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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 30 June 2013

21 June: Peace Prize of the German Book Trade | Bestselling Jia Pingwa | Paperbacks: dead or alive ? | Herman Koch Q & A | Magadh review
22 June: Shaaban Robert profile | Literature in ... Iceland | Translating Christa Wolf
23 June: Carlos Fuentes' FBI file | Lexicon review
24 June: SIBF report | Literature in ... (northern) Nigeria
25 June: Javier Tomeo (1932-2013) | Summertime, all the Cats are Bored review
26 June: 'Get Caught Reading' | Reactions to Penguin-Random House merger | Khaled Alkhamissi Q & A | Astragal review
27 June: 'Africa Writes' preview | 'Authors & Translators' weblog | New translation of La plaça del diamant
28 June: July/August World Literature Today | Poetic criticism | Online acceptance
29 June: UEA 50th Anniversary | Promoting Korean literature abroad | Daemon review
30 June: Sunday Times Literary Prizes | Korean literature in ... Poland

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30 June 2013 - Sunday

Sunday Times Literary Prizes | Korean literature in ... Poland

       Sunday Times Literary Prizes

       They announced the winners of the (South African) Sunday Times Literary Prizes yesterday, with the Sunday Times Fiction Prize going to For the Mercy of Water by Karen Jayes, and the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award (for non-fiction) going to Endings and Beginnings, by Redi Tlhabi. Each prize is worth R75,000 (ca. US $7,600).
       For the Mercy of Water doesn't appear to be available in a US or UK edition, but you can get it on Kindle, at or

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

       Korean literature in ... Poland

       In The Korea Herald Claire Lee reports that Korean literature has distant outpost in Poland, as 'Marzena Stefanska discusses her love for Korean women writers, publishing Korean literature in her country'.
       The publishing house is Kwiaty Orientu -- and it's impressive how one person can make such a big difference -- would that there were similarly enthusiastic supporters of other under-translated literatures (and not just in Poland ...).

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

29 June 2013 - Saturday

UEA 50th Anniversary | Promoting Korean literature abroad | Daemon review

       UEA 50th Anniversary

       The University of East Africa was a short-lived institution, founded in 1963 and then split into the University of Nairobi, University of Dar es Salaam, and Makerere University in 1970, but it was a tremendously influential institution, and today they're holding University of East Africa 50th Anniversary Celebrations at Makerere University, with a keynote address by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o.
       See also the New Vision preview, Writer Ngugi wa Thiong'o for Makerere fete.

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

       Promoting Korean literature abroad

       In The Korea Herald Kim Seong-kon tries to explain The gulf between K-pop and Korean literature (abroad), and what LTI Korea has accomplished and tries to accomplish abroad.
       The opinion piece is a bit of a muddle, but offers something of an overview of the recent and current situation.

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

       Daemon review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Daniel Suarez's cyberthriller, Daemon.
       He originally essentially self-published this, before it was picked up by a 'real' publisher. The one obvious wise decision they made: publish it under his actual name, not the terrible backwards-anagram pseudonym he originally used -- Leinad Zeraus .....

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

28 June 2013 - Friday

July/August World Literature Today | Poetic criticism | Online acceptance

       July/August World Literature Today

       The July/August issue of World Literature Today is now (partially) available online -- wth the entire review section, World Literature in Review, with the usual interesting cross-section of books (some not yet translated) accessible.
       Also of note: Ilan Stavans asks: Is American Literature Parochial ? (quickly eliciting a (largely justified) Sigh from Scott Esposito at his Conversational Reading weblog).

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

       Poetic criticism

       The Times of India reports on an interesting story from India, where there's a Poem row: Chief secretary cautions ADGP Sandhya, as:
Chief secretary E K BharatBhushan has told additional director-general of police B Sandhya to refrain from employing her literary skills to insult others.
       (ADGP -- additional director-general of police -- is a big-time position: as Wikipedia explains, it's: "a 3 star rank, the highest ranking police officer in Indian states and territories"; Sandhya is ADGP in Kerala.)
       As noted at manoramaonline:
According to the service norms there is no need of prior permission to publish literary works.

However, a clause for obtaining prior permission was introduced by former DGP, Jacob Punnoose during his tenure to put a cap on the trend of adopting literature as a platform by some officers to speak their mind out through the media. It is alleged that Sandhya overstepped those regulations while publishing her work.
       Hey, maybe this is one way to make poetry more popular again, too !

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

       Online acceptance

       In the Global Times Liao Danlin reports that Fresh blossoms in main stream, as the China Writers Association (CWA) has: "released a list of new members for 2013, which includes 16 popular online writer" -- and:
Although it is not the first time that online writers have joined the CWA, 16 is the biggest number ever, reflecting paradigm shift in China's literature circle.
Since CWA has played an influential role in the history of Chinese literature, having especially focused on pure literature, expectations on the institution are extremely high.
       With over 9000 members, it's a pretty big club, and the online-writers' presence relatively small -- but at least the CWA recognizes that it's important to include representatives of these new directions writing is going in.

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

27 June 2013 - Thursday

'Africa Writes' preview | 'Authors & Translators' weblog
New translation of La plaça del diamant

       'Africa Writes' preview

       At the New Internationalist blog Magnus Taylor (briefly) considers Where is African literature at today ? in a preview of the Royal African Society's annual festival of African writing, Africa Writes, which runs 5 to 7 July.
       The program looks pretty interesting -- with the 'Africa in Translation' symposium and 'African Literature Prizes and the Economy of Prestige' panel discussion of particular interest to me; I hope there will be many online reports from and about the events.

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

       'Authors & Translators' weblog

       I'm enjoying the Authors & Translators weblog -- which, as they explain:
This is a blog for authors and translators, i.e. a place where authors talk about translations of their books and encounters with their translators and translators talk about authors and translations.

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

       New translation of La plaça del diamant

       In the UK Peter Bush's new translation of Mercè Rodoreda's Catalan classic, La plaça del diamant, is now out, as In Diamond Square, as a 'Virago Modern Classic'; see, for example, their publicity page, a review in The Australian, or get your copy at
       No word on a US edition yet -- but it's a great book, and Peter Bush's hands are generally very capable, so I hope someone gets on this.

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

26 June 2013 - Wednesday

'Get Caught Reading' | Reactions to Penguin-Random House merger
Khaled Alkhamissi Q & A | Astragal review

       'Get Caught Reading'

       Via Publishing Perspectives I learn of the Federation of European Publishers' Get Caught Reading campaign -- the second edition of this idea (though since the first was way back in 2005 maybe they're still working on the formula for success here).
       As they explain:
This campaign has two main purposes: to promote and celebrate reading by European citizens and to increase the importance of books and reading on the political agenda.
       Yes, the political agenda -- explaining why it's members of the European Commission and European Parliament that are the focus, which is ... sort of admirable.
       Somehow I don't see American members of Congress participating in a similar scheme (and especially not with these kinds of titles).

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

       Reactions to Penguin-Random House merger

       As the Penguin-Random House mega-merger becomes reality, 'The Bookseller asked a range of industry insiders what the new management team should do'.
       Among the comments: Patrick Neale depressingly suggests:
I suspect that the real drivers of the publishing world will remain much the same, those being profit, price and sales figures. Authors and shareholders will want what they have always wanted dividends and that number one slot.
       And Dennis Johnson dreams that they might:
Try to restore the literary culture to meaningfulness by breaking myself up. I'd sell off Penguin, Knopf, Dial, Pantheon and all my other various imprints to individual private owners, in hopes they would then restore those legendary companies to businesses that are at least as concerned with art-making and politics as they are with the bottom line.
       Alas, that seems ...unlikely.

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

       Khaled Alkhamissi Q & A

       At Bettina Kolb has a Q & A with Egyptian Writer (author of Taxi) Khaled Alkhamissi, We Are Living in a Vibrant Social Era in Egypt.

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

       Astragal review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Albertine Sarrazin's Astragal, just re-issued by New Directions (with an introduction by Patti Smith).

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

25 June 2013 - Tuesday

Javier Tomeo (1932-2013) | Summertime, all the Cats are Bored review

       Javier Tomeo (1932-2013)

       Spanish author Javier Tomeo has passed away; see, for example, Muere el escritor Javier Tomeo in El mundo.
       (Sometimes I wait with these foreign-author-death-announcements in the hopes of finding an English-language report to link to; I really should know better by now, shouldn't I ?)
       It appears the only works of his translated into English appear in Carcanet's two-for-one volume, The Coded Letter/Dear Monster; see their publicity page, or get your copy at or
       There's a lot more of interest -- I can't believe, for example, Los amantes de silicona hasn't been translated yet (see the Anagrama publicity page).

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

       Summertime, all the Cats are Bored review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Philippe Georget's Summertime, all the Cats are Bored, now available in English in Europa editions' World Noir series.

       (Petty note: much as I love what Europa editions do, misspelling one of the characters' names in both the front-jacket-flap copy and in a review-quote on the back cover (as "Molino", when in the text/throughout the novel he is: "Jacques Molina" ... not good. Really, really not good.)

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

24 June 2013 - Monday

SIBF report | Literature in ... (northern) Nigeria

       SIBF report

       The Seoul International Book Fair just came to a close, and in an overview in The Korea Times Baek Byung-yeul argues Seoul's 'international' book fair wasn't quite -- especially as:
"Major publishers in English-speaking nations, which obviously are the biggest movers in the global market, havenít been joining the event. This prevents SIBF from being taken seriously as an international book industry event," said Han Ki-ho, head of the Korean Publishing Market Research Institute.
       Or, to put it more succinctly:
"Right now, itís just a glorified local event that allows booklovers to buy some paperbacks at a discount," Han said.

       (Updated - 25 June): See now also Roger Tagholm's report at Publishing Perspectives, Culturally Hip Korea Blames Digital Devices for Decline in Reading.

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

       Literature in ... (northern) Nigeria

       I hesitate to link to stuff like this, but given how little anyone discusses any aspects of the literary situation in northern Nigeria ... well, I do link, with the appropriate warnings, which basically amount to: the author of this piece is bishop Matthew Hassan Kukah and he's writing about (pre-dominantly non-Christian) northern Nigeria (in Leadership ...) -- i.e. other agendas than the purely literary are on the table here. But Kukah's discussion of Multimedia and Northern Nigerian Literature at least covers a lot of territory (though, unfortunately, some of it only peripheral to either multimedia or literature ...).
       Of some interest -- but handle with care.

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

23 June 2013 - Sunday

Carlos Fuentes' FBI file | Lexicon review

       Carlos Fuentes' FBI file

       The United States has a proud tradition of denying famous authors entry to the country, from Graham Greene (signing up for the Communist party for a couple of weeks in his teens was apparently sufficient to get him blackballed) to (to name just a few) Gabriel García Márquez, Doris Lessing, Abe Kobo, Pablo Neruda, Dario Fo -- and Carlos Fuentes.
       Thanks to the efforts of the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism's New York City News Service, who requested Fuentes' FBI file under the Freedom of Information Act, we can now see what some of the Fuentesian fuss was about -- see Graham Kates' report, FBI Foiled and Followed Author, and, of course, the FBI file itself.
       Fuentes did make it to the US (even after his childhood schooldays in Washington DC ...), though for quite a while not always with much government approval -- apparently slipping into the country by train in 1965, obtaining diplomatic visas at other times -- but as late as 1969 he was: "removed from a transatlantic cruise ship" when it docked in Puerto Rico, and the FBI continued to keep tabs on him even after he was regularly being allowed into the country.
       In these days when state-surveillance is being much discussed, it's always good to be reminded of how silly the state can get in its handling of 'information' ..... (Note, however, that Fuentes and the other excluded authors mentioned above were/are not US citizens, and thus have basically no rights (in and from the United States) re. privacy, surveillance, etc.; even in the current debate(s), everyone seems to be just fine with foreigners continuing to be fair game, as far as any and all of their personal information and communication goes .....)

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

       Lexicon review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Max Barry's new novel, Lexicon -- the fourth of his books under review at the site, and probably the most accomplished. (He always has some pretty fun ideas, but tends to lose his way.)
       After the box-office beyond-bomb disaster that was the recent US release of the film version of his novel Syrup -- ranked 285th out of the 287 released-to-date films for 2013 box office, according to Box Office Mojo, with a total take of US $663 (yes, really -- maybe 50 tickets sold) -- he at least seems on a bit firmer footing with just the words. Note, however, that Lexicon was already optioned by no less than Matthew Vaughn more than a year ago (i.e. while still in manuscript). It'll be interesting to see how the Syrup-fiasco affects this material's chances of actually being made into a movie. (My two cents: it's a totally different beast and concept, and has very solid cinematic potential; it'd be a shame if the Syrup-flop was held against it.)

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

22 June 2013 - Saturday

Shaaban Robert profile | Literature in ... Iceland
Translating Christa Wolf

       Shaaban Robert profile

       Shaaban Robert -- widely (including repeatedly in this piece) called the 'Shakespeare of Swahili' -- is profiled in the Saturday Nation by Julius Sigei, in The school dropout who became the father of Swahili literature (and, of course, he's now also had schools named after him ...).
       As the piece notes in opening:
Generations of Kenyans studied his epic novel Kusadikika, an allegorical work of an imaginary state in which injustices are perpetrated against all notions of justice, law and humanity.
       This has been translated into English, but can't readily be found; the African Books Collective at least offer a good selection of his work in Swahili, but ... well, it's in Swahili.
       It amazes me that the work of even such significant African authors who happen not have written in English (or French, Arabic, or Portuguese ...) is not more readily accessible in English (or other tranlsations). (Amazingly -- though of course there was also a Cold War factor at play here -- Sigei reports: "Russian was the first European language into which his works were translated beginning with Wasifu wa Siti Binti Saad, which was translated in 1963".)

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

       Literature in ... Iceland

       At the World Literature Today weblog Michelle Johnson has: Investigating the Icelandic Book Flood: A Q & A with Alda Sigmundsdóttir. Way too much that's entirely anecdotal ("My impression is ... I imagine ... I'm speaking as an outsider and don't have any hard figures to back this up ... I'm not really qualified to answer ... I wish I could answer that, but I honestly don't know ... I have no idea who is being translated, and who isn't"), even when the facts would be easy to determine, but at least an interesting variety covered here -- and who doesn't love jólabókaflóðið-talk ?

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

       Translating Christa Wolf

       At the BOMBlog Larissa Zimberoff has an interesting Q & A with 'Damion Searls on the transformation of English to English and the perception of American culture in his translation of Christa Wolf's City of Angels: or The Overcoat of Dr. Freud'.
       (Searls is also the translator of Elfriede Jelinek's Her Not All Her -- and his translation of Uwe Johnson's epic (and wonderful) Anniversaries is tentatively scheduled for 2017 (count down the days !).)

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

21 June 2013 - Friday

Peace Prize of the German Book Trade | Bestselling Jia Pingwa
Paperbacks: dead or alive ? | Herman Koch Q & A | Magadh review

       Peace Prize of the German Book Trade

       They've announced that the prestigious Peace Prize of the German Book Trade -- to be handed over in October -- goes to Voices from Chernobyl-author Svetlana Alexievich this year; see also, for example, the DeutscheWelle report, Svetlana Alexievich of Belarus wins German literary prize.
       Liao Yiwu got it last year, and winners have included Albert Schweitzer (1951), Hermann Hesse (1955), Nelly Sachs (1965 -- the year before she got the Nobel), Chinua Achebe (2002), and Orhan Pamuk (2005 -- the year before he got the Nobel), among many illustrious others.

       (Updated - 22 June): See now also the DeutscheWelle Q & A by Efim Schuhmann with Alexievich: 'An award for all Belarusians'.

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

       Bestselling Jia Pingwa

       Via Paper Republic I find Wang Wen's Xinhua-report, Best-selling author Jia Pingwa sticks to rural life, who notes:
By selling nearly 1 million hard copies and 500,000 ebooks of his latest novel in just five months, Jia Pingwa reasserted his status in the top echelons of Chinese contemporary authors.
       I note that back in 2010 in considering the Nobel hopefuls, I suggested that while Mo Yan "would appear to be the strongest Chinese candidate" (not a bad call two years before he took the prize ...) I did peg Jia as: "the likeliest of the Chinese choices". Still barely translated into English (he does a bit better, of course, in French ...), the lack of international exposure certainly didn't help, but I continue to be surprised that he hasn't been able to establish himself better abroad.
       I do also like this bit from the article:
During the interview, Jia also went into great detail about his ideal masterpiece.

In his opinion, a great novel should combine intriguing structure with effortless prose and delicious details.
       Ah, yes, those delicious details !

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

       Paperbacks: dead or alive ?

       At Slate Katie Arnold-Ratliff wonders: 'Have reports of the paperback's death been greatly exaggerated ?' in Soft Target.
       As a die-hard fan of the (mass-market and smaller sized) paperback format (though loather of the trade and plus-sized incarnations) I wish everything were published in this handy format and worry terribly about its demise, so I like to hear this kind of stuff.
       Especially interesting: the suggestion:
Gerry Donaghy, book buyer at the largest indie bookseller in the U.S., Powell's in Portland, Ore., says that the major publishers have a compelling reason to perpetuate a paperbacks-are-dying narrative, for one simple reason: because paperbacks are the most common books to be bought secondhand. "Publishers have a vested interest in keeping the e-book dominant -- it allows them to control the ecosystem, because there are no used e-book sales," Donaghy says.
       On the other hand, I worry about Richard Nash's horrific vision:
The purpose of print books will evolve, too, Nash believes. They will become art objects imbued with nostalgia, akin to vinyl records and Polaroid cameras. As e-books increasingly become our main means of digesting literature, print books of every binding will stop being mass-produced and start becoming more "bespoke," Nash says. But he hastens to add that it's at least another decade before that happens. "Physical books have a tremendous hold on our imaginations. The changes will be quite slow and incremental."
       Yes, yes, I can (if pressed ...) appreciate the book-as-art-object -- but as far as reading goes (and, honestly, that's all I like to do with my books) I will choose the paperback format over all others in almost all cases -- to sell me on an e-book it has to be so obviously superior to whatever paperback I can get my hands on at the moment that ... well, it rarely happens.
       I realize this probably dates me as an old fogey; so be it; I just hope paperbacks hang on for the few more decades of (reading-)life (I hope) I've got left.

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

       Herman Koch Q & A

       At Winstonsdad's Blog there's a Q & A with The Dinner-author Herman Koch -- and I am especially thrilled by this exchange:
What are you favourite Dutch books ?

For me there is only one, I think it has been translated into English: The Dark Room of Damocles by W.F.Hermans
       As a huge Hermans fan I am, of course, thrilled by any mention of his books -- and just wish more of them were available in English.
       Also of interest:
I have previously ask both Cees Nooteboom and Gerbrand Bakker to describe what makes Dutch literature so unique. What are your thoughts ?

I am not sure. We live in a rather boring and spoiled country. Maybe Dutch literature is only unique in that it wasn't noticed in the past 200 years in the rest of the world.
       Alas, I don't think that it's unique in that respect ..... (As to why Dutch literature has been so impressive over the past few decades ... I'm not sure, but per capita it has amounted to an astonishing body of work.)

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

       Magadh review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Shrikant Verma's collection of poetry, Magadh, coming out from Almost Island Books.

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

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