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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 October 2012

11 October: The Nobel Prize in Literature goes to ... Mo Yan | (American) National Book Awards finalists | Joseph Anton review
12 October: Nobel Prize 2012: Mo Yan - The announcement date - Reactions - Prediction post-mortem | Man Booker sales data | South African Literary Award nominees
13 October: Finneganís List 2013 | Wole Soyinka Q & A | Alan Bennett profile | Book-banners on the European book-fair circuit ? | Man Booker shortlisted books
14 October: Rosalind Harvey Q & A | Indian Science Fiction | New issue of Swedish Book Review | The Nightmare review
15 October: Kafka manuscripts (probably) to National Library of Israel | Liao Yiwu picks up Peace Prize of the German Book Trade | Joseph Anton covers | ALTA translation panel report | The Finno-Ugrian Vampire review
16 October: Spanish-language literary prizes: Premio Planeta - Premio Internacional Carlos Fuentes | New issue of Asymptote | Writing in ... Nepal | 172 Hours on the Moon review
17 October: Maruya Saiichi (1925-2012) | Bring up the Bodies takes Man Booker Prize | DSC Prize for South Asian Literature longlist | ACF Translation Prize | More Mo | Ru review
18 October: Nobel disappointments: among 'Harukists' - in India | Best Translated Book Award | Anna Clark on the African Writers Series | Man dumps Asian Literary Prize
19 October: The 'Mo Yan Culture Experience Zone' | Cashing in on and with Mo, part two | Crossword Book Award winners | Man Booker commentary | Dalkey archive to ... Columbia | The Neighborhood review
20 October: Translation: Saudi mega-bucks translation prize - Children's literature | David Mitchell on translating Cloud Atlas for the screen | Brod and Kafka

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20 October 2012 - Saturday

Translation: Saudi mega-bucks translation prize - Children's literature
David Mitchell on translating Cloud Atlas for the screen | Brod and Kafka

       Translation: Saudi mega-bucks translation prize

       So last week they apparently handed out the fifth Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud International Award for Translation.
       On paper this sounds like a hell of a big deal -- five times $200,000 ! -- but when they can't even be bothered to name the winners in the (English-language) press release (despite that being titled: 'The awards handed over to') it begins to look a bit fishy.
       Coverage in, say, Arab News is more extensive, but also doesn't reveal the winners' identities
       Meanwhile, at they print a translation of the Süddeutsche Zeitung report on the ceremony in Berlin -- as, 'According to Werner Bloch, it was a bizarre event' -- in Big Words, Big Prize-Money.
       For all that impressively big prize money, Bloch also reveals that even that might not be all that it seems:
Hartmut Fähndrich, one of the best translators from Arabic into German, was awarded a prize in Casablanca three years ago. Only a fraction of the prize money he was supposed to have shared with an Arab colleague has arrived so far.
       Strange indeed.

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

       Translation: Children's literature

       In the McGill Reporter Eléonore Buchet-Deàk considers The ethical caveats of translating children's literature -- specifically, in her case, 'Childrenís books that are originally written in English and translated into Tibetan'.

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

       David Mitchell on translating Cloud Atlas for the screen

       In the Wall Street Journal David Mitchell writes about Translating 'Cloud Atlas' Into the Language of Film.
       See also the Cloud Atlas-review at the complete review. I am curious about the film -- though the fact that Tom Hanks and Halle Berry have featured roles in it ... concerns me.

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

       Brod and Kafka

       I mentioned a few days ago that the whole mess left by not-up-to-the-task-literary executor Max Brod regarding quite a few remaining Franz Kafka manuscripts seems to have come to a near-conclusion with the latest court ruling, saying the manuscripts should go to the National Library of Israel.
       In Haaretz Michael Handelzalts now finds 'this is an auspicious time to recall the beginnings of this whole literary saga', in Wordplay: Even Kafka's stories come to an end.
       He concludes with a nice anecdote with which I wasn't familiar, from publisher Frederic Warburg's book All Authors are Equal, attributed to to Hannah Arendt: Max Brod shares his dilemma -- Kaflka instructed him to burn his manuscripts upon his death, but they're brilliant works of literature that Brod doesn't want to destroy -- with a literary editor, who finally comes up with the perfect solution:
"I have it, Max. Publish Franz's work and burn all your own."
       (Brod was, of course, an (in)famously second rate and prolific writer himself -- though his work isn't without interest (yes, I've read a few of them ...).)

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

19 October 2012 - Friday

The 'Mo Yan Culture Experience Zone' | Cashing in on and with Mo, part two
Crossword Book Award winners | Man Booker commentary
Dalkey archive to ... Columbia | The Neighborhood review

       The 'Mo Yan Culture Experience Zone'

       Sure, this is completely nuts -- but I have to admit some grudging admiration (and I wish other Nobel-winning nations would be equally fanatical: let's see that 'Elfriede Jelinek Culture Experience Zone' !)
       Yes, as for example Malcolm Moore reports in The Telegraph, enterprising folk are seeking to cash in on Mo's Nobel win, as China to spend £70 million sprucing up Nobel Prize winner's hometown.
       The fact that Mo is a new-found national treasure of course has ramifications for his family:
On Tuesday, Fan Hui, a local official, paid a visit to Mr Mo's father to ask him to renovate the family home.

"Your son is no longer your son, and the house is no longer your house," urged Mr Fan, according to the Beijing News, explaining that the author was now the pride of China. "It does not really matter if you agree or not," he added.
       Good to see Communism isn't entirely dead in China (albeit awkwardly tied together with .... entrepreneurial capitalism).
       My favorite part of this: the name and ...:
Mr Fan has earmarked the family home as the main attraction of the "Mo Yan Culture Experience Zone", but also has plans to create a theme park based on Mr Mo's 1987 work, Red Sorghum.
       A sorghum theme-park ! (Meanwhile, I'm already dreaming of the piano lessons in the 'Elfriede Jelinek Culture Experience Zone'. Right next to the roller-coaster.)
       The money focus is fascinating: see also, for example, Mo and his hometown mull over financial windfall from prize by Xu Wei and Zhang Zixuan in China Daily -- who report that:
the author joked he had already been thinking about buying a modest apartment in Beijing with the 8 million Sweden krona ($1.2 million) that comes with the Nobel Prize
       Is this what happened when Tranströmer got his prize and check last year ?

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

       Cashing in on and with Mo, part two

       Mo and his hometown aren't the only one's cashing in on the Nobel win: the fact that Swedish Academy member and Chinese-speaking translator Göran Malmqvist might well be cashing in has raised a few eyebrows, too. As Elias Groll asks at the Passport weblog at Foreign Policy Was there a conflict of interest behind the Nobel literature prize ? [via] noting that:
Göran Malmqvist, a sinologist and member of the Swedish Academy, was instrumental in Mo's selection, lobbying the academy to recognize the Chinese writer and providing Swedish translations of the writer's work to other members of the academy. Now he stands to benefit financially from those translations. According to a report by Swedish Television, Malmqvist will provide his translations to a Swedish publisher for publication. And according to the head of that publishing company, Tranan, because of the intense interest on Mo's work as a result of his Nobel win Malmqvist will likely be able to name his own price.
       This is pretty interesting: as the Nobel's nice bio-bibliographical page for Mo shows, only three of his works have been published in Swedish translation -- half of what is available in German and Spanish, and a fraction of what has been translated into English and French.
       Now, while it's admirable for Malmqvist to have provided translations for his colleagues (many could have read many of the works in one of the other translations, but considering the liberties taken by, for example, Goldblatt with the English translations, it's obviously preferable to get a more direct translation into a language they are more comfortable with), it is problematic when he is able to cash in on those translations in such a big way -- especially since, as: "Peter Englund, the academy's permanent secretary, confirmed to Swedish Television that Malmqvist was highly involved in discussions around awarding Mo the prize." Very problematic.
       The obvious solution would be for Malmqvist to defer to Mo's usual Swedish translator, Anna Gustafsson Chen -- even now, after the fact; quite honestly, it would be shocking if anything else happened. (It's also very curious that the Swedish Academy did not commission outside translations from the get-go, by Chen or someone else: they've made a big deal about saying how that's what they do when they have to consider an author whose work isn't widely enough translated, and it would have kept Malmqvist completely clear of any potential conflict of interest issues; as is, he doesn't merely seem to have stepped into one, he's entirely submerged in this mud. Allowing Malmqvist to make and submit the translations to the other Academy members is problematic not just because of the potential monetary reward down the road, but because it casts the translations themselves into doubt: an ardent Mo-supporter, he may well have tailored the translations -- consciously or subconsciously -- to make them more palatable to his fellow judges.)
       Enquist address some of this at his weblog, in this entry. Here Enquist says that, far from cashing in, "men om så sker har jag förstått att han kommer att skänka bort rätten till översättningarna till förlaget i fråga" -- i.e. it's his understanding that Malmqvist will give away the rights (i.e. he won't profit). This remains to be confirmed (and given that the publisher himself suggested otherwise, confirmation is definitely needed), but would certainly help tidy up appearances a bit.
       Enquist also says he wishes more Academicians would provide translations -- but I have to disagree. I do think the Academicians should be provided with more translations -- but outsiders should be doing the translating. It's a bad, bad idea to let those who then also decide who is to get the prize become involved in this aspect of things too.

       (Updated - 20 October): Someone sent me an e-mail today, with a subject-line something like 'Malmqvist, Enquist, and Mo Yan', but it arrived in my spam folder the very moment I pressed the 'delete-all' button and was flushed away before I had a chance to open it; if you're out there -- please re-send .....

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

       Crossword Book Award winners

       They've announced the winners of the The Economist Crossword Book Award (love the way old sponsor Vodafone still features in the URL ...) -- though as best I can tell The Economist hasn't ever even acknowledged the prize on its site, while the official site doesn't yet list the winners, last I checked .....
       But you can find them at, say, The Hindu, where they report that The Hindu's Aman Sethi bags award for A Free Man. That would be in the non-fiction category; best English-language fiction went to The Folded Earth (by Anuradha Roy), the Indian-language translation category had two winners: 17 (by Anita Agnihotri) and The Araya Women (by R.Narayan). The 'popular' prize, decided on by public vote, went to The Incredible Banker (by Ravi Subramanian).

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

       Man Booker commentary

       In The Guardian Jacques Testard complains that The Booker prize judges let us down, arguing Hilary Mantel didn't 'need' another prize, and that:
The Booker judges had a chance to make a statement, to refresh a staid publishing industry by showing it that taking risks is worthwhile.
       I think book prizes are problematic, and way too much attention is paid to them (even (especially ?) by me, with my constantly pointing to the latest ones ...), but I will always defend those that do what they're supposed to do: select the best book.
       Now, I have big problems with the Man Booker -- first and foremost that they don't reveal which books are actually in the running for the prize, so that we have no way of knowing whether or not the best books are even being considered. But as long as they focus on selecting the best book from whatever tiny lot they're selecting from ... well, it's the least they can do, and it's fine by me. The last thing I want them to do is to 'send a message'.
       I also note -- emphatically (while feeling like I'm screaming in a vacuum ...) -- that it's not Hilary Mantel that won the prize -- all those headlines to the contrary -- but rather Bring up the Bodies. The fact that the person who wrote that book also wrote another book in the same series that won this same prize ... what does that have to do with anything ?
       Testard cries: "Dear Booker judges: novels are experiments in language !" You know what ? Some are, and some aren't. Their ... experimentalism shouldn't be the deciding factor. Nor something as ridiculous as their 'readability'. Sure, judges have to decide on subjective criteria by which to judge the books -- that's the weakness of literary prizes, and their strength. Once judges start trying to send messages ... you might as well get rid of the lot. (Yes, yes, I know: there are lots of good reasons for getting rid of the lot anyway .....)
       Testard complains: "literary prizes are just as staid as the industry that produces them" -- but did anyone ever believe otherwise ?
       Despite being a longtime-Mantel admirer (as the reviews on the site (and the dates they were first posted) show) I have minimal interested in her two Man Booker-winning titles (historical fiction, you know -- let's just keep that at a nice distance, okay ?), but I am grateful for the two sets of Man Booker judging committees in choosing these over choosing to 'send a message' (or honoring true and absolute crap like Vernon God Little ...).

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

       Dalkey archive to ... Columbia

       I would have though that the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign -- which is, after all, where Dalkey Archive Press is currently headquartered -- would have had the inside track on the Dalkey archives, but no, it's Columbia University that gets to announce that The Rare Book and Manuscript Library Acquires the Archive of Independent Publisher The Dalkey Archive [via].
       No word, alas, on how much money changed hands -- but the Dalkey archive certainly sounds like it is a pretty awesome one.

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

       The Neighborhood review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Gonçalo M. Tavares' The Neighborhood.
       I'm disappointed that this hasn't gotten much attention yet -- but then his Joseph Walser's Machine has also been woefully critically neglected. Good, important stuff, folks -- pay attention !
       And just as Tavares hasn't been getting his due (yet -- at some point it has just got to explode: few are more up-and-coming than him), neither has what Texas Tech University Press has been doing these past few years; this volume appears in the impressive (but also under-noticed) 'The Americas' series (see also the titles under review at the complete review).
       For those in New York this weekend you can and should get the full immersion treatment: go see/hear this event at McNally Jackson on Saturday at 18:00.
       Really -- go ! (And then buy Tavares' books, while you're there -- I hope they've stocked enough !)

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

18 October 2012 - Thursday

Nobel disappointments: among 'Harukists' - in India | Best Translated Book Award
Anna Clark on the African Writers Series | Man dumps Asian Literary Prize

       Nobel disappointment: among 'Harukists'

       Murakami Haruki doesn't sound all that disappointed at not winning the Nobel Prize this year, despite being one of the betting favorites:
When I asked him about the possibility of being awarded the Nobel Prize, he laughed. "No, I don't want prizes. That means you're finished."
       But as Roland Kelts reports in his profile at The New Yorker's Page-Turner weblog, there are The Harukists, Disappointed.
       Among the interesting bits from Murakami:
"Every book I publish," he noted, "even before it is promoted or reviewed, it sells three hundred thousand copies in Japan. Those are my readers. If you're a writer and you have readers, you have everything. You don't need critics or reviews."
       Sounds good.

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

       Nobel disappointment: in India

       I mentioned Rajvinder Singh's ... misguided campaign, 'From patience to perseverance: Nobel for India, 2013', early last month, and now Singh follows up, post-Nobel announcement, to re-state his case (he's shooting for 2013, after all ...) asking in The Economic Times: Why competent Indian writers have been ignored by Nobel Prize selectors ? [Aside: the local writers may well be competent, but as to the copy/headline-writers .....]
       Yes, apparently:
one saddening fact looming over this uniquely diverse and rich laboratory of literature in the world is that competent Indian writers have been ignored from the Nobel consideration they so profoundly deserve.
       Just like last time I mentioned this, I note that it's not a question of competency; indeed, the idea with a prize like this is sort of to rise way, way up above that. Leaving that aside, however, I am fairly certain that Singh is wrong in this claim: I think it's very safe to say that quite a few Indian writers have been given extensive Nobel consideration by the Swedish Academy -- it's just that none have won the damn thing. Given the way nominations for the Nobel Prize work, it seems likely that India is, in fact, very well represented, at least as far as authors being in the very initial mix go -- certainly better than almost all other nations from what used to be called the developing world. I would be very surprised if there weren't a few that made it past the first or second cull, too.
       Still, Singh makes a few points that bear repeating:
Barring a few exceptions, Indian writers known in the world are all English language writers. Though we treat Indian English as one of our own languages, much larger variety of literature is being written in regional languages. That literature has failed to attract the attention it deserves from the world.
       As to his suggestions ...:
What is needed is to make these literatures visible like a coherent mosaic by putting forward an academically creative hybrid portrait of the literatures of modern Indian languages, which should help disseminate multi-layered knowledge about its richness as well as its distinctiveness.
       If I may politely disagree, I think that's really not what's needed -- though my actual reaction is simply a head-shaking huh ?!??
       Seriously: even just the mention of 'an academically creative hybrid portrait' is probably enough to turn off anyone even in the slightest way sympathetic to the cause. Sure, good translations, and the occasional context are welcome -- but seriously: the stuff has got to stand on its own, and not be propped up by ... jargon.
       I wouldn't put it as strongly as Singh does:
Why have the Nobel selectors been so blind to these excellent literatures ? Whether it is their ignorance of Indian-languages literature or a simple rebuff, it is by all means scandalous.
       For one thing, as I said, I don't think the Swedish Academy has been entirely blind to these literatures -- they just haven't felt any exemplar was superior enough, yet. But it is odd that Indian regional-language literature (by which I awkwardly mean everything other than English) hasn't gotten due attention abroad -- and even I, who fairly actively try to seek it out, have trouble getting anywhere near enough to form much of a picture of the local scenes and talent.

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

       Best Translated Book Award

       At Three Percent Chad Post has a post on the 2013 Best Translated Book Award: Fiction Update.
       I'm one of the judges for this, and I've already worked my way through a decent amount of the eligible titles -- though I still also wait to get my hands on quite a few of them. (In my case it's not the unenthusiastic publisher Chad mentions -- they kindly send me the whole, big lot for review-purposes in any case -- but rather some of the big publishers that are slow/reluctant to respond to requests .....)
       I certainly encourage all publishers to try to get their eligible titles into the hands of as many of the judges as possible (especially my grubby ones ...); we try to give absolutely all eligible titles the consideration they're due, even if the publishers won't play along at all, but it certainly makes everything a whole lot easier. Plus quite a few of the judges, myself included, are prone to mentioning, discussing, even praising many of the titles that don't ultimately make the longlist cut .....

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

       Anna Clark on the African Writers Series

       At the Los Angeles Review of Books Anna Clark writes on Exploding the Canon: On the African Writers Series.
       I'm a big fan of the original AWS; several of the books from it are under review at the complete review (and the reason that a lot more aren't is that I basically grew up with the orange volumes from this series, and read dozens of them long before I even started this site). (See also the review of James Currey's vital AWS-history, Africa Writes Back, which Clark also mentions.)
       I'm not quite as sanguine about the latest attempt to resuscitate the series, in Penguin Classics guise -- but maybe there really is some hope for it if, indeed:
The new AWS will be ongoing, rather than finite. Siciliano "aims to make the series as diverse as possible" while ensuring that selections are driven by editorial quality. He's also interested in titles in translation and, if necessary, would consider commissioning new translations that would put the novels "in the best possible light."
       So far, they've been taking it slowly and conservatively ..... But you'll find copies of volumes from the original series in lots of good second-hand bookshops, and I'd urge you to reach for those orange paperbacks if and when you can.

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

       Man dumps Asian Literary Prize

       Here the Man Asian Literary Prize was finally getting its act together -- for years I would only call it the Man 'Asian' Literay Prize, because they didn't include many obviously Asian countries, but they responded to the criticism admirably and finally did the right thing (yes, authors from Kazakhstan (etc.) are now eligible !) -- and now their sponsor up and dumps them. As reported in The Telegraph, Booker sponsors Man drop Asian Literary Prize [via]. Apparently, Man wants to focus all their attention on that Man Booker Prize (the prize they handed out on Tuesday -- you'd think they'd have waited to make this announcement until after the Man Booker frenzy had properly died down -- but presumably they hoped that would just drown out this news); I'd suggest their washing their hands of this commitment has more to do with their long-term company share performance .....
       There's now already a Letter from Prof. David Parker, Executive Director of the Asian Literary Prize explaining the situation -- and they already only refer to it as the 'Asian Literary Prize', already dropping the 'Man'. (I also like how they include an e-mail address for 'sponsorship enquiries' ... good luck with that .....)
       No word as to whether Man is also dumping the Man Booker International Prize, which might also be more trouble than it's worth to them -- but while the Asian Literary Prize might have established itself well enough to stand on its own (and attract new sponsorship), I don't think the biennial MBIP has.

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

17 October 2012 - Wednesday

Maruya Saiichi (1925-2012) | Bring up the Bodies takes Man Booker Prize
DSC Prize for South Asian Literature longlist | ACF Translation Prize
More Mo | Ru review

       Maruya Saiichi (1925-2012)

       Very sad to hear that Maruya Saiichi (丸谷 才一) has passed away; see, for example, Witty to the end, award-winning writer Maruya dies at 87 by Chiaki Yoshimura in the Asahi Shimbun and Writer Saiichi Maruya's rich legacy. (Also very sad that there's been so little coverage of this so far .....)
       Only one of his books is under review at the complete review -- Grass for My Pillow -- but Singular Rebellion is the stand-out; get your copy at or

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

       Bring up the Bodies takes Man Booker Prize

       They've announced that Hilary Mantel wins 2012 Man Booker Prize -- which I think is an outrageous way of putting it: Bring up the Bodies won the Man Booker Prize and who cares who wrote it ......
       A nice one-two punch for Mantel -- who will presumably be going for the series-trifecta with the third volume in the series.
       I've been a Hilary Mantel fan since quite a while back, but historic fiction of this sort ranks just (well, okay: far) below bodice-rippers as far as the kind of fiction I'm interested in so I haven't read the last two novels. But you can get your copy of Bring up the Bodies at or

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

       DSC Prize for South Asian Literature longlist

       They've announced the 16-book Longlist for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature -- chosen from 81 entries.
       Apparently only two are works in translation; none of these titles are under review at the complete review yet.

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

       ACF Translation Prize

       Exciting news about the 2011 winner of the ACF Translation Prize, Damion Searls' translation of Nobel laureate Elfriede Jelinek's Her Not All Her will be published as Cahier 18 in that great series.

       There's extremely disappointing news, too, however, about the ACF Translation Prize: apparently it is no more:
Due to budgetary constraints, the ACF Translation Prize has been suspended until further notice.
       I was a judge for all three years that the prize was active -- and I very much hope they can find the funds to resuscitate it !

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

       More Mo

       I continue to update the Mo Yan information in my earlier post, but a few of the latest post-Nobel reactions are worth mentioning separately, too:

        - Benjamin Carlson reports that 'A leaked directive from the Chinese government shows censorship tactics towards dissidents' in the amusing account of how China scrambles to censor novelist Mo Yan's Nobel Prize at GlobalPost

        - Tash Aw 'asks whether the writer has pandered to the Chinese regime' in Nobel Prize: was Mo Yan the Communist Party's choice ? in The Telegraph

        - Susanne Beyer and Volker Hage have Q & A's with Liao Yiwu and Martin Walser about Mo getting the Nobel in Der Spiegel, and get very, very different responses. Liao says: "To me it is like a slap in the face" (as he maintains: "To me the truth comes first and then the literature" (not a position I would endorse, but then when it gets down to life-and-death matters I suppose might be moved to reconsider)); Liao also said Mo was: "a symbol of the Communist Party of China's culture" when China was guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair a few years ago. Meanwhile, Martin Walser practically falls over himself in his effusive praise of Mo: "It is a good fortune, when you can adore, when you can love, when you can find something so magnificent."

        - The Harvard Crimson actually offers an opinion piece -- arguing 'Writer Mo Yan's Nobel Prize in Literature is well-deserved' in Reward Artistic Merit.

       (Meanwhile, I continue to be disappointed and shocked by the lack of coverage of Liao Yiwu's Peace Prize of the German Book Trade-speech (see my previous mention).)

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

       Ru review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Kim Thúy's Ru.

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

16 October 2012 - Tuesday

Spanish-language literary prizes: Premio Planeta - Premio Internacional Carlos Fuentes
New issue of Asymptote | Writing in ... Nepal
172 Hours on the Moon review

       Spanish-language literary prize: Premio Planeta

       Sure, they're announcing that Man Booker Prize today -- but the big money was handed out yesterday, as they announced the winner of the Premio Planeta, the richest single-book prize going, with the winner getting €601,000.
       La marca del meridiano, a detective novel by Lorenzo Silva in his Bevilacqua-Chamorro series, took the honor. It was selected from 432 entries (the majority from Spain, but including 54 from South America and 37 from North America).
       See, for example, the EFE report at Fox, Lorenzo Silva wins Spain's Planeta Prize, or Spanish reports in El País and La Vanguardia.
       For more about Silva, see The English page at his official site -- as you can see, he's pretty prolific (but it doesn't look like any of his work has been translated into English yet)

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

       Spanish-language literary prize: Premio Internacional Carlos Fuentes

       They'll only hand it over at a ceremony on 11 November, but they've announced that Mario Vargas Llosa is the winner of the inaugural Premio Internacional Carlos Fuentes -- a US$250,000 prize for a Spanish-language author.
       See also, for example, the EFE report at Fox, Mario Vargas Llosa wins Inaugural Carlos Fuentes Prize.
       Kind of a safe choice -- but, of course, pretty hard to argue with.

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

       New issue of Asymptote

       The October issue of Asymptote is now available online -- and it's packed with great stuff, beginning with local favorite Arnon Grunberg (e.g. Tirza !) on another local favorite, J.M.Coetzee (e.g. Elizabeth Costello !) in A Door Remains a Door. In addition, there are lots of translations, more non-fiction pieces, and even some reviews.
       Particularly admirable: the way they take advantage of some of the possibilities of online presentation -- but without doing anything too annoyingly fancy. So, for example, many of the translated pieces are also available in the original language -- just click on where it says so in the right-hand margin -- and there is often supplemental material: listen to the piece being read, or read a 'translator's note'.
       A great selection of material -- and a great presentation of that material.

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

       Writing in ... Nepal

       In Himal Weena Pun speaks to 'noted Nepali literary critic Khagendra Sangroula', in Changing literature, changing country.
       Among the interesting observations Sangroula makes: things are apparently looking up, at least locally:
These days, publishing houses queue up for unpublished books. Also, back in Panchayat era, my books sold 500 to 1000 copies, if the police did not confiscate them before they went on sale. Today, books might sell 6000 copies. If each of those copies gets read by at least two people, that's 12,000 readers. That's a big readership, and a big opportunity, that did not exist before the 1990s. Of course, critical evaluation is still lacking, but new voices are coming to the fore.
       Unfortunately, as far as seeing these works in English ...:
Going back to Nepali-to-English translations, we have a dearth of good translators. The few known ones are Manjushree Thapa, Michael Hutt, Abhi Subedi and RD Yuyutsu. The problem with translating Nepali literary writing into English is that the translators have to know the nuances of Nepali culture. Descriptive translations are easy, but translating dialogues is difficult, and when the aesthetics of a novel are compromised, the end product feels very mechanical. Except for the title, the name of the author, and the [names of the] characters, everything else gets lost in translation.

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

       172 Hours on the Moon review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of another lunar-focused novel by Johan Harstad -- this time for a younger audience: 172 Hours on the Moon.
       What really impressed me was how many reviews of this there were available online for and by teens. (Of course, what impressed me less was the book itself .....)

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15 October 2012 - Monday

Kafka manuscripts (probably) to National Library of Israel
Liao Yiwu picks up Peace Prize of the German Book Trade
Joseph Anton covers | ALTA translation panel report
The Finno-Ugrian Vampire review

       Kafka manuscripts (probably) to National Library of Israel

       Almost half a century after Max Brod died and, in one last (of many ...) terrible missteps in his role as Kafka's literary executor, Brod's Franz Kafka manuscripts wound up in secretive, private hands, the legal case surrounding them has reached ... well, close to an ending (oh, it ain't over yet: "Mrs. Hoffe will file an appeal, it's unacceptable to her" says her attorney ...). Yes, as for example Ofer Aderet reports in Haaretz, Israel court orders Kafka manuscripts be transferred to National Library.
       It's been quite a trial:
Judge Talia Pardo Kupelman wrote in her ruling that she had taken the historical significance of the case under consideration: "This case complicated by passions, was argued in court for quite a long time across seas, lands, and times. Not every day, and most definitely not as a matter of routine, does the opportunity befall a judge to delve into the depth of history as it unfolds before him in piecemeal fashion," she added.
       Argued "across seas, lands, and times". Positively ... Kafkaesque !
       See also, for example, Yonah Jeremy Bob's report, 90 years later, public allowed access to Kafka, Brod, in The Jerusalem Post.
       Admirable at least that the National Library plans to make public the material.

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       Liao Yiwu picks up Peace Prize of the German Book Trade

       Liao Yiwu picked up the prestigious Peace Prize of the German Book Trade yesterday; I can't find the full speech (delivered in Chinese) online yet, but Focus does have (juicy) excerpts (in German).
       You can see why there's ... limited Chinese coverage of this major prize (i.e. complete silence): saying how much better things would be if Tibet were an independent nation and calling for the dissolution of both the state apparatus and the state itself just won't go over big there. Astonishingly and rather shockingly, English-language coverage has, so far, been feeble too -- despite this being a major prize, held at the conclusion of the Frankfurt Book Fair (when there are lots of bookish journalists still in the neighborhood). No doubt some will follow, but compared to the Mo Yan reporting frenzy .....
       At least Deutsche Well have a few articles, including: Chinese book prize winner hits out at East and West, summarizing the speech (and with a few choice quotes). See also Chronicler of downtrodden accepts book prize and a pre-prize (and pre-Mo's Nobel) Q & A, Liao Yiwu: 'Freedom is a long process'.
       Liao has also weighed in on Mo's Nobel: AFP reports on an interview with Der Spiegel in which Liao says he was shocked by the selection .....

       (In any case, I'd suggest this confirms my point about the Swedish Academy's Nobel announcement-timing, discussed here.)

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

       Joseph Anton covers

       I'm fascinated by how the US, French, and German covers of Salman Rushdie's new memoir, Joseph Anton, all use the same basic design -- but differ in the relative type-size and prominence of author-name and title:

Joseph Anton cover - US    Joseph Anton cover - France    Joseph Anton cover - Deutschland

       Regardless, they're better than the absolutely hideous UK cover (though that one admirably at least opts for equal billing):

Joseph Anton cover - UK

       And for something completely different, check out the Italian cover:

Joseph Anton cover - Italia

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

       ALTA translation panel report

       At her Translationista weblog Susan Bernofsky has an interesting report on the PEN Translation Committee-sponsored panel at this year's ALTA conference, Recruiting for the Reviewer Hall of Fame, with some interesting discussion of how translators can market themselves and their work better.
       I'm sure I'll be reporting more on the 'Translator's Toolkit' that they're planning for the PEN website too.

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       The Finno-Ugrian Vampire review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Szécsi Noémi's The Finno-Ugrian Vampire, just out from new publisher Stork Press in the UK, and forthcoming from Marion Boyars in the US next spring.

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

14 October 2012 - Sunday

Rosalind Harvey Q & A | Indian Science Fiction
New issue of Swedish Book Review | The Nightmare review

       Rosalind Harvey Q & A

       And Other Stories brought out Down the Rabbit Hole by Juan Pablo Villalobos in the UK last year, and now Farrar, Straus and Giroux have picked it up in the US. They now have a Q & A conducted by Iza Wojciechowska at their Work in Progress blog with the translator of the book, Getting it Right: Rosalind Harvey on Translation.
       Love this attitude:
I think we need to translate and publish more of a range of writing: good literature is wonderful, but difficult or avant-garde work is not for everyone and so I'd like to see more Estonian chick lit, Indonesian thrillers or Bolivian erotica. People read that stuff as long as it's good, it doesn't matter where it's from, so bring it on !

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

       Indian Science Fiction

       At Jeff VanderMeer's Ecstatic Days Vandana Singh goes In Search of Indian Science Fiction: A Conversation with Anil Menon, offering a nice overview of the history and current situation, both in English and local languages.

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       New issue of Swedish Book Review

       The new issue -- 2012:2 -- of the Swedish Book Review is now (partially) available online. It's dedicated to August Strindberg, and much of the interesting content is freely available -- though not, alas, Peter Graves' 'Reading Map in Hand and Other Thoughts on Translating Strindberg'.
       Unfortunately, none of the reviews are available.

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

       The Nightmare review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Lars Kepler's The Nightmare.

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13 October 2012 - Saturday

Finneganís List 2013 | Wole Soyinka Q & A | Alan Bennett profile
Book-banners on the European book-fair circuit ? | Man Booker shortlisted books

       Finneganís List 2013

       Via literalab I learn that the European Society of Authors announced their Finneganís List 2013 (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) at the Frankfurt Book Fair. This is a list that a committee of authors -- among them ones with books under review at the complete review such as Alberto Manguel, Oksana Zabuzhko, Arnon Grunberg, and Georgi Gospodinov -- puts together, "of undertranslated or forgotten works".
       Only two of the titles are under review at the complete review -- Dolly City by Orly Castel-Bloom and The Faculty of Useless Knowledge by Yury Dombrovsky -- and I'd certainly love to see some more of these (many of which aren't available in English translation yet).
       This list is a great idea -- I hope they're able to publicize it well.

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

       Wole Soyinka Q & A

       In The Telegraph they have an edited transcript of Peter Godwin's Q & A with Wole Soyinka, from Hay Xalapa.

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

       Alan Bennett profile

       In The Guardian Michael Billington profiles Alan Bennett: a quiet radical.
       Bennett has a new play coming out -- People, at the National Theatre.
       Quite a few Bennett titles are under review at the complete review; see, for example, The History Boys.

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

       Book-banners on the European book-fair circuit ?

       At Tablet James Kirchick finds a Sinister Trend in Publishing, as: 'Saudi Arabia, China, and Iran ban books. Why are they being honored on the European book-fair circuit ?'

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

       Man Booker shortlisted books

       The winner of the Man Booker Prize will be announced on Tuesday (Ladbrokes is taking bets on this, too: Will Self is the favorite at 6/4, Hilary Mantel is at 9/4), and in The Guardian they have the six shortlisted authors introduce their own work -- a nice idea.
       (The only shortlisted book under review at the complete review is The Garden of Evening Mists, by Tan Twan Eng.)

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

12 October 2012 - Friday

Nobel Prize: Mo Yan - The announcement date - Reactions - Prediction post-mortem
Man Booker sales data | South African Literary Award nominees

       Nobel Prize 2012: Mo Yan

       As noted yesterday -- already with extensive linkage -- Mo Yan was awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature.

       Here now some more information and additional links.

       A few more general Mo Yan articles:        As to the work, let's start with the most recent: in China Daily Liu Jun reports Newest novel a rural drama -- that being 蛙 ('Frog', not yet available in English).
       蛙 also isn't the next Mo title coming out in English, as the two books that are due out in early 2013 are:        As to the work that is available in English -- well, you can start out with the selection of Excerpts From His Work at The New York Times.

       As to individual works:        Another book that might be of interest: Shelley W. Chan's A Subversive Voice in China: The Fictional World of Mo Yan; see the Cambria publicity page, or get your copy at or

       And in Lire André Clavel suggests Cinq livres de Mo Yan à découvrir.

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

       Nobel Prize 2012: The announcement date

       So about the timing of the award: as I've mentioned, I was a bit surprised that the Swedish Academy decided to announce the Nobel Prize this Thursday. True, it fits nicely in the whole Nobel week -- an award a day ! -- but that also means it isn't the 'star' of the week. On top of that, a whole lot of other prizes and shortlists have been announced this week (just scroll through my reports of the past week below). Sure, the fact that it comes during the Frankfurt Book Fair means publishers can take advantage of knowing who the Nobel winner is -- but on the other hand, there are also a lot of big (and real) book deals to attend to at Frankfurt, so it also isn't center stage. And true, next week they announce the Man Booker Prize winner (on Tuesday) ... but a Nobel announcement on Thursday the 18th surely would have trumped that.
       So why did they announce yesterday -- why, indeed, did they have no choice but to announce yesterday ?
       Two words -- well, one name: Liao Yiwu.
       As you should recall, Liao Yiwu was named the winner of the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade earlier this year. And Liao Yiwu will receive the prize this Sunday, at the closing the Frankfurt Book Fair; he'll also give a speech.
       Regardless of the merit of his work, Mo Yan has a bit of an ideological problem: simply put, he's seen as if not entirely sympathetic to so certainly too cozy for comfort with the Chinese regime. After a speech by Liao Yiwu that will be idealistic and critical -- in a way that Mo has chosen not to follow -- announcing Mo was the Nobel laureate would have left a very sour taste all around. In many places it would have been seen as the Swedish Academy offering a sop to China -- which wouldn't have been or looked good for anyone.
       As is, with this scheduling, it's Liao Yiwu that is the follow-up act -- which works out nicely for everyone. The Chinese can bask in the satisfaction of one of their own having (finally) gotten the Nobel (never mind Gao and Buck ...), while those critical of the regime are pleased that Liao Yiwu gets his turn a few days later to remind everyone of what's actually going on over there.
       So, in a way -- not in the selection, but in the timing -- this is the most political choice the Swedish Academy has made in decades.

       (Updated): Note that Mo and his attitude towards the Chinese regime is more a matter of perception, rather than necessarily reality -- recall how Jelinek was (is ?) damned for being being a nominal (card-carrying !) Communist, even as it should be obvious that her ideology and its influence on her writing bears little resemblance to American McCarthyite interpretations thereof. So it's great to see that among Mo's first public pronouncements after being named the winner was to address Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo's incarceration.
       Some Western reports -- see, for example, Tania Branigan's in The Guardian, which is headlined Mo Yan, Nobel literature prize-winner, calls for release of Chinese dissident -- seem to be making a bit more of this than is actually the case: they quote Mo as saying: "I hope he [Liu] can achieve his freedom as soon as possible", which really is pretty far removed from a call for his release. The BBC have the quote as: "I hope he can gain freedom as early as possible" (and say Mo said he: "had read Mr Liu's early literary work but did not understand his later political works" ...). All in all: not exactly wholehearted support for Liu -- and no suggestion that Mo believes him to be wrongfully incarcerated or the like. (How much do you want to bet we'll be hearing a much stronger statement in support of Liu on Sunday from Liao Yiwu ?)
       It's interesting to see how many media outlets are immediately willing to credit Mo with 'supporting' Liu. Wishful/hopeful thinking ?
       When I saw the headlines this morning I thought maybe it didn't matter after all when Mo's name was announced as Nobel winner, but upon some reflection (and especially considering Mo's limited statement) it clearly did and the Swedish Academy was wise to proceed as it did. Nevertheless, there is perhaps some reason to hope that Mo will use his new-found stature and take a stronger stand, especially at the December ceremony when he actually gets the prize and delivers the Nobel lecture.

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

       Nobel Prize 2012: Reactions

       After playing down expectations before the prize announcement, the Chinese now have of course enthusiastically embraced the honor -- finding, for example (and sadly): Mo Yan's success represents recognition.

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       Nobel Prize 2012: Prediction post-mortem

       A variety of articles have looked at the betting on the Nobel, the pre-announcement predictions, and more generally the variety of often unexpected winners that have emerged over the years.
       So, for example:        The thing is, the oddsmakers have a surprisingly good track record: most of the recent winners have had among the shortest odds at Ladbrokes (though rarely the absolute shortest) -- and Mo Yan, who didn't even make the Ladbrokes list last year, was clearly a leaked shortlist name sometime over the summer. If they can give a good indication of who the five or so finalists the Swedish Academy considers each summer are -- and I would argue that they do -- then they're already providing a very useful service. (As to perennial near-favorite Adonis -- surely it was obvious that they couldn't give him the prize this year.)
       Sure, the betting lists and odds must be taken with a massive grain of salt, but what seems clear now is that they are of particular value right when they first go up -- when the odds are set by the bookies, and not by who places money on them (leading to absurd distortions such as Bob Dylan suddenly counting as a favorite) -- and in the near-closing moments.
       This year there wasn't any really big movement right at the end (the Swedish Academy managed to keep the winner's name secret until the end), but in past years there has been. But this year there clearly was some leakage early on, regarding the shortlist of final authors -- I suspected Mo Yan was a finalist (but doubted his chances of getting the prize because this was the first year that his name really came up in the Nobel context, and they make a point of saying they avoid giving the award to first-time shortlisted authors), and it wouldn't surprise me to learn, fifty years from now (when they open the archives) that other new names listed at the start at suspiciously low odds -- such as Dacia Maraini -- were also on the final list.
       Still, the betting action was pretty feeble this year -- with no public pronouncements from Magnus Puke, who always seemed to have a good handle on things in previous years. Ladbrokes didn't keep adding new names, which was a shame (I wouldn't be surprised if at least one of the finalists wasn't even on their final list), and there weren't nearly as many names with much movement as usual (and many whose odds did change were predictable local favorites -- Trevor, Banville).
       Sure, Betsson livened things up by installing Joyce Carol Oates of all people as the absolute favorite -- but really, Ladbrokes remains the leader in the field (though Unibet showed they're worth paying attention to by already bringing up Mo Yan last year, and installing him as an early favorite, before Ladbrokes even had their odds up (and leading Ladbrokes to follow suit)).
       Obviously, too much attention is placed on the names and odds at Ladbrokes and other betting shops -- these dominated pre-Nobel discussion (and led to many worthy names being left out of the discussion ...) -- but they certainly can't be dismissed either. They're just useful tea leaves that must be read and handled with some care.

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       Man Booker sales data

       The Guardian offers the always fascinating Booker Prize 2012: Sales for all the winners and the 2012 shortlist.
       Lots of numbers to be amazed by -- and I'm shocked to see that even Rushdie's Midnight's Children only had UK sales of 201,629 from 1998 through 2012.

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       South African Literary Award nominees

       The Books Live weblog has all the 2012 South African Literary Award Nominees -- with categories including Afrikaans, IsiZulu, and Sesotho fiction (some of these, alas, with not much competition ...).

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11 October 2012 - Thursday

The Nobel Prize in Literature goes to ... Mo Yan
(American) National Book Awards finalists | Joseph Anton review

       The Nobel Prize in Literature goes to ... Mo Yan

       They've announced that the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature goes to Mo Yan (莫言).

       The early reaction-articles that have appeared tend, of course, to be relatively superficial, but there are some decent introductory ones:        [Links to more reactions -- especially the Chinese ones -- to follow in tomorrow's post on Mo's Nobel win.]

       Additional odds and ends:

        - The name popped up on the betting sheets unexpectedly this year -- Ladbrokes didn't even feature him as an option last year (though Unibet was on the ball, both last year and this). (I'm pleased to note that I was already floating his name in 2010 as an obvious contender (well, among many, but still) -- and that he: "would appear to be the strongest Chinese candidate")

       - So the Chinese finally have 'their' Nobel -- though he's not entirely uncontroversial. Still: lots of celebrating going on their (and a bit of grumbling about his being too close to the official party line ...)

       - A lot of his work is available in English (see also below). Arcade admirably backed him for a long time (before they went under, though the catalog remains available, now at Skyhorse). What I really love: the Nobel bio-bibliography has his next major English publication -- Sandalwood Death (檀香刑) -- coming out from the University of Oklahoma Press. Look for a big-publisher buyout ...

       - Most of Mo's books have been translated into English by the dean of Chinese-to-English literature translation, Howard Goldblatt -- good for, and congratulations to him !

       - One big issue with the English translations is that they tend to have been cut rather drastically; I hate that, but a lot of these are, even in edited form, really long. Still, will there now be a clamor for restored editions ?

       - I'm looking forward to The Politics of Cultural Capital-author Julia Lovell's take on the Chinese having finally gotten 'their' Nobel [Updated: and here it is]

        - They just announced this year's Newman Prize for Chinese Literature a few days ago (see my previous mention); it's the third time they awarded this biennial prize -- and the first one, in 2009, went to Mo Yan. That's looking like a really good call now.

        - There's Mo Yan Q&A with Russian Fans of Chinese Lit at paper republic; see also their Mo Yan page, which should be expanding soon and fast

        - The Peony Literary Agency appears to represent him, at least in part, and they have a modestly useful backlist page (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) which gives you a sense of what translations have been published where. Andrew Wylie also represents him (listing him under 'Y', not the correct 'M'), and Publishers Lunch reports: "he is "in discussions with publishers in all territories" with respect to the author's back catalog and untranslated work"

      For some older Mo information, see:       Granta has an excerpt from his novel Frogs, as well as an interview (audio and transcript) with John Freeman.

      I'll be getting to an overview/links to reviews of his books tomorrow, but for now see, for example, John Updike's 2005 review of Big Breasts & Wide Hips

       The only Mo title under review at the complete review is his Change.
       In the US good old Arcade brought out many of his books; Skyhorse bought out their catalog and are now sitting pretty. Lots of Mo Yan titles are more or less available; roughly in the order I'd suggest the ones I'm most familiar with:        I still have my copies of most of these lying around, so I hope to get to reviews sometime soon, too.

       That's probably it for the updating of coverage today -- but there will be more tomorrow, in a new post !

       There was surprisingly little movement of the Ladbrokes-odds on Wednesday: Murakami moved up to an absolutely ridiculous 6/4, while Nádas Péter remained at his also hardly credible 5/2. Kundera moved up from 16/1 to 12/1. There's still time for some last minute action, but the betting patterns have not proven very revealing this year.
       Meanwhile, the last pre-Nobel articles of note include:
  • Mest tippade Nobelpristagarna at Svenska Dagbladet has various literary editors and writers give both their guesses and say who they would like to have win. Not much going out on a limb here -- a lot of the standards -- though Claire Devarrieux suggests Karel Schoeman (but then undermines her pick by going for ths sympathy vote -- still, a pretty good name to toss in the mix)

  • Haruki Murakami favourite to win Nobel Prize in Literature as Bob Dylan lands odds of 10/1 reports Ben Bryant in The Telegraph, in a piece where the odds were already dated when they posted it -- but it does include the nugget: "Alex Donohue of Ladbrokes said: 'Literary punters appear to have narrowed their shortlist down to just three. Murakami's odds continue to shorten and it looks like he'll head into the final days of betting as one of the shortest favourites in history.'" At 3/2 at the close Wednesday that appears distinctly possible

  • China holds breath for Nobel literature recognition reports Xinhua, as they continue to beat the subject to death -- good fun

  • Arabic Literature (in English) considers the possibility of An Arab Woman's Nobel -- though I have to say I really don't see it (and, indeed, have my doubts about an Arab Nobel this time around, period -- though I'm glad she mentions Bensalem Himmich, who, as I've said in previous years, should definitely be in the mix). As to Nawal El Saadawi ... no ... no, no, no.

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       (American) National Book Awards finalists

       They've announced the (American) National Book Awards finalists in their various categories (fiction, non, poetry, and YA); predictably, none of the books are under review at the complete review (not a one of these books has come my way ...); predictably, too, reactions to especially the fiction finalists, especially from bloggers and Twitterers, has been fairly harsh -- D.G.Myers pretty much sums things up at his Literary Commentary weblog at Commentary, in The Worst National Book Award List since the Last National Book Award List.

       I also like the way how all the cover-pictures of the finalist-books are already festooned with 'NBA Finalist' medallions at the NBA site -- the biggest racket, as I've long complained, any American literary prize runs (see the NBA medallion page in case you aren't familiar with it).

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       Joseph Anton review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Salman Rushdie's memoir of his fatwa-years, Joseph Anton -- a frustrating good/bad book (and definitely not the definitive account).

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