I'm a big fan of national literary organizations' various efforts to try to spread the word about local literature for foreign markets -- and Books from Finland has long been among the most impressive such efforts.
How long ?
Books from Finland, which presents Finnish literature in English, has appeared since 1967.
Until 2008 the journal appeared four times a year in a paper version, and subsequently as a web publication.
Over the decades Books from Finland has featured thousands of Finnish books, different literary genres and contemporary writers as well as classics.
Its significance as a showcase for our literature has been important.
Indeed -- and I've often mentioned and linked to stories there.
Most recently, just ... the day before yesterday.
Alas, now comes word that: "The Finnish Literature Society is to cease publication of the online journal Books from Finland with effect 1 July 2015", as: Books from Finland to take archive form.
As they note:
The reasons for ceasing publication of Books from Finland are also economic.
Government aid to the Finnish literature information centre FILI, which has functioned as the journal's home, has been cut by ten per cent.
And, yes, FILI remains, and remains a useful resource -- but I'm shocked and disturbed to hear:
The need for the presentation of our literature has changed.
Among the ways in which FILI continues to develop its remit is to focus communications on international professionals in the book field, on publishers and on agents.
Dear god !
What an awful idea !
It's the readers you want to reach -- and something Books from Finland could do so well.
'Professionals' are, in every case, a highly suspect class -- and that goes many times over for this odd field that is publishing; leave them out of it when and where you can.
(Be cautious in your trust of amateurs -- or semi-pros, like me -- too, of course, but the 'professionals' ... no, no, no .....)
They announced the winners of this year's Best Translated Book Awards, and they were:
Fiction:The Last Lover, by Can Xue, in Annelise Finegan Wasmoen's translation, published by Yale University Press in their Margellos World Republic of Letters-series; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk
Almost at the same time the (American) Best Translated Book Award was announced, they announced the winner of the big UK translated-fiction prize, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize, which went to The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck, in Susan Bernofsky's translation (one of the bigger omission-surprises on the BTBA-longlist (for which it was also eligible)); see the publicity pages at New Directions and Portobello, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
See also Nick Clark's coverage in The Independent.
They've announced the PEN/Heim Translation Fund Winners, and winning projects include: "the first novel from Madagascar ever to be translated into English" and Mongolian poetry, as well as works by already well-known writers including Horacio Castellanos Moya and Olga Tokarczuk.
Too many of these are still listed as: 'Available for publication', but hopefully most or all of them will get picked up so that we can actually enjoy them in print down the road; certainly, this honor should help bring the projects to the attention of more publishers.
In The Myanmar Times Nandar Aung reports on A bridge between Myanmar and international literature translation.
Writer Ma Thida is quoted, finding: "it very upsetting that fewer and fewer Myanmar books are translated into English" -- troubling, since almost nothing has made it to the US over the past few decades anyway .....
The occasion for the article is a five-day translation workshop, covering both Burmese to English and English to Burmese translation, Link the Wor(l)ds, that started yesterday.
In The Astana Times Daniel Massow writes: Kazakh Literature Needs English Translations, Says Kazakhstan PEN Club President, reporting on a recent Kazakh Literature Evening Reception at the embassy in Washington DC.
I don't want to suggest we haven't all been waiting for that US edition of A Lonely Yurt, but, regrettably, it's not entirely surprising that: "English-language publishers do not typically come looking for" Kazakh literature.
Of course, a bit more local publishing activity and freedom, fostering new generations of Kazakh writers might do more for the overall situation -- and might eventually help attract more foreign notice, too.
PEN wants to use the hegemonic role English plays in international communication to make the culture and ideas of Kazakh writers available to readers throughout the world.
Nice to see there's also the we're-so-special-defense/explanation:
Moreover, Gabdullin admits, the translation itself is a great challenge: the natural rhythmic elegance and the unique expressiveness of the Kazakh language, the distinctive ethnic 'flavour' as well as the historical context pose significant difficulty for a translator.
But I would certainly love to see some (any !) translated-from-the-Kazakh work.
The foundations of my possible aesthetics -- like those of all aesthetics -- lie of course somewhere quite different from aesthetics itself.
They lie in human consciousnesses and language, with all the associated indefiniteness.
It is my belief that we do not live in reality, but in metareality.
The first virtual world, the simulated Pretend-land is inherent in us.
A helpful introduction to her always interesting work.
In the Irish Times Martin Doyle has a Q & A with Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel, whose By Night the Mountain Burns (see the And Other Stories publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) is Independent Foreign Fiction Prize-shortlisted
I like that he doesn't go for the 'Which writers, living or dead, would you invite to your dream dinner party ?' question -- answering: "Having their books is enough."
And nice to see him mention Francisco de Quevedo's El Buscón (twice).
Also in the Irish Times Martin Doyle has a Q & A with Jenny Erpenbeck, whose The End of Days (see the publicity pages at New Directions and Portobello, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) is also Independent Foreign Fiction Prize-shortlisted.
A perhaps unexpected but nice choice:
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Joshua Cohen's Book of Numbers -- one of the bigger summer books, with Cohen, after publishing with Twisted Spoon, Dalkey Archive Press, and Graywolf (among others) now coming out Random House-mainstream.
The modern Finnish classics suddenly appear to be hot: Dedalus are working on a new translation of Aleksis Kivi's Seven Brothers, and Penguin Classics have just brought out (in the UK) a new translation of Väinö Linna's Unknown Soldiers in Liesl Yamaguchi's translation.
Linna's classic novel was previously translated in 1957, as The Unknown Soldier, by Alex Matson -- a notorious translation-disaster, perpetrated by the English-language publishers.
As Pekka Tarkka writes in his overview of the novel at Books from Finland:
The German and English translations were total losses.
Initially, The Unknown Soldier was Englished by Alex Matson, known as an excellent interpreter of the works of Aino Kallas and the Nobelist F.E. Sillanpää.
Collins of London and Putnam of New York, however, did not find his translation satisfactory: they decided to have it revised by an editor, unidentified to this day, who then proceeded to falsify and rewrite -- one can say, forge -- the text in an outrageous manner.
In his Translation and the Problem of Sway Douglas Robinson relates that:
Matson was so angry at the American publisher for radically abridging and otherwise revising his translation that he refused to allow his name to appear as the book's translator, and never translated literature again.
So now there's this new translation -- see the Penguin publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.co.uk -- and the opinions seem to be all over the place:
It's: "A Finnish War and Peace -- without the interesting bits" suggests Max Liu in The Independent. And: "A Finnish classic this may be but, as in war, you're better off with the Russians." Ouch.
"The prose is short, direct, and to the point, and Yamaguchi renders it into an English so good it hurts to read" warns (rather dubiously -- it takes a lot for prose to cause actual physical pain) Daniel Goulden at the Asymptote blog.
"In places it feels as if Linna set out to depict a war of attrition that would simultaneously grind down his reader. And yet those who last the arduous course will find much to admire in Linna's unsparing prose and gritty realism. Not a comforting novel by many means, but a profound and enriching one." finds Malcolm Forbes in the Sunday Herald
I knew to avoid the previous translation-edition, but my interest has been piqued.
They've announced the Read Russia Prize shortlist, 'Celebrating the best translations of Russian literature' (into English).
The two new Anna Karenina translations (by Rosamund Bartlett and by Marian Schwartz) both make the cut, as does Oliver Ready's (re)translation of Crime and Punishment.
Among newer (or at least previously untranslated) works is Vladimir Sharov's Before and During (also by Ready; I have a copy and should get to it at some point) and Sergei Dovlatov's Pushkin Hills (a Best Translated Book Award finalist -- find out if it takes that prize on Wednesday !).
See also Lisa Hayden Espenschade's comments at her Lizok's Bookshelf weblog.
The winner will be announced 29 May, at The Grolier Club in New York.
The Heimrad-Bäcker-Preis is pretty small-time -- though actually the €8,000 in prize-money isn't bad (right there at Pulitzer/National Book Award level) -- apparently without its own website (nor one for the Interessengemeinschaft Heimrad Bäcker that awards the prize), but I think it's neat that the author and his wife used the apparently tidy sum he got for selling his archives to fund this prize (and a Förderpreis to go with it), to be awarded to an author writing in the spirit of Bäcker's edition neue texte, and so it seems well worth a mention that Monika Rincks will pick up this year's prize; see the (German) report at Salzburg24.
Dalkey Archive Press admirably brought out Bäcker's fascinating transcript a few years ago.
PEN American Center has issued a report on 'Foreign Authors and the Challenge of Chinese Censorship': Censorship and Conscience (warning ! dreaded pdf format !).
An interesting overview, with examples -- and author-reactions such as Paul Auster's:
The publisher, Shanghai 99 Readers, cut several pages describing Liu and his situation.
In several other places, mentions of the dissident's name were replaced by "L." References to China were replaced by "Country C." Auster told PEN that he never signed off on the changes and feels his book was "mutilated."
"Some limbs have been chopped off," Auster said.
(The Chinese situation is, on the one hand extreme, but on the other also predictable -- really, writers should be aware that this might happen, especially regarding China-sensitive material.
And I can't help but note that mutilation-in-translation is a near-universal practice (worse in some markets than others) -- albeit generally not due to government pressure, but rather largely publisher-initiated, as they want to 'fix' books for domestic consumption (in translation-into-English that often (but not only) means: abbreviate, as in cutting out chunks of the original); while authors are more often (though certainly not always) at least made aware of the changes that are made they generally have little choice in the matter -- and, in the case of translation-into-English, the prize (translation into English !) may seem big enough that they'll acquiesce to any gutting of their book the publisher deems fit.
Disappointingly, consumers (readers) are largely left in the dark as to how a text has been (mal)treated in translation -- publishers rarely making mention of what they've done.
My hope/wish with translation to and from any and all languages is always: fidelity to the original -- which, at the very least, should mean: no cuts, no substantive changes.
Foreign-commercial/aesthetic judgments ('US readers won't get that; it has to be cut/changed') seem, at least in the end-effect, as reprehensible as politically motivated ones.)
With Milan Kundera's most recent work of fiction, The Festival of Insignificance, due out in English shortly -- see the Faber publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk -- Jonathan Coe considers How important is Milan Kundera today ? in The Guardian.
Interesting that he doesn't bring up Kundera's language-switch -- from Czech to French (this, like his other recent novels was written in French; the popular stuff was written in Czech).
I haven't seen this one, but he still seems a significant author -- and, of course, still has acolytes (Adam Thirlwell et al.).
In the 1990s three works by Christoph Ransmayr came out in English -- all in John E. Woods' translation, which already says something -- but Grove Press notoriously overpaid for The Last World (it actually still sputters on in print just fine for a literary title, but it never came anywhere close to the advance-justifying blockbuster-sales-level) and even if that wasn't the last of the three, that seemed to signal a close to death-knell for the author in English.
He shared the Aristeion Prize with Salman Rushdie in 1996 (the year before the prize went to future Nobel laureate Herta Müller; the year after, to Antonio Tabucchi, for his Sostiene Pereira ...), but, despite solid reviews, little more was heard from him in English.
It shouldn't surprise that now, with a new title finally due out -- Atlas of an Anxious Man -- it's Seagull Books that is trying to bring him back to US/UK-attention; see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk -- taking the kind of risks/challenges that none of the big US/UK houses seem to be willing to any longer (when it comes to literature in translation).
Meanwhile, it's just out in French -- and in L'Express Jérôme Dupuis says: let's face it, "Christoph Ransmayr est un très grand écrivain".
AUC Press have been awarding a Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature since 1996, and it has a good track record (with the winning titles translated into English).
Now, apparently, as Ahram Online reports, Egypt might launch Naguib Mafhouz literary prize -- "an international literary prize named after Egyptian novelist and Nobel laureate Naguib Mahfouz".
With the ministry of culture doing the considering one has to wonder what kind of prize this might turn out to be -- state authorities rarely excel in the cultural-awards department (though there are exceptions -- see the Austrian State Prize for European Literature, for example).
And the culture minister was consulting with Gamal El-Ghitany about this, so maybe they can come up with a decent concept.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Kamel Daoud's The Meursault Investigation, due out soon from Other Press (in the US) and Oneworld Publications (UK).
This variation-on-Camus (The Stranger/The Outsider (with a dash of The Fall, for good measure)) is surely one of the most-anticipated translations of the year -- and it will undoubtedly sell like hotcakes (and quickly become a college-course-staple).
Racking up literary prizes left and right -- most recently: the prix Goncourt du Premier Roman -- this is bound to get a great deal of attention in the English-language press as well (beyond what's already out there, like Adam Shatz's recent profile in The New York Times Magazine).
At DeutscheWelle Kate Müser reports that: 'Germany's creatives are concerned that TTIP will knock culture off its pedestal of protection', in Chlorine concerts and butter books? TTIP tests Germany's cultural values, with protests scheduled for today, World Day for Cultural Diversity.
TTIP (or T-TIP, as the Americans apparently prefer) is of course the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership that the EU and the US are (trying to) negotiate -- and the Germans are concerned that it might also mean an end to fixed book-prices in Germany (booksellers are not allowed to discount books there, making for a level bookselling-field):
Since it currently does not apply to foreign publishers, it is feared that the TTIP would eliminate the practice if giant online booksellers and publishers like Amazon and Google lobby strongly enough.
Helpfully, Müser notes:
The problem is, no one really knows what will happen.
Two French international-book prizes will be handed out on Sunday at the Étonnants Voyageurs festival, the (French-language) prix Littérature-monde, which goes to Simone Schwartz-Bart's L'ancêtre en solitude, and the prix Littérature-monde étranger, which goes to Philipp Meyer's The Son.
They've announced that the 2015 Man Booker International Prize -- a biennial £60,000 prize, awarded to: "a living author for a body of work published either originally in English or available in translation in the English language" -- goes to the eminently worthy Krasznahorkai László (who has won the Best Translated Book Award two years running).
He is splitting the the £15,000 translator's prize between two of his translators, George Szirtes and Ottilie Mulzet.
The list of ten contenders for the prize was a very solid one, but there's little question that Krasznahorkai is deserving of the honor.
They've announced that the 2015 Royal Society of Literature Ondaatje Prize -- a £10,000 prize for: "a distinguished work of fiction, non-fiction or poetry, evoking the spirit of a place" -- goes to Baghdad: City of Peace, City of Blood, by Justin Marozzi; see also the official press release (warning ! dreaded pdf format !).
It's not under review at the complete review, but get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
They've announced the 2015 (Australian) NSW Premier's Literary Awards, with the Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-fiction-winning The Bush by Don Watson also taking Book of the Year, while the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction went to The Snow Kimono, by Mark Henshaw.
There's also a NSW Premier's Prize for Translation, and this year it went to Brian Nelson, apparetnly for his translations of Zola.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Renée Knight's debut thriller, Disclaimer, just out in the US.
Do other languages not have a word for that front matter-boilerplate so common in English-language fiction publications ?
The French opted to title this book Révélée -- fitting the story, but not this particular point -- while the Germans took that bizarre course of substituting a different English word: they're bringing the novel out as: Deadline.
Which really doesn't work anywhere near as well.
At the Literary Hub Ane Farsethås writes at length about why Norway's Greatest Living Writer is Actually Dag Solstad ....
Complete with a Peter Handke-endorsement !
As long-time readers know, I've been a long-time fan -- and remain disappointed how little of his work has been translated into English.
Here's hoping that Solstad-fever is just taking longer in catching on .....
Four Solstad books are under review at the complete review:
They've announced the jury for the 2016 Neustadt International Prize for Literature:
Mukoma Wa Ngugi
The prize is unusual in that each juror selects one finalist for the prize -- they'll be announcing their selections 27 May --; they then decide on a winner when they convene in October at the Neustadt Festival.
It's a nicely varied jury, so there should be an interesting group of contenders for the prize.
Prominent British literary prizes continue to have sponsorship issues: the latest to lose its sponsor is the The Folio Prize as, after a mere two years, as Sarah Shaffi reports in The Bookseller, Folio Society drops prize sponsorship.
It seems like a fine prize-concept, so one hopes it'll continue in some form; a shame about the name (and URL: thefolioprize.com), as it's hard to establish much brand-recognition if you change your identity every two years ....
Issue six of Music & Literature is out, with some of the contents freely accessible online; see the impressive table of contents.
The three authors championed in the issue are Alejandra Pizarnik, Victoria Polevá, and Dubravka Ugrešić -- and one of the accessible pieces is Daniel Medin's Q & A with her.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano's Pedigree: A Memoir, coming out in late August in the US, in Yale University Press' Margellos World Republic of Letters series, and in early September in the UK, from MacLehose Press.
This is just one of several Modiano-works due out in English in the fall.
Certainly a seminal text -- but familiarity with his work is probably useful in appreciating it.
(Though arguably it doesn't really matter where you start -- there's so much overlap across his output.)
Today's German author-prize announcement -- and they really seem to announce one practically every other day, don't they ? -- is the biennial Jeanette Schocken Preis, the "Bremerhavener Bürgerpreis für Literatur", which this year goes to Gerhard Roth, taking special note of his novel Orkus (see the S.Fischer foreign rights page).
At €7,500 it's not a huge cash-prize, but seems to be fairly prestigious; previous winners include: Louis Begley (1995), Kertész Imre (1997), Bei Dao (2005), and Esterházy Péter (2013).
The only Roth title under review at the complete review is the autobiography of albert einstein, but several more of his works are also available in translation; Ariadne Press has borught out a few.
As I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, Slovak author Peter Pišt'anek passed away.
Now at the TLS weblog Donald Rayfield -- responsible for bringing his work into English -- has a piece, Peter Pišt'anek remembered.
Pišt'anek's entire Rivers of Babylon-trilogy is under review at the complete review:
They've announced the 252 (!) contenders for this year's Mao Dun Literature Prize, a (now-)quadrennial prize that honors three to five of the best novels (minimum of 130,000 characters) of the past years (Mo Yan's Frog was one of the books honored last time around, for example).
Some familiar big-name authors in the mix -- but it's a long, long list; nothing jumped out at me that appears to have been translated into English yet.
At his Ethnic ChinaLit weblog Bruce Humes takes a closer look at the list -- considering, in particular: 2015 Mao Dun Prize: Who Will Snare Award for Unofficial "Ethnic-themed" Category ?
The dearth of translations-into-English of literary works remains a huge issue; here's one unlikely/desperate example of trying to overcome that: Antti Tuuri is a popular and prolific Finnish author -- see his publisher's foreign rights information page -- but not much of his work is available in English translation.
(In fact, The Winter War seems the only more or less readily available title -- get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)
What's a true fan who can't read Finnish to do ?
Why commission a personal translation, of course.
For the bargain price of €10,000 Jill Timbers translated Taivaanraapijat ('Skywalkers') for the well-heeled reader (who admirably notes: "On the other hand you could spend the money on something silly like clothes. This way I would have something splendid").
Hildi Hawkins has the story (and an excerpt from the work) at Books from Finland, in For your eyes only -- and publisher Otava also reprint a Helsingin Sanomat story about it, A Portuguese fan of Antti Tuuri's had his major novel translated into English
Maybe this personalized translating -- and writing -- is the way of the future ?
In Bestseller, Auflage: 1 Volker Weidermann reported in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung last month on Wolf Wondratschek's limited-edition(-of-one) of his latest novel Selbstbild mit Ratte, written for a single reader, Helmut Meier (a Booz Allen Hamilton VP).
(Wondratschek's last work, the poetry collection For a Life without a Dentist. Raoulito-Gedichte, appeared in a slightly less limited edition -- 444 copies, from Edition Ornament; see their publicity page; as the article notes, he's had issues -- especially about how much he gets for his books -- with publishers previously, leading him to seek out ... alternatives.)
They've announced that Poet Alexander Vidiani Takes the Prize ! -- the US$62,900 (this year) Sophie Kerr Prize for literary promise, awarded to a student at Washington College.
It's not just the largest US student literary prize, the prize money dwarfs that given for many of the major American literary prizes: it's more than an author would take home for sweeping the Pulitzer, National Book Award, and National Book Critics Circles award.
In The Guardian Saeed Kamali Dehghan reports that Digital age poses a new challenge to Iran's relentless book censors.
"E-publishing in Iran is still in its infancy", one person notes, but seems to be growing fast -- and likely proves much harder to control.
And The Colonel-author Mahmoud Dowlatabad is also quoted, noting that under the new regime: "The situation has got much better but I still have many books that are banned".
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Tomas Espedal's Against Nature.
It comes with a brief Natalia Ginzburg cameo, as well as an amusing couple-reading-Knausgaard scene; Espedal's very personal novels -- this one and Against Art -- can be seen/sold as a variation on Knausgaard, but they are of much more manageable size (though arguably considerably more intensity).
Certainly worth a look.
And my review also comes with a comparison of the covers of several of the international editions -- publishers certainly weren't on the same page as to how to showcase this title.