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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 November 2008

1 November: The year in translations | Thomas Nelson enlists reviewers | Guardian first book award shortlist
2 November: Writers on the jr. Bush legacy | 秦腔 wins Mao Dun Prize | November Open Letters Monthly | Hitler's Private Library review
3 November: Cairo in fiction | Graywolf Press profile | Homage to Czerny review
4 November: Kundera support | Election day reading | November Words without Borders | 20 November NYRB | Le Clézio in the US | Three Musketeers review
5 November: Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa | Neal Stephenson profile | Cell Block Five review
6 November: Le Clézio backlash ? | Michael Crichton (1942-2008)
7 November: Jonathan Lethem on 2666 | National Literature Prize in Luxembourg | Café Riche re-opening | Goncourt durability | John Leonard (1939-2008)
8 November: Translations in the US market | Rushdie kicks off religion | Ivan Klíma on '68
9 November: Ian Buruma profile | Criticizing the Némirovsky reactions
10 November: 2666 review | Bookselling in ... Pakistan | Robert Silvers profile | Aravind Adiga Q & A

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10 November 2008 - Monday

2666 review | Bookselling in ... Pakistan
Robert Silvers profile | Aravind Adiga Q & A

       2666 review

       The most recent additions to the complete review are our reviews of the two new (to the US) Roberto Bolaño titles:
  • His much-anticipated and already widely covered magnum opus, 2666
  • A bilingual collection of his poetry, The Romantic Dogs
       While we admired The Savage Detectives, we never found ourselves completely in the thrall of Bolaño-mania. We even preferred Nazi Literature in the Americas -- but that book is, after all, just a game (an almost perfectly executed game, but still ...). So our expectations for 2666 really weren't all that high.
       Expectations are, of course, a dangerous thing, and we are wary of heaping on higher ones, given all the hype (and the great first reviews). Readers should be allowed to discover it for themselves, and maybe it helps if one comes to it thinking, It can't be that impressive. The thing is, it is.
       2666 easily trumps The Savage Detectives, and, despite its great length, seemed to us the far more readable and agreeable work. (The heft is a drawback, however; that 900-page ARC was physically unpleasant to handle and a continuing pain in the wrists; the three-volume paperback edition definitely looks like the way to go -- though we wish it were the mass-market paperback size, not ridiculous trade .....)
       For what it's worth, we are in awe. We have 2165 books under review here at the complete review, and it easily joins the ranks of the best; certainly it is the most impressive contemporary novel we've read in many, many years.
       As to its likely sales-success, and how it will fare among readers: The Savage Detectives seems to have done fairly well, sales-wise, though we suspect it was not that much read (for which we don't really blame folk); 2666 may face a bigger initial sales-hurdle, given its size, -- though given the early reviews that might not be an issue --, but it certainly can not be ignored and has to become part of the literary conversation. Given that, aside from everything else, it is also an astonishingly good read that shouldn't be too much of a problem.
       It's on sale Tuesday (and has started shipping copies; in the UK you still have to wait a few more months): we'd suggest you get your hands on it.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Bookselling in ... Pakistan

       Atif Khan reports in the Daily Times that Business of books survives uncertainties in Pakistan, as:
"Recent law and order situation, power cuts and inflation hardy affected our business. Our clients keep on buying books come what may," Ajmal Khan, a bookshop owner at Jinnah Super, said.
       Interesting also that:
He said pirated books were not only good for sale but also opened a new window of opportunity for book readers, who were reluctant to buy expensive books. He said a world bestseller was available for only Rs 120-200.
Hafeez Alam said he took to book reading after spoiling his many years on net surfing. "Internet, chatting and games on computer are a waste of time that consumed three years of my life. Now I have been pleased to start reading books," he said.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Robert Silvers profile

       In the San Francisco Chronicle Heidi Benson profiles New York Review of Books' Robert Silvers -- though we don't know if she's doing him any favours when she suggests that:
Should the Review's founding coterie and the New York it reflects seem a bit precious or self-contained, the pages of the 45th anniversary issue, in fact, reveal the actuality of its willfully panoramic view.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Aravind Adiga Q & A

       The Independent subjects The White Tiger-author and Man Booker winner Aravind Adiga to the You Ask The Questions-treatment -- with a lot of readers asking about newly elected American president Obama for some reason.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

9 November 2008 - Sunday

Ian Buruma profile | Criticizing the Némirovsky reactions

       Ian Buruma profile

       In The Australian Ben Naparstek profiles Ian Buruma, in A delicate balance.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Criticizing the Némirovsky reactions

       In the Jewish Quarterly Tadzio Koelb has an interesting piece on Irène Némirovsky and the Death of the Critic, arguing that the critical reactions (specifically in the UK, though American reactions were similar) to Némirovsky's Suite Française (and, to a similar extent, Fire in the Blood) focussed far too much on biographical details about the author and far too little on the work itself, as:
The circumstances of that death have certainly played an enormous factor in the sales of the book. That they should have played such a large role in the book’s critical reception, however, seems an abdication of responsibility, which should be, above all, to the work itself.

Némirovsky’s circumstances were incredible, but we do not read circumstances, we read books. It remains to be seen if, without the crutch of the author’s tragic life, her books can stand tall among the works of the 20th century. To find out, we will have to resurrect the critic.
       Of course, one reason for Koelb's criticism of the critics is because he thinks the books aren't worthy of the great success they've enjoyed (and he apparently thinks everyone would realise that if they focussed on the works and not the author):
Némirovsky has been championed as a chronicler of the changes wrought by occupation, but her static social views expose this as a myth. She has not responded to upheaval by re-shaping her idea of man to suit the times. Rather she appears as a writer of severely limited register, a reductivist lacking the drive to delve deeper into precisely the characters she thought she knew best, whose times, sadly, came to suit her

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

8 November 2008 - Saturday

Translations in the US market | Rushdie kicks off religion | Ivan Klíma on '68

       Translations in the US market

       Two months ago Alison Flood wondered whether Muriel Barbery's French bestseller The Elegance of the Hedgehog was Too spiky for British readers ?, and now Cynthia Crossen considers the same title as she 'wonders why more European novels don't make the leap to American best-seller lists' in Lost in Translation in the Wall Street Journal, noting:
there was much speculation about whether it could make that rare trans-Atlantic leap from European to American best-seller lists.

It hasn't, at least so far. And now that I've read it (in a glittering translation, by Alison Anderson, who has also translated some of Mr. Le Clézio's work), I'm wondering why.
       In fact, it hasn't done badly -- and it's still at number 23 on this week's 'Paperback Trade Fiction'-bestseller list at The New York Times, and has been considerably higher on the list, too. (Meanwhile, one book in translation -- albeit not a European one -- is in its 59th week on that list, at number 8 -- though it's hard to find much satisfaction in the ceaseless success of Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist.) And recently Stieg Larsson's The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo had a good run on the hardcover fiction list , though it is down to 17th on this week's list.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Rushdie kicks off religion

       The omnipresent Salman Rushdie was, along with Orhan Pamuk, one of those on show at Columbia University's launch of its Institute for Religion, Culture, and Public Life (which will serve: "as a hub of resources intended to foster an interdisciplinary approach to studying religion’s role in society").
       But it sounds like he had some sensible things to say, especially in the wake of the general post-(American presidential)-election euphoria, as Anna Kelner reports in Rushdie Kicks Off Religion Institute in the Columbia Spectator:
Rather than searching for a solution in one president-elect, Rushdie exalted deliberation as an end in and of itself. "I don’t want answers to come from some priest," he said. "I want it to come from debate."

Rushdie denigrated intolerance of all forms and questioned Barack Obama’s calls for a return to idealism, but he still expressed his hopefulness in unifying people. Religion and deliberation can be united, he said, and the East and West can share common goals of peace. "The desire of human beings to get along is not culturally specific," he said.

       (Updated - 10 November): See now also David Van Biema's report in Time, God for the Godless: Salman Rushdie's Secular Sermon.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Ivan Klíma on '68

       Eurozine reprints Ivan Klíma piece on 'a rebellion against censorship' in 1967 and the role of the Czech literary weekly Literární noviny, in Seeds of spring.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

7 November 2008 - Friday

Jonathan Lethem on 2666 | National Literature Prize in Luxembourg
Café Riche re-opening | Goncourt durability | John Leonard (1939-2008)

       Jonathan Lethem on 2666

       Adam Kirsch gave it the first good nudge in Slate, and now Jonathan Lethem really gets the snowball rolling in Sunday's NYTBR : there's little doubt left, Roberto Bolaño's 2666 -- due out in the US next week (get your copy of the one-volume hardcover edition or the three-volume paperback set at, or pre-order at -- is destined to be this season's literary juggernaut.
       After Kirsch's review in Slate, Lethem now enthuses all over it in Sunday's issue of The New York Times Book Review (and you know how hard it is to get Sam Tanenhaus to give any space to anything in translation ...) (link here to the IHT-page).
       Lethem writes:
2666 is as consummate a performance as any 900-page novel dare hope to be: Bolaño won the race to the finish line in writing what he plainly intended as a master statement. Indeed, he produced not only a supreme capstone to his own vaulting ambition, but a landmark in what's possible for the novel as a form in our increasingly, and terrifyingly, post-national world. The Savage Detectives looks positively hermetic beside it.
By writing across the grain of his doubts about what literature can do, how much it can discover or dare pronounce the names of our world's disasters, Bolaño has proven it can do anything, and for an instant, at least, given a name to the unnamable.
       Our review should be up by the end of the weekend [and now here it is], but there will be a flood of coverage elsewhere as well (which we will do our best to keep track of). And it looks like a safe bet that 2666 will eclipse The Savage Detectives' success, and Bolaño-mania will roll merrily along a while longer.

       (Updated): See now also reviews in The Los Angeles Times (Ben Ehrenreich) and something called O, the Oprah Magazine, where Vince Passaro finds: "The book is long and intense, but it is also the work of an extraordinary artist facing certain ultimate realities, and so will repay every moment of attention you can give it."

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       National Literature Prize in Luxembourg

       Tiny country, lots of language-competition: they report that Carine Krecké wins National Literature Prize 2008 in Luxembourg, with the French title, Retour au point de non-retour, while second prize went to the German-language book Die heiligen Ratten von Deshnok by Georges Hausemer, with honorable mentions for the Lëtzebuergesch Bamako, 6 Méint and the English Leaving Luxembourg.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Café Riche re-opening

       In the Daily News (Egypt) Chitra Kalyani reports on Life and literature at Café Riche, as the one-time Cairo literary haunt is apparently reopening -- though we remind you of Youssef Rakha's article from Al-Ahram Weekly back in 2000, Images of the idle city, where he wrote:
The current owner is confident that, on reopening, Café Riche will return to its former glory. The truth is that it is past its recent and not-so-recent heyday, and that its original frequenters are either dead, too old to go out or reluctant to give up their subsequently-acquired habitual venues. Whether Riche will live up to the next century's challenge, and whether Egyptian idleness will remain as productive, however, only the future can tell.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Goncourt durability

       With the big French literary prize, the prix Goncourt, to be handed out next week, Le Figaro asked a number of critics to have a look at winners from way back when and see whether or not Ces prix Goncourt sont-ils encore lisibles ?.
       Ah, yes, those classics like 1904 winner La Maternelle by Léon Frapié .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       John Leonard (1939-2008)

       One-time NYTBR-head John Leonard has passed away; Critical Mass has a good selection of links.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

6 November 2008 - Thursday

Le Clézio backlash ? | Michael Crichton (1942-2008)

       Le Clézio backlash ?

       In the TLS Adrian Tahourdin has a fun look at: Le Clézio, le backlash.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Michael Crichton (1942-2008)

       As widely reported, Michael Crichton has passed away; the only one of his books we have under review is the pretty terrible Prey.
       See also his official site, as well as obituaries etc. in:        But note that there are tons of other pieces out there.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

5 November 2008 - Wednesday

Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa | Neal Stephenson profile
Cell Block Five review

       Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa

       They awarded the Wole Soyinka Prize for Literature in Africa on Sunday, with Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu's Zahrah the Windseeker beating out Uzodinma Iweala's Beast of No Nation . Akeem Lasisi reports on how She came home to pick gold in Punch; see also the awards-preview piece 2nd Wole Soyinka literary prize holds at Eko hotel by Benjamin Njoku in Vanguard.
       Nnedi Okorafor-Mbachu teaches at Chicago State University; see also her official site, The Wahala Zone, or get your copy of Zahrah the Windseeker at or

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Neal Stephenson profile

       In The Telegraph Tim Martin profiles Neal Stephenson: Self-defence with a parasol and turning a bicycle into a weapon; see also our review of his Anathem.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Cell Block Five review

       Iraqi author Fadhil al-Azzawi's The Last of the Angels has gotten more attention (and we'll get around to it too; get your copy at or, but the most recent addition to the complete review is our review of his Cell Block Five.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

4 November 2008 - Tuesday

Kundera support | Election day reading | November Words without Borders
20 November NYRB | Le Clézio in the US | Three Musketeers review

       Kundera support

       Eleven heavyweights -- well, a number of heavyweights and a few others -- have signed a declaration in support of Milan Kundera regarding the charges that he essentially handed someone over to the Czech authorities over half a century ago (see our previous mention); see, for example, Anne Penketh's report, Nobel laureates defend Kundera over spy charge in The Independent -- or the full (French) text at
       The statement, saying:
the honour of one of the greatest living novelists has been tarnished on dubious grounds, to say the least. We wish to express our indignation at this orchestrated campaign of calumny, and to state our solidarity with Milan Kundera
       was signed by: J.M.Coetzee, Jean Daniel, Carlos Fuentes, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Nadine Gordimer, Juan Goytisolo, Pierre Mertens, Orhan Pamuk, Philip Roth, Salman Rushdie, and Jorge Semprun.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Election day reading

       It is election day in the United States, and we hope all our eligible American readers have voted, or will go out and do so.
       Of possible interest: at The New York Review of Books quite a few writers consider A Fateful Election, while Granta (online) has some interesting contributions for its US Election Special.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       November Words without Borders

       The November issue of Words without Borders is now up, and this month it is devoted to: 'The Enigma of Arrival: Immigration'.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       20 November NYRB

       The 20 November issue of The New York Review of Books -- the 45th anniversary issue -- is packed with quite a few articles of interest.
       John Banville on James Wood's How Fiction Works and Anthony Grafton on Ingrid D. Rowland's Giordano Bruno, among others, are not available online, but J.M. Coetzee on the recent Némirovsky-omnibus (see our review) and Zadie Smith's look at Two Paths for the Novel, in which she considers Joseph O’Neill's Netherland (see our review-overview) and Tom McCarthy's Remainder (see our review), are.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Le Clézio in the US

       As Three Percent pointed out, Rachel Deahl reports that S&S Strikes New Le Clezio Deal in Publishers Weekly.
       Publishing is such a fun business -- consider:
Because the Le Clezio books Atheneum published have fallen out of print, the task of securing the rights to them has, as Rosenthal noted, been difficult. On Interrogation, for example, Rosenthal said Gallimard did not own the translation rights, so S&S had to re-acquire the book and then strike a separate deal for the translation. "No one is entirely sure who owns what, because these [books] are so old," Rosenthal elaborated. "These [books], now 40 years old, were published by an imprint that no longer exists within a company that no longer exists that was taken over by another company."

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Three Musketeers review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Marcelo Birmajer's Three Musketeers.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

3 November 2008 - Monday

Cairo in fiction | Graywolf Press profile | Homage to Czerny review

       Cairo in fiction

       In Al-Ahram Weekly Sayed Mahmoud looks at The fictional residents of Cairo.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Graywolf Press profile

       Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind points us to Ben Westhoff's lengthy profile of Graywolf Press in City Pages, Graywolf Press is lone wolf in book publishing.
       Lots of discussion of their Per Petterson-success with Out Stealing Horses and To Siberia .

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Homage to Czerny review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Gert Jonke's Studies in Virtuoso Technique, his novel Homage to Czerny.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

2 November 2008 - Sunday

Writers on the jr. Bush legacy | 秦腔 wins Mao Dun Prize
November Open Letters Monthly | Hitler's Private Library review

       Writers on the jr. Bush legacy

       The American presidential election is set for Tuesday, and everyone looks forward to the changing of the guard -- though all seem also to be forgetting that the national catastrophe that is the jr. Bush administration will remain in office -- i.e running the nation (as in: further into the ground) -- for another two months, no doubt continuing to wreak havoc and destroying as much as they can before they have to cede power (and don't look for Cheney to go softly into the night).
       In The Observer they now have: 'seven leading US authors reflect on his eight years in the White House, and the type of America that the 43rd president is leaving behind', in The state of America after Bush.
       Certainly, it's easy to agree with the whole lot of them, but they're all pretty much agreed that, as Aleksandar Hemon puts it:
I am no historian but it is my guess that the Bush regime would be in the running for the worst elected government in the history of Western civilisation. The score sheet is catastrophic
George W Bush is the worst president in American history not only because everything he and his flunkeys touched instantly turned into long-lasting shit but because he brought out the worst in my fellow citizens and even some fellow foreigners (say, Tony Blair).
       Obviously, considering what the jr. Bush and his cronies have done and will leave behind, it's hard to have any other opinion -- and yet considering the fact that he was re-elected in 2004 (when it was already clear that all he could do was make a mess of anything he touched), and that a significant percentage of the electorate is currently seriously considering allowing a super-featherweight imitation-jr.Bush (in the form of Sarah Palin) within striking distance of the same office it's disappointing that they couldn't find at least one writer who thinks his legacy isn't that bad after all.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       秦腔 wins Mao Dun Prize

       As, for example, the Beijing Review reports, Jia Pingwa's Qin Qiang Wins Mao Dun Prize , one of the most prestigious Chinese literary awards -- and he "reportedly won 21 of the 23 judge panel votes for the prize".
       A few odds and ends of his have been translated into English, most notably the Pegasus Prize for Literature-winning Turbulence back in 1991 (get your copy at or, but despite the current China-wave he's been pretty much left behind (for the time being). Too big a name to ignore, maybe this will make it into English sometime (relatively) soon.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       November Open Letters Monthly

       Always worth a look, the November issue of Open Letters Monthly is now available.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Hitler's Private Library review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Timothy W. Ryback's look at The Books That Shaped His Life, as he considers Hitler's Private Library.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

1 November 2008 - Saturday

The year in translations | Thomas Nelson enlists reviewers
Guardian first book award shortlist

       The year in translations

       Chad Post has posted his impressive yet depressing spreadsheet of the number of literary, first-time translations published in the US in 2008 at Three Percent; click through (after reading the post !) at 2008 Translations -- Final Numbers ?.
       The numbers are only preliminarily final (there's still a bit of tweaking to be done here) but seem to be roughly right -- and at 258 fiction titles (along with 63 poetry titles) it is shockingly small. Sadly, it would seem well within the reach of any ambitious reader to read all the translated fiction and poetry titles that appeared in 2008 (well, with a couple of reasonable caveats -- no new translations of previously translated stuff, etc.). For what it's worth, we have read 67 of the fiction titles (admittedly some many years ago in previous incarnations -- pre-translation, or UK-only editions), and should probably hit at least 80 by year's end -- though to our great disappointment we haven't even seen about half of these titles (i.e. publishers have not cared or thought to send them to us, and we haven't dug them up on our own yet).
       Note also at that post that Chad is organising a 'Best Translated Book of the Year' award again, and while a panel -- on which yours truly, in the form of local barkeep M.A.Orthofer, sits -- will work towards determining a 25-title longlist he reminds you that your input is more than welcome:
In addition to our panelists, we really want to enlist your help. So, if you have any titles you’d like to recommend, please post them in the comments below, or e-mail me at at rochester dot edu. We’ll include all reader votes in deciding on the longlist. And as we did last year, we’ll allow everyone to vote on the shortlist and will announce your choice along with the panel’s as the best translation of the year.
       (Is there any doubt who this year's winner will be ? Surely the much-anticipated ringer in this big bunch is pretty obvious .....)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Thomas Nelson enlists reviewers

       GalleyCat points us to a publisher's new online venture, Book Review Bloggers at Thomas Nelson, where:
Any blogger can receive FREE copies of select Thomas Nelson products. In exchange, you must agree to read the book and post a 200-word review on your blog and on any consumer retail website.
       Surprisingly enough, among the more 2000 books we've reviewed, we can't recall having done a single Thomas Nelson title. Maybe we should sign up.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Guardian first book award shortlist

       Charlotte Higgins reports that Five of the best in line for the Guardian first book award.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

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