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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 31 July

21 July: Caine Prize | Title competition
22 July: A little self-publishing respect ? | Chip Kidd serialized | Ozick review
23 July: Raja Rao review | Felix Krivin
24 July: Ronald Sukenick (1932-2004) | European fiction in the UK | Pulp fiction
25 July: Story of O | Ngugi wa Thiong'o returning to Kenya | Ruminator Books wake | Mock to pompous
26 July: South African bestsellers | Brief NYTBR rant | Politician meets writer | Optimistic in Iran
27 July: E-mail note | Hemon review-rant | Arnon Grunberg reviews | Claims to fame
28 July: Korean literature | Athens on Trial review | More on Sukenick
29 July: Khouri coverage | Chikwava interview
30 July: More Hemon on Wagner | Ghostwriting | Arab preparations for Frankfurt | IMPAC impact ?
31 July: Ready for ZIBF | Sakuntala reviews

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31 July 2004 - Saturday

Ready for ZIBF | Sakuntala reviews

       Ready for ZIBF

       The Zimbabwe International Book Fair starts this weekend. There's been some coverage in The Herald: All set for ZIBF and ZIBF exhibitors start arriving.
       Given the political climate there we wonder how things will go -- and what coverage wil be like (if there is any).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Sakuntala reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of three different translations of Kalidasa's Sanskrit classic, Sakuntala, by Barbara Stoler Miller, Arthur W. Ryder, and Chandra Rajan, as well as Dorothy Matilda Figueira's study of The Reception of Sakuntala in Nineteenth-Century Europe, Translating the Orient.
       None of the Sakuntala translations are really satisfactory, but there are a lot of others we should probably also have a look at -- W.J.Johnson's, published as an Oxford World's Classic, for example.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

30 July 2004 - Friday

More Hemon on Wagner | Ghostwriting
Arab preparations for Frankfurt | IMPAC impact ?

       More Hemon on Wagner

       We recently mentioned Aleksandar Hemon's devastating review of Daniel Wagner's A Movie ... and a Book at Slate (see also our review). He bashes it again, this time giving voice to his criticism at NPR: listen in here.
       Asked to name a book he would recommend he chooses another one he reviewed at Slate: Péter Esterházy's Celestial Harmonies. Considering some of the other reviews -- and having leafed through the book (though not yet gotten down to it) -- it seems a very ... ambitious choice. Very literary too, and not just in the good senses. But maybe he just chose it because he happened to have also reviewed it.
       (Not that we want to defend the Wagner book, but by our estimate it requires, at best, one-twentieth the time investment the Esterházy does (and maybe as little as one-fiftieth -- it's an easy book to rush through, and the Esterházy looks like it isn't). Absolute quality has nothing to do with length, but the Wagner is short enough -- a breeze (if occasionally painful) to read -- to help mitigate general irritation; the 800-plus page journey that is Celestial Harmonies demands a completely different sort of commitment.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -


       At The Bookseller Benedicte Page reports on Jennie Erdal's forthcoming Ghosting (pre-order at It sounds like a lot of fun, Erdal describing her time as ghostwriter for "the flamboyant Palestinian-born publisher Naim Attallah".
       But somewhat disturbing her assessment:
"There's a lot of ghostwriting about and everyone understands that," she comments, on the telephone from her home in St Andrews. "People know it covers everything from celebrity autobiographies to what might be called more serious literary work, but it's a fascinating area for people because it's secretive, sometimes a little bit murky. It's a sort of creative life that dare not speak its name. The publishing trade to some extent colludes in this as well -- there are a lot of in-house editors nowadays who are brushing up the efforts of quite well-known writers."

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Arab preparations for Frankfurt

       At Al-Ahram Weekly this week the head of the Arab Publishers Union, Ibrahim El-Muallim, speaks about how the Arab preparations for the Frankfurt Book Fair (where the Arab world is the guest of honour) are going.
       They also offer a glimpse of other opinions in the Arab media.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       IMPAC impact ?

       In his column in The Independent this week Boyd Tonkin reveals A pit of provincial ignorance. He reports:
Most literary prizes -- however valuable -- merely give the chance for organisers and judges to drop a polished pebble into the ocean of indifference. At least they also prove that money can't buy love - or even attention. A week ago, I checked the British coverage afforded to this year's Dublin-based Impac award. (...) At the time, British newspapers -- excluding Irish editions -- had devoted to the Impac result a total of 124 words. (Things have improved a bit in recent days.)
       We mentioned This Blinding Absence of Light by Tahar Ben Jelloun picking up the prize (officially: the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award) -- and, despite the apparently very limited media coverage, noted an incredible surge of interest in the book, at least as measured by its rank at and

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

29 July 2004 - Thursday

Khouri coverage | Chikwava interview

       Khouri coverage

       There's been a good deal of coverage about Norma Khouri's Honor Lost (also known as Forbidden Love) and the fact that it looks like it's more fiction than fact. (Our literary preferences tend towards the fictional, but not when it masquerades as fact.)
       The Sydney Morning Herald has been admirably leading the investigative charge -- but their almost-registration requiring policy makes them too unappealing for us to link to. Meanwhile, everybody else seems to have picked up the story anyway. The Australian offers a few new titbits today -- though Author fled US with FBI on her trail isn't quite as sensational as it sounds. But it's still of some interest:
An affidavit in 2001 with the Circuit Court of Cook County filed by a Chicago attorney in one of numerous court cases involving Khouri -- known here by either her maiden name, Bagain, or Toliopoulos, her married name -- states that an FBI agent had alleged she had, in 1999, "fled the country in an effort to avoid prosecution".
       The Australian also offers other interesting more general looks at literary frauds, Frank Moorhouse writing on Truth-proof pages and Murray Waldren noting that Faking it has a rich history. Depressingly, Waldren concludes:
Whether Khouri can disprove the allegations, she is still a winner in a financial terms, given her burgeoning royalty cheques from more than 250,000 book sales. It is also unlikely that Random House will attempt to recover the advance it has paid for her now-in-doubt next book, the ironically titled A Matter of Honour.
       But we hope readers institute a class-action suit, demanding their money back. (Publishers of the book around the globe have pulled it from the market.)
       The book was widely-translated, and so the uproar isn't restricted to English-speaking countries; see, for example, commentary by Joachim Güntner in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Chikwava interview

       Brian Chikwava, whose story Seventh Street Alchemy was awarded the 2004 the Caine Prize for African Writing, is interviewed by Richard Bartlett at the African Review of Books.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

28 July 2004 - Wednesday

Korean literature | Athens on Trial review | More on Sukenick

       Korean literature

       In The Korea Herald Kim Seong-kon writes about Korean literature in the world, reporting on a recent conference:
       Among the points made:
Brother Anthony from Sogang University noted several reasons why Korean literature has been unable to gain the international recognition it deserves. He aptly pointed out that Korean writers tend to write in isolation, for a Korean market alone, "without any relationship with what is being written in other parts of the world."

Another problem is that this kind of Korean literature tends to be rather grim. As Brother Anthony noted: "'Why is Korean literature so depressing ?' is a frequently asked question."
       We've seen too little to judge whether these points are accurate -- but we're always wary of attempts to write for, say, an international audience (or, indeed, of most attempts to write for any specific audience). In any case, we'd love it if there a wider selection of Korean literature available in translation so we could see for ourselves.
       At least Brother Anthony is trying to do his best to bring Korean literature to a wider audience. See his website (and somewhat unusual biography) -- and, especially, the excellent collection of translated Korean literature found in Korean Literature Today (unfortunately only the issues from 1996 - 2001) there.
       (We only have two Korean titles under review, novels by Yi Mun-yol -- including the Brother Anthony-translated The Poet.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Athens on Trial review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Jennifer Tolbert Roberts' look at The Antidemocratic Tradition in Western Thought, Athens on Trial.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More on Sukenick

       As we recently mentioned, American author Ronald Sukenick passed away last week. The Reading Experience does more justice to him, and at the American Book Review there's additional information -- as well as Christopher Lehmann-Haupt's obituary from The NY Times (also available at the official (but obscenely registration-requiring) site).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

27 July 2004 - Tuesday

E-mail note | Hemon review-rant | Arnon Grunberg reviews | Claims to fame

       E-mail note

       Our otherwise reliable service-provider has been fiddling with the e-mail programme, and for the past five or so days we have only intermittently been receiving any -- so if you've written to us and haven't received a reply, that means we haven't received your e-mail. (There's no problem with the outgoing mail, just the incoming.)
       Unfortunately, we find we have very little interest in seeing that this problem gets fixed: we generally receive 500-plus e-mails a day, and it's a rare day when five of those are not spam. Still, we'll probably try and get things back in order eventually. Meanwhile: if you don't get an answer within 24 hours to any e-mail you've sent -- well, then it hasn't reached us.
       (It appears that the e-mails are essentially simply disappearing -- i.e. any sent over the past few days are permanently lost and won't miraculously re-appear when things are back in working order. Unfortunately, there seems to be no way for senders to learn that their mailing-attempts were successful or not.)

       (Updated - 31 July): Everything seems to be working again now.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Hemon review-rant

       Already much noted, Aleksandar Hemon devastatingly reviewed Daniel Wagner's A Movie ... and a Book at Slate. We actually also reviewed this title, a couple of months back, though we weren't nearly as critical. It is, however, one of those books we had a hard time assessing. It is a bad book, but we gave the author some credit for his ambition (he fails, but at least he tries) -- and cut him some slack, given that the book is of toss-away brevity. Finally, it reads so much like a film-script that the comparison tends to be more with film than books, and we couldn't help but think that "it's not worse than many semi-artsy movies -- and might make a tolerable one". Still, the line between being just barely acceptable (i.e. warranting the "B-" grade we assigned it) and essentially unreadable (a "D", say) was much thinner than usual. (Ultimately it was the book's extreme brevity that probably tilted opinion to judging it just acceptable, though we might have just been feeling generous that day.)
       Hemon isn't anywhere near as forgiving: "Daniel Wagner's A Movie ... and a Book is the worst book I have ever voluntarily read." Either he doesn't read much (voluntarily), or he's had an incredible streak of good luck. We find it hard to get quite this worked up about a book that's shorter than some magazine-stories -- but Hemon's concerns go beyond Wagner's own limited abilities:
The significance of Wagner's scribbling is that it is exactly what you end up with if publishing and fiction writing become a pursuit of cheap hipness and movie rights. The blatant soliciting for a movie option altogether mocks the obsolescent category of literate readers -- A Movie ... and a Book is an awful movie treatment undercover as a godawful novel.
       But isn't this something Michael Crichton (albeit sans hipness) has been doing for decades ? Our least favourite novel of 2003, Max Barry's Jennifer Government, can be condemned on the same grounds. In fact, A Movie ... and a Book tries a bit too hard: somebody will probably option it (everything gets optioned nowadays, it seems), but it certainly won't ever see the light of day as a big studio production.
       Sadly, though, Hemon probably isn't too far off with his bleak vision:
If Wagner's début represents a new cynicism in the industry currently enmeshed in a publishing frenzy, the day when editors will hire some good-looking people to pretend to be writers -- the literary equivalent of 'N Sync -- could be only weeks away.
       Actually, hasn't that cynicism -- and the emphasis on finding photogenic (or otherwise presentable) authors -- been around for a while ?

       Additional aside: Hemon calls it "the worst book I have ever voluntarily read." Does that mean that there were worse books that he read involuntarily ? (And how exactly does one involuntarily read a book ?) Or that he was forced to read worse books ? (Okay, maybe at school -- but what were these horrible experiences ?)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Arnon Grunberg reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two Arnon Grunberg novels: Phantom Pain, just out from the Other Press, and The Story of My Baldness, which they'll be bringing out in the fall. Somewhat confusingly, The Story of My Baldness was (and will be) published under the pseudonym Marek van der Jagt, Grunberg's alter ego.
       Grunberg writes at a rate where publishing under several names makes some sense; still, we don't really get this sort of authorial playing around (Danuta de Rhodes !). But in the case of The Story of My Baldness it at least served for one amusing incident: van der Jagt won the Anton Wachterprijs for it, awarded for the best Dutch fiction début of the year. Unfortunately, Grunberg had previously won the same prize; as with losing one's virginity, débuting twice is frowned upon -- and just plain unconvincing. But we almost hope he successfully hides behind another pseudonym and hits the Wachterprijs-trifecta.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Claims to fame

       Okay, the presentation makes this sound even stupider than it actually is, but it's still pretty disappointing to hear what can make for bookish success nowadays: the Shenzen Daily reports:
A cook who shot to fame after scoring 630 points in a TOEFL exam, had published an autobiography, the Beijing Star Daily reported Monday. Zhang Liyong, 29, signed and sold copies of his first book Sunday at the premiere for the book at the Beijing Book Building. The book, Legendary English-Speaking Cook, recounts his experiences learning English in difficult situations but the book is written in Chinese.
       The TOEFL -- Test of English as a Foreign Language -- is familiar to all foreign students who apply to American universities (and some who apply for jobs). 630 is a good score, and Zhang Liyong no doubt overcame great hardships to master the language. Still -- this is enough to make you "legendary" ? This is enough to get you a book deal ?
       (Get out your old SAT, ACT, LSAT, GMAT, MCAT, etc. scores and create your own legend ! Bestsellerdom beckons !)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

26 July 2004 - Monday

South African bestsellers | Brief NYTBR rant | Politician meets writer | Optimistic in Iran

       South African bestsellers

       We love it when actual book-sales data is made available, and in the (South African) Sunday Times Paul Ash looks over the newly-collected figures in South Africa. His conclusion:
If you want to make money as a writer in South Africa, you might -- book-selling data suggests -- best stick to manuals on learning to drive or making money.
       That one manual on learning to drive might be among the bestselling titles is perhaps to be expected -- but three in the top ten ? But that's the case for June-July:
  • 1. Pass Your Learner's Easily, by Clive Gibson, Gavin Hoole and Bata Passchier
  • 3. The Engen K53 Learner's and Driver's Manual
  • 10. The All-in-one Learner's and Driver's Licence Test for Cars, Bikes and Trucks, by William Frederick
       Number 11 on the list is a Touring Atlas of Southern Africa, at number 4 former American president Clinton's My Life is the highest-placed normal title (i.e. real book -- hey, the standards really aren't high here).
       The South African market looks -- somewhat surprisingly -- enormously underdeveloped, with a reading (i.e. book-buying) public estimated at between half a million and a million:
Sales figures are tiny by international standards. If a local novel sells 4 000 copies, it's considered a bestseller. A non-fiction book turns into a bestseller at 7 000.
       And the titles in demand are odd, to put it mildly:
one of the surprise hits in recent years was Struik's Frogs and Frogging, which sold 7 000 in its first print run -- a bestseller by local standards.
       Seven thousand people can be convinced to buy a book on frogging (?!?) ? What about some serious fiction ?
       Depressingly, South Africa is by far the most "literary" African nation (lots of publishers, something of a local market, a good bookselling network, libraries, etc.). On the other hand, the article claims everybody is pretty upbeat about the market. And at least there's lots of growth potential.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Brief NYTBR rant

       We've pretty much held our tongues about The New York Times Book Review, waiting to see how the new guy in charge settles in, but, faced by another disappointing issue yesterday, we have to rant a bit.
       By now Sam Tanenhaus seems to have been able put his stamp on the NYTBR: changes have been implemented, the look is a bit different. The biggest change seems to be that "Books in Brief" (which last appeared in the 11 July issue) has been replaced by bulk-reviews called "Chronicle": in the 25 July issue one such Chronicle lumps together six first novels, the week before there were lump-reviews of seven comics collections and of seven baseball-related titles.
       Our concern, as always, is that fiction is unduly ignored (especially foreign language fiction, but that's such a lost cause it's practically no longer worth crying over). The 25 July issue seems to reflect the new editor's priorities: yes, first novels aren't ignored -- six of them are reviewed ! Six ! But they're all reviewed in a single piece, covering a single page.
       The other fiction coverage in the issue consists of two full-length reviews -- of three titles. Only one work of fiction -- a Ward Just novel -- is deemed to merit a full-length review all to itself.
       And non-fiction ? Nine full-length reviews, of nine titles. No shared attention, no lumping together in some "Chronicle". Each book considered all by itself -- the way books should be considered.
       Nine works of fiction are "reviewed", and nine works of non-fiction -- but how much less balanced could the coverage be ?
       (Okay, there's also Marilyn Stasio's "Crime" coverage -- four titles covered in the usual two columns.)

       The issue of 18 July puffed up the "Fiction" section by including the "Chronicle" of seven comics titles -- hey, we love Peanuts too, but it doesn't belong in any fiction section (that's not where they'd put it in a bookstore, is it ?). Not even including the "Chronicle" of seven baseball titles, non-fiction titles reviewed outnumber actual fiction titles 9 to 4.
       In the 11 July issue there's something resembling parity among the full-length reviews -- 4 non-fiction, 3 fiction -- but again: there are only three fiction titles reviewed. (Why can't there be parity in a week they review a dozen non-fiction titles ?)

       And -- ah, we can't help ourselves -- foreign literature ? We had to go back four issues, to that of 4 July, to find any review of a book originally written in a foreign language (in the "Books in Brief" section) -- and back another two issues, to the 20 June issue, to find a full-length review of any book originally written in a foreign language (there were two; predictably, they were both works of non-fiction).

       All the protestations we heard when the search was on for the McGrath-successor that Sam and the whole NYT gang love fiction look more and more like junior Bush-administration-type spin. Week after week, the NYTBR proves otherwise. Sure, there's token coverage -- but right now it doesn't look much more than token. (We haven't even gone into the selection of titles -- especially fiction titles -- that are reviewed but, aside from the absence of foreign language literature, there's a lot else here we are disappointed by)

       Finally, the last page of this week's issue again offers a "dialogue", John Lewis Gaddis and Paul Kennedy discussing foreign policy and the like. While some regular Times' readers may be relieved not to have to face yet another Laura Miller essay, these sorts of dialogues are a poor substitute: like the last one (which we also complained about), this one has nothing to do with books. And it suggests, once again, that Tanenhaus isn't really that interested in books (unless, possibly, they're of the non-fiction sort) and literature, and would rather use the space he's given in the NYTBR to cover anything but. (Current events are apparently so much more sexy.)

       (Update): The Elegant Variation also protests (but, in a limited defense of Tanenhaus, note that it is not correct that the word "book" goes unmentioned in the offending dialogue: Gaddis does say: "Paul has been worrying about American decline ever since he published a famous book something like a decade and a half ago").

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Politician meets writer

       Yeah, we're suckers for politicians who reminisce about meeting great writers -- so, for example, new Indian PM Manmohan Singh recounting meeting Naguib Mahfouz (in this week's Al-Ahram Weekly).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Optimistic in Iran

       Mehr News Agency reports that Iranian Short Stories Published In Swedish. Sounds good -- we're always thrilled to see Mahmud Dowlatabadi (et al.) get more readers -- but we can't help but think that they're overly optimistic (actually: deluded) in thinking:
The publication of this book will encourage the European publishers to translate the Persian masterpieces into other foreign languages.
       We hope no one is holding their breath.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

25 July 2004 - Sunday

Story of O | Ngugi wa Thiong'o returning to Kenya
Ruminator Books wake | Mock to pompous

       Story of O

       In The Observer Geraldine Bedell writes at considerable length on the Story of O and its author, Dominique Aury (whose identity was well-hidden for a long time behind the pseudonym Pauline Réage).
       Among the odd bits of information:
The French state has not always had an easy relationship with Story of O, but, this year, the government has announced it is to be included on a list of national triumphs to be celebrated in 2004.
       Indeed, it's the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of the book, and so it is part of the Célébrations nationales 2004.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Ngugi wa Thiong'o returning to Kenya

       After decades away from his homeland, Kenyan author Ngugi wa Thiong'o will visit for a few weeks starting next week; he's due to arrive in Nairobi Saturday 31 July.
       Barack Muluka writes about Kenya’s maestro of literary chutzpah, and there will certainly be a lot more coverage of this in the Kenyan press; should have the usual good selection of relevant articles.
       (Joe Mumugu writes extensively about Ngugi: The return of the native in the Sunday Nation today, but it's a registration-requiring site (entirely false information can (and should) be provided -- including e-mail address -- but cookies do have to be enabled). But usually posts these sorts of articles a day or two after they appear.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Ruminator Books wake

       Sarah T. Williams reports on Ruminator Books: The Final Chapter:
On the store's final day of business, David Unowsky and his crew are throwing a wake from noon to 8 p.m.
       It's today, so if you're in the neighbourhood ..... See also the Ruminator Books site.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Mock to pompous

       In his review of José Saramago's The Double in The Observer today Adam Mars-Jones asks and answers:
How long before mock-pompous becomes plain pompous ? About 500 words.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

24 July 2004 - Saturday

Ronald Sukenick (1932-2004) | European fiction in the UK | Pulp fiction

       Ronald Sukenick (1932-2004)

       American author Ronald Sukenick has passed away; see the only obituary we've come across so far (AP, here at Newsday). See also: a summary biography.
       More interesting: his thoughts on writing fiction, In My Own Recognizance. And for some examples of his writing, see the novel Out, and the shorter piece, The Burial of Count Orgasm.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       European fiction in the UK

       In the July issue of Prospect, Julian Evans writes on Europe's lost stories. He finds:
The shearing has happened: in the past half century, Anglo-Saxon literary attitudes have shifted decisively away from Europe, westwards (and southwards) to the US, Latin America and the Commonwealth.
       A mixed bag of commentary, much of which isn't particularly convincing. But some valid points, and a few worthwhile pointed observations, such as:
When continental European critics and publishers complain that their British counterparts are uninterested in translation, they usually avoid a more difficult task -- that of interrogating the fiction to discover whether it is worth translating.
       (We like to think we do do that ....)
       And also the depressing impression that: "Every work of continental fiction published in English is the result of individual enthusiasm." Fortunately, there's still a lot of that enthusiasm out there -- though one seems to find it far more among small independents, rather than the big publishers.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Pulp fiction

       Is American literary culture reflected in how books are disposed of ? In The Post-Standard Sean Kirst writes It's a sad chapter for books -- and what a depressing story it is, an entire book collection dropped off (and this apparently just a representative example of an everyday occurrence) to be turned into something Americans apparently find far more useful:
They will eventually be shredded by Hanna Paper Recycling, of Buffalo. The paper can be reused for such products as roofing felt and insulation.
       Yes, apparently that's the favoured alternative:
Why not take them all and have a massive sale, offering each book for a quarter apiece, before shipping them off to a recycling machine appropriately known as "The Guillotine" ? Andy Brigham, an OCRRA spokesman, said that sale would never work. Last year, he said, the agency collected more than 100,000 books (.....) An open sale, Brigham said, would create massive problems: Who would sort the books ? Where would the sale be held ? Who would get tens of thousands of unsold books ready for the recycling trucks ? (...) Asked about allowing citizens to sort through discarded books, Brigham said, ":There'd be people backed up here and, besides, it's not really our purpose.":
       Streamlined convenience -- that's what counts.

       To its credit, the Onondaga County Resource Recovery Agency does offer information on Where to Donate (Recycle) New & Used Books, Magazines & Media Materials -- but apparently those aren't always viable options either.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

23 July 2004 - Friday

Raja Rao review | Felix Krivin

       Raja Rao review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Raja Rao's novella, Comrade Kirillov.
       It's one of Rao's slighter works, but we chanced across it and couldn't pass it up. We're familiar with some of Rao's earlier works -- Kanthapura and The Cat and Shakespeare (sorry, not under review) -- and were reminded what an impressive stylist and interesting writer he is. So much so that we felt compelled to purchase the late magnum opus, The Chessmaster and His Moves, spending way more than we usually would for any book (only available in an Indian edition, it's not a volume they stock at the local Barnes & Noble); look for our review sometime in August.
       Rao is an interesting guy, too. For one, he's still alive -- no mean feat, considering he was born in 1908. He studied in France for quite a while -- including, mysteriously, while at the Sorbonne, the Indian influence on Irish literature --, wrote his first works in Kannada (that's the language, not the country), was on the editorial board of Mercure de France in the 1930s, and taught Indian philosophy at the University of Texas, Austin for some fifteen years.
       Along with R.K.Narayan, he's part of that first generation of English-writing Indian authors to make it big, but his popularity (in the US) seems to have peaked in the 1960s (though he was awarded the Neustadt International Prize for Literature in 1988).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Felix Krivin

       Ha'aretz continues to offer long articles on a variety of literary subjects -- a few days ago Dalia Karpel offered some 7000 (!) words on Eliasaf Robinson's used-book store, and now Kobi Ben-Simhon looks at what's happened to Felix Krivin:
Felix Krivin is one of the most famous and preeminent figures in the waves of immigration from the former Soviet Union, but his name has been swallowed up in Israel's cruel reality.
       He was apparently "in the front rank of the popular satirists in the Soviet Union", but that hasn't translated too well in his new circumstances.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

22 July 2004 - Thursday

A little self-publishing respect ? | Chip Kidd serialized | Ozick review

       A little self-publishing respect ?

       In the 12 August issue of The New York Review of Books James M. McPherson reviews four titles about Abraham Lincoln (the review is not freely accessible at this time; it may become so when the issue officially goes online, in which case you'd find it here). What's interesting, aside from the review itself, is not that two of the books share almost exactly the same title -- John A. Corry's Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech That Made Him President and Harold Holzer's Lincoln at Cooper Union: The Speech That Made Abraham Lincoln President -- but that Corry's book is published by P.O.D. outfit Xlibris (see their publicity page). (Holzer's is published by traditional corporate-owned behemoth Simon and Schuster (see their publicity page).)
       McPherson treats the Corry title respectfully -- and while not directly pointing it out, suggests one of the many advantages of the self-publishing route:
John Corry successfully entered the crowded field of Lincoln scholarship with Lincoln at Cooper Union, published in the fall of 2003. Completed before Corry's book appeared, Harold Holzer's study was published in May 2004.
       McPherson is not the first to review the title: at least two other reviews of the two Lincoln at Cooper Union-titles have appeared.
       In Willamette Week Matt Buckingham notes:
The second, written by Bronxville, N.Y., lawyer John A. Corry and first published by Xlibris last November, admirably holds its own, however, both for its readability and as a striking example of the professional quality of which on-demand publishing is now capable.
       Georgette Gouveia also reviews it in The Journal News.

       With all the ridiculous talk about too many books being published (didn't we complain about this attitude way back when -- complaining about, among many others, a previous Laura Miller complaint about there being too many books ?), it's thrilling to see a P.O.D. book get this kind of coverage.
       Among the articles that most irritated us last year was Bob Hoover's "explanation" on why: "the Post-Gazette does not review self-published books". The cover a book is published under should have nothing to do with how it is judged (sure, the first instinct will be not to take the Xlibris book quite as seriously, but it can't simply be dismissed out of hand). How can readers possibly respect reviewers who pre-judge books solely based on how they are published ? Isn't that exactly the sort of attitude that undermines and threatens a true literary culture (where it's the words and the story and the art that's valued, not whether the author paid to publish it or a major publisher put their stamp of approval on it (something that, in our experience, isn't necessarily a guarantee of any quality whatsoever)) ?

       Given the sorry state of publishing (how few imprints one can rely on to deliver consistent quality !) and the diminishing cost of self-publishing, it seems likely that more and more books will be self-published -- including more and more titles worthy of attention. It's nice to see the print media acknowledge that the Corry book is worth some discussion; we hope it's just an early trickle in a tidal flood !

       If you'd like to purchase the Corry title, it's also available at and

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       Chip Kidd serialized

       We're fans of Chip Kidd's book-cover-art for Knopf and Vertical; we were less impressed by his first foray into fiction-writing, The Cheese Monkeys.
       Apparently, he can't leave the writing be, and threatens with "a sequel of sorts", The Learners. And Whitney Matheson reports in USA Today that:
Kidd's new piece of fiction, The Learners, makes its debut today as part of's Open Book series. A new chapter of his exclusive, seven-part novella will be published online each Thursday at
       (His exclusive novella ? Don't they mean his novella that will be published exclusively at USA Today ?)

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       Ozick review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Cynthia Ozick's forthcoming novel, Heir to the Glimmering World.
       It's only coming out in September -- but at least that gives you something to look forward to. And maybe by that time we'll finally get around to reviewing her Trust, the only major Ozick work we haven't covered yet (and since it's also set in the 1930s it should be interesting to compare her two takes on that era, written some four decades apart).

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21 July 2004 - Wednesday

Caine Prize | Title competition

       Caine Prize

       As has been fairly widely noted, the Caine Prize for African Writing, 2004 has been awarded: Brian Chikwava's Seventh Street Alchemy won (see, for example, Michelle Pauli's report in The Guardian).
       The Caine Prize is considered the most prestigious African literary prize; curiously, only short stories are eligible ("Indicative length, between 3000 and 10,000 words"). This does make it open to more writers; still, we'd like to think the region could support a proper novel-length award all its own too.
       Odd to, for a prize honouring African writers, the fact that the ceremonies take place in England -- Oxford, with an Academic Symposium at the Institute for English Studies, London University, today, and a reading at the Africa Centre on Thursday. Presumably, it's more useful for the authors to be close to a centre of publishing like London, but it doesn't sound like an ideal way to promote a literary culture in Africa proper. (Though admittedly the prize and the attendant attention are certainly far better than nothing.)

       The prize-winning story was first published in a collection of "new stories from Zimbabwe", Writing Still, published by Weaver Press; see their publicity page.
       The collection is reviewed in the African Review of Books, where Chikwava's story is described:
‘Seventh Street Alchemy’ tells of a prostitute who has slipped through the cracks of bureaucracy and now needs to get a birth certificate so her daughter can get a passport. But she can only do this if she can provide her parents’ birth certificates. She has an opportunity to break out of this Catch 22, but only when she breaks the law and they realise they can’t charge her because she doesn’t officially exist.

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       Title competition

       A week back we mentioned Peter Stephan Jungk's The Perfect American -- and wondered why the American publishers hadn't just used the literal translation of the German title, Der König von Amerika, i.e. called it The King of America.
       Turns out, Other Press has a pretty good explanation: they learned, last fall, that Random House had scheduled a book titled The King of America (by Samantha Gillison; see their publicity page) right before Other Press planned to release the Jungk title. And, understandably, that wasn't something Other Press wanted to (or thought they could) compete with -- never mind the confusion it would cause (it's hard to make a book stand out when even its title is indistinguishable from another one).

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