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2 July 2015 - Thursday

Writing in ... Africa | Books from Finland closes shop
July Words without Borders | Hollow Heart review

       Writing in ... Africa

       In Vanguard Ikenna Asomba reports on the Nigerian Breweries/Farafina 2015 Literary Evening held last weekend, where Adichie, Wainaina worry over dearth of literary works in African languages.
       Good to see the topic and concern at least be addressed this prominently; one hopes it'll inspire some of the participants (and others, too).

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

       Books from Finland closes shop

       More than a month ago I mentioned they were pulling the plug on the wonderful Books from Finland site -- keeping it only as an archive -- and now they've gone and done it: here's the final post.
       Yes, after: "almost 10,000 printed pages and 1,500 posts" they've decided it's no longer worth adding content, so they're calling it a day. Very disappointing.

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

       July Words without Borders

       The July issue of Words without Borders, now available online, features: 'Emerging German Writers', with a bonus batch of: 'Burundi: Writing from the State of Sleep'.

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

       Hollow Heart review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Viola Di Grado's dead-girl-talking novel, Hollow Heart, just out from Europa Editions.

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

1 July 2015 - Wednesday

Kafka manuscripts to National Library of Israel (probably)
Bảo tàng Văn học Việt Nam | CWA International Dagger
The Defence of Lawino review

       Kafka manuscripts to National Library of Israel (probably)

       One of the more entertaining literary estate trials of recent years may have run its course, as a Tel Aviv District Court has rejected an appeal by the not-quite-heirs of Max Brod's remaining Kafka holdings (further appeals are, apparently, possible, however); see reports:        As you might recall, Esther Hoffe wound up with a suitcase (and millions of dollars') worth of Kafka-papers from Max Brod -- and then lived forever (well, past the century mark, anyway). She sold some of them, and then passed on the rest to her daughter (the appellant here); the court seems to have frowned upon the cashing-in efforts - albeit with the rather curious argument:
"As far as Kafka is concerned, is the placing of his personal writings, which he ordered to be destroyed, for public sale to the highest bidder by the secretary of his friend and by her daughters in keeping with justice ? It seems that the answer to this is clear," wrote the judges.
       But, rather than doing right (finally !) by Kafka and ordering the long-overdue bonfire the papers are (probably) going to the National Library of Israel.
The court said Hoffe had no rights, and could not have any such rights -- as well as not having rights to any royalties -- for the documents Brod took from Kafka's apartment after his death. As for her holding on to such documents after Brod’s death, she did do illegally and had no right to decide on the fate of the estate
       This is presumably correct, going by the letter of the law (well, the facts suggest there is some wiggle room here, legally speaking ...); the fact that Brod surely had no right (morally as well as by the letter of the applicable laws) either to do all the things he did with Kafka's manuscripts unfortunately was not up for debate.
       I find it fascinating that everyone seems to be willing to give Brod the benefit of an overwhelming amount of doubt -- wink, wink, we all know what Kafka really meant (why ? because that's what we want to believe) -- while no one is willing to give Esther Hoffe the same courtesy: who is to say, after all, that Brod didn't intend for her to be the true beneficiary (he left her the papers, for heaven's sake, so she was already the nominal beneficiary), to be able do as she wished with the papers ? After all, if he hadn't, surely he would have seen to the proper disposal, one way or another, of the papers when he had the chance, rather than expecting the ambiguous testamentary dispositions he made to resolve things -- that's the argument re. Kafka, isn't it ? isn't it ?. (Even if Brod's instructions seem clear (and they really aren't), they are still nowhere as clear as Kafka's very precise instructions to Brod were: burn the stuff ! all of it !)

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

       Bảo tàng Văn học Việt Nam

       Việt Nam News reports that First Vietnamese literature museum opens to public.
       Apparently: "construction did not begin till 2004" on the three-story building -- and it seems it took over a decade, until now, to get it all done.
       The first floor covers the 10th through 19th centuries, the second "writers of the early 20th century", the "third floor is reserved for writers of the anti-French revolution period (1945-54)". Apparently there's no room for anything resembling contemporary literature -- or it's been relegated to the basement .....

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

       CWA International Dagger

       They announced the winners of the (UK) Crime Writers’ Association yesterday, and the CWA International Dagger, for a crime-book "not originally written in English and has been translated into English for UK publication during the Judging Period" went to Pierre Lemaitre's Camille, in Frank Wynne's translation.
       Among the titles it beat out is Leif GW Persson's Falling Free, as if in a Dream, the last in his under-appreciated trilogy, and Deon Meyer's Cobra.

       (Bonus points and big applause for the CWA listing all the entries in the various categories: why can't all book prizes do this ?)

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

       The Defence of Lawino review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of A New Translation of Wer pa Lawino by Taban lo Liyong, his translation of Okot p'Bitek's The Defence of Lawino.
       I reviewed p'Bitek's own translation, and it's always interesting to compare translations; certainly, these make for a great comparative case-study.

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

30 June 2015 - Tuesday

HKW International Literary Prize | The Festival of Insignificance review

       HKW International Literary Prize

       The've announced that Amos Oz's הבשורה על פי יהודה, in Mirjam Pressler's German translation (as Judas) has won this year's Internationaler Literaturpreis - Haus der Kulturen der Welt -- the big (€25,000 for the author, and €10,000 for the translator) German best translated (contemporary) book award; see also, for example, Sabine Peschel's report Amos Oz wins major German literature award at DeutscheWelle.
       It no doubt will appear in English translation eventually, but it hasn't yet. (Hey, why shouldn't it appear in ... say, Brazil before it comes out in the US/UK provinces, right ? I do note, however, without comment, that Oz is handled by 'literary' agent Andrew Wylie.)

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

       The Festival of Insignificance review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Milan Kundera's recent novel -- his first in over a decade -- The Festival of Insignificance.

       Interesting to see the mixed reactions to this -- and also how much review coverage there has been of it (the most, by far, of any book I 've covered so far this year).

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

29 June 2015 - Monday

'Russian Library' (redux ?)

       'Russian Library' (redux ?)

       In The New York Times Andrew Roth reports that Columbia University Press to Publish New Translations of Russian Literature, as:
The idea, tentatively named the Russian Library, envisions dozens, and perhaps more than 100, new translations of Russian modern literature and classics, selected by the publisher with support from a committee of Russian and American academics.
       Columbia University Press already has some good foreign literature coverage -- especially east Asian literature -- and among the publishers they distribute is leading international literature publisher Dalkey Archive Press, so this could be a really good fit.
       There's one open question/issue, however: readers might recall that a project not so tentatively named The Russian Library -- "scheduled to publish 125 volumes over the next 10 years" -- was launched by the very same Read Russia and the very same Peter Kaufman not all that long ago, in partnership with The Overlook Press (who, with imprint Ardis, have long been in the Russian game, too) -- see, for example, the Shelf Awareness report Overlook Press to Publish 'Russian Library' (which even pictures Vladimir Grigoriev and Peter Kaufman sealing the deal in 2012); see also the Publishers Weekly report from back then.
       So what happened with the Overlook deal ? (Disappointing reporting on the part of The New York Times, not to even acknowledge that this is apparently take two of this project, or to poke around and learn what happened to take one.)

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

28 June 2015 - Sunday

Sunday Times Literary Awards | Aubrey Menen profile

       Sunday Times Literary Awards

       They've announced the winners of the 2015 (South African) Sunday Times Literary Awards, with Arctic Summer, by Damon Galgut, taking the fiction prize, and Askari, by Jacob Dlamini, taking the non-fiction prize.
       Galgut's E.M.Forster-novel isn't under review at the complete review, but I've admired his earlier work; see also the publicity pages at Europa Editions and Atlantic Books, or get your copy at or

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

       Aubrey Menen profile

       Nakul Krishna's look at 'The particular strangeness of Aubrey Menen', Is Fun Fun ? is now fully accessible at The Caravan.
       There doesn't seem to be any Menen currently in print in the US or UK, but Penguin India have a solid collection of Classic Aubrey Menen; see their publicity page.

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

27 June 2015 - Saturday

Print/digital in ... Hungary | Financial Times summer books list
Reading the World review

       Print/digital in ... Hungary

       At hlo Szabolcs László considers Print vs. online literary journals in Hungary -- a subject of some debate, apparently.
       Among the fun incidental titbits: hand-writing Péters Nádas and Esterházy share(d) not only a name but: "a much-beloved typist".

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

       Financial Times summer books list

       The FT's Summer books 2015 -- "FT writers and guests pick their books of the year so far" -- is certainly ... extensive -- but, helpfully divided up by subject-matter (including 'Fiction in translation' !), among the better compilations we'll be seeing.

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

       Reading the World review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ann Morgan's Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer, which has just been published in the US, as The World Between Two Covers: Reading the Globe (because ... publishers .. you know ...).

       This is the book resulting from Morgan's A year of reading the world project -- and, given the subject matter, presumably of interest to almost all complete review readers -- international literature and all that !

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

26 June 2015 - Friday

Rentrée littéraire preview | Murakami's beginnings
(Criminal) Borgesian remix | Covers of ... books by South Asian women writers

       Rentrée littéraire preview

       The 'rentrée littéraire' is the annual French flooding of the book market that starts at the end of August, and they've now released the first numbers: Livres Hebdo reports that there will be 589 works of fiction on offer (down from 607 last year). French works make up 393 (with 68 debuts, down from 75 last year), and there are 196 works in translation (down from 203 last year).
       They -- and others, such as the report at L'Express -- mention some of the big-name authors with new works coming out (and there will be a lot more coverage in the coming weeks). Among the notable publications: L'infinie comédie, as David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest finally gets translated into French; pre-order you 1488-page copy at

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

       Murakami's beginnings

       We've heard a lot of this before, but it's still entertaining to read Murakami Haruki on his beginnings as a writer; the Literary Hub now prints the introduction from the forthcoming re-translation of his two first novels, which is being published as Wind/Pinball.
       See also the publicity pages at Alfred A. Knopf and Harvill Secker, or pre-order your copy at or

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

       (Criminal) Borgesian remix

       As reported in The Guardian, Pablo Katchadjian's 2009 remix of a Jorge Luis Borges story in El Aleph engordado has landed him in a heap of legal trouble.
       The Guardian piece, by Fernando Sdrigotti, is tendentiously titled 'Re-working Borges is a legitimate experiment, not a crime', as he argues that this sort of literary experimentation is a good thing. While I agree with the premise, I note that copyright law (likely) prohibits this sort of thing with an in-copyright work (as Borges' story still is) -- i.e. it is a crime (hey, lots of silly things are) -- and that the argument: "when everything is reproduced and available to anyone clever enough to perform a web search" isn't exactly a winning counter/defense.
       I think it remains a good idea for copyright holders to maintain as much control over their work as they wish (hence also my strong support for the often withheld copyright for translators) -- though there is no question that current copyright regimes linger way too long: so here also the problem is not long-dead Borges, who couldn't care less (or, as Sdrigotti suggests, might even approve) but rather his estate -- in the form of the widow Kodama and her enabler, estate-handler Andrew Wylie.
       It might not be the worst thing if they threw the book at this guy and jailed him; over-the-top punishment might raise public awareness of how sillily extreme copyright laws have become and might help pare them back to more reasonable levels.

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

       Covers of ... books by South Asian women writers

       At Lisa Lau explores Why do so many books by South Asian women writers have the same kind of covers ?
       Among the embarrassing observations:
We also compared those covers published for a Western marketplace and for an Indian marketplace, and flagged up the differences. The divergences are considerable, as one might expect. (Those for the Indian market were far less traditional, conservative, and exoticised; they tended to be more contemporary, playful, modernised.) We surmised target audiences, and social messages being conveyed by covering books with such images, and discussed what identity constructions were being offered and encouraged, and where.
       As always, the cover-debate escapes me: for me it's always: as basic, unembellished as possible -- the French and German uniform unillustrated looks (Gallimard, Éditions de Minuit, P.O.L.; some of those Suhrkamp series, the pocket-sized yellow Reclam texts) being, of course, my ideal.

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

25 June 2015 - Thursday

EU Prize for Literature ceremony | Reading in ... Russia

       EU Prize for Literature ceremony

       They announced the winners of this year's EU Prizes for Literature a couple of months ago but they just had the ceremony.
       This award -- or rather, these awards (they handed out twelve of them) -- rotate through the EU member countries, a dozen or so at a time and, as I've noted before, the name is a bit misleading -- as is the description that the winners are: "nominated by national juries". In fact, each national jury names the national winner -- so far from being an EU Prize it's a national literary prize that just happens to be handed out on the EU stage. (It's also hard to believe the national juries are quite as objective as an international one might be .....)
       What is neat (if also a bit worrisome) is that the winners get some cash and: "will be given priority to receive EU translation grants through the support programme for Europe's cultural and creative sectors, Creative Europe". This apparently helps quite a bit:
The translation of more than 56 EUPL winners' books since 2009 already allowed them to be read by a much larger audience throughout Europe.
       And while you probably haven't heard about or read many of the winning titles/authors over the years, they have honored some very good stuff that has done very well in translation.

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

       Reading in ... Russia

       At Russia Beyond the Headlines Marina Obrazkova looks at Trends in Russia's reading culture.
       The figure of 37 per cent not reading at all is kind of shocking. Interesting also to hear that the director of the Mescheryakov Publishing House believes:
Russia has never had a particularly large reading public in relation to other countries. You will that find bookstores in Germany or France are far busier than in Russia, for example.
       (I don't know that bookstore-busy-ness equates with reading culture -- and, after all, this is the same guy who also claims: "Literary tastes are formed in childhood and are unrelated to trends. If parents have good taste, they'll pass it down to their children" .....)
       As the infographic shows, e-readers really haven't taken off there yet -- no domestic Киндл yet, apparently ..... Yet 13 per cent read on their computers, so it's not the e-format that is holding things back.

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

24 June 2015 - Wednesday

Miles Franklin Literary Award | Book fairs in ... Zimbabwe
The Travels of Daniel Ascher review

       Miles Franklin Literary Award

       They've announced that The Eye of the Sheep, by Sofie Laguna, has won this year's Miles Franklin Literary Award, one of the leading Australian literary prizes.
       It does not appear to be available in the US or UK yet, but see the Allen & Unwin publicity page.

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

       Book fairs in ... Zimbabwe

       In The Herald Beaven Tapureta offers A tale of three book festivals, as Zimbabwe not only hosts the storied (if somewhat discombobulated -- see official sites here and here) Zimbabwe International Book Fair this year, but also two newer festivals, LitFest Harare and Zambezi Book Expo.
       It'll be interesting to see how things go -- and whether three festivals are better than one (or two); even if not direct competition, the newcomers will surely put some pressure on ZIBF to up its game .....

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

       The Travels of Daniel Ascher review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Déborah Lévy-Bertherat's The Travels of Daniel Ascher, just out in English from Other Press.

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

23 June 2015 - Tuesday

Volokhonsky and Pevear Q & A | 101 Detectives review

       Volokhonsky and Pevear Q & A

       At the Literary Hub they print (an excerpt from ?) Susannah Hunnewell's Q & A with translators-from-the-Russian Larissa Volokhonsky and Richard Pevear from the current The Paris Review, as The Quiet Rebels of Russian Translation.
       (It's nice to see The Paris Review doing 'The Art of Translation' Q & As, to go along with their Art of Fiction/Poetry/etc. series -- but even with a double dose in the current issue (Peter Cole is the other one) they're only up to number ...five (by comparison: they're well over two hundred with the fiction ones ...).

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

       101 Detectives review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ivan Vladislavić's new collection of stories, 101 Detectives, out from Umuzi in South Africa and from And Other Stories in the UK and US.

       These are fine stories and this is good writing, but I have to admit to being somewhat at a loss here: my frustration with story-collections grows apace -- with each encounter, practically -- and nothing seems to help. I've never been a huge fan, but am finding even less satisfaction than usual in them; more than that, I am finding myself annoyed and irritated: I simply don't see the point. Maybe it's all the short pieces I read online (more non-fiction than stories, but still ...) ? Certainly, it's a lack of coherence that bothers me -- why bother collecting stories in a single volume if there isn't some (really) unifying principle to the collection ? Leave the stray pieces stray; there are enough publishing possibilities in this day and age that anyone who wants to find them -- or fit them together for themselves -- can.
       More and more I find myself wondering: why can't everybody just write novels ? Well, writers should write whatever they feel like -- but publishers shouldn't feel compelled to package separate things together ..... And me, I think I'll be sticking to novels (and, sigh, the occasional work of non-fiction) for the foreseeable future.

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

22 June 2015 - Monday

Shin Kyung-sook plagiarism questions | The World in my Hands review

       Shin Kyung-sook plagiarism questions

       Somewhat late in the day, Please Look After Mom and I'll Be Right There-author Shin Kyung-sook finds herself embroiled in a growing plagiarism scandal. As Lee Sun-young reports in the K Pop Herald, Plagiarism charges haunt Korea's literary icon as she has been accused of 'lifting' a passage from Mishima Yukio's Patriotism in a 1996 work -- dredging up memories of previous accusations of plagiarism as well, such as a 2000 story that: "was revealed to contain six paragraphs lifted from another book with only a few changes".
       Some of this seems to be getting rather silly: the Yonhap story Plagiarism suspicions raised on novelist Shin Kyung-sook reports that:
Yonhap News Agency found on Monday that [...] the titles of two of her short stories published in the March-April 1990 issue of the Korean Literature magazine and the autumn issue of Munye Joongang in 1992, were identical to those of two poems published in 1987 and 1989 by Yoon Hee-sang
       But others, like the borrowings from Luise Rinser (!) in Please Look After Mom (and another work) seem more serious.
       The Dong-A Ilbo piece, Cartel within writers' community interrupts eradication of plagiarism, suggests that the South Korean system leads to such cases being hushed-up in the closed circle of writers, "due to secrecy and cronyism involved in the process":
Many writers sought to keep good terms with publishers, believing that even though Shin Kyung-sook disappears from the stage, publishers will remain in power forever.
       Complicating matters:
Another cause for repeated suspicions over plagiarism is the lack of specific criteria that allows for defining of plagiarism due to lack of standards for plagiarism in literary works. "There are no specific standards in provisions in Korean copyright acts that clarify 'overlapping of a certain number of words or phrases constitute plagiarism'"
       The one interesting observation from a US publishing standpoint: despite its apparent success, Please Look After Mom publisher Alfred A. Knopf did not continue to publish her in the US (a big surprise to outside observers); it's unclear whether they were outbid for the next book (doubtful) ... or whether maybe they had other concerns .....

       And I am curious when this story -- which, by now, is a 'story' -- gets picked up by US/UK media. (Knowing who is 'inspired' by reads this weblog, I figure: by Wednesday at the latest.)

       (Updated - 23 June): And now, just a week after headlines like Novelist denies plagiarism accusations started appearing Shin Kyung-sook has changed her tune and, as Yonhap report, Novelist Shin Kyung-sook admits plagiarism. So now it remains to be seen what the fallout will be.

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

       The World in my Hands review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Bangladeshi author K. Anis Ahmed's recent novel, The World in my Hands.

       English-writing Ahmed, who studied at Brown, Washington University, and NYU, is obviously very familiar with Western writing and tastes, but this is still a novel meant for (relatively) local readers -- published by Random House India, with no US/UK editions yet -- local English-language popular fiction of the sort I'd really like to be reading a lot more of -- not just from Southeast Asia, but other areas as well. (Local popular literature in translation would also be great to see, but that's an even taller order .....)

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

21 June 2015 - Sunday

Science fiction in ... Japan | Oksanen on European Finlandization

       Science fiction in ... Japan

       In The Japan Times Iain Maloney profiles Japanese science fiction writer Fujii Taiyo, in The new face of Japanese sci-fi chases an augmented world.
       His Gene Mapper is just out from Haikasoru; I haven't seen it yet, but hope to have a look; meanwhile, see their publicity page, or get your copy at or
       Interesting that Fukii self-published the first iteration of this novel as an e-book in Japan and, while it sold 10,000 copies, he still finds: "the popularity of e-book readers hasn't grown enough in Japan" -- despite the 'cell phone novel'-genre proving to be quite popular.

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

       Oksanen on European Finlandization

       At Eurozine they publish Sofi Oksanen 'On the Finlandization of Europe', A lion in a cage, based on a speech she recently delivered at a conference in Latvia.
       Oksanen's Purge and the just-published-in-English When the Doves Disappeared -- see the Konpf publicity page, or get your copy at or -- both deal with Estonia and the Soviet Union, and this is an interesting piece considering 'Finlandization' -- "the influence that a stronger power exercises on the policies of weaker states" -- and language. In the cases of both Finland and Estonia that (overwhelmingly stronger) power was (and is, in only slightly different form) the Soviet Union and now Russia -- though as she notes, the different Finnish and Estonian experiences have led to very different understandings of language dealing with these issues.

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

20 June 2015 - Saturday

Oxford Professor of Poetry | Science fiction (not) in ... Burma
PEN Translates awards

       Oxford Professor of Poetry

       Oxford cleverly has contenders compete for its Professor of Poetry position -- every five years, nowadays -- making for a lot of press coverage and public debate; it makes you wonder why universities don't do this with more positions. (Also impressive: that there's pretty bitter competition for this post -- which pays all of: "£12,000 per annum plus £40 for each Creweian Oration" .....)
       They've now announced the results of the voting (yes, alumni vote for the winner !) for Geoffrey Hill's successor and as, for example, Alison Flood reports in The Guardian, Simon Armitage wins Oxford professor of poetry election -- his 1,221 beating out Nobel laureate Wole Soyinka (920) and A.E.Stallings (918).

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

       Science fiction (not) in ... Burma

       Zon Pann Pwint reports in The Myanmar Times that 'critics agree that finding a good Myanmar writer of science fiction is pretty much a hunt for The Invisible Man', in Ray guns and robots a light-year too far for Myanmar writers.
       The problem doesn't so much seem to be finding a good writer of science fiction as finding any: it doesn't seem to go beyond a bit of dabbling here and there.

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

       PEN Translates award

       English PEN have announced the latest set of 'PEN Translates award' winners; see the full list at PEN Translates spells more support for independent publishers (as they've now upped the turnover threshold, making some larger publishers also eligible); the award is in the form of a grant to help cover translation costs.
       Lots of familiar names here -- hey, a new Daniel Pennac ! Yuri Herrera ! Juan Pablo Villalobos ! -- but the obvious standout is Rafael Chirbes On the Edge, which was very widely hailed when it came out in Spain; see the Anagrama foreign rights page. Also of note: Clemens Meyer's In the Rock -- I've read the German (but haven't managed to write a review yet), and it is an impressive work (but probably also a pretty hard sell); see the S.Fischer foreign rights page.

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

19 June 2015 - Friday

Jean Vautrin (1933-2015) | Translation in ... India
The Thought House of Philippa review

       Jean Vautrin (1933-2015)

       Jean Vautrin (who also worked under his real name, Jean Herman) won the prix Goncourt (1989) and, aside from his fiction -- especially his thrillers -- was also a successful film director (hey, Farewell, Friend (1968) co-starred Alain Delon and Charles Bronson; The Sunday of Life is based on the Raymond Queneau novel). Not accomplishment enough for the English-speaking media (even the news agencies ...) to note his passing, apparently. But he dead; see, for example, the report in Libération.
       The Voice of the People is apparently the only one of his books to make it into English; get your copy at or Surprising -- and those thrillers might be worth another look for some enterprising US/UK publisher .....

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

       Translation in ... India

       Not really a surprising conclusion, but always good to see some awareness and discussion, as IANS reports Translations boosts reach for regional literature.
       And I appreciate the translators' ... forthrightness, even if it sends slightly mixed message:
One almost always fails but must try. Otherwise it means giving in to parochialism and particularism in a world that is in desperate need of more understanding.
       And, sadly, there are also the usual complaints:
The translators, however, lamented at their works not being recognised on a larger scale in the Indian book scene. [...] The translators were also upset with their efforts not being adequately marketed.

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

       The Thought House of Philippa review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Suzanne Leblanc's The Thought House of Philippa, just out in English from BookThug.

       This novel is inspired/framed by the Wittgenstein house; among the surprisingly popular books (as measured by how many people purchase it via the Amazon links) at this site is (or was .... it's now sadly out of print) Bernhard Leitner's beautiful The Wittgenstein House, so I'm curious to see whether this will also attract much interest.

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

18 June 2015 - Thursday

Prémio Camões | International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award
Frankfurt Book Fair Guest of Honour - 2017
The Self-Propelled Island review

       Prémio Camões

       The Prémio Camões is the biggest Portuguese-language author prize (like the Premio Cervantes for Spanish-writing authors), and they've announced that Hélia Correia has won this year's €100,000 prize; see, for example, the report in Público.
       Apparently none of her work has been translated into English yet .....

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

       International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

       They've announced that Harvest, by Jim Crace, has won this year's International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award (also worth €100,000).
       The only Crace title under review at the complete review is Six (published in the US as Genesis); get your copy of Harvest at or

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       Frankfurt Book Fair Guest of Honour - 2017

       'Guest of Honour'-status at the Frankfurt Book Fair is usually a pretty big deal and, at the least, means a flood of books in translation from the country at the center of things (think Turkey, South Korea, and Iceland, in recent years). This year's guest of honour is Indonesia, and we already knew Netherland/Flanders was set for 2016 and Georgia for 2018. Now finally the 2017 gap has been filled too, with the announcement that: Frankfurt to host La Grande Nation.
       That would be France, apparently of course. And while French literature may not seem to need the additional spotlight as much as some of these other countries -- translations from the French continue to lead the way of all languages into English --, forcing them to strut their stuff on the international stage might well be invigorating.

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       The Self-Propelled Island review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of a new translation (by Marie-Thérèse Noiset) of Jules Verne's The Self-Propelled Island, just out from the University of Nebraska Press.

       This was long overdue: as Arthur B. Evans noted back in 1992, when someone published the very old version yet again:
To summarize, a revised and more accurate English translation of Verne's L'Ile à hélice would have been genuinely welcome and would have done honor to any publisher. In contrast, this book brings shame: it represents a commercialized resurrection of a translator's travesty, and it aptly demonstrates how an industry's profit motive can sometimes overpower its sense of literary integrity.
       The University of Nebraska Press has now stepped up -- but Noiset isn't entirely true to the Verneian spirit either in her translation, admitting in her Translator's Note: "the narration has been translated into the past tense" (while Verne wrote it in the present tense). You can sort of understand the reasons for the shift -- and yet ..... (Personally, I think there's a lot to be said for the feel of greater immediacy the present tense gives (or would give) this story .....)

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

17 June 2015 - Wednesday

Wikipedia in print | Harry Rowohlt (1945-2015)

       Wikipedia in print

       Wikipedia is apparently a very popular online resource -- and a fairly extensive one ("4,893,476 articles in English" alone, at last count (more by the time you check, no doubt ...)).
       Over the years, there have been many attempts -- or stories about attempts -- to publish print editions of Wikipedia:

        - A "printed work could be ready from mid-2006", founder Jimmy Wales suggested back in 2005 (apparently the idea was to make it: "available in print for readers in the developing world" ...).

        - In 2008 Bertelsmann recognized that printing the whole damn thing was maybe not: "a good project for the German book trade", but they were considering a best-of encyclopaedia: "made up of 50,000 of the most-searched terms on the German language edition of Wikipedia" (without explaining how they expected to fit 50,000 articles in one volume of 992 pages ...)

        - Last year a company tried to crowdfund a full-scale edition; see, for example, Alison Flood on Wikipedia 1,000-volume print edition planned; the project, Printing Wikipedia A to Z doesn't seem to have worked out -- but the company behind it, PediaPress, apparently has gone into the on-demand 'Printed Books from Wiki Content' business ....

       Now Michael Mandiberg's exhibit From Aaaaa! to ZZZap! is to open in New York tomorrow -- another attempt, sort of, to print the entire Wikipedia content; Jennifer Schuessler reports on it in The New York Times, in Moving Wikipedia From Computer to Many, Many Bookshelves. My favorite part:
First comes the 91-volume table of contents listing the nearly 11.5 million articles.
       You can actually purchase the volumes (though apparently not all at once -- "The order is so big it breaks the shopping cart", which seems kind of silly) - and I hope someone does.

       (Updated - 27 June): Michael Mandiberg now writes about 7,473 Volumes at 700 Pages Each: Meet Print Wikipedia at the Lulu Blog -- though with the disappointing admission that:
I have not printed out all of the books for this exhibition, nor do I personally have any intention of doing so -- unless someone paid the $500,000 to fabricate a full set. There are 106 volumes in the exhibition

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

       Harry Rowohlt (1945-2015)

       Harry Rowohlt, one of Germany's most renowned -- and visible, though for other reasons -- translators has passed away; see, for example, the report at DeutscheWelle.
       He translated a lot -- most famously, Winnie-the-Pooh, but also: many books by Flann O'Brien, Padgett Powell, Kurt Vonnegut, and Ken Bruen, among others, as well as odds and ends by everyone from Ian McEwan to Donald Barthelme and Susan Sontag.

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

16 June 2015 - Tuesday

Prizes: PEN Pinter Prize - Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction

       Prize: PEN Pinter Prize

       They've announced that James Fenton will receive this year's PEN Pinter Prize (on 6 October).
       His writing -- even beyond his fine poetry -- is certainly of interest; see also, for example, his Q & A with The Paris Review.

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

       Prize: Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction

       They've announced that The Ten Thousand Things, by John Spurling, has won this year's Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction (for novels: "set at least 60 years ago", and, sigh, written in English); see, for example, the BBC report.
       It beat out novels by Martin Amis, Kamila Shamsie, and Damon Galgut, among others -- some pretty solid competition.
       See the Overlook publicity page, or get your copy at or

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