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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 February 2009

1 February: Moustapha Safouan profile | Translation success ! | New Literary Review at The Hindu | P.D.James Q & A | German/Turkish exchange
2 February: Amélie Nothomb in North America | Pop fiction in India | Bolaño notes: Helon Habila - Michael Gove | More Genji enthusiasm | February Open Letters
3 February: Publishing in ... Korea | Reading in ... Hungary | Translation in ... Indonesia
4 February: February Words without Borders | UK publishing output | Burmese fiction
5 February: The Kindly Ones review | Maghreb des livres
6 February: German embargo dispute | Fatwa hangover | Preserving Kurdish literature | Alain Mabanckou coverage
7 February: Most borrowed UK books | Korean literature in Translation | Another UK literary editor ... | PEN/Studzinski finalists | Do Not Touch review
8 February: Sheikh Zayed Book Award in Literature | Leipzig Book Fair Prize finalists | Interviews: Iain Sinclair - Paul Theroux
9 February: Iran's Book of the Year Awards | Darwin review
10 February: J.M.Coetzee's Summertime in the fall | Blue Metropolis Arab Literary Prize to Zakaria Tamer | Pushkin's blood ! | Kindle 2

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10 February 2009 - Tuesday

J.M.Coetzee's Summertime in the fall
Blue Metropolis Arab Literary Prize to Zakaria Tamer
Pushkin's blood ! | Kindle 2

       J.M.Coetzee's Summertime in the fall

       We're very big J.M.Coetzee fans -- and, unlike most, think he's been doing his best work in his most recent novels (see, for example, our review of Diary of a Bad Year) -- and were thrilled to learn (via De Papieren Man, who pointed us to this piece at Book SA-News) that a new Coetzee is due out in September, titled Summertime.
       No clue as to the contents anywhere as far as we can see -- beyond the cover image posted at --; you can pre-order it from, there's no listing yet. Harvill Secker is bringing it out 3 September.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Blue Metropolis Arab Literary Prize to Zakaria Tamer

       Middle East Online report that Syrian author Zakaria Tamer has won the 'Abu Dhabi-sponsored Al Amajidi Ibn Dhaher Blue Metropolis Arab Literary Prize 2009'. (The prize: "seeks to increase global awareness of Arab writers and literature, and strengthen the role of the UAE in supporting interaction among cultures and civilizations".) He'll get to pick it up at the Blue Metropolis Montreal International Literary Festival in April.
       Two Tamer titles are (or soon will be) readily available, and from what we've seen of his work he's certainly worth a look. (Our reviews will still be a while, but we'll get around to both books). Breaking Knees is out from Garnet Publishing; see their publicity page -- though note that their claim that this is: "first of Zakaria Tamer’s collections of stories to be published in English" will come as a surprise to many who picked up the Quartet volume, Tigers on the Tenth Day, more than two decades ago ... [Updated - 11 February: the good folk at Garnet remind us that their exact words were: "as a complete unit", which the motley assemblage of Tigers on the Tenth Day apparently was not (and Breaking Knees is)]: --, or get your copy at or
       The Hedgehog is due out shortly from American University in Cairo Press; pre-order your copy at or

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Pushkin's blood !

       In The St. Petersburg Times Irina Titova reports that Experts Test Blood Stains in Search of Pushkin -- and:
Staff at the Pushkin Apartment Museum in St. Petersburg expect a historical sensation if a scientific analysis proves that the museum’s sofa is the one on which the famed 19th-century Russian poet and author died in 1837.
       We're not too sure about the sensationality of this, but if they're all excited ......
The results of the preliminary tests have shown that the blood traces found on the sofa belonged to a man and were left many years ago

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Kindle 2

       We've still never even seen the first Kindle version, but apparently the big news is that they've now come out with 'Kindle 2'; pre-order your own from (they start shipping 24 February).
       Some of the specs do sound like a considerable improvement -- Storage: 2GB internal (approximately 1.4GB available for user content); Weight: 10.2 ounces; battery life -- but we still have our doubts (and are especially put off by the conversion requirements for so many file types (notably HTML, doc, and the dreaded pdf)). Still, we can see that it might have some appeal -- and we certainly wouldn't mind toying around with one if it fell into our hands.

       There's been lots of talk about the popularity of the device and the medium, but we have our doubts about that too. Two people did purchase the original Kindles by using our links in 2008, but there have been surprisingly few Kindle downloads purchased via our links. We don't link directly to the Kindle-editions, but people often wind up clicking-through to Amazon and then purchasing something completely different (much appreciated !), and we would have figured there would be more Kindle downloads among those purchases. As is, only one out every 726 items purchased at Amazon after reaching it from our site in 2008 was a Kindle download. To put that in perspective: as many different pairs of shoes were purchased this way as were Kindle downloads ..... (Admittedly, we were pretty astonished -- but, as with any purchase, also very grateful -- how many of our users purchase their shoes at

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

9 February 2009 - Monday

Iran's Book of the Year Awards | Darwin review

       Iran's Book of the Year Awards

       They've handed out the Iranian Book of the Year Awards for the 26th time, and MNA lists the winners -- which, in the translation category, includes winners for books in Statistics and for those in Accountancy, while the author-category also includes winners for best Electrical Engineering book, as well Philosophy and Psychology (apparently one category).
       In the Tehran Times they focus on the only ones that matter -- poetry and fiction, listing the winners and finalists. Best novel The Rule of the Game by Firuz Zonuzi-Jalali previously won the Jalal Al-e Ahmad Literary Award, so maybe it's worth looking out for (though we don't expect any of these to appear in translation any time soon).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Darwin review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is one of the more interesting takes on Darwin in this anniversary year, as his great-great-granddaughter Ruth Padel has penned A Life in Poems, Darwin.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

8 February 2009 - Sunday

Sheikh Zayed Book Award in Literature | Leipzig Book Fair Prize finalists
Interviews: Iain Sinclair - Paul Theroux

       Sheikh Zayed Book Award in Literature

       They've announced that Jamal Al Ghitani has won the 2009 Zayed Book Award in Literature.
       Also known as Gamal al-Ghitani (don't get us started ...), we have two of his books under review: Zayni Barakat and Pyramid Texts.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Leipzig Book Fair Prize finalists

       They've announced the finalists for this year's Preis der Leipziger Buchmesse -- probably the second largest German-language book- (as opposed to author-) prize. It is awarded in three categories -- fiction, non, and translation.
       Among the fiction finalists are Daniel Kehlmann's Ruhm, and books by Wilhelm Genazino and Andreas Maier; nothing of Maier's appears to have been translated yet, but Open Letter will be bringing out his Klausen.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Interviews: Iain Sinclair

       In The Observer Rachel Cooke talks with Iain Sinclair.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Interviews: Paul Theroux

       In the Independent on Sunday Charlotte Philby has some questions for Paul Theroux.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

7 February 2009 - Saturday

Most borrowed UK books | Korean literature in Translation | Another UK literary editor ...
PEN/Studzinski finalists | Do Not Touch review

       Most borrowed UK books

       The PLR have announced what the most borrowed library books in the UK were last year; all the announcements at the official site are in the dreaded pdf format, but at The Guardian Alison Flood offers a decent overview.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Korean literature in Translation

       The Chosun Ilbo reports on a Call for More Korean Books in Translation, as:
The Korea Literature Translation Institute recently released its latest tally of Korean works that have been translated into other languages.
Topping the list for the number of books translated was Nobel Prize nominee Ko Un, who has had 51 of them out in 15 foreign languages including his masterpiece Ten Thousand Lives
       (See also our review of, for example, his The Three Way Tavern.)
As for the most number of languages Yi Mun-yol's novels can be read in 16 languages.
       (See, for example, our review of his Our Twisted Hero.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Another UK literary editor ...

       In The Bookseller Benedicte Page reports that Feay to leave Independent on Sunday, as:
The Independent on Sunday's literary editor Suzi Feay has been made redundant, in the latest blow to hit national press literary pages.
       Are there any literary editors left in the UK ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       PEN/Studzinski finalists

       The South African Centre of International PEN have announced the finalists for the 2009 PEN/Studzinski Literary Award -- which: "aims to encourage new creative writing in Africa. It is open to all citizens of African countries writing in English, and offers talented writers on the continent an exciting opportunity to develop or launch a literary career."
       There were:
827 entries, 625 of which met with the rules of entry. Just under 200 stories were longlisted, and 34 stories were chosen as finalists
       And Nobel Laureate J.M.Coetzee will choose the winners from among these finalists.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Do Not Touch review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Éric Laurrent's Do Not Touch.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

6 February 2009 - Friday

German embargo dispute | Fatwa hangover
Preserving Kurdish literature | Alain Mabanckou coverage

       German embargo dispute

       After the success of Measuring the World, author Daniel Kehlmann is a superstar in the German literary world, and his follow-up, Ruhm, was the most anticipated book of the month in Germany in January.
       His German publishers, Rowohlt, like most publishers, like to be control freaks, and wanted to 'guide' the marketing to what they think is best effect -- which, in this case, involved an 'embargo' (Sperrfrist, as the nice German term has it) of sorts on review coverage of the book (until it was available in bookstores, 16 January). Der Spiegel published a (publisher-arranged) 'profile' of Kehlmann by Volker Hage on 5 January, and Rowohlt wasn't very happy, because they found it looked a lot more like a review than a profile. So now they're suing for the € 250,000 that they say is the breach-of-contract fine for breaking the embargo.
       This is in all the German newspapers; unfortunately what's not in any (that we could find) is a description of the supposedly broken contract. In the FAZ Felicitas von Lovenberg writes there was a "schriftliche oder wenigstens mündliche Zustimmung der Redaktionen zu einer Vertraulichkeitserklärung" ('written or at least oral agreement' ...). In the Frankfurter Rundschau Ina Hartwig writes that: "eine Vertraulichkeitserklärung alle Empfänger des Vorabexemplars verpflichtete" ('confidentiality agreement binding any recipient of a review copy').
       These descriptions don't suggest that these publications wholeheartedly (or legally-bindingly) agreed to the embargo. Indeed, in Der Zeit David Hugendick writes:
Es war eine komische Unterschriftenaktion. Zum Rezensionsexemplar des neuen Daniel-Kehlmann-Romans Ruhm lag ein Papier bei. Auf ihm stand in etwa das: Wer das Buch vor seinem Erscheinen bespricht, der zahle 250.000 Euro Strafe.

[It was an odd signature-drive. A piece of paper came with every copy of Daniel Kehlmann's novel, Ruhm. On it it said something like: anyone discussing the book before its official publication date will be fined 250,000 euros. ]
       (Would it be so hard to reproduce what the paper actually said ? Didn't anyone keep a copy ?)
       If this is the case -- that they did not get assurances before sending out copies, but rather just included a note to that effect with the book itself -- then surely Rowohlt doesn't have a legal (or other) leg to stand on. But what's amazing is the glee with which everyone is reporting on this -- and supporting the publisher !
       We know of nothing more ridiculous than the publisher-embargo -- and we can't believe there are publications that willingly agree to abide by it. (If publishers really don't want books reviewed pre-publication then they just shouldn't send out review-copies (which, of course, then leads to rushed reviews of the Harry Potter-sort ...) -- but that's apparently fairly common practise in Germany anyway.)
       We couldn't abide by 'embargoes' if we tried -- it would be too much of a bother keeping track of everything. Consider: of the 18 titles we've reviewed so far this year:
  • One has not even been translated into English
  • Four have been published in the UK but not the US; at least one of these does not have a US publisher yet, while the remainder will apparently get distribution later in the year. (Several have also only been published in the US, with no UK publisher/distributor yet ...)
  • Four are translations that will be published in the US in the next few months but are not yet available -- but have been widely reviewed in the foreign press (and, in the case of The Kindly Ones, even the original foreign edition got some US and UK review coverage)
       We also take some pleasure in the fact the we did break one notorious embargo a couple of years back -- though without really noticing (no one even mentioned that we weren't supposed to review it, much less asked us to sign anything) -- even as another publication was hauled to court for breaking that embargo.

       [Note also that we did request Ruhm from Rowohlt a while back, but have not yet received it; given that the Suhrkamp-spring-catalogue just arrived yesterday (postmarked 19 December !) it may be the mail ..... (Still, you might have figured they'd make a bit of an effort to get a copy to the one English-language site that has long had all of Kehlmann's books under review .....)]

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Fatwa hangover

       In The Independent Boyd Tonkin asks: Do writers in Britain still feel the chill of the Rushdie fatwa ?

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Preserving Kurdish literature

       In Hurriyet Şafak Timur looks at the work of the Istanbul Kurdish Institute in Preserving embattled literature against odds.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Alain Mabanckou coverage

       With a new book out in France, Black Bazar, Alain Mabanckou is getting some French media coverage, including a long interview with Baptiste Liger in Lire and a profile by Christine Rousseau in Le Monde.
       Meanwhile, his Broken Glass is coming out in English (at least in the UK; pre-order your copy at, and in The National Laila Lalami offers a good overview/review.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

5 February 2009 - Thursday

The Kindly Ones review | Maghreb des livres

       The Kindly Ones review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is our review of Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones.
       This massive (just short of a thousand pages in the English (and original French) edition), prix Goncourt-winning epic was certainly one of the most anticipated-by-us titles of 2009, and while we're not sorry that we worked our way through it -- it will be much discussed and reviewed in the months to come (yes, even Sam Tanenhaus and the NYTBR won't be able to avoid this one), and we're glad to know what the fuss will be about -- and while we were prepared for it not to be a masterpiece (the reviews have been decidedly mixed), we were pretty shocked at what a poor piece of work it is. (At over 3500 words our review is one of the longer ones we've ever put up, but it could have been considerably longer: there's a lot to criticise .....)
       The German newspapers did a good job covering this when it came out in German, with many of the leading ones publishing two reviews, one by a literary critic and another by an historian. But we're not sure it deserves the attention. We do look forward to the English-language coverage (though quite a few publications -- including the New Statesman, The Spectator, TLS -- already published reviews of the French-language original), and figure that most of the discussion will be about whether this is an appropriate and/or definitive take on Nazi-horror (our vote: definitely not, on either count).
       Still, consider some of the very positive reactions -- including, for example, Anita Brookner (!) writing in The Spectator that this: "outclasses all other fictions and will continue to do so for some time to come".

       Oddly, the novel we kept being reminded of while we were reading it was ... Charlotte Roche's Wetlands. Aside from some author-similarities -- both were born in English-speaking countries but write in foreign languages -- and the German-setting connexion, both protagonists come from broken homes (which weighs heavily on both of them) and are quite obsessed with bodily fluids and functions (there are as many excremental ... outpourings in Littell's book as Roche's), as well as some pretty kinky sex. True, there are no avocados in The Kindly Ones but, stunningly, both narrators suffer the same self-inflicted shaving injury (though Littell's protagonist's injuries are less consequential -- in this case).
       Wetlands isn't particularly good literature, either, but there's a decent argument to be made that it is the (slightly) more significant work (and certainly both the better and more interesting read). Yes, Littell's is a big, 'serious' book that tackles very serious issues and history -- but there's little here that hasn't been covered before, and the parts that are original -- Littell's fictional padding -- are simply terrible. Roche at least pushes an envelope pretty far, and in a fairly original manner.
       Both these books will get a lot of attention, but you can probably do without either.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Maghreb des livres

       They're holding the 15th Maghreb des livres -- with Morocco as the focal point -- this weekend (7-8 February).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

4 February 2009 - Wednesday

February Words without Borders | UK publishing output | Burmese fiction

       February Words without Borders

       The February issue of Words without Borders is now available online -- but the focus this month is on: "the world of graphic novels"

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       UK publishing output

       In The Bookseller Philip Jones reports that in the UK Book output up, publishers down, as:
The number of new books published in the UK last year was higher than 2007, but remains well below the figure of five years ago, according to the data released from Nielsen Book. However, the number of new publishers decreased in 2008 when compared with the 2007 figure
       (Note that it's just the number of new publishers that's down, not the total.)

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Burmese fiction

       There's so little Burmese fiction available in translation that it's news if any gets translated into any language -- and in The Myanmar Times Zon Pann Pwint reports that Myanmar’s authors reach new readers -- in Germany, as they're publishing: "the first collection of Myanmar contemporary short stories translated into German"; get your copy of Myanmar/Burma erzählt from
       See also our review of Smile as they Bow by Nu Nu Yi, one of the authors in the anthology.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

3 February 2009 - Tuesday

Publishing in ... Korea | Reading in ... Hungary | Translation in ... Indonesia

       Publishing in ... Korea

       In The Korea Times Chung Ah-young reports that Publications Faltering Amid Downturn, as:
The economic downturn is hitting the publishing industry hard. According to publishing statistics for 2008 recently released by the Korean Publishers Association (KPA), the number of books published by the local industry decreased by some 20 percent from the previous year.
       Also of interest:
According to the Kyobo Bookstore, Brazilian author Paulo Coelho and Japanese writer Kaori Ekuni are the most powerful authors reigning over the bestsellers list in the Korean publishing market.

The bookstore released the bestsellers lists from 2004 to 2008 in literature -- including essays -- showing the two authors' works have continuously been listed in the top 50 bestsellers.
       See also our review of Ekuni's Twinkle Twinkle; she certainly doesn't seem to have made quite the same mark in the US.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Reading in ... Hungary

       At hlo Anna Marczisovszky and Dóra Szekeres look at 'the reading habits of Hungarian youth' in Jack London -- is that a brand of jeans ?
To learn more, we conducted a quick survey of approximately fifty students from two Budapest high schools. We asked them what they had last read apart from texts required for school, what criteria they use to choose books, and what were their favorite novels in secondary school. It’s perhaps unnecessary to say that Harry Potter won the latter category by a large margin. Second place was a dead heat between The Paul Street Boys and Jenő Rejtő’s books.
       Recall that we recently reviewed Rejtő's Quarantine in the Grand Hotel; amazing to see that he is still so popular (he was also a top seller in Communist times).
       Also fairly impressive:
when asked to name the last book they’d read, students named such works as Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago, Rushdie’s The Enchantress of Florence, Master and Margarita, Stephanie Meyer’s young-adult vampire-romance novel Twilight, Orwell’s 1984, books by Kurt Vonnegut, Anthony Horowitz (creator of the Alex Rider series), and popular science author László Mérő, as well as Antal Szerb’s Journey by Moonlight, Yann Martel’s fantasy-adventure novel Life of Pi and Camus's The Plague.
       A pretty varied lot.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Translation in ... Indonesia

       In The Jakarta Post Matheos Viktor Messakh finds that Love of literature just doesn't pay as he talks with John H. McGlynn, director of publications at the admirable Lontar Foundation.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

2 February 2009 - Monday

Amélie Nothomb in North America | Pop fiction in India
Bolaño notes: Helon Habila - Michael Gove
More Genji enthusiasm | February Open Letters

       Amélie Nothomb in North America

       Starting tomorrow Amélie Nothomb is on a very busy tour of North America (at least the east coast), promoting Tokyo Fiancée.
       Starting in Boston tomorrow (the first of several two-a-days), she heads to Toronto on the 5th and 6th, then D.C. on the 7th, Philadelphia on the 9th, and then spends several days in New York. We'll try to take in and report on one or another (or several) of the New York appearances.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Pop fiction in India

       In The National Alana Rosenbaum looks at the English-language popular fiction scene in India, in Voices of youth, focussing on One Night @ the Call Center-author Chetan Bhagat:
In simple prose, Bhagat chronicles the lives of middle-class kids in big cities. It’s a winning formula that has sold three million books in India. Bhagat’s runaway success underscores two facts about Indian readers: that they are hungry for stories about people like themselves and that the demand for home-grown literature for young adults is vast.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Bolaño notes: Helon Habila

       Helon Habila writes about Roberto Bolano and Post-nationalist Literature, arguing:
African writers of this generation will sooner or later come to realise how dated the debates and theories about language and nationalism, which occupied and inspired our first generation critics and writers, have become.

They will find less and less need in their work to assert their national pride, because to them it will be a given. When we have learned to abandon the old clichés and war-cries, then we will eventually begin to look for other themes and motivations.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Bolaño notes: Michael Gove

       Conservative MP Michael Gove offers dubious arguments about Why bad coffee means good service in The Times but has some love for Roberto Bolaño's under-appreciated minor masterpiece Nazi Literature in the Americas.
       Gove suggests:
Acquire a copy of his rather ominously titled Nazi Literature in the Americas -- just over a 100 pages long and divided into easily digestible chunks.

NLitA purports to be a collection of biographical studies highlighting the achievements (or lack of them) of the most notable fascist writers from North and South America. A tour through the ideological, personal and artistic wreckage of extreme right-wing Peruvian fantasists might not appear to promise much light relief at a time like this, but NLitA is one of the most darkly funny reads I've ever come across. An extended satire on both literary and political pretension, and in particular the folly of paying over much attention to the political views of artists, its a pocket Dunciad for our times.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       More Genji enthusiasm

       In The National Danielle Demetriou goes ... Ga-ga for Genji -- yet another article about the 1000-year anniversary of The Tale of Genji.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       February Open Letters

       The February issue of the always worthwhile Open Letters Monthly is now available online (though it is a bit non-fiction coverage heavy for our tastes this month ...).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

1 February 2009 - Sunday

Moustapha Safouan profile | Translation success ! | New Literary Review at The Hindu
P.D.James Q & A | German/Turkish exchange

       Moustapha Safouan profile

       At Al-Ahram Weekly David Tresilian profiles Moustapha Safouan, in The language of politics; see also our review of Safouan's Why Are the Arabs Not Free ? The Politics of Writing.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       Translation success !

       In The Bookseller Victoria Gallagher reports that in the UK Translated titles storm charts -- and that:
Total sales of The Girl Who Played With Fire and The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo in the UK currently stand at 120,765 copies. Bolano's 2666, completed just before his death in 2003, has sold almost 3,000 copies in less than two weeks.

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       New Literary Review at The Hindu

       The new issue of the Literary Review at The Hindu is now available, and includes a review of 2666 and Pradeep Sebastian on The writer's writer, David Markson (see, for example, our review of Reader's Block).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       P.D.James Q & A

       The Globe & Mail offer a decent 'Ask an Author'-series, and this week it is P.D.James responding to reader's questions (see also, for example, our review of The Private Patient).

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

       German/Turkish exchange

       In Today's Zaman Kristina Kamp finds that German literature gains ground in Turkey.
       Turkish literature in Germany, too, apparently -- but can it be right that:
With more than 350 Turkish titles translated into German in the last year, there has never been a higher interest for Turkish literature in the German market.
       350 titles ? Compare that with all the fiction translated into English from all languages .....

(Posted by: complete review)    - permanent link -

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