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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 October 2011

1 October: Rohinton Mistry to get Neustadt International Prize for Literature | Hella Haasse (1918-2011) | Writing in ... Mauritius | Writing in ... the Czech Republic | Magnus Mills Q & A | The Greenhouse review
2 October: Pre-Nobel talk | French stage adaptation of Alaa al-Aswany's Chicago | Amit Chaudhuri on the Bhagavad Gita | Kafka's Leopards review
3 October: Nobel Prize to be announced 6 October | Liao Yiwu and Herta Müller | Undead Austen | Simin Behbahāni interview | German critics' best list
4 October: Penultimate pre-Nobel overview | Tim Martin on Michel Houellebecq | October issues | Sweet Money review
5 October: Ultimate pre-Nobel overview | Prix Goncourt, second round | The Colors of Infamy review
6 October: The Nobel Prize in Literature goes to ... Tomas Tranströmer | German Book Prize excerpts | Jay Rubin on Murakami
7 October: Nobel Prize 2011: Reactions - Odds and ends - Prediction post-mortem
8 October: The literary scene in ... Morocco | Thirlwell and Eugenides in conversation | Stella Rimington on the defensive | Amit Chaudhuri Q & A | The Prague Cemetery review-overview
9 October: Translation in ... India | Writing in ... Burma | The Sandcastle review
10 October: Coetzee archive to Ransom Center | David Mitchell Q & A | The problem with Israeli writers ? | The Last of the Egyptians review

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10 October 2011 - Monday

Coetzee archive to Ransom Center | David Mitchell Q & A
The problem with Israeli writers ? | The Last of the Egyptians review

       Coetzee archive to Ransom Center

       J.M.Coetzee has cashed in big time -- to the tune $1.5 million according to the AP report -- as, as the official announcement has it, Nobel Prize-Winning Writer J. M. Coetzee's Archive Acquired By Harry Ransom Center.
       Outrageously, the official press release does not mention how much they shelled out; on the other hand, they do offer a really neat slide show which includes pictures of his Ph.D. from the University of Texas at Austin, childhood drawings, and manuscript pages -- check it out !
       The archive apparently consists of:
Approximately 155 document boxes, five filing cabinet drawers and an additional eight storage boxes of journals, manuscripts, correspondence, and business documents
       Quite a few of Coetzee's works are under review at the complete review; see, for example, Disgrace.

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

       David Mitchell Q & A

       David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas has now been translated into Turkish, and so Can Bahadır Yüce has a Q & A with him at Today's Zaman, English novelist Mitchell takes Turkish readers to the clouds.
       Among his responses:
Reviews on demonstrate that American readers liked Cloud Atlas much more than British readers. Is this surprising for you ?

There is a special ward in psychiatric hospitals for former novelists who became too concerned about their Amazon reviews and critical opinion, and I have no intention of becoming a long-term inmate in that ward.

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

       The problem with Israeli writers ?

       It's always fun when literature and politics get mixed up, and Giulio Meotti's wacky op-ed at Ynet, wondering: 'Why do most of Israel's prominent writers go easy on Jewish State's enemies ?' -- which apparently amounts to Israel's literary tragedy -- is a fine example.
       Meotti isn't too happy with the current situation (as he -- through some very peculiarly colored glasses -- sees it):
the crisis of Israeli literature has a deeper, frightening aspect.

Israeli literature is sick and decadent.
       The main issue he has, however, isn't with the actual literature -- the fiction -- being produced by Israeli authors (in fact, he doesn't mention or refer to any of it), but rather the public acts and pronouncements of these authors (well, the handful he mentions) -- leading him to find:
Astonishingly, the leading group of authors in Israel expresses today only alienation, suicidal temptations, and even self-hatred to the point of automatic identification with Israel's enemies in their writings. They are victims of an "Oslo Syndrome" in which hostages come to identify with their captors.

Israeli writers appear to be willing to say almost anything that will portray them as being "pro-peace."
       (My understanding is that it's the Stockholm syndrome where 'hostages come to identify with their captors', while the 'Oslo syndrome' is a somewhat different concept promulgated by Kenneth Levine in his book, The Oslo Syndrome; see, for example his weblog -- but ... whatever.)
       As someone who has never really cared what authors say, only what they write (and that in their works of fiction, drama, and poetry, not their own op-ed pieces or position papers ...) I'm rather indifferent to the argument in the first place -- but surely even those sympathetic to Meotti's basic position must be disappointed to see him conflate Israeli literature and the public actions and pronouncements of Israeli authors in this way (and so readily tar all Israeli literature as "sick and decadent").
       Of course there is some overlap between politics and fiction -- in Israel more than most places -- but Meotti's criticism is directed entirely elsewhere, ignoring the fiction (and the literary merit) completely and focusing solely on public pronouncements and actions. It may be an argument to make; it certainly should not be made in this lazy way.
       A "crisis of Israeli literature" ? On that count he seems flat out wrong: Israeli literature seems to be thriving (certainly the limited selection available in English translation suggests as much) -- and is surely nowhere as simplistic as he describes its authors.
       (See also the Israeli and Hebrew literature under review at the complete review.)

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

       The Last of the Egyptians review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Gérard Macé's creative take on Jean-François Champollion, The Last of the Egyptians.

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

9 October 2011 - Sunday

Translation in ... India | Writing in ... Burma | The Sandcastle review

       Translation in ... India

       In Outlook India Neha Bhatt reports: 'Translation finds its voice in India, transcends regional barriers', in Words in Migration.
       Good to hear:
Says V.K. Karthika, editor, HarperCollins, "The time for translations is now. We have writing in the regional languages that's among the best in the world. We are pioneering a trend where books in regional languages and their translations are launched together.
       I hope some of these translations make it beyond India, too .....

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

       Writing in ... Burma

       In The Myanmar Times Zon Pann Pwint writes about ... Writers on the art of writing, as:
Given Myanmar’s rich literary history, it is no surprise that writers here have also thought long and hard about the question of how to maximise their creativity, and each has come up with their own answer.
       And, making writers everywhere else in the world envious (or perhaps explaining why so little Burmese literature is available outside Burma ?):
U Myo Myint Nyein added that most publishing houses in Myanmar do not have editors on staff, so full-length novels do not get edited like they do in the West.

"If a publisher likes the novel of a particular author, he publishes it without editing unimportant words," he said.

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

       The Sandcastle review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Iris Murdoch's 1957 novel, The Sandcastle.

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

8 October 2011 - Saturday

The literary scene in ... Morocco | Thirlwell and Eugenides in conversation
Stella Rimington on the defensive | Amit Chaudhuri Q & A
The Prague Cemetery review-overview

       The literary scene in ... Morocco

       At Regina Keil-Sagawe describes 'The Cultural and Literary Scene in Morocco', in From the Caravan of Books to the Literary Café.

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

       Thirlwell and Eugenides in conversation

       The Guardian has Adam Thirlwell and Jeffrey Eugenides In conversation.
       (Lots of attention for Eugenides' The Marriage Plot all over the place already -- see, for example, new reviews in the Financial Times, the Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times (where the Kakutani takes it on), or, for example, this profile by Linda Morris in the Sydney Morning Herald; I'd offer more as well, but haven't gotten my copy yet (sigh); get your copy at or

       (Updated - 10 October): See now also Evan Hughes's feature on Eugenides in New York, Just Kids.

       (Updated - 11 October): See now also Jessica Grose's Q & A with Eugenides at Slate.

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

       Stella Rimington on the defensive

       Stella Rimington must really still be upset about the knocks she's taken for being chair of the judges for this year's Man Booker Prize (and their shortlist selection), and in a clearly misguided attemtp to ... well, I don't know what the hell she's trying to do, but she talked to Stuart Jeffries of The Guardian -- and even though he comes across as surprisingly well-disposed to her ... well, the headline of his profile reads: Stella Rimington: 'Weirder people than me have chaired the Booker'
       At least he does wonder:
It's hard to understand why she's so cross -- surely hissed denunciations, counter-denunciations and deals done behind closed doors during her 40-year career as a spy were ideal training for judging Britain's leading literary prize. And surely the media flaying of Booker judges' credentials is such an annual ritual that no one with a thick skin would be troubled by it.
       Obviously -- and unfortunately -- she appears to be particularly thin-skinned -- leading to outbursts such as:
Rimington retorts: "People weirder than me have chaired the Booker. A previous chair was Michael Portillo." She doesn't mean to suggest Portillo is weird, rather that she is no more or less weird than previous chairs, so doesn't deserve the opprobrium.
       Well, with statements like that the opprobrium won't be far behind .....
       I can understand why she might not like the criticism, but surely she has no need to respond to it -- and surely she'd be well advised to respond to it, if she must ... well, not quite so defensively. (On top of that, any such piece can't avoid mentioning Rimington's own 'writing', and the best even Jeffries can say about that is that: "Rimington's fiction is never going to win the Booker: her latest is a serviceable thriller with wooden dialogue and pasteboard characters.")

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

       Amit Chaudhuri Q & A

       In this week's 'Small Talk'-column in the Financial Times, Anna Metcalfe's Q & A is with Amit Chaudhuri.
       Among the responses:
Who are your literary influences ?

I don't think of my influences but of people I have an affinity with. I have an affinity with DH Lawrence, Elizabeth Bishop, VS Naipaul and Roland Barthes.

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

       The Prague Cemetery review-overview

       The most recent addition to the complete review is a review-overview of Umberto Eco's The Prague Cemetery, due out in English shortly.

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

7 October 2011 - Friday

Nobel Prize 2011: Reactions - Odds and ends - Prediction post-mortem

       Nobel Prize 2011: Reactions

       There have, of course, now been lots of reactions to Tomas Tranströmer being named the winner of the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature.

       Among the general/overview reactions in the English-language press:        There are also numerous opinon pieces, or more personal reactions, including:        And, of course, there are the foreign reactions:        See also my post from yesterday, with links to reviews of many of Tranströmer's books.
       [Any other interesting links/commentary I come across will be added to this post.]

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

       Nobel Prize 2011: Odds and ends

       Among the odder sidelights to this year's Nobel Prize was the quite well-faked announcement posted at a Nobel-lookalike-site that proclaimed that Dobrica Ćosić had taken the prize. Some people were apparently taken in (but come on -- Dobrica Ćosić ? who could believe that ? (But: if they had said Bob Dylan, then they would have really unleashed a media frenzy ...)). You can find the story at, for example, Jacket Copy, where Carolyn Kellogg reported on The mysterious hoax Nobel Literature Prize website (complete with screenshot). [I don't link to that sort of stuff, but Jacket Copy has the URL and other relevant information; see also T.J.'s report at The Economist's Eastern approaches weblog, An ignoble confusion.]

       Noteworthy also was that there was obviously a leak, with some very heavy late-in-the-day betting on Tranströmer at Ladbrokes that led to his odds shooting to 6:4. The Swedish Academy was asked about this, but they're not taking it too seriously and say (for now) that no investigation is planned.
       In Misstänkt mycket spel på Tranströmer in Aftonbladet Swedish Academician Per Wästberg, in discounting the idea of a leak, also reveals that some people have to be let in on the secret:
Man måste ju förbereda pressmeddelande och sådant. Och de vet om det kanske tio dagar innan, säger Per Wästberg.
       Interesting that he says they know ten days beforehand ... I didn't realize there was such a long lead-up time between decision and announcement.
       See also the Tobias Brandel reporting Tranströmer-odds rasade in Svenska Dagbladet.

       At The New York Review of Books weblog Tim Parks offers a somewhat careless takedown in explaining What's Wrong With the Nobel Prize in Literature.
       He doesn't seem to have acquainted himself with the nomination and selection procedure too closely, as it suggests the Academicians don't really have to read all that much, all that quickly. A committee (of five, as I understand it): "whittles down the list to five priority candidates to be considered by the Academy" -- and surely it's obvious that many of the nominees, and especially then the priority candidates, are long familiar to the judges (since they don't change that much year to year), i.e. this isn't like a book prize like the Man Booker, where an entirely new batch has to be considered every year. Never mind that Tranströmer's collected works can apparently be read in an afternoon: surely they'd considered it (numerous times) in previous years.
       (There's also the apparently inevitable Jelinek-bashing -- but Parks doesn't even consider (or mention) her work as a dramatist (Theater heute had her as playwright of the year in 2009 and 2011; she's won the prestigious Mülheimer Dramatikerpreis a ridiculous four times just in the past decade ...), which suggests she's doing something right somewhere (and yes, these too are German honors, and the plays too don't translate well to, for example, the American stage-culture; nevertheless, surely these prizes suggest she can't be dismissed entirely so easily as she so consistently is in the American press).)
       (An even lazier critique of the Nobel comes from The Daily Beast/Newsweek, where they just reprint Malcolm Jones' old piece on The Trouble With the Nobel.)

       Finally, in the Financial Times Gautam Malkani offers some information about the Logistics of publishing a Nobel Prize winner.

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

       Nobel Prize 2011: Prediction post-mortem

       Aside from my educated lucky guess that the early announcement (the first possible Thursday in October) meant an uncontroversial (i.e. they could easily-agree-on-him) pick I certainly didn't come anywhere close with my Nobel speculation. Of course, it's a hit-or-complete-miss affair, and I suspect my speculations weren't entirely off base, and that at least a few of these names were in the discussion and among the five finalists. (Alas, we'll only find out in 2061, when they open the archives.) But while Tranströmer is always considered in the mix I didn't rate his chances -- I didn't think it would be a poet, and I didn't think the Swedish Academy would be so ... local.
       Are there lessons to be learnt here ?
       Yes, quite a few -- including:
  • The Ladbrokes odds are a good indicator (I): Yes, they have to be consumed with care (consider this year's Dylan nonsense, where he went from 100:1 long(est) shot to 5:1 betting favorite), but especially if you can wait it out the odds are likely to break for the winner in a big way. Last year they were able to keep the name pretty much under wraps until the announcement, but obviously not so this year: someone took advantage of insider knowledge and made a few krona. [Swedish Academy man Per Wästberg denies it in this Aftonbladet piece, but come on .....] (When I woke up and saw those odds -- 4:6 ! -- I immediately wrote up my initial post announcing Tranströmer as the winner, and was able to post it as soon as the words were out of Englund's mouth.) So too in previous years -- sometimes a day or two before the announcement -- the winners' odds have shot up. [But, yes, this has to be handled with care -- last year it was Cormac McCarthy whose odds skyrocketed near closing.]

  • The Ladbrokes odds are a good indicator (II): Give them credit: yes, they do silly things like include Bob Dylan on the list (okay, not so silly: they made a mint off the suckers who wagered on him) and some of the names may be puzzling or headscratchers, but overall it looks like they have a good handle on things. Specifically, I remind you that when they opened betting this year Tranströmer was the second favorite, at 9:2 (just behind Adonis at 4:1). Yes, Tranströmer's odds rose (as no one bet on him), but even so they never went past 14:1 (so don't worry about them having taken too hard a hit on the the Tranströmer-victory; the payout couldn't have been that bad).

  • Listen to Magnus Puke: He might have a silly-sounding title -- 'Nordic Sports and Novelty Odds Compiler' at Ladbrokes -- but he was spot on with his sense of how things were playing out behind the scenes. As Hephzibah Anderson reported at Bloomberg:
    • "This year, he said, the Swedish whispers have been about poetry"
    • "The vibe is that this is not Africa's year"
    • Regarding Murakami: "A lot of people would say he's too common."
    That information alone would have steered you a lot better than I did .....

  • Don't listen to anyone from the Swedish Academy: At Deutsche Welle Daphne Springhorn talked with Nobel Committee for Literature member Kjell Espmark and reported that Nobel Literature Prize criteria to remain 'unpredictable'; he toyed with her and readers in babbling about stuff like: "To find the younger writers, we've developed a system of espionage" -- "translations that the Swedish Academy regularly commissions from around the world in order to keep up-to-date on global literary developments". That was widely picked up on -- but of course the prize went to an eighty-year-old guy from their backyard who writes in the one language all the Academy members read fluently. Similarly, head man Peter Englund's remarks (listen to him here) -- or Horace Engdahl's in years past -- are perhaps not downright misleading, but certainly can be regarded as playful feints, sending everyone scurrying down blind alleys. Good for them that they never reveal anything about the winner -- but remember that when they next open their mouths, too .....

  • Never, never, never mention the name 'Bob Dylan' in conjunction with the Nobel Prize again (much less bet on him actually winning the thing ...): Oh, I assume Ladbrokes will put him on their list next year again (with opening odds of around 25:1, just in case ...) -- and I assume that, just like this year, there will be fools who throw away their money by placing a bet on him --, but let's face it: any mention of him as a possible winner is just too silly to waste any time (much less money) on. So please: don't !
       Looking ahead, are there any specific things to consider in guessing who will win next year ?
  • The big question is whether this has unleashed the poetry-floodgates again: are we in a for a run of poet-winners ? Between 1990 and 1996 there were four of them, but since then: none until Tranströmer. With Adonis in the wings (and a few other strong poet-contenders) it might be tempting ..... (Worryingly, Svenska Dagbladet's Kaj Schueler wonders aloud (and enthusiastically): "Kanske får vi se ett pärlband av utomordentliga poeter belönas framöver.")

  • At least it seems safe to say that next year's prize won't go to a Scandinavian -- and I strongly suspect not to a European. The Swedish Academy might like to be unpredictable -- and what could be more unpredictable than awarding it to another Swedish poet next year ? --, but they do like to go with a bit of variety, and even they must feel the pressure to reward more distant literatures as well.
       That's all for now; I do hope you at least had fun with my (and all the other) Nobel speculation this year.
       See you next year, when I'll be back at it again !

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

6 October 2011 - Thursday

The Nobel Prize in Literature goes to ... Tomas Tranströmer
German Book Prize excerpts | Jay Rubin on Murakami

       The Nobel Prize in Literature goes to ... Tomas Tranströmer

       The Nobel Prize in Literature goes to ... Tomas Tranströmer; see the official press release.
       Well, Assia Djebar had been creeping up in the Ladbrokes betting but the late surge went to Tomas Tranströmer, who closed at a phenomenal 4:6 -- suggesting that the secret couldn't be kept .....
       Tranströmer has of course long been considered a strong contender (even last year at the close of betting he was at 8:1). He's the first poet to take the prize since 1996 when Wisława Szymborska took it, and the first Scandinavian winner since the controversial 1974 award (shared by Eyvind Johnson and Harry Martinson).
       For some information about him, see:        For early prize reactions, see Swedish Poet Wins Nobel Prize for Literature by Julie Bosman in The New York Times and Nobel prize for literature goes to Tomas Tranströmer by Richard Lea and Alison Flood in The Guardian.
       As the Nobel's bio-bibliography page suggests he's been extensively translated, even -- or especially -- into English; scroll down for the list of English translations. Recent English collections of his work include        See also reviews of:        Also of interest:
  • Meeting of minds: translator Robin Robertson explores the 'sharp contrasts and duality' in Tranströmer's work in The Guardian (27/10/2006)

  • Robin Fulton Macpherson reviews Staffan Bergsten's Tomas Tranströmer: Ett diktarporträtt (Albert Bonniers, 2011) in the current Swedish Book Review

  • The Guardian offers continuing live coverage of today's events and reactions
       [Critical reactions and post-Nobel analysis probably only to come here tomorrow, but if there's something of particular interest/note I'll update this post.]

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

       German Book Prize excerpts

       A real smart move on the part of the German Book Prize: as in previous years, at they offer summaries and translated excerpts of all the shortlisted titles.

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

       Jay Rubin on Murakami

       At CNNGo Bruce Rutledge reports on Haruki Murakami's translator on what makes the pop-smash writer tick. That's Jay Rubin -- and this probably isn't exactly the quote he wants making the rounds:
Murakami can get away with anything now. If he scribbled on his toilet paper, they would publish it.
       Rubin is one of the translators of the much anticipated English version of 1Q84, due out soon.

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

5 October 2011 - Wednesday

Ultimate pre-Nobel overview | Prix Goncourt, second round
The Colors of Infamy review

       Ultimate pre-Nobel overview

       Tomorrow is the big day: the Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced at 13:00 CET.
       Disappointingly, the 'big' story on the next-to-last day before the prize announcement was how the odds on Bob Dylan (!) taking the prize have fallen (at bookmaker Ladbrokes; Unibet wisely don't even offer bets on him), from an already unrealistic 100:1 to 8:1 (!) Tuesday night. [Updated And now, early Wednesday afternoon GMT, he leads the pack at 5:1, with Adonis sinking slightly to 6:1.]
       Is Dylan to be taken seriously as a candidate ? I can't imagine it. True, Andrea De Carlo did nominate him for the prestigious 2012 Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and astonishingly De Carlo was apparently not hounded and laughed out of last week's deliberations (as by all rights he should have been -- though of course who knows what happened behind the scenes ?). I fear the Neustadt's claim to being the second-most important international author prize after the Nobel suffered a devastating blow from which it will be difficult to recover, as critics will now always be able to throw in their face the fact that Dylan was a finalist for that prize; I can't believe the Swedish Academy would make the same mistake.
       It should be noted that there's been very little movement on the Ladbrokes board, aside from Dylan -- suggesting that there has been very little betting overall. (Hephzibah Anderson reports in Ladbrokes Says Syrian Poet Adonis Is Smart Bet for Nobel Prize at Bloomberg that: "since it started offering odds in 2002, annual takings from the prize have increased 400 percent to a sizeable five-figure sum" -- but it's unclear whether that includes this year, or refers to last year, which had considerably more movement (and hence, presumably, action).) Hell, I wouldn't be surprised if the Swedish Academicians staked someone a few quid to bet with -- and had them put the money on Dylan, in an effort to discredit the whole idea that the odds are in any way a reliable indicator of who is actually in the running.
       For odds-watchers there's precious little else to go on: at Ladbrokes Nuruddin Farah, a late addition, did move up to a decent 20:1, and Murakami moved from 16:1 to his Tuesday-evening 8:1 (while Adonis hasn't moved from 4:1 from day one [Updated: Until now, Wednesday early afternoon GMT, when the Dylan surge has pushed his odds down to 6:1]). Otherwise, movement up the charts has been pretty minor -- Bei Dao going from 40:1 to 25:1 ! -- though some authors have dropped quite a bit (Thomas Pynchon, for example). There's been even less movement at Unibet (though punters should always compare odds, and if their author has better odds at one shop over the other -- compare at the convenient -- then they should obviously take those: Tuesday night you'd be stupid to bet on Adonis at Ladbrokes (where you get 4:1) when Unibet offer 6:1 on him).
       [Updated - Wednesday afternoon (GMT): Other than Dylan, there has only been small movement on the boards. Chang-Rae Lee -- a not much-discussed name -- has quietly overtaken Murakami for the second spot at Unibet (though he already started out high on the list, so didn't have far to go), and the Korean and American connections make him an interesting selection; however at a young 46 and with a small body of work I believe his selection would be entirely premature.]
       [Updated - Wednesday evening (GMT): At Time Megan Gibson now has an interesting Q&A with Alex Donohue of Ladbrokes, Britain's Book Bookies: Betting on the Nobel Prize in Literature. He reveals that about 30 to 40 per cent of the action has been on Dylan so far -- which certainly explains the leap in the odds (from a starting 100:1). Also of note: they hope to keep betting open until about half an hour before the prize announcement, so it'll be worth checking until then for any last-minute movement (since leakage of the actual winner's name becomes much more likely close to the announcement time, since more people are in the know -- the folks who collect the information posted at the Nobel site, those in charge of posting it (at but not before the appointed time), etc.). Somewhat surprising: last year they saw the most betting ever on the Nobel (not surprising -- there was lots of movement on the board) but Donohue says: "we've already virtually doubled that number [this year]".]

       There's been a greater variety of press coverage -- though many focus largely on the betting-shop odds. Still, there's some real information to be found in some of these, too; see, for example:
  • Ladbrokes Says Syrian Poet Adonis Is Smart Bet for Nobel Prize by Hephzibah Anderson at Bloomberg, with a bit of background information about Ladbrokes and their odds -- and a few titbits from Magnus Puke, their "Nordic Sports and Novelty Odds Compiler", notably his opinion that:
    • Regarding Murakami: "A lot of people would say he's too common."
    • "This year, he said, the Swedish whispers have been about poetry"
    • "The vibe is that this is not Africa's year"
    How reliable this information is is of course open to debate -- you'll recall that in my post yesterday I also felt Murakami might be a bit too much of a 'pop' author -- but that I didn't see the prize going to a poet, and obviously think there's a decent chance an African might get the prize (first choices: al-Koni and Ngũgĩ; in the discussion: Farah and Achebe)

  • Nobel odds: long and short by Ian Crouch at The New Yorker's The Book Bench weblog

  • And They're Off: Murakami Third Favorite for Nobel Prize by Yoree Koh at the Wall Street Journal's Japan Real Times weblog

  • Hey Hey Hey, Time to Claim an Author in The L's Annual Nobel Prize in Literature Pool ! by Mark Asch at The L Magazine

  • Qasim Surges in Nobel Betting -- D.G.Myers' follow-up at Literary Commentary to his call that Samih al-Qasim will get the prize. (In fact, Qasim has not surged: he plopped onto the list at 50:1 -- as now Antonio Gamoneda and Ferreira Gullar have too (see below for more) -- and has stayed there; it doesn't look like anyone has placed any money on him -- certainly not enough to move the odds.) While I doubt Qasim is a serious contender I do think there's something to be said for Myers' selection, since he was probably at least vaguely in the running: he does have the profile of the kind of author that gets nominated for the prize (nominations are solicited from former prize winners, academics, national literary organizations, and the like) -- a hurdle that is probably not looked at closely enough, since some of the so-called contenders may be authors that seem like reasonable choices for the prize but are simply unlikely to have been nominated by anyone who could have nominated them, and hence weren't ever under consideration.
       There have also been a few articles considering who else might (or should) be in the running, or focusing on specific candidates. Among the more interesting are:
  • Många nya Nobelnamn in Svenska Dagbladet -- especially that central column, that lists 'Fakta/Nya Nobelpriskandidater'. Among them are such unlikely proposals as the aforementioned Antonio Gamoneda and Ferreira Gullar (but Ladbrokes was impressed enough to add them both to their list). I was glad to see Magnus William-Olsson quoted as saying: "César Aira från Argentina kommer att få Nobelpriset någon gång"; I'm not sure about that, but I'd certainly like to see his name in the mix. One name mentioned here that I've previously overlooked is Can Xue, who probably is the most viable Chinese candidate, given this jury (recall that Göran Malmqvist -- chair five -- is a noted Sinologist).

  • Roth, Adonis y Murakami lideran preferencias de escritores para Nobel 2011 by Javier García in La Tercera collects a few authors' and critics' suggestions -- including Harold Bloom, who provides the ever so dreary list of Don DeLillo, Thomas Pynchon, and Cormac McCarthy, with John Ashbery tossed in as the token poet.

  • Literaturnobelpreis 2011. Die Nominierten by maikbrueggemeyer at the German Rolling Stone's weblog goes over some of the favorites -- and then he names his own, headed (admirably !) by Eliot Weinberger, followed by William T. Vollmann, Peter Handke, A.F.Th.van der Heijden, and Howard Jacobson. (Multiple books by all these authors save Vollmann are under review at the complete review.) Not too likely, but at least an interesting selection .....

  • Which Writer Most Deserves the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature ? asks Anis Shivani at The Huffington Post -- and makes the argument that it's ... Salman Rushdie. (I don't see it because of the lingering Swedish Academy wounds suffered in the wake of The Satanic Verses-affair -- with Kerstin Ekman still not taking part in Academy business because of that. Of course, Rushdie's post-The Satanic Verses output hasn't exactly strengthened his claim to the prize (though I figure he might redeem himself to some extent with the forthcoming memoirs, which sound quite promising.))

  • No surprise if an Indian bags Literature Nobel: Malayalam poet by Annie Samson at DNA, as Ladbrokes-listed K.Satchidanandan: "says there is a wealth of writing in Indian languages that has not yet been discovered outside the country due to which it loses out on big literary prizes such as the Nobel". Lots of regional-language Indians -- in addition to perennial candidate Mahasweta Devi -- figure on the Ladbrokes list this year, but I don't really see any standouts (certainly not Devi).
       Summing up, for now: I've seen nothing to change my mind or expand the list of candidates I think are in the closer running (though I'm tempted to add Can Xue to the possible contenders) and my favorites remain: Ibrahim al-Koni, Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Amos Oz, and Juan Goytisolo; with a second tier of contenders consisting of Nuruddin Farah, Murakami Haruki, and Philip Roth (with honorable mention for the really dark horses Mahmoud Dowlatabadi, Shahrnush Parsipur, Gerald Murnane, and C.K.Stead).
       I'll update this post if anything good or significant pops up during the day, and then will be offering full coverage on Thursday starting soon after the prize is announced.

       Meanwhile, you can also follow (or engage in) the debate at various forums:        And don't forget to check the odds (and place your bets ?) at Ladbrokes and Unibet.

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

       Prix Goncourt, second round

       In other prize news: they've announced the second round of the French Prix Goncourt, halving the number of titles in the running; see the Prix-Litteraires: Le blog report.

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       The Colors of Infamy review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Albert Cossery's The Colors of Infamy.

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4 October 2011 - Tuesday

Penultimate pre-Nobel overview | Tim Martin on Michel Houellebecq
October issues | Sweet Money review

       Penultimate pre-Nobel overview

       Only two more days until the Nobel Prize in Literature is announced (Thursday, 6 October, at 13:00 CET; you can watch the announcement live at the impressive Nobel site). There's been some entertaining speculation at various forums (check out the on-going exchanges at the World Literature Forum and the Fictional Woods, and see now also, for example, The Guardian book blog's Nobel prize for literature: place your bets thread) and, of course, the odds at Ladbrokes and Unibet have attracted lots of notice (but not, it would seem, much action -- there hasn't been much movement on the boards). Still, most of this is just wild guesswork -- there have been precious few tea-leaves to read so far this year. But remember: the chances of, for example, leakage of Swedish Academy information -- reflected in a sudden shooting-up-in-the-odds -- increase dramatically in the closing days (but I remind you that last year, at least at Ladbrokes, Vargas Llosa's jump in the odds -- from 45:1 to 25:1 happened very early on (and it was Cormac McCarthy, who started out at 66:1, who wound up the 3:1 'favorite' ....)).

       Among newer articles and pieces on the prize [updated]:
  • At The Guardian Peter Englund -- the Swedish Academy man in charge -- 'talks about the difficulties in choosing the Nobel prize for literature' with Richard Lea, in the Nobel prize for literature: picking a winner - podcast. Limited insight -- except, for example, that Russian and Chinese are among the working languages of Swedish Academy members. But don't be misled by the Indonesian mention: no one from Indonesia is winning the prize this year.

  • At Bookriot Jeff O'Neal looks at Betting the 2011 Nobel Prize for Literature (with a completely American focus -- followed by the closing advice to: "Bet wisely. And by that I mean bet on an obscure Eastern European").

  • DNA offer one of the more amusing reactions from someone who seems a bit surprised to find himself listed by the bookies, in Siddhartha Bose's report that 'Shakespeare of Rajasthan' figures among favourites for Nobel Prize. 'Favorites' is an exaggeration (though this is certainly the type of regional author that likely was nominated by someone for the prize (which is a good thing)), but I like his attitude: "I may or may not get the Nobel but I must remind you that each of my story is 100% Nobel-worthy work". (But sorry, no: the prize is not going to Bijji (cool though that would be, just for the name alone).)

  • There are, of course, numerous nationalistic mentions, such as Stephen Romei's Bookies snub Aussie hopes of lit lauding The Australian (typical also in being fairly lazy: in fact, aside from Les Murray, Carey, and Malouf at Ladbrokes Unibet list Gerald Murnane -- a late favorite last year -- at a healthy 14:1)

  • [updated] At Deutsche Welle Daphne Springhorn talks with Nobel Committee for Literature member Kjell Espmark and reports that Nobel Literature Prize criteria to remain 'unpredictable', as: "Kjell Espmark won't say if there are new criteria. 'But what is important,' he says, 'is changing the criteria so that the decision remains unpredictable.' " Nice and cryptic, and no doubt meant to help confound would-be guessers ..... [Though as I add this update I see Bob Dylan has shot up to 10:1 at Ladbrokes .....]

  • [updated] In Salon Alexander Nazaryan makes the case Why American novelists don’t deserve the Nobel Prize.
       A few penultimate observations from me (yes, the ultimate observations will, of course, follow tomorrow ...):
  • The 6 October announcement date -- the earliest possible -- suggest an 'easy' decision, i.e. agreement was presumably reached fairly easily (since there wasn't extended debate), which I would suggest means the choice is not a very controversial one -- i.e. more likely, say, Amos Oz than Peter Handke. (Only twice in the past twenty-five years has the Nobel Prize been announced on the third Thursday of October -- Camilo José Cela and Wole Soyinka, which are easy to imagine as more contentious selections --; first-Thursday selections such as Coetzee seem much more obvious choices (though I note that Jelinek was also a first-Thursday selection).) Possibly the Swedish Academy has just gotten more efficient in figuring out who to give the prize to; still, it's something to consider.

  • The Swedish Academy does like to mix it up: since 1953-4 (Churchill and Hemingway) only twice have writers who wrote in the same language won in consecutive years (1989-90, Camilo José Cela and Octavio Paz) and 1991-1993, Nadine Gordimer, Derek Walcott, and Toni Morrison), so the likelihood that any Spanish-writing author is in the running seems relatively small -- which might be the undoing of Juan Goytisolo who otherwise would seem to be a particularly strong candidate

  • After the heady 1990s -- with Paz, Walcott, Heaney, and Szymborska -- there hasn't been a poet-laureate (I think it's safe to call Pinter a dabbler primarily a dramatist) in fifteen years -- a long dry spell. [The limited gossip I've heard, however, suggests that this particular streak will continue; I feel fairly comfortable in believing a poet won't take the prize.]

  • There has been relatively (indeed, surprisingly) little movement on the betting-boards, with no dramatic shifts in odds (though keep an eye on this -- the betting frenzy should begin any moment now). As noted: handle any movement with care (recall McCarthy's jump last year -- 66:1 to a closing 3:1 at Ladbrokes !) -- and new names added at the last minute will of course attract some notice.
       So what am I thinking ? Well, not that much changes from year to year, so it's hard to offer much that is new. But here's what I'm thinking (today):

       My favorites:
  • Ibrahim al-Koni seems to me the strongest Arabic contender, as I don't think the Swedish Academy would want to single out any specific Egyptian author this year (though there are several worthies, and I suspect their time may come in future years) and I don't think Adonis will get it. (My Syrian-Arabic dark horse ? Zakaria Tamer.)

  • Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o: I still think he's the strongest sub-Saharan contender, though Nuruddin Farah and Chinua Achebe obviously also figure in the mix; the writing-in-Gikuyu and strong recent works give him a slight edge over these two, however

  • Amos Oz would seem the obvious other Middle Eastern contender -- another Mario Vargas Llosa-like choice (long considered a serious contender, hard to argue against on the merits, etc.), and he seems to me the obviously superior choice to Grossman or Yehoshua

  • And I can't help but include Juan Goytisolo, who -- despite also writing in Spanish (like last year's winner ...) -- seems like an ideal choice, politically and literarily, in this day and age, killing several birds with one stone
       Possible contenders:
  • Murakami Haruki seems a bit too much of a 'pop' author for the Swedish Academy (indeed, I wonder whether he even managed to clear the nomination hurdle) but with 1Q84 is beginning to have to be taken considerably more seriously; I wouldn't be surprised if he gets the prize within the next five years, but I don't know if this is his year

  • Philip Roth would seem to me to be the obvious American choice, ahead of McCarthy or Pynchon

  • If a Canadian is preferable to an American, I think Margaret Atwood edges out Alice Munro -- though Michael Ondaatje shouldn't be forgotten either. (Newly minted Neustadt winner Rohinton Mistry, on the other hand, strikes me as unlikely to take the prize (yet).)
       And then of course there are the dark horses and the wishful thinking:
  • I think there's a lot to be said for the Iranians -- Mahmoud Dowlatabadi (see, for example, his The Colonel) or Shahrnush Parsipur (see, for example, Women without Men)

  • I think an antipodean nod would be nice -- Gerald Murnane or C.K.Stead would hit the spot

  • I don't think they can give it to another Chinese expatriate -- strike Ma Jian -- and Mo Yan might be a bit too popular for them as well, leaving Jia Pingwa as, to my mind, the likeliest Chinese contender

  • If it goes to a poet ... yes, Adonis, Ko Un, and Les Murray seem the likeliest bets in this unlikely category (I don't see Tranströmer getting it, even if they give it to a poet)
       I don't see any strong Russians in the running, but that's probably worth a closer look; similarly, I'm sure they get a fair number of Chinese and Japanese nominations, and there might be some names there worth considering. Several regional-language-writing Indian authors have popped up on the betting boards, but I don't really see any of them as strong contenders (nor do I think the English-writing Indian writers are really in the mix -- though maybe Ghosh or Chandra might one day be in the running). And, of course, there are always a few Scandinavians to consider -- whereby I put Per Olov Enquist and Lars Gustafsson ahead of Torgny Lindgren (who is, after all, one of the Swedish Academy's own).

       Let the final, furious debates (and mad betting) begin !

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

       Tim Martin on Michel Houellebecq

       In The Telegraph Tim Martin 'charts the rise of a daring provocateur who has finally come in from the cold', in The Michel Houellebecq Phenomenon.
       We will, of course, see a lot more about Houellebecq in the months to follow, when The Map and the Territory appears first in the UK and then in the US (and I'll certainly cover it as soon as I get a copy).
       Meanwhile, pre-order your copy at or (and compare those covers !).

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

       October issues

       October issues of online periodicals now available include Open Letters Monthly, and Words without Borders' Iceland issue (appropriate also because Iceland will be the guest of honor at the Frankfurt Book Fair) -- with a dose of 'Poetry from China' to go with it.

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

       Sweet Money review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ernesto Mallo's Sweet Money.

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

3 October 2011 - Monday

Nobel Prize to be announced 6 October
Liao Yiwu and Herta Müller | Undead Austen
Simin Behbahāni interview | German critics' best list

       Nobel Prize to be announced 6 October

       The Swedish Academy has announced that this year's Nobel Prize in Literature will be announced onThursday, 6 October, at 13:00 (presumably 12:00 GMT).
       The early announcement -- they announce it on some Thursday in October, and so the 6th is the earliest possible date -- suggests they reached their decision relatively easily, which in turn suggests that it won't be a too surprising/unusual choice -- i.e. I think we can expect a fairly prominent name (like last year).
       More speculation to follow in the (few) days to come.

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

       Liao Yiwu and Herta Müller

       They've announced that Liao Yiwu is to receive this year's Geschwister-Scholl-Preis (the Sibling Scholl Prize) on 14 November.
       Nobel laureate Herta Müller will be giving the laudatio -- and now prints her recent speech about Liao at the presentation of his new book in Germany earlier this summer, Torment and blessing.

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

       Undead Austen

       In The National Ben East wonders, is Jane Austen the ultimate undead writer ? as even writers such as Joanna Trollope and P.D.James are offering new takes (apparently without zombies, too) on her work
       James' forthcoming Death Comes to Pemberley is described by publisher Faber as 'A Very Different P. D. James Detective Novel'; pre-order your copy at

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

       Simin Behbahāni interview

       In Guernica Shiva Rahbaran interviews 'Iran's most prominent poet', Simin Behbahāni, in The Lioness of Iran.
       This is taken from Dalkey Archive Press' forthcoming collection, Iranian Writers Uncensored: Freedom, Democracy and the Word in Contemporary Iran, which I'm very much looking forward to; pre-order your copy at or

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

       German critics' best list

       The October SWR-Bestenliste, where thirty German literary critics vote for the new titles they most admire is out -- and it's noteworthy for being very German-dominated: no foreign literature whatsoever this time around. Part of the publishing cycle, that the focus turns domestic just before the Frankfurt Book Fair ?

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

2 October 2011 - Sunday

Pre-Nobel talk | French stage adaptation of Alaa al-Aswany's Chicago
Amit Chaudhuri on the Bhagavad Gita | Kafka's Leopards review

       Pre-Nobel talk

       So tomorrow we find out whether they'll announce the 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature on Thursday, 6 October, or whether we have to wait another week (or more -- the Nobel Prize will be announced on a Thursday this month, but they'll only say which Thursday on the Monday of that week ...).
       I discussed early speculation (and bookies' odds) in my previous post, and the most noteworthy change since then is that two of the shops -- Victor Chandler and Bet US -- have closed their books or dropped out of the game; neither is accepting bets on this any longer, apparently leaving almost the entire betting field to Ladbrokes. (They both seemed out of their depths; I'm surprised they offered odds in the first place.)
       New to me are the Unibet odds -- with Murakami as favorite and Vijaydan Detha (!) tied with Les Murray for second. With J.K.Rowling and Paolo Coelho (!!?!?) listed at the same odds as Margaret Atwood, and with Andrea Camilleri, Jan Guillou, Leif G.W.Persson, Jens Lapidus (whose first book came out in 2006 !) and Liza Marklund listed ... well, it's pretty hard to take seriously; still, punters might find favorable odds for their favorites here and it's good to see that Ladbrokes isn't the only one offering odds.

       There have been some articles and blog posts about the prize, but so far discussion (beyond the enjoyable forum ones) and coverage has been fairly lazy. Here the pieces of (some) note:
  • Despite promising: "I am also through with trying to predict the winners", D.G.Myers is back again this year with his -- well, he'll again maintain it's not meant tongue-in-cheek, so let's just call it cheeky -- prediction that And the 2011 Winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature Is .... Samih al-Qasim. (I have my doubts, but I wouldn't be surprised to see the mention suffice to at least get him on the Ladbrokes board.) [Updated - 3 October And look there, by later Sunday Ladbrokes had him listed, at 50:1 -- better odds than Handke, Achebe, or Yehoshua (though Elias Khoury and Salman Rushdie -- and Bob Dylan -- were also going for 50:1).]

  • At The Los Angeles Times Carolyn Kellogg offers: Handicapping the Nobel Prize in literature: a guide, which offers a bit of background to the Ladbrokes' favorites (at the time).

  • At The Millions Michael Bourne writes An Open Letter to the Swedish Academy -- the inevitable annual American whine plea for Philip Roth to get the prize. I'm curious as to how many other authors considered Nobel contenders -- say those on the Ladbrokes list (incomplete, certainly, but a reasonable approximation of who might be in the running) -- Michael Bourne is as familiar with as he is with Roth. I imagine ... none (at least not any of the ones not from the United States). Sure, Roth is a viable, serious candidate -- but to claim: "If Philip Roth doesn’t deserve the Nobel Prize, no one does" ? Such a silly statement should disqualify him from the discussion right then and there. (And even just the Ladbrokes list offers up at least half a dozen names that have consistently shown more 'audacity' than Roth has .....)

  • For some reason Words without Borders don't have a single running thread, but now offer: The 2011 Nobel Prize in Literature: Round Two. It doesn't seem to have caught on yet.

  • Nobel Prize Watch -- dedicated to: "Tracking the stories and reactions behind the 2011 Nobel Prizes" -- looks promising but so far has also only presented some summary commentary on the Literature prize

  • AFP -- here at Al-Arabiya -- offer an overview-article, as they wonder Will Syria’s Adonis be named as Nobel Literature Prize winner this year ? which at least has a few quotes from a few Sweden-based publishing professionals
       I hope that when the Swedish Academy announces when they'll announce the prize-winner the level of discussion -- or the wildness of speculation -- will become more entertaining (I'd wish for informed, but that's obviously way too much to ask for).

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

       French stage adaptation of Alaa al-Aswany's Chicago

       The Théâtre Nanterre-Amandiers has adapted Alaa al-Aswany's Chicago for the stage, as J'aurais voulu être égyptien, and in Al-Ahram Weekly David Tresilian reports that 'The success of Egyptian author Alaa al-Aswany's novel Chicago on the French stage reflects the thirst for information about Egypt's January Revolution', in I would have liked to have been Egyptian.

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

       Amit Chaudhuri on the Bhagavad Gita

       The Caravan reprints an Amit Chaudhuri piece on the Bhagavad Gita that originally appeared in the Times Literary Supplement, When Krishna Becomes Song.

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

       Kafka's Leopards review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Moacyr Scliar's Kafka's Leopards, just out from Texas Tech University Press in their 'The Americas' series (which really should be getting more attention ...).

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

1 October 2011 - Saturday

Rohinton Mistry to get Neustadt International Prize for Literature
Hella Haasse (1918-2011) | Writing in ... Mauritius | Writing in ... the Czech Republic
Magnus Mills Q & A | The Greenhouse review

       Rohinton Mistry to get Neustadt International Prize for Literature

       They've announced that Rohinton Mistry will be the 2012 Neustadt International Prize for Literature laureate
       Samrat Upadhyay was the judge who nominated him, and Mistry beat out John Banville, Tahar Ben Jelloun, and ... Bob Dylan, among other nominees; no word whether Andrea De Carlo was laughed out of the deliberations for nominating Dylan.
       A Nobel preview ?

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

       Hella Haasse (1918-2011)

       The grand old lady of Dutch writing, Hella Haasse, has passed away.
       See, for example, her official site, the Hella Haasse Museum, or the Hella Haasse page at NLPVF.
       None of her books are under review at the complete review, and I don't expect to get to any anytime soon.

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

       Writing in ... Mauritius

       At Bhishmadev Seebaluck wonders -- just as you presumably have -- Whither Mauritian Literature, as, apparently:
really good books by Mauritian authors are becoming as rare as the blue moon in an overcast sky. There is no sustained effort on the part of writers, nor is there any semblance of support from readers.

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

       Writing in ... the Czech Republic

       At Czech Position Michael Stein reports on 'the growing prominence of a new generation of Czech novelists', in Tomáš Zmeškal: An exciting time for Czech literature.

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

       Magnus Mills Q & A

       The Small talk-column in the Financial Times this week features Anna Metcalfe's Q & A with Magnus Mills.
       Among his responses:
What does it mean to be a writer ?

It used to be a lucrative pastime. Now it’s an enjoyable pastime but not so lucrative any more.

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

       The Greenhouse review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir's The Greenhouse.
       This Icelandic novel did well when it came out in France, and with Iceland the guest of honor at this year's Frankfurt Book Fair it's one of the Icelandic titles being published in a number of translations. The German one is being brought out by esteemed Suhrkamp, while Alfaguara is bringing out the Spanish edition. The English translation ? AmazonCrossing .....

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