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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 October

11 October: Esterházy gets Peace Prize | Necessary Translations event | Oskar Pastior review | SZ Bibliothek | Miracle ?
12 October: Singapore Literature Prize | Making Korean literature accessible | A bit more Jelinek | Ask Neal Stephenson | MobyLives ! MobyLives !
13 October: How novelists will vote | New VLS | A Sir isn't taken seriously | Peace Prize not ready for primetime
14 October: Literary prize news | Academic writing courses | Rosa Chacel reviews
15 October: Austrokoffer | Frankfurt round-up | Perec's Three is back
16 October: More Frankfurt round-ups | Jelinek interview | Gilgamesh | Lire en fête
17 October: Achebe turns down CFR | Stuff Happens reading in NYC | Arnon Grunberg interview | Arab world in Frankfurt | Heaven and Hell review
18 October: Per Højholt | Candidates who read | Found (twice) in translation
19 October: Kertész in NY | Vatican on Jelinek
20 October: Man Booker 2004 | More Gombrowicz | Camille Laurens review

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20 October 2004 - Wednesday

Man Booker 2004 | More Gombrowicz | Camille Laurens review

       Man Booker 2004

       The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst won the Man Booker, as has been widely reported. Here some of the early links of interest:        Also of interest: Philip Hensher finds The books were fine -- but good judges are scarce. Former Booker judge Hensher thinks the winner is fine, but didn't agree with all the long and short-list choices:
Worst of all was the passing over of V S Naipaul's extraordinary and daring Magic Seeds.

If the judges were seriously proposing that a novelist such as Sarah Hall is more worthy of praise than a piece of vintage Naipaul, they must have lost their marbles.

The trouble is that it gets harder and harder to find good quality judges. Gossip had it that seven or eight prospective judges declined to serve this year.
       Meanwhile, the Man Booker site also offered The People's Prize, allowing the public to vote for the favourite on the shortlist. Two notes: not many people bothered, and the "gay novel" (so the Daily Telegraph, The New York Times, and many other headlines) garnered less than 7 per cent of the votes.
       For additional information, we assume the Man Booker Prize for 2004 blog (from the 3 AM folks) will keep up with all the fall-out.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More Gombrowicz

       Aside from the publication of Witold Gombrowicz's Bacacay (review forthcoming), there are more centenary celebrations. The Kosciuszko Foundation celebrates tomorrow (21 October), while Indian University's Polish Studies Center holds a Witold Gombrowicz Centenary Celebration 4-6 November.
       Meanwhile, we only just learned about two additional Gombrowicz-publications from Yale University Press (which we hope they'll be kind enough to send us, so that we can review them): Polish Memories (see their publicity page, or get your copy from or and A Guide to Philosophy in Six Hours (see their publicity page, or get your copy from or

       (Note: the page for Polish Memories lists an amazing 43 used and new copies for sale (despite only having gone on sale 1 October) -- and the book itself has an " Sales Rank: 1,643,329". What that means is that has probably sold no copies of the book -- and that pretty much everyone who got their hands on an advance or review copy is trying to unload it. (43 copies is a lot even for a popular title.) Not a good sign.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Camille Laurens review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Camille Laurens' In Those Arms. Which was published as In His Arms in the US -- a lot of good that did. Despite a (brief) review in The New York Times Book Review (a rare foreign-fiction mention in those pages), it seems to have sunk faster than a stone, at least in the US -- so much for Random House bothering with foreign fiction .....
       Certainly an odd work -- chick lit ? chic lit ? Very 'French' seems to be the critical consensus, whatever that means. Admittedly, it ain't your usual English-language chick lit.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

19 October 2004 - Tuesday

Kertész in NY | Vatican on Jelinek

       Kertész in NY

       A couple of weeks ago we mentioned that 2002 Nobel laureate Imre Kertész is finally ready to take the US by storm ... or at least a drizzle. The New York 92nd Street Y hosts a reading and talk with the master tonight (at 19:00) -- billed as: "The Nobel Laureate's First Public Appearance in the United States". If you want to catch him, this is your big opportunity -- Random House doesn't seem to be putting very much of its marketing muscle behind the release of Liquidation (and the new translations of two other works, which we will review in the next few weeks): their author tour page lists exactly zero additional events. So he probably won't be appearing at your local Barnes & Noble.
       Surely, there will be a profile in The New York Times and elsewhere, or some acknowledgement of his presence. Or maybe not (foreign literature, 2002 Nobel already qualifies as passé, Imre who ? etc.).
       We suggest: pay heed. He's a good guy. And a good writer.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Vatican on Jelinek

       We recently mentioned that the awarding of the 2004 Nobel prize for literature to Elfriede Jelinek did not meet approval in the Vatican. Zenit now offers an English summary of the reaction, as published in L'Osservatore Romano.
       Consider, for example, their description of The Pianist (Die Klavierspielerin, translated into English as: The Piano Teacher):
Three hundred pages of brutal recklessness, perverse psychologies and destructive feminine genealogy, intended only to denounce the irremediable inheritance of evil, sin, violence in every form of love
       We must have missed the "destructive feminine genealogy" first time we read it, but it almost makes us want to go back and read it again.
       (And what exactly is wrong with denouncing "the irremediable inheritance of evil, sin, violence in every form of love" -- isn't that something the Catholic Church (and everybody else) would approve of ? Or is the official position now pro irremediable inheritance ?)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

18 October 2004 - Monday

Per Højholt | Candidates who read | Found (twice) in translation

       Per Højholt

       So: Per Højholt er død. He died Saturday.
       Politiken has a good obituary -- and links to lots of other articles -- but, alas, all in Danish. Aldo Keel offers a brief obituary in -- of course -- the NZZ (sorry, German). Don't expect much English-language coverage -- Per who ? seems the likely response -- though he was considered, along with recently Nobel-touted Inger Christensen, the leading Danish poet. And his work certainly sounds interesting.
       The admirable Danish Literature Centre offers some good (English !) coverage, including Neal Ashley Conrad's 1999 profile. (See also links there, as well as this extensive bibliography.)
       Of particular interest: his recent novel, Auricula (not translated into English -- yet). As we understand it, the premise of the book is that time very briefly came to a stop 7 September 1915, which led to the birth of a great many ears (yes, ears) which floated around and got involved in especially the arts of the time -- Joyce ! Dada ! Kafka ! Duchamp ! See, for example, the Gyldendal publicity page -- or, more usefully, read Lars Bukdal's piece New Ears for the Century: On Auricula (originally published in Danish Literary Magazine). It sounds almost irresistible:
What is truly fantastic and disturbing, however, is that the ears always seem to be meddling -- and that they are fundamentally incomprehensible. Basically, they defy interpretation. They are the evocation of the avant-garde dream of nothingness (of course the ears cannot actually hear anything !), the very incarnation of Roland Barthes’ "Pleasure of reading" -- just before they roll themselves up like small peculiar, completely autonomous inventions that are just as infuriatingly ridiculous as they are cunningly touching. Not to mention frighteningly convincing.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Candidates who read

       As we often note, an appreciation of or interest in literature -- or complete lack thereof -- do not make a person good (or bad). Reading habits and tastes probably signify something, but aren't quite as revealing as one might like to think. (You know: Stalin was an avid reader, lots of Nazis had refined cultural tastes, etc. etc. -- lots of good all that did.) Still, we like to hear what politicians like to read (if they read at all), and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch offers a nice service for readers, listing the favourite books (or authors), as well as music, TV shows, and movies of the major candidates for Missouri state and federal offices in Candidates vote for favorite movies, music, television and books

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Found (twice) in translation

       A popular article-title last week: Found in Translation. In the Boston Globe Joshua Glenn uses it for The Examined Life-column. Not very informative, but he gives a good plug to more-than-deserving Dalkey Archive Press (and indefatigable foreign-lit fan and supporter, Chad Post). Meanwhile, Jeffrey Trachtenberg profiled Harcourt editor Drenka Willen in the Wall Street Journal, offering some literature-in-translation success stories (link first seen at MobyLives).
       Not that much agreement on the current situation, however. Glenn writes:
As The New York Times reported last summer, many trade publishers and university presses have all but ceased publishing contemporary literature in translation; the US market for it, apparently, is smaller than ever.
       But Trachtenberg found:
Esther Allen, chairwoman of the PEN Translation Committee, said via e-mail that there has been an increase in books translated from foreign languages in the last two years and that "we are in the midst of a sort of translation 'boom.'"
       Go figure .....

       P.S. Is it just us, or doesn't Per Højholt's Auricula (see above) sound like a perfect book for the Dalkey Archive ... ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

17 October 2004 - Sunday

Achebe turns down CFR | Stuff Happens reading in NYC | Arnon Grunberg interview
Arab world in Frankfurt | Heaven and Hell review

       Achebe turns down CFR

       In Nigeria the national honours were just announced, 191 in all, including six people who were named Commander of the Order of the Federal Republic (CFR, apparently comparable to the British OBE). One of the six CFRs was Chinua Achebe, but he's declined the honour. As reported in Vanguard, Chinua Achebe to Obasanjo: Keep your CFR award:
"Nigeria’s condition today under your watch is ... too dangerous for silence. I must register my disappointment and protest by declining to accept the high honour awarded me in the 2004 Honours List", Achebe said in an open letter to Obasanjo dated October 15, 2004.
       Good for him.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Stuff Happens reading in NYC

       We mentioned a first reading of David Hare's Stuff Happens in Hartford, and now there will also be a reading in New York on Monday, at 19:00. See, for example, this Playbill report, as well as the Tribeca Theater Festival publicity page.
       We'll try and get someone to catch it and report on Tuesday.

       (Updated - 19 October): No luck.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Arnon Grunberg interview

       Beatrice offers 5 Questions With ... Arnon Grunberg.
       See also our review of his novels Phantom Pain and The Story of My Baldness.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Arab world in Frankfurt

       At Islam-Online Amira Sayed al-Ahl looks back at the Arab world as guest of honour in Frankfurt, in Arabic Literature Needs Real Sponsorship, Not Medals. Translation issues, as always, at the fore, and more generally:
In general, Arab countries do not seem to have understood the importance of the Frankfurt Book Fair and the opportunity it presented to them. The organizers of the Book Fair offered them the chance to exhibit the culture of the Arab world at the largest literary platform in the world, to open a dialogue, to start building bridges, and to overcome prejudice. But in many ways, the Arab world only managed to enforce prejudice and negative images.
The Arabs do not seem to have understood that it is not enough to merely be present at the Book Fair, but that it is essential to invite and attract the visitors to start a dialogue and build bridges.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Heaven and Hell review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Mara Faustino's Heaven and Hell.
       It's only coming out in December -- the sort of novelty book that the publishers hope people will pick up if they can't think of anything else to buy as a present. (Don't fall for it. Fiction, people: buy, read, and give fiction !)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

16 October 2004 - Saturday

More Frankfurt round-ups | Jelinek interview | Gilgamesh | Lire en fête

       More Frankfurt round-ups

       A couple of more Frankfurt Book Fair round-ups:
       We missed one more Al-Ahram Weekly piece yesterday: Mona Anis on Oriental rugs and ... camels -- which is about the book fair (first seen at Moorish Girl). She suggests:
The failure of most Arab countries to rise to the occasion was perhaps a foregone conclusion in the light of the failure of the League of Arab Nations -- the body entrusted with organising the event -- to formulate a pertinent vision to rally the Arabs.
       At The Guardian Joel Rickett offers a few odds and ends in his The Bookseller column. More the business side -- and not very heartening:
The real buzz in the sprawling literary agents' centre was over left-field biographies -- a refreshing change from ghostwritten celebrity fare. Attracting rare pan-European translation deals was a memoir by Sabine Dardenne, one of the girls kidnapped by Belgian paedophile Marc Dutroux.
       Even worse:
Fiction failed to set the fair alight -- reflecting the current torpor in the literary market.
       Back to the Arab world as guest of honour, Christophe Ayad really lays into them in Merguez de Francfort in Libération:
Il suffisait de se promener dans les stands officiels censés présenter le meilleur de la production arabe pour prendre conscience du marasme dans lequel le monde arabe se trouve aujourd'hui. Le stand algérien semblait avoir été pillé par une foule de morts de faim, le syrien n'offrait qu'une biographie de Bachar al-Assad et des ouvrages religieux, le libyen croulait sous les exemplaires du Petit Livre vert de Kadhafi, etc. Seuls le Maroc, l'Egypte et le Liban surnagent.
       Harald Klauhs, in Die Presse, is also decidedly underwhelmed in Schluss mit Stöbern -- but does note the one (semi-)big move: Christa Wolf has left Bertelsmann-owned Luchterhand (with whom she's been for decades) for Suhrkamp -- the first big (huge !) addition to the Suhrkamp list, after quite the wave of defections.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Jelinek interview

       The first fairly thorough Elfriede Jelinek interview in English we've come across -- not that she says much new (see our last mention) --: The not-so-prized possession by Georg Diez in FAZ Weekly. Fun quotes include:
"It's unbelievable that I now find myself beside people like Beckett and Hemingway." She then pauses. "At the same time, an award like this one is also an aggressive act. An intrusion."


"I never wanted to be a public person," she says. "I wasn't looking for this role. We artists in Austria weren't looking for this role. But somebody has to do the dirty work."


"I act on a strong sexual impulse," she says. She has her arms crossed and seems very relaxed. "Writing requires a certain libidinal discipline. Writing is necessary to vent the steam, so that the brain doesn't explode. Writing is a rage that is controlled by reason."
       As we've mentioned, we're not huge fans of her writing, but we have to admit we do like how she's handling herself (and the media).

       Also worth a mention -- if hardly unexpected --: the official Vatican mouthpiece, L'Osservatore Romano, has expressed considerable displeasure with the Nobel choice. Their piece isn't available online, but you can get the gist of it here

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -


       The Guardian offers an edited extract of Stephen Mitchell's introduction to his "translation" of the epic Gilgamesh. Probably not for us -- his approach to translation isn't one we're very comfortable with (and he apparently hasn't met -- or learned -- a language he would shy away from "translating" (Sanskrit, ancient Greek, and German, are just some of them ...). But for those who are interested: get your copy at or, or see the Profile publicity page -- or the Gilgamesh-page at the sleek Mitchell site.

       The Gilgamesh edition we are eager to get our grubby hands on is A.R.George's two-volume The Babylonian Gilgamesh Epic (alas, it's been out of stock almost since the day it was published). See the Oxford University Press publicity page, or place your order at or Be warned, however, that it's a very different beast from the Mitchell- rendering: Eleanor Robson notes in her review in the Bryn Mawr Classical Review:
This splendid book is for you only if you are familiar with the workings of cuneiform writing. George assumes throughout an intimacy with the scripts and languages of the Epic and the modern conventions for rendering them
       (Okay, that might be a problem -- but we're willing to risk it.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Lire en fête

       A French attempt to celebrate reading, now in its sixteenth year: Lire en fête. Party all weekend long -- and we're sorry we didn't warn you about a new event this year in time: La Nuit des libraires: last night they kept the bookstores open all night -- to tempt all those late-night revellers to buy books in the wee hours of the morning ?
       See also reports in Le Monde and Libération.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

15 October 2004 - Friday

Austrokoffer | Frankfurt round-up | Perec's Three is back


       A Nobel side-effect: closer scrutiny of the literary antics of the native country of the winner. After Kertész won the Hungarians suddenly found some unpleasantness surrounding their Hungarian Writers' Union hitting the international news (okay, little US coverage, but see, for example, this mention we made). The Austrians, for now, offer something more ridiculous -- but The Guardian picked up on it, so here some additional information:
       As Ian Traynor reported in The Guardian yesterday, Authors write off plan to compile Austrian cultural classics. A bit dramatic for what it actually is -- or was supposed to be:
The plan is for a people's compendium, packing 132 novelists, playwrights, and poets into 5,000 pages separated into 18 volumes, in a package selling for a bargain €50 (about £35) - a "national survey" of the best of Austrian literature since 1945.
       It was originally called the Austrokoffer -- "Austro-suitcase" -- but even that, like much else has changed. Traynor only offers a cursory overview, but sums up the situation about right:
In all, at least 130 writers have registered their opposition to the project, although insiders say some are discreetly allowing their agents and publishers to forward their texts. But the refuseniks include some of the biggest contemporary names, meaning that the aim to be representative looks doomed.
       This was one disorganized undertaking: prominent among the ways in which authors were alienated was that many received their 'invitations' to participate only after their names had been included in the promotional material touting the project. Even the publisher who had agreed to bring it our, Ueberreuter, backed out: currently there is no publisher, and the Austrokoffer-label has been replaced: now it's called Landvermessung ("Land-measuring" or "-surveying") -- the official site changed from to ("Landvermessung, vormals Austrokoffer" -- 'Landvermessung, previously Austrokoffer').
       Among the prominent authors who declined to participate are Peter Handke and Elfriede Jelinek (who wanted nothing to do with it even before she got her Nobel), Johannes Mario Simmel (one of the all-time bestselling German-writing authors, who for some reason never had much success in the US or UK), Daniel Kehlmann, Norbert Gstrein, Ilse Aichinger, Robert Menasse (see, for example, our review of his Erklär mir Österreich), Barbara Frischmuth, Peter Rosei, Josef Haslinger, Michael Scharang, and Andreas Okopenko. And there are, apparently, over a hundred more.
       The German-language media -- mainly in Austria -- have been having fun with this. Especially useful: Der Standard's Austrokoffer section, with links all their stories on the subject (including Günther Nenning's open letter to Handke and Jelinek on the occasion of the book-presentation (as it were) at the Frankfurt Book Fair -- which easily got drowned out by another communication Ms. Jelinek received that week from Stockholm).
       The Profil piece Gepäckaufbahrung calls the Austrokoffer-project "Austria's cultural debacle 2004". They diagnose: "Was ist schief gelaufen ? So ziemlich alles." ("What went wrong ? Just about everything.")
       And more than a month ago Paul Jandl had already written about Der Austrokoffer in the NZZ and not sounded very impressed.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Frankfurt round-up

       No comprehensive round-ups of the Frankfurt Book Fair yet, but Al-Ahram Weekly keeps up their good coverage with two more pieces of interest:

        - Autumnal sunshine by Rania Gaafar -- her "sketchpad" of some of the goings-on

        - Around the world in five days: Jennifer Evans speaks with American University in Cairo Press director Mark Linz about Arabic literature in translation. Of some interest -- but the interview is from before his going to Frankfurt, i.e. no news about the actual impact of the Fair yet.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Perec's Three is back

       Small but fine publisher David R. Godine pleasantly surprised us (and caught us completely unawares) by sending us a copy of their new edition of the Georges Perec collection, Three by Perec -- long available (and, recently, long unavailable) only as a (very attractive) Harvill edition, this is apparently the first US publication of the book, under Godine's 'Verba Mundi'-imprint.
       A three-pack of Perec, it includes the anti-Void text, The Exeter Text (Whereas no 'e's appear in A Void, The Exeter Text contains no vowels other that 'e').
       The variety of texts (and their relative brevity -- the book is less than 200 pages long) makes it a decent introduction to the author -- and those who didn't have a chance to get their hands on the Harvill edition shouldn't let this opportunity slip away.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

14 October 2004 - Thursday

Literary prize news | Academic writing courses | Rosa Chacel reviews

       Literary prize news

       All sorts of literary prize news:

        - The 20 finalists for the four American National Book Awards were announced today; we have none of the titles under review.

        - No mention of it yet at the official site as we write this, but the two remaining judges for the Man Booker International Prize (see our previous mention) have apparently been chosen: Canadian Press reports (here at the National Post) that Azar Nafisi and Alberto Manguel will team up with John Carey.

        - Laura May reports at PA News that Zeta-Jones Backs Dylan Thomas Literary Prize. She It is well-endowed: £ 60,000.

        - Not strictly a prize, but Edinburgh has been named the world’s first City of Literature by UNESCO; see, for example, Tim Cornwell's report in The Scotsman. Were there even any other contenders for this 'honour' ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Academic writing courses

       In yesterday's issue of The Guardian DJ Taylor argues there are Too many creative accountants: he's concerned about the proliferation of academic writing courses (MFA-type programmes) (link first seen at Tingle Alley).
       He mentions some comments by Paul Magrs, who taught at the University of East Anglia for seven years; these were made in Magrs attacks !, a profile in The Independent. Among them:
"Students on the creative writing course at UEA," he suggests, "tend to be people of about 30 who've burned out doing something else, who've read some Kundera and Rushdie and think they're going to reinvent the European novel by writing about their gap year and Roland Barthes. Somebody even turned up in a beret one year."
       Magrs has now moved on to Manchester Metropolitan University, "where he hopes the students will be less middle-class".

       We agree with Taylor:
Leaving aside a few shining heroes such as Malcolm Bradbury, what the academy has done for English literature in the past two or three decades could be summarised on the back of a small postcard. The more that literature in this country becomes the exclusive province of the university system, the worse it will be for all of us.
       Look what's happened in the US, after all, where this became a mass-industry decades ago.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Rosa Chacel reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two Rosa Chacel novels, Memoirs of Leticia Valle and Estación. Ida y vuelta.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

13 October 2004 - Wednesday

How novelists will vote | New VLS
A Sir isn't taken seriously | Peace Prize not ready for primetime

       How novelists will vote

       As has been widely noted, It's Book Week at Slate !. Maybe they'll have some interesting things over the course of the week .....
       The most-linked to story so far is their round-up of Who are novelists voting for ? (in the upcoming American presidential election). Not surprisingly, Kerry is the overwhelming favourite. Surprisingly, even two of the prospective Bush-voters claim general or specific Democratic-party sympathies: Orson Scott Card says he's: "a Democrat voting for Bush, even though on economic issues, from taxes to government regulation, I'm not happy with the Republican positions", while Robert Ferrigno doesn't "agree with Bush on shoveling free meds to granny and grandpa, or his antipathy to fuel conservation along with opening up the arctic reserve". What convinces them -- and Thomas Mallon -- is that they think Bush has reacted well and effectively in his so-called 'war on terror'. Which just blows our little minds.

       Novelists are, of course, free to be as deluded as any other citizens (and some of the Kerry support is no more sensible), but we're not entirely comfortable when their political naïveté is held against their literary work: already the Slate-statements have wound up being used in we clicked on the Robert Ferrigno-link (we had never heard of him -- Jelinek we first read twenty years ago, but we drew a blank here), and there -- at the Amazon-page for his novel The Wake-Up -- a 'Paloma Negra-Mendez' from Denver gave it one star, titled her review "Horrible Person ~ Not a literary genius" and re-printed his comments from the Slate-piece.
       We are so looking forward to the end of election-season, when all this crap (and the jr. Bush) will hopefully all go away.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       New VLS

       The new Voice Literary Supplement is up.
       Among the pieces: Curtis White deciphers "the success of 'The Da Vinci Code'" (or takes a stab at it, anyway, -- though we found insights such as: "Thus, The Da Vinci Code's seriousness is deeply unserious" not exactly profound (are there really people who take its seriousness serious ?)).
       Also: Ben Ehrenreich writes about Stefan Themerson's newly reprinted 1967 novel, Tom Harris. (Dalkey Archive Press just brought it out; see their publicity page. We plan to review it ... fairly soon.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       A Sir isn't taken seriously

       Imagine: you have a knighthood, and the "literary world" still won't take your writing seriously. Imagine that ! Outrageous, isn't it ?
       Sir Antony Sher certainly feels aggrieved: Katy Guest reports in The Independent today: I'm giving up writing novels because no one takes me seriously, complains Antony Sher. The title apparently came with a sense of entitlement:
Sir Antony Sher, the actor, writer and artist, yesterday launched a bitter critique of the exclusivity of the literary world. Sir Antony, who voiced his concerns on stage during the Cheltenham Festival, described how he had struggled in vain for wider publicity surrounding the publication of his four novels.
       Yeah, life's tough. Why, he didn't make the Man Booker longlist either, and the Swedish Academy overlooked him for the Nobel prize too. Is there no end to the injustice ? Why can't the literary world -- indeed the whole world -- give this poor man the wider publicity he, like all authors, obviously deserves -- not because his books are necessarily any good (surely that's irrelevant), but because he is simply deserving ? (And he's a 'Sir', too, which certainly impresses the heck out of us, and makes us want to drop all our other reviewing ambitions and devote ourselves solely to obsequiously serving him and his surely magisterial output.)
       But Sher has a keen understanding of the way of the world (literary and otherwise):
The actor attributed the apparently limited reviews and commercial success to what he perceived as the "closed doors" of an elitist literary club.

"The literary world is a sort of club that lets some people in and some not," he complained, "and for some reason I wasn't let in. The way that they let you know you're not going to be let in is they don't review your book. Or they review it so slowly it dies at birth and the publishers don't want to publish your books any more."
       Dear god ! This poor fellow. How could we have failed to put his books on top of our to-review list ? And those publications that reviewed them slowly -- why, that's outright cruel.

       All we can say is: one less author churning out books ? hallelujah and good riddance.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Peace Prize not ready for primetime

       We mentioned that Péter Esterházy received the German booksellers' association's peace prize (the Friedenspreis des deutschen Buchhandels) on Sunday.
       For forty years the award-ceremony has been broadcast on national TV in Germany, on ARD (along with ZDF the major German television networks, and (like PBS or the BBC) obligated to broadcast in the public interest) -- but this year they pulled out (apparently at the last minute) and so the award was broadcast on secondary channels, the equivalent of getting bumped from network TV to cable. Hard not to see this as a sign that literature isn't being taken seriously.
       The official statement by the Börsenverein is now available; they were not pleased.

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12 October 2004 - Tuesday

Singapore Literature Prize | Making Korean literature accessible | A bit more Jelinek
Ask Neal Stephenson | MobyLives ! MobyLives !

       Singapore Literature Prize

       David Chew calls it "prestigious", but it seems to have had a hard time establishing itself as such. Still, as he reports in Today, Singapore Literature Prize shortlist revealed:
The prestigious prize returns this year after a four-year hiatus. It was started in 1992 by the SNP Corp for unpublished authors. The company stopped funding it in 1999. It was re-launched in 2000 by Sydney-based bookstore Dymocks but support dried up the same year when Dymocks ceased operations here.
       But it's back ! -- and has shortlists in four languages. The Today article only bothers with the English-language titles, but see the official site for the Chinese. Malay, and Tamil shortlists too. (For extra fun, check out the official rules in, for example, Tamil.)

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       Making Korean literature accessible

       Another interesting attempt to attract some foreign-reader-interest in Korean literature: Yang Sung-jin reports in The Korea Herald that Bilingual Korean story series hits shelves:
Hollym, a publication house specializing in Korean studies, history, culture and language books, attempts to change the long-standing prejudice with an audacious 10-part short story series, all translated from Korean.
       Audacious !
       Actually, it does sound pretty good. Check out some of the titles in the Hollym catalogue -- or see for example the publicity page for Yi Mun-yol's Twofold Song.
       We might try to get our hands on some of these.

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       A bit more Jelinek

       We offered batches of Elfriede Jelinek-links here and here. Also of interest, a couple from the new Profil (Austria's top weekly).
       She gave them an interview -- which they nicely headline: "Habe gebetet, dass ich ihn nicht bekomme" ("I prayed I wouldn't get it") -- which turns out to be a slightly edited version of her actual response:
profil: Haben Sie eigentlich irgendwann geahnt, dass Sie den Literaturnobelpreis tatsächlich erhalten könnten ?
Jelinek: Nein, überhaupt nicht. Ich weiß zwar, dass ich seit Jahren auf irgendwelchen Listen stehe, aber ich habe nie ernstlich damit gerechnet. Ich habe auch ein bisschen gebetet, dass ich ihn nicht bekomme, weil ich furchtbare Angst habe, mein zurückgezogenes Leben -- zumindest eine Zeit lang -- nicht so weiterführen zu können, wie ich möchte. Ich scheue die Öffentlichkeit extrem, und ich hoffe, dass man mir trotzdem erlauben wird, privat zu bleiben. Ich will keine öffentliche Person sein.

(profil: Did you ever have any idea that you would actually get the Nobel literature prize ?
Jelinek: No, never. I know that I've been on some lists for years, but I never seriously expected it. I also prayed a little that I wouldn't get it, because I am terribly afraid I could not continue to live -- at least for a while -- my secluded life in the way I wanted. I dread the public life in the extreme, and I hope I will be allowed to continue to remain private. I don't want to be a public person.)
       As to why she got the prize:
profil: Sehen Sie den Preis auch als Anerkennung für Ihr politisches Engagement ?
Jelinek: Das hat man mir zu verstehen gegeben.

(profil: Do you also see the prize as recognition of your political engagement ?
Jelinek: That's what I was given to understand.)
       Apparently, also, the big money isn't in paperbacks in Germany -- and journalists are still capable of asking the stupidest questions:
profil: Was wird sich für Sie nun ändern ? Gehen Sie von einer Steigerung der Verkaufszahlen Ihrer Bücher aus ?
Jelinek: An den Büchern verdiene ich ja sowieso nicht viel. Das sind alles Taschenbücher. Aber ich freue mich natürlich über jeden Leser mehr.

(profil: What's going to change for you ? Do you assume there will be an increase in your book-sales ?
Jelinek: I don't make much off the books anyway. They're all paperbacks. But naturally, I'm happy about every additional reader.)
       And for the American publishers bidding for her rights, note:
Die Kinder der Toten ist sicher mein wichtigstes Werk. Es enthält alles, was ich sagen wollte; es hätte eigentlich genügt, dieses eine Buch zu veröffentlichen.

(Die Kinder der Toten ('The Children of the Dead') is certainly my most important work. It contains everything that I wanted to say; it would have sufficed to publish just that one book.)
       Die Kinder der Toten has not yet been translated into English; see also the Rowohlt publicity page or get your own copy at

       Profil also offers a thorough article on Jelinek winning the Nobel, as well as more reaction-commentary (both in German).

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       Ask Neal Stephenson

       At Slashdot there's an opportunity to Ask Neal Stephenson: submit your question (as many, many, many people already have), and they'll "send him 10 -12 of the highest-moderated questions and post his answers verbatim when we get them back."
       We have most of his books under review (most recently The System of the World) -- but no questions.

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       MobyLives ! MobyLives !

       It's back ! MobyLives !

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11 October 2004 - Monday

Esterházy gets Peace Prize | Necessary Translations event | Oskar Pastior review
SZ Bibliothek | Miracle ?

       Esterházy gets Peace Prize

       Part of the Frankfurt book fair fun is the ceremony for the awarding of the German booksellers' association's peace prize (the Friedenspreis des deutschen Buchhandels). The winner -- Péter Esterházy -- was announced many months ago, but now they've finally handed over the prize. The official site has (quite odd) excerpts/summaries of the various speeches -- including Esterházy's acceptance speech and Michael Naumann's laudatio.
       DeutschWelle writes about Honoring a European Troublemaker, while Joachim Güntner describes the festivities in today's issue of the NZZ, noting they were Amüsant wie nie; apparently, it was a more light-hearted affair than in previous years (recall that last year Susan Sontag won ...).

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       Necessary Translations event

       Those in New York city might want to go to an event at The Kitchen, A New Place on the Map: Archipelago Books (Tuesday, 12 October, at 19:00). It is part of the three-part Necessary Translations-series. It's an evening to celebrate the eminently worthy Archipelago Books; our review of their very tempting new publication, Gombrowicz's Bacacay, is forthcoming sometime in the next few weeks.

       (Plan ahead for part three of the Necessary Translations-series too, where the impressive line-up of Alexander Kluge, Paul Auster, and Eliot Weinberger celebrate New Voices from a Literary Landmark: New Directions Press !)

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       Oskar Pastior review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Oskar Pastior's o du roher iasmin -- which we suspect most of you are not going to rush out and get (even though it comes with a CD !). For one, it's in German -- sort of. But we find it hard to pass up any Oulipo works, and this was the first Pastior volume we've managed to get our hands on.
       He's an interesting guy: born 1927, in the German-speaking part of Romania, he only emigrated to the West in the 1960s, and he bridges Romanian surrealism and the Oulipo (and adds a Germanic touch to the otherwise very Francophile group) Only one book has been translated into English: Many Glove Compartments, translated by Harry Mathews, Christopher Middleton, and Rosmarie Waldrop (see the Burning Deck publicity page). See reviews in Jacket and the Boston Review (scroll down) for some sense of what that's all about -- and also the poem From Höricht, translated by Christopher Middleton.

       (Speaking of Oulipo books and the like: do check out MadInkBeard, one of our favourite niche-blogs, focussing on constrained writing.)

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       SZ Bibliothek

       In the International Herald Tribune Carter Dougherty wonders: Is new kind of best seller handicapping German literature ?:
In March, SZ Bibliothek, part of the Munich-based newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung, brought out a 50-volume set of 20th-century novels in hardback for €4.90, or $6, each.
Ranging from a 661-page edition of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose to the trim 93 pages of Arthur Schnitzler's Traumnovelle, the model for the movie Eyes Wide Shut, the books have sold at a blazing pace -- five million in seven months.
       What we're most impressed by is the list of books in this Süddeutsche Zeitung Bibliothek: pretty damn impressive -- and thus all the more surprising that they've sold so well. Though we always imagine that books -- like most other products -- are price-sensitive -- and currently way overpriced. I.e. if you lower the price to a reasonable level, you'll shift a lot more units.

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       Miracle ?

       The 10 October issue of The New York Times Book Review has reviews of two books (out of 26 total covered) originally written in foreign languages ! And we though they'd given up on them completely.
       Okay, only one is a real review, of Saramago's The Double, -- the other is one of the books in the science fiction round-up (a work first published in the 1840s, no less) -- but still. Maybe there is hope. (Maybe only for Nobel laureates and the odd quirky genre title, but still -- we feel reasonably (if not entirely) sure that they'll cover the forthcoming translation of Imre Kertész's Liquidation (though we have our doubts they'll bother with any other translated works until then).)

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