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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 31 August 2012

21 August: Early Nobel Prize odds ... | Literary soap ? | Profiles: Herman Koch - Tom Stoppard | The Roving Shadows review
22 August: Patrick White's Happy Valley | 'The Bhagat Brandwagon' | binooki profile
23 August: Place your bets ! Ladbrokes sets Nobel odds | Dayton Literary Peace Prize finalists | Malayalam -- a classical language ?
24 August: Premio de Traducción Literaria Tomás Segovia | New World Literature Today | Seven Days review
25 August: The Bookscore | Howard Jacobson on reading and readers | Amélie Nothomb | Krasznahorkai László profile
26 August: James Tait Black Prizes | 'Book reviewing' as a business | The Garden of Evening Mists review
27 August: IWP 2012 fall residents | Fifty Shades of Korean Grey | Festival Mediterranju tal-Letteratura ta' Malta | Freud's Sister review
28 August: Chinese literature abroad | The Sharks review
29 August: New transcript | Claudio Magris Q & A | Translating in ... Viet Nam | Reading in ... Kerala
30 August: 2012 PEN Literary Awards | Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival reports | Replay review
31 August: Complete access to all 20th century Norwegian literature | Bjørnsonfestivalen | Some Remarks review

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31 August 2012 - Friday

Complete access to all 20th century Norwegian literature | Bjørnsonfestivalen
Some Remarks review

       Complete access to all 20th century Norwegian literature

       This is pretty awesome: Kopinor (the Norwegian copyright-handling agency) and the Norwegian Nasjonalbiblioteket (National Library) have announced they're comprehensively putting Norsk Litteratur fra hele det 20. århundre på nett -- making some 250,000 20th century works of Norwegian literature (essentially all of it), freely accessible online (big caveat: only to Norwegian IP addresses ...) at
       Some 50,000 works -- from 1690s, 1790s, 1890s, and 1990s -- are already available there -- and soon it'll be a whole lot more.
       In-copyright titles will only be accessible online (i.e. you can't download them -- as you can the out of copyright ones), authors and publishers will be remunerated (presumably much like the British Public Lending Right) -- and books can be withdrawn from circulation upon request (don't do it, authors, don't do it !).
       See also, for example, Kaja Korsvold's summary article in Aftenposten, 250.000 bøker blir tilgjengelige i Norges digitale bibliotek; no doubt the English-language media will pick story this up pretty soon too .....

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


       I'm a bit late with this -- nobody tells me these things -- but the 'Norwegian festival of international literature', Bjørnsonfestivalen, runs 29 August through 2 September (so you still have time to go !).
       Among the participants: African Psycho-author Alain Mabanckou, My Struggle-author Karl Ove Knausgård, and she's-way-too-young-to-get-it-too-but-Ladbrokes-have-her-at-50/1-for-the-Nobel-Prize Merethe Lindstrøm
       And, as Phayul reports, Gagged by China, Tibetan writers find voice in Norway, as one of the panels, Kneblet av Kina, will focus on the mangel på ytringsfrihet i Tibet.

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

       Some Remarks review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Essays and Other Writing by Neal Stephenson, Some Remarks.

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

30 August 2012 - Thursday

2012 PEN Literary Awards | Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival reports
Replay review

       2012 PEN Literary Awards

       They've announced the recipients of the 2012 PEN Literary Awards.
       Among the awards of interest: the PEN Translation Prize went to Bill Johnston for his translation of Wiesław Myśliwski's Stone Upon Stone (which, you'll recall, also won the Best Translated Book Award earlier this year) and Margaret Sayers Peden gets the PEN/Ralph Manheim Medal for Translation (which is only awarded every three years).
       My new favorite American literary award, however, has got to be the PEN/Edward and Lily Tuck Award for Paraguayan Literature, which goes: "To the author of a major work of Paraguayan literature not yet translated into English". It went to Versos de Amor y de Locura by Delfina Acosta (though unfortunately they don't note who the runner(s)-up were ...). (Judge for yourself: you can read Versos de Amor y de Locura (in the original) online.) I think we can all agree that Paraguayan literature gets way too little attention -- quick, name your top three Paraguayan authors ... (okay, we can all agree on Augusto Roa Bastos as number one, but after that ... ?) -- so this is great in getting it a tiny bit of attention.

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

       Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival reports

       Malta Today has several pieces on the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival, which starts today: an overview, Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival explores the recession, Catalan author Marina Espasa on Negotiating these strange days and Teodor Reljic's Q&A with Greek author Kallia Papadaki, Literature under duress.

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

       Replay review

       With Benjamin Stein's The Canvas coming out soon from Open Letter, the most recent addition to the complete review is my review of his new novel, Replay.

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

29 August 2012 - Wednesday

New transcript | Claudio Magris Q & A
Translating in ... Viet Nam | Reading in ... Kerala

       New transcript

       A new issue -- number 40 -- of the tri-lingual transcript is now available, the Summer shorts issue.
       They also note that:
This issue will be one of the last in the current format -- we are redesigning the Literature Across Frontiers website and integrating Transcript in the new approach to communicating about our work online.
       Well, one hopes that will work out okay.

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

       Claudio Magris Q & A

       At Kirkus Jessa Crispin has A Talk with Claudio Magris about 'Blindly'.
       What there is is interesting, but it's not much -- and it's pretty cruel/rude to note/rub it in that:
Magris and I spoke for ages. But in this short excerpt, we spoke of the line between fiction and nonfiction, and how history speaks to a novelist.
       Isn't one of the great things about the Internet the endless space one has ? Enough to publish even conversations that go on for ages ..... [Updated: thank god ! At her weblog Jessa writes that she's; "busy transcribing my full interview with Magris for the new issue of Bookslut", so it will be available soon (and this Kirkus-bit can be considered just a tease).]

       I have my copy of Blindly and hope to cover it soon; see also the Yale University Press publicity page, or get your copy at or (Oddly, the English translation was first published Penguin (Hamish Hamilton) Canada last year -- see their publicity page -- but Penguin isn't the one publishing it in the US or UK; that's left to a university press.)

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

       Translating in ... Viet Nam

       Bach Lien profiles a Vietnamese translator in the VNS report, Duong Tuong devotes his life to literary passion.
       He's working on Proust's À la recherche du temps perdu and has previously translated everything from Anna Karenina to Wuthering Heights to Gone with the Wind.
       He also translated Nabokov's Lolita -- and notes:
I had to add almost 500 footnotes to the translated version to help readers understand the text.
       Compare that to translations into English, where it's almost unheard of to footnote any relatively modern work -- much less offer 500 footnotes. (I'm all for it, but then I like my translations pretty strictly literal, too, and that's certainly not popular either.)

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

       Reading in ... Kerala

       In Ajayan's column in in The Asian Age, Not a future perfect Onam in sight, the reading -- and writing -- situation in the Indian state of Kerala is seen as undergoing big changes:
And around 40 per cent of the books read are translations which need not be of any great class and a good part of it is basically trash.

This has resulted in lower quality literature becoming popular and getting widely read and that is certainly not a welcome trend at all.

Coming to reader quality in Kerala, it has to be noted that there is a crisis in literature. Malayalam is no longer the dominant language in which the Malayali reads literature.
       I'd be curious to hear whether this is seen as an issue in other Indian areas/languages with strong literary traditions as well -- is English taking over, for better and worse ?

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28 August 2012 - Tuesday

Chinese literature abroad | The Sharks review

       Chinese literature abroad

       In China Daily Yang Guang reports on Chinese books' Journey to the West, finding that: 'The country's publishing industry is starting to see returns from its near 10-year going global campaign'.
       Another article by Yang Guang that covers some of the same ground finds Foreign publishing companies consolidate China operations -- and includes the priceless quote and 'explanation' from Lu Kai, general manager of McGraw-Hill Education China:
Lu explains that the Chinese mindset is inclined to deduction and could therefore easily accept abstract concepts, while Western readers are more used to inductive thinking and understanding concepts through analysis and examples.

"This is why special attention should be paid to explaining profound theories in simple terms and through examples, when we try to introduce overseas readers to the Chinese contents they are unfamiliar with," he says.
       Yes, he really is saying 'overseas' readers are kind of ... simple-minded, and need everything spelled out for them because they're too stupid to comprehend "abstract concepts".
       Mind you, no one ever went wrong underestimating audiences -- still, this sort of patronizing attitude will only get you so far (and might help explain why Chinese literary fare abroad has not fared all that well).

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

       The Sharks review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jens Bjørneboe's 1974 novel, The Sharks.
       I've never understood why Bjørneboe never really caught on abroad; good for Norvik Press for bringing out these titles (even if no one paid much attention -- did anyone review this on publication ?); too bad this one is already out of print.

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

27 August 2012 - Monday

IWP 2012 fall residents | Fifty Shades of Korean Grey
Festival Mediterranju tal-Letteratura ta' Malta | Freud's Sister review

       IWP 2012 fall residents

       The International Writing Program at the University of Iowa now list all the participants in the fall 2012 Residency -- foreign authors whose work is largely unknown here, but who certainly should be names to look out for in the future. An impressive international cross-section -- including from many literarily too often overlooked places (such as: Belarus, Uzbekistan, Burma, Mauritius, Afghanistan). Also noteworthy: how many of them also work as translators.

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

       Fifty Shades of Korean Grey

       I am loath to ever mention this 'book', but its phenomenal success occasionally prods me to do so. As now does Kwaak Je-yup's piece in The Korea Times, arguing that 'Mommy porn' better in translation.
       Out now in two volumes in the Korean translation (yes, that originally 528-page first book in the trilogy has been expanded into a two-book Korean version, those volumes clocking in at 416 and 364 pages respectively; see also the Sigongsa publicity page for volume one), it seem to be meeting with success there too -- despite being rather radically altered in translation:
Virtually all the strong language has been toned down with more palatable, publicly-accepted expression. Even the sadomasochistic sex rituals feel demure in comparison. The excessive references to Anastasia's "inner goddess," or her libido, do not come as irritating. (Word repetition is not a grammatical crime in Korean.) Devastatingly unnatural dialogue in the original are improved somewhat, but at some point in this 780-pager, especially in the Korean publisher's two-volume form, the reader has to feel frustrated by one too many use of "God, he's sexy."
       Yes, despite the translator's best efforts:
The female protagonist's utterly simple and crass emotions survive the translation; so do other problems bedeviling the original.
       Generally, I'm vehemently opposed to such liberal translation -- but I have to admit that with a 'book' like this ... what can it hurt ? What can it matter ?

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

       Festival Mediterranju tal-Letteratura ta' Malta

       The Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival -- Festival Mediterranju tal-Letteratura ta' Malta -- runs 30 August through 1 September, and as that program suggests, should be fairly interesting; see also the preview in The Malta Independent, 14 writers at the Malta Mediterranean Literature Festival.

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

       Freud's Sister review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Goce Smilevski's Freud's Sister.

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

26 August 2012 - Sunday

James Tait Black Prizes | 'Book reviewing' as a business
The Garden of Evening Mists review

       James Tait Black Prizes

       They've announced the winners of the James Tait Black Prizes, with You and I (published in the US as: You & Me ...) by Padgett Powell taking the fiction prize.

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

       'Book reviewing' as a business

       In The New York Times David Streitfeld reports on The Best Book Reviews Money Can Buy, with a lengthy case study of someone who was willing to tap into everyone's lowest instincts and make an actual (if rather brief-lived) business out of 'book reviewing' -- generating positive reviews for those willing to pay for them (and posting these on Amazon, etc.).
There were immediate complaints in online forums that the service was violating the sacred arm's-length relationship between reviewer and author. But there were also orders, a lot of them. Before he knew it, he was taking in $28,000 a month.
       (Damn, I should have known my model -- actual reviews ! links to other actual reviews ! what a stupid concept ! -- here at the complete review was not the way to go. (And, for the record, the site does not generate $28,000 a month. Or a year. Not even close.))
"I was creating reviews that pointed out the positive things, not the negative things," Mr. Rutherford said. "These were marketing reviews, not editorial reviews."
       Oh, well in that case ..... 'Marketing reviews', not 'editorial reviews'. I'm sure that was made clear to all the readers who read them, too, right ?
       (By the way, I'd be happy to embrace the assembly-line production of 'marketing reviews' -- a concept I was unfortunately not previously familiar with -- here at the complete review if that's what you'd like (especially if I can rake in $28,000 a month doing so ... hell, I'd be satisfied with $25,000 a month). Who needs or wants these 'editorial reviews' currently on offer, right ? (It'll take me a while to adapt to this terminology, though -- 'editorial reviews', that's a new one for me too.))
       As for how these 'marketing reviews' were churned out:
For a 50-word review, she said she could find "enough information on the Internet so that I didnít need to read anything, really." For a 300-word review, she said, "I spent about 15 minutes reading the book." She wrote three of each every week as well as press releases. In a few months, she earned $12,500.
       Despite being such a fantastic business model this venture somehow im- or exploded; oddly, The New York Times links to the site's former address, but there's no trace of the actual business left. All those invaluable 'marketing reviews' -- 4531 of them, apparently -- lost forever (well, except for those ones that remain on Amazon, etc). Oh, the humanity !

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

       The Garden of Evening Mists review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Tan Twan Eng's Man Booker-longlisted novel, The Garden of Evening Mists.

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

25 August 2012 - Saturday

The Bookscore | Howard Jacobson on reading and readers
Amélie Nothomb | Krasznahorkai László profile

       The Bookscore

       Via Molly Driscoll's post, The Bookscore: the new Rotten Tomatoes for books ? at the Christian Science Monitor's chapter & verse weblog I learn about yet another new book-review aggregator site, The Bookscore: Compiled book reviews & scores.
       There are only about a hundred titles on the site at this time, but it looks promising; there are still far too few review-aggregating sites out there (a mere nine that I can find are listed on our links page ...).
       It looks like an interesting approach (though the number scale suggests a lot of precision where I often can't find it -- I often can't even figure out a proper letter-grade to assign to reviews).
       Of course, it's also a question of how much aggregation they can (or want to) manage -- a quick comparison of, for example, their review of David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas and the review at the complete review finds them aggregating seven reviews, while the complete review links to ... considerably more.

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

       Howard Jacobson on reading and readers

       In The Independent Howard Jacobson's column is headlined: Suddenly everyone wants to talk about books, but nobody wants to read them -- though the piece itself suggests things aren't quite so bad -- yet.
       But he does wonder:
what if the "literary event" is poised to take over from actually reading a book, and what if the feverish output is the final paroxysm before decease ?
       And in The Guardian Charlotte Higgins reports on his Edinburgh International Book Festival appearance -- reporting: Howard Jacobson attacks the dearth of 'good readers' (though, again, the 'attack' isn't quite as bad as that suggests).
       Still, he does suggest:
The language of sympathy and identity and what we call political correctness is killing the way we read.
       (Of course, I worry about any prescription and proscription of 'how to read' -- for the most part I think people should read however the bloody hell they want, and that there are few 'wrong' ways of reading (though of course he has a point that insofar it is proscriptive (i.e. itself demands a specific way of reading), 'political correctness' certainly has deleterious effects and nasty consequences on reading (and writing).)

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

       Amélie Nothomb

       Amélie Nothomb has been publishing a book a year for over two decades now (while churning out considerably more -- most for the drawer: as she notes, her newest, Barbe bleue (see the Albin Michel publicity page, or get your copy at is her twenty-first published novel, but she has written seventy-five (!)).
       With Barbe bleue just out in France, she's also getting considerable press attention again. Le Figaro have two pieces that include Q & As: Mohammed Aissaoui reports on Les vingt ans d'Amélie Nothomb while Valérie Lejeune reports on Amélie Nothomb : hygiène de l'écrivain. And over at L'Express Marianne Payot says: Régalons-nous du Nothomb nouveau.
       (I'm behind on my Nothombs but hope to eventually get this one, and get to it too.)

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

       Krasznahorkai László profile

       In The Guardian Richard Lea has a nice profile of Krasznahorkai László (whose Satantango seems to have made quite an impression).
       I like the concluding bit:
He gestures to the computer sitting on the table at his elbow. "This is the result of 10,000 years ? Really ? We have microphone, laptop, this technical society -- that's all ? This is sad, and very disappointing. After so many geniuses in the human story from Leonardo to Einstein, from the Buddha to Endre Szemerédi, these are fantastic figures, and their work is unbelievably important and we cannot do anything with it -- why ?"
       (Endre Szemerédi is the Abel Prize-winning mathematician.)

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

24 August 2012 - Friday

Premio de Traducción Literaria Tomás Segovia
New World Literature Today | Seven Days review

       Premio de Traducción Literaria Tomás Segovia

       Okay, it's not always about the money, and the big dollar signs shouldn't blind us ... but I still say: lets us all pay proper homage and acknowledge that this is an awesome thing: in Mexico they've inaugurated a new literary prize, the Premio de Traducción Literaria Tomás Segovia.
       A translation prize. Alternating every year between translators who translate into Spanish, and those translating from Spanish.
       And the prize money is ... US $100,000.
       Yes, a translation prize that pays out $100,000.
       A translation prize that merits inclusion in the Wikipedia List of the world's richest literary prizes.
       Sure, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award pays out €25,000 to the translator (into English) -- if the winning book is a translation. The American Best Translated Book Award pays out $5,000. But $100,000 ? That is real money, and pretty much unheard of for an annual translation award.
       (Of course, in the US the 'major' literary prizes -- Pulitzer, National Book Award, National Book Critics Circle -- can get away with paying out between nothing and $10,000 (it's apparently all about the prestige ...).)
       Yeah, I'm impressed. And jealous of the Spanish-speaking world, where even in these economically supposedly so troubled times money can be found (with government involvement !) for a prize like this.

       See also, for example, the EFE report (at Fox !) Mexico creates prize to honor literary translators, or the Conaculta (Spanish) press release (Conaculta being the Mexican National Council for Culture and the Arts).

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

       New World Literature Today

       The September/October issue of World Literature Today is now (partially) available online -- including the entire (and always worthwhile) review section.
       Everything is worth your closer attention -- but I'll make a point of pointing out the updated Boualem Sansal Q & A.

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

       Seven Days review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Deon Meyer's new thriller, Seven Days.

       (What's with the sevens, by the way -- this is the third book I've reviewed whose title begins with the number seven in the past month (after The Seven Churches (by Miloš Urban) and Seven Houses in France (by Bernardo Atxaga)). (See the index -- one of my favorites -- of all books whose titles begin with numbers under review.))

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

23 August 2012 - Thursday

Place your bets ! Ladbrokes sets Nobel odds
Dayton Literary Peace Prize finalists | Malayalam -- a classical language ?

       Place your bets ! Ladbrokes sets Nobel odds

       Okay, everybody: now the fun starts -- Ladbrokes have posted odds on the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature.
       Just a few days ago I discussed the first Nobel Prize odds to go up, from Unibet -- but as I've repeatedly noted, Ladbrokes is the place where the action is (and the only betting shop that has consistently taken Nobel-betting fairly seriously). Anyone who is going to bet on this is going to do so there, and between the long list of contenders (over a hundred, compared to Unibet's forty-one -- though presumably both will continue to add names) and the (more) realistic odds -- plus enough betting action to actually move those odds -- Ladbrokes has the list to follow.

       So what to make of the hundred-odd names and the opening odds ?
       First of all, note there's a great deal of overlap with Unibet: Ladbrokes include pretty much everyone listed at Unibet, plus five dozen or so additional names. Disappointingly, Ladbrokes do also include Unibet's nonsense bets -- Daniel Kahneman (is everyone thinking of Daniel Kehlmann ? not that that is much more realistic ...) and Azar Nafisi (both here at 66/1 -- much better for bettors (well, not really: you're still throwing away your money)), as well as "Andrea Camillri" (yes, there are a number of misspelled names, including The Kindly Ones-author Jonathan Littell's (though I can see where they're coming from with 'Jonathan Little')).
       Most disappointingly, Bob Dylan makes the list, at 33/1 (I understand why: it's easy money for them -- anyone who bets on Dylan is basically just handing the money over to them, zero risk to Ladbrokes -- but it's still disappointing).
       Last year, the opening-day favorites were Adonis at 4/1 and eventual laureate Tomas Tranströmer at 9/2 (yes, he was an early strong favorite -- something to keep in mind).
       This year the opening odds see the following favorites:        The one name that stands out here is that of Dacia Maraini -- one of only a few names that, as best I can tell, have not figured in recent years' betting (i.e. went unlisted last year, etc.); Unibet has her (highly rated) too. (Other 'new' authors are Herman Koch -- forget that: he can immediately be safely ignored -- and several that Unibet just put into play a couple of days ago: Merethe Lindstrøm, Eduardo Mendoza Garriga, and Anna Funder) Note, however, that while Unibet had Mo Yan (at decent odds) last year too, he seems never to have been listed at Ladbrokes -- until now.
       Otherwise, it's pretty much the usual mix of perennial favorites -- with pretty good starter odds, too, to entice you bettors ..... (It's been years since you could get Adonis at 14/1 .....)
       Looking down the list, there are some tempting bets here: Juan Goytisolo and Elias Khoury are both at 100/1 (and interestingly Ladbrokes haven't listed Luis Goytisolo this year -- after often rating his odds better than brother Juan's the past few years). Claudio Magris, Javier Marías, Milan Kundera, even Tom Stoppard look pretty good at 66/1, too.
       Good to see Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o, Chinua Achebe, Les Murray, and Enrique Vila-Matas highly rated -- but at 20/1 not quite as easy and obvious bets. Eduardo Mendoza Garriga at 20/1, on the other hand ? That should raise some eybrows (remember: he hasn't even figured on any of the betting lists in past years.).
       It'll be interesting to see what names move -- and how soon. Some of these odds are tempting, so that might make for some early movers. And, of course, more names will be added to the mix, as Ladbrokes hear about who they might have overlooked (or get their hands on some good Swedish Academy gossip ...).

       The early take-away: Mo Yan has gotten some attention somewhere (like I said, Ladbrokes hasn't even bothered considering him in previous years), as have Dacia Maraini and Eduardo Mendoza Garriga. With suspiciously good odds, these are certainly new names to consider.

       No doubt the discussion forums at the World Literature Forum and the Fictional Woods will be abuzz with activity once this makes the rounds; I look forward to following all the speculation fun (and will add my two cents here regularly).

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

       Dayton Literary Peace Prize finalists

       They've announced the finalists for the 2012 Dayton Literary Peace Prize in fiction and nonfiction (which: "honors writers whose work uses the power of literature to foster peace, social justice, and global understanding").
       None of these works are under review at the complete review, I'm afraid.

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

       Malayalam -- a classical language ?

       In The Asian Age Teena Thacker reports that Malayalam may get classical language status.
       Maybe a sign that they've gotten a bit too bureaucratic in India, that the government actually meddles in this sort of thing ?
       In any case:
According to the rules laid down by the government, a language can be accorded classical status if it has a history over a period of 1,500-2,000 years, has a body of ancient literature/texts which is considered a valuable heritage by generations of speakers. The criteria for declaration of a language as classical also say that the literary tradition should be original and not borrowed from another speech community and classical language and literature being distinct from modern.
       Malayalam -- spoken mainly in the south Indian state of Kerala, and not to be confused with the very different Malay/sian -- wouldn't be the first to achieve this official status:
Classical language status has already been conferred upon Tamil (2004), Sanskrit (2005), Telugu (2008) and Kannada (2008).
       And what good is that official stamp of classical approval ? Ah, "the classical status will get Central funds for those promoting the language" .....

       There are only three works originally written in Malayalam at the complete review: O.V.Vijayan's novels The Saga of Dharmapuri and The Legends of Khasak, as well as Nrittam (Dance) by Maniyambath Mukundan. Probably not enough for me to get a share of those Central funds, right ?

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

22 August 2012 - Wednesday

Patrick White's Happy Valley | 'The Bhagat Brandwagon' | binooki profile

       Patrick White's Happy Valley

       In the Sydney Morning Herald Susan Wyndham suggests that there's Still room for younger White to be popular again:
If Patrick White is ever to have another chance at popularity, this is it. The Nobel laureate's centenary celebrations climax with today's republication of his first novel, Happy Valley, which he had kept out of print for fear of libel.
       Yes, at least in Australia they get easy access to Happy Valley again -- see, for example, the Text publicity page -- though I don't see any US publisher yet .....
       White's work certainly deserves your attention, and the centenary is as good a reason as any to seek it out (though considerable seeking might be necessary: a limited amount is in print ...).
       And that State Library of NSW exhibit, The Life of Patrick White, looks worth checking out too, if you're in the neighborhood.

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

       'The Bhagat Brandwagon'

       Nilanjana Roy writes about The Bhagat Brandwagon -- as in Chetan Bhagat, of course (see, for example, my review of his Five Point Someone).

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

       binooki profile

       At Deutsche Welle Gavin Blackburn reports that Two sisters bring Turkish literature to Germany, profiling their binooki publishing house.

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

21 August 2012 - Tuesday

Early Nobel Prize odds ... | Literary soap ?
Profiles: Herman Koch - Tom Stoppard
The Roving Shadows review

       Early Nobel Prize odds ...

       So Unibet have posted odds for this year's Nobel Prize in Literature (to be announced in October). I hesitate to even bother with these, but in the continued absence of the much-anticipated Ladbrokes odds (they take their sweet time, and it'll probably be a few more weeks) it's a starting/reference point ... of sorts. (paf also has (the same) odds up.)
       My hesitation arises out of the fact that it's a pretty limited list -- sure, 41 names, but as far as serious contenders goes it's pretty thin, with many names that can easily be ignored. While thankfully neither J.K.Rowling nor Bob Dylan rate a mention (as they did last year), other names that they offered odds on last year but don't include (yet) this year include perennial favorites (or at least names-that-people-always-include-in-the-mix) Les Murray, Adonis, Ko Un, Cormac McCarthy, Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, Gerald Murnane, Peter Carey, Don DeLillo, and Jonathan Franzen, for example. That's a lot of big names to miss (and there are many more).
       Several of the names that do make the list are easily disposed of, too: I feel fairly confident in saying that Andrea Camilleri is not going to win, for example (and certainly isn't a 20/1 favorite). I feel confident in stating that neither Azar Nafisi nor Daniel Kahneman are going to win the Nobel Prize in Literature. (Nafisi has written just two books, and Kahneman is more likely to win the award in medicine; there's something to be said for an author who mainly writes non-fiction winning the award, but neither of these two has written widely enough to be seriously considered.) Similarly, I don't think Roberto Saviano qualifies yet either -- also because he is still too young, as is also the case for quite a few of these authors: Karl Ove Knausgård may be closer than most to having a body of work that's both of appropriate quality and size, but I don't think they feel in any rush to give him the Nobel yet (though he is certainly a contender down the line), while others are simply too young and haven't produced enough: Anna Funder, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Merethe Lindstrøm, Sofi Oksanen, Christian Jungersen, Shyam Selvadurai, etc.
       (Note that these names might well have been among those submitted to the Swedish Academy -- one can see someone nominating Saviano, Oksanen, or Adichie -- but I simply can't imagine they got anywhere near being in consideration for the shortlist.)
       There are other weaknesses galore: Arabic is completely underrepresented -- and German totally ignored. (I don't think a German-writing winner is very likely, given recent winners Jelinek and Müller, but you know that several names were submitted and there has to be an outside chance .....) Etc. etc.
       So what can be gleaned ? Well, new names are always of interest -- so No Word From Gurb-author Eduardo Mendoza Garriga is worth a closer look, for example. This may just be a post-Premio Planeta blip, but still ..... Another new name: Flemish poet Leonard Nolens. (I don't really see either as a strong contender, but the names came from somewhere, and both have a big enough body of work and have received enough international recognition that one could make a case for either.)
       As to the current favorites, they're not entirely implausible: Mo Yan certainly has always seemed to me a reasonable Chinese candidate (but the absence of any other Chinese author on the list is entirely unreasonable). Murakami, Nooteboom, Munro, Vila-Matas, Kadare, Philip Roth ..... These names, and some of the others, are certainly among the well-known favorites, and probably deservedly at least in the discussion-mix. But neither their presence on this list -- nor the odds themselves -- are particularly revealing at this point. (But do keep an eye on those odds.)

       Also of some interest: some Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o-books have recently been translated into Swedish, and have been getting decent review attention. He's another author who is often mentioned for the Nobel (in some part also due to my repeated mentions ...) -- and also another author missing from the Unibet betting list.
       In his review in Svenska Dagbladet Magnus Eriksson goes out of his way to say he doesn't think Ngũgĩ's work is as consistently good as that of Chinua Achebe, Ben Okri, Nuruddin Farah, and (deceased) Yvonne Vera -- which makes me wonder what Eriksson has been smoking reading: Okri had a decent book or two but has gone over the spiritual edge, and Vera ... okay, a lot of folks think Vera was onto something, but I never got her work (most of it is under review at the complete review; see, for example, The Stone Virgins). Obviously, there's a strong case to be made for Achebe -- though it's been a long while since he's published any significant fiction or poetry -- and Farah is consistent and worth consideration too, but Ngũgĩ's more varied output, with the recent high-point of Wizard of the Crow, is pretty hard to argue with, too.

       And remember that there are active discussions of all of this (and much (not always relevant ...) more) at the always worth following Nobel threads at the World Literature Forum and the Fictional Woods.

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

       Literary soap ?

       AFP report that in Austria: after 'Sound of Music', smell of music ? reporting on Lederhaas Cosmetics, run by Wolfgang Lederhaas:
This Austrian philosophy professor gave up a successful academic career to set up in 2011 a cosmetics firm that, among other things, turns literature, music and visual arts into something you can touch, sniff -- and wash your hands with.

Retailing at around 80 euros ($100) in smaller Austrian bookshops, pharmacies and concept stores is his first collection: a sleek grey box of six bars, each with the "aroma" and "colour" of a work of German literature.
       Hey, I say: if you can get suckers people to pay $100 for a few bars of soap ... I'm impressed (and your spiel must be working).
       On the other hand, I'm not exactly sure what to do with "initial customer feedback" such as:
'I go to the toilet more now just so that I can wash my hands more often."
       (Is it just me, or is something clearly very wrong in a world in which ... anything like this is possible ?)

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

       Profile: Herman Koch

       Herman Koch's The Dinner is finally available in English -- at least in the UK (get your copy at; American readers will have to wait (no doubt for some very reasonable reason and not just a silly publisher's whim) until February; pre-order your copy at -- and at Untitled Books Mark Reynolds profiles him.

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

       Profile: Tom Stoppard

       At More Intelligent Life Victoria Glendinning profiles Tom Stoppard at some length.

       See also reviews of many of Tom Stoppard's works at the complete review.

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

       The Roving Shadows review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Pascal Quignard's 2002 prix Goncourt-winning The Roving Shadows -- now out in English from the ever-more impressive looking Seagull Books (and, yes, you'll be seeing reviews of a lot more of their titles -- though quite a few are already under review at the complete review).

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

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