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opinionated commentary on literary matters - from the complete review


The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 31 October 2015

21 October: Pushkin Press profile | Würth-Preis für Europäische Literatur
22 October: Dubravka Ugrešić conference | Prix Femina finalists | Die Erfindung der Roten Armee Fraktion durch einen manisch-depressiven Teenager im Sommer 1969 review
23 October: Paul West (1930-2015) | Central Asian books | Saltire Literary Awards shortlists
24 October: Neustadt International Prize for Literature 2016 to Dubravka Ugrešić | Reading in ... South Korea | Writing in ... South Korea
25 October: The Hindu Prize shortlist | Death in Veracruz review
26 October: SEA Write Award | Lisa Jardine (1944-2015) | Animal Farm in Shona | Reading in Zimbabwe
27 October: New World Literature Today | Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature | Karl Kraus' The Last Days of Mankind
28 October: French prize finalists | New issue of list
29 October: Governor General's Literary Awards | Yuri Mamleev (1931-2015) | German critics' best list - November
30 October: Nordic Council Literature Prize | Yasnaya Polyana Book Awards | More French finalists | The Big Green Tent review
31 October: (American) National Translation Awards | Translated literature in ... the US

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31 October 2015 - Saturday

(American) National Translation Awards | Translated literature in ... the US

       (American) National Translation Awards

       They've announced the American Literary Translators Association's National Translation Awards, and the prose winner was William M. Hutchins for his translation of Ibrahim al-Koni's New Waw: Saharan Oasis; see also the University of Texas Press publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
       Disappointingly, I have not yet seen this title -- but I've long been a big al-Koni fan (indeed, have argued that he's in the Nobel-consideration-worthy category); the only one of his titles under review at the complete review is Gold Dust.

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



       Translated literature in ... the US

       In Library Journal Barbara Hoffert has a nice long overview of Reading the World | Fiction in Translation, with a focus on the small independent presses that are leading the translated-literature-charge in the US (because the majors ... limp far behind). So, for example, New Directions president Barbara Epler is quoted:
There's never been a better time ... for translations, and the huge difference is how many more great small presses there are.
       (I'd note that there have been good translation times previously, it's just that there was a precipitous decline starting in the mid-1970s from which the US only began to really recover a decade or so ago -- but, yes, the small press charge has certainly played a major role, and continues to hold great promise.)
       A pretty thorough look at most of the major-minors -- though it is noteworthy that there's nary a mention of AmazonCrossing, despite it being -- number-of-titles-wise -- the leading publisher of translations in the US.

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



30 October 2015 - Friday

Nordic Council Literature Prize | Yasnaya Polyana Book Awards
More French finalists | The Big Green Tent review

       Nordic Council Literature Prize

       The Nordic Council Literature Prize is the top Scandinavian book award, and it has a solid track record -- just see the winning titles under review at the complete review -- and they've now announced that Jon Fosse -- a Nobel favorite in recent years, though better known for his dramas -- takes the 2015 prize for his Trilogien; see, for example, the Samlaget publicity page.
       Dalkey Archive Press has brought out several of his books, including Melancholy -- with several coming out/due just recently, some of which I should be getting to.
       See also the report, Fosse finally wins Nordic Council nod.

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



       Yasnaya Polyana Book Awards

       They've conferred the Yasnaya Polyana Book Awards, and since they gave The Symmetry Teacher -author Andrei Bitov one of the prizes (in the 'Modern Classics' category ) they must be doing something right.
       Ruth Ozeki's A Tale for the Time Being took the 'Foreign Literature' category prize for best translated work.
       (If you're wondering about the prize money: 1,000,000 rubles amounts to less than US$16,000.)

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



       More French finalists

       The finalists for yet another French literary prize have been announced: the prix Médicis, with its three categories (fiction, non, translated fiction).
       Eleven French fiction-titles and eight foreign ones (as well as ten non-fiction titles) are still in the running in this crowded field; the winners will be announced 5 November.

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



       The Big Green Tent review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ludmila Ulitskaya's much-anticipated (and apparently translation-delayed) The Big Green Tent, finally coming out in Polly Gannon's translation from Farrar, Straus and Giroux shortly.

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



29 October 2015 - Thursday

Governor General's Literary Awards | Yuri Mamleev (1931-2015)
German critics' best list - November

       Governor General's Literary Awards

       Yes, they've announced the GGs -- the (Canadian) Governor General's Literary Awards.
       Guy Vanderhaeghe's Daddy Lenin and Other Stories took the English-language fiction prize, and Nicolas Dickner's Six degrés de liberté the French.

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



       Yuri Mamleev (1931-2015)

       Metaphysical author Yuri Mamleev has died aged 83 Alexandra Guzeva reports at Russia Beyond the Headlines.
       Mamleev (as they transliterate his name -- it's: Юрий Мамлеев) hasn't made that much of an impression on English-speaking readers, but his passing was widely noted in the Russian press.
       His The Sublimes was translated by Marian Schwartz, which is enough to at least make me perk up and take note; it's also available for free download from Haute Culture (though you can splurge on that 'luxury edition' as well); see also Lisa Hayden Espenschade's commentary (with links) at her Lizok's Bookshelf weblog; I will try to have a look at it at some point (hey, who doesn't love their writers metaphysical ?).

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



       German critics' best list - November

       I occasionally mention the SWR German critics' monthly best list, where the leading German literary critics vote for the best titles of the month, and the November list seems worth a mention for what it says about the German literary scene.
       Sure, Frank Witzel's German Book Prize-winner and some of the other big local titles of the year came out earlier this year (unlike in France, where it seems that something like 95 per cent of the big literary titles are published in late August and September, the Germans spread the goods out a bit more), but it's noteworthy that the languages the top books for November were originally written in are:
  1. French
  2. French
  3. German
  4. Catalan
       Not just that, but two of the top four titles were originally written in the mid-1950s.
       True, Anselme's On Leave and Joan Sales' Uncertain Glory -- in translations by David Bellos and Peter Bush, respectively -- also only recently made much of a ... well, at least UK-impression (Uncertain Glory was .... previously available, in David Rosenthal's 2002 translation, but I suspect you missed that American Institute for Catalan Studies edition ...), but still -- it's amazing that so little contemporary German literature can ... compete, as it were (it's not -- or shouldn't be -- a competition, but still ...). With Jane Gardam's over-a-decade-old (but admittedly very fine indeed) Old Filth also on the list -- along with the new Javier Marías (yes, already available in German ...) -- the foreign presence is ... well, at the very least, hard to overlook.
       That said, the 50s books (and the others) are worth your while: get On Leave at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk; get Uncertain Glory (bonus: an Introduction by Juan Goytisolo) at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk

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



28 October 2015 - Wednesday

French prize finalists | New issue of list

       French prize finalists

       The biggest of the French book prizes -- the Goncourt and the Renaudot -- announce the winning titles next Tuesday, 3 November, and they've both now announced their finalists.
       The prix Goncourt has, in its third round, cut its list of contenders all the way down to four; among the authors with other books available in English who still have books in the running: Mathias Enard and Hédi Kaddour.
       The prix Renaudot has five novels left in its fiction category, and a trio vying for the non-fiction prize (including a Sony Labou Tansi-collection). Much as I had issues with HHhH, the new Laurent Binet, La septième fonction du langage sounds like the most fun (and surely some US/UK publisher has already picked this up, right ?).

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



       New issue of list

       The Autumn 2015 issue of list: Books from Korea is now available online, with Hwang Tong-gyu as 'featured writer', and a focus on 'Korean Eco-Literature'.

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



27 October 2015 - Tuesday

New World Literature Today | Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature
Karl Kraus' The Last Days of Mankind

       New World Literature Today

       The November/December issue of World Literature Today is now out, with quite a bit of the contents available online -- including, fortunately, the entire review section, World Literature in Review.

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



       Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature

       It's great that there is a well-endowed prize -- the winner gets C$25,000 -- for Punjabi Literature, though at first glance it might strike one as odd that it's not based in ... well, Punjab. But there's something to be said for a prize for fiction in a specific language being based far, far away -- is the case here: Canada --, able to escape at least some of the local literary politics that inevitably come into play.
       Anyway, they've now announced this year's winner -- ਲੋਟਾ by Darshan Singh.
       See also Charlie Smith's report in Georgia Straight, Dhahan Prize for Punjabi Literature celebrated at Vancouver Writers Fest

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



       Karl Kraus' The Last Days of Mankind

       2015 has been a pretty good year for re- or more-complete translations of important authors' works. Among others, we've had:        Another title that might arguably be a contender for most-significant, previously-only-semi-available translation published this year is The Last Days of Mankind, in its first unabridged translation (by Fred Bridgham and Edward Timms), due out next month from Yale University Press (in their marvelous Margellos World Republic of Letters-series); see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
       I haven't seen the new Genji or the Levi (sigh) -- both of which were already mostly or entirely available in some form in English -- but I just got my copy of The Last Days of Mankind and it does look very nice indeed. There's also no doubt that it's been long overdue -- yes, you could make do with the previous abridged version, but this massive play (just to give you an idea: the listing of dramatis personae covers 26 pages ...) really can only be fully appreciated (if that's the right word) in its incredible entirety.
       Coming close on the heels of Jonathan Franzen's The Kraus Project one hopes there's enough lingering interest to get this the attention and circulation it deserves.
       In any case: great work from Yale University Press and the Margellos World Republic of Letters in seeing this project through.

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



26 October 2015 - Monday

SEA Write Award | Lisa Jardine (1944-2015)
Animal Farm in Shona | Reading in Zimbabwe

       SEA Write Award

       The Thai SEA Write Award has been announced, and it goes to ไส้เดือนตาบอดในเขาวงกต by Veeraporn Nitiprapha; see, for example, the Bangkok Post reports, SEA Write award goes to new novelist Veeraporn and Unknown author takes out prestigious SEA Write Award, or the Matichon publicity page.
       Of course, for English-speaking readers pretty much all Thai fiction remains unknown ... still, neat to see someone that's new locally too ("The author is unknown in Thai literature") break through like this.

       (Updated - 9 November): See now also Kaona Pongpipat's longer profile, Myth, love and blind earthworms, in the Bangkok Post.

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



       Lisa Jardine (1944-2015)

       Sad to hear that academic and author Lisa Jardine (who also happened to be the great Jacob Bronowski's daughter) has passed away; see, for example, notices in The Guardian and The Independent.
       The only one of her books under review at the complete review is The Curious Life of Robert Hooke but she was an excellent historian/writer and her books are certainly worth seeking out.

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



       Animal Farm in Shona

       At English PEN Petina Gappah writes On Translating Orwell's Animal Farm, as the book: "has never been published in any of Zimbabwe's indigenous languages" and she is working on a Shona translation (her native language).

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



       Reading in Zimbabwe

       In The Herald Stanely Mushava writes about Re-inventing Zim's reading culture.
       Among the projects he mentions as possible ways of reaching new and wider audiences: Tsitsi Dangarembga has commissioned a Shona translation of Nervous Conditions and Shimmer Chinodya is considering the same for Strife.

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



25 October 2015 - Sunday

The Hindu Prize shortlist | Death in Veracruz review

       The Hindu Prize shortlist

       They've announced the shortlist for the 2015 The Hindu Prize for Best Fiction -- which is for: "the best in Indian fiction in English" published between July 2014 and June 2015.
       Several of the six titles have been published in the US/UK, including Odysseus Abroad, by Amit Chaudhuri, and Flood of Fire, by Amitav Ghosh; others -- The Patna Manual of Style, by Siddharth Choudhury --, not so much. (Seahorse, by Janice Pariat, is forthcoming from Unnamed Press; see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)

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



       Death in Veracruz review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Héctor Aguilar Camín's Death in Veracruz -- finally available in English thirty years after its original publication, from Schaffner Press.

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



24 October 2015 - Saturday

Neustadt International Prize for Literature 2016 to Dubravka Ugrešić
Reading in ... South Korea | Writing in ... South Korea

       Neustadt International Prize for Literature 2016 to Dubravka Ugrešić

       They've announced that the 2016 Neustadt International Prize for Literature goes to the very worthy Dubravka Ugrešić (a nice surprise-conclusion to that conference on her they just held in New York).
       The biennial prize is one of the leading international author-prizes, and has a strong list of previous winners (including several who went on to bag the Nobel too). There were some strong finalists for the 2016 prize -- including Can Xue -- but Ugrešić is very much a deserving winner.
       Most of her available-in-English titles are under review at the complete review:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -



       Reading in ... South Korea

       In The Korea Herald Lee Sun-young looks at 'How homegrown novels have become a rare find on best-seller lists', in The story of Korean fiction: Proud tradition, humble present, reporting that:
If youíre reading a novel from Koreaís best-seller lists now, chances are that itís not written by a local author.
       [Presumably this only refers to South Korean bestseller lists; its seems like a safe assumption that North Korea's bestseller lists would be dominated by local talent.]
       Apparently:
"Korean readers, who once found it difficult to relate to translated works, appear to be enjoying them more, thanks to their increased understanding of foreign cultures, as seen in the popularity of U.S. TV dramas here, as well as the burgeoning rank of qualified translators," explained Lee Kyeong-jae, professor of Korean Literature at Soongsil University in Seoul.
       However, rather than expanding the market it seems the foreign stuff is supplanting the local works, as, for example: "At Kyobo [the countryís largest bookseller], sales of Korean novels -- whether literary or commercial -- have dropped 28 percent so far this year from the same period in 2014".
       Of course, authors get blamed too, as some argue that audiences are looking for something different:
They have different desires. Literature now is failing to respond to them.

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



       Writing in ... South Korea

       In The Korea Herald Claire Lee reports that in South Korea some Up-and-coming writers test fiction's boundaries, profiling Kim Ae-ran, Jeong Yu-jeong, Sohn A-ram, and Jang Gang-myung.
       These aren't authors we've seen much of in (English) translation, be we should eventually be seeing more -- Kim has already had some foreign success, and Jeong's thrillers sound like they should attract some attention.

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



23 October 2015 - Friday

Paul West (1930-2015) | Central Asian books
Saltire Literary Awards shortlists

       Paul West (1930-2015)

       Paul West recently passed away -- with, somewhat surprisingly, The New York Times the first major media outlet to take note, with William Grimes' obituary. (The only earlier mention I saw was this Facebook' post.)
       Only one West title is under review at the complete review -- The Dry Danube --- but he was certainly an interesting author.

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



       Central Asian books

       The Modern Novel -- which reviews an impressive range of titles from all over the world -- recently visited Central Asia for two weeks and now reports on the trip to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan -- though unfortunately it was: "from the literary point of view relatively disappointing".
       The day will come when Central Asian literature will be (more) widely available and accessible -- but I do fear it might not be any day soon.

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



       Saltire Literary Awards shortlists

       They've announced the Saltire Literary Awards shortlists in the six categories in which they hand out prizes.
       These awards are apparently: "now widely recognised as Scotland's most prestigious annual book awards" -- and certainly the names of the authors in the running for the Saltire Society Scottish Fiction Book of the Year Award are pretty impressive this year, as they include: Kate Atkinson, Michel Faber, Janice Galloway, Andrew O'Hagan, and Irvine Welsh.

       (Updated - 24 October): As The Modern Novel points out, it's also great to see a Gaelic-language novel -- An Dosan by Norma Nicleoid -- among the fiction finalists. Though I imagine that's quite a challenge for the judges.

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



22 October 2015 - Thursday

Dubravka Ugrešić conference | Prix Femina finalists
Die Erfindung der Roten Armee Fraktion [...] review

       Dubravka Ugrešić conference

       The Harriman Institute at Columbia University has a conference today and tomorrow, Through the Transnational Lenses of Dubravka Ugrešić, with Ugrešić herself in attendance (indeed, giving the keynote speech tonight, What We Talk About When We Talk About Literature).
       I very much regret not being able to attend -- and would suggest it might be well worth your while, if you can.

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



       Prix Femina finalists

       The prix Femina is into its third (and final-before-the-winners-are-announced) round and has now announced the finalists in its three categories, with the novels by Boualem Sansal and Hédi Kaddour among those still in the French running -- and Martin Amis still a contender in the foreign fiction category.

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



       Die Erfindung der Roten Armee Fraktion durch einen manisch-depressiven Teenager im Sommer 1969 review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Frank Witzel's Die Erfindung der Roten Armee Fraktion durch einen manisch-depressiven Teenager im Sommer 1969.
       As I noted last week, this was named the winner of the 2015 German Book Prize, the leading German book prize.
       Boersenblatt reports that it's already been sold to publishers in France, the Netherlands, and Denmark (yes, all neighboring states ...), and that there's an Arabic offer on the table; auctions are still open in other markets -- with no word on possible US/UK publication. (At 800 pages it might be a somewhat tough sell -- though it isn't even the biggest of the big German literary books this year (that being Clemens J. Setz's 1000-page Die Stunde zwischen Frau und Gitarre; see the Suhrkamp foreign rights page).)

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



21 October 2015 - Wednesday

Pushkin Press profile | Würth-Preis für Europäische Literatur

       Pushkin Press profile

       In Harvard Magazine Spencer Lenfield profiles Pushkin Press and its publisher and managing director Adam Freudenheim, in "Once Upon a Time" in Translation: A publisher brings world literature to young Anglophone (there's a focus on their new line of kids' books).

       Quite a few Pushkin Press titles are under review at the complete review (though none of the kids' stuff, yet).

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



       Würth-Preis für Europäische Literatur

       Peter Handke won't be heading to Stockholm in December, but continues to pick up literary prizes left and right, and they've now announced that he will get the Würth-Preis für Europäische Literatur -- a biennial €25,000 literary prize -- next spring.
       He's the tenth winner of the prize; among previous winners are Claudio Magris (2000), Nobel laureate Herta Müller (2006), and Nádas Péter (2014); Nádas was also one of the jury-members who selected Handke (as was Lars Gustafsson).

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



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