It's a pretty good literary festival week in the US: the always stacked and packed PEN World Voices Festival runs through Sunday in New York, while in Los Angeles they're holding the Los Angeles Times Festival of Books over the weekend -- and, for a few days, Providence Rhode Island can hold its own too, with International Fiction Now: Celebrating the Unspeakable Practices of Robert Coover and the IWP - International Writers Project.
Among the International Fiction Now-participants: Paul Auster, Russell Banks, TC Boyle, Edwidge Danticat, Don DeLillo, Rikki Ducornet, Brian Evenson, Marlon James, William Kennedy, Richard Powers, and Joanna Scott.
Quite the line-up.
See also, for example, Annabelle Woodward's report in the Brown Daily Herald, Robert Coover honored at Literary Arts festival.
The April issue of Asymptote is now up, and there's enough material to easily see you through the weekend.
A lot of great stuff, a lot of variety -- fiction, non, poetry, drama, 'visual' lit, criticism, an interview -- and a sub-focus on Korean fiction.
Worth your while.
Via I'm pointed to this fascinating (Chinese and English) Q & A with Iljaz Spahiu, a translator from the Chinese -- into Albanian.
He's apparently responsible for the: "first Chinese contemporary novel translated into Albanian" (Mo Yan's Frog) -- which I find a bit surprising, given (relative) Albanian-Chinese closeness over the (especially Hoxha-Mao) years .....
simultaneously there should be an embassy of all countries in the world in East Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Palestine
The Trump administration move of course made no allowances for any embassy-to-Palestine -- certainly not in Jerusalem -- and so is far from Oz's two-track suggestion; instead it's led to a rather different, one-side-gets-their-cake-and-eats-it-too-and-forget-the-other situation.
If, as Oz appears to be, you're going to argue for the two-state/two-capitals-in-Jerusalem solution -- and you don't have to, of course, there are (bad and worse) alternatives -- then you have to denounce the ... asymmetrical Trump administration decision as one not just detrimental to but actually undermining those ends.
They've announced the shortlist for this year's RSL Ondaatje Prize, the: "award of £10,000 for a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry, evoking the spirit of a place", which is a nice idea for a prize.
The winner will be announced on 14 May.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Shahriar Mandanipour's Moon Brow -- the second of his written-in-Persian novels that's appearing English translation before it appears in the original.
Knopf published his Censoring an Iranian Love Story, while this one is coming out from Restless Books -- and while Restless is an admirable and impressive publisher of interesting international fiction, it's still a bit of a surprise that, after the success of the first one, this didn't go to a bigger/more commercial outlet.
(Censoring an Iranian Love Story is also the only title I can recall getting this husband-and-wife review treatment at such prominent publications, with Claire Messud reviewing [$] it at The New York Review of Books and husband James Wood reviewing it in The New Yorker.)
(Updated - 20 April): A reader alerts me to the fact that my recollection is clearly very poor: Messud and Wood in fact have reviewed the same title in prominent publications (including The New Yorker/The New York Review of Books pairing, e.g. with Teju Cole's Open City and Marilynne Robinson's Home) remarkably often (too often for me to hunt down the links, but it's true ...).
They've announced the shortlist for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction.
None of these are under review at the complete review, but some do sound intriguing.
The winning title will be announced 16 June.
Andrew Sean Greer's Lesswon in the Fiction category -- beating out finalists The Idiot (by Elif Batuman) and In the Distance by Hernan Diaz; see also the Lee Boudreaux Books publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Other 'Letters and Drama'-category awards went to:
Biography: Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser
Drama: Cost of Living by Martyna Majok
General Non-fiction: Locking Up Our Own by James Forman Jr.
History: The Gulf: The Making of an American Sea by Jack E. Davis
Poetry: Half-light: Collected Poems 1965-2016 by Frank Bidart
The criticism award went to visual arts critic Jerry Saltz; book critic Carlos Lozada was a finalist.
They've announced the shortlist for the 2018 Wolfson History Prize -- a £40,000 prize that calls itself: "Britain's foremost history prize, promoting standards of excellence in scholarly history for a general audience".
Issue four of The Riveter -- the Baltics edition -- is now available online.
Yes, only in the dreaded pdf format, but there's 100-plus pages of Baltic material ... reviews ! extracts ! overviews !
Worth downloading and leisurely perusal on your e-reader (that's my plan).
That some works and authors from one country flourish in specific other countries while other domestically successful titles flop abroad is a widespread phenomenon, but perhaps particularly noticeable coming from a 'smaller' language, and Gili Izikovich's look in Haaretz at Why Israeli Novels Flourish in Some Countries and Flop in Others [premium content ? apologies (and curses) if story not freely, fully accessible ...] is an interesting overview.
"There are no rules and there is no consistency", Ziv Lewis, the foreign rights and acquisitions manager at the publisher Kinneret Zmora-Bitan Dvir, finds.
And, for example, -- who would have guessed ? -- David Shahar: "is the Israeli author who had the greatest success in France", and:
"David Shahar was described in France as the successor to Marcel Proust," says Prof. Menachem Perry, adding that Shahar wasn't the only luminary.
"Aharon Appelfeld is more esteemed abroad than he is in Israel, and A.B. Yehoshua is described in Italy as one of the world's greatest writers."
Meanwhile: "Particularly tough markets are the United States and Britain" --:
And Israeli literature, which in the past did enjoy a bit of a vogue with the American reader, is no longer fashionable today ... and in general the smiling politeness there hides a tough reality in which you feel you have only one chance to prove yourself in the book market, and if not, you'll be declared persona non grata and you won't get any more contracts from serious publishing houses
Politics, of course, plays a role, too, and this is also addressed here.
As is money -- or rather the difficulty of making much, even with sales abroad: Eshkol Nevo notes:
My two most successful books abroad are World Cup Wishes and Three Floors Up, which is also relatively successful in the United States and was an editors’ choice in The New York Times.
But this doesn't account for a large part of my earnings, and sometimes this prompts melancholy thoughts.
Some of the reasoning appears a bit dubious, however, such as the idea that:
The sales figures and the reception of Hebrew literature in Scandinavia have always been negligible because in those countries they read in English a lot, and that's also why there's no significant tradition of extensive translations from world literature the way there is in Germany, France and Italy
Prizes such as the Bankim Purashkar in Bengali or the Kerala Sahitya Akademi Award in Malayalam are both coveted, talked about and popularly discussed.
"Engagement of the readers with the writers.
I see that more direct in Indian languages.
Indian language writers are more accessible," argues [Ghachar Ghochar-author Vivek] Shanbag.
Maybe the way ahead is more inward.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Intizar Husain's The Sea Lies Ahead.
Intizar Husain was a finalist for the 2013 Man Booker International Prize (back when it was still an author-prize (rather than just book-prize, as it is now)); even so, this work has not been published in the US or UK (though HarperCollins India, in their Perennial imprint, seems to be doing quite well with this translation ...).
It doesn't neatly fit US/UK expectations of 'Indian' literature (in translation or not) -- and admittedly would probably have a hard time finding a larger audience -- but it's a shame it remains only distantly (via India) available, because it's exactly this kind of 'foreign' fiction that we should be exposed to more of.
They've announced the winner of this year's (recently revived) Premio Formentor de las Letras, and the €50,000 author prize goes to Nostalgia-author Mircea Cărtărescu; see, for example, the Romania-Insider report (though sadly they are incorrect in claiming that: "The full, three-part [Blinding] trilogy can be read in English"; so far, only the first volume is available in English ....).
Leading Spanish-language and Cervantes Prize-winning author Sergio Pitol has passed away; see. for example the AP report, here at The Washington Post, Renowned Mexican writer Sergio Pitol dies at 85.
Pitol has only recently begun to be available in English translation -- thanks largely to Deep Vellum; see their Pitol page -- and his The Magician of Vienna was, as just announced on Tuesday, longlisted for the Best Translated Book Award.
I have these titles, and expect to get to them -- definitely my kind of stuff.
Vernon Subutex 1, by Virginie Despentes; tr. Frank Wynne
The White Book, by Han Kang; tr. Deborah Smith
The World Goes On, by Krasznahorkai László; tr. John Batki, Ottilie Mulzet, and George Szirtes
Several of these are not yet US-available -- Flights, is being published late this summer, and Vernon Subutex 1 and The White Book are apparently even farther off.
The winning title will be announced 22 May.
They've announced that Tracker, by Alexis Wright, has won this year's Stella Prize, an Australian prize for which works of both fiction and non by female Australian authors are eligible.
Though some of Wright's work has been published abroad, this doesn't appear to be US/UK available yet; hopefully the prize win will help change that; meanwhile, see the Giramondo publicity page.
I mentioned the turmoil at the Nobel-deciding Swedish Academy last week, but things have gotten considerably worse now, with the Academy basically imploding yesterday.
On Wednesday they got rapped on the knuckles by the Nobel Foundation ("We can see that the trust in the Swedish Academy has been seriously damaged"), and when the Academy convened on Thursday permanent secretary Sara Danius (was ?) resigned from that position, and withdrew (to the extent possible) from the Academy, and Katarina Frostenson also withdrew; this leaves the eighteen-member strong Academy without a quorum, as seven members-for-life are no longer playing along, basically paralyzing the body.
Christina Anderson offers a good overview of the current state of affairs in The New York Times, in In Nobel Scandal, a Man Is Accused of Sexual Misconduct. A Woman Takes the Fall.
Among the choice quotes:
"There has always been the consensus that this has been a competent group and that they have judgment, and that the literary judgment is solid," Mr. Wiman added.
"With this scandal you cannot possibly say that this group of people has any kind of solid judgment."
(I would suggest that some -- including surely some in the Academy itself -- had doubted the judgment of the group since the selection of Bob Dylan as Nobel laureate (especially considering how that played out -- i.e. how they were played and strung along by him; no doubt the perception of "Ms. Danius as a weak leader" got lots of traction there already, for leading them into that unending mess).)
The Swedish Academy awarded their second most important prize, the Nordic Prize, to Agneta Pleijel on Wednesday, so they were still sort of able to get down to business earlier this spring (the announcement of the prize came mid-March), but it's hard to imagine they're up to the bigger Nobel challenge at this point and stage (the last few weeks, when they should be deciding the five or so finalists before the Academy goes on their long summer vacation).
They are in complete crisis-mode now, and it seems to be a distinct possibility this year that there won't be a Nobel Prize in Literature: unless they really get their house in order any selection at this point (well, at the October-point, when they announce) would be widely considered tainted.
(Of course, after the Dylan selection .....)
They've announced the three-title shortlist for the 2018 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize, "awarded each spring to honor an outstanding literary translation from German into English published in the USA the previous year" (that's entered, that is -- which is surely why Bottom's Dream didn't walk away with this prize last year ...).
Admirably, this prize lists all the submitted titles -- 26 titles this year -- giving a good sense of the major works translated from the German published in English last year (fiction and non, and poetry too).
The Wolfgang Hilbig also made it onto the announced-yesterday Best Translated Book Award longlist (see my previous mention), while the other two finalists were not listed as fiction (and hence BTBA ineligible); Arno Geiger's The Old King in His Exile is the one finalist under review at the complete review.
(The two other German BTBA longlisted titles -- Johannes Urzidil's The Last Bell and Daniel Kehlmann's You Should Have Left -- are not among the submitted (i.e. considered) titles for this, and while there might be some eligibility issues here ... yeah, that just looks like someone really dropped the ball.
Come on, publishers -- you always submit to these things.)
(Updated - 13 April): Translator David Burnett confirms that in the case of the Urzidil it was indeed an eligibilty issue -- the Wolff folk do limit the prize to US and Canadian publishers, and despite Pushkin Press being distributed in the US (hence BTBA eligible) that's not good enough for them.
(Not an excuse for Pantheon (the Kehlmann), Dalkey (Arno Schmidt, and many other works the past two years ...), and others .....)
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Nakamura Fuminori's Cult X, forthcoming from Soho Press.
This is one of those books that is particularly hard to review.
On the one hand it is 'bad', in several ways -- some of the writing/translation is cringe-worthy, and the treatment of women and sex is ... problematic, to put it mildly.
But there's enough to it that I found it definitely worthwhile.
So it's kind of hard to recommend -- but also a book you shouldn't miss out on.
Or at least some readers shouldn't miss out on.
Aside from the content, it's worth noting that this is a great-looking book: Soho have produced a beautiful physical object, and while the cut-out X on the cover takes a bit of getting used to (it's a long book, so -- if you're actually trying to read it (admittedly, hardly a given) -- you're holding this for a long time, and most readers probably aren't used to a front cover with a hole in it ...), yeah, damn, it looks good.
(And unlike a paperback with a cut-out cover, which is just plain irritating, there's not nearly as much chance of causing damage to the book by putting your hand through it.)
Honestly, this is the ultimate display copy, whether on booksellers' tables, or guys-trying-to-impress-the-girl's coffee tables: near irresistible.
As you can see, my favored titles did not fare well: only a miserable two out of ten made it into the top 25 -- poor even for my standards.
There are ten titles longlisted under review at the complete review and, surprisingly, several more that I have read but did not take to, including Fever Dream and Savage Theories (which sounds like I'd love it, and which I expect to have another go at).
There are also considerably more titles than last year which I haven't seen at all.
No titles from:
Dalkey Archive Press -- for the third year running, as best I can tell (despite 29 eligible entries this year, according to the Translation Database at Publishers Weekly)
New York Review Books (7 eligible titles; 3 longlisted lat year)
Yale University Press (6 eligible titles, including two Modianos)
AmazonCrossing -- not that surprising, maybe, but with 55 (!) eligible titles by far the most in the field
Only one (officially-a-)university press title made the cut -- though it is noteworthy that two university-affiliated presses (Feminist Press and Open Letter) placed six titles on the longlist
Feminist Press was an amazing three-for-three, as all three of their eligible titles made the longlist; three Open Letter books also made the longlist, but that's only a third of their eligible titles
Argentina and France both placed four titles on the longlist
Six titles from the French made the fiction longlist (but not one made the poetry longlist), while there were eight from the Spanish
Three non-European languages are represented: Arabic, Chinese, and Kannada (one title each) -- but there are no titles from the Japanese (25 eligible), Korean (11), or Russian (12)
Dalkey is, of course, the biggest (non?)surprise -- two of my ten favored titles were from Dalkey (by Senges and Kazufumi), and several more were surely contenders (foremost: Jon Fosse's Boathouse; the first volume in Luis Goytisolo's tetralogy).
Jurors have noted on Twitter that the publisher was not forthcoming with copies, but that's of course an issue with many books every year, and I trust that they at least tried to give them a fair shake; still, it's remarkable how the BTBA has moved away from embracing Dalkeyesque titles: Dalkey placed four titles on the longlist on at least three previous occasions, and have now missed the longlist completely for three years in a row, suggesting a more fundamental shift in what BTBA judges are looking for/at.
[Bottom's Dream, last year's unconscionable omission, was also a Dalkey title, but that's a book, and an oversight, that's a category all its own; it wasn't your usual ... anything, and there are (lame) arguments why the judges wouldn't/couldn't deal with that.]
Conversely, the Feminist Press success is something never seen before.
They certainly publish fine books -- and are a welcome corrective to the still too widespread trend of favoring male over female authors (Dalkey ...) -- but this longlist success rate is ... amazing.
My experience is that the jury-panel weighs balance (gender, language, publishers, etc.) at least somewhat in deciding on the titles, and so they must have really been convinced by these to vote through the entire slate.
(Annoyingly, I have always had a hard time getting my hands on their books, and I actually haven't seen any of these.)
Lots of prominent authors and titles didn't make the longlist, including the Nobel laureates (Pamuk, Modiano), prize darlings (Jenny Erpenbeck falling short yet again -- what's the deal there ? Krasznahorkai (who should be back next year); Han Kang; Peter Stamm; Szabó Magda (whose eligible Katalin Street recently won the PEN Translation Prize)), as well as classics such as The Evenings.
Daša Drndić's Belladonna is arguably the 'best' book to fall short.
And Jhumpa Lahiri's translation didn't impress sufficiently either.
There are a couple of head-scratchers on the longlist for me, too many I still haven't seen, and a (very) few stand-outs.
Not what I expected, certainly -- but then that's half the fun, that it rarely is.
I look forward to checking out a few of the titles I'm still unfamiliar with
The shortlists will be announced 15 May, and the winners on 31 May.
They've announced that Istanbul Istanbul by Burhan Sönmez, in Ümit Hussein's translation, has won the inaugural EBRD Literature Prize (limited to literature from countries in which the EBRD is active); see also the OR Books publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
(This was eligible for last year's Best Translated Book Award, but was not longlisted.)
They've announced that the 2018 Read Russia Prize, for the best translation of Russian literature into English, goes to Memories: From Moscow to the Black Sea by Teffi, translated by Robert and Elizabeth Chandler, Anne Marie Jackson, and Irina Steinberg; see also the publicity pages from New York Review Books and Pushkin Press, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
(As a non-fiction title, this was BTBA-ineligible.)