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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 August 2007

1 August: international literature festival berlin preview | Kafka on the Shore in Persian | Remaining Relevant after Communism review
2 August: Diary of a Bad Year -- in Dutch | New Open Letters | (A bit) more Mulisch | Zibffffffff ...
3 August: Alms for Jihad coverage ? | Poet Laureate Charles Simic | Not so gay in Russia | French authors | Taha Hussein
4 August: Aflame Books | New Words without Borders | Israeli books abroad | Softcore review
5 August: Jeddah Public Library | ZIBF recap | Literary Review at The Hindu
6 August: Ugandan writing | Israeli literature abroad | ArteEast does Persian | Murakami translator does Burmese | Girls of Riyadh review
7 August: Mongolian literature | African Psycho review
8 August: Man Booker longlist | Brunei goes for the Nobel ! | James Wood ditches Republic for Yorker | Gods Behaving Badly review
9 August: Literary problems in ... Tanzania | New Context | The NH Rev. of Books ? | Review-overviews of three Gilbert Adair titles
10 August: CUP on Alms for Jihad-settlement | Jewish Pulp Fiction ? | Bolaño piece | Simic interview | Burning books in Indonesia | Summer reading for high school students | The Marsh review

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10 August 2007 - Friday

CUP on Alms for Jihad-settlement | Jewish Pulp Fiction ? | Bolaño piece
Simic interview | Burning books in Indonesia
Summer reading for high school students | The Marsh review

       CUP on Alms for Jihad-settlement

       We noted the very limited coverage of the recent settlement between Cambridge University Press and Irish Sheikh Khalid Bin Mahfouz regarding the book Alms for Jihad, which -- so both parties agree -- contained defamatory material about the sheikh. There has been some more coverage in the meantime -- notably syndicated columnist Mark Steyn's widely reprinted article, The vanishing jihad exposés -- but the issues have hardly been given the attention they deserve.
       Now, at The Bookseller's weblogs, Cambridge University Press intellectual property director Kevin Taylor 'explains' Why CUP acted responsibly. Among other things he writes:
Our decision to withdraw the book may indeed have been "un-American" in Jeffrey A Sternís sense of that term, but we are a global publisher with a duty to observe the laws of many different countries. Stern may have issues with English libel law, but he should not criticise a publisher for upholding its responsibility to stay within that law.
       He does not, however, offer much insight into the murk of the actual facts (or fictions) at issue -- or, for that matter, the settlement. And a lot remains at issue (including the question of CUP's stance on English libel law and whether CUP is involved in any efforts to get them changed).
       Recall that this was a defamation case in which the actual defamers -- authors J. Millard Burr and Robert O. Collins -- weren't made parties to the suit (or allowed to defend or explain those claims which the sheikh and CUP agreed were false -- curious, no ?).
       Then there's the money that CUP forked over. In their apology CUP claim they "agreed to pay Sheikh Khalid substantial damages and to make a contribution to his legal costs " -- but then in the local paper Kevin Taylor is quoted as saying it was only a "fairly small amount". Mr Taylor seems to be tailoring his public statements to his audiences .....
       Why doesn't CUP reveal the amount ? There is no good reason (and few poor) ones not to, and by shrouding all this in so much secrecy they make the whole arrangement look even more tawdry than it already does.
       (Minor aside: the legal costs we understand, but the rest of the sum in question is for 'damages' -- i.e. to make the sheikh whole again -- but he gave it to charity. So why was any money involved in the settlement at all ? If -- as seems likely -- it was meant to punish CUP, and to act as a deterrent, why didn't they just say that ? And why doesn't Mr Taylor own up to that ?)
       This certainly looks like an incident that should be used as a case-study in re-examining English libel law. Sheikh Khalid Bin Mahfouz may well be completely in the right, but the way this case was handled is not the way to determine that, or get him the justice he deserves.
       It can reasonably be said that, given current laws, CUP had no choice but to act the way they did in certain regards -- settling the case, issuing the apology, even making efforts to recall the offending book -- but otherwise -- at least in our opinion -- their actions have been far from exemplary. There is no mention of any efforts to try to preserve the book without the (apparently very limited) references to Sheikh Khalid Bin Mahfouz. More significantly, they are -- in our opinion -- not adequately open or clear about the efforts to determine the veracity of the defamatory statements in the book. It is also ridiculous for them not to admit how much money they paid out, and it is disappointing that they have not used this case to discuss this obviously huge free speech/academic publishing/legal responsibility problem.
       There's still lots of time for them to learn from this mistake (or this heap of mistakes), but with smooth-talking Kevin Taylor as their spokesman we're none too optimistic for the time being.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Jewish Pulp Fiction ?

       A fun cover-story at The Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles as Amy Klein finds: "Torrid love scenes meet Torah characters in a hot new genre", Jewish Pulp Fiction.
There's a lot more when it comes to Jewish pulp fiction. In the last five to 10 years, authors are churning out books exploring even the most minor characters of the Bible and the Talmud.

What is the point of all these books ? Who reads them? Why do authors write historical fiction about real people from Jewish history ? And, the most important question when it comes to mixing pop culture with religion: is it good for the Jews ? Is it beneficial to take our ancestors, rabbis, prophets, kings and queens -- whom many revere and consider holy -- and fictionalize their lives ?
       Jewish Book Council-director Carolyn Starman Hessel sees the appeal:
"The Torah is familiar to all of us. When you're reading about Rebecca or Sarah you are reading about familiar characters that most of us know from childhood. A new approach is welcome and inspiring"

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Bolaño piece

       Focussing on Roberto Bolaño's Amulet Roberto Ontiveros offers a good short overview in For Bolaño, No Divine Miracles in The Texas Observer.
       (We don't have Amulet under review (yet), but see our reviews of The Savage Detectives and Distant Star.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Simic interview

       New American poet laureate Charles Simic has been getting interviewed right and left -- and now also back in his native Serbia, where he talks with Veran Matić at B92, in "I take paeans with a grain of salt".
       Among the exchanges of note:
B92: Whatís the difference in recognitions here and there ? And in the position of a poet in general ?

Simic: Writers and poets are only noticed in totalitarian regimes. They are either imprisoned and shot, or they become highly-privileged flunkies of the regime. In Democracies, they are marginal figures without any influence. That suits me just fine since I like and need my solitude.
       But he also says:
Many of our intellectuals in United States are servants of our imperial ambitions. They dream up excuses for wars and justify policies of domestic oppression.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Burning books in Indonesia

       In the Sydney Morning Herald Mark Forbes reports that Indonesian academics fight burning of books on 1965 coup:
Publishers, academics and activists are attempting to halt the burning of Indonesian school textbooks detailing a 1965 coup attempt and slaughter of more than 500,000 alleged communists.

At least 30,000 history books have been torched since March, when the administration of President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono banned several texts implicating the military in the events.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Summer reading for high school students

       It's the kind of article you can expect to find every summer, but Amy Brittain's overview, High school reading lists get a modern makeover, in the Christian Science Monitor is fairly thorough.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Marsh review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Jafar Modarres-Sadeqi's The Marsh.
       It's number three in Mazda's 'Bibliotheca Iranica - Persian Fiction in Translation Series' -- and we're pleased to see that another volume is due out soon: Modarres-Sadeqi's Horseís Head. See their publicity page -- but it doesn't appear to be listed at Amazon yet.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

9 August 2007 - Thursday

Literary problems in ... Tanzania | New Context
The NH Rev. of Books ? | Review-overviews of three Gilbert Adair titles

       Literary problems in ... Tanzania

       Mwaka Nakasula reports that Tanzanian authors at the mercy of publishers, but the complaints are familiar from any number of countries:
Experts in literature and authors in general have raised concern at the poor state of literature in the country, pointing an accusing finger at authors, publishers and readers alike.
       (Once you start pointing fingers at authors, publishers, and readers ... well, what's left ?)
       As to the local situation, author Adam Syaf is quoted:
He explained that Tanzanian writers belong to the old generation of writers who do little to raise the interest and cater for the needs of the present readers.

"Unfortunately too the new generation has failed to produce writers partly because the environment to produce good writers does not exist," he said, adding that schools which play a critical role in developing and encouraging young writers have failed to do so.

"Tanzania writers are writing for no one. It is also unfortunate that there is no accessibility of books and the country has very few libraries. This has also been a major stumbling block," he said.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       New Context

       Issue 20 of Context is now available online, essentially in its entirety -- and it really is worth going through almost all the articles.
       Among the offerings: Lindsay Waters on The Rise of Market Criticism in the U.S., while Goce Smilevski offers a Letter from Macedonia, which includes a description of this interesting undertaking:
Pen Centers from eleven Slavic countries selected 110 novels from these countries written from 1989 to the present (ten novels from each country), in October 2006. Each country will publish one novel from each of the other ten countries and, in that way, each of the selected 110 novels will come out in one Slavic language. If all goes according to plan, the whole action should be carried out through 2007 and all of these novels will later be translated into English and offered to publishers in the United States and Great Britain.
       Given that we were unable to find any information about how things were progressing the timetable might be a bit optimistic, but it is fundamentally a good idea.
       (See also Smilevski's interesting Conversation with Spinoza -- fortunately already available in English.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The NH Rev. of Books ?

       At The Huffington Post Mark Oppenheimer writes that The New Haven Review of Books Debuts, and it sounds like a pretty decent idea. As he writes:
First, in an age of shrinking book-review holes in newspapers, we're going to have to find new ways to get the word out about great books. Some of those ways will be local, and small in scale. We may never publish another issue of the New Haven Review (our motto is "Published Annually at Most"), but by just publishing once, we've made a statement in support of literary culture. Wouldn't it be cool if other small- and medium-sized towns -- Austin, Des Moines, Albany, etc. -- decided they wanted local book reviews, too ? Maybe such reviews would feature local writers doing the reviewing, the way ours does, or maybe they would feature reviews of books by local authors. Either way, they would be reminders that major urban publications do not have to be the sole instruments for book reviewing.
       It would be very cool !
       Check out the The New Haven Review of Books for yourself -- not bad at all (though they could have done a better job with the index ...).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Review-overviews of three Gilbert Adair titles

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our review-overviews of three Gilbert Adair titles:        One reason for doing these review-overviews is to provide information about books we just can't get our hands on, and for some reason Gilbert Adair seems never to have caught on in the US, so his books are hard to find around here. But it turns out that The Act of Roger Murgatroyd will be coming out in the US this fall -- so maybe we'll be able to change at least that page from a review-overview to an actual review.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

8 August 2007 - Wednesday

Man Booker longlist | Brunei goes for the Nobel !
James Wood ditches Republic for Yorker | Gods Behaving Badly review

       Man Booker longlist

       As you may have heard, they've announced the (relatively short) longlist for this year's Man Booker Prize.
       The only title we have under review is Lloyd Jones' Mister Pip; we would have been surprised if that hadn't made the cut, but given our ignorance of all the other titles we can't presume to judge how strong or weak a list this is. (The only other title we feel certain of getting to is Ian McEwan's On Chesil Beach.)
       Erica Wagner obviously knows a lot we don't, since she finds that there are Not too many surprises on the list. Not that we've read them either, but we are a bit surprised that at least some of the following weren't found worthy: Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee, Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje, My Revolutions by Hari Kunzru, The Song Before It Is Sung by Justin Cartwright, and The Rain Before it Falls by Jonathan Coe (all books we do expect to get to).
       In other coverage, D.J.Taylor argues Don't confuse appeal with talent (and writes: "I shall be backing the New Zealand writer Lloyd Jones's Mr Pip, a devastating projection of Great Expectations set on a war-torn Pacific island"), while Nigel Reynolds notes Ian McEwan heads Man Booker longlist.

       With all the talk about how many/few titles are on the longlist, and who made it and who didn't, and whether the longlist should be published at all commentators again all ignore the Man Booker's fatal flaw: the gross restrictions on the books they're even willing to consider -- which this year amounted to a ludicrous 110 entries (yeah, that's representative of all the best writing in the Commonwealth plus Ireland and Zimbabwe ...). With former winners (Coetzee, Ondaatje, etc.) and recently shortlisted authors all getting a free pass into the competition but each publisher otherwise restricted to two entries (with a few additional ways of slipping a book in) they don't come anywhere close to considering all the books that deserve to at least be in the running. Sure, the longlisting of a title by a tiny new press like Myrmidon Books ("Our first titles were released in the Autumn of 2006") -- The Gift Of Rain by Tan Twan Eng -- makes it look like they're willing to consider anything, but in fact this is one of the most closed-off prizes out there, setting entry conditions that leave it ill-equipped to anoint the best book of the year.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Brunei goes for the Nobel !

       We think we have a pretty knowledgeable audience, but we'd be surprised if one in ten of you could place Brunei Darussalam on a map (as little more than a city-state -- though a very wealthy one -- it is a fairly small speck to pick out) -- or could name the official language off the top of your head. But it's good to see that even there they have high literary ambitions, as Rosli Abidin Yahya reports in the Borneo Bulletin (here at Brudirect,com), Translation Key To Promoting Local Writers To World.
       Tramslation can't hurt, but given that we doubt many are even aware what language works would be translated from when dealing with Brunei-literature there are probably some more fundamental issues to address. But they certainly are ambitious:
A group of literary figures recently met the Minister of Culture, Youth and Sports, Pehin Dato Major General (Rtd) Hj Awang Mohammad, and a senior government officer, Dato Paduka Hj Mahmud bin Hj Bakyr, to express their concern over the future of the literature scenario in Brunei Darussalam.

They proposed for major works of local literary writers to be translated so that their books could be promoted globally.

"Translation (of local writings) is very important, as this would ensure that our writers are introduced to the world," they said, adding that the ultimate goal is to see a local writer receiving the Nobel Prize for Literature in 10 to 20 years' time.
       Hey, they're willing to give it a decade or two .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       James Wood ditches Republic for Yorker

       In The New York Times Motoko Rich reports that (grudgingly linked to at that registration-requiring site) Literary Critic Leaves New Republic for New Yorker:
James Wood, a senior editor at The New Republic, where he has been the literary critic for the past 12 years, is leaving to become a staff writer at The New Yorker.
       No word as to whether he was too embarrassed to continue to be associated with The New Republic (though going from 'senior editor' to 'staff writer' sounds like a huge hit to take), or whether there was a bidding war for his services. No word on the move at either magazines' website, last we checked, either. (However, even during his tenure at The New Republic Wood occasionally published reviews in The New Yorker -- maybe he's just been trying out for that gig all these years.)
       Wood is a leading literary critic, with quite a following (though he's generally not quite on our wavelength -- though certainly always worth reading), and at least at The New Yorker he'll have the space to do what he does best. Unless they have him take over the currently fairly worthless 'Briefly Noted' section, which might be a fun experiment too.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Gods Behaving Badly review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Marie Phillips' Gods Behaving Badly.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

7 August 2007 - Tuesday

Mongolian literature | African Psycho review

       Mongolian literature

       Mongolian literature is anything but high-profile -- and it doesn't help when a prize like the so-called Man 'Asian' Literary Prize specifically excludes any and all authors from Mongolia from even being considered for the prize (though admittedly the Mongolians are in good company: Iranian writers, as well as those from all the Arabic-speaking countries -- along with quite a few others -- also aren't 'Asian' enough, for some reason ...) .
       Galsan Tschinag has made some inroads -- Milkweed has brought his The Blue Sky in English (see their publicity page, or get your copy at or -- but then he writes in German .....
       So we were thrilled to see Mongolia Web report that New translations of books to provide greater understanding of Mongolia for English readers. G.Mend-Ooyo's Golden Hill seems the centrepiece of the lot -- and it's good to see that there's a site out there devoted to Central Asian Literatures in Translation, and that they make a variety of texts, including all of Golden Hill, readily accessible (well, in pdf-form ...).
       Also good to see: G.Mend-Ooyo has a weblog/site: Culture and Poetry.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       African Psycho review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Alain Mabanckou's African Psycho.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

6 August 2007 - Monday

Ugandan writing | Israeli literature abroad | ArteEast does Persian
Murakami translator does Burmese | Girls of Riyadh review

       Ugandan writing

       In the Daily Monitor Glenna Gordon's article is titled Ugandan women writers shine but where are men ?, but it presents a decent overview of the literary scene there.
       Certainly, it's inspiring to see how an organisation such as the Uganda Women Writers' Association can contribute to local (and international) success -- but some of the problems are very familiar from elsewhere:
"The challenge is the market," he said. "We get manuscripts but we don't sell great quantities of those we have published. We print 2,000, sell over time, but it's not in one or two or even three months.""
Ms Arac, however, disagrees that people are not reading Ugandan literature. She thinks the problem is that there isn't enough information about the books getting to the people who are hungry to read them.
       We'd like to think that is the case too -- and fortunately that is a problem that can (at least theoretically) be rectified.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Israeli literature abroad

       In Ha'aretz Shiri Lev-Ari reports that Literary imagination makes for great PR, discussing the help the literature department at the division for cultural and scientific affairs (DCSA) at the Foreign Ministry provides to authors:
Cooperation between Israeli writers and the Foreign Ministry is based on mutual interest: The writers and poets seek maximum exposure for their work abroad and the Foreign Ministry wants to use them to present Israel's attractive, sane face.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       ArteEast does Persian

       The current 'Quarterly Feature' at ArteEast explores Persian culture and literature, in The Revolution Is What Made This Issue Possible.
       Several interesting pieces (though too little out of contemporary Iran for our tastes), including Persis M. Karim's interview with Nahid Rachlin, and Lynn Houston on World Literature for the Unworldly: Teaching Ferdowsiís Shahnameh in a General Education Course.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Murakami translator does Burmese

       One of Murakami Haruki's regular translators apparently also works from Burmese ('Myanmar'): Nu Nu Yi (who publishes as 'Inwa') has been getting a fair amount of press for being one of the authors longlisted for the Man 'Asian' Literary Prize, and in Myanmar writer nominated for new Asian literary prize in The Myanmar Times Nyunt Win reports:
The original version of her novel was published in local monthly magazine Shwe Amute in the Myanmar language as a series of entries from March 2006 to February 2007. An American freelance translator, Alfred Birnbaum, translated the book this year.

"Alfred reads and writes Myanmar very well," said the author. "His wife is Myanmar and helped him to translate as close to the original as possible. She even demonstrated a nat dance for him to grasp the meaning."

Hyperion Publishing House in New York has agreed to publish her novel in English at a later date. [...]

"They chose it because they felt Smile As They Bow reflects Myanmar culture more vividly," said Nu Nu Yi (Inwa). "They were also the ones who suggested sub-mitting it for the Asian award. I just gave them the green light."
       Good for Hyperion, and we look forward to seeing the translation; recall that it's barely been a week since we noted how little Burmese literature was accessible in English.
       About that:
When The Myanmar Times asked her why there are so few Myanmar writers penetrating the international market, she said gaining international attention can be difficult.

"I donít think there is a language barrier or lack of creativity. There are plenty of talented people who can write in English and itís not hard to have it translated. I think it is just a matter of catching the eye of international publishers -- thatís the hard part."
       We'd imagine the language/translation issue is more of a barrier than she thinks, but attracting publishers' attention certainly can't be easy either.
       For more on her book, see also Hla Hla Htay's In Myanmar, novelist wins praise for tale of gays, ghosts in the Daily Times.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Girls of Riyadh review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Rajaa Alsanea's Girls of Riyadh.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

5 August 2007 - Sunday

Jeddah Public Library | ZIBF recap | Literary Review at The Hindu

       Jeddah Public Library

       In Arab News Ebtihal Mubarak reports that Jeddah Public Library in a Broken-Down State, which, sadly, does not come as much of a surprise. Between the difficulties any public space in the kingdom faces (segregated areas for men and women ?) to the fact that its citizens don't seem like the most bookish, it's not that much of a surprise that the whole public library concept hasn't really caught on. Though here it apparently really hasn't caught on:
No one in the neighborhood seemed to know the exact location of the Jeddah Public Library. Arab News roamed around for 45 minutes to find the pale yellow-and-white building with its broken windows that surely did not look like a house of knowledge.
        Inside it ain't much better:
The heat and the amount of dust that covered the whole place made it impossible to stay inside for very long. The only air movement in the large hall came from a tiny fan at one end. When asked when or if the library would ever be turned into, well, a library people would use, the response from librarian Ibrahim Al-Khuraif was: "Inshallah, things will be better...Talk to the administration in Riyadh. We donít talk to the press."

Al-Khuraif was helpful enough to guide Arab News to the Saudi literature section. We told him we wanted to see the modern literature section.

"All Saudi literature is modern," he said, smiling.

Reaching the section, we could not find a single contemporary novel, poetry collection or collection of short stories. The collection seemed mainly to comprise obscure works of social criticism published in the 70s and the 80s.
       And the piece concludes nicely:
After visiting the library on three different days and at different times last week, we did not notice any change. We saw the same books on the same desks, carelessly scattered. In the bathroom a pigeon was resting on a nest that had been built on the toilet.
       In most places decrepit libraries are easily blamed on a lack of funds, but that's not an excuse the Saudis can offer, certainly not these days. But it isn't much of a surprise that books -- and especially providing access to them -- are a low, low priority there.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       ZIBF recap

       The AP recaps the recently concluded Zimbabwe International Book Fair in a much-reprinted piece -- here as Famed Zimbabwe book fair dwindles in country where 10 children now share a single textbook at the IHT --, noting:
The once world-renowned Zimbabwe International Book Fair wound up with a whimper Saturday, with its only foreign exhibitor -- the embassy of Iran -- packing Islamic tracts and political brochures into cardboard boxes.
The three-day fair, which had 84 exhibitors -- mostly local publishers, booksellers, church groups and aid and human rights organizations, was a shadow of its former self.
Just 500 people passed through the gates in the central Harare park on the first public day, compared with thousands in previous years.
       Sad, sad, sad.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Literary Review at The Hindu

       The monthly Literary Review at The Hindu is always worth a look.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

4 August 2007 - Saturday

Aflame Books | New Words without Borders | Israeli books abroad | Softcore review

       Aflame Books

       We chanced across Aflame Books, and we certainly like what they're doing:
Aflame Books is an independent publisher based in the UK. It publishes, in English translation, works from Africa, Latin America and the Middle East; works whose brilliance has been hidden from the English-speaking world by the barriers of culture and language
       It should be obvious that this is right up our alley -- especially since two of their first offerings are titles we've long had under review and which we're glad to see are now available in English:        We hope they find an audience -- though given that this is the first that even we've heard of Aflame it appears they could use a little bit of publicity and word of mouth .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       New Words without Borders

       Words without Borders is adding material more regularly now, but with the change of month they still have a change of focus: August now offers Dreams of our Russian Summer.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Israeli books abroad

       In Ha'aretz Zipi Shohat writes that Culture clubbed -- which includes the interesting information that:
Israeli literature is also flourishing abroad: In the decade between 1995 and 2005, 1,731 books were translated into a total of 67 different languages, a marked increase over the previous decade, when 1,083 books were translated into 25 languages.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Softcore review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Tirdad Zolghadr's Softcore.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

3 August 2007 - Friday

Alms for Jihad coverage ? | Poet Laureate Charles Simic | Not so gay in Russia
French authors | Taha Hussein

       Alms for Jihad coverage ?

       So where is the Alms for Jihad coverage ?
       Cambridge University Press published a book by J. Millard Burr and Robert O. Collins called Alms for Jihad (see their publicity page, and find it unavailable at or but, after being sued for libel by Sheikh Khalid Bin Mahfouz, have apparently seen the light and issued an apology and agreed to slip him some money, seeing as how there were some things in the book that cast an unfavourable light on Sheikh Khalid and were -- CUP and the Sheikh and his lawyers are now agreed on this -- simply untrue. Unfortunately, no one is sharing the offending passages, so we have no idea what specific things they got wrong; it may be a university press book, but any sort of debate about the facts has, indeed, become entirely academic .....
       We certainly wouldn't want anyone saying or writing untruths about Sheikh Khalid (or anyone else, for that matter), but the agreement the parties reached seems highly problematic. Not only has the book been withdrawn, but the entire print run of about 1500 is to be destroyed, and CUP is apparently even writing to the ca. 200 libraries that purchased the book, asking them to withdraw it. I.e. every last vestige of the book is to be erased. (We're looking forward to hearing how the librarians react !)
       So it sounds like there's a lot of really bad, untrue stuff about Sheikh Khalid in here, in which case such mass-destruction might possibly be warranted. CUP apparently is convinced that that's the thing to do. But we read in one of the few reports about the case, Gary Shapiro reporting in The New York Sun that Libel Suit Leads to Destruction of Books, that co-author J.Millard Burr said: "their book mentioned Sheikh Mahfouz 13 times, and in no place had they labeled him a terrorist". The labeling seems to be skirting the issue (as far as we can tell -- admittedly not very far -- no one claims anyone here was labeling Sheikh Khalid a terrorist), but what is noteworthy is that there were only 13 mentions of the guy. So there was no way to redact him (and the untruths about him) out of there, and save the rest of the book ? Apparently not.
       Shapiro also writes about Burr that:
He said within a week of Cambridge University receiving a letter charging defamation, he and his co-author prepared and sent supporting documents to Cambridge University Press. The authors were not themselves named parties to the suit.
       While it was considerate of Sheikh Khalid and his legal team not to trouble the authors by including them in the suit we'd have thought that if someone defames you it's them you'd want to go after. Of course, when CUP turns out to be so amenable to seeing the error of their ways it all seems to have worked out for the best. Though, of course, what CUP mainly saw is the error of someone else's ways ..... (As to the "supporting material" -- well, who knows what that supported ... but we think it's kind of a shame that there wasn't a more open debate about this. Sure, it looks like it was an open-and-shut case -- that's what CUP seems to have decided -- but we still think it's nice if all sides can be heard, even about the most outlandish claims. And it looks so much better when it's all done out in the open, doesn't it ?)
       In their apology CUP also write:
To emphasise their regret, Cambridge University Press has agreed to pay Sheikh Khalid substantial damages and to make a contribution to his legal costs
       Which is really nice of them, of course, -- as is the fact that Sheikh Khalid is donating the proceeds to UNICEF (which, just so there are no future misunderstandings (which apparently occasionally arise -- for no reason and with no substantiation whatsoever -- when Sheikh Khalid is being generous), is not an organisation that supports or condones terrorism).
       We're hoping that at least UNICEF tells us what the amount is, because inexplicably neither CUP nor Sheikh Khalid and his legal team do. 'Substantial'. What the hell does that mean ? The guy's literally a billionaire; 'substantial' for him is more than CUP is worth. And then there's the fact that in the Cambridge Evening News' report, University Press pay-out after book libels Sheikh, -- and contrary to what they write in their apology --:
Kevin Taylor, Intellectual Property Director at Cambridge University Press, said they had agreed to pay out a "fairly small amount" in compensation, and will publish an apology on their website.
       So, for the local paper it's a 'fairly small amount', but in the public apology it's called 'substantial' ? Come on, people: own up: how much did you fork over ?

       So who is Sheikh Khalid anyway ? Helpfully, he has a website with all sorts of FAQs about him. Explaining why he's Irish, for example. Or listing the litigation he's been involved in (where he kindly reminds readers that he and his family "expressly reserve their rights against any person or entity which repeats any of the erroneous allegations contained in these or any other publications" -- which makes it kind of difficult to say what all the fuss is about, and leaves us no wiser than we were before). And don't forget those civil actions !
       The FAQs are sort of interesting, and we'd love to know the facts behind them. Apparently someone felt it was important that people had easy access to the answers to questions such as: "Is Khalid Bin Mahfouz related by marriage to Osama Bin Laden ?" (check for the answer for yourself, if you really care one way or the other).
       Maybe you have to be in the know of the unsubstantiated and false charges people have made against Sheikh Khalid to know what the hell some of these things refer to, but even so some of the Q&As just raise more questions than they answer, such as:
Q: What is the International Development Foundation ?
A: We understand that IDF was an entity in Oxford, England of which a co-founder was Mohamed Bin Mahfouz, a brother of Khalid Bin Mahfouz. Neither Khalid Bin Mahfouz nor any member of his immediate family has any other information about this entity.
       We have no idea what the IDF is or was, and whether it's accused of good or evil things, but that response sure does not inspire us with much comfort. But maybe it's just us.

       See also Saudi businessman wins libel case against UK publisher by Jumana Al Tamimi at GulfNews -- but we hope there's a lot more coverage of what actually happened here (as well as about the fate of the library-copies).

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       Poet Laureate Charles Simic

       As widely noted, the Librarian of Congress, James H. Billington, has announced that Charles Simic will be the Libraryís 15th "Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry", succeeding Donald Hall.

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       Not so gay in Russia

       In The Moscow Times Alastair Gee reports on a new anthology of of prose by gay Russian writers which 'steers well clear of politics and explicit sexuality' in Between the Lines.
       The anthology is called Liberty-лайф, and the half-English title is presumably no accident. True-blue (red ?) Russian homosexuality still seems to scare 'em off: as Kevin Moss notes:
He added that in the 1990s, there was a rash of gay-themed books set on other planets, and even a collection of gay vampire stories, as authors found it hard to imagine being gay in Russia following the lifting of the Soviet-era ban on homosexuality.

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       French authors

       Le Figaro is looking at different groups of French authors, and recently Christian Authier considered Les classiques -- the grand old men who are taught in the schools, members of the academy, etc.
       The six grouped together here are: Philippe Sollers, Alain Robbe-Grillet, Jean-Marie Gustave Le Clézio, Michel Déon, Patrick Modiano, and Pascal Quignard What's remarkable -- beside the fact that some of them are not only still alive but also still active -- is how little interest there is in the US in what these guys are up to. When was the last time anyone looked forward to a new Sollers ? Come to think of it, when was the last time they bothered translating one of his books ? (Columbia University Press brought out a new edition of Women in 1992, but that's pretty much the last sighting .....)
        Other than Robbe-Grillet the rest are very much on the periphery of French literature being published and discussed in the US.
       Among the most recent Michel Déon translations is Where are you dying tonight ?; the -- 5,228,519 -- is the lowest we can recall ever seeing. Translator Julian Evans mentioned it in the New Statesman a few years ago, in Against cultural white noise:
In one case, the latest work by a French novelist at the height of his powers so impressed me that I decided to translate the book as well as acquiring the rights. (I wasn't entirely foolish this time, as American rights were also sold.) The novel in question was Un Dejeuner de Soleil by Michel Deon, a stupendously rich and energetic fictional biography of a French writer, which came out with the English title Where Are You Dying Tonight ?, a homage to Evelyn Waugh. The reviews it garnered were excellent; the sales made me want to weep. This is, barring exceptions, an everyday story for publishers of European fiction in Britain
       Ah, yes .....

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       Taha Hussein

       It is impressive that The Guardian offers an author-page for Taha Hussein. We're not quite sure what possessed the, but he's certainly an author to be aware of; check out The Days, for example (see the American University in Cairo Press publicity page, or get your copy at or

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2 August 2007 - Thursday

Diary of a Bad Year -- in Dutch | New Open Letters
(A bit) more Mulisch | Zibffffffff ...

       Diary of a Bad Year -- in Dutch

       We've mentioned J.M.Coetzee's forthcoming Diary of a Bad Year -- and how much we're looking forward to it -- before. Only due out in the UK early next month (pre-order at and in the US just before the new year (!) (pre-order at, a reader now makes us green with envy by letting us know that it's already available -- in Dutch, as Dagboek van een slecht jaar.
       A Dutch review is also already available -- which notes that the book is presented in the sort of split-page format suggested in the NYRB-excerpt, the top half of the page devoted to the essays, the bottom half the narrative diary-entries.

       (Updated - 3 August): A reader with a galley of the English original informs us that most of the pages in fact have a tripartite arrangement .....

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       New Open Letters

       So after a few issues it's pretty clear that Open Letters is the best new literary online-periodical out there; the August-issue is now available, and it's worth your while.
       Among the pieces of interest: Andrew Crocker On Reading Stanislaw Lemís Solaris As Translated from the French, as well as another installment of what is obviously our favourite feature, the 'Peer Review', where this time Joanna Scutts looks at the review-reactions to Günter Grass' Peeling the Onion (see also our review-overview) in Onion Skins and Grass Cuttings.

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       (A bit) more Mulisch

       As we mentioned a few days ago, it was Harry Mulisch's 80th birthday on Sunday, and at least at the Guardian-weblog that gets a bit of coverage, as Josh Lacey writes: Let's hear it for Harry Mulisch.
       He notes -- as did we -- the ridiculous fact that only about a third of Mulisch's work has been translated into English -- but Lacey also writes:
His non-fiction -- which includes an account of the Eichmann trial and a book about Wilhelm Reich -- is still waiting to be translated.
       The Reich-book -- Het seksuele bolwerk -- certainly deserves to be translated, as does much of his other non-fiction (whereby we'd argue for De toekomst van gisteren as first choice), but, in fact, the Eichmann book has been translated, as Criminal Case 40/61, the Trial of Adolf Eichmann -- and that a mere two years ago. Yes, it was a university press that brought it out (the University of Pennsylvania Press), but they did a nice job of it and it's inexplicable that no major review-outlet (beyond our humble selves and places like the Law & Politics Book Review) bothered with it -- or that a writer from The Guardian who is a Mulisch fan would even be unaware of its existence ..... But such is, apparently, the sad, sad fate and state of books in translation in the English-speaking world.

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       Zibffffffff ...

       So they apparently opened the Zimbabwe International Book Fair, which is something, at least (and actually already more than we were expecting).
       The Herald (here at reports that Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Education, Sport and Culture Steven Mahere: "urged participants to explore strategies and ways of making the price of books affordable", telling them:
There is need to keep the prices of books at a reasonable level as a means to encourage the citizens of Zimbabwe to purchase more books and create a culture of reading.
       Given the rampant hyper-inflation in Zimbabwe -- and the government's ridiculous attempts to control prices -- this doesn't sound like it's going to get very far; still, we suppose it's good to see that books haven't been entirely forgotten.
       The Herald also notes:
By end of business yesterday, about 102 stands had been taken up by more than 80 exhibitors, mainly Zimbabweans.
       Given that as recently as 2004 they had 450 stands (and still some foreign interest ...) it looks like it won't exactly be a resounding success.
       At least there still is some foreign interest: INRA reports that Iran's Cultural Attache in Zimbabwe Mr. Eepakchi spoke at the opening -- about:
the role of Islam in developing science and culture and the effect of Iran's civilization and culture on promoting written culture and book industry.
       Which no doubt went over real big there.

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1 August 2007 - Wednesday

international literature festival berlin preview
Kafka on the Shore in Persian | Remaining Relevant after Communism review

       international literature festival berlin preview

       The international literature festival berlin (internationales literaturfestival berlin), running from 4 to 16 September, has their programme up now (click on day for details), and it looks very impressive; check out also the authors who have confirmed they'll be coming.
       They're also drumming up support for the 9 September worldwide reading For Democracy and Media Freedom in Zimbabwe (texts available here (warning ! dreaded pdf format !), in several languages) -- definitely a worthwhile cause.

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       Kafka on the Shore in Persian

       Despite the difficulties of getting publishing-licenses in Iran at this time there are still the occasional pleasant surprises -- as when MNA now reports that Murakami's "Kafka on the Shore" translated into Persian (see also our review ).
       But it does look like it is only being translated from the English, not the original Japanese -- the ... versatile translator is also translating Anthony Horowitz's Alex Rider books ... (see official site).

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       Remaining Relevant after Communism review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Andrew Baruch Wachtel on The Role of the Writer in Eastern Europe in Remaining Relevant after Communism.
       Wachtel is general editor of Northwestern University Press' admirable Writings from an Unbound Europe-series, and his book offers a great glimpse at publishing in that part of the world, both under and after communism.

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