The Jerusalem International Book Fair runs from tomorrow through the 15th, and in The Jerusalem Post Hannah Brown previews it.
A highlight is, of course, the awarding of the biennial Jerusalem Prize, to the certainly deserving Antonio Muñoz Molina (more of whose books, as I often repeat, should be translated into English ...).
[Updated - 11 February]: See now also Greer Fay Cashman's report in The Jerusalem Post, Molina accepts J'lem prize despite boycott calls.
Among the events of particular interest:
The most recent issue of McSweeney's, "Multiples", is, as they describe it, "a monumental experiment in translated literature".
I've begun to make my way and around this, and it is pretty awesome; I hope to get proper review coverage up at some point.
At The Believer Logger Sheila Heti now has a Q & A with editor/shaper Adam Thirlwell, which gives a bit more insight into the whole undertaking (though I'm afraid you'll have to overlook and somehow try to excuse a mention of "Finnegan's [sic] Wake").
At the Paris Review Daily Lorin Stein called the issue:
an unorthodox thing of beauty, a stunt that only a kid would attempt, and an absolute pleasure to read
The Germans have two big book fairs -- Leipzig in the spring and Frankfurt in the fall -- and the two big German book prizes (as opposed to the many German author prizes ...) are announced at these, the German Book Prize, for best work of fiction, in Frankfurt, and the Prize of the Leipzig Book Fair (Preis der Leipziger Buchmesse) in Leipzig.
The PLM is in fact a trio of prizes, as they hand one out each in the categories of fiction, non, and translation.
430 titles were submitted (though unfortunately I can't find the breakdown of submissions by category), and they've now announced the fifteen finalists.
I don't think any of the fiction finalists are likely to be familiar to English-language readers; the book most likely to eventually appear in English translation is probably the non-fiction finalist by Götz Aly (subtitled 'Euthanasia 1939-1945' ....).
As to the translation shortlist, it includes a translation of Pound's Cantos (by no-not-that-Eva Hesse, this one (who was actually born over a decade before the other Eva Hesse -- and has now outlived her by over forty years), a new translation of The Master and Margarita, and of yet another Mikhail Shishkin book (the Germans are a few ahead of US/UK publishers with Shishkin).
As longtime readers know, one of the ways I differentiate between 'literary criticism' and 'book reviews' is that I figure in literary criticism you have to discuss -- to put it simply -- whodunnit, and in a book review you can't -- or, to put it another way: literary criticism is for readers who already have read (or never will) the book in question, book reviews are for those who are considering reading it (and want to know if it's worth their while, etc.).
The complete review is pretty much all book reviews, straying very rarely into literary criticism.
This leads to the occasional contortions in discussing a book -- especially (though not solely) of the mystery/thriller variety, where it most obviously would be unfair to reveal too much -- often not only who did it, but even the exact nature of the crime, the body-count, or other significant facts.
Certainly, it seems to me that the reader should be allowed to discover the essential features of a text him- or herself; reviews should merely offer general guidance and impressions.
Recently I reviewed Herman Koch's The Dinner, an international bestseller that's finally also being published in the US.
It's about two sets of parents, who get together at a fancy restaurant to discuss something their children did.
Whether or not one likes the book, one has to acknowledge that Koch unfolds his story fairly well -- in particular regarding the heinous deed at the center of it all.
Koch has a way of withholding and then presenting information that makes for some decent tension; arguably the 'moral issues' on the table here are what's most significant about the book, but I'd say what makes it 'work' is how Koch presents the issue(s).
Reading the early American reviews, I've been shocked to find that some reviewers spell it all out for readers.
The most egregious -- because also most widely circulating -- instance is Janet Maslin's review in The New York Times yesterday.
She offers a parenthetical warning:
Now please (spoiler alert) can we cut to the chase ?
Then she spills all the beans.
Maslin clearly loathed this book, arguing that: "it's the morality of the story that's really sickening" -- though, clearly, she lost it somewhere along the line here, mistaking the (im)morality of the characters for that of the story: The Dinner may not be a successful morality tale, but surely the use of these characters and actions is meant to be provocative, rather than a straight-out endorsement of the shocking things Koch describes (and excuses/explanations he offers).
It's perfectly valid to argue that Koch fails in his picture-of-contemporary-life, and that the characters and/or their actions are too outrageous even for fiction.
But Koch tells his story in a specific way, and the success of the novel and the enjoyment (if one can call it that) it offers rests on that presentation, and by revealing essentially everything reviewers such as Maslin (and she's not the only one) pull out the rug from under Koch, leaving only the rickety end-moral of the story standing (and tumbling).
Yes, in summaryThe Dinner is a hollow story -- but Koch has crafted something different here, and the point of the tale isn't (just) in its summary, but in its telling (or so it seems to me -- I take the whole 'moral question'-aspect to be a sideshow more than anything else)
And even if you disagree, Koch deserves at least enough benefit of the doubt that readers should be left with the option to come to the book on Koch's terms, and not those of the reviewer.
But Maslin takes that option off the table.
It's unfair to the author, and it's unfair to the (potential) readers; whatever satisfactions readers could have gotten out of The Dinner are largely compromised by the reviewer having given almost all of them away.
Bad form -- and bad reviewing.
Evil is about the holocaust and about love, about Iceland and Lithuania, about Agnes who becomes lost in herself while Jon Baldvin Hannibalsson, Icelandic ambassador in Lithuania, acknowledges the independence of the Baltic countries and Lithuanian criminals begin operating from Reykjavik, about Agnes who doesn't know whether she is a fan of the B-Ranking World Champions in Handball or of Bogdan Kowalczyk, about Agnes who loves Omar who loves Agnes who loves Arnor.
They've announced that Five books shortlisted for The Hindu Literary Prize.
I was a bit more excited about this prize last time around -- a time when the rules were more welcoming, as: "Works in English and translations from Indian languages are eligible" -- resulting also in a shortlist that included several (too many ?) works in translation (including one by Man Booker International Prize finalist U.R.Ananthamurthy).
So what happened this time, with the rules (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) changed so that: "Only original works in English will be eligible. Works in Indian languages and translations are not eligible" ?
Surely I'm not the only one who thinks this lessens the prize ?
(And what the hell happened that they reverted to being an English-only prize ?
Sure, The Economist Crossword Book Award has a translation category, but if you want to be the (or even a) premier Indian literary prize, surely you have to consider all Indian literature.)
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Intizar Husain's Basti.
Oxford University Press brought this translation out a couple of years ago -- and, indeed, it's been available online even longer -- but now finally New York Review Books brings out an official US version.
As I've noted, not much by this Man Booker International Prize finalist is 'generally available' in English, but at least this one should now be relatively easy to find.
As I mentioned a few days ago, they handed out eight translation prizes in London on Monday, and Boris Akunin delivered the annual Sebald Lecture (it should eventually be available online here), and there are now a few reports available from those lucky enough to attend the event.
At the TLS blog Thea Lenarduzzi reports on The angels of translation -- and offers the great anecdote from Boris Akunin's lecture, that his mother didn't approve of him switching from being a translator to writing his own books:
She read his novels with a pencil and questioned his plots -- why not do something "serious, "why not translate something ?", she pleaded.
Compared to sport, in Australia literature funding is a joke.
Sport funding eclipses literature's beyond all measures imaginable.
The Australian Institute of Sport spent $324 million last year, while the Australian Institute of Literature ... well, it doesn't even exist.
(Indeed, the most recent ASC annual report (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) is an eye-opener -- A$ 570,000 for touch football last year, for example; A$ 5,511,600 for 'high performance' (i.e. competitive) rowing and A$ 2,816,500 for competitive ... canoeing.)
It's uncertain whether the Irrawaddy Literary Festival will be staged again next year.
Heyn conceived and created a one-of-a-kind festival.
She and her ambassador husband will leave Yangon in the summer after four years and no one has yet stepped forward to take responsibility for putting it on again.
Translated texts, then, and there are ever more of them in the world today, tend to be cooler, a little less fluid -- they will operate more on the rational intellect than on the rhythm-wired senses.
They will deceive you less and charm you less.
Among the interesting questions he raises -- and will, I hope address at greater length in the future -- is:
I have often wondered if that is now why, in certain countries, translations even seem to be preferred to native texts.
And he mentions a 'large study' that:
suggests that while the national language in Italy is changing fast, with Italian novelists ever more open to stylistic influence from the cinema or from abroad, translations keep alive a hypercorrect literary Italian that has otherwise lapsed into disuse.
No doubt, one of the highlights of the 2013 publishing year: via I see that the University of Minnesota Press is (finally) bringing out an English translation (by Joanna Zylinska) of the great Stanisław Lem's classic Summa Technologiae; see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy from Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.
I was lucky enough to get my hands on the (German) Suhrkamp edition when that came out some three decades ago (though that now sadly appears to be out of print ...), and while all of Lem's work (at least the thirty-plus volumes available in English and German that I could find over the years) made a tremendous impression on me, this one was certainly among the half dozen most influential of his works.
I was and remain in awe of the guy (and his work).
It's probably a bit dated by now -- they waited an awfully long time to translate this -- but, still, it's Lem, and you should always scoop up (and dive into) any- and everything by Lem you can find.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès' Where Tigers are at Home, coming to the US (from Other Press) next month.
Dedalus admirably brought this out in the UK in 2011 -- but, outrageously and shockingly, it got almost no review coverage there.
(How could this fat, fantastic book slip through the cracks ?)
I can only hope the Americans are wiser: this is a pretty impressive (and highly entertaining) yarn (and more), and deserves good coverage and many readers.
(The author apparently had trouble getting it published in France, too, and it went on to win a couple of prizes (and made the four-title-strong last cut for the 2008 Goncourt).)
It was also Sophie Schiavo's selection in the Quarterly Conversation's call to Translate This Book ! from a few years ago -- good choice !
As Nyanchwani wonders, why hasnít Meja Mwangi been studied in secondary schools ?
Charles Mangua writes beautifully in excellent prose and dictum.
Has his books been acknowledged as part of African literature ?
(In case you're not familiar with Mangua, see also Julius Sigei's profile, with the depressing title: I could drink my royalties in one week, says Mangua (which is, regrettably, not an admission of world-class alcoholism or expensive tastes ...).)
Ombagi does have a point -- though honestly, what I'd like to see is (much as I complain about his writing ...) a sub-Saharan African Chetan Bhagat (preferably one who writes a whole lot better than the One night @ the call centre author ...), for example.
In the Bangkok Post Ezra Kyrill Erker reports on Literary gems found in translation, as Mr.Thai-fiction-in-translation, Marcel Barang, has brought out the anthology 12 Thai Short Stories 2012, which presents: "a dozen of last year's finest short fiction by Thai writers into an accessible and absorbing e-book"
You can get your copy (and a wide selection of other Thai fiction) from Barang's Thai Fiction site -- see the publicity page for the book.
As I often note, fiction from Southeast Asia, and especially the Thai/Burma/Laos/Cambodia region, is particularly hard to come by in English.
Just how unknown it remains hereabouts is also brought home by another recent Bangkok Postpiece, which begins:
Recently crowned a National Artist and once voted Thailand's favourite novelist, Tomyantee is a recognisable name even to those who don't read novels
Somehow I suspect that even among my well- and widely read readers that may not be the case .....
Mohamed Al-Tarhuny, writer and critic, described how authors had to keep inventing means to overcome the challenge of the regime that worked hard to destroy every creative pen in the country.
Mentioning big names of contemporary Libyan literature, he considers them examples of how the authors were able to overcome the suppression of Gaddafi's tyranny: Ibrahim Al-Koni, for example, spoke of a world of the Tuareg that was fading from existence, while Mohamed Al-Asfar escaped into fantasy.
"True Libyan creativity isn't the monologue in books, but rather the online wide-open space where someone's idea receives input, criticism and updates," said Mohamed Al-Malky, head of the Benghazi office for discourse analysis, who chaired one of the sessions.
As someone who's a big fan of the 'monologue in books', I beg to differ -- but I'm so impressed that there's a 'Benghazi office for discourse analysis' that I won't complain too much.
Monday is the big translation-prize day in the UK, as they hold the Sebald Lecture -- 'Paradise Lost: Confessions of an Apostate Translator' by Boris Akunin -- and hand out a whole bunch of (well, eight) translation prizes, from the recently announced Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation and the usual annual prizes for translations from the French, German, and Spanish, to four of the less frequently awarded prizes, for works translated from Modern Greek, Italian, Portuguese, and Swedish.
As usual, TLS editor Peter Stothard will present the prizes -- and as usual, there's a run-down of who won what in the TLS, which they admirably make available at their site: see Adrian Tahourdin's overview of this year's Translation Prizes.
Among the noteworthy points: two of the winners are re-translations, while Margaret Jull Costa bagged both the win and second place for the Calouste Gulbenkian Prize (translation from the Portuguese) -- and then got a second runners-up placing in the Premio Valle Inclán.
The latter is noteworthy too, because it's a translation from the Spanish -- of a book originally written in Basque, Bernardo Atxaga's Seven Houses in France.
The only winning title under review at the complete review is Juan Goytisolo's Exiled from Almost Everywhere -- one of two Dalkey Archive Press titles to win.
In The Guardian Samuel Kolawole offers a list of what turns out not to quite be African novels to look out for ("Those hungry for his first book hopefully won't have to wait long" he unhelpfully notes about Mehul Gohil, for example).
Still, some names -- and a few books -- to look out for, in 2013 and beyond.
Poet and translator -- from Finnish, English, German, Swedish, French, and Estonian ! -- Anselm Hollo has passed away; see, for example, the Books from Finland report, In memoriam Anselm Hollo 1934-2013.
Among the authors he translated are the recently deceased Jakob Arjouni, as well as the great Jaan Kross.
Herman Koch's The Dinner is (finally) due out in the US in less than two weeks, and in the Wall Street Journal Alexandra Alter previews it -- as A European 'Gone Girl'.
A few interesting titbits, including:
In early 2012, American publishers began scrambling to acquire U.S. rights to the English translation from Mr. Koch's British publisher, Atlantic Books.
Eight publishers bid on it.
Hogarth, a literary imprint under the Crown Publishing Group, won with a bid of roughly $240,000.
Really, what does it take for a US publisher to even consider a work in translation ?
Interesting, too, the debate over how to shelve/categorize the book -- and:
Mr. Koch says he's uncomfortable with the "thriller" label.
"If you advertise it as a thriller, the real thriller-readers could be disappointed," he says.
"This is a literary novel, but it's not a boring literary novel."
I'm not sure that was the ideal way for him to explain himself .....
(It isn't boring, but it didn't strike me as particularly literary, either -- certainly no more so than many thrillers are.)
There has been quite a bit of coverage of the 44th Cairo International Book Fair, including now at Qantara.de, where Asira El Ahl finds A Breath of Fresh Air for Publishers.
Among the points of interest:
Bakr says the Gulf states are usually a good market for Egyptian publishers.
Every university and library would buy new publications in order to support the market.
"But since the revolution, they've become careful with Egyptian publishers," notes Bakr.
"They don't want to import the revolution."
On the other hand, maybe they don't have to worry quite so much: apparently "Sixty percent of the titles that are sold at the fair are religious books" -- a figure that apparently hasn't changed much over the years.
Lizok's Bookshelf offers a useful overview of Notable New Translations: The 2013 Edition, listing what we might/should hope to expect as far as translations-from-the-Russian go in 2013.
Way, way too little gets translated from the Russian, but there are some promising-sounding titles here.