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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 February 2008

1 February: Piglet-attack on religion ? | Tepper on Lispector | Robert Fisk's Saddam Hussein | CIBF overview | Translation seminar in Cairo
2 February: Adichie on Ekwensi | Angela Carter appreciation | Stefan Zweig | James Wood mania | Reading in ... Hong Kong | Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren review
3 February: Nayantara Sahgal on different times | Indian advances | Ibrahim al-Koni takes Zayed Book Prize | Bookstores in ... India | Bogotá 39 | Brand McSweeney’s | The Waitress was New review
4 February: Translation (in India) | Boycott at Turin book fair ? | Leipzig reads Croatian | Les Bienveillantes in German | Franzen for Obama ?
5 February: Venuti on the business of publishing translations | NYTBR goes ... Romanian ?!?? | Handke at the National | Frank Wilson leaving the Inquirer | Vietnamese translation | Updike on Flann O’Brien | Cela's 'plagiarism', cont'd. | Alamut review
6 February: Hindi literature | Thirlwell: 'On Writing Half-Jewishly' | Michel Butor's little history of French literature | NBCC's Good Reads | Ian McEwan interview | The Ice Palace review
7 February: Michael Krüger's second novel | Encyclopaedic erotica | Leipzig book prize shortlists | Book mania in Belgrade ?
8 February: No fresh blood for the Académie française | Arnon Grunberg interview | Ilf and Petrov in America redux | More One-Minute Stories
9 February: Reading the World preview | Another literary weblog overview | The Friday Project cashes out ? | PLR numbers | Mountains Painted with Turmeric review
10 February: Swiss publishing numbers | More on translation in India | Stoppard and the Belarus Free Theatre

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10 February 2008 - Sunday

Swiss publishing numbers | More on translation in India
Stoppard and the Belarus Free Theatre

       Swiss publishing numbers

       The Swiss National Library reports that there were 11,000 new Swiss books in 2007:
In 2007, the Swiss National Library recorded a total of 11,410 new titles produced by Swiss publishers and itemised in the National Bibliography, The Swiss Book. This figure represents a very slight reduction of around 4%, as compared to 2006 (11,875 titles).
       Interesting the language-results -- and especially disappointing that Romansh titles fared so poorly:
The apportionment by language shows a reduction of 2% in the number of new German (6,631 new publications) and Italian (361) titles, a heavy fall of 48% in Romanche titles (21), a drop of 29% (663) in multilingual titles and, finally, a drop of 10% in English titles. The only increase to report was in new French titles, which rose by 6% (2,509).
       Also interesting;
The proportion of translated works went down by 8% to 937. 410 titles were translated from English (-12%), 200 from German (-18%) and 157 from French (-1%). Books originating in 31 languages were translated into one or another of the national languages by Swiss publishers (2006: 28 languages).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More on translation in India

       Another article about translation in India, Of many tongues in the Deccan Herald, as Benita Sen wonders:
Are there two Indias out there ? One, the India of authors writing in English and the other, the India, that is Bharat, where authors write in regional languages and are often known no further than the ‘choukath’ of their own home states ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Stoppard and the Belarus Free Theatre

       In Stoppard to the rescue in The Observer Stephanie Merritt talks (briefly) with Tom Stoppard about his support of the Belarus Free Theatre

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

9 February 2008 - Saturday

Reading the World preview | Another literary weblog overview
The Friday Project cashes out ? | PLR numbers
Mountains Painted with Turmeric review

       Reading the World preview

       The official site still has last year's programme, but at Three Percent Chad Post previews this year's Reading the World list -- "25 titles -- 20 from the 10 "core" publishers who have been part of the program from the start and 5 selected by a panel of independent booksellers" .
       A big enough selection that there's something to satisfy everyone -- and a few very fresh titles (so fresh we haven't even seen them yet ...).
       At this time we have six of the titles under review, and a review-overview of a seventh:
(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Another literary weblog overview

       Vulpes Libris has a nice 'Fox in the City'-feature, wondering: Book Bloggers: The Saviour of Small Publishers ? The End of Decent Criticism ? Or Unpaid Cheerleaders ?.
       Well worth a look -- and with good (and somewhat surprising) comments for print-heavy-hitters like Boyd Tonkin (The Independent) and Robert McCrum (The Observer).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Friday Project cashes out ?

       In The Bookseller Tom Tivnan reports that The Friday Project up for sale:
Pan Macmillan is believed to be the front-runner to acquire The Friday Project (TFP), which is currently in talks with several parties over a sale.
       No word yet about any potential sale at the official site, or at the weblog of Commercial Director Scott Pack, Me And My Big Mouth (or, for that matter, at Girl Friday).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       PLR numbers

       The latest Public Lending Right figures are out (see their media centre for various press releases and tables), showing which are the most borrowed titles and authors in UK libraries.
       See also Joel Rickett's take on all the numbers in The Guardian where, for this week and purpose, at least, he's: The booklender.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Mountains Painted with Turmeric review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Lil Bahadur Chettri's Mountains Painted with Turmeric -- recently out from Columbia University Press, and the first book originally written in Nepali we've ever come across.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

8 February 2008 - Friday

No fresh blood for the Académie française | Arnon Grunberg interview
Ilf and Petrov in America redux | More One-Minute Stories

       No fresh blood for the Académie française

       There's probably something to be said for French snobbery, but at some point it gets self-defeating: witness the staid old Académie française, an elite institution making a point to prove that it is becoming less and less willing to let new members in, leaving it an increasingly aged group. Six of the 40 'fauteuils' -- the immortal-slots -- are vacant, but two were supposed to be filled yesterday as elections were held for the seats vacated (by death) by Henri Troyat and Bertrand Poirot-Delpech. Yeah, that went really well. As, for example, Le Monde reports, Double éléction blancheé à l'Académie française, as no one got the necessary 14 votes through four (!) rounds of voting.
       See also the results on the AF-news page -- and pity poor Gilles Henry, who was clearly in way over his head (his voting line: 0, 0, 0, 0). Or is it worse for Dominique Bona, who fell only a single vote shy in -- amazingly -- the first round of voting, but couldn't get that one additional vote in the next three rounds ?
       The British have been paying more attention than usual, since, as John Lichfield reports in The Independent, Poet vies to be first Englishman accepted by Académie française. Michael Edwards acquitted himself (relatively) well (votes received: 8, 7, 8, 8), but wasn't ever really a threat to nab the seat.
       So at the end of the day there are still six vacant fauteuils, and at this pace it looks like more of the grand elders will keel over before any seats are filled. We're all for setting the bar high, but once your numbers start to dwindle like this you're playing a dangerous game.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Arnon Grunberg interview

       We have quite a few Arnon Grunberg titles under review (the just-released-in-translation The Jewish Messiah, Phantom Pain, Silent Extras, and two of his Marek van der Jagt-books, Monogaam and The Story of My Baldness), and Nextbook now has a decent overview-interview with him (by Ruth Franklin), Agent Provocateur.
       Among the interesting responses:
In Europe, your work has sold very well and won a lot of prestigious prizes, but in America you’re less well known. Is there something about your work that doesn’t translate well, so to speak ?

Maybe the best answer to your question is bad luck. If the reviewer for the Christian Science Monitor had not described Blue Mondays as "pornography" and The New York Times had asked a different reviewer to review it, who knows what would have happened. My publishing story in the U.S. is not the happiest story of my life.
       We would have figured being labelled pornographic by the Christian Science Monitor could only have helped, but he might have had a point about the Times review (which you can find here): J.D. Biersdorfer -- whose main gig is apparently the "weekly computer Q&A column for the Circuits section of The New York Times"; see a profile here and her other articles at the Times here -- does not seem to be an ... obvious choice for this title (and, hey, it wasn't even Tanenhaus' fault -- this was before his time).
       We were also very sad to learn:
But you’ve continued to write under the name "Marek van der Jagt," right ?

No, he died in 2005.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Ilf and Petrov in America redux

       In The Moscow Times Anna Malpas reports that 'a documentary repeats Ilf and Petrov's historic road trip across the United States', in New Worlds to Discover:
In 1935, satirical writers Ilya Ilf and Yevgeny Petrov drove from New York to the Mexican border and back in a Ford. They spoke only schoolboy English and couldn't drive, but these obstacles weren't allowed to stand in the way of their commission from Pravda newspaper to write a book on the United States. Accompanied by a left-wing American couple -- the wife driving and the Russian-speaking husband interpreting -- they applied their comic talents to such strange phenomena as drugstores, ham and eggs, striptease shows and chewing gum advertisements.

More than 70 years later, a crew from Channel One repeated Ilf and Petrov's journey for a new documentary series, also titled One-Story America, which starts Feb. 11.
       An English edition of the Ilf and Petrov book came out fairly recently from Princeton Architectural Press, who published it as Ilf and Petrov's American Road Trip; see their publicity page, or get your copy at or Also worth a look: the long excerpt (with photographs) at Cabinet.

       (See also our review of Ilf and Petrov's The Twelve Chairs.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More One-Minute Stories

       We're fans of -- and have under review -- Örkény István's One Minute Stories, and now Corvina has brought out More One-Minute Stories (see their publicity page -- but it doesn't seem to be listed at Amazon yet), in a translation by Judith Sollosy.
       At hlo they have offer a good introduction to the collection and Örkény, in Zoltán András Bán's Fantastic realism, as well as offering a few of the stories.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

7 February 2008 - Thursday

Michael Krüger's second novel | Encyclopaedic erotica
Leipzig book prize shortlists | Book mania in Belgrade ?

       Michael Krüger's second novel

       Michael Krüger's The Executor is just out in English translation, and he's even in the US on a little book tour: they had a nice bash for him at the Goethe Institut in New York on Monday, and those in Chicago can enjoy a Bilingual Reading at the Goethe Institut there tonight (18:00).
       Good to see there's some review coverage already (beside ours), as The Los Angeles Times offered Tim Rutten's review yesterday. A nice piece, but .....
       A few days ago we mentioned Lawrence Venuti's call for a 'translation culture'. Among his hopes: that publishers publish: "more than one foreign text and more than one foreign author". Certainly one would think it would help if there were more context for translated works: more texts by the same author made available, more texts from the culture in which s/he writes. But Rutten now has us doubting even the best-case scenario.
       In his review Rutten writes about Krüger:
Two years ago, his first novel, The Cello Player, won critical success in the United States as an intellectual entertainment.
       True, The Cello Player is the only book they list in the American edition of The Executor but, in fact, Krüger is a well-established novelist (and poet).
       And maybe Rutten could be excused if The Cello Player was the first of Krüger's novels to be translated into English. But even just off-hand we can think of The Man in the Tower.
       And Himmelfarb.
       And The End of the Novel
       (And there's the story-collection Scenes from the Life of a Best-selling Author, too.)
       We're sympathetic to and often try our best to follow the 'author-what-author-? school of criticism' (i.e. focus only on the text at hand, and try to ignore whoever wrote it, and whatever else they might have written), but if you're going to refer to an author's previous work(s) then get it right.
       We can even understand a contemporary cultural commentator having the memory of gnat (most seem to), but given this neat resource called the internet it should take any writer (or copy editor) about ten seconds to discover that Michael Krüger has been published fairly extensively (for an author in translation ...) in English. anyone ?
       What's interesting, though, is how little cultural capital Krüger has built up. Is he an author who should be better known ? Well consider that run of novels from the 1990s: The New York Times Book Review (admittedly far more receptive to international literature under that administration than the current one) devoted considerable review-space to both The Man in the Tower and Himmelfarb -- and the reviews (by Patrick McGrath and William Boyd, here and here) were certainly 'good' reviews (hell, we're tempted to dig these books up after having a look). Good enough, we'd have thought, that one could say about them that they'd each ... "won critical success in the United States as an intellectual entertainment".
       But clearly they haven't made -- or left much of -- a mark. (Being long and far out of print doesn't help the cause either.)
       So we wonder: how can we have a 'critical' conversation if the critics don't even get the basics right -- and despite the fact that there's all that context that's already readily available (well, digging up the old books would take a bit of effort, but there are reviews online, etc.). Blaming the publishers for not publishing nearly enough translations is all well and good -- but what about when they do offer a solid and representative selection (as clearly was and is the case with Krüger) yet less than two decades later all these books that were brought out have been completely forgotten ? (They not only don't figure in Rutten's discussion, they literally don't even exist for him !)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Encyclopaedic erotica

       In the current TLS Robert Irwin reviews the intriguing-sounding Encyclopedia of Erotic Literature (ed. Gaetan Brulotte and John Phillips, see the Routledge publicity page or get your copy at or
       Among the observations:
Some of the biographical entries are so strange that I wondered if some of these writers had not been made up. (It is common practice in reference books to insert a bogus entry or two in order to establish copyright in any future plagiarism case in court.) Was Pierre Albert-Birot a real person ? Did he really write Les Six Livres de Grabinlour (1991) ?
       (Hey ! We even have The First Book of Grabinoulor -- a Dalkey Archive Press title -- under review !)
       But he also found:
I also finished my reading of these two volumes with the feeling that sex was a lot less fun than I had hitherto supposed. Even thinking about sex has become difficult and it is being made more difficult year by year.
But I had been hoping that the Encylopedia’s coverage would be trashier

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Leipzig book prize shortlists

       They've announced the shortlists for the Preis der Leipziger Buchmesse -- the big German book prize in the spring.
       Jenny Erpenbeck is probably the best-known of the authors in the fiction-category, but the book we're most curious about is Michael Maar's Nabokov-book, Solus Rex. But what we really like about this prize is the three categories -- or rather: the third category: they do fiction (but have to compete against the German Book Prize), non (who cares ?), and ... translation.
       Interestingly, of the five shortlisted translations three are of old-to-ancient authors and books: translations of Stendhal, Homer, and Joanot Martorell (Tirant lo Blanc).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Book mania in Belgrade ?

       Albena Shkodrova wants to convince us of The Book Craze that's Got a Hold on Belgrade, as:
Whether from a nostalgia for its existence as an imperial centre or as an escape from reality, the literary obsession of the Serbian capital grows with every passing season.
       Sounds good to us.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

6 February 2008 - Wednesday

Hindi literature | Thirlwell: 'On Writing Half-Jewishly'
Michel Butor's little history of French literature | NBCC's Good Reads
Ian McEwan interview | The Ice Palace review

       Hindi literature

       Kunal Diwan considers How bright is the future of Hindi literature ? in The Hindu -- and doesn't come to any convincing conclusion.
       Certainly the current state of affairs is less than ideal:
Battling the two formidable adversaries of the Internet and English writing, the consumption of Hindi literature has long been restricted to school curricula and competitive examinations.
       And the demographics are apparently even worse than for reading generally:
Another significant facet of the readership equation is the apparently increasing age of readers -- Hindi books seem to be read only by people well into or well past their middle age.
       But not everyone agrees:
Author Teji Grover, however, said to arrive at an accurate reading of the scenario, one would have to make a trip to the rural areas where there is a hunger for Hindi books that rivals the obsession with cinema. "I don’t think there is a readership crisis at all. If one diverts one’s gaze past the urban centres, children vie to read even the smallest scrap of paper they find lying around. I have chanced upon discussions comparing Premchand to Gorky in remote villages."
       But what about contemporary Hindi literature ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Thirlwell: 'On Writing Half-Jewishly'

       In The Jewish Quarterly Adam Thirlwell writes On Writing Half-Jewishly, insisting:
For there is no such thing as Jewish literature: just as there is no such thing as Italian literature, either. There is only a history of literature. And the history of literature is one of individual styles -- which are, in the end, not even defined by the language in which they’re written. As Marcel Proust wrote -- and Proust is a minor hero of Miss Herbert, with his Jewish mother, and his belief in style -- style ‘has nothing to do with embellishment, as some people think, it’s not even a matter of technique, it’s -- like colour for a painter -- a quality of vision, the revelation of the particular universe that each of us sees, and that other people don’t see.’
       A reasonable idea -- but a tough sell. Those national/religious/etc. labels are just too damn convenient.

       Interestingly and somewhat awkwardly there's also a review of Thirlwell's new book, Miss Herbert (see our review-overview-page, review forthcoming) in the same issue of The Jewish Quarterly.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Michel Butor's little history of French literature

       Michel Butor goes multi-media with his new Petite histoire de la littérature française: it's not a book, but rather six (or is it five ?) CDs of him in conversation with Lucien Giraudo, discussing all of French literature, as well as a DVD -- and a small printed sampler, an anthology of accompanying texts selected by him.
       We'd be interested in his overview -- but would much prefer it entirely in book-form. But it doesn't look like they're going to make that available any time soon.
       For the CD/DVD/book set, see also the Carnets Nord publicity page, or get your copy at

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       NBCC's Good Reads

       The NBCC's Good Reads - Winter List is now up, the top five books (fiction, non, and poetry; basically current titles) as selected by the NBCC members and award winners.
       None of the titles local barkeep and NBCC member M.A.Orthofer named made the top five, but we do have two of the fiction titles under review: Diary of a Bad Year by J.M. Coetzee (3rd) and Zeroville by Steve Erickson (5th) -- both of which are certainly well worthwhile.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Ian McEwan interview

       In The Australian Peter Wilson talks with Ian McEwan about Navel-gazing's short shelf life.
       A lot of discussion along the lines of:
With a wince that suggests he was mystified as well as disgusted by what has been going on in academe, McEwan says the discussion and teaching of literature has taken a perverse, pseudo-scientific turn.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       The Ice Palace review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Tarjei Vesaas' The Ice Palace.
       One of the more remarkable novels we've come across in quite a while, and it's good to see it's not fallen entirely into oblivion: Peter Owen apparently released it again not too long ago, and it's great to see that several weblogs already came across it (see reviews at booklit and dovegreyreader scribbles, for example). But it deserves to be better-known.
       It's also a great example of the value of having access to books in translation: this is a distinctly foreign book, not only in its setting and action, but in the style and use of language, and even if something is lost in translation (as was undoubtedly the case here) so much is still here that it makes for an eye-openingly different reading experience than anything domestic fiction offers. But the universals are also still there, and the story is surely as powerful to a contemporary American or British reader as it was more four decades ago when it came out in Norwegian.
       It also strikes that rare fine balance between the upsetting (and unsettling) and the ... for a want of a better expression, life-affirming, making for a very emotional read.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

5 February 2008 - Tuesday

Venuti on the business of publishing translations | NYTBR goes ... Romanian ?!??
Handke at the National | Frank Wilson leaving the Inquirer | Vietnamese translation
Updike on Flann O’Brien | Cela's 'plagiarism', cont'd. | Alamut review

       Venuti on the business of publishing translations

       The February issue of Words without Borders is up, and apparently: "This month we spotlight graphic novelists of five continents."
       Fortunately there's more than just that, and especially worth a look is Lawrence Venuti's Translations on the Market, an essay: "prepared for the panel 'To Be Translated or Not To Be' organized at the 2007 Frankfurt Book Fair by the Institut Ramon Llull in connection with the PEN/IRL report on the international situation of literary translation". Aside from the fact that we're impressed he managed to slip in a mention of Jarl Robert Hemmer's A Fool of Faith (something we haven't managed in all these years ...) it's a very interesting look at the business of publishing translations.
       It comes as no surprise to us that publishers' business-sense proves not to be very sensible, and Venuti makes an interesting case; we're looking forward to what, for example, Three Percent have to say about this piece (though what we'd really love to see is some of the bigger houses respond and explain ...). It's quite a gauntlet Venuti throws down.
       He finds:
Ironically, then, publishers seem not to have acted in their own best interests, whether those interests are cultural or commercial or both.

The main problem is that long-standing practices reveal a conceptual naïveté, a limited understanding of translation, of the cultural issues that any translation project must confront and somehow resolve if it is to be successful both critically and commercially. Hence I want to suggest that, where translation is concerned, these practices need to be rethought, if not simply abandoned, and replaced by a more savvy approach that is truly concerned with cultural as well as commercial factors. Otherwise Anglophone publishers -- and no doubt publishers in other languages as well -- will remain complicit in our present predicament: the absence of what I shall call a translation culture, that is to say, a culture that can sustain the study and practice of translation, that can foster a sophisticated and appreciative discourse about translation in its many aspects, and that can create an informed readership to support and encourage the publication of translated texts.
       Of particular interest: some actual hard numbers:
In 1922 Chatto and Windus published C.K. Scott Moncrieff’s version of Proust's Swann’s Way in two volumes, and within a year 3000 copies were in print. Yet five years later volume one had sold only 1773 copies and volume two only 1663. In 1928 Martin Secker published his first translation of a novel by Thomas Mann, Helen Lowe-Porter's version of The Magic Mountain, but it took seven years to sell 4,641 copies, helped no doubt by the translations of seven other books by Mann that Secker had issued in the interval.
       Just think about that .....
I am suggesting that with translations publishers must take an approach that is much more critically detached, more theoretically astute as well as aesthetically sensitive. They must publish not only translations of foreign texts and authors that conform to their own tastes, but more than one foreign text and more than one foreign author, and they must make strategic choices so as to sketch the cultural situations and traditions that enable a particular text to be significant in its own culture.
       A tall order, perhaps ('Impossible !' we hear the NY-conglomerate-house-editors scream practically in unison ...), but, boy, does that sound good.
       (It's much easier with reviews, of course, but note that, to at least a limited extent, that's what we try to do at the complete review, reviewing multiple titles by authors wherever possible, including titles that have not yet been translated, etc.)
       (See also our review of Venuti's worthwhile book on The Scandals of Translation.)

       (Updated - 7 February): See now -- as hoped for -- Chad Post's reaction at Three Percent.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       NYTBR goes ... Romanian ?!??

       We missed their announcement from a few weeks ago, but Jennifer Schuessler recently mentioned it at their Paper Cuts weblog: The New York Times Book Review is now available in Romanian, the only international edition of the NYTBR, licensed to Editura Univers and with a print run of 40,000 to start off with. (See the Paper Cuts mention for a picture .....)
       Talk about jaw-dropping/WTF/it's got to be April Fool's type news. We were so flabbergasted we actually checked the Romanian media -- but, yes, it's true, as for example Cristiana Visan reports in Cotidianul, The New York Times Book Review apare, in premiera, in limba romana.
       What is going on here ? After all, here's the least internationally-oriented incarnation of the NYTBR in living memory (under the Tanenhaus administration), where they might review two Romanian-related titles in a good year (Norman Manea, and Mircea Eliade and E.M.Cioran-related titles seem the only likely literary candidates) and pretty much ignore the larger world of letters (at least as far as fiction written in foreign languages goes), and this is what the Romanians want to read ? There are literally dozens of literary supplements and periodicals that provide better-rounded coverage, and even just among the English-language ones quite a few that we'd have picked before the NYTBR. (They are thinking of eventually padding it with Romanian material, but unfortunately it does not appear that it will be a reciprocal agreement -- i.e. we're afraid the US edition of the NYTBR will not be making that available to their readers .....)
       But we do enjoy the light-hearted reaction-quotes:
"The New York Times is delighted to extend its coverage of books to a new international audience," said Sam Tanenhaus, editor of the Book Review. "While the number of English-reading persons is growing worldwide, there is no better way for The New York Times to maximize its readership than to be available in the local language."
       We do wonder: did they offer this type of licensing-arrangement to everybody on the continent -- and then have to settle for the Romanians, the only ones to bite (and, presumably, the only ones not to laugh them out of the building ...) ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Handke at the National

       We're usually pleased when a newspaper devotes leader- (editorial page) space to discussion of a work of literature or a play, but the Daily Telegraph surely doesn't mean well when they write about the new National Theatre production of Peter Handke's dialogue-less The Hour We Knew Nothing of Each Other in No conversation at this National Theatre piece. For one thing, they don't even mention the name of the play .....
       They do make an interesting point, however:
Considering the unique silent selling-point of the play, it is odd that the programme boasts that it is being produced in "a new translation".
       So it is -- by Meredith Oakes. We're kind of surprised: the old one was by Gitta Honneger (who is also responsible for a lot of the Bernhard-play translations) and seems to have established itself fairly well (except for one edition sold at Amazon, where author and translator are listed as: 'Peter Honneger, Gitta Handke'). (There's no book-edition of the Oakes version yet, as far as we can tell, but the Yale University Press edition of the Honegger-translation, in Voyage to the Sonorous Land, is available from and -- or get the original Die Stunde da wir nichts voneinander wußten from
       To their credit the Daily Telegraph devotes more space to discussion of the National's forthcoming production of the play, as Nigel Reynolds reports that National Theatre stage braces for silent play -- but he isn't exactly brimming over with enthusiasm either .....
       There have been several English-language productions of the play: Charles McNulty was quite impressed by the Five Myles production in 1999, and Ned Bobkoff reported on: "Austrian playwright Peter Handke's blow out theatre event, the hour we knew nothing of each other, staged by the University of Rochester's International Theatre Program" for Scene4; see also the University of Rochester press release.

       And, finally, note that the National has a trailer for the production at YouTube.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Frank Wilson leaving the Inquirer

       Oh, this is very disappointing news: Frank Wilson, book review editor of The Philadelphia Inquirer, has noted at his weblog, Books Inq. that The cat's out of the bag ...:
Yes, it's true. Friday will be my last day as book editor of The Inquirer.
       No one has done as much to bridge any divides between newspaper and online literary coverage, through his own weblog, his generous invitations to so many of us bloggers to review for The Philadelphia Inquirer, and, most of all, his always supportive and open-minded attitude, and we can only hope that he continues his fine work wherever his next stop may be.

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       Vietnamese translation

       This VietNamNet Bridge piece is almost worth a mention just for the headline (proving just how difficult translation is ?) -- Interview with Harry Porter translator -- but the interview with Ly Lan actually focusses on a project that's of more interest, as she's: "working on a collection of Vietnamese literature in English and Chinese, in the desire to introduce Vietnamese literature to readers worldwide".
       As she explains:
I want to introduce Vietnamese works of literature to my friends but I have difficulty finding quality translations they can access.

The situation is the same in Vietnam. It’s difficult to find Vietnamese works translated into English contemporary literature on any bookshelf.

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       Updike on Flann O’Brien

       In Back-chat, Funny Cracks in The New Yorker John Updike looks at the novels of Flann O’Brien.
       We were hoping that when James Wood talked about being able to cover different books now that he's at The New Yorker that this is the type of stuff he'd pounce on. Presumably Updike still has first dibs, but we do hope Wood eventually proves himself to be adventurous and does take a stab at this sort of thing.

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       Cela's 'plagiarism', cont'd.

       Even posthumously Camilo José Cela can't shake the plagiarism accusations against him, as The Independent reports Spain's Nobel-winning novelist Cela 'stole passages for his book'.
       This is old, old news, but it's not going away yet:
Cela, who died in 2002, was said to have stolen passages for his book La Cruz de San Andrés (The Cross of St Andrew) from a work by Carmen Formoso called Carmen, Carmela, Carmiña.

Now a judge in Barcelona's Constitutional Court has ordered the case, which tarnished the reputation of Cela during his final years, to be reopened. A literary expert has been asked to supply an exhaustive report as to whether Cela was one of Spain's best writers or simply a literary thief.
       See also Pere Ríos and Carles Geli's report in El País, La juez solicita nuevos informes sobre el presunto plagio de Cela.

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       Alamut review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Vladimir Bartol's 1938 novel, Alamut.
       The publicity material that came with our copy features, on the top of the first page, the claim that this is:
The story behind the Assassins Creed video game from Ubisoft for Playstation 3 and X-BOX 360.
       We can't imagine the game is very closely based on the novel itself, but, hey, maybe it'll help attract a cross-over audience .....

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4 February 2008 - Monday

Translation (in India) | Boycott at Turin book fair ? | Leipzig reads Croatian
Les Bienveillantes in German | Franzen for Obama ?

       Translation (in India)

       In The Indian ventriloquist in The Hindu Mini Krishnan looks at the role of the translator.

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       Boycott at Turin book fair ?

       They're holding the Fiera Internazionale del Libro di Torino -- the Turin Internatinal Book Fair -- 8 to 12 May, and the guest of honour is Israel and ... well, you can guess the rest.
       As Menahem Gantz reported in Literary loathing in ynet a few weeks ago:
Radical left-wing parties in Italy are calling for a boycott of the Turin International Book Fair, whose organizers have selected Israel as a special guest of honor at the fair in honor of its 60th year of independence.
       Now others are jumping on board as, for example, AKI report that Book fair boycotted by Arab writers, as:
The Union of Arab Writers has written a letter of protest at the designation of Israel as a guest of honour for the next edition of the Turin International Book Fair, Italian daily Corriere della Sera reports.

The letter slams Israel's invitation to the event -- timed to mark the 60th anniversary of the Jewish state -- at a time when its economic blockade is crippling the Gaza Strip, according to prominent Iraqi author Younis Tawfik, quoted by Corriere della Sera.
       See also Pierre Assouline's comments Vers un boycottage des écrivains israéliens ? at his weblog.

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       Leipzig reads Croatian

       Croatia is the guest of honour at the Leipzig Book Fair from 13 to 16 March, and they've set up a nice and informative dedicated site devoted to it -- only in German, but exemplary in showing what you can do to promote even a relatively small and obscure national literature.
       See also some English information at the LBF site itself, at Leipzig reads Croatian.

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       Les Bienveillantes in German

       Jonathan Littell's Les Bienveillantes is coming out in German later this month, and the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung is going all out in its coverage, with a special online book-club that has already started discussing the book; looks pretty impressive.

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       Franzen for Obama ?

       We're not sure why the Germans care, but in Die Welt Wieland Freund interviews Jonathan Franzen about the American presidential primaries, with the overly-sensational headline promising an explanation: Warum ich für Barack Obama bin ('Why I am for Barack Obama').
       In fact, there's no ringing endorsement here, with Franzen going little beyond saying that if it comes down contest between Romney and Obama, and it's close, then he might become an active supporter. Memories of his door-to-door efforts on behalf of Kerry apparently have left a somewhat sour taste in his mouth .....

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3 February 2008 - Sunday

Nayantara Sahgal on different times | Indian advances
Ibrahim al-Koni takes Zayed Book Prize | Bookstores in ... India
Bogotá 39 | Brand McSweeney’s | The Waitress was New review

       Nayantara Sahgal on different times

       Outlook India offers excerpts from a speech by Nayantara Sahgal from the recent Jaipur Literary Festival, One Thousand Writers, One Flat World.
       Among the interesting bits: how times have changed:
I'm probably more aware of the commercialism of our current book climate because it is so different from when I started writing. My first novel was published in 1958. No one then judged a manuscript by how many copies it would be expected to sell. Agents and editors had a part to play, in recognising quality, and taking risks, if need be, to nurture it. Books of topical interest were important and there were plenty of them, but fiction was not a matter of topical interest or current fashion. I remember asking my editor at Alfred Knopf whether he thought a particular novel was "timely" and he said they chose fiction for its timeless quality. And Victor Gollancz, who published me in Britain, had the same attitude. Publishers considered themselves taste-makers, opinion-makers. Agents and editors did not intrude into the process of writing -- at least I never had such an experience, never so much as a change of sentence. This came back to me very strongly when a few years ago a successful Indian-American writer told me how beholden she was to her agent -- he had told her what to enlarge on, what to leave out, and generally decided how her product should be "packaged" for the best effect.
       We don't know whether to laugh or cry .....

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       Indian advances

       In Outlook India Sheela Reddy reports that 'Indian writers no longer have to knock on foreign doors: the Big Fat Indian Advance is here', in Words Worth Millions.

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       Ibrahim al-Koni takes Zayed Book Prize

       The Khaleej Times reports that Libyan novelist wins Zayed Book Prize, another relatively new big-money Arabic literary prize, as:
The Libyan novelist Ibrahim Al Koni has won the Shaikh Zayed Book Prize for 2007-2008 while the Kuwaiti writer Huda Al Shawa bagged the Shaikh Zayed Book Prize for Children’s Literature, according to an announcement.
       Several of al-Koni's books have been translated -- even into English .....

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       Bookstores in ... India

       In the Times of India Priyanko Sarkar wonders Do bookstores know how to sell books ?, as:
Indian bookstores are too inchoate today to develop distinct personalities. So, at the moment, they are merely outlets of big publishing houses.
       As for customers:
They are not looking for rare books. They are merely looking for good books. The problem in India is that no meaningful market survey has been conducted to see what customers really want.

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       Bogotá 39

       They just held the Hay Cartagena festival, and in The Observer Francesca Segal reports (very, very vaguely) on Latin American literature 39 steps from Marquez, as:
Since last year, the Bogota 39 have received increasing and well-deserved attention and have begun, for the first time, to read and to communicate with one another in their writing, diverse talents slowly coalescing into a generation bound by more than simply chronology.
       We hadn't really noticed, but it's certainly something worth following; see also the list of authors.

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       Brand McSweeney’s

       In the Sunday Times Stephen Amidon looks at Their master’s voice: the rise and rise of brand McSweeney’s, and wonders: 'Is Dave Eggers now the most influential man in literary circles ?'
       (He may very well be, though we're surprised by how little interest we manage to muster in almost all things McSweeney's. They certainly do some worthy things, and many of their literary endeavours -- notably the magazine itself -- certainly sound intriguing, and yet .....)
       As Amidon notes:
What really sets Eggers’s empire apart, though, is that it possesses that most elusive and valued of modern attributes: a brand.

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       The Waitress was New review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our very quick look at Dominique Fabre's The Waitress was New.

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2 February 2008 - Saturday

Adichie on Ekwensi | Angela Carter appreciation | Stefan Zweig
James Wood mania | Reading in ... Hong Kong | Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren review

       Adichie on Ekwensi

       Nice to see Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie pay tribute to Cyprian Ekwensi, as she does in Sex in the city in The Guardian.
       She explains the appeal of his work, even if some complained:
His characters were flat. He was vulgar. He was too heavy on plot. He was too influenced by American popular crime fiction. The underlying assumption, it seems, was that because he was not sufficiently grave and dull, his claim to "literature" was suspect.
Ekwensi thrives on stock characters -- the prostitute with the heart of gold, the provincial ingénue lost in the big city -- but to focus on that would be to lose sight of how well he captured the urban aspirations of Nigerians of a certain class and time, how moving was his portrayal of unlikely friendships and how poignant his mockery of the Been-Tos, his more humane versions of Naipaul's mimic men.

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       Angela Carter appreciation

       In The Los Angeles Times Richard Rayner tries Giving Angela Carter her due, offering a useful quick overview -- and arguing:
Since Carter's premature death, her reputation has soared. Most of her work is in print, and she features on so many university syllabuses it sometimes seems she's swamped by feminist theory. More important, perhaps, her brash brilliance helped crack open the middle-class conventions that had dominated the British novel. She played fairy godmother to younger generations of talent. Without her, Salman Rushdie and Jeanette Winterson wouldn't be the writers they are; likewise David Mitchell and Zadie Smith. Carter had a hand in changing the direction of fiction. She was an immensely generous person and a dangerous and inspiring writer, always throwing off sparks.

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       Stefan Zweig

       In The Guardian Patrick Wright offers a Stefan Zweig-overview -- and commends The World of Yesterday, in particular (see the University of Nebraska Press publicity page), in Enemy alien.

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       James Wood mania

       A week ago John Freeman profiled that "fearsome literary critic, James Wood"; now Trevor Butterworth meets A critic of sublime ferocity in the Financial Times.
       All the usual stuff -- but at least a bit of weblog-fodder:
He describes the state of reviewing, or what's left of it in the mainstream press in America, as "diabolical . . . If you get rid of the book section [as a number of papers have done], what you get rid of is, quite literally, the free play of ideas," he says.

The internet, far from stepping in where print no longer publishes, has proved no boon, in terms of blogging. "It licenses first thoughts, vituperation," he says. "I don't go on much to those sort of blogs because there are better things to do with my life."

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       Reading in ... Hong Kong

       In the Asia Sentinel Alice Poon finds an Uncultivated Reading Culture in Hong Kong, and thinks:
Fostering a reading habit among Hong Kongers may be a crucial first step in her so called “cultural software” development process.

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       Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Wolf Haas' Das Wetter vor 15 Jahren.

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1 February 2008 - Friday

Piglet-attack on religion ? | Tepper on Lispector | Robert Fisk's Saddam Hussein
CIBF overview | Translation seminar in Cairo

       Piglet-attack on religion ?

       What's the number-two selling book at the German Amazon (last we checked) ?
       A 30-something page illustrated children's book that came out last fall with the decidedly uncatchy title Wo bitte geht's zu Gott ? fragte das kleine Ferkel ('Which way to God, please ? asked the little piglet'; get your copy at
       Why the sudden popularity of this title ? Well, as DeutscheWelle report, German Authorities Slam "The God Delusion" for Kids:
The German Family Ministry is pushing for the children's book How Do I Get to God, Asked the Small Piglet, by written by Michael Schmidt-Salomon and illustrated by Helge Nyncke, to be included on a list of literature considered dangerous for young people.
       They don't quite convey what the proposed actions mean and involve: this isn't just some list -- indeed one of its hallmarks is that it isn't published (so that it isn't easy to find out what's on it, since that might tempt some to seek the works out ...). This is an index of material that the government wants at all cost to be kept away from 'young persons', and for the most part that means the material depicts hard-core porn and violence. There are currently apparently only 689 'books, broshures, and comics' that are on this index, which gives you an idea of how high they set the bar for this stuff (illegal porn -- depicting sex with children, etc. is, however, another matter entirely). Anything on the list can't be displayed publicly (i.e. could only be sold under the table at a bookstore -- i.e. gets handed over (in a plain brown wrapper ?) only if a customer specifically requests it) and could not be sold via Amazon and the like (as there's no guarantee children could not acquire it in this way, and the idea is to keep it out of the hands of children at all cost). Sale of the material is not prohibited outright, but is made almost impossible.
       (The 'Federal Department for Media Harmful to Young Persons' has its own informative and user-friendly website (with an English-language information page).)
       So what's the big deal (and big danger) about this book ? Apparently it's a side or view of religion that some think might harm the little kiddies. And, if you look at some of the pictures you might understand .....
       Certainly the authors are pushing it here ... but then, of course, that's the whole idea behind the book. Michael Schmidt-Salomon -- see his homepage -- clearly styles himself a sort of Richard Dawkins (and gave Dawkins a personal copy, in English, of the book last year).
       See also the official site for the book.
       As with any book-banning effort, this has only helped to get more publicity (and greater sales) than the authors ever could have dreamed of -- and given them a far greater audience to make their larger point to. As to whether or not the book endangers young folk ... well, it hardly seems worse than some of the religious tripe that's out there -- and the message seems a useful one. Given that kids are unlikely to pick the book up on their own one presumes that it will be read in the company of an adult who would be able to address the issues the book raises, which hardly seems a bad thing.
       An English version apparently exists (i.e. it's been translated, at least in manuscript) -- Dawkins got a copy -- but there's no published version yet. But with this kind of publicity maybe some publisher will have a go at it.

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       Tepper on Lispector

       At Nextbook Anderson Tepper enthuses about Clarice Lispector -- an author we've been meaning to get to -- in Dizzy with Life.

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       Robert Fisk's Saddam Hussein

       Robert Fisk's Saddam Hussein seems to be a success:
So there it was, 272 paperback pages on the life and times of the Hitler of Baghdad and selling very well in the Egyptian capital.
       Too bad he didn't write it, as Fisk reports in The curious case of the forged biography in The Independent.
       But pretty flattering that someone would bother to appropriate his name for such purposes .....

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       CIBF overview

       In Al-Ahram Weekly Mahmoud El-Wardani reports 'on the activities of the 40th Cairo International Book Fair' in Centenaries and censorship.
       Apparently they like that air of mystery about it:
Word has it that ten Arab novelists have been invited to CIBF, but the fair's pamphlet, unfortunately, does not mention their names. The CIBF organisers say that they intend to launch a new periodical during the fair, entitled "The Novel: Issues and Horizons"; it remains to be seen if this will materialise.
In general, don't even expect all you read in the pamphlet to come true. Some seminars will be announced and not held. Others will be held but without the main speakers, whom no one bothered to invite. Meanwhile, the censors have been in action. Books by the Lebanese writers Elias Khouri and Alaweya Subh were banned on the first day of the fair -- although they've been available in previous rounds.

       (Updated): In The Independent today Boyd Tonkin also reports from Cairo, in his A Week in Books-column.

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       Translation seminar in Cairo

       One CIBF event that did take place was a seminar on translation organised by the Spanish Embassy in Cairo, and in Al-Ahram Weekly reports on it in Andalusian resonances.

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