The Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis -- where authors read their texts in front of an audience and are publicly judged by a jury -- concluded with Nora Gomringer taking the prize with her text Recherche (warning ! dreaded pdf format ! and: German !).
In The Guardian Taiye Selasi (author of Ghana Must Go) writes at some length, arguing that we should stop pigeonholing African writers (whereby she apparently means -- as almost always happens in discussions of 'African' writers and literature -- only Sub-Saharan Africa ...).
A wide-ranging and interesting discussion, including some examples of the terrible domestic situations as far as any publishing and book-distribution/selling infrastructure goes:
I am often asked why Ghana Must Go, a story about a Ghanaian-Nigerian family, was not published in Ghana or Nigeria.
The answer is: we tried.
Ghana, where my parents live, has no credible local publisher.
To launch the novel in Accra, as I was determined to do, we had to go it alone.
After an attempt to form a partnership with a bookshop failed (not wanting to pay the customs fees, they abandoned the shipment of books at the port), we organised two public events.
After the book sold out, my mother ordered more directly from Penguin and sold them from her clinic.
I know of what Nwaubani speaks when she writes: "Any Nigerian in Anchorage who so wishes can acquire my novel.
But here in my country [my] book is available only at a few bookstores."
The identity-politics/issues are, of course, more complicated -- and hardly limited to 'African' authors: writers from all regions of the world face many of the same questions and similar criticism.
As she argues, however:
We need more stories about more subjects, more readers in more countries. Not fewer.
It is precisely because there are so few novels by African writers in global circulation that we ask those novels to do too much.
No one novelist can bear the burden of representing a continent and no one novel should have to.
And I'd certainly agree that:
African books for global eyes must be written by a broader range of Africans, including those writing in non-European languages.
One marvelous resource to find at least some more names is the African Books Collective, which distributes books by many African publishers (currently 149), making them fairly easily obtainable anywhere (and offering titles you won't find at your local Barnes & Noble).
See also the index of African literature under review at the complete review.
In The Sun Solomon Ojehonmon writes at length about the dismal publishing situation in Nigeria, in Death of the last publishing house in Nigeria: Matters arising.
While it seems premature to worry about every last publisher in Nigeria dying off -- indeed, there seem to be some promising efforts underway -- Ojehonmon's fundamental complaint, about a failed industry, rings true.
He also argues that publishers themselves are to blame, because they bought into the concept of 'African Literature' and ignored the writers and stories of more obvious and immediate interest to a local readership (making this piece a nice companion-piece to Taiye Selasi's, mentioned above).
So our once popular fables on witchcraft, sorcery and other African myths went out of the window as well as African thrillers, mysteries, action adventures, science fictions and romances.
What we have, instead, are depressing books on politics, poverty, civil war, prostitution, adultery, disease, colonial era and slave trade.
Nepotism, favoritism, accusations, counter-accusations, back-stabbings, lies and hatred now dominate the pages of our novels.
I once submitted a book for consideration to an English publishing house.
The editor replied that my novel is so un-African it cannot be accepted for publication, querying the absence of bloodshed, disease, noise, dirt, dust, poverty etc.
While he goes overboard with some of his claims, it certainly can't hurt to nudge the powers that be -- publishers, especially -- to rethink some of their approaches.
Of course other fundamental problems, especially of infrastructure (the printing and distribution/selling of books, in particular) also have to be addressed.
In a deeply unscientific survey of nearly 50 writers, editors, publishers, critics, and translators, representing 30 countries, we asked them to name three quintessentially American books, and tell us about their choices.
The (€25,000) Thomas-Mann-Preis has been around for ages (well, in one form or another -- it's actually apparently only been the 'Thomas-Mann-Preis' one year (2008) and is currently officially the: 'Thomas Mann Preis der Hansestadt Lübeck und der Bayerischen Akademie der Schönen Künste') and boasts an impressive set of previous winners.
They did well again this year -- surprisingly selecting an author who doesn't write in German, Lars Gustafsson; see, for example, the report in Die Welt.
New Directions published quite a few of his works -- fiction and poetry -- but seem to have given up on him; too bad, there's a lot still unavailable in English, and he really is very good.
They've started the 39th Tage der deutschsprachigen Literatur ('Days of German literature'), the annual festival around the Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis, where authors read their texts out loud in competition (all broadcast on TV (and now, of course, also livestreamed)).
They used to have good English-language information -- and even translations of the texts -- but they can't afford to do that any longer.
Still, as you can see from the list of previous winners, a lot of soon-famous authors have passed this way: Wolfgang Hilbig, who you'll be hearing a lot more about this year, with the first English translations of his work (two books, no less) won in 1989, and other authors whose works have appeared in English in the past few years inculde Sibylle Lewitscharoff (1998), Inka Parei (2003), Uwe Tellkamp (2004), and Tilman Rammstedt (2008); 2011 winner Maja Haderlap's Angel of Oblivion is due out from Archipelago next year (see their publicity page).
So probably worth paying some attention to.
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.
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 !)
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 .....
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 ?)
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.
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.)
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 Weeklyreport 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.)
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 Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
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.
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".
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.
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 !
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 Hebdoreports 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 Amazon.fr.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 .....
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 ...).
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.
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.
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.)
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 .....)
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 Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
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.
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 Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk -- 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.
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).
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.
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.