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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 31 January 2011

21 January: Jean Dutourd (1920-2011) | 'Walls and Bridges' | Translation in ... India
22 January: Neversink Library | Galle Literary Festival | The Shadow of What We Were review
23 January: National Book Critics Circle Award finalists | DSC Prize for South Asian Literature | Maltese National Book Awards | Bringing back the book in Nigeria | Adam Mars-Jones profile | The House of Ulysses review
24 January: Literature in ... Nigeria | Literature in ... Kenya | American sentences | Journey into the Past review
25 January: White Egrets takes 2010 T.S.Eliot Prize for Poetry | Different author standards ? | Babyfucker review
26 January: Whitbread Costa Book of the Year | Pakistani pulp ! | Skylark review
27 January: Best Translated Book Award longlist | Library support | Peter-Paul Zahl (1944-2011) | The Hunting Gun review
28 January: French bestsellers, 2010 | Jean Larteguy's The Centurions | More Galle Literary Festival issues | Translating into the mother tongue | Man e-Booker judging
29 January: Man Booker eligibility changes | Arabic writers reflect | US publication date for Murakami's 1Q84 | Fatale review
30 January: The (end of the) age of the critic ? | Thomas Love Peacock
31 January: Translation Prizes 2010/Sebald Lecture | Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End review

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31 January 2011 - Monday

Translation Prizes 2010/Sebald Lecture
Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End review

       Translation Prizes 2010/Sebald Lecture

       Tonight they're holding the Translation Prizes 2010/Sebald Lecture in London, which should be a pretty decent event. Ali Smith will be delivering the lecture.
       As to the translation prizes, the only two (of the six) where I've seen winners announced yet are the The Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation, which went to Humphrey Davies' translation of Yalo, by Elias Khoury (see my previous mention), and the TLS Risa Domb/Porjes Translation Prize (from Hebrew), which apparently went to Peter Cole for his translation of The Dream of the Poem, a collection of 'Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492' which he also edited and introduced; see the Princeton University Press publicity page.
       I'll mention who took the other prizes as soon as I find out .....

       (Updated - 1 February): Admirably, the TLS make their usual run-down of the prize-winners (published in the issue of 28 January) freely available online; see Adrian Tahourdin's piece on the Translation Prizes 2011. Winners include Margaret Jull Costa, sharing the Premio Valle Inclán for translation from Spanish for her translation of Poison, Shadow and Farewell by Javier Marías with Christopher Johnson for his bilingual edition of the Selected Poetry of Francisco de Quevedo, while Breon Mitchell took the Schlegel-Tieck prize for translation from the German for his re-translation of Günter Grass' The Tin Drum.

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

       Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of The Story of a Crime by Leif GW Persson, Between Summer's Longing and Winter's End.
       The crime is that seminal Swedish one, the Palmemordet -- Olof Palme's assassination. But I think I've pretty much had it with Swedish political (and similar) thrillers; don't look for coverage of any more for a while.

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

30 January 2011 - Sunday

The (end of the) age of the critic ? | Thomas Love Peacock

       The (end of the) age of the critic ?

       In The Observer they have: 'Critics reflect on how social media, such as Facebook, Twitter and myDigg, fit into the perennial debate on cultural elitism' (or at least say they do: I find one reference to Facebook, and none to whatever 'myDigg' is -- something I (admittedly outside of all loops) have never heard of) in Is the age of the critic over ?.
       It sounds like the sort of piece I -- pretend critic, running a pretend critical site, and whatnot (hey ! I sometimes 'tweet' ...) -- should link to, although my reaction to these commentaries was basically: 'Huh ?'
       I have little idea what they're talking about, nor do the examples -- to cite just one pseudo-observation: "If every critic in the western world loved Jonathan Franzen's Freedom but it has only been on the US bestseller list for 17 weeks, well, then the critic must be dead" (again: Huh ? Since there was nothing approaching such a critical consensus, this doesn't seem a particularly useful (or even reasonable) starting point for any sort of argument) -- strike me as ... revealing.

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

       Thomas Love Peacock

       I'm not that much of a fan of the 'Forgotten Author'-series running in the Independent on Sunday, but #62 is Thomas Love Peacock, and even the cursory praise Christopher Fowler offers is worth drawing attention to if it helps introduce a few more readers to the brilliance of this odd author's work.
       Fowler writes of Nightmare Abbey that it is:
what you might get if you removed the plot from Gormenghast and crossed it with Ronald Firbank's The Flower Beneath the Foot. The result is a novel so abstruse and witty and disconnected from everything that it seems best to stumble from one page to the next and merely enjoy the juxtaposition of words.
       Hey, anything to get people to have a look at his work -- get your copy of the Penguin edition of Nightmare Abbey and Crotchet Castle at or -- though his complete works (not all that much, in volume) are well worth making one's way through.

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

29 January 2011 - Saturday

Man Booker eligibility changes | Arabic writers reflect
US publication date for Murakami's 1Q84 | Fatale review

       Man Booker eligibility changes

       As Katie Allen also notes in her piece in The Bookseller, Man Booker to accept digital submissions for first time:
In a further change, the rule which allows novels by all living past winners to be automatically eligible for the prize is to be extended to novels by all living past shortlisted authors.
       Indeed, rule 4.a has been changed in the official rules for the Man Booker Prize; previously only authors who had been shortlisted in the previous five years were automatically also eligible (along with all prior winning authors (well, those still alive ...)).
       Is this an advance ? Doesn't it instead entrench the status quo ?
       How about making all books published in the UK eligible ... rather than just the two per publisher, which remains the (ridiculous) limit .....

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

       Arabic writers reflect

       In The Guardian Arabic writers reflect on the situation 'After Tunisia', as ten writers with connections to the region respond to what happened in Tunisia -- though events seem to be overtaking most commentary.

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

       US publication date for Murakami's 1Q84

       Knopf publicity-head Paul Bogaards tweets :
Haruki Murakamiís long-awaited magnum opus, 1Q84, out from Knopf 10/25. In one volume. Booyah ! Midnight store openings for this one ?
       It's unclear whether that really means all three books, or just the first two that Jay Rubin is translating (Philip Gabriel is doing volume three) -- all three would clock in at well over 1500 pages, so that seems a bit unlikely ..... But I should hope there will be midnight store openings for this one -- see my review of the first two volumes.
       (Despite the announcement: no listing, or Random House site listing yet, as best I can tell.)

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

       Fatale review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jean-Patrick Manchette's very noir Fatale, forthcoming in translation from New York Review Books later this spring.

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

28 January 2011 - Friday

French bestsellers, 2010 | Jean Larteguy's The Centurions
More Galle Literary Festival issues | Translating into the mother tongue
Man e-Booker judging

       French bestsellers, 2010

       Two weeks ago I reported on the best-selling French novelists of 2010; now L'Express provides a list of the thirty best-selling titles in France in 2010, in Le palmarès des ventes de livres 2010 (with sales figures !).
       Indignez-vous !, Stéphane Hessel's pamphlet (see my previous mention), was by far the best-selling title, its 741,779 copies sold outdistancing runner-up Michel Houellebecq's La Carte et le territoire (453,076) by quite a bit.
       What's noteworthy is how French works dominate the list, with Camilla Läckberg the first foreigner, showing up only in twelfth place (and a Dan Brown barely out-selling a Mathias Enard).
       The only title under review at the complete review: Purge, by Sofi Oksanen (14th best-selling title, with 150,520 copies shifted).

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

       Jean Larteguy's The Centurions

       In Slate Sophia Raday writes about Jean Larteguy's The Centurions, wondering: 'What is it about The Centurions that makes it so wildly expensive, and what makes it appeal to our generation's most influential military strategist ?' in David Petraeus Wants This French Novel Back in Print ! (which it now is -- albeit at a ridiculous $59.95; get your copy at or
       She writes:
When Les Centurions was first published in France in 1960, it was a blockbuster, selling more than 450,000 copies and establishing Jean Larteguy as a household name. Opinions on its literary merit varied. Reception in the United States in 1962 -- when The Centurions first became available in English -- was more clearly negative. The Harvard Crimson called it "a very bad novel," and the New York Times said "it is difficult at first to keep track of who's who and it is impossible to care."
       Read the full Harvard Crimson review here.

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

       More Galle Literary Festival issues

       The Galle Literary Festival continues to find it difficult to focus on the purely literary stuff: after Orhan Pamuk bailed over supposed visa issues (see my previous mention) now South African Author Damon Galgut boycotts Sri Lanka book fair, as Charles Haviland reports at BBC News. (He sure took his time before deciding to stay away .....)
       Meanwhile, complaints are also coming in about completely different matters, as for example the Sri Lanka Guardian wonders The Galle Literary Festival -- Myopia or Ignorance ? noting:
This is not a usual rant on the boycott of the festival by Noam Chomsky and Arundhathi Roy. This is about the failure of GLF from its first launch to recognize that there are two more languages in Sri Lanka and there are people who do write in these languages. Why does politics seep into every aspect of our lives ? Even a literary event is not spared.

How did the English speaking elites of this country simply forget that literature of Sri Lanka does mean Sinhala as well as Tamil ?
       Indeed .....

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

       Translating into the mother tongue

       Deutsche Welle -- yes, Deutsche Welle ... -- report that an Italian author in England takes roundabout path to mother tongue.
       Dany Mitzman interviews Italo-British author Simonetta Hornby about her recent book, There's Nothing Wrong With Lucy -- noteworthy because:
It's the first published work that I've done which was written in English, and I then had to decide whether I was going to have it translated or not. And I couldn't face being translated in my other language, if you like, so I decided to do it myself. And what I did is I re-dictated it to somebody from Feltrinelli, one of the top editors we have. She came and we spent four days: me looking at the English text and then speaking in Italian. And it was an extraordinary experience because I realized how the text changed.
       I can't find an English edition available yet, but the Italian translation, Vento scomposto, has been published; see the Feltrinelli publicity page, or get your copy from

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

       Man e-Booker judging

       Apparently the Man Booker Prize judges will be able to read this year's entries in both paper and electronic form. As the Press Association reports:
Writer Susan Hill, who is one of the five members of this year's judging panel, tweeted: "We are to be given Kindles for Booker judging so they won't have to post us tons of real books."
       I wonder whether they will actually be given Kindles -- with Amazon getting the publicity -- or be able to select their own e-reader and platform.
       (Making the books available in e-form sounds entirely reasonable to me, as long as it's in addition to the printed form (i.e. as long as they don't have to rely solely on the e-format): I certainly couldn't have waded my way through the Best Translated Book titles (see my previous mention) solely in the format -- give me print any day .....)

       (Updated - 1 February): See now also Arifa Akbar wondering whether 'a little literary magic' will be lost this way, in E-book prize: A new chapter or a damaging novelty ? in The Independent.

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

27 January 2011 - Thursday

Best Translated Book Award longlist
Library support | Peter-Paul Zahl (1944-2011) | The Hunting Gun review

       Best Translated Book Award longlist

       The longlist for the Best Translated Book Award (of which I am one of the judges) has been announced, and the twenty-five titles are:
  • Agaat by Marlene Van Niekerk, translated from the Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns

  • Bad Nature, or With Elvis in Mexico by Javier Marías, translated from the Spanish by Esther Allen

  • The Black Minutes by Martín Solares, translated from the Spanish by Aura Estrada and John Pluecker

  • The Blindness of the Heart by Julia Franck, translated from the German by Anthea Bell

  • The Clash of Images by Abdelfattah Kilito, translated from the French by Robyn Creswell

  • Cyclops by Ranko Marinković, translated from the Croatian by Vlada Stojilković

  • Eline Vere by Louis Couperus, translated from the Dutch by Ina Rilke

  • Georg Letham: Physician and Murderer by Ernst Weiss, translated from the German by Joel Rotenberg

  • The Golden Age by Michal Ajvaz, translated from the Czech by Andrew Oakland

  • Hocus Bogus by Romain Gary (writing as Émile Ajar), translated from the French by David Bellos

  • Hygiene and the Assassin by Amélie Nothomb, translated from the French by Alison Anderson

  • I Curse the River of Time by Per Petterson, translated from the Norwegian by Charlotte Barslund and the author

  • A Jew Must Die by Jacques Chessex, translated from the French by Donald Wilson

  • The Jokers by Albert Cossery, translated from the French by Anna Moschovakis

  • A Life on Paper by Georges-Olivier Chateaureynaud, translated from the French by Edward Gauvin

  • The Literary Conference by César Aira, translated from the Spanish by Katherine Silver

  • Microscripts by Robert Walser, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky

  • On Elegance While Sleeping by 'Viscount' Lascano Tegui, translated from the Spanish by Idra Novey

  • The Rest Is Jungle by Mario Benedetti, translated from the Spanish by Harry Morales

  • A Splendid Conspiracy by Albert Cossery, translated from the French by Alyson Waters

  • A Thousand Peaceful Cities by Jerzy Pilch, translated from the Polish by David Frick

  • To the End of the Land by David Grossman, translated from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen

  • The True Deceiver by Tove Jansson, translated from the Swedish by Thomas Teal

  • Touch by Adania Shibli, translated from the Arabic by Paula Haydar

  • Visitation by Jenny Erpenbeck, translated from the German by Susan Bernofsky
       A few observations:

       Two nominees are in the running with two separate titles: author Albert Cossery and translator Susan Bernofsky.

       As Chad Post notes, authors from 19 countries writing in 12 languages are represented. The breakdown by language is:
  • French: 7 titles
  • Spanish: 5
  • German: 4
  • Languages with 1 title each:
    • Afrikaans
    • Arabic
    • Croatian
    • Czech
    • Dutch
    • Hebrew
    • Norwegian
    • Polish
    • Swedish
       Noteworthy here: last year (see my discussion) 17 languages (five more !) were represented. Amazingly, for the second year in a row, there were no books translated from the Italian or the Japanese; also: last year there was one title each translated from the Chinese and Russian and there are none this year.

       Once again, small and independent publisher-offerings completely dominate the longlist: Knopf (To the End of the Land) and Grove/Black Cat (The Black Minutes, The Blindness of the Heart) are the only larger houses represented (which I think says a lot about the major houses ...). With two titles the new Yale University Press' Margellos World Republic of Letters has obviously shown a nice touch in their book selection, while old reliables -- Dalkey Archive Press, New Directions, New York Review of Books -- and newer ones -- Open Letter, Archipelago -- also continue to have solid showings.

       Not too many surprise omissions this year, I think (recall that the eligibility period is a December 2009 through November 2010 first publication (in the US) date; check the translation database before you complain about specific missing titles ...[updated: predictably enough, the first complaints about specific omissions I have seen online have not done so, complaining about titles that were not eligible]), though among the titles passed over were some by Roberto Bolaño, Purge by Sofi Oksanen (which has done particularly well abroad), and Comedy in a Minor Key by Hans Keilson.

       The 10-title fiction shortlist will be announced 24 March.

       (And looking ahead to next year: I say the Japanese streak will be broken with Murakami Haruki's 1Q84 easily making the longlist.
       Among other titles I suspect will be in the running for next year's longlist:        (Updated - 28 January): Among the early print-reactions is Benedicte Page's, as she notes 'Twenty-five books in contention, but none from publisher that protested over's sponsorship'. That would be Melville House Books, and among all the small-press names I completely overlooked that they had, indeed, been shut out. But I think Chad had a reasonable explanation:
Post said the judges had not excluded Melville House titles, but that the publisher had only three eligible books in the running this year. "Based on that, it doesn't seem all that remarkable that they were left off," he said.
       Indeed. (I did think Kertész Imre's The Union Jack was consideration-worthy, but it didn't stand out far enough to make the longlist. I would, however, be surprised, if no Melville House title is longlisted next year: they're bringing out a ton of translations, and while many are reprints (the Bölls) quite a few should be eligible and in the running. (If Kurkov's Death and the Penguin is eligible (prior publication in English complicates these things -- though it looks like that was just a UK edition) then it is a shoe-in.))

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

       Library support

       In the US (led by California and Texas) and the UK state library funding is being radically cut back; in South Korea they apparently haven't heard that this is the thing to do nowadays -- instead, as Kim Yoon-mi reports in The Korea Herald W552 billion allocated for 180 new public libraries, as:
A total of 552 billion won ($493 million) has been earmarked for opening 66 public libraries and 114 small libraries, the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism said Wednesday.
The government plans to boost the total number of public libraries in Korea to 814 in 2011 from 748 in 2010, with the number of public librarians increased to 3,470 in 2011 from 3,258 in 20
       What fools ! actually investing in the future, education, and the common good ! Where could that possibly lead ? Why aren't they cutting taxes instead ?!?
       (This is also the country that has also led the world in internet connection speeds for quite a while -- far ahead of American speeds (see, for example, this recent look at The Fastest Internet Speeds In The World).)

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

       Peter-Paul Zahl (1944-2011)

       Cop-shooting, Baader-Meinhof sympathizing German author Peter-Paul Zahl has passed away; see, for example, the (German) obituary in Der Tagesspiegel; see also his official site.
       A middling writer, he didn't make any compromises and rode that to considerable success -- at least in terms of literary prizes and recognition. Certainly his writings from the late 1970s and early 1980s played a useful role in a Germany whose literary radicalism took on quite different forms at the time.

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

       The Hunting Gun review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Inoue Yasushi's The Hunting Gun.

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

26 January 2011 - Wednesday

Whitbread Costa Book of the Year | Pakistani pulp ! | Skylark review

       Whitbread Costa Book of the Year

       They've announced the Whitbread Costa Book of the Year, and it's the poetry-category winner, Of Mutability, by Jo Shapcott, that takes the prize.
       See also the Faber publicity page, or get your copy at

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

       Pakistani pulp !

       Sounds like one of the odder events at the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival, as festival co-director Namita Gokhale:
deemed Challawa too hot to read aloud, insisting the decision was not censorship but merely accounting for the "sensitivities of the audience", which included teenaged students.
       That would be Urdu author Humayun Iqbal's Challawa, which Amanda Hodge reports in The Australian is Pakistani pulp fiction 'too hot' for Indians -- even though:
The adventures of a lesbian detective kept millions of Pakistanis enthralled for eight years. In weekly instalments, its male writer brought to life in high Urdu and Farsi the voracious Bano, a wealthy Karachi-ite who solved crimes and trawled school buses for schoolgirls.
       The Times of India also reports on When pulp' session had to be toned down. The presence of some kids (or adolescents) seems a pretty feeble excuse ... and I imagine this did nothing more than get them all to rush to their local bookstores afterwards, hoping to track down some Challawa-tales .....
       As Hodge reports:
"It's so arbitrary what people take immense umbrage to. In Pakistan this is what people are likely to read and people aren't scandalised by it," says Khan.

"But I suspect if it was written in English it would generate far greater fuss."
       Adam B. Ellick also wrote about this and other Risqué Writing in Pakistan at The New York Times' At War blog a few months back.

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

       Skylark review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Kosztolányi Dezső's Skylark.

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

25 January 2011 - Tuesday

White Egrets takes 2010 T.S.Eliot Prize for Poetry
Different author standards ? | Babyfucker review

       White Egrets takes 2010 T.S.Eliot Prize for Poetry

       The 2010 T.S.Eliot Prize for Poetry has gone to White Egrets, by Derek Walcott. (And, yes, unbelievably but apparently inevitably: no announcement at the official site yet, last I checked.)
       See, for example, Charlotte Higgins' TS Eliot prize goes to Derek Walcott for 'moving and technically flawless' work in The Guardian, and Jonathan Brown's Walcott's meditation on dying wins poetry prize in The Independent.
       See also the White Egrets publicity pages at Faber & Faber and Farrar, Straus and Giroux, or get your copy at or

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

       Different author standards ?

       Lots of interesting goings-on at the DSC Jaipur Literature Festival (which Indian bloggers and media-outlets are much better situated to report on than I am ...), and one of the panels which Orhan Pamuk appeared on sounds particularly interesting, as he complained: 'Non-English authors don't get better representation', saying:
My essential concern is with non-Western writers who do not write in English. They don't find true representation.
But for those writing in other languages, their work is rarely translated and never read. So much of human experience is marginalised. This is a major deficiency
       Okay, 'never read' is an exaggeration (if it gets translated, someone is going to read it -- even if that doesn't amount to much of a readership), but he does have a point.
       Meanwhile, Srijana Mitra Das' report in the Times of India Do non-western writers face more problems ? has Rana Dasgupta spout silliness such as:
"We live in a far more integrated system today," the author of Tokyo Cancelled argued. "Globalisation has broken down barriers between West and non-West."
       Some, sure -- especially for an English-writing author (who was born in the UK, studied in the US, and is represented by ... The Wylie Agency ...; yeah, here's somebody to talk about any 'non-West' perspective) -- but far, far from all.

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

       Babyfucker review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Urs Allemann's ... provocatively titled Babyfucker.
       A scandal-causing text at the 1991 Ingeborg Bachmann Prize (where it was runner up, winning the 'Preis des Landes Kärnten') this isn't even a book I'd bother listing under the index of Erotic, Pornographic, and Sex-related fiction under Review, but that title seems likely to put a lot of people off (and, despite its wonderful pocket-sized format, it's probably not the kind of text you'll be wanting to carry around and pull out to read on the local park bench while you're watching the little 'uns ...). Too bad: it's of quite some literary interest and worth -- and the contents are ultimately less shocking than what happens in, say, the grotesque Dolly City by Orly Castel-Bloom. (The edition is -- admirably -- bilingual, too.)

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

24 January 2011 - Monday

Literature in ... Nigeria | Literature in ... Kenya
American sentences | Journey into the Past review

       Literature in ... Nigeria

       In Next Arthur Anyaduba complains about Examination set texts and our literature. (He probably has a point, but surely this kind of problem is near-universal -- just with local twists.)
       Among the things he takes issue with:
The literature texts recommended by the West African Examination Council (WAEC) and the National Examination Council (NECO) reveal a poor taste for literature. Apart from the obvious fact that these recommended texts came from the same age-long colonial mentality of recycling works from English authors, some of the works are purely mediocre pieces that shouldn't be used for examinations as supposedly prestigious as the Senior Secondary Certificate Examination (SSCE).
       Among the interesting points:
This raises some suspicions that these Examination bodies intentionally promote exhausted Anglophone African books over a much richer, broader outlook on the African literature. Hardly would one find students of literature in the know of writers beyond their own countries.
       Meanwhile, in The Nation (Nigeria), Biyi Olusolape really takes issue with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun, in Another half-decent book -- arguing, among other things, that:
HYS doesn't transcend Biafra. It's not great literature. Anyway, Adichie says she just wants to write her "Fiction", and I know that in that land of the MFA there's this divide between Literature and Fiction (I think the distinctions are nonsense, profit motivated, profit influenced, arbitrary ...). Does this mean, for instance, that she just wants to be the John Grisham of Nigeria, not John Steinbeck ? Well, there's nothing new in HYS that others before her haven't handled with more depth, confidence, feeling and wit, except, maybe, the blowjob.
       Hmmmmm .....

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

       Literature in ... Kenya

       In The East African Henry Munene argues What literary desert ? It's a book jungle out there ! -- and points to a lack of review coverage as one of the difficulties faced by authors in much of Africa:
If the names above sound strange, it means that you haven't heard the latest in African fiction.

And the reason you haven't read reviews of these books is that we are in dire need of critics who have the keenness to keep reading and reviewing new books to an extent that they have their finger on the pulse of publishing and the literary trends in East, Central and other parts of Africa.
       And he concludes:
My only wish is for critics and reviewers to help us feel the gravity of the literary generational changeover happening right under our noses, and cease spreading the lie that publishers only go for established writers among other annoying untruths.

Its a jungle out there, there is no more literary desert.
       I, for one (or, I guess: another) would also love to see more review coverage in Africa and of new African literature.

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

       American sentences

       In How To Write a (Good) Sentence Adam Haslett reviews Stanley Fish's new book, How to Write a Sentence in the Financial Times (re-published here at Slate).
       Along the way he also takes on Strunk & White's The Elements of Style, noting:
The trouble with the book isn't the rules themselves, which the authors are sage enough to recognize "the best writers sometimes disregard," but the knock-on effect that their bias for plain statement has tended to have not only on expositional but literary prose. In this, admittedly, Strunk & White had a few assists, in particular Hemingway. If the history of the American sentence were a John Ford movie, its second act would conclude with the young Ernest walking into a saloon, finding an etiolated Henry James slumped at the bar in a haze of indecision, and shooting him dead. The terse, declarative sentence in all its masculine hardness routed the passive involutions of a higher, denser style.
       An interesting thought .....
       (See also the HarperCollins publicity page for How to Write a Sentence, or get your copy at or

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

       Journey into the Past review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Stefan Zweig's Journey into the Past -- recently published by not one but two of my favorite publishers: New York Review Books (in the US) and Pushkin Press (in the UK).

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23 January 2011 - Sunday

National Book Critics Circle Award finalists
DSC Prize for South Asian Literature | Maltese National Book Awards
Bringing back the book in Nigeria | Adam Mars-Jones profile
The House of Ulysses review

       National Book Critics Circle Award finalists

       The National Book Critics Circle have announced their awards-finalists; the information is available at the official site but Craig Morgan Teicher's PWxyz-round-up provides a more convenient listing.
       Only two of the finalists are under review at the complete review -- both in the fiction category: Freedom by Jonathan Franzen, and To the End of the Land by David Grossman (both of which I was somewhat underwhelmed by).
       Nice to see Dalkey Archive Press get the Ivan Sandrof award for lifetime achievement.
       See also NBCC president Jane Ciabattari on How to Pick a Book Prize at the 'Book Beast'.

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       DSC Prize for South Asian Literature

       They've announced the winner of the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature -- though (unbelievably, and yet oh so predictably ...) not yet at the official site, last I checked .....
       It went to Home Boy by H.M. Naqvi -- a book that's been out in the US for a while (and, indeed, is apparently set in New York city); get your copy at or

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       Maltese National Book Awards

       The Maltese sure know how to award those National Book Awards: as Matthew Vella reports at maltatoday, Author facing obscenity charges takes second prize at book awards, as Alex Vella Gera's self-published Żewġ took second prize in the 'Literary Prose: Novels and Short Stories in Maltese'-category while also facing charges of obscenity.
       Meanwhile, Mario Azzopardi (any relation to Trezza ?):
author of the banned collection of short stories for adolescents, Vampir, was awarded yet again in the category for adolescents by a jury chaired by Rev. Norbert Ellul Vincenti. His book was not stocked in secondary school libraries.
       One book banned for adolescents (but great to see the vampire craze take hold even in Maltese, eh ?), another by the same author (with the catchy title L-Aħħar Ġranet ta’ Ciorni u Stejjer Oħra) takes second place in the national prizes ......

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       Bringing back the book in Nigeria

       In How to bring back the book in Next Akintayo Abodunrin reports on a recent conference organised by the Committee for Relevant Art (CORA), 'When the President Wants to Bring Back the Book - What's to be Done Now?' [Aside: is there a Committee for Irrelevant Art ? I'd love to be part of that .....]
       Nigerian Publishers Association Executive Secretary Kunle Sogbei delivered a paper on 'What Publishers Want':
Some of his suggestions towards moving forward include; exempting printing machines and papers from taxes; offering credit lines to publishers; equipping the Nigerian Copyright Commission properly and instituting literary prizes amongst others.
       But some problems are apparently more fundamental:
Publisher and bookseller, Kolade Mosuro, noted that not only do children lack the skills to read; the erratic power supply in the country is another disincentive to reading because people can't read once it's dark.

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       Adam Mars-Jones profile

       In the Independent on Sunday James Kidd profiles Adam Mars-Jones: 'My writing is like watching undercoat dry...'
       His Cedilla is just out in the UK (don't expect any US publication anytime soon); see the Faber publicity page, or get your copy at (I do have a copy of the previous volume in this series, Pilcrow, and hope to get to that eventually; the title of the next installment ? apparently either Umlaut or Caret.)

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       The House of Ulysses review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Julián Ríos' tour through The House of Ulysses, a novel-reading of Joyce's classic.

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22 January 2011 - Saturday

Neversink Library | Galle Literary Festival
The Shadow of What We Were review

       Neversink Library

       Melville House continues to expand -- especially with fiction in translation (yay !) -- almost faster than one (well, I) can keep track of. Now they've started up the Neversink Library, which:
champions books from around the world that have been overlooked, underappreciated, looked askance at, or foolishly ignored
       Okay, everyone that starts one of these series seems to jump on some Simenons (there remain more than enough to choose from ...), but any series that also starts with an Ödön von Horváth novel certainly has my support and attention (and can even be forgiven for describing Horváth as: "a major Weimar author" ...). (The novel they're publishing is The Eternal Philistine (the first translation of Der ewige Spießer); see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy from or And for a nice take on Horváth check out Christopher Hampton's Tales from Hollywood.)
       The Neversink Library is yet another (very welcome) attempt by a publisher to resurrect the backlist (and add to it, with new translations) -- in part like Faber Finds. And they're eager for input -- allowing (or rather: encouraging) readers to Suggest Titles for the Neversink Library (also not a new idea -- think New York Review Books' call: "Is there a book that you'd like to see back in print, or that you think we should consider for the NYRB Classics series ? Let us know !").
       I look forward to seeing the first batch of titles -- and to many batches to follow !

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       Galle Literary Festival

       All attention (and most of the media coverage) is on the on-going DSC Jaipur Literature Festival, while the Galle Literary Festival -- to follow, in Sri Lanka, 26 to 30 January -- is only getting the wrong sort of headlines.
       They have a very impressive list of participants -- but apparently not all of them will make it: as, for example, R.K.Radhakrishnan reports in The Hindu, Pamuk and Desai pull out of Galle Literary Festival, as Orhan Pamuk and Kiran Desai have backed out: "due to Indian Re-entry visa restrictions". (Never heard that excuse before .....)
       [Updated - 25 January: Note, however, that R.K.Radhakrishnan now reports in The Hindu that No re-entry restrictions on Pamuk, Desai: India. Nevertheless, it's unclear whether Pamuk and Desai will now be going to the festival.]
       Meanwhile, Reporters Without Borders and Journalists for Democracy in Sri Lanka (JDS) have announced Galle Literary Festival: An international appeal launched -- signed by, among others, Noam Chomsky and 'Arundathi Roy' (not a great sign when you misspell a signatories name on the official press release ...). They're: "asking writers and intellectuals to endorse a campaign for more freedom of expression in Sri Lanka" -- though, of course, they're asking for a bit more than that:
We believe this is not the right time for prominent international writers like you to give legitimacy to the Sri Lankan governmentís suppression of free speech by attending a conference that does not in any way push for greater freedom of expression inside that country.
       I.e. they suggest you no-show -- perhaps with the assistance of the Indian immigration authority taking a hard line on your re-entry visa ?
       The claim is that: "It is this environment that you will be legitimizing by your presence". It is a pretty nasty environment, as they correctly point out; the legitimizing-issue is, of course a more fraught one. (Similarly, Ian McEwan apparently inevitably has to 'defend' accepting the Jerusalem Prize (see my recent mention); see, for example, Ian McEwan says he will accept Jerusalem prize by Stephen Bates in The Guardian.)
       No doubt Galle will add some token free-speech get-togethers, but it will be interesting to see who else bails (or suddenly finds themselves with Indian visa-issues ...).
       (My free-speech/exchange-of-ideas-fostering instincts are: the more talk, by the more people, on site, the better, regardless -- though admittedly there are places/moments where things begin to look a lot like those Soviet propaganda tours.)

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       The Shadow of What We Were review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Luis Sepúlveda's 2009 Premio Primavera de Novela-winning novel, The Shadow of What We Were.

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21 January 2011 - Friday

Jean Dutourd (1920-2011) | 'Walls and Bridges' | Translation in ... India

       Jean Dutourd (1920-2011)

       French authorJean Dutourd has passed away; see, for example, La mort de Jean Dutourd, «l’éternel réfractaire» by Nicolas d'Estienne d'Orves in Le Figaro.
       The only Dutourd title under review at the complete review is A Dog's Head, but quite a few more were translated into English (back in the day ... not much of his recent work was translated, and little of the old stuff is still readily available) -- and I even considered The Horrors of Love for my Christmas reading list .....
       He was also a member of the Académie française -- fauteuil 31, a seat he held since 1978.

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       'Walls and Bridges'

       I can't entirely make heads or tails of this, but the Walls and Bridges ... festival ? event ? season one ? runs 27 January to 4 February in New York, and with "nearly 50 cultural events, combining about 100 speakers and artists, 30 partners and over 20 venues" (well, that's over all three 'seasons' ...) sounds like it might be of some interest. 'Transtlantic insights' and so on .....

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       Translation in ... India

       St Stephen's College inaugurated its Centre for Translations yesterday, and it sounds like it has some promise; see also the Times of India piece, Translation course planned at Stephen's.

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