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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 31 December 2010

21 December: Saddam Hussein's blood-Qu'ran | Looking ahead to 2011 | Worst of the year list ! | Holiday reading: Grunberg ! | Les Murray reviews
22 December: Chinese literary magazine wars ? | Publishing in ... China | Finnish fiction in the US | Needle in a Haystack review
23 December: Hyped literary 'greatness' | Under-appreciated Mordecai Richler ? | South African year-in-literature | Eliot Weinberger on Decision Points
24 December: More Nabokov | The Tale of Khun Chang Khun Phaen in English ! | German Christmas-season bestsellers | Spanish favorites | The French year in books
25 December: 1Q84 review | Feltrinelli taking over Anagrama | The literary year in ... Kenya
26 December: Mozart libretti in English | More on Ngũgĩ not getting the Nobel | Vijayan monument
27 December: Publishing and gatekeeping | Fuentes profile | Translating Korean literature | Kindle-mania | Humans, Beasts, and Ghosts review
28 December: Grossman and Davis on translation | Italian noir | German bestsellers, 2010 | (Surprise) French bestseller
29 December: 15(+) defining Australian works ? | E.Gene Smith and Tibetan books | Year in literature, Thai edition | Bound to Last review
30 December: 'Bring back the book' in Nigeria | Reconnecting literary criticism ? | Writing in ... Saudi Arabia | Argentine fifty-of-the-year | Mahfouz translations | NZZ foreign book recommendations
31 December: Oriental pulp fiction ? | Reading resolutions | US edition of The Year of the Hare | De asielzoeker review | Happy New Year ! -- and many thanks

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31 December 2010 - Friday

Oriental pulp fiction ? | Reading resolutions
US edition of The Year of the Hare | De asielzoeker review
Happy New Year ! -- and many thanks

       Oriental pulp fiction ?

       In A Treasure Chest of Oriental Pulp Fiction in Amira El Ahl reports on the Bidoun Library Project, as:
The Bidoun Organisation has created a travelling exhibition that brings together some 1,000 posters, cartoons, catalogues and curiosities that show how distorted the clichés of the Orient were, even post-1945
       (It passed through New York earlier this year, when it was shown at the New Museum.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Reading resolutions

       At The New Republic Ruth Franklin is giving: "the classic New Year's resolutions a literary spin", in How I'll Be A Better Reader in 2011.
       I certainly like some of these -- notably:
This year, I pledge to devote more space to work in translation.
       I'll certainly be keeping an eye out for that !
       And I'm curious how this goes for her:
I plan to try to bring it about more by seeking out others who are reading what I'm reading. I've been a slacker about using social media for this purpose, but I notice that my friends do, and it might be worth a try.
       I'm not much for New Year's resolutions, and I don't really see myself following suit on any of these.
       Devote more space to work in translation ? I think I've got that area covered.
       Social media ? Hey, I'm on Twitter ..... (Not too socially, admittedly, but that's about as far as I'm willing to go, social media-wise.)
       Turn to e-galleys ? I have a hard enough time getting regular galleys (almost twenty per cent fewer than last year, and I feel I've been spending/wasting more time trying to elicit them than ever ...). And reading in e-book form is still too ... tortuous: I only managed one review based on a book read in e-book form all year.
       Reading outside my comfort zone ? Well, sure, I'd like to cover some cookbooks too ... but I'm afraid I'm too comfortable in my comfort zone. (And I like to think it's pretty broad -- or rather that there are several comfort zones.)
       So how would I like to be a better reader in the new year ? I'd just like to read more. Always more. (With 220 books read and reviewed to date (and one more probably going up today), and a few dozen more read and not reviewed here I've gotten through a fair amount in 2010 -- but not nearly as much as I would have liked to. (Of course, I couldn't get my hands on quite a bit I would have liked to either.))
       Okay, I'd also like to tackle more 'serious' works -- modern and classical classics, for example. And rather than reading more works in translation I'd like to read more in foreign languages (and in more foreign languages -- instead of just constantly falling back on French and German).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       US edition of The Year of the Hare

       I've been touting Arto Paasilinna -- enormously popular throughout Europe -- for years (and quite a few of his books are under review at the complete review), and I'm pleased to see Penguin bringing out his The Year of the Hare in the US (never mind that the Peter Owen edition has been available for quite a while ...). It comes with a Foreword by Pico Iyer, and -- I haven't seen the new edition -- I assume some version of that is what the Wall Street Journal prints as The Road Into the Open -- with the subtitle: 'Could a best-selling Finnish novel change your life ?'

       (Not that I want to pick on any particular publicity departments -- hey, I'm glad they even think of/remember me at all -- but this is sort of a typical example of how my interaction with book-publicists has gone this year: a couple of weeks ago I received an e-mail telling me they'd sent me the book and asking whether I was going to cover it. They may have sent me a copy, but I did not receive one; as to covering the title -- I'd done that years ago, the review readily found (as the top Google-result for most title +/- author combinations ...).

       Okay, one New Year's resolution: I'll try to whinge less. Even I am beginning to find this annoying .....

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       De asielzoeker review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Arnon Grunberg's De asielzoeker.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Happy New Year ! -- and many thanks

       My best wishes for the New Year to all my readers !

       May you read good books and enjoy good times and great success in 2011 !

       Thanks for making the complete review and this Literary Saloon part of your routines -- whether occasional or daily. I hope to be able to continue to provide the sort of coverage that you find useful, entertaining, and informative in 2011 and beyond.


(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

30 December 2010 - Thursday

'Bring back the book' in Nigeria | Reconnecting literary criticism ?
Writing in ... Saudi Arabia | Argentine fifty-of-the-year
Mahfouz translations | NZZ foreign book recommendations

       'Bring back the book' in Nigeria

       They've launched a 'Bring back the book'-initiative in Nigeria as, as Emmanuel Edukugho reports in Vanguard, Jonathan battles to bring back reading culture. (That's president Goodluck Jonathan, of course.)
       See also the Daily Sun editorial; I find it sort of admirable that they can argue:
The vibrant reading culture that culminated in the development of Onitsha Market Literature, the African Writers Series published by Heinemann and many literary works from Macmillan, Longman and others is totally absent now. The era when students read voraciously from selections of Mills and Boons, James Hardley Chase, Denise Robins, Barbara Cartland and other popular authors, is gone.

In place of reading, children these days are dangerously hooked to television, the internet, telephones and other electronic gadgets that divert their attention from the world of books. 'Bring back the book' is, therefore, a patriotic clarion call on all Nigerians to have intimate relationship with books, both fictive and non-fictive.
       (See also the complete review review of Emmanuel Obiechina's An African Popular Literature (about Onitsha market literature), as well as the index of African Writers Series-titles under review; sorry, no reviews of Mills and Boons, James Hadley Chase, Denise Robins, Barbara Cartland and other popular authors at this time .....)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Reconnecting literary criticism ?

       Here's some spin, as Matthew Wright wonders at The Guardian's commentisfree, Could university cutbacks be the saviour of English ? as: 'The end of subsidies and a focus on 'impact'-led research may force literary criticism to reconnect with the public imagination'.
       I'll believe it when I see it.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Writing in ... Saudi Arabia

       In the Arab News Fatima Sidiya reports that Women seek greater role in literary clubs, as: 'Saudi women should be given specific membership quotas at the Kingdom's literary clubs, said leading Saudi novelist and columnist Omaima Al-Khamees.'
She added that Saudi books face general problems relating to publishing, distribution and marketing. "I call on the Ministry of Information to look into this. It is not sufficient for Saudi books to only be available abroad or displayed in book fairs," she said.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Argentine fifty-of-the-year

       Via Moleskine Literario I learn of La Nacion's adn Los 50 libros del año. Always interesting to see what's attracting interest (and been published ...) in other languages and countries, and aside from the familiar English-language works there's quite a bit that sounds really good here.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Mahfouz translations

       Arabic Literature (in English) considers What's Wrong with 35 Naguib Mahfouz Translations ? as:
AUC Press will finish up translating all 35 of Mahfouz's novels before the author's 100th birthday.
       I'm all for this, but she does have a point re. some of the older translations -- and I agree with her concluding thought:
Perhaps what is really required in this YEAR OF MAHFOUZ (ouz-ouz-ouz) -- in terms of translation -- is not to scramble to render every last short story and napkin scrawl into English, but to re-translate some of his key novels.
       Unfortunately, those are the ones that seem least likely to be retranslated (because they're in print, in the US and UK, from publishers who think those translations -- or at least the sales thereof -- are perfectly fine, thank you).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       NZZ foreign book recommendations

       The Neue Zürcher Zeitung offers the sixth installment of its 'Weltempfänger' -- recommendations of book from Asia, Africa, and Latin America.
       Always of some interest, and even if the top two this time around are familiar in the US/UK -- led by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's memoir, Dreams in a Time of War -- it's a pretty solid list.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

29 December 2010 - Wednesday

15(+) defining Australian works ? | E.Gene Smith and Tibetan books
Year in literature, Thai edition | Bound to Last review

       15(+) defining Australian works ?

       In Words to the wise in the Sydney Morning Herald Susan Wyndham offers what winds up being a list of:
15 Australian books -- and some extra suggestions -- that every Australian can enjoy if they want to understand our literature, our country and ourselves.
       Not a bad Australian-starter list for anyone (including non-Australians) looking to tackle down-under literature.
       Among those she lists that are under review at the complete review are: Gould's Book of Fish by Richard Flanagan, any number of books by the great Patrick White, Eucalyptus by Murray Bail, and True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       E.Gene Smith and Tibetan books

       An interesting obituary by Margalit Fox in The New York Times today, E.Gene Smith, Who Helped to Save Tibetan Literary Canon, Dies at 74.
       Pretty fascinating life:
E.Gene Smith, a Utah native who through persistence, ardor and benevolent guile amassed the largest collection of Tibetan books outside Tibet, saving them from isolation and destruction and making them accessible to scholars and Tibetan exiles around the world
       He founded the quite remarkable Tibetan Buddhist Resource Center, which is also well worth visiting.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Year in literature, Thai edition

       Ezra Kyrill Erker's year-in-literature round-up in the Bangkok Post, Year in fiction, takes a global outlook, but there are a few domestic titbits mixed in -- what sold well in Thailand, notable local publications, etc.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Bound to Last review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of the collection of 30 Writers on their Most Cherished Book, Bound to Last, edited by Sean Manning.
       The only writers in the anthology with other titles under review at the complete review are Chris Abani and Shahriar Mandanipour, but it's a solid line-up, and there are some interesting contributions -- including one (whose inclusion, however, seemed rather .... gratuitous to me) by David Foster Wallace's "widow, via hanging" .....

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

28 December 2010 - Tuesday

Grossman and Davis on translation | Italian noir
German bestsellers, 2010 | (Surprise) French bestseller

       Grossman and Davis on translation

       At npr Lynn Neary finds that When Done Right, Little Gets Lost In Translation (via), with Edith Grossman and Lydia Davis leading the way.

       (See also the complete review review of Grossman's Why Translation Matters.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Italian noir

       At the BBC Francis Welch finds Italian crime looks into dark heart of society (via), as: 'Italian noir is emerging as a force inspired by the dark side of Italian society'.
       Among the authors discussed and doing the discussing: Andrea Camilleri, Massimo Carlotto (The Fugitive, etc.), and Carlo Lucarelli (Carte Blanche, etc.).

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       German bestsellers, 2010

       With no real hard numbers -- and slightly prematurely -- Die Welt claims Hummeldumm und Sarrazin sind die Bestseller 2010, as they list the top ten best-selling fiction and non titles of 2010. (Not to be confused with their recent list of the German Christmas-season bestsellers which I mentioned just a few days ago; these are for the whole (well, almost ... I still count a few more days ...) year)
       It's no surprise that Thilo Sarrazin's ultra-controversial Deutschland schafft sich ab (see, for example, Why Sarrazin's Integration Demagoguery Has Many Followers in Der Spiegel for an overview) was the biggest seller; what did surprise me is how German-dominated the lists were, especially the non-fiction top-ten. There were more translated titles among the fiction bestsellers -- but here the Scandinavian authors held their own against those translated from the English (three, including two by Stephenie Meyer) -- whereby instead of the Larsson effect it was the ... Jussi Adler-Olsen effect, as the Danish author garnered two top-ten places. (Jussi who ? many English-speaking readers probably ask -- as even with the Nordic crime wave as strong as it has been, US and UK publishers are often among the last to jump on board with any and all authors (god forbid they'd actually ever take a risk on an author until he's had a few bestsellers in a couple of countries and taken a couple of prizes ...): his Mercy, due out (in the UK) in May, 2011 looks to be the first of his books available in English ...(pre-order your copy at; see also his official site (with very odd author-picture pose)).)
       Meanwhile, a much-praised 'literary' work like Jonathan Franzen's Freedom only came in at number fourteen.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       (Surprise) French bestseller

       In The Guardian Angelique Chrisafis reports that Political essay by 93-year-old tops Christmas bestseller list in France. The author is Stéphane Hessel, and:
The unlikely publishing sensation is a former resistance hero whose 30-page essay, Indignez-vous !, calls on readers to get angry about the state of modern society
After two months on the bestseller lists, the book has spent five weeks at number one, beating Michel Houellebecq's award-winning latest novel La Carte et le Territoire and a host of Christmas fiction. It has sold 600,000 copies and -- publishers predict it will reach a million.
       You can get a copy at -- where its sales rank, last I checked, was indeed: 1.
       As to the pamphlet itself:
Hessel's book argues that French people should re-embrace the values of the French resistance, which have been lost, which was driven by indignation, and French people need to get outraged again.
       Sounds like just the thing for Christmas.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

27 December 2010 - Monday

Publishing and gatekeeping | Fuentes profile | Translating Korean literature
Kindle-mania | Humans, Beasts, and Ghosts review

       Publishing and gatekeeping

       In The Los Angeles Times Alex Pham finds Book publishers see their role as gatekeepers shrink.
       I've always had my doubts about publishers-as-gatekeepers -- and they've certainly done little in recent times to convince they play a particularly useful role. Other than in the distribution-area, I think their days are very numbered, unless they get their act together -- but, these being publishing 'professionals', that seems highly doubtful ... ..

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Fuentes profile

       Carlos Fuentes apparently has a new novel out in English (god forbid anyone should tell me about anything like that ...), Destiny and Desire (get your copy at or, and in New York Boris Kachka profiles him, in Still Booming.
       And apparently:
Fuentes has published three more books in Spanish since Destiny and Desire came out in Mexico, in 2008, including a vampire novel, Vlad. He's working on another bulky one, with Friedrich Nietzsche as the protagonist.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Translating Korean literature

       In The Korea Times Han Sang-hee profiles Farideh Mahdavi-Damghani, in Iranian translator to bring Korean works to world.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -


       So apparently the 'Kindle' and various e-readers were a big e-gift over the holidays, so a reminder that, if you're so inclined (and about a half dozen readers seem to be), you can get your daily dose of the Literary Saloon on a Kindle (in the UK too). (Though given the linkage hereabouts it doesn't seem the ideal way of perusing the site ....).
       The Complete Review: A Site History, too -- though note the review comments at Amazon -- the many footnotes apparently don't come across particularly well.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Humans, Beasts, and Ghosts review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Stories and Essays by Qian Zhongshu, Humans, Beasts, and Ghosts.
       Qian Zhongshu is best known for his novel Fortress Besieged, recently re-issued by New Directions (in the US; get your copy at and Penguin Classics (in the UK; see their publicity page, or get your copy at (Back when I first read it, the author-name was still written: Ch'ien Chung-shu.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

26 December 2010 - Sunday

Mozart libretti in English | More on Ngũgĩ not getting the Nobel
Vijayan monument

       Mozart libretti in English

       W.W.Norton has brought out a big, fat volume (1167 pages !) of Seven Mozart Librettos: A Verse Translation by J.D.McClatchy, and in today's issue of The New York Times Anthony Tommasini looks at it in How Opera Challenges Translators.
       There are a few libretti under review at the complete review, but I don't think I'll get to this particular volume; still, it looks pretty impressive. See also the W.W.Norton publicity page, or get your copy at or

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       More on Ngũgĩ not getting the Nobel

       I mentioned Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani's recent The New York Times op-ed -- arguing that it's better for African literature that Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o didn't win the Nobel Prize this year --, In Africa, the Laureate's Curse, and it continues to elicit reactions.
       Molara Wood now takes it on in Next, in Nwaubani, Ngugi and the Nobel, finding:
The literary event of the last week has to be not so much the op-ed piece written by Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani for the New York Times, but the reactions to it, of which there are many, the tones of which have been of the almost universally aghast kind.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Vijayan monument

       In Thassarak as Vijayan saw it in The Hindu G.Prabhakaran reports that:
A monument for O.V. Vijayan, the ace storyteller of Khasak, is coming up at Thassarak, a village near Kodumbu. A gateway to the village being constructed at a cost of Rs.15 lakh will be inaugurated on December 31 at Thassarak.
       I'm always glad to see The Legends of Khasak-author Vijayan get some attention. He's certainly deserving of more -- though I'm not sure I'm willing to go quite as far as Prabhakaran, who suggests:
Perhaps like BC and AD, Malayalam literature is surveyed as before Khassak and after Khassak. Such was the willingness with which the reading constituency received it and debated it.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

25 December 2010 - Saturday

1Q84 review | Feltrinelli taking over Anagrama | The literary year in ... Kenya

       1Q84 review

       A cruel sort of Christmas present/tease for my readers: the most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Murakami Haruki's not-yet-available in English 1Q84.
       Yeah, I figure this is going to be a much-given Christmas present in the US and UK in 2011: I'm not quite ready to call it yet (there's a week left in the year ...), but this looks like it'll wind up easily being my favorite read of the year. (Yes, Albert Cossery was the find of the year, and his The Jokers quite a revelation, but this tops even that.)
       I took my time with this one, and with Murakami at his prolix best this is a perfect leisurely read; I thoroughly enjoyed it. True, I prefer Murakami when he's wordy and takes his time getting anywhere in any case (which is one more reason I'm so bothered by the radical cuts some of the earlier novels were subjected to), but it's hard to find fault here.
       Sorry that most of you (Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Dutch, German, etc. readers excepted ...) will have to wait a while -- but I think you'll find it's worth that wait. (And, hey, you can already pre-order the UK edition at (delivery in ... September).)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Feltrinelli taking over Anagrama

       This sounds huge to me: the excellent Spanish publisher Anagrama is selling out to and being taken over (eventually) by Italian conglomerate Feltrinelli. But the English-language press doesn't seem to have even mentioned it yet -- what gives ? (I didn't report on this yesterday, figuring there'd be some US/UK publishing commentary to link to by today -- but there's still not a thing.)
       For some Spanish reactions, see J.M.Martí Font's report in El País, Herralde vende Anagrama a la editorial italiana Feltrinelli, and La Vanguardia's short piece on La venta de Anagrama.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       The literary year in ... Kenya

       In the Saturday Nation Tom Odhiambo reports that in Kenya the Year was good for literature, and 2011 will be even better.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

24 December 2010 - Friday

More Nabokov | The Tale of Khun Chang Khun Phaen in English !
German Christmas-season bestsellers | Spanish favorites | The French year in books

       More Nabokov

       Dmitri Nabokov apparently can't get the voices -- well, Dad's voice -- out of his head: in L'Express Pierre Thaulaz has a Q & A with him, Dmitri Nabokov: "C'est comme si mon père apparaissait et me disait 'Publie-le !'", which is apparently all the cover and excuse he needs to publish yet more Vladimir Nabokoviana: aside from the already announced letters he reports here that he's worked over a hundred of his father's poems, and that a translation of the early play, The Tragedy of Mister Morn, is also forthcoming, in a year and a half or so.
       (I'm thinking the voice Dmitri actually hears -- or at least is listening to -- is that of literary estate-representative Andrew Wylie, looking to cash in where he can (hey, it worked with The Original of Laura -- at least for a while (they did well with the rights, even if they ultimately couldn't unload the manuscript itself, you'll recall)).)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       The Tale of Khun Chang Khun Phaen in English !

       Vaudine England reports at the BBC that Thai literary epic in new English translation, as The Tale of Khun Chang Khun Phaen [ขุนช้างขุนแผน] is finally available in English:
The Tale of Khun Chang Khun Phaen is Thailand's version of Romeo and Juliet mixed up with Robin Hood.

It tackles the eternal themes of a woman torn between two lovers, the struggle between rich and poor, and the idea of revolt against the monarch.
       Thai literature -- classical and modern -- is among the most woefully underrepresented in (English) translation, and this is a major event (and it also looks like a pretty impressive edition); I hope very much to be able to get my hands on a copy and review it.
       Meanwhile, see also the Silkworm publicity page, or pre-order your copy at or

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       German Christmas-season bestsellers

       Die Welt looks at how the German bookselling-Christmas-season has gone in Diese Bücher kaufen die Deutschen zum Fest, and notes that bookstore sales suffered (with the excuse of the bad weather ...) -- down some ten per cent from last year -- while online sales boomed.
       They also list the twenty top-selling titles of the season -- with Charlotte Link's Das andere Kind leading the way.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Spanish favorites

       In El País they look at the Libros del año, coming up with a list of their top twenty(-nine) -- with J.M.Coetzee's Verano leading the way. A pretty interesting mix.
       See also Books on Spain's commentary.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       The French year in books

       In L'Express they offer L'année littéraire 2010 revue par les journalistes, with their writers looking at the literary "tops et flops" of 2010.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

23 December 2010 - Thursday

Hyped literary 'greatness' | Under-appreciated Mordecai Richler ?
South African year-in-literature | Eliot Weinberger on Decision Points

       Hyped literary 'greatness'

       In the Irish Times Eileen Battersby argues that Literary 'greatness' now nothing more than a game of hype, using Jonathan Franzen and his super-hyped Freedom as the central example.
       She argues:
If Jonathan Franzen had not taken nine years to write Freedom, it would most likely have been received as the novel it actually is -- a sloppy, overwritten, mildly amusing extended sitcom that is being inaccurately, even grotesquely, hailed as a masterpiece.
       The long wait surely helped attract attention, but I suspect many would have been fooled anyway.
       And many of her arguments aren't entirely convincing -- especially the novels and authors she compares the Franzen to, including:
It falters on examination. It creaks and, most damning of all, it lacks the enduring strength of US fiction, a convincing narrative voice. Superior US novels were published this year, such as Nemesis; while better international fiction was published -- Orhan Pamuk's equally lengthy The Museum of Innocence is more compelling.
       Not the books I would have chosen to compare to the Franzen -- both also seemed flawed to me. (I also disagree with her assessment of The Corrections, which I think is a superior work.)
       Still, some anti-hype is more than welcome; let's hope next year's batch of books is judged on the merits. (Yes, yes, I know ... I could barely keep a straight face while writing that.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Under-appreciated Mordecai Richler ?

       In the Globe and Mail John Barber looks at Why Mordecai Richler isn't being studied in Canadian universities, as:
Judged by his profile on university courses that teach Canadian literature, however, Mordecai Richler barely exists. No other author so widely admired both in his day and after is less conspicuous in the emerging canon of Canadian literature -- a continuing irritant his admirers are eager to redress.

A quick survey shows that neither Queen's University, nor the University of Toronto, Concordia University, Dalhousie University, University of Alberta, York University, the University of Saskatchewan and Simon Fraser University name a single work by Richler in lists of texts for either undergraduate or graduate-level courses on Canadian literature.
       Pretty impressive -- and odd.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       South African year-in-literature

       In The Times (South Africa) Tymon Smith offers a South African-tinged A-Z of 2010 in literature.

       Also in The Times: employees and critics suggest what they consider SA's best reads of 2010.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Eliot Weinberger on Decision Points

       In the London Review of Books Eliot Weinberger offers a detailed (and devastating) reading of former American president George Bush jr.'s Decision Points, in 'Damn right,' I said.
       No review of that tome forthcoming at the complete review, I assure you, but you can get your copy at -- as astonishingly many people are: its Amazon sales rank, last I checked, was a lofty 2 (and the average rating of the 552 customer reviews an unfathomable 4.5 stars) -- or But I think you'd be much better of getting one of Weinberger's books -- such as What Happened Here.

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22 December 2010 - Wednesday

Chinese literary magazine wars ? | Publishing in ... China
Finnish fiction in the US | Needle in a Haystack review

       Chinese literary magazine wars ?

       I've previously mentioned the woes of some of China's foreign-literature-focused literary magazines, but apparently the problems have spread: as Xu Donghuan reports in the Global Times, there's something of a Literary death match going on, as:
With the year 2011 days away, Chen Dongjie worries whether October magazine where he has worked the last 20 years can withstand a new round of state-subsidized competition.

Since November 17 when news came that Shanghai government would pump 2 million yuan a year into two rival literary magazines, Chen and other editors at the leading Beijing literary magazine have been scratching their heads.
       By increasing the rates paid to contributors -- many times over -- the playing field is suddenly not very level.
       As to the broader problem of declining circulation ... well, clearly not all of China has embraced this whole capitalist/free market approach:
The government should take up the job of supporting literary magazines, believes a literary critic with the Literature Research Institute at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing.

"You cannot simply push them to the market and let the market decide their fate," Bai Ye says.

"The government should intervene or like what happens in the West, universities or arts foundations should support the existence of these publications for small circles of readers."
       I get the argument, but I sure hope they make a stronger case for it.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Publishing in ... China

       In The New York Times Dan Levin reports that Book Publishers Scramble for Chinese Readers, focusing his attention on an outfit called Horizon Media.
       A few hard numbers are also on offer, including:
According to the General Administration of Press and Publication, more than 15,700 foreign titles were bought by Chinese publishing companies in 2008, including more than 4,000 from the United States, the No.1 country of origin. In 2005, less than 10,000 foreign book titles were sold to China.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Finnish fiction in the US

       In Helsingin Sanomat Jukka Petäjä reports that Women authors blaze trail for Finland on fickle US market -- focusing mainly on Sofi Oksanen and her Purge, as:
Szilvia Molnar reveals that Black Cat, which is part of the prestigious Crove/Atlantic publishing company, took a print run of about 30,000 copies of Purge. This is considered about average for a Nordic translation in the United States. It will take some time before Oksanen's American success comes anywhere near that of Europe. In France, more than 170,000 copies of Purge have been sold, thanks to robust Christmas sales.
       The article also considers the difficulties faced by fiction in translation in the US generally, with opinions such as:
At the William Morris agency, Bill Clegg does not see things in such a positive light.

"The visibility of translated literature on the book market is fairly non-existent, as is the case with high-quality American literature. If there is enough noise and action, some translated work might find its way onto the book market, but more often than not, eyes are closed to what other countries have to offer."

After a moment's reflection Clegg adds the surprising commercial success of Bolaño and Larsson might suggest that a change is possible. However, he emphasises that translated literature is of primary interest to a small elite in the United States

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Needle in a Haystack review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ernesto Mallo's Needle in a Haystack.

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21 December 2010 - Tuesday

Saddam Hussein's blood-Qu'ran | Looking ahead to 2011 | Worst of the year list !
Holiday reading: Grunberg ! | Les Murray reviews

       Saddam Hussein's blood-Qu'ran

       For those who thought those Hitler water-colors were problematic: in The Guardian Martin Chulov reports that Qur'an etched in Saddam Hussein's blood poses dilemma for Iraq leaders.
       Yeah, one can see how it might be difficult to deal with:
It was etched in the blood of a dictator in a ghoulish bid for piety. Over the course of two painstaking years in the late 1990s, Saddam Hussein had sat regularly with a nurse and an Islamic calligrapher; the former drawing 27 litres of his blood and the latter using it as a macabre ink to transcribe a Qur'an. But since the fall of Baghdad, almost eight years ago, it has stayed largely out of sight -- locked away behind three vaulted doors. It is the one part of the ousted tyrant's legacy that Iraq has simply not known what to do with.
       But Chulov seems to be missing a major part of the point when he describes it as: "an exquisitely crafted book that would take its place in any art exhibition -- if it wasn't for the fact that it was written in blood."

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Looking ahead to 2011

       Conversational Reading has a look at Interesting New Books - 2011, which seems like a good place to start -- though the Roussel of interest isn't Oneworld's reprint of Locus Solus (just the most recent of a whole series of reprints of the 1970 translation) but rather Mark Polizzotti's new translation of Impressions of Africa, coming from Dalkey Archive Press (pre-order your copy at or; the Polizzotti-version of Flaubert's Bouvard and Pécuchet was certainly a translation-highlight of recent years). (The Two Novels by Arno Schmidt is also a re-issue -- in fact, Dalkey is reissuing all four of their volumes of Schmidt in 2011 -- hurrah !)
       Meanwhile, Arabic Literature (in English) has a nice list of New Arabic Books (in English): Forthcoming 2011.

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Worst of the year list !

       There are certainly enough 'best of the year'-lists coming out, so it's also nice to see the occasional worst-of list, and at stevereads Steve Donoghue offer his Worst Fiction, 2010 ! -- "the worst of the very bad !"
       Quite a few titles that got some best-of nods, including Adam Levin's The Instructions (a book I have not received, obtained, or seen -- although a surprising number of search-queries about it lead readers to the site, despite my having barely mentioned it) and Jonathan Franzen's Freedom.

       As to my worst of the year ? So far, it's been a French trifecta:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Holiday reading: Grunberg !

       My poll as to what I should include in my holiday reading seems to have closed earlier than anticipated -- many thanks to all who participated, or tried to --, but 41 votes registered, and the Arnon Grunberg-double bill -- De asielzoeker and Onze oom -- beat out Euripides by two votes, so that's what it will be. (Neither is available in English, but De asielzoeker is available in French (L'oiseau est malade), German (Der Vogel ist Krank), and Italian (Il rifugiato); Onze oom is only available in German (Mitgenommen).) Reviews should be up sometime in January.

       (I like the polling idea, however -- look for new ones in the new year.)

(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Les Murray reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are my reviews of two Les Murray books:
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