Soyinka Q & A

       Kjell Askildsen (1929-2021)

       Norwegian author Kjell Askildsen has passed away; see for example his publisher's announcement.
       Archipelago recently came out with a collection of his work, Everything Like Before; see their publicity page, or get your copy at or
       Dalkey Archive Press also came out with a slimmer collection a couple of years ago; see their publicity page.

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

       Wole Soyinka Q & A

       Wole Soyinka's Chronicles from the Land of the Happiest People on Earth is just (about) out, and in The Los Angeles Times Anderson Tepper has a Q & A with him, in ‘At long last, Idunit!’ Wole Soyinka on his first novel in nearly 50 years.
       Among other things, he discusses the effects of winning the Nobel:
Do recall, I did have a “platform” even before the Nobel. I had and routinely exercised that voice. The Nobel, however, began to render the voice hoarse and brittle from expectations and demands. Worst of all was that I lost even my remnant shreds of anonymity. That’s the unrecognized part, and one to which I am yet to be reconciled.

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

24 September 2021 - Friday

FT McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award shortlist
Cundill History Prize shortlist | Joshua Cohen Q & A

       FT McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award shortlist

       They've announced the shortlist of this year's Financial Times and McKinsey Business Book of the Year Award.
       There are six finalists; I haven't seen any of these.
       The winner will be announced 1 December.

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

       Cundill History Prize shortlist

       They've announced the shortlist for this year's Cundill History Prize, "the world's leading history prize".
       There are eight titles on the shortlist; a shorter list of finalists will be announced 20 October, and the winner of the US$75,000 prize on 2 December.

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

       Joshua Cohen Q & A

       In Frieze Lincoln Michel has a Q & A with Joshua Cohen on Truth and Half-Truths in Fiction, speaking mainly about his recent novel, The Netanyahus.
       Among other things, Cohen notes:
That’s how books have changed, since I started writing them: they became tedious redoubts for the pious certainties of a besieged, over-educated and underemployed intellectual class dissatisfied with -- and powerless to change -- the mindless, capital-driven popular.

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

23 September 2021 - Thursday

Dayton Literary Peace Prize winners | In the Shadow of the Yali review

       Dayton Literary Peace Prize winners

       They've announced the winners of this year's Dayton Literary Peace Prizes, awarded to books: "that have led readers to a better understanding of other cultures, peoples, religions, and political points of view", with the fiction prize going to We Germans, by Alexander Starritt.
       No word yet at the official site, last I checked, but see, for example, the report at the Literary Hub.

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

       In the Shadow of the Yali review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Suat Derviş' In the Shadow of the Yali, a 1945 Turkish novel now available in English, in Maureen Freely's translation, from Other Press.

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

22 September 2021 - Wednesday

German Book Prize shortlist | The Buru Quartet | Journey to the West

       German Book Prize shortlist

       They've announced the shortlist for this year's German Book Prize -- six titles, three of which were published by Carl Hanser.
       The winner will be announced 18 October.

       Among the finalists is Christian Kracht's Eurotrash -- which was also named a finalist for the Swiss Book Prize. Now, however -- rather late in the day -- Kracht has asked for his book to be withdrawn from consideration for the latter, noting that he had already won the prize previously (in 2016) and saying he wanted to give the other authors a better chance. (He's still all in on the bigger-payday, more prestigious German Book Prize -- which, admittedly, he hasn't previously won.)
       As the Swiss Book Prize's official press announcement (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) notes, publishers are (ridiculously) limited to two entries for the prize; they don't say it outright, but obviously they're pointing to the fact that he took up one of those limited spots ..... It's also too late for them to add a new fifth finalist, so the prize will be decided among the four remaining titles.
       There also seems to be more to it than just Kracht having suddenly realized he'd won this thing before and maybe somebody else should get a chance: apparently the Swiss press has ... mentioned that Kracht, despite being a wealthy, bestselling author published by a major publisher, received a generous work grant from the Swiss government arts council, Pro Helvetia (a grant he had to apply for in order to get) -- i.e. public funds that maybe might have better gone to a less-well-situated author. Kracht seems to allude to this media-fuss in his letter withdrawing his book (and they specifically quote his comments mentioning this in the official press release).

       As longtime readers know, I don't think writers should have any say as to whether or not their book is under consideration for a prize (publishers neither, but that's a different story); if they really disapprove, they can always turn it down (if they win); if they don't think they deserve the money, they can surely find a worthy cause or author(s) to pass it on to.
       In this instance, Kracht actually could (and surely should) have decided much earlier: the Swiss Book Prize apparently requires publishers to get an author's approval in order to submit a title (unlike, say, the Booker Prize, where every effort is made to keep authors in the dark as to whether or not their book has been entered), so apparently Kracht signed off on Eurotrash being entered for the prize and only now has changed his mind.
       I would also note that Kracht didn't win the 2016 Swiss Book Prize, his book, The Dead, did; book prizes should be about the books in question; who the author is is irrelevant (that's what author prizes -- which are much more common in the German-speaking area -- are for). (This is also my major objection to the prix Goncourt, a book prize which can only be won by an author once (in theory, anyway; Romain Gary has proved otherwise).)

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

       The Buru Quartet

       In The Jakarta Post Reno Surya profiles Oei Hiem Hwie: The guardian of Pramoedya Ananta Toer's banned literary tetralogy (with the second part to follow).

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

       Journey to the West

       At Big Think Tim Brinkhof looks at How China's Monkey King changed Western literature.
       Penguin Classics recently published an abridged translation, by Julia Lovell, Monkey King (see their publicity page), but if/when I tackle this, it'll be in the Anthony C. Yu translation (see the University of Chicago Press publicity page) -- not least because I actually have the latter (and not the former).

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

21 September 2021 - Tuesday

End of The Guardian Review | A Single Rose review

       End of The Guardian Review

       As Heloise Wood reported at The Bookseller, Guardian Review bids farewell after nearly 20 years.
       They present it more as a restructuring -- "From next week you can find even more agenda-setting literary journalism in the exciting new Saturday magazine where there will be new columns as well as long-standing favourites in the new Books section" -- but too often these things lead to less coverage. Recall the grandly-announced New York Media to Triple Books Coverage Across Sites Including Vulture and the Cut from a couple of years ago, which lasted ... about a week.
       We hope for the best .....

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

       A Single Rose review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Muriel Barbery's A Single Rose, just out from Europa Editions in the US and Gallic Books in the UK.

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

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