The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Saudi author Yousef Al-Mohaimeed's Wolves of the Crescent Moon.
It's only coming out (in the US) in December, but has gotten considerable attention already -- and was picked up by Penguin (though they're 'only' publishing it as a paperback original).
Very different from the other big Saudi novel to reach the US this year, Rajaa Alsanea's Girls of Riyadh, it's also in a different class entirely, and despite its flaws a much more promising (English-language) debut: Mohaimeed looks like an author to look out for.
A few days ago we mentioned the recent To Be Translated or Not to Be-report on the state of international literary translation presented by International PEN and the Institut Ramon Llull of Barcelona and edited by Esther Allen, available -- in the dreaded pdf format -- here, and strongly urged you to have a look, and we're glad to remind you again -- and point you now also to Esther Allen's article in the International Herald Tribune, Lost in translation, which addresses that, as well as offering other Frankfurt Book Fair/international literature commentary -- including the disappointing (if unsurprising) observation that:
The English-speaking world buys so little at the fair and pays so little attention in general to writing in other languages that it doesn't even keep statistics about the percentage of books published in English that are translations. The figure of 3 percent, often bandied about, is almost certainly high.
At hlo Bán Magda interviews Nádas Péter "about his life and work in the last five years, his short-lived stage as a dramatist, as well as his collection of essays and short stories recently published in English", in Historical and erotic structures.
There's a bit of discussion about Fire and Knowledge, which we probably will be reviewing at some point (meanwhile see the FSG publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com), as well as the news that he'll be coming to New York in November.
In The talking cure in the New Statesman Samir El-Youssef reviews Moustapha Safouan's Why Are the Arabs Not Free ? (see the Blackwell publicity page (where they probably do the author no favours by describing him as a: "Leading Lacanian psychoanalyst"), or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
A major part of the book is apparently about the debate about the Arabic writers should be using, as:
The disparity between written and spoken Arabic is so great that talking to an audience is often a discouraging test for Arab writers.
To use the vernacular, one would probably have to avoid sophisticated arguments and deep thoughts.
But to talk in standard (written) language is to risk sounding pompous and rhetorical -- and, worst of all, to fail to reach those who have had no school education.
Given the high level of illiteracy in the Arab world, this means losing the attention of a great proportion of the public.
But El-Youssef isn't impressed by Safouan's arguments:
Arguing for writing in Arabic dialect, Safouan makes many refutable claims.
He claims standard Arabic is a dead language -- so how do we explain the fact that poets such as the Syrian Nizar Qabbani and the Palestinian Mahmoud Darwish, both elegant writers of standard Arabic, have been read and recited by millions of people across the Arab world ?
His claim that Arab rulers prevent the use of dialects is also absurd: many poets of the vernacular were and have been pampered by Arab regimes; the Egyptian Salah Jaheen was a star during the Nasser era, the Iraqi Muzafer al-Nouab has been a most welcome guest at the court of leaders such as Muammar Gaddafi and the late Hafez al-Assad.
Safouan's call for writing in dialect is familiar and has long been discredited; apart from using it in the performing and popular arts, attempts to write in spoken Arabic have proven to be a miserable failure.
(El-Youssef would help his case by offering a few examples of the latter, rather than just such a summary dismissal .....)
In Le Figaro Sophie Humann offers an interesting look at La seconde vie des romans français, considering how French fiction fares abroad (for the most part by looking at what gets translated).
One of the interesting points is what's ignored: she doesn't bother much with the English-language market (or, curiously, the Dutch) -- and among the other countries where interest is apparently relatively limited is, somewhat surprisingly, Japan.
But elsewhere business is good: 187 translations into Italian in 2006, 153 into Spanish, 105 into German, 71 into Greek, 56 into Portuguese -- even 5 into Galician.
Also interesting: what gets translated.
Yes, they're still able to sell Sollers and Marcel Pagnol in Brazil .....
They apparently haven't really cracked the Indian market, but 85 novels were translated into Chinese in 2006, and the Koreans have also picked up a lot of stuff.
CTK report that Czech writer Milan Kundera to receive national literature award -- the 'Státní cena za literaturu' -- though apparently he's not showing up for the ceremony.
The list of previous winners doesn't have too many household (at least non-Czech household) names.
Kundera apparently isn't the most popular of local-son authors -- especially now that he's taken to writing in French -- but it was presumably hard for them to avoid giving him the biggest national literary honour
at some point.
At Stanford Cynthia Haven previews this weekend's conference there on The Life of Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago: Culture and the Cold War in Zhivago, 50 years after debut in West.
Among the anecdotes:
At the 1958 Brussels World Fair, copies of Doctor Zhivago were distributed by a Russian-speaking priest at the Vatican Pavilion.
The ground nearby was reportedly littered with the dark-blue binding.
Russians tore it off so the book could be divided in half, one for each pocket -- it was a huge book, and Russians could assume they were being watched.
With samizdat redistribution in the Soviet Union, it achieved fame on the underground book market.
For some reason 'tis the season for us to renew several of our magazine subscriptions -- which proved somewhat more agonising than usual.
The most painful step -- because it's the biggest hit to the bank account -- was the TLS renewal, but that's probably the last periodical we'd want to do without, so that was the first thing we got out of the way.
Next up was the decision whether or not to renew The New Republic.
We've been complaining for months now about how they've turned away from fiction coverage and, alas, the most recent copy to make it here, the 22 October issue (complete with special cover warning that our subscription is running out and here's our chance to renew, 'One Year (24 issues) for only $79.97'), again has three lengthy reviews, none of which are devoted to works of fiction.
Yes, the previous issue -- of 8 October -- actually devoted one of its five reviews to a work of fiction (Ruth Franklin reviewing ... Exit Ghost by Philip Roth ...), but honestly, we've seen enough.
It's not that the non-fiction coverage -- or the other material
in the magazine -- is of no interest, but at the very least it would have taken more dedicated fiction coverage to keep us on board; as is, fiction reviews are so rare that if we check on back issues every couple of months at the library we should be covered.
The silly new schedule -- TNR comes out every other week -- has also proved to be highly irritating: somehow it's just much easier to schedule reading time on a predictable weekly or monthly basis (quarterlies also throw us for a loop, as do those annoying twice-or-so-a-year double issues of the TLS and The New Yorker).
Finally, 24 issues for $80.00 is hard to justify, and even at the introductory rate of $39.97 which we assume we could back our way into seems a bit steep for the bang for the buck.
So, under the illusion that we've 'saved' $80.00 we promptly blew $19.95 of that on a ten issue/1 year subscription to a publication that we previously did not receive and that does offer a decent amount of fiction coverage -- but it's a sign of our desperation that we actually forked over money to get ... The New Criterion.
Still, at that price it seems justifiable ... though that Foreign Affairs subscription was also tempting (but: good book coverage, but no fiction coverage).
Finally, we also renewed our subscription to The Economist, the one news-weekly we rely on (and one with decent if pretty limited literary coverage).
We were, however, close to going cold turkey there too, specifically because of their renewal 'offer'.
Eager to hold onto subscribers The Economist sent us numerous renewal notices, reminding us repeatedly that our time was almost up.
Most recently there was one with a: "Last Chance to Renew at our LOWEST RATE" -- the same 'lowest rate' quoted in their previous communications.
We're always all for LOWEST RATEs, but what they were proposing here was: 51 issues (one year) for $139.00.
What's shocking about that is that the official subscription rate you find printed in the magazine is $129.00 -- and if you fill out one of those annoying cards that fall out of the magazine they offer 51 issues for $98.00 (that's not an introductory rate -- it can be used to extend your subscription as well).
We called to complain and were assured it was all some sort of mistake, and it was no problem renewing at $98.00 (steep though that too is), but we didn't much appreciate that very questionable initial (and repeated) offer -- and wonder how many subscribers don't bother checking the numbers and just fill in the invoice and pay the good-for-nothing extra bucks .....
Seems really, really sleazy to us.
For completeness sake: our other magazine-subscriptions, lapsing at different times of the year, are for The New Yorker, Bookforum, and Salmagundi.
We'll probably spring for World Literature Today sometime soon, and we do miss the London Review of Books (we let our subscription lapse, and aren't sure we made the right choice).
Most wanted but hard to justify financially: The Spectator and the New Statesman.
As everyone has noted, they've announced that The Gathering by Anne Enright has been awarded the Man Booker Prize for Fiction 2007.
We do not have it under review; get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
Charlotte Higgins' report in The Guardian, Anne Enright takes the Booker, also offers the latest sales figures on the shortlisted titles (see also our most recent previous mention), noting:
Sales figures of the other books, by contrast, exemplify the tough climate for literary fiction in the marketplace -- and Enright's book has so far shifted just 3,253 copies.
The latest figures from Nielsen BookScan show that the McEwan has sold a total of 120,362; Nicola Barker's Darkmans, 11,097; Mister Pip, 5,170; Mohsin Hamid's The Reluctant Fundamentalist 4,425, and Indra Sinha's Animal's People 2,589.
Enright should see better sales now: last we checked, the Amazon.com Sales Rank was already up to 47, while the Amazon.co.uk Sales Rank was 19.
For additional Man Booker coverage, see:
"There appear to be some novels where people leave their critical faculties at home.
They decide ‘so and so is a great novelist’ or ‘an up-and-coming novelist’, and give them the reverential treatment," he said.
Too many critics, he said, shied away from real criticism.
"The only way you can detect that the reviewer doesn’t like the book is when they spend the whole time simply describing the plot.
They’re not brave enough to say, 'It doesn’t work'.
[They] are tolerant of untidy novels.
They don’t care whether they’re readable or not."
Both as a literary editor and a former Man Booker judge, I can say, hand on heart, that what one dreads most is overlooking something wonderful -- but when so many thousands of books are published every year, there is only so much any paper can cover.
One can only be glad that between reviewers, judges, and readers there exists at least a kind of safety net to catch what might otherwise be missed.
It is very difficult, I have found over the years, to offer any coherent defence of how and why novels are reviewed.
What a strange business !
Novels, I believe, exist to move the reader, to change the way a reader looks at the world; the trouble is, and ever was, that every reader (and so, every reviewer and literary editor) is different.
(Updated - 19 October): See now also Nicholas Lezard on A critical issue in The Guardian (arguing: 'Sir Howard Davies has attacked book reviewers for being clubby and uncritical. Not only is he wrong, but his remarks are a tired old cliche.') and David Lister arguing that 'readers are being sold short' in Book reviews: Can you believe what you read ? in The Independent.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Honoré de Balzac's A Harlot High and Low.
We really should get to more of these classics, but one of the problems is that getting reviews of and quotes about these tends to be a real pain (except for when there are new translations); we'll find some for this page eventually, we figure, but it'll probably take us a while.
The day before the Nobel Prize announcement is probably not the time when you want to be announcing the winner of another literary prize, but the Austrians showed no fear
and let it be known that A.L.Kennedy will receive the Österreichische Staatspreis für europäische Literatur.
Sure, in typical European-prize fashion she only gets to pick it up months from now, but note all the coverage they already got ....
Oh, that's right -- they didn't get much, did they ?
Well, the Austrian papers picked it up -- see for example the article in the official Wiener Zeitung (though note that there's nothing at the Culture Ministry site yet ...).
It's a decent prize -- not that much money, but a good selection of winners (see the full list here).
They gave it to this year's Nobel Prize winner, Doris Lessing, back in 1981, and other winners included one of this year's apparent Nobel-favourites, Claudio Magris (2005), Zbigniew Herbert back in 1965 already (!), Harold Pinter back in 1973, Italo Calvino (1976), Stanisław Lem (1986), Milan Kundera (1987), Dubravka Ugrešić (1998), and António Lobo Antunes (2000) -- as well as quite a few others that it's hard to argue with.
We don't have any Kennedy titles under review at this time but have enjoyed some of her work.
See also her official site.
The New Yorker has an Andrei Platonov story this week, Among Animals and Plants -- as well as a useful online-only interview with translator Robert Chandler by The New Yorker's fiction editor, Deborah Treisman.
Publishers Toby Press are pushing Hoffman's Hunger as 'the American debut of an outstanding Dutch writer', but it's a 1995 translation that is being served up here.
Still, in whatever form, we have to think it's high time he washed up on these shores -- and also wonder why he didn't catch on in the UK back in the day.
We now have five of De Winter's novels under review, and this is the only one available in English translation -- though The Toby Press promise: "we will be publishing several of Mr. de Winter's novels over the coming years."
All we can say is: it's about time.
He's not in the Mulisch or Nooteboom-class, but certainly right up there with John Irving (and not the recent Irving at that) and at the very least his books provide good entertainment -- and in the case of
Hoffman's Hunger quite a bit more.
With his strong American ties (he's affiliated with the Hudson Institute, for god's sake) and his movie-involvement we'd have figured some publisher would have long ago taken a chance on him.
Okay, the movies don't seem to have been very successful -- the 1993 film version of Hoffman's Hunger, which he directed, did star Elliott Gould and Jacqueline Bisset, but who the hell has seen it ? -- but still .....
We still have to properly work our way through it, but we strongly urge you to check out the report on the state of international literary translation presented by International PEN and the Institut Ramon Llull of Barcelona and edited by Esther Allen, To Be Translated or Not to Be (alas ! only available in the dreaded pdf format !), that has now been posted by PEN.
Very interesting, and some useful case-studies and commentary, and obviously something we'll have to take a closer look at -- as we hope many others do too.
(Unfortunately, the numbers-game, as usual, proves problematic -- so for example the reliance on the Center for Book Culture-look at "how many works of fiction have been translated in the United States from a variety of languages in the past six years" originally published here, in Context: while useful in giving a general impression it has a number of weaknesses, most notably that the variety of languages looked at ignores many, in particular three from which there has been considerable literary translation since 2000 -- Arabic, Chinese, and Japanese --, a fact that (shockingly) isn't mentioned in either report .....)
In A war on words in The Guardian Aida Edemariam reports on the current literary situation in Myanmar (i.e. Burma).
She also points to the up-coming English PEN event Freedom Writ Large (25 October, 19:00), where:
John Pilger will be joined by other Aung San Suu Kyi supporters including Maureen Lipman and Rhys Ifans to pay tribute to all those writers of conscience in Burma whose voices have been silenced.
Publishing literary magazines in Urdu and Hindi is like ploughing a barren furrow.
Governments loath them for being anti-establishment and corporate houses can't stomach their pro-poor tirades.
They would rather give their advertisements to the big, influential dailies than patronise the minor and marginalised bhasha magazines.
Pretty sad, though hardly unexpected.
Noted poet-lyricist Nida Fazli blames it on the bazaar.
"Lafzon ki koi keemat nahin hai (the words have lost their value).
Capitalist society promotes fluffy literature and cheap entertainment," says Nida who, like other fellow writers, is not paid for his Urdu articles and distributes his books among friends free.
"If Indian housewives are fed saas-bahu serials and children are hooked on to Indian Idol and laughter challenges,
God save the written word."
No sooner is the Nobel excitement over than attention turns to the Man Booker Prize for Fiction, as the winner will be announced on 16 October.
Here, too, you can bet on the outcome -- and since you know who the contenders are (and there are only six to choose from) your chances of winning at least some money are considerably better .....
The Ladbrokes odds, last we checked, were:
Meanwhile, the first preview-articles are appearing -- with, surprisingly, the Australian press leading the way.
In The Age Stephanie Bunbury finds All eyes on the prize -- noteworthy because she takes a serious look at what the literary weblogs have to say (even though she doesn't attribute opinions ...).
As she notes:
I have been writing about Britain's most significant and sought-after literary prize, the Man Booker, for about a dozen years now, and I must say the growth of the blogosphere has given the race for the £50,000 ($A114,000) prize a whole new dimension.
The bloggers are probably younger than the newspapers' reviewers; statistically, they are supposed to be under 50.
They tend to be angrier, too, eager to dismiss the judges' choice as inevitably pandering to mediocrity, perhaps because they are not likely to be judging a big literary prize themselves any time soon.
That's not all good.
The little varmints -- or "shivering little hate weasels", to quote a phrase devised by one of them to describe himself -- can be pointlessly rude and dreadful know-alls behind the shelter of their online handles.
But they can be forgiven because they care with a passion that is, it's true, leached out of anyone who sits behind a desk doing this stuff all day.
Geordie Williamson also takes a lengthy closer look at all the finalists in Fully booked in The Australian.
Meanwhile, in The Times Chris Cleave 'spots a winning trend' in The Tide, arguing that:
Since its inception in 1969 the sea has been a feisty but faithful muse for the prize, with marine-linked novels a recurring theme among the winners.
Which should give an edge to On Chesil Beach, and, to a lesser extent, Mister Pip.
The company aims to appeal to book worms of all kinds, featuring programs about children's literature, novels, factual and self-help books, educational literature and reference works.
Five hours of programming a day are initially planned. The centerpiece will be a two-hour live show every weekday evening.
The company is lettra, and they have grand (including 24 hour a day programming !) plans.
We look forward to seeing what develops.
Maybe they can take some pointers from Jeanette Winterson, who writes in The Times that TV books programmes don't turn her on -- but thinks that:
A good book programme on mainstream TV could do more than preach to the converted, it could position books where they belong -- at the heart of civilised life.
Yes, it amounts to pretty shameless self-promotion: in Ink and spit in The Guardian John Sutherland looks at past Nobel Prize acceptance speeches -- in what is presumably an adaptation of his introduction to the Icon Books title, Nobel Lectures: 20 Years of the Nobel Prize for Literature, a book that features his name very prominently on the cover (see their publicity page).
It's actually a decent article, which is why we bother to mention it, but note that these lectures -- and more -- are all freely available at the Nobel site.
Alyaksandr Lukashenka revealed to a group of Russia provincial reporters on October 12 that it was by his order that Belarusian literary classics had been excluded from general education schools' course.
"On my initiative, all nationalists, so-called writers, were removed from the school course," the Belarusian leader said.
"Nationalism is a terrible evil.
We started fighting against it long ago.
Tolstoi, Dostoyevsky, Pushkin, Lermontov and many others were thrown out of courses and we’ve restored all this."
"When nationalists were in power, they spoke about nothing but culture and the Belarusian language," Mr. Lukashenka claimed.
Now, we're as anti-nationalist as can be and applaud all efforts that put down ridiculous shows of national honour and pride but, of course, there's something else going on here -- one big fat groveling kowtow to Big Brother Mother Russia.
So Lukashenka is also quoted:
"How can we give up the Russian language if the Belarusian language lacks many terms in sciences ?" he said.
"Why should we invent anything ?
Russian has become a state language."
Well, he's done Putin proud -- which is a very, very bad sign for the poor citizens of Belarus.
Yesterday's linkage covered most of the bases (and reports), but more articles about Doris Lessing have since appeared.
Given that she's an English-writing author whose books are widely available English coverage is extensive -- though the in-depth overview essays will probably still be a few more days (or weeks) in coming.
But at least most of the UK and US media should be better able to come to grips with her than they were with, say, Jelinek.
"I am delighted to hear that Doris Lessing has been awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature.
Her writings, which have been enjoyed by millions and have now been justly recognised, will continue to inspire young people around the world to study literature, and to write themselves."
There are a few leaders and opinion pieces, such as:
But her works are not well known among Chinese readers.
Domestic publishing houses did not expect her to win and failed to line up translation rights in advance.
Only a few books among her vast body of work have been translated into Chinese.
Publishing houses in Shanghai are now trying to get the translation rights to some of her other works, even though they don't hold high sales expectations.
"Books by Nobel Prize winners are undeniably classics, but they only attract a small group of readers who really love foreign literature," Wu Hong, vice general editor of the Shanghai Translation Publishing House, told Shanghai Daily.
In his A Week in Books-column in The Independent this week Boyd Tonkin notes that much English-language writing does well abroad, while little foreign translation makes it to the domestic (UK) market, and:
This gross imbalance in the terms of trade at least attracts some comment.
What no pundit ever seems to notice is that the shining export success of the Anglophone sphere may dull the home market.
Put bluntly, the English language is the North Sea oil of UK publishing.
And this unearned bonus shows no signs of running dry, whether it will flow through printed books or hand-held electronic gizmos.
From textbooks to genre fiction, business manuals to biographies, the ability to sell works written in the language that the literary planet both speaks, and hurries to translate, is a manifest blessing and a hidden burden.
As with other post-imperial benefits, the ease of worldwide English-language business can sometimes cushion the complacent and bankroll the banal.
It might even, I suspect, dissuade publishers from working to expand a home-grown readership.
A well-regarded novel that struggles to sell a few thousand copies here may, as they say, "wash its face" abroad.
The author will fly off for festivals and tours, as publishers and agents bask in reflected glory.
All well and good -- except that this very global reach can also leave writers feeling orphaned on home turf, exiled from bestseller-led chain bookshops and shut out from promotions that stick to the level of the Richard & Judy brow.
We just noticed that at The New Yorker site they have some audio of Paul Theroux reading Jorge Luis Borges' story 'The Gospel According to Mark' -- and briefly talking with The New Yorker's fiction editor, Deborah Treisman.
See also our reviews of Theroux's new novel, The Elephanta Suite -- and Borges' Collected Fictions.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Edwin M. Yoder jr.'s Lions at Lamb House, historical fiction that pits Henry James and Sigmund Freud against each other (though, alas, they're both more lamb than lion ...).
They've announced that the Nobel Prize for Literature has been awarded to Doris Lessing -- throwing us for a bit of a loop.
Born in 1919, she's often been mentioned as a contender but she seemed to slip under the radar this year -- and with the recent Pinter-win another British laureate seemed unlikely to follow so soon (suggesting -- at least to us -- that she may have been something of a fall-back winner if the Swedish Academy was divided between two (or more) candidates that they just couldn't agree on).
The official press release, last we checked, only has a brief quote -- "that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny" -- but a longer one should replace that soon.
At least the Biobibliographical Notes are more useful .....
Certainly a less contentious choice than some of the recent ones (Jelinek, Pinter), but certainly still an author that must also be considered political.
As noted at The Guardian, at 87 (she turns 88 on the 22nd) "she is the oldest person to have been awarded the prize -- a title previously held by Theodor Mommsen, who was 85 when he won the award in 1902."
Here are the links we've collected for today, from background, profiles, interviews, lectures to today's Nobel-coverage:
UK's Lessing says Nobel deals her "royal flush" by Mike Collett-White at Reuters: "'I've won all the prizes in Europe, every bloody one,' she said as she stepped out of a taxi carrying groceries. 'I'm delighted to win them all, the whole lot ... It's a royal flush.'
This sounds pretty good: The Daily Star reports on Eid treats for the bookworm, as in Bangladesh they apparently publish a lot of reading material for Eid:
If Eid is for everyone, then why leave out the avid readers ?
Literature enthusiasts in the country eagerly await Eid as the newspapers and magazines bring out 'Eid-specials'.
These special publications include novels, stories, short stories, memoirs, special features and more by noted and emerging writers, columnists and other personalities renowned in their respective fields.
Although some magazines bring out special issues on Eid fashion, literature-based publications remain the highpoint to avid readers.
Catalonia, Catalunya, it's the (semi-controversial) guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair this week, and the October Words without Borders goes on 'Rambles through Catalunya'.
Among the goodies: the great Juan Goytisolo 'on universal dialogue and cultural riches' in Dialogues without Frontiers.
Meanwhile, after the September Book Club at Ww/oB was held at the weblog, they've put the October discussion -- on The Rebels by Márai Sándor -- in the Forum section (though it hasn't really gotten rolling yet).
The Rebels was also reviewed in the 5 October TLS, by Mihály Szegedy-Maszák, and we're looking forward to some of the many interesting issues raised in that being addressed (such as the fact that there are apparently a number of different Hungarian versions of the novel, with the English translation based on the 1930 edition).
(See also our review of The Rebels.)
As widely noted, they've announced the finalists for the 2007 (American) National Book Awards.
The only title we have under review -- and we don't really see ourselves covering any of these other titles -- is God is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens.
The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Aharon Megged's The Flying Camel and the Golden Hump, now available, a quarter of a century after its original Hebrew publication, in English.
The title might make it a tough sell (and the cover doesn't help that much either), but we do hope this reaches the audience it deserves -- this is damn good writing, and a very good novel.