One of the books we wanted to review pretty much as soon as we heard about it was Azar Nafisi's much-praised Reading Lolita in Tehran.
It took us a while to get our hands on a copy, but we finally did, and our review is now available.
It wasn't quite what we expected (offering less Lolita and more Tehran than expected, for one), but it was certainly a worthwhile read.
The critical reaction was generally very positive -- but left a lot to be desired, we felt.
Our review is again one of our longer ones (ca. 3700 words), as we took issue with aspects of the book that went largely unmentioned and almost entirely unexplored elsewhere.
(We're tempted to work up a survey of the critical reactions to the book: it's a fascinating assortment, as reviewers focus on very different aspects of the book.)
Martin Levin considers Reviewing rites in Saturday's Globe & Mail (mentioning, once again, Tibor Fischer's Amis-comments -- or, as he puts it: "the brouhaha over obscure British novelist Tibor Fischer's kamikaze assault on famous novelist Martin Amis's new book, Yellow Dog").
But the real point of interest is the description of the current issue of The Malahat Review:
Its Fall issue is entirely devoted to book reviewing; the two dozen entries, ranging from a paragraph or two to a dozen pages, consider various elements of the practice and propriety of book reviewing.
The Malahat Review-site still features the summer issue (and doesn't seem to offer its content online anyway), but we'll try and get our hands on a copy and report on it.
Literature in translation is -- so we are often told -- a hard sell in the US.
Often, it seems, publishers present such books as if trying to ensure that readers won't notice they were originally written in a foreign language (and giving as little credit to the translator as possible).
Now we've come across a slightly different approach.
We recently received a copy of Fleur Jaeggy's SS Proleterka from New Directions (see their publicity page); it will be available in bookstores by the end of the month (pre-order at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
Jaeggy writes in Italian (and happens to be married to Robert Calasso), and two of her books have already been published in translation.
This new, very attractive volume (though a bit pricey at $ 17.95) was translated by Alastair McEwen.
He gets a mention on the cover -- and, on the back flap, underneath a brief note about the author, there is also a brief note about McEwen.
ALASTAIR McEWEN, who brings SS Proleterka into English prose with a burn like dry ice, is the acclaimed translator of Umberto Eco and Alessandro Baricco.
He lives and works in Milan.
Is this reassuring (or actually enticing) to readers who pick up the book in a bookstore ?
"Into English prose with a burn like dry ice" -- honestly, that scares the hell out of us.
First of all, we have no idea what it means.
We've never really gotten the concept of hot/searing/burning prose and the like -- and it certainly doesn't sound appealing.
Neither does a dry-ice burn.
We're (almost) pleased to find some sort of acknowledgement of the translation -- words that admit that something has been done to the text in taking it from the Italian and turning it into English.
But what information is conveyed here ?
The book also came with a one-page press release (something that, admittedly, book-buyers don't get to see).
There it is the author who is described as: "the presiding genius of dry-ice, Fleur Jaeggy".
(What is it with the dry-ice ?).
In addition, the press release also admirably includes yet another mention of the translator:
Alastair McEwen, the acclaimed translator of Umberto Eco and Alessandro Baricco, has beautifully translated SS Proleterka with the telegraphic urgency it demands.
This is a slightly less ludicrous description, but still seems far from being very helpful.
But we may be wrong: we'll see soon enough how many reviewers use "telegraphic urgency" and "dry-ice" in their reviews .....
(Note that we do plan to review this title -- but will probably put it aside for a while.
Maybe until all that dry ice has melted off .....)
Kevin Holtsberry was kind enough to make us aware of his relatively new literary weblog, which we hadn't stumbled across yet: Collected Miscellany.
It's an ambitious site, and includes reviews along with the usual weblog links and commentary.
He describes it on the site:
it is basically a place to collect a variety of literary works.
In this case it is also a web page devoted to the power of ideas and of the written word.
So far, so good -- there's a lot here, and if he can keep this up it will indeed be a valuable resource.
Janette Turner Hospital has been awarded this year's Patrick White Prize.
Angela Bennie explains Patrick White's expectations for the prize (endowed with his Nobel Prize winnings) in today's issue of the Sydney Morning Herald:
Perhaps reflecting his own bitter experience as a writer in his homeland, he stipulated the award, now valued at $ 20,000, was to go to a writer whose work, in the opinion of the judges, had "not received adequate recognition" in this country.
So one of the many weblogs that took notice of our mention yesterday that we've updated out literary weblog overview was a site we were unfamiliar with, Golden Rule Jones, which looks at "Literary events and topics, with a Chicago angle" and gets a free plug here because we shouldn't have overlooked it (and have, indeed, now also added it to our overview).
While perusing this weblog we noticed in their list of upcoming Chicago events the name Christoph Hein -- one of our favourite contemporary German authors.
Turns out he'll be appearing at the Chicago Goethe Haus for a reading on 9 December (and in New York on 11 December).
Why is he reading ?
Apparently his Willenbrock has been translated into English (by Philip Boehm, published by Metropolitan Books (a Henry Holt imprint)), and so there's some sort of book-tour going on.
As it happens, our review of Willenbrock has been available since the German version appeared in 2000, and so we were pretty excited to hear this book had finally been translated into English and would be appearing sometime soon.
Except, it turns out the book has already been published: it came out in September (and is already available for a pittance used at Amazon.com).
Now, admittedly, we're deaf, dumb, and blind, but if there's a book we figure we would have taken notice of if we had even the smallest hint of its existence it would have been something like this one -- but we hadn't heard a thing about this publication, nor have we seen the book in any bookstore, nor mention of it anywhere.
(Publishers Weekly -- which we know we should read but can't afford -- made (brief) mention around when it came out, but that seems to be pretty much the extent of it.)
Willenbrock isn't the greatest recent German novel, but it is a good one -- and Hein is a significant author (much of whose work has been translated into English).
Somebody should have noticed -- or taken notice of -- this title.
There should have been reviews for us to stumble over.
Which, unfortunately, brings us to another troubling aspect of all this.
Not only did we not notice that the translation was coming out of our own accord, but no one made us aware of it.
Yes, for three years we've had the most extensive English-language coverage of the title available on the Internet -- and nobody thought it worth their while to mention to us that a translation was coming out, and maybe we'd want to update our links and add links for the English-language edition, etc.
We don't mind being ignored -- and usually, eventually (though often with much delay) we do figure these things out for ourselves.
As we did here.
But one imagines it might have been in someone else's interest if our coverage were up-to-date.
Like the publisher of the English translation, for example.
We're sure the folk at Metropolitan/Henry Holt know exactly what they're doing, publicity-wise (though we do wonder whether anyone would find their publicity page for the book if we didn't point readers to it).
We note that we've requested review-copies from them on occasion and never received any, but perhaps we are unworthy -- our book coverage not reaching a large-enough audience, or the right audience, or whatever.
But if they know what they're doing we're curious why no one took notice of the book.
Surely they sent review-copies to somebody -- but they all then, apparently, decided not to review the book.
And given the great Amazon.com sales rank (in the 2,000,000+ area when we checked yesterday -- though there were a lot of used copies for sale (presumably many of those the review-copies they sent out)) and the complete absence of any media coverage ... well, it looks like something hasn't gone completely right here.
Which disappoints us, not so much because the book is worthy of greater attention (it is, but so are many others), but because it suggests that publicity and marketing really do make a big difference in making or breaking a book.
And, for the moment, Willenbrock looks pretty broken.
Well, we're hoping the book-tour next month is a grand success and that interest picks up and that the Metropolitan publicity-approach (whatever it is) is vindicated !
The Independent roped Philip Pullman into submitting to their readers' You Ask The Questions.
Among the quotes of interest:
I read The Lord of the Rings when I was a teenager and I didn't really like it.
I have tried to read it since, but it doesn't really say anything to me because the characters have no psychological depth.
And I've only read one Harry Potter book, the second one, and it wouldn't be fair to comment on that basis, although I thought it was funny and inventive.
(There's been a lot of Pullman coverage recently, as we mentioned just two days ago.)
In the Oxford Student Peter Cardwell talks to Paul Muldoon
And also in the Oxford Student, in a more creative effort, Jennifer Adam interviews an "impressively animated Henrik Ibsen ..."
Among the authors (and translators -- despite his often very dubious approach) we've long wanted to review is Richard Burton (the 19th century explorer, not the 20th century actor).
In today's issue of The Independent John Simpson offers a brief piece on Buried Treasure, praising Richard Burton's Personal Narrative of a pilgrimage to Al-Madinah and Meccah.
He writes that it's: "the best and most riveting book of travel and adventure I have ever read" and -- making it even more tempting -- notes: "It's as enjoyable as it is thoroughly reprehensible."
In yesterday's issue of the Columbia Spectator Matt Carhart reported that: Rich Says Line Between Fiction, News Disappearing: "Frank Rich, the popular New York Times columnist, analyzed the rapidly disappearing line between politics and entertainment in modern American culture in a talk last night entitled 'The Fictionalization of News.' "
Rich opined: "Fiction and news have become so intertwined that even professionals have trouble separating them".
What a wonderful world !
Our complete review Quarterly survey from August, 2002, Literary Weblogs: An Overview was the most accessed crQ article last month -- but only now have we gotten to a long overdue update.
We're pleased to note that we were able to add many more weblogs than we had to de-list: there are more literary weblogs out there, and there's more literary coverage.
Head straight for the list of links to check them all out .....
Just in time for the 8 November celebration of Peter Weiss' (1916-1982) birthday Suhrkamp has published -- and we have now reviewed -- his never-before performed or published 1964 drama, Inferno.
The world premiere of Inferno will be at the Bremer Theater, in the 2004/5 season.
Don't worry: we'll let you know when the time comes .....
Meanwhile, celebrate the great author's birthday by attending the Jahrestagung der Internationalen Peter Weiss-Gesellschaft 2003 (warning ! .pdf file !) (the annual convention of the international Peter Weiss society) 7 to 8 November.
Among the offerings: Claudia Heinrich wonders: Warum musste Dante zurückkehren ? Subjektkonzeption und Deutschlandthematik in Peter Weiss’ Inferno (Saturday at 15:00).
William Leith profiles Iain (M.) Banks in the Telegraph.
Banks' new book is "his first and last autobiographical work", the whisky-steeped Raw Spirit (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk; no US publication scheduled as far as we can tell).
We recently mentioned that Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials is being adapted for the stage.
Additional coverage can now also be found in the Daily Telegraph, where Robert Butler, "who has had exclusive backstage access to rehearsals", writes about The epic task of staging Pullman
Sara Cardace wonders: "Can Martin Amis recover from his savage reviews ?" in New York.
As we mentioned recently, Yellow Dog is now available in the US, and the Kakutani already gave it a devastating review.
Cardace asks three writers (Joyce Carol Oates, Christopher Hitchens, and Amanda Foreman) a few questions about Amis; unfortunately she didn't include anyone who thinks the critics might have a point on her panel.
Noteworthy comments: Foreman believes: "the more popular he becomes with the public, the more the cognoscenti hate him" -- though as far as we can tell the public has little interest in Amis' books (something different, admittedly, than being interested in him) and pretty much only the cognoscenti seem to bother with them.
But we do like her answer to the question: "How might Amis rise above this ?" -- "A pseudonym."
Hear, hear !
In this week's Newsweek (issue of 10 November) there are two book reviews -- of titles by two Nobel laureates no less (though one of them merely won a peace prize, not the literature prize).
One and one-third pages are devoted to former American president Jimmy Carter's first novel (something called The Hornet's Nest), and one third of a page is devoted to Gabriel García Márquez's memoir, Living To Tell The Tale (see also our review).
Such are the priorities in America ... ?
The Carter-coverage admittedly is more about Carter than his book, while the García Márquez-coverage is more of an actual review.
Still: one is obviously the far more important work -- and gets short shrift (though David Gates' review of Living To Tell The Tale is far from enthusiastic ("many anecdotes go nowhere"), so maybe they really didn't think it deserved more attention than these few words).
Despite the recent popularity of fiction by authors from India, enthusiasm seems restricted largely to authors writing in English (despite the fact that there is a great deal of fiction being written in India in many, many other languages).
Among the problems (as ever): too few works get translated into English.
So it's sad to hear that a rare translation -- Sirshendu Mukhopadhyay's Bengali novel Brishtir Ghran, now available from Penguin India as Waiting for Rain (see their publicity page) -- disappoints.
But that's what Goutam Ghosh reports in The Hindu.
The review is noteworthy for this truly sad observation:
Even if the translation were sponsored for the U.S. market, the slips would be indefensible.
"Even if" .....
So low, apparently, are US standards that it's common knowledge that almost anything could pass muster there.
(In all fairness: not everyone thinks the translation a poor one.
Aditya Sharma opined in the Sunday Tribune that: "Waiting for Rain is a fine piece of translated writing meriting a round of applause for its translator Nilanjan Bhattacharya.")
Anita Roy looks at An unlikely radical in The Hindu's literary review -- Amit Chaudhuri and his unusual new work, Reading D.H. Lawrence and Difference (which we're actually quite curious about, and hope to review at some point).
(See also the Oxford University Press publicity page.)
Counterpoint recently sent us a copy of Penelope Fitzgerald's posthumous collection of "essays and criticism", The Afterlife.
It's received a small bit of review attention in the US -- see, for example, reviews in The Atlantic Monthly and The Village Voice (scroll down for review in both cases).
Meanwhile a posthumous collection of Penelope Fitzgerald's essays and criticism has been published by Flamingo in the UK -- called A House of Air.
It's received more review attention -- see, for example, reviews in the New Statesman and The Spectator.
It sure sounds like the same book to us.
Except for those titles, of course.
But, no doubt, the publishers had some great reason for choosing different titles for different sides of the Atlantic.
If you want to compare editions, get A House of Air from Amazon.co.uk and The Afterlife from Amazon.com.
(It actually looks fairly interesting; we probably will be reviewing it at some point.)
We mentioned this year's Prix Goncourt last week.
The prize continues to get bashed in the press.
In today's issue of The Observer Laurence Remila offers a brief look at how little respect there is for the prize -- but it's not that that caught our eye.
Rather it's this depressing quote about this year's winner, Jacques-Pierre Amette's La Maîtresse de Brecht:
Christine Ferrand, news editor of book-trade bible Livres Hebdo, concurs: 'His book could well be "a good Goncourt".
That's to say, it sells lots of copies.
The only problem is the title: seeing the name Brecht may frighten off potential readers.'
Any book-browser scared off by the name "Brecht" in the title ... oh, never mind: it's hopeless.
Philip Pullman's thousand-page trilogy His Dark Materials (see our review) doesn't sound like a promising work to adapt for the stage, but the National Theatre is having a go at it, in an adaptation by Nicholas Wright.
See their page for the double bill, as well as Kate Kellaway's article about the undertaking in today's issue of The Observer.
The November issue of the complete review Quarterly is now available.
Not a great deal of content, but it does include our survey of The Year in Reviews, as well as a look at The Baffling Phenomenon of the Translated and then Re-Translated Text in Twice Removed.
Today's issue of The Guardian offers an edited extract from Umberto Eco's Mouse or Rat ? Translation as Negotiation, which is coming out in the UK soon (get your copy at Amazon.co.uk).
(There's no book of this title scheduled for US release, so we think it may actually be a repackaged version of Experiences in Translation .....)