Stéphane Hessel, who wrote the mega-bestselling (at least in France) Time for Outrage ! has passed away; see, for example obituaries in The Guardian (by Kim Willsher) and The Telegraph (by Catherine Scott).
While I thought it was kind of neat that such a pamphlet could be so successful I was rather disappointed by the book itself.
In Der Spiegel Bernhard Zand has what they're touting as Sandalwood Death-author Mo Yan's first interview "since receiving the Nobel Prize in literature", Nobel Laureate Mo Yan: 'I Am Guilty'.
The Germans are ahead of the English-speaking world in translating Mo, so the book under discussion is not yet available in English, but they also get a lot into his politics and he responds to some of the specifics leveled against him.
Interesting, too, that he claims:
I don't like to give political statements.
I am a fast writer. But I think thoroughly. When I speak publicly, I immediately ask myself if I have made myself clear.
My political views are quite clear though.
One only has to read my books.
At the World Literature Today weblog Michelle Johnson has a Q & A with Michelle Woods about her new book, Kafka Translated: How Translators have Shaped our Reading of Kafka -- which sounds like something I'd really like to have a look at.
See also the Bloomsbury publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
I'm sorry I wasn't able to attend the ceremony for the inaugural Friedrich Ulfers Prize last week; awarded to: "to a leading publisher, writer, critic, translator, or scholar who has championed the advancement of German-language literature in the United States" it went to Carol Brown Janeway -- an entirely fitting choice, as she has championed as both a publisher/editor and as a translator.
Daniel Kehlmann gave the valediction, and at Publishing Perspectives they now print it in full, as In Praise of My Translator.
They are perhaps cavils, but I must note two claims that I take some issue with: first, Kehlmann says:
Also one of her principle rules is that she translates writers who are still alive and have at least some command of the English language, which makes it possible for them to read Carol's translation and work with her on questions and details.
To which I must respond by citing what is, if not a black mark so certainly a grey cloud in the otherwise impressively bright Janeway sky: Márai Sándor's Embers.
Yes, Márai -- a longtime US resident -- had some command of English -- but he was long dead by the time she got around to this one.
Worse, of course, is that the Janeway's translation is not one of Márai's A gyertyák csonkig égnek but rather, as the Vintage International edition copyright page puts it in fine print: "This edition translated from the German-language work Die Glut".
Yes, it is a translation of a translation -- all in all rather far removed from the process Kehlmann describes.
Kehlmann also takes a cheap shot at My Prizes-author Thomas Bernhard (that book, by the way, yet another where Janeway no longer had opportunity to consult with the author), saying:
I am sure I can speak for all the writers who have been translated by her, like Bernhard Schlink, Hans-Ulrich Treichel, Margriet de Moor, Yasmina Reza and Thomas Bernhard ... well, maybe not Thomas Bernhard, gratitude wasn't something he might have been very interested in.
That's an easy laugh-getter but relies entirely on Bernhard's silly (though admittedly hard-won -- he worked at it) reputation.
I was at the ACFNY panel discussion on Elfriede Jelinek's Jackie yesterday, and Jelinek- and Bernhard-translator, and Bernhard-biographer Gitta Honegger -- who actually knows/knew both of these writers personally and well -- reminded the audience that while both Jelinek and Bernhard are/were certainly difficult and complicated people, they are/were also extraordinarily generous and gracious individuals -- and it seems to me unlikely that Bernhard would have been as dismissive as Kehlmann dismissively suggests.
Okay, I admit it, I'm curious: they've announced that:
The first recipients of the Donald Windham-Sandy M. Campbell Literature Prizes at Yale will be announced at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library on Monday, March 4, at 10 a.m.
The milestone announcement will be made by Peter Salovey, President-elect of Yale University, and will be live-streamed on the Yale YouTube channel.
Why am I curious ?
Why might I tune in ?
In the last phase of the process, a selection committee meets at Yale to name up to nine writers to receive prizes.
In addition to a citation and a prize diploma, recipients are each awarded $150,000 to support their writing.
Okay, it's limited to "English-language writers", but with awards in fiction, non, and drama (but not, interestingly enough, poetry) these are pretty big author prizes by American standards (putting them in Lannan Literary Awards territory).
One problem with the prize I have is the requirement:
Winners must receive their awards in person at a ceremony at Yale in September and take part in a three-day literary festival celebrating their work.
What if a writer who simply can't or won't travel -- Barley Patch-author Gerald Murnane comes to mind as a deserving author who you couldn't get out of Australia -- is deemed worthy ?
Also: the whole concept of PR and publicity is beyond me, but even I can see that this prize has not done a good job of introducing itself to the wider world or building up anticipation.
Yes, they have a nice website, but a very late-day press release (which the likes of me, for example, did not even receive), a Twitter feed -- @WindhamCampbell -- that had all of 22 followers, last I checked (a week before the prizes are announced !) ... this campaign has gone nowhere fast.
Sure, the papers will pick up the big-money announcement when the prizes are announced -- but that's flash-in-the-pan-coverage that really doesn't help establish the prize, or help build up its reputation.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Gerbrand Bakker's The Detour, now out in the US as Ten White Geese.
A couple of days ago I noted on Twitter both my annoyance at yet another book that is published under different titles in the US and the UK (the Dutch title, De omweg, is obviously a lot closer to the UK choice) as well as my confusion why there were only five geese on the front cover of the US edition (add in two on the back and you have seven -- and while it makes a bit more sense once you've read the novel, it surely is still unwise to enumerate a specific number of geese in a title and then not have the cover picture -- if you're going with geese -- reflect that; adding to the confusion the UK cover pictures a whole gaggle (in excess of any number mentioned in the story).)
This being the Internet-age, I soon received a response from none other than author Bakker himself, and while he couldn't exactly reassure me about the cover picture it was good to hear that he felt about the changed US title:
Yes I like it, or better put: I don't mind too much. It's like the nursery rhyme and it fits.
(Of course, what writer hoping to break into the American market would be willing to admit that he thought his publishers were nuts with their decision ?)
Among the literary prizes in Iceland is Fjöruverðlaunin, awarded for women's literature, and in Iceland Review they report that Auður Jónsdóttir Gets Women’s Literature Award, for her novel, Ósjálfrátt; the Forlagið foreign rights catalogue (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) offers a suggested English title of: 'Secretaries of the Spirits'.
See also the (Icelandic) Forlagið publicity page.
Farzaneh Doosti has a 12th Golshiri Literary Awards Wrap Up, one of the more interesting -- because not state-sponsored and controlled -- Iranian literary prizes.
However, even here, in what's apparently a continuing sign of the times: "only the debut novels and debut short story collections competed for the final award".
On the other hand, they did honor The Colonel-author Mahmoud Dowlatabadi for his "lifetime literary achievement", so they certainly got something right.
The official site has English information pages, but they're a bit behind the times; there's more coverage of this year's award in Farsi at the site -- and even if you can't read it, check out the pictures (including of Dowlatabadi being honored !).
So here's a gung ho kind of guy with a nice and batty idea: at Russia Beyond the Headlines Stepan Ivanov lets Dmitry Bak, the new director of the Literature Museum, try to explain How to brand great Russian literature.
The way Bak sees it:
"Literary rebranding, overall, consists of taking ordinary authors whom nobody has heard of -- like Yevgenia Vodolazkina [a finalist in the 2010 Big Book Awards] -- and suggesting that they might be a big literary name in the future," says Bak.
"You actually have to tell people this stuff.
Itís not about book presentations, but a systematic process of osmosis into people's consciousness about what really great literature can be and continues to be -- so they can feel how great it is really, watch how it's crafted," he says.
That's how simple it is !
Success my osmosis !
It works even for 'ordinary authors whom nobody has heard of' !
I mentioned the controversial Jauffret last fall, when his Claustria -- based on the Josef Fritzl case -- appeared in German.
Both these novels are also based on real life incidents -- one very public (Severe centers on the murder of Édouard Stern), the other relatively personal and private --, and Severe has now also been made into a film, Une histoire d'Amour (English title: Tied).
Salammbo Press publish both of these, and it's great to see yet another fairly new publisher bringing out some works in translation (even if Jauffret dominates their list -- with Claustria forthcoming in English from them too).
I'm also relieved they toned down the Jauffret-cheerleading a bit: on the back cover of Lacrimosa the claim is "Régis Jauffret is a mind-blowing author", while on the back of Severe they only go so far as to say that: "Régis Jauffret is a major French contemporary novelist".
They've made a movie out of Chetan Bhagat's The 3 Mistakes of my Life (consistently one of the most popular reviews at the complete review), titled Kai Po Che !
It opened this weekend in both India and the US, and so there's lots of review coverage; see, for example, reviews in:
In turning his decidedly political book into a feel-good Bollywood spectacle, Mr. Bhagat has, on the face of it, done nothing less than rewrite history in favor of Gujarat's chief minister, Narendra Modi of the B.J.P.
At The Spectator's Books blog Florence Uniacke looks at Doing it the French way, a weird amalgam of observation and critique about how little French literature finds its way into English.
Lots of dubious stuff, beginning with the claim that:
A staggering 40 per cent of books published in France have been translated from English.
I'd love to see the data -- and definition of 'book' -- behind that, because I sure as hell have my doubts.
Maybe in a small category of adult fiction ... but even then .....
(In the broadest category of 'books' there's barely a country where the vast majority of titles aren't in the local language -- but most of those aren't books you'd find in your local bookstore either.)
The specific titles she mentions are under review at the complete review, such as Laurent Binet's HHhH.
Others are found with accompanying pearls of wisdom, such as:
It's not hard to believe that an English translation of The Roving Shadows by Pascal Guignard, winner of the Prix Goncourt in 2002, which was described as Ďa sequence of beginnings of novels, stories, landscapes and autobiographical fragments', sold hardly any copies.
No, it's not hard to believe -- if someone writing about them can't even get the author's name right (it's Quignard) .....
And she suggests about Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones:
The dual nationality, the prize and the subject matter made this a sure fire hit in the UK and yet it got very mixed reviews.
The fact that nationality, prizes, and subject matter are all externalities that have little to do with the quality of a book (and that Littell's book had very little quality) goes unmentioned.
Yes, all in all a rather unimpressive piece of commentary or reporting or whatever it's supposed to be.
"Unfortunately literature programs at Ukrainian schools end with (writers) Lina Kostenko and Dmytro Pavlychko and most pupils are just not sure whether Ukrainian literature actually exists after these two," said Kateryna Popravka, the project head.
And even the complete review has, for example, two novels by "Liubko Deresh (Modern Ukrainian writer)" under review; see, for example, Культ.
In The Guardian Nicholas Wroe profiles Javier Marías: a life in writing.
Quite a few of his books are under review at the complete review, and I will be getting to more -- although it will be a bit longer before I get to the newest, The Infatuations: even though the UK edition is coming out shortly (pre-order your copy at Amazon.co.uk), the US edition is not due out until August (pre-order your copy at Amazon.com).
The Tokyo International Literary Festival runs 1 to 3 March, and in The Japan Times Sandra Barron previews it, in Tokyo literary festival writes its opening chapter.
Should be pretty good -- not least because J.M.Coetzee will be in attendance.
(I remain curious exactly how frequently he has to make public appearances until people finally acknowledge his "taciturn reputation" is entirely undeserved; my only explanation for the continued insistence on applying that and similar labels is that Salman Rushdie (who is ... how shall one put it politely ? not publicity shy ....) has become the measure of all men of letters.)
I do worry a bit that その場小説 -- sonoba shōsetsu -- will catch on; I think that's an idea that sounds fun ... once, and that's about it.
(Google Translate gets this just right, by the way, translating the term as: "novel in situ".)
This is a handy resource, and I wish it were available for all languages: at French Culture Rachael Small reports on the 2012 Translated Titles List -- a list of all translations from the French published in the US in 2012, with the full list available here (warning ! dreaded pdf format !).
The invaluable Translation Databases at Three Percent obviously cover much the same territory -- and for all languages ! -- but the French list goes beyond fiction and poetry, and it's also handy to have the single-language list.
Something for more national cultural and literary institutes and organizations to consider doing (maybe with a UK version as well ...).
Apparently it's the Wagner bicentennial, and even if you haven't heard much about that German publishers are pulling out all the stops, as Anastassia Boutsko reports in her look Inside the maze of Wagner literature at DeutscheWelle.
It all sounds a bit overwhelming:
a mid-sized German bookstore currently has 773 German-language Wagner books and about 200 in English in its selection.
Around half of the titles were first published or reissued in 2012/2013.
As Katie Allen reports in The Bookseller, Six picked for oddest book title shortlist as they've announced the finalists for the Diagram Prize for Oddest Book Title of the Year.
Usually good fun -- though How Tea Cosies Changed the World really has a ring of desperation to it.
The Havana International Book Fair runs through the 24th, and at the BBC Sarah Rainsford reports that Havana book fair feeds Cuba's hunger for literature.
Leonardo Padura Fuentes received the 2012 National Literature Prize here, and his books were in high demand -- "One thousand copies sold out in an instant", Rainsford claims, in what is probably only slightly exaggerated hyperbole.
Disappointing to hear, however, that:
"We'd like to print more literature, but our finances don't permit that," explains Zuleica Romay, president of Cuba's official Book Institute.
Interesting, however, that Padura suggests (with only slightly exaggerated hyperbole ...):
"In the 90s, paper, electricity and ink all disappeared and Cuba stopped publishing books.
For writers, that break with state institutions created a space that soon filled with freedom," he explains.
Arnon Grunberg's Tirza is finally out in English this week, from Open Letter; as longtime readers know I'm a big fan and have been touting this since I read it in 2009: it was, as I've noted, the best book I read that year.
I'm sorry I missed the launch event at 192 Books -- and also a bit disappointed by the lack of attention and fuss about it so far.
Publishers Weekly finally got around to reviewing it (and, yes, the review is starred), and Kirkus did too, but come on, folks -- bloggers ! publications large and small ! come on ! get on it !
In the hope of helping things along a bit, I read at the Zoekmachine Marketing Blog that the Dutch book trailer for Tirza was the first of its kind (well, in Belgium, they say ...) -- and while I don't really get the whole book trailer thing, here you go (and, hey, parts are in English -- maybe Open Letter will bring out a version with the rest dubbed ...):
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of A.B.Yehoshua's new novel, The Retrospective.
This picked up several best-foreign-book-of-the-year prizes in France, and it'll be interesting to see how this reflective book does in English.
(I also think going with the safe rather than the obvious cover-illustration probably wasn't the best choice.)