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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 November

1 November: New crQ | Larkin's mower | The Legends of Khasak translations
2 November: Jelinek's Kafka Prize | Celebrity miniature book auction
3 November: Australian Lending Right scheme | Wolf's Why Globalization Works | Brecht review
4 November: What are they thinking ? | CR statistic update | Foreign bookstore
5 November: UK libel laws | Poetry reviews at PW | New RCF
6 November: Kertész reviews | More Gilgamesh | One more Man Booker judge talks | Pullman on reading and democracy
7 November: Winterson's deli
8 November: Jelinek's Nobel lecture | Bestseller articles
9 November: Kertesz turns 75 | Goncourt and Renaudot | Luton goes literary ?
10 November: Louise Glück | German-Israeli-Palestinian Writers' Congress | Kirino review

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10 November 2004 - Wednesday

Louise Glück | German-Israeli-Palestinian Writers' Congress | Kirino review

       Louise Glück

       In the Yale Daily News Stephanie Speirs reports that Gluck waxes poetic on work. At a "Calhoun Master's Dessert Monday" Glück entertained with some poetry, and offered some good poet laureate gossip:
During her talk, Gluck also discussed her mixed thoughts on the selection process for awarding a poet with the title of poet laureate. Gluck was the 2003-2004 recipient of this award, bestowed by the Library of Congress.

"Anytime something is given to you by a group of poets, it's exciting," Gluck said.

But she said two representatives of the Library of Congress choose the poet laureate based on polls, eminence, skin color, geographical distribution and gender.

"There have been some extraordinary poet laureates and there have been unextraordinary ones," Gluck said. "Of the things that have to do with public honor that I've received, that one was way low on the list."
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       German-Israeli-Palestinian Writers' Congress

       From 7 November to today the Landeszentrale für politische Bildung Rheinland-Pfalz ('Rheinland Pfalz State Office for Political Education' -- yes, there really is such a thing) is holding the seventh Deutsch-Israelisch-Palästinensische Autorentreffen. Deutsche Welle reports that this Literary Initiative Promotes Mideast Peace, and despite the cumbersome name and out of the way location (Landau ?!?) it sounds like an admirable undertaking.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Kirino review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Kirino Natsuo's Out.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

9 November 2004 - Tuesday

Kertesz turns 75 | Goncourt and Renaudot | Luton goes literary ?

       Kertesz turns 75

       2002 Nobel laureate Imre Kertész turns 75 today -- and we'd suggest you celebrate by getting your hands on one of his books: the new translation of Kaddish for an Unborn Child must be out now (at least in the US), and Liquidation has been available for a couple of weeks (not that you could tell from the pathetic review coverage) -- and you can always pre-order Fatelessness.
       In The Journal News Dylan Foley predicted over the weekend: "Kertész' profile is about to shoot up in America" (link first seen at The Elegant Variation). It certainly deserves to, but we aren't exactly holding our breaths. What review-coverage there has been has tended to be of the three-for-one variety -- the ubiquitous John Freeman's review (here at the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, but soon, no doubt, appearing in newspapers across the nation) seems about as much as one can hope for. (Still, we're hoping at least one or another major American outlet is aware that it's his birthday and will offer a profile today. Meanwhile, compare with the Germans, who offered yet another in-depth interview a couple of days ago, here in the Berliner Zeitung.)

       In frustration, we have added our own Imre Kertesz page to the site -- if nothing else, a handy collection of Kertesz-links.

       The Journal News piece is also interesting, because we finally get to hear Kertész vent on the translations by Christopher and Katharina Wilson of Fateless and Kaddish for a child not born (published by Northwestern University Press in the 1990s -- and, until last month, the only Kertesz-texts available in English):
The frustrations of being mistranslated had weighed heavily on Kertész for the past decade. "I really tried to protest against the first translations, but I found complete rejection," Kertész says. "The publisher (Northwestern University) was not willing to do new translations. It was a really bad feeling. It was as if you had a very sane character who has a rendezvous with the reader and the person who shows up is basically a real jerk, with a stammer, bad breath and a foul mouth."

The first translators did their own inaccurate interpretations of his work. "The translators didn't understand what I wrote about," says Kertész, still cringing. "The radical nature of my words was something that estranged them. They thought in the interest of the reader, they would make the text more human, to round it off and chisel it a bit."

The translations of Liquidation and the two older books have Kertész' ecstatic approval. "I got carried away with Tim Wilkinson's new translations," he says. "I'm extremely overjoyed."
       Have we mentioned how we feel about translation recently ....?
       But heed the warnings, and avoid the Wilson translations (many of which are still floating around out there). And we have to say that in hindsight we're glad Northwestern University Press declined to send us copies of the books when we requested them after Kertesz won the Nobel -- and that Vintage was able to supply us with the translations Kertesz approves of. Seems it was worth the wait.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Goncourt and Renaudot

       The biggest of the many fall French literary prizes have been announced: Le soleil des Scorta by Laurent Gaudé won the Goncourt and Suite française by Irène Némirovsky won the Renaudot. The latter has been praised to the skies, but the choice was a controversial one, as the author died some six decades ago. As reported at Expatica:
Members of the Renaudot jury admitted they had to bend the rules to give the prize to Nemirovsky, who died in Auschwitz in August 1942.

"Prizes are meant to promote writers. We're not there to compensate the injustices done to people who are dead. Next year why not honour Alexandre Dumas ?" said chairman Andre Brincourt, who was outvoted by the rest of the committee.
       We're not sure about prizes being there to promote authors, but on the whole we're with Brincourt on this: you can't be giving literary awards to dead people (most prizes -- the Nobel included -- won't award prizes posthumously). But, since the rules have now been bent beyond recognition, we're looking forward to Dumas getting his due next year -- though we wouldn't mind a Balzac-upset.
       (Of course, the French do have an excessive attachment to -- and are lax in rules-enforcement regarding -- the dearly departed: this is a country, after all, where you can marry a dead person.)
       Némirovsky didn't exactly run away with the prize, either: as reported in Libération, the book won in the second round of voting, and even then only six to four (three votes going to Les menteurs by Marc Lambron and one to Poétique de l'égorgeur by Philippe Ségur).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Luton goes literary ?

       Oh, the base uses literature is put to: Arifa Akbar reports in The Independent today: Nice 'ere, innit ? Luton goes literary in a bid to drop the 'crap town' label. Yes, after coming out tops in a survey of "the 50 most awful places in the country", Luton thinks the way to improve its image is to get writers to write nice things about it. Understandable that they'd need fiction-writers to do the dirty work if it really is such a crap town -- that's harder to disguise on film, for example.
Aspiring novelists have been invited to take a tour of Luton in the hope that it will inspire them to write a short story for a proposed paperback whose working title is Junction 10.
       And then:
The writers who send in the 20 most promising one-page synopses will be invited to take part, and 10 of the best will be featured in a compendium published next year. Its proceeds will be donated to charity. Tony Edwards, of Luton First, said the initiative would offer a rare opportunity for writers struggling to get their work published. The catch ? They have to mention the town in a positive light.
       Desperate authors who can't get their work published plus crap town ? How can this not be a winning combination ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

8 November 2004 - Monday

Jelinek's Nobel lecture | Bestseller articles

       Jelinek's Nobel lecture

       The New York Times had a brief mention on Friday, and there are (slightly) longer reports in the Austrian press (see, for example, the APA report (here at Der Standard)): a Swedish film crew recorded Elfriede Jelinek's Nobel prize lecture last weekend, so it can be broadcast at the ceremonies in Stockholm on 10 December. (Jelinek's pathological crowd-phobia prevents her from going in person.)
       The speech is titled: "Im Abseits", which means both 'marginalized' and 'to be off-sides' (as in football/soccer). The report says she doesn't talk about politics (and doesn't even mention Austria) in the lecture, but rather focusses on the author in society:
Es geht darum, dass man als Autor immer draußen, not drinnen ist. Weil man nicht leben kann, muss man schreiben.

(It's about the fact that as an author one is always outside, never inside. Because one can't live, one has to write.)
       There's also a new good, extensive interview in the FAZ. No mention of the lecture, but she does discuss why she can't go:
Ich würde meine persönliche Anwesenheit in Stockholm gar nicht verkraften. Ich würde sterben. Wenn die Türen zugingen in diesem Raum mit den vielen Menschen, würde ich tot umfallen.

(I wouldn't be able to cope with my personal presence in Stockholm. I would die. When the doors would close in that room with the many people, I would keel over dead.)
       Which sounds both a bit melodramatic and really cool to us -- what a way to go !

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Bestseller articles

       In The Washington Post Marina Krakovsky writes about Making Books, offering some bestseller-list background. Similarly, Sean Rocha recently wondered What's With All the "National Best Sellers"? at Slate (an article that had originally appeared 17 June, but was pulled because of all the mistakes it contained, and was finally re-posted in corrected form after four months of fact-checking, on 15 October).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

7 November 2004 - Sunday

Winterson's deli

       Winterson's deli

       On her website last month Jeanette Winterson mentioned her next venture, to open a shop in her London House, "an Italian deli called VERDE`S". Katy Guest now offers more details, in Author of 'Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit' opens home as delicatessen in the Independent on Sunday. She reports:
When Winterson initially reconstructed the house, planning permission was needed to convert it for residential use. Now it has been converted back again. Winterson's local council, Tower Hamlets, confirms that she has recently received planning permission to use the basement and ground floor as a retail outlet and, mystifyingly, as a venue for offering "financial and professional services".
       Diversification is always a wise investment strategy; still, this sounds pretty bizarre -- especially since she apparently expects to spend some time as shop-girl too. We would have thought she has better things to do (although some reviewers of her work would disagree).
       On her site Winterson explains (?):
Why am I doing it ? Life is too short not to do things.
       Well, this certainly sounds like it qualifies as 'things' .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

6 November 2004 - Saturday

Kertész reviews | More Gilgamesh | One more Man Booker judge talks
Pullman on reading and democracy

       Kertész reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two novels by 2002 Nobel laureate Imre Kertész that have recently been re-translated, Kaddish for an Unborn Child (which should just have hit US bookstores) and Fatelessness (due out in early December).
       Interesting publication-schedule by Random House: first Liquidation and then these two, in that order -- the reverse order in which these three books were written. As it turns out, Fatelessness is completely different from what came later -- but a solid foundation. In this first autobiographical fiction, Kertész describes his concentration camp experiences, experiences that have completely informed his life and work. But in style and approach it's a very different book -- solid enough, but not the artistic achievements that the later books are. (Here is another case -- as is currently popular sport re. newly minted Nobelist Elfriede Jelinek (see, e.g. below) -- of an author one should not judge on the basis of simply this or that work.)
       The books are appearing out of order, and even though Fatelessness is the obvious starting point, we can't really blame Random House: it would be tempting and easy to peg him as just another Holocaust author on the basis of it; if that had been our first encounter with his work, we likely would have been far more reluctant to turn to the rest of his work -- but while Fatelessness is a good book, his greatness only really surfaces in the others.

       Interesting translation notes re. Fatelessness: as we've mentioned before, this had been previously published in English translation, by Christopher and Katharina Wilson as Fateless in 1992 -- but it turns out it also went through two German translations, in 1990 and 1996. In addition, in her review in World Literature Today (Fall/1993) of the Wilson translation, Clara Gyorgyey writes:
This is its first published English version -- and the most adequate so far. Several earlier attempts by different translators had been rejected by the author as "overstated" or "too sophisticated."
       This is noteworthy for a number of reasons: beside the fact that the Wilson translation has not exactly been enthusiastically received, Fatelessness appears to be among the most approachable of Kertész's texts -- so if there were difficulties with this one (and, with the multiple translations it sure looks like there were) then one wonders about the later work .....

       Interesting also the reactions to Fatelessness, as it raises the question of how one can and/or should react to such a text. Presented as a fiction it is nevertheless obviously autobiographical. The narrator's name isn't the same as the author's but his camp identification number is. Most of the critics we've read go out of their way to praise the book for its authenticity -- not it's realism, but for the fact that it is obviously 'authentic' (odd praise, it strikes us, for a work of fiction). Literary judgements seem to have been decidedly secondary considerations -- the one possible exception being Peter Sherwood's review; we haven't seen it, but in his Kertesz piece in the 18 October 2002 TLS George Szirtes writes:
Fateless was reviewed in the TLS on January 15, 1993, by Peter Sherwood, who placed it in a body of work whose strengths were more sociological than literary.
       Which seems exactly right to us -- but few seem willing to come out and say that.

       Finally: poor show from the British publishers, who will only get around to publishing these titles next year.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More Gilgamesh

       We mentioned Stephen Mitchell's new Gilgamesh-rendering (and the edition we want to get our hands on) a couple of weeks back. The book continues to grab (British) attention: Boyd Tonkin writes about The reckless ventures of a fierce leader in his 'A Week in Books' column in The Independent, while James Fenton "chooses between versions of Gilgamesh" in Signs of the times in The Guardian.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       One more Man Booker judge talks

       In Varsity Archie Bland gets Robert Macfarlane to talk about How to choose a Booker Prize winner. Choice titbits include:
"I would have been extremely happy if Matt Thorne’s Cherry and Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell hadn’t made the long list," he grumbles, and "The book which should have been on the shortlist instead of Sarah Hall was Ronan Bennett’s Havoc In Its Third Year"

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Pullman on reading and democracy

       The Guardian offers an extract from the forthcoming issue of Index on Censorship, The war on words by Philip Pullman. He argues:
It isn't belief in God that causes the problem. The root of the matter is quite different. It is that theocracies don't know how to read, and democracies do. (...) My third and final charge against the theocracies, atheist or religious, and their failure to read properly is this: that the act of true reading is in its very essence democratic.
       And he's concerned about the United States (as everyone should be), closing with the warning:
It is quite easy for democracies to forget how to read.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

5 November 2004 - Friday

UK libel laws | Poetry reviews at PW | New RCF

       UK libel laws

       At The Bookseller Gibson Square Books publisher Martin Rynja writes about The right and wrongs of libel, focussing on Craig Unger's House of Bush House of Saud. Among the points of interest: Amazon's (UK and US) handling of the book.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Poetry reviews at PW

       At Poets & Writers Kevin Larimer writes about how Publishers Weekly planned to stop publishing its monthly 'Poetry Forecast' section but reversed itself in the face of complaints from all those affected, in Grassroots Effort Saves Poetry Reviews (link first seen at Bookninja).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       New RCF

       Another batch of reviews is available, from the latest issue of The Review of Contemporary Fiction.
       You may also want to get the print-copy (contents, other than the reviews, not available online): devoted to William H. Gass, it includes pieces by, among others, Robert Coover, Rikki Ducornet, Joanna Scott, John Barth, Ingo Schulze, Paul West, and Walter Abish.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

4 November 2004 - Thursday

What are they thinking ? | CR statistic update | Foreign bookstore

       What are they thinking ?

       In discussing Ruth Franklin's recent piece regarding Elfriede Jelinek receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature (in the 1 November issue of The New Republic) we mentioned: "we can't wait to see what The New Criterion has to say about her ....." (i.e. Jelinek). Well, we didn't have to wait long -- and we weren't disappointed, at least in the sense of finding exactly what we expected. But we are, yet again (after the Franklin piece and the Stephen Schwartz piece) disappointed by the level of discourse and the complete failure to engage with the subject (indeed, the failure to even treat it with the slightest respect -- by, for example, actually considering more than two or three of her works).
       So: The New Criterion weighs in with a note asking: What were they thinking ? in their November issue. Insightful criticism ? An actual examination of her work ? Hardly. What we find instead is the by now usual very casual mention of a few of her works, the conspicuous absence of any discussion of what Jelinek has repeatedly called by far her most important work (the novel Die Kinder der Toten ('The children of the dead')), and a few cheap shots.
       The attacks include this sort of stuff:
Laureates like Toni Morrison, Dario Fo, and José Saramago cheapen the Nobel Prize. But this year’s laureate, the Austrian novelist and playwright Elfriede Jelinek (born 1946), marks a new low. It is likely that you hadn’t heard of Jelinek before -- or, if you had, it was probably only because her sadomasochistic fantasy The Piano Teacher (1983) was made into a movie with Isabelle Huppert in 2001.
       Indeed the she's-obscure-so-she-must-be-worthless-argument seems among the most popular -- recall Franklin's TNR piece was titled: Noble Savage, with the subtitle: "Who is Elfriede Jelinek ?" (Franklin offering her answer on the basis of a tiny smattering of the author's work -- certainly part of, but a far cry from the whole picture)).
       It is, indeed, true that many American readers hadn't heard of Jelinek. English translations come courtesy of Serpent's Tail, which has faded from the American market in recent years. But, as we've repeatedly mentioned, seen globally (something provincial Americans are loth to do, especially regarding literary matters) she's long been well-known. A bestselling author in the German-speaking countries for ages, most of the Nobel-reports -- see this one, for example -- say her novels have been translated into 18 languages. That's a lot, and that doesn't happen if there's not some demand and interest out there. She's also been awarded some other prestigious prizes -- including the Czech Franz Kafka Prize just a few days ago (though it had been announced long before she was named a Nobel laureate), as we mentioned two days ago (with previous winners Philip Roth, Ivan Klíma, and Peter Nadas -- authors The New Criterion-folk may have heard of (or not) -- not bad company).
       But they don't merely rely on the you-never-heard-of-her-so-she-must-be-worthless argument, -- no, they also offer sweeping (and, since they don't appear to have looked at more than a smattering of her work either, worthless) generalizations such as: "Most of her work is a species of arty pornography." And tellingly they give an approving nod to Stephen Schwartz's comments (though they don't focus on any of his real Jelinek-comments, since even they apparently realise he is too ill-informed to have anything useful to say about her) -- possibly suggesting to some readers that he is some sort of authority on the subject (though he appears to have looked at even less of her work than they did).
       And, of course, they can confidently conclude:
The Swedish Academy has made plenty of mistakes. In choosing to honor Elfriede Jelinek it has made itself a laughingstock.
       Interestingly, the international press does not appear to concur. Given that the pieces in the three outlets that have come up with this consensus -- The New Criterion, The New Republic, and the Weekly Standard -- were all written by people who have clearly not even looked at what Jelinek says is her most important work (or, indeed, more than a truly tiny part of her voluminous output), it's hard to take them seriously. What's amazing is the nerve of them in so easily dismissing this author.
       In The New Criterion piece, as in the previous two, it's Jelinek's politics that appear to be the deciding factor. True, she's easily labelled as a 'feminist' (never mind that that might mean something very different in Austria and/or Europe than in the US), and she was a long time (Austrian) Communist Party member, -- and Bambiland isn't a rousing pro-Bush drama. True, enough 'evidence' to condemn her politically (and to ridicule her art) can be cobbled together even by these anything-but-thorough critics. But it's a very shallow case. (Of course, in a country where a man entirely lacking in substance and sense, who has caused more harm to his country than any president in recent memory, can so easily be re-elected one probably shouldn't have high expectations.)
       Author's politics are fair game, but shouldn't be the first line of offence. Text-based criticism is much easier to take seriously -- though it helps when more than a handful of texts are considered before an author is entirely written off -- think of the different conclusions one would reach about the author depending one whether one solely considered, say, either Dubliners or Finnegans Wake or Joyce's poems. Or: Wilde's Salome or The Importance of Being Earnest.
       As we've mentioned, we're not great fans of Jelinek either (though mainly because of the writing, not the politics) -- but so far we haven't read any fair criticism of her in the American press, and fairness is the least she deserves. Resounding dismissals, based on little more than (largely political, apparently) antipathy -- i.e. which essentially ignore her written work -- may be fun to read, but serve little purpose: certainly no reader comes away from especially The New Criterion piece having gained any insight into this author or her work.
       One wonders why they bother. But there are reasons: all these publications know that few of their readers will actually seek out any Jelinek-books or see any of her plays (indeed, that most would likely have to wait quite a while before they could possibly do either, since book-demand now far exceeds supply), and so the outrageous statements are likely not to be challenged (making Jelinek a safer target than actually engaging with a work or an author their readers might be familiar with). They know they can score some easy points, knowing that merely ascribing out-of-favour political stances to her -- she's a porn-spewing feminist ! she's a commie ! -- (without any closer examination of her actual stance) is probably just the thing their self-righteous audiences want to hear, absolving them from paying any more attention to those whacky Swedes and yet another unpronounceable author-name (it's 'Yelli-neck', by the way).
       Sadly, what all this means is that rather than looking to what literature might be, what authors have conceived and tried -- even when they write about things you don't like, even when they fail -- , brushing Jelinek (and her ilk) aside like this allows them to maintain the illusion of the superiority of their cozy, limited world and outlook. It's possible they are correct about Jelinek, but they haven't done nearly enough to be sure. Instead, they opt for the hasty, lazy, knee-jerk reaction; over the long term they'll lose all credibility if they continue to do that. Sadly, they know that for now they can safely fob off third-rate hackwork like this on their readers.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       CR statistic update

       Recently we posted out 1300th review, and, as we do every 100 reviews, updated a variety of site-statistics we keep track of. There's the grade distribution, for example -- no 'A+' over the past 100, but one 'C' and one 'D'.
       There's also our newer breakdown of how international we are -- i.e. how many books under review were originally written in languages other than English (44 out of the last 100, it turns out): see our update and the complete chart.
       Finally, we continue to wonder how sexist we are (and, it turns out, we continue to be very sexist). MobyLives and Beatrice both recently mentioned a piece in Women's Review, The Times is not a-changin' (scroll down) on how few books by women are reviewed in The New York Times Book Review -- and how few reviews are by women. Over the period surveyed they found that out of "807 books reviewed, only 227, or 28 percent, were authored by women" -- which is still twice (!) as good as us.
       Updating our author-sex breakdown, we found only 14.5 of the last 100 reviewed titles were by women (barely over our long-term average). This looks really sad when you consider that, for example, 12 out of the past 100 titles reviewed were by Ian Rankin .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Foreign bookstore

       35,000 books in 46 languages -- sounds good to us. That's what they offer at a new bookstore in Budapest, as reported by Duncan Welch in The Budapest Sun.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

3 November 2004 - Wednesday

Australian Lending Right scheme | Wolf's Why Globalization Works | Brecht review

       Australian Lending Right scheme

       Like Britain, Australia has Lending Right (PLR & ELR) schemes that compensate authors (and publishers) for sales ostensibly lost through library-lending. This year's results are in: Fleur Anderson writes how $17m paid out in authors' royalties (that's Australian dollars) -- but the more detailed information can be found in the Annual Report 2003-4 (warning ! pdf file !).
       Northern hemisphere readers might be surprised to learn:
Big name author Bryce Courtenay and young adults' author John Marsden dominate 13 of the top 20 Australian books held in public libraries over the past three years.
       No author got more than A$60,00, two got between A$50-59,999, two between A$40-49,000.
       Check the annual report for exciting lists filled with authors you've never heard of (if you're not Australian) who wrote "the top 100 books held in public lending libraries over the last 29 years" (and also just the last three years).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Wolf's Why Globalization Works

       We reviewed Martin Wolf's Why Globalization Works a couple of weeks ago -- and were a bit surprised by the somewhat limited American response, as it wasn't very widely reviewed in the US. Now Jaeyoung Yang reports on an author appearance at Yale (whose university press pubished the book ...) in the Yale Daily News.
       Meanwhile, another review has appeared (again: not in the US) -- Gary LaMoshi's in Asia Times. Titled Globalization's rabid defender you can guess how that goes. Still, some fun (if not entirely fair) quotes:
In Wolf's case, he treats readers to a pompous, historical tour de farce tracing the march of free-market liberalism.
The great irony is that when Wolf moves beyond platitudes and name-calling, his analysis suggests an alternative title for the book: Why Globalization Doesn't Work.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Brecht review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Bertolt Brecht's Geschichten vom Herrn Keuner - Zürcher Fassung, which includes the fifteen recently-discovered Keuner stories we've previously mentioned. (No English translation yet -- though we remind literary journal editors that presenting the first translation of the fifteen would be a nice coup -- but at least you can enjoy the City Lights volume of the Stories of Mr. Keuner.)
       If you're in the neighbourhood: probably worth checking out: a related exhibit, "Neues vom Herrn Keuner" – Brecht-Funde aus der Schweiz (3 October – 28 November).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

2 November 2004 - Tuesday

Jelinek's Kafka Prize | Celebrity miniature book auction

       Jelinek's Kafka Prize

       So after the Nobel Prize, Elfriede Jelinek has now picked up the Czech Cenu Franze Kafky -- the Franz Kafka Prize (see the AP report, here at Newsday). Or rather: not picked it up. She told the Swedes she wasn't going to the Nobel ceremony in Stockholm, and that's for a check of about US $1,400,000, and even though Prague is a lot closer, she wouldn't show up for that either -- and at US $10,000 it was probably hard to make it seem worth her while anyway (though no doubt she felt greatly honoured, etc. etc.)
       It's not exactly news that she won this thing: they announced it back in May (see, for example, this Hamburger Abendblatt report) -- what is it with European literary prizes and this ridiculous interval between announcing the winner and handing over the cash ? And it's not like this prize has existed since the time when the poor authors might have had to walk from their hometowns to pick up the prize -- it's all of four years old ..... But perhaps they figure it takes over five months to convince the winner to come and get it -- and that was still not enough time in Jelinek's case (though it might also be their insistence on calling her "Elfriede Jelinekova" that kept her away ...).
       Still: this ain't a bad prize to get -- the previous winners were heavy-hitters Philip Roth, Ivan Klíma, and Peter Nadas -- and should be another counter-example to all who think that Jelinek is some unworthy, unknown author who came out of nowhere to win the Nobel prize (remember: the Kafka-folk selected her months before the Nobel-announcement).

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       Celebrity miniature book auction

       Another Sotheby's auction of semi-literary curiosities: they had a charity auction of miniature books for the 999 Club yesterday: miniature books written by a fairly impressive list of celebrities. See the decent catalogue (warning ! pdf file !), as well as a Charlotte Higgins' article Ali, Beckham and Thatcher sketch and scribble for charity in The Guardian. Lots of literary types also involved: Seamus Heaney, Andrew Motion, Harold Pinter, J.K.Rowling, Salman Rushdie, Tom Stoppard, and Derek Walcott.

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1 November 2004 - Monday

New crQ | Larkin's mower | The Legends of Khasak translations

       New crQ

       The new issue of the complete review Quarterly is now available. The centre- (and nearly only) piece is Nicholson Baker's Checkpoint: The Reactions and Reviews -- at nearly 14,000 words, probably more than you care to know.

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       Larkin's mower

       Okay, we think it's sort of cool, but isn't this taking literary fetishization just a couple of notches too far ? The British Library will have an exhibit 5 November to 10 April 'The Writer in the Garden' (currently still advertised on their forthcoming exhibit page). Among the exhibits ? As Anthony Barnes describes in the Independent on Sunday in Larkin's 'mower' letters go on show they're exhibiting his lawn-mower and:
Now a 17-month correspondence between the poet Philip Larkin and a lawnmower company in which he details his gripes about a new machine are to go on display this week.

The letters, to be exhibited at the British Library from Friday, appear to show he was so upset by the incident that he could not bear to use the Qualcast Commodore any longer. He bought a replacement from East Yorkshire Mowers but struggled to get the machine to operate efficiently, prompting a barrage of letters to the company.
       The incident in question was, of course, immortalised in his poem The Mower.

       For a less Larkin-focussed preview of the show, see this piece in the Daily Telegraph.

       (Updated - 6 November): See now also Harry Mount's article, Larkin's mower cuts his rivals down to size, in the Daily Telegraph.

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       The Legends of Khasak translations

       O.V.Vijayan's The Legends of Khasak is a Malayalam classic (that's Malayalam -- not Malay --, the language mainly spoken in India's south-western state of Kerala). Written in the 1960s, the author himself translated it into English in the 1990s -- which makes one (or at least us) generally feel about as comfortable as one can be with a translation, at least regarding seeing to it that author's intentions are properly rendered.
       We reviewed (and recommended) it last year; we return to it now because a reader made us aware that a French translation has now come out (as has a German one -- some agent did a good job with The Legends of Khasak in 2004). The reader noted -- emphatically (how well some of you know us) -- that the translation was from the original Malayalam (see the Fayard publicity page) -- which did impress us, since the Germans hadn't managed that trick (see the Insel information page, where they note that it is rendered from the "indischen Englisch" (the 'Indian English'), i.e. offered as a second-hand translation of the sort we've often railed against).
       And this is where it gets interesting: see, even though Vijayan himself translated his novel, that version is a controversial one. E.V.Ramakrishnan has some pretty strong words to say about it in Translation as Literary Criticism:
The nature of addressivity in the fictional text of Khasak undergoes a complete change in its translation. The Malayalam original uses a large number of speech genres that may be traced to the caste differences in the lively sub-culture of a rural locality situated in the interiors of Palghat that borders on Tamil Nadu. In his translation these dialects are rendered opaque and the caste differences are projected on to religious differences.


It is not merely a question of political correctness. By the time Vijayan came to translate Khasak, he was a changed person who had turned deeply spiritual. The transgressions of Khasak which made it a radical text in Malayalam could have well appeared pedantic and trivial in English where the realm of restricted production is largely occupied by apolitical, pan-Indian texts.
       All of which leads to the bizarre situation that the French text may actually be closer to the original than Vijayan's own English translation. (That's probably just wishful thinking -- with to-be-expected bad luck the French translator probably consulted the English rendering, to see how Vijayan had 'solved' various issues ..... Still, there's a pretty good academic paper lurking in here somewhere.)

       The success of The Legends of Khasak is noteworthy. True, it's an obvious text to translate if you're interested in Malayalam literature, but that's not usually something French and German publishers are looking for. It was featured at UNESCO's useful Clearing House for Literary Translation site, Literature and Translation -- good job if that's how they came to it.

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