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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 December 2005

11 December: Whitbread dumps book awards | Nobel ceremony | Indian reactions | Autumn of the Phantoms review
12 December: Project Gutenberg interview | Pamuk: fact v. fiction | New York best lists | 20 best Swiss ? | Post-earthquake book burning | A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian review
13 December: Richard & Judy's next ten | NZ book biz | Explorers of the New Century review
14 December: Pamuk support | Beyond 'El Boom' | Pepetela reviews
15 December: The Pamuk trial | Year-end lists
16 December: Ibrahim al-Koni and Desert Literature | Naguib Mahfouz Award | Мастер и Маргарита on TV | Stoppard in Russia | Julián Marías (1914-2005) | The Penelopiad review | More on Pamuk
17 December: Book covers | Golshiri Literary Awards | Embracing Family review
18 December: NYTBR review policies | The year in Mauritian literature | On Achebe in exile | The Independent best books list
19 December: Barnes' Booker experiences | Rankin on 'literary snobs' | Indian reading | Speak for England review
20 December: The New Yorker's Int'l Fiction issue: Overview - Ismail Kadare | New Directions spring offerings | Pinter in Iran ? | More on Lolita | UV review

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20 December 2005 - Tuesday

The New Yorker's Int'l Fiction issue: Overview - Ismail Kadare
New Directions spring offerings | Pinter in Iran ? | More on Lolita | UV review

       The New Yorker's Int'l Fiction issue: Overview

       This week's issue (and next's -- it's a double-issue) of The New Yorker is the much-anticipated (at least among a few literary weblogs) 'International Fiction'-issue -- and a nice selection of international stuff is, indeed, on offer. No big risks -- hey, it's The New Yorker --, indeed no (to us) unfamiliar names and few we'd never read: Ogawa Yoko, with no English translations of any of her books available yet, is about as unknown as any of the authors get. With offerings by or about two Nobel laureates (a Knut Hamsun profile, a Szymborska poem), the recent Man Booker International Prize winner (a story by Ismail Kadare), and a (previously unavailable in English) story by Vladimir Nabokov it is very, very big names that dominate.
       We can't really complain -- too much. Conversational Reading says: "the offerings online are a let-down" and from a certain perspective -- hoping new vistas will be opened -- they are. Still, we find it hard to complain about any new piece by Nabokov, and while Kadare isn't new on the scene we can't complain about that either. The only issue we have with the fiction on offer is that it all smells too much of publisher tie-in: beside the Nabokov, a new Kadare-translation has just been released and -- guess what ? -- books by the other story-authors (Roberto Bolano, Ogawa, and Tahar Ben Jalloun) are due out in the next six months. In the case of the Bolano it really is a preview -- the story is from the forthcoming story-collection.
       Aside from the five stories there are other goodies too: the Hamsun profile, and Laura Miller profiling Philip Pullman (see also our review of His Dark Materials), and Louis Menand's review of James English's much-discussed The Economy of Prestige (which we hope to get to eventually) and Pascale Casanovaís The World Republic of Letters (see also our review).
       Hardly cutting edge, but a lot of considerable interest.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The New Yorker's Int'l Fiction issue: Ismail Kadare

       Ismail Kadare's story in the current issue of The New Yorker, The Albanian Writers' Union as Mirrored by a Woman, naturally caught our eye -- but also on offer (online) is a Q & A fiction editor Deborah Treisman had with Kadare, Found in Translation.
       Given our long-standing interest in the translation-issues surrounding Kadare-in-English (his work is (in)famously available in English almost entirely in second-hand translation, via the French; see our crQ-pieces Twice Removed: The Baffling Phenomenon of the Translated and then Re-Translated Text and The Englishing of Ismail Kadare: Notes of a retranslator by David Bellos) we hoped these would be addressed. Alas, while there's a good deal of interest here, the subject isn't broached. Yet Kadare notes in closing:
It is true that I enjoy a wider readership in France, but I think all European authors have a harder time achieving recognition in the English-speaking world.
       The double-translation issue surely might play a role in that, no ? (Separate from the general foreign-authors-in-the-English-speaking-world problem .....)
       Even the most recent English-language publication of a Kadare novel -- The Successor -- went the Albanian-French-English route (via Tedi Papavrami and then David Bellos). So it's all the more impressive that the story published in The New Yorker comes more or less straight from the Albanian, translated by Robert Elsie, "with the editorial contribution of David Bellos".
       In a way it seems the ideal way of presenting Kadare's work: Kadare is a longtime resident of France and, as Treisman reminded us, a fluent French-speaker -- and the French edition of his collected works is pretty much the definitive one -- so one can hardly ignore the French versions when considering his work. (Comparisons to Kundera, who has also re-worked some of his fiction, are not out of order -- though Kundera has, of course, now actually turned to writing in French, while Kadare still writes in Albanian.) The French versions of Kadare's work may not be the 'originals', but at the very least point the way to what should be considered definitive.
       In an e-mail to us Treisman noted:
I think the Kadare translation worked particularly well because Bellos was able to enlist Kadare's help with the various edits and cuts we made. The original story is somewhat longer than the version we ran, and it was invaluable to have someone fluent in English to help go through and authorize changes with Kadare himself.
       We're not entirely convinced -- and cringe at those 'cuts' and 'edits' (which might have rated a mention in the magazine as well ...) -- but she's probably right: involving two translators in this way, in this particular situation -- and with Kadare's feedback -- probably is about as good a translation-situation as you're going to get.
       (The French version was published a couple of years back, as one of the three 'microromans' in L'envol du migrateur (get your copy at Amusingly enough, Robert Elsie reviewed that volume (for World Literature Today (issue of Spring 2002)). And, by the way: his website -- at -- is a must-visit for anyone interested in Albanian literature (and one of the nice things about our eclectic readership is that we know there are quiote a few of you who are).)

       The ultimate point, of course, is the story itself, and you should read it -- it's a curious but appealing piece.

       Not all international fiction is fiction in translation (English is a popular language to write in). Sam Tanenhaus' preferred approach at The New York Times Book Review is to avoid covering translated titles at almost all cost (the 18 December issue has reviews (in one form or another) of 26 adult titles, and not a one was originally written in a foreign language -- though he lets a translated kid's title slip in), but Treisman -- herself a translator -- and the whole New Yorker-crew show a finer touch, offering coverage of and from a nice mix of English and foreign-language authors (in what is admittedly a 'special' (i.e, out of the ordinary) international issue). However, the popular approach, here and almost everywhere, seems pretty much to try to make translation invisible -- including by not drawing attention to the fact that a second (or, in the case of the Kadare, a third) hand was involved. We're less and less convinced that that's the way to go -- or do readers really not want to be bothered ?
       Treisman reminded us that a couple of weeks back considerable space had been devoted to translation issues in The New Yorker (David Remnick on 'The Translation Wars'; see our mention) and noted:
If we were a quarterly or a journal with less limited space, there'd certainly be an argument for commenting on the questions of translation alongside the translations themselves, but in one of only two fiction issues a year, with a limited page budget, I tried to conserve as much space as I could for the fiction itself, especially given, as I said, the fact that the magazine had recently published a long piece on translation. Any additional commentary would have cost me a story and the chance to showcase one of the writers in the issue
       Fair enough -- though we wonder whether literature originally written in a foreign language will ever be widely accepted if the translation issues aren't also openly (and as a matte of course) addressed.
       For now, though, we're glad for anything we can get -- and the international double issue looks like it will keep us happy for a couple of vacation-days.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       New Directions spring offerings

       The New Directions spring catalogue came in the mail today, and while we generally don't like to make your mouths water with titles that won't be available for months yet we can't resist. For one because a recent (if not the latest) Antonio Tabucchi-work is on offer, the epistolary novel, It's Getting Later All the Time (in a translation by Alastair McEwen) -- pre-order your copy at or
       Other we-can-hardly-wait titles include Laszlo Krasznahorkai's War and War (pre-order at or and the second volume of Javier Marías Your Face Tomorrow-trilogy (see our review of volume one).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Pinter in Iran ?

       As widely reported, Iran's President Bans Western Music (AP report, here at the San Francisco Chronicle) -- but some Western things are apparently still acceptable: MehrNews report that: Poetry of Nobel laureate Pinter to be discussed in Tehran.
The poetry of Harold Pinter, the 2005 Nobel Laureate for Literature, will be discussed at the 140th session of Iran's Literature Foundation on December 24.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More on Lolita

       At Slate Stephen Metcalf wonders: Is Nabokov's masterpiece still shocking ? -- and finds:
Lolita turns 50 this year, and having stayed so perverse, it remains fresh as ever. To fully appreciate its perversity, though, one must first appreciate that it is not obscene.
       (See also our review of Lolita.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       UV review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Serge Joncour's UV.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

19 December 2005 - Monday

Barnes' Booker experiences | Rankin on 'literary snobs'
Indian reading | Speak for England review

       Barnes' Booker experiences

       In The New York Times Magazine yesterday Deborah Solomon has a Q & A with Julian Barnes. One of her question addressed his novel Arthur & George making the Man Booker shortlist but losing out to The Sea by John Banville: "Was that painful for you ?" she asked.
       Barnes at least takes the right approach to the way the prize works:
I didn't rate my chances, because I didn't look at the other books. I looked at the jury.
       Right he is: that's the way to look at the entirely subjective exercise that literary prize-giving is.
       He also offers what was surely a more painful memory, from his 1984-shortlisting:
When I was first short-listed for the Booker Prize, it was for my novel Flaubert's Parrot. And afterward one of the judges came up to me and said, "I had never heard of Flaubert until I read your novel." He was a member of Parliament.
       Perhaps Barnes has forgotten his name, but we're glad to provide it: among the 1984 judges surely only Ted Rowlands -- now Baron Rowlands ! -- was an MP (Labour, for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney).
       Now, on the one hand, it is absolutely flabbergasting that a judge for any literary prize should not know who Flaubert was (what the hell kind of schooling did this guy have not to have even heard of him ?), but, on the other hand, discovering him later in life and through Barnes' book must also be a pretty neat experience.

       (Speaking of Flaubert: don't forget that that new translation of Bouvard and Pécuchet is now available for your reading pleasure .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Rankin on 'literary snobs'

       Ian Rankin wants more respect -- for crime-writers. In The Independent Jason Bennetto reports Crime writers are denied prizes by literary snobs, says Rankin:
He said: "Most of us [crime writers] are selling much more than any more 'literary' author could hope for so they can be as snooty as they like.

"The best crime writing is as good as anything else in the literary canon, and right now crime writers around the world are confronting society's deepest problems, worries and uncertainties in a way the 'literary' novel sometimes avoids."
       Not exactly a new complaint, but always good for some lively discussion .....
       Apparently: "His comments were in response to the question of whether a crime novel is ever likely to win the Man Booker prize" -- and:
He said that his books had probably been considered for the Man Booker prize, which is currently worth £50,000. "I'm sure I've got looked at by the Booker judges from time to time," he said. "And if they gave me a Booker, I doubt I'd say no. I'm not that stupid !"
       We don't want to burst his bubble, but one of the reasons why mysteries tend not to be in the Man Booker mix is the same one why he probably hasn't ever been considered by the judges: the publishers have a strong interest in maintaining it as a 'literary' prize -- and are able to exert strong influence on what books are considered for the prize. Specifically -- as we've often reminded you ! -- the official rules limit what publishers can submit to: "two full-length novels" (4(a)). Sure, they can suggest five other titles, and the judges can even call in books the publishers don't mention, but let's get serious: the publishers push their 'serious' titles which they think have some sales-potential but could use the publicity-push making the long- or shortlist of a prestigious prize offers. Obvious bestsellers -- such as Rankin -- need not apply, and though his UK publisher, Orion, seems not do well in the Man Booker sweepstakes (it doesn't appear that a single title from the entire stable made it onto the 2005 longlist), we'd be surprised if they ever wasted one of their two allotted nomination-spots on Rankin.
       Unfortunately -- and outrageously -- neither the publishers nor the Man Booker folk reveal which books actually make up the pool from which the winner is eventually determined. But we're fairly certain Rankin has never been anywhere near it.
       It's not so much literary snobs that keep Rankin (and other crime writers) away from contenting for the Man Booker and similar prizes, it's the ridiculous (and opaque) prize-system -- almost always designed to push a certain kind of book, rather than truly finding the 'best' (as also the Barnes' experience in 1984 -- see above -- suggests).
       No doubt, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind will offer additional commentary.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Indian reading

       Outlook India again does a nice job of collecting what many prominent Indians have read over the past year, in the (bizarrely titled) Where's A Bookmark When U Need One ?
       From President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam (who is apparently: "currently reading Helen Keller's Story of My Life translated into Tamil") and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to a number of Indian writers and other personalities, it's a fun selection (including quite a few who admit not having time to read much ...).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Speak for England review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of James Hawes' Speak for England.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

18 December 2005 - Sunday

NYTBR review policies | The year in Mauritian literature
On Achebe in exile | The Independent best books list

       NYTBR review policies

       In The New York Times today their 'public editor' Byron Calame looks at the reviewing policies at the Book Review, responding specifically to complaints that so many of this year's non-fiction titles that made their 'Notable Books'-list were by writers associated with The New York Times (story reluctantly linked to at this ridiculous cookie-requiring site: here).
       The article is of some interest because it also offers an overview of the reviewing process at the NYTBR -- for example:
Incoming books first go to "previewers," who each go through 10 or so of them a week to identify books to review. Previewers write a "skip" memo on each book they reject, and it goes to Mr. Tanenhaus for a second look. He said books are most often rejected because they lack originality, are really "packaged assemblages of smaller pieces" or are "simplistic red-meat rants."
       (It's unclear why so many books originally written in foreign languages fall by the wayside, as few fit this exclusionary criteria .....)
       But the main concern is with making sure the reviewer can be counted on to be objective -- i.e. isn't too close to the author to be reviewed, or doesn't have a specific axe to grind. Apparently they use "Kenneth Starr questions" to weed out potential conflicts-of-interest -- including:
Mr. Harris uses a simple test to determine whether a relationship between a potential reviewer and the author is too close: "Do you know the names of her children ?" If the reviewer knows the names ? "It's not good."
       We haven't even bothered with the The New York Times' 'Notable' list because it is pretty worthless -- especially since it's limited to the titles actually reviewed in the NYTBR over the past twelve months, and given how many worthy titles they ignore in the first place that's just not a great pool. (Calame claims that about a thousand titles get "a stand-alone review in the section" over the course of a year, but that's only if you have a very liberal reading of 'stand-alone': full length reviews devoted solely to a single title (i.e. not including books that get brief 'reviews' in their 'chronicle' (or Crime, etc.) round-ups) certainly average less than twenty an issue (the issue of 11 December, for example, only had eight (six of those, of course, non-fiction)). In any case, naming 100 'Notable' books from such a small pool doesn't seem to be a very useful exercise -- except that it's pretty clear a book has to be pretty bad to get reviewed in the NYTBR and then not make the list.)
"A year ago," Mr. Tanenhaus told me, "my colleagues and I considered discontinuing this practice altogether and instead simply notifying readers of new books by Times staff. We set the matter aside for various reasons. Perhaps the time has come to revisit this solution." I believe that it has.
       We aren't really that concerned with all this nepotism -- we'd rather Tanenhaus focussed his attention on reviewing deserving titles (especially fiction ! and the occasional book originally written in a foreign language !).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The year in Mauritian literature

       It's good to hear, as Tiberman Sajiwan Ramyead writes in A few highlights from our literary world in the Mauritius Times, that:
The last few years have not been dull on the Mauritian literary front. During the present year (2005), as at 13th December, the National Library has received 395 books written by Mauritians.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       On Achebe in exile

       In Vanguard Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye writes about: Achebe: Another birthday in exile.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Independent best books list

       The Independent also offers a Books of the Year-list, having their reviewers and a few writers pick out their favourite reads. The usual mixed bag when you do this sort of thing, but at least a nice big selection -- by writers including John Banville, Justin Cartwright, David Mitchell, and Geoff Dyer.
       And at least one title we hadn't heard of that sorely tempts us -- David Mitchell recommending Choi In-ho's Tower of Ants (see also the Hollym publicity page).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

17 December 2005 - Saturday

Book covers | Golshiri Literary Awards | Embracing Family review

       Book covers

       Apparently they do matter -- a lot. In The Times Helen Rumbelow finds You can tell a book by its cover:
"All the research shows that consumers are very, very influenced by the covers, not necessarily to buy a book, but to pick it up," Joanna Prior, publicity and marketing director at Penguin, says
       Not quite as interesting as it could be: they also asked "the book world for covers that worked ... and some that didn't" -- though we do learn the pretty amazing fact that Kirino Natsuo's Out did very well in the UK too:
"This is a first novel, in translation, a very difficult market, but it has sold over 50,000. I think the jacket is what made it special."
       So opines Rachel Cugnoni, publishing director of Vintage books.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Golshiri Literary Awards

       The Hooshang Golshiri Cultural Foundation isn't keeping the English part of the official site up to date, but more than making up for it Syma Sayyah reports on the 5th Golshiri Literary Award Ceremoney at Payvand -- with lots of photographs.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Embracing Family review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Kojima Nobuo's 1965 novel, Embracing Family, now available in English (from Dalkey Archive Press, no less -- a rare foray into Japanese literature for them).
       It's one of the volumes in the well-subsidised Japanese Literature Publishing Project; we like what we've seen of this so far (Miyamoto's Kinshu, which New Directions brought out, is the other volume we have under review).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

16 December 2005 - Friday

Ibrahim al-Koni and Desert Literature | Naguib Mahfouz Award
Мастер и Маргарита on TV | Stoppard in Russia | Julián Marías (1914-2005)
The Penelopiad review | More on Pamuk

       Ibrahim al-Koni and Desert Literature

       At Al-Ahram Weekly Ferial J. Ghazoul profiles Tuareg novelist Ibrahim al-Koni in Desert passions, and they also offer his address at a recent International Conference on Desert Literature, Miracles of regeneration.
       Desert literature -- one doesn't hear much about that. Anyway, one of his books has been translated into English, as The Bleeding of the Stone: see the Interlink publicity page, or get your copy at or

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Naguib Mahfouz Award

       They handed out the Naguib Mahfouz Award earlier this week, though even the American University in Cairo site doesn't have anything to say about that. The only coverage so far: the picture in Al-Ahram Weekly -- fortunately with a detailed caption that notes that Youssef Abu Raya received the award for Laylat 'Urs ('Wedding Night'), which AUC Press will publish in English in 2006.
       For a bit more information about Youssef Abu Rayya, see this page.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Мастер и Маргарита on TV

       The much-anticipated TV-version of Mikhail Bulgakov's The Master and Margarita is finally set to hit Russian TV screens: Anna Malpas reports in The Moscow Times on the Box of Tricks.
       See also Rossia's official page and the IMDb page.

       (Updated - 20 December): See now also Bulgakov classic to enthral Russia by Tom Parfitt in The Guardian.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Stoppard in Russia

       We missed this last week: in The Moscow Times Anna Malpas wrote on Utopian Visions, about Tom Stoppard's recent visit to Moscow -- to announce plans for the first Russian production of The Coast of Utopia (in 2007).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Julián Marías (1914-2005)

       Julián Marías, father of leading Spanish novelist Javier Marías (see, for example, our review of the first volume of his Your Face Tomorrow) -- and a renowned literary scholar in his own right -- has passed away. The obituary in the Daily Telegraph describes him as: "the foremost disciple of the Spanish literary theorist José Ortega y Gasset"

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Penelopiad review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Margaret Atwood's retelling of the Odysseus/Penelope myth, The Penelopiad.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More on Pamuk

       Orhan Pamuk's trial is scheduled to start today, and so there's yet more coverage (though still barely a mention of the manifesto we mentioned a few days ago).

       - The Guardian's leader, In praise of... Orhan Pamuk, which notes:
the case is a sharp reminder that laws designed to protect the Turkish state against the citizen and suppress freedom of thought or expression have no place in a modern society.
       - In The Guardian Ian Traynor writes 'Terrorised' writers lament state's assault on free speech.

       - In the Independent Boyd Tonkin writes more generally on Menaces to free speech, noting:
Remember, too, that Pamuk faces a ludicrous indictment today not because of the wrath of Islam, but because he upset last-ditch champions of a rigid secular nationalism.
       - In the Boston Globe Jonathan Gorvett writes: A Turkish law that chills speech now spurs debate

       = In the Christian Science Monitor Scott Peterson writes that Free speech on trial in Turkey.

       - At OpinionJournal Matthew Kaminski is Talking Turkey.

       Finally, Hurriyet notes in Pamuk's four alternatives that it's not even clear that the trial will go ahead:
According to Yeni Şafak daily newspaper, Jusice Minister Cemil «iÁek has signaled that he might refuse to give green light to the trial of Orhan Pamuk.
       Backing down this way maight be an option. But if the trial goes ahead, our guess is: a guilty verdict and a suspended sentence.

       (Updated): And, now, indeed, the trial has been adjourned, until 7 February 2006 -- see Turk writer's insult trial halted (BBC), Trial of Turkish author Pamuk adjourned, EU watches (Reuters), and Judge Halts Trial of Turkish Novelist (Suzan Fraser for the AP, here at ABC).
       As Fraser puts it:
Judge Metin Aydin's action will force Turkey's political establishment to decide whether it is prepared to continue with a trial that is already damaging the country's case for EU membership. The European Union and human rights groups have harshly criticized the case as an attack on free speech.

If the ministry decides to proceed, the next hearing will be Feb. 7.
       We're quite disappointed, as this now might allow the Turks to sweep this trial-gone-awry under the rug on the (valid) technicality that the law Pamuk was charged with was not in effect at the time of his crime. As we constantly repeat: the problem is not that Pamuk was charged and put on trial, the problem is the law itself (the infamous 301), and by not deciding the case the Turks manage to avoid dealing with it. Now the one author that might spotlight the fact of what an offensive law this is probably gets to walk on a technicality, while the sixty-odd other Turks charged under it and similar Turkish laws can (relatively) quietly be tried and sentenced. Much better to go through with the charade and show what a ridiculous absurdity this law is; certainly, international pressure to change the law would be much greater if they put Pamuk away under it for a few months than under any other circumstances .....
       Disturbing also: the first English-language (agency) reports of the trial don't mention what a German report in FAZ does: Pamuk angegriffen und beschimpft. Pamuk's car was pelted with eggs as they left the court, and protestors tried to stop it. And while the AP report does mention "a brief scuffle", the FAZ report notes that British EU-observer Denis MacShane says he was slugged and is looking to press charges.
       FAZ also have a good editorial on today's development, Pamuks Richter -- though we don't agree that the charges should be dropped.

       (Updated - 17 December): See now also Pankaj Mishra's op-ed piece, Secular Democracy Goes on Trial, originally published in The New York Times (here at the International Herald Tribune, under a different title).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

15 December 2005 - Thursday

The Pamuk trial | Year-end lists

       The Pamuk trial

       Tomorrow Orham Pamuk goes to court, charged with denigrating his nation. EurActiv offers a good overview and introduction to this absurd situation in Novelist Pamuk's trial draws international concern (see their links, too).
       At Duke Pamuk-translator Erdağ Göknar argues that Trial of Turkish Author Orhan Pamuk Symbolic for Muslim-West Relations, saying:
"For Turkey, a prompt acquittal will signal an affirmation of principles of free speech and a willingness to continue seeking its place in the E.U. and international community," said GŲknar, who teaches Turkish language and literature. (Turkey is currently in accession talks with the European Union.) "A guilty verdict, or even a long drawn-out trial, will be a victory" for those trying to thwart trans-national cooperation.
       We're not so sure; in fact, our gut instinct is to hope that they throw the book at Pamuk and sentence him to the harshest possible penalty.
       Why ?
       Because the issue shouldn't be Pamuk's innocence or guilt on these specific charges; the issue is the stupid law he is charged with. Acquittal would leave the law on the books, and those who aren't as well-known as Pamuk would remain as vulnerable. A guilty verdict would, of course, leave the law on the books too -- but would surely also lead to international outrage that might pressure the Turks to change this offensive law.
       Sarah Rainsford's piece at the BBC, Author's trial set to test Turkey, notes as much:
Turkey implemented wide-ranging legal reforms as part of its bid for EU membership. But the new penal code still contains tight restrictions on what you can write and say.

Under Article 301 it is illegal to insult Turkishness, the Republic or most state institutions.

It is left to the prosecutor to decide what exactly constitutes an insult.
       Leaving matters to the 'discretion' of prosecutors is rarely a good idea ..... Pamuk acknowledges as much:
"If that person is not internationally known they are going to punish him and put him in prison. Article 301 should definitely be changed if Turkey rightfully -- and hopefully -- is to join the EU."
       And the best way of accomplishing that is probably by serving up Pamuk as a sacrificial lamb. Because Turkish prosecutors have not been shy about using this ridiculous law against undesirables:
There are currently more than 60 writers and publishers besides Orhan Pamuk on trial in Turkey for what EU officials call their non-violent expression of opinion.
       Amnesty International have a good overview of this in Article 301 is a threat to freedom of expression and must be repealed now ! As they note, the supposed out-clause in the law -- "Expressions of thought intended to criticize shall not constitute a crime" -- leaves too much at the discretion of the prosecutor (and then the courts). As the case of Pamuk (and many others) demonstrates, prosecutors are too easily tempted to interpret the law as suits them.
       See also Daren Butler's piece at Reuters, Pamuk case highlights Turkey limits on free speech, where he notes that at least some are focussed on the central issue:
But the EU and rights groups have urged Ankara to modify or scrap Article 301, saying it curbs freedom of expression.
       It's also worth noting that this is not a new situation: indeed there's a strong sense of déjà-vu, as a mere ten years ago Yaşar Kemal was up on similar charges for similar reasons (down to the comments being made in a German periodical !). As Elif Şafak notes in We cannot let it happen again:
Yasar Kemal once lamented. He would know the answer better than anyone. Himself an ethnic Kurd, Kemal has always been outspoken on issues of human and minority rights not only via his writing but also via his activism. In 1995 after publishing an article in Der Spiegel, he was given a suspended sentence of 20 months in prison.
       See also Jennifer Thompson's Noted author on trial in Turkey for a fuller account of that case.

       Finally, also of some interest: there's apparently some question as to exactly what law Pamuk should be charged with breaking (since 301/1 is a relatively new one): see the BIA report, Pamuk's File at the Justice Ministry's Door:
Pamuk was charged based on article 301/1 of the new Penal Code which went into effect on June 1. Now there is a chance he may be tried based on article 159 of the old Penal Code.
       We've stated this often enough, but we'll repeat it again: the problem with the Pamuk trial is not any question of his guilt or innocence, but with the fact that the Turks have this ridiculous law that 'prohibits' denigrating Turks and Turkey -- a law that does more to make the country look like a pathetic, feeble, insecure, and third-rate pseudo-state than any public pronouncements by anyone ever could. Until they get rid of this and all similar laws they don't deserve to be taken seriously -- and it will be impossible for the international community to do so.

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       Year-end lists

       We've tried to avoid the year-end and best-books lists, but eventually even we succumb. At least there are a few semi-interesting ones out there, such as:
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14 December 2005 - Wednesday

Pamuk support | Beyond 'El Boom' | Pepetela reviews

       Pamuk support

       As is widely known, Turkish author Orhan Pamuk is going on trial later this week (see again his piece on going On Trial in this week's issue of The New Yorker for most of the details). There's been widespread support for him, and one of the more impressive shows thereof came on Monday in Madrid, when a couple of authors presented a manifesto calling for the charges to be dropped.
       That was Monday. Coverage of this in the English-language press (or weblogs ...) so far ?
       Well, it was only a handful of authors throwing their weight around -- but consider the weight: three Nobel laureates -- Gabriel García Márquez, José Saramago, Günter Grass --, a few Spanish-writing authors -- Mario Vargas Llosa, Carlos Fuentes, and Juan Goytisolo. Oh yeah, and even a couple of names that a few Americans might be familiar with, like Umberto Eco, Salman Rushdie, and this John Updike fellow.
       In defense of the British and American press: coverage of this has been pretty poor generally. We can't find the manifesto printed in its entirety anywhere (the excerpt at Milenio, in Manifiesto a favor de Orhan Pamuk, is the most extensive (but not complete)) -- though you can listen to Saramago read it here (that's at the El Boomeran(g)-weblog, where it will presumably eventually be archiveed under a different URL).
       The only English-language commentary so far appears to be at NTV MSNBC, in Literary world backs Pamuk. Slightly better coverage is available in Spanish (e.g. Tres premios Nobel y relevantes autores se solidarizan con Orhan Pamuk at El Pais) and German (e.g. Unterstützung von namhaften Kollegen at Der Spiegel), but overall the coverage has been woeful.
       Given the widespread yawn over Pinter's Nobel lecture it shouldn't really surprise us that no one gives a shit when authors make some public declaration. Still: it's a sad day.

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       Beyond 'El Boom'

       In the San Francisco Chronicle Monica Campbell notes that In Mexico, young authors look beyond El Boom, an overview of and introduction to a new generation of writers.
       Among the problems they face:
Oddly enough, many of these up-and-coming young writers are largely unknown in their own country. Several factors are to blame: Many Mexicans lack the cash for books, education levels are low and there are few bookstores. About 600 exist for a population of more than 100 million, according to Arturo Ahmed, head of the Mexican Booksellers Association.
But the real problem is far bigger. "Mexico has long lacked a reading culture," says Volpi. "With few exceptions, no writer can survive here on just books." Clavel agrees. To keep financially afloat, she, like other writers, supplements her income by teaching, translating and editing. "Most writers in Mexico find themselves on the social margin," she says

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       Pepetela reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of two novels by everyone's favourite Angolan writer (well, how many other Angolan writers can you name off the top of your head ?) -- and the man with what has got to be one of the worst nom de plume ever --, Pepetela:        It's Yaka that's available in English, but we figure his long-term prospects are considerably better with the Jaime Bunda novel(s) (a second one is already out). Yes, that 'Jaime Bunda' is meant to sound like 'James Bond' (though the resemblance pretty much ends there), and it's no bad idea offering this sort of comic African anti-hero. No competition for Alexander McCall Smith's Precious Ramotswe (or Yamsina Khadra's Inspector Llob -- see our recent review of Autumn of the Phantoms), but then Angola isn't Botswana (or Algeria). French and German publishers have already taken a chance on it, and we figure some British or American publisher has just got to give it a try. Some clever marketing and this could do reasonably well. (See also the review in the African Review of Books.)

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13 December 2005 - Tuesday

Richard & Judy's next ten | NZ book biz | Explorers of the New Century review

       Richard & Judy's next ten

       The 2006 Richard and Judy Book Club titles have been announced -- enough to make these ten the hottest titles in Britain for the foreseeable future.
       Louise Jury reports that Richard and Judy name top ten books - stand by for sales bonanza in The Independent -- and, more to the point, Jack Malvern reports: Richard and Judy help authorsí bank accounts.
       Unlike last time 'round, when we had several of the titles under review, we don't have a one this time -- though we expect to get to Julian Barnes' Arthur & George if/when it shows up in the US.

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       NZ book biz

       A new survey suggests Book trade is a bestseller in New Zealand.
       Among the surprises: New Zealand-published books accounted for 56 per cent of revenue.
       Of course, the book business that's being talked about is -- as everywhere -- dominated by the stuff that doesn't get much newspaper or magazine coverage: education titles (40 per cent of the market) and professional/technical titles (27 per cent).
       Still, interesting to learn that: "It is also an expanding industry, 44 per cent of publishers saying that their business was growing."

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       Explorers of the New Century review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Magnus Mills' new novel, Explorers of the New Century (available in the UK, due out in the US March 2006).
       An interesting variety of reactions to it in the reviews -- including at least one that seems to us to read a central idea far too literally (it's not how we understood it at all ...). But this is a book where prospective readers might want to avoid the reviews: most (including ours) steer clear of revealing too much about the central twist but several say way too much -- and even those that skirt the issue arguably spoil some of the fun.

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12 December 2005 - Monday

Project Gutenberg interview | Pamuk: fact v. fiction
New York best lists | 20 best Swiss ?
Post-earthquake book burning | A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian review

       Project Gutenberg interview

       In the Wall Street Journal Vauhini Vara speaks with Michael Hart, the founder of Project Gutenberg -- which doesn't seem to be as widely feared as the Google etc. book-scanning projects.

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       Pamuk: fact v. fiction

       Orhan Pamuk's trial date approaches, and so even more attention will be paid to him and his work. In the Weekly Standard Bart J. Spruyt suggests: Read Pamuk's Novels, arguing:
Pamuk the novelist is at odds with Pamuk the political commentator: His novels make abundantly clear that modernization is never a smooth process.

       (Updated): A must-read: Orhan Pamuk comments about going On Trial in this week's issue of The New Yorker (link first seen at Bookslut).

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       New York best lists

       We've managed to pretty much ignore the many 'best' and 'notable' books lists that litter the literary pages this season, but we will point you to New York's Culture Awards - Books, which includes such categories as: 'Best Academic Book', 'Best Commercial Books', 'Best Memoir Other Than Joan Didionís', 'Best Blurb', and 'The Five Best First Sentences'. And among the 'Best Debut Novels' they suggest: Truman Capote's Summer Crossing.

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       20 best Swiss ?

       It looks more like a publishing-gimmick than canon-making endeavour, but Das Magazin (a weekly supplement included in numerous newspapers) has come up with a Schweizer Bibliothek ('Swiss Library') of twenty top Swiss titles from the 20th century (conveniently re-published in this uniform edition).
       An admirable enough idea, though it's an eclectic list: among the (few) authors widely translated into English are Max Frisch and Friedrich Dürrenmatt -- but they're represented by Man in the Holocene (get your copy at and The Quarry (get your copy at respectively. But it's nice to see authors like Friedrich Glauser also included; his book -- In Matto's Realm -- is among the few that is (or rather: will be shortly) readily available in English: get your copy at or, or see the Bitter Lemon Press publicity page.
       The only one of the titles we have under review is Fleur Jaeggy's Sweet Days of Discipline (not a title we would have included ...).
       Amusing also an interview with Markus Werner in the Sonntags Zeitung: one of his books made the cut, but he has some doubts about the whole exercise (and who was left out).

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       Post-earthquake book burning

       A widely reprinted AP article (here at the Boston Globe) by Munir Ahmad notes that Some Kashmir quake survivors burned books:
Some, however, stormed the shattered state-run Khursheed National Library, pulling out books and newspapers to make bonfires.

An estimated 10,000 books went up in smoke that night. Three days later, half the library's books -- including Qurans -- had been turned into ashes, when the army stepped in and stopped it
       It's not entirely clear to what extent it was out of desperation, or whether it was simply a matter of convenience (bonfires ?!?), but at least they put a stop to it pretty fast.
       And it's nice to see that there is considerable outrage and dismay there too:
Nazir Durrani, a government official who frequented the library, said he did not believe people realized that copies of the Quran were going into the fire.

"The burning of these books was a tragedy. When I think of those who did it, they would never be forgiven by God," he said
       Just in case, though, we hope alternative (and more efficient (and easily replaceable)) fuel sources have been secured for their use, especially now that it really is winter thereabouts.

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       A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Marina Lewycka's A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian.
       It's gotten a good deal of attention, was Orange Prize shortlisted, and sounded appealing enough. But we should have known better: among the most enthusiastic reviews was the one in The Economist, and while their non-fiction reviews are more or less reliable their taste in fiction is just whacky (and has been for several years now). Indeed, only six titles make the Fiction and memoirs-category (that's a category ?) in their Books of the year 2005-overview, and beside this dud they include the truly awful Incendiary by Chris Cleave .....

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11 December 2005 - Sunday

Whitbread dumps book awards | Nobel ceremony
Indian reactions | Autumn of the Phantoms review

       Whitbread dumps book awards

       In the Sunday Times Richard Brooks reports that Whitbread writes itself out of top literary award.
       Yes, supporting literature just ain't worthwhile: Whitbread Group PLC (the "UK's leading hospitality company") doesn't want to subsidise the Whitbread Book Awards any longer. The official line is, apparently:
"We no longer sell products or services that carry the Whitbread brand, so it is no longer appropriate to fund an award to promote the Whitbread name,"
       So we assume the Whitbread Young Achievers Awards are done for as well.
       Unless the next sponsors (if there are any takers) up the ante (i.e. offer more prize money), there will certainly be a diminution in the regard the (by then confusingly renamed) prize will have. We're curious to see what happens -- but this is the obvious problem with including a sponsor's name in a prize-name and not getting any sort of real commitment from the money-givers.

       (Updated - 12 December): See now also Thair Shaikh's Whitbread breaks its ties with £25,000 book prize in The Independent.

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       Nobel ceremony

       So they gave out the medals and cheques, but, as the BBC reports: it's only an Absent Pinter awarded Nobel prize. Harold had a big contingent there, but he couldn't come -- but he made enough of a mark with his (televised) Nobel lecture, Art, Truth & Politics.
       There are now few more British reactions:
       In the Independent on Sunday John Walsh writes about Hamlet without the prince, maintaining that:
His speech was brilliant, capricious, rambling, savage, predictable, astonishing -- a sustained philippic against United States foreign policy since 1945.
       Less impressed -- to put it mildly -- is Niall Ferguson writing in the Sunday Telegraph, who admonishes Pinter: Do the sums, then compare US and Communist crimes from the Cold War -- perhaps an appropriate tack for an historian to take, but a bit beside the point. He doesn't care much for Pinter's arguments or words:
But it's not Pinter's solipsism I really object to. It's the way he used his award to pour verbal kerosene on the crackling flames of anti-Americanism.
       American reactions remain limited -- predictable snide asides at sites such as The New Criterion's weblog, Armavirumque, but little substantive engagement with the man or material.
       In The Australian Miriam Cosic at least acknowledges So much talk and so few people listening -- though Cosic seems to think the Nobel lecture and ceremony take place on the same day (they didn't).
Australians in particular seem to be impervious to words, for good or ill. When the coalition of the willing was found to have lied about weapons of mass destruction, the US and Britain erupted into outrage. Australia largely yawned and subsequent opinion polling showed that Australian citizens were simply not surprised.
       Agree or disagree with the man, overall coverage and commentary have been disappointing (though far, far better than what was on offer last year for Jelinek).

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       Indian reactions

       In Outlook India Sheela Reddy looks at Ream Run: The Affirmed, The Rebutted, And The Alchemised, considering the most-anticipated titles in India in 2005 and whether they lived up to the buzz.
       Many apparently did not -- so also Ashok Banker's Demons Of Chitrakut:
Even the hype about his advance couldnít keep the reader awake through Book Three of the Ramayana retold.

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       Autumn of the Phantoms review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Yasmina Khadra's Autumn of the Phantoms, due out in English in early spring.

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