Literary Saloon

the literary
weblog at the
complete review

the weblog

about the saloon

support the site





the Literary Saloon on Kindle

to e-mail us:

literary weblogs:

  Arts Journal
  Books, Inq.
  Critical Mass
  Guardian Unlimited
  Jacket Copy
  Maud Newton
  The Millions
  NewPages Weblog
  Three Percent

  La Feuille.
  Papeles perdidos
  Rép. des livres

  Arts & Letters Daily
  Brandywine Books
  Collected Miscellany
  Elegant Variation
  Emerging Writers
  Laila Lalami
  Light Reading
  The Page
  Paper Cuts
  Reading Experience
  ReadySteady Blog
  This Space
  Two Words
  The Valve
  wood s lot

  See also: links page

saloon statistics

the Literary Saloon at the Complete Review
opinionated commentary on literary matters - from the complete review

The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 August 2013

1 August: Literary award betting | Zimbabwe International Book Fair
2 August: August online issues | The Unknown University review
3 August: Solaris reading | Claire Messud profile | PEN International/New Voices Award longlist
4 August: Reading in ... India | Chinese fiction abroad | Premchand eclipsed ?
5 August: Jan Michalski Prize finalists | Two or Three Years Later review
6 August: Wilhelm-Raabe-Literaturpreis longlist | Translations from the ... Turkish | Flavorwire's '25 Best Websites for Literature Lovers'
7 August: Top 20 literary museums ? | Best translations of translations ?
8 August: Writing in ... Russia | Night Film review
9 August: Prizes: Europese Literatuurprijs - FT/GSBBotY longlist | Frisch & Co. profile | Two Lao She books | Niyi Osundare Q & A | The Silence and the Roar review
10 August: Translation in ... Ukraine | Vladimir Sorokin Q & A | Unfinished reads

go to weblog

return to main archive

10 August 2013 - Saturday

Translation in ... Ukraine | Vladimir Sorokin Q & A | Unfinished reads

       Translation in ... Ukraine

       A reader alerts me to an interesting look at Book translation in Ukraine, or Read much but not anything by Daryna Schwartzman at forUm -- Ukraine being a market that is linguistically (and otherwise ...) close to Russia(n), which compounds some of the problems/issues they have.
       So, for example:
As sad as it sounds, modern Ukrainian book market is having hard times, especially the sector of books in translation, and poor quality of translation is its major problem.

"I try to buy books in the original. Fortunately, I can read in ten languages of the world. I just do not trust translations. Many translators cheat and translate not from the original, but Russian or Polish. My friends say they've seen even machine translation," avid reader Oleksandr Budnyk complains.
       The second-hand translation problem is a predictable one in this kind of small market (that, on top of it, is linguistically so close to a neighboring one) -- but that certainly doesn't make it any more palatable.
       Some fascinating titbits -- like Fieldwork in Ukrainian Sex-author Oksana Zabuzhko pointing out that gullible Western publishers often sold Russian publishers rights still covering all the former Soviet states.
According to the writer, foreign literature in Ukraine is not considered a part of proper literature process. "Even classics of Ukrainian translation is not published that often. Translation reviews are not present at all. The thing is that there are many people doing a good job in translation, but the whole "translation sector" in Ukraine comes down to the couple "publisher (client) - translator". We do not have any professional community with experience exchange or control mechanism, any feedback," Zabuzhko sums up.
       (So much as I (and many others) complain about the US and also UK situation -- hey, it could be a hell of a lot worse.)
       I do like the suggestion:
Oksana Zabuzhko recommends to set up a boycott to those publishing houses, which publish books in translation from third languages.
       (Though I note that doing that in the US would hit a couple of major publishers .....)
       A sad summing up has it that:
While modern Ukrainian literature is entering the XXI century, Ukrainian books in translation still cannot leave behind the XX century. The country lack translators, financing and elementary human decency.
       Harsh judgment .....

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

       Vladimir Sorokin Q & A

       At the Bomblog Kathrine Tschemerinsky has a Q & A with Day of the Oprichnik-author 'Vladimir Sorokin on writing, pets, and questions that would make Nabokov ask you to leave the room' -- complete with a (metaphysical ?) photograph he took (see the note at end of the interview).

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

       Unfinished reads

       Via, I'm pointed to John McMurtrie's piece at the San Francisco Chronicle's Bookmarks weblog, collecting responses from quite a good variety of authors on Those bedside books we can't quite finish.
       Not just the doorstop classics you might expect -- and fairly entertaining reading.

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

9 August 2013 - Friday

Prizes: Europese Literatuurprijs - FT/GSBBotY longlist
Frisch & Co. profile | Two Lao She books
Niyi Osundare Q & A | The Silence and the Roar review

       Prize: Europese Literatuurprijs

       They've announced that the European Literature Prize for Limonov by Emmanuel Carrère, as the translation by Katelijne De Vuyst and Katrien Vandenberghe wins the award for best translated-into-Dutch book 2013; Carrère gets €10,000, and the translators share €2,500. The Dutch translate a hell of a lot, and so the competition here is usually pretty good -- so also this year, check out the shortlist: all titles of interest.
       Limonov won the prix Renaudot and has been translated into all the major European languages -- except, of course, English (even though quite a bit of Carrère has been translated even into English -- half a dozen of his books are under review at the complete review, including, most recently, Lives Other Than My Own), and while I'm sure someone will pick this up I can't find any indication of imminent US or UK publication.
       Meanwhile, get your copy of the French original at; see also Warren Motte's review in World Literature Today, as well as some foreign rights information at BookFrance.

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

       Prize: FT/GSBBotY longlist

       They've announced the longlist for the FT/Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year, and in the Financial Times Andrew Hill runs it down, in A reading list to reflect loss of faith in capitalism.
       None of these titles are under review at the complete review.

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

       Frisch & Co. profile

       In Berlin ex-pat shares Europe's literary gems at DeutscheWelle Holger Heimann profiles E.J. Van Lanen and his new publishing venture, Frisch & Co. -- the new approach they're taking being that they focus on books on translation, but publish them only as e-books.
       Heimann observes:
There are myriad reasons why getting known in English is next to impossible for books in translation. And quality certainly isn't one of them -- otherwise Uwe Tellkamp's GDR epic Der Turm ("The Tower") would have found an English-language publisher long ago. Highly acclaimed in Germany, Tellkamp's masterpiece did catch on abroad, but didn't quite make it all the way to the US or UK.
       (Presumably its 1000-page length was the main stumbling block.)
       Meanwhile, Van Lanen reports modest success for the first efforts:
"In the first month, we sold 100 copies. That's not a very high number," admitted Van Lanen.
       Doesn't sound too bad to me -- a start, anyway, and one hopes that sales will eventually (soon !) take off. (Though I have to admit the e-format continues to be a major hurdle to proper appreciation of these titles for me .....)

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

       Two Lao She books

       At the Wall Street Journal's China Real Time weblog Debra Bruno reports that New Release of Lao She Books Revisits a Dark History, as Cat Country ("considered by some to be the first Chinese science-fiction novel") and Mr. Ma and Son are appearing in Penguin China's Modern Classics series.
       Sounds good -- except that they don't seem to be very readily available in the US or UK. Amazon offers only Cat Country -- and that only in the Kindle version (get yours at or -- though oddly enough Penguin Australia offers both in print (see their publicity pages for Cat Country and Mr. Ma and Son; I hope some of those editions wash ashore here eventually too).

       (Updated - 27 August): See now also an adapted version of Ian Johnsonís Introduction to Cat Country at the New York Review blog.

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

       Niyi Osundare Q & A

       In The Guardian (Nigeria) Kabir Alabi Garba has a Q & A with Niyi Osundare, Who begat African Literature ?
       Fortunately, Osundare sensibly doesn't think much of that particular question:
The so-called 'debate' rankles in its utter banality and jejuneness.
       (But the headline writers know it's still what draws the audiences in .....)

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

       The Silence and the Roar review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Syrian author Nihad Sirees' timely 2004 novel, The Silence and the Roar, now out in English.
       Other Press brought this out in the US, and it's really worth noting what an impressive fiction-in-translation list they have this year. They've always had a few translations, but this looks like a breakout year as far as numbers and significance goes. Yes, some of these titles first appeared from traditionally translation-strong Pushkin Press in the UK (this one, for one) or Dedalus (the far too overlooked Where Tigers are at Home by Jean-Marie Blas de Roblès (why hasn't this book gotten more attention ?)), but they're also bringing out novels by Merethe Lindstrøm, Mizumura Minae, and Gabi Gleichmann (the last two, like the Blas de Roblès, fat books in the 800-page range), all of which I have copies of and all of which look very promising. Plus novels ranging from Hervé Le Tellier's Eléctrico W to Antonio Skármeta's The Days of the Rainbow. Pretty impressive.

       (Less impressive -- but a phenomenon that I stumble across so frequently that I can't help but note it -- is the fact that they misspell the name of the narrator/protagonist on the jacket-flap copy (and indeed on their publicity page), writing 'Fathi Chin' instead of, as they have it throughout the text proper, 'Fathi Sheen'. Obviously, the error comes from the French edition (apparently the French had the international rights for this) -- the translator Anglicized the name, the publicity copy person failed to make the leap ..... Still, that shouldn't happen. (Of course, equally embarrassing, there are publications who relied on that publicity copy without checking the text itself and misspelt the name as well -- see the New York Post and npr.))

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

8 August 2013 - Thursday

Writing in ... Russia | Night Film review

       Writing in ... Russia

       At Russia Behind the Headlines Asia Pacific Alena Tveritina writes about New genres in post-Soviet Russian literature, finding:
the Russian literature of the 21st century has its own important agenda to pursue: it digests an entire epoch; it paints pictures of a new society and people that build and inhabit it; it tickles the readers' nerve and shock-therapies them with post-apocalyptic visions. It also seeks relevant forms and discovers numerous new talents.
       I suppose we should be glad "the concept of an Orthodox Christian bestseller" has not caught on in translation yet (though I think there's some potential here, if they combine it with that: "demi-fantastic genre" ...).
       Quite a few of the authors and books mentioned here are under review at the complete review; see the Index of Eastern European Literature.

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

       Night Film review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Marisha Pessl's eagerly and long-awaited second novel, Night Film, due out shortly.
       This is one of those books that, under most circumstances, I would have tossed aside after 100 or 200 pages -- it's just not very good -- but I felt compelled to make my way through it because: I'd reviewed her highly touted debut, Special Topics in Calamity Physics (yeah, I didn't think much of that either) -- and hoped she might have grown as a writer; I review so little contemporary American fiction; I review so few 'big' books (i.e. the kind that will get reviewed in pretty much every major popular media outlet); I review so few books authored by women. (Much the same reasons why I'll probably get to that forthcoming Donna Tartt, too -- though I worry that that too will be a dud.) And this did sound like it might offer some decent suspense (though after 100 or 200 pages all hope of that had evaporated).
       What's really disappointing -- and one reason I feel guilty about wasting my and your time on this -- is how much attention will be lavished on this thing, when there are so many better books so much more deserving of attention (and who would need the attention to come to the attention of readers whose time would be so much better spent with them than with this).

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

7 August 2013 - Wednesday

Top 20 literary museums ? | Best translations of translations ?

       Top 20 literary museums ?

       They held the International Forum of Literary Museums back in April, but this is the first I heard of it, via Ukrainian publications which have now all noticed that Kyiv museum of Bulgakov entered the top twenty best museums in the world literature, as one of the things they apparently did at the forum was select the twenty best (лучших) literary museums in the world (though that list turns out to be suspiciously Russian-heavy ...).
       The материалы первого форума литературных музеев ('Materials of the First Forum on Literary Museums') is available online (in not exactly the most user-friendly form, but it was the best I could find), with more (Russian) details about the selected twenty, but for your convenience here's the list, with links to the official sites:        A solid, varied list (albeit, as noted, Russian-heavy).

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

       Best translations of translations ?

       Adam Thirlwell's Multiples came out as issue 42 of McSweeney's in the US a few months ago, and is now available in book form, as Multiples: 12 Stories in 18 Languages by 61 Authors from Portobello Books in the UK (see their publicity page, or get your copy at; I will get around to reviewing this unusual exercise in translations eventually.
       In The Telegraph they now have brief piece, Adam Thirlwell on five of the best translations of translations. Too bad they didn't give him more space to elaborate on this interesting (if often maddening -- and still far too common) phenomenon.

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

6 August 2013 - Tuesday

Wilhelm-Raabe-Literaturpreis longlist | Translations from the ... Turkish
Flavorwire's '25 Best Websites for Literature Lovers'

       Wilhelm-Raabe-Literaturpreis longlist

       The German Book Prize is the big-name (Man Booker-like) German fiction prize handed out in the fall -- at the Frankfurt Book Fair, of course -- and they'll announce their much-anticipated longlist next week, on 14 August.
       Just ahead of that, the Wilhelm-Raabe-Literaturpreis -- with the same ambit (German language fiction published in 2013) -- has just announced its longlist of twelve titles (alas, not at the official site, last I checked); the only place I could find them all listed was in the local Braunschweiger Zeitung.
       Is the Wilhelm Raabe worth paying attention to ? Well, note that they do pay out more money than the German Book Prize -- €30,000, to €25,000 for the far better-known prize. More significantly, they have a pretty good track record: Wolf Haas' The Weather Fifteen Years took the prize in 2006, Andreas Maier has won the prize, as has Sibylle Lewitscharoff, for Blumenberg, in 2011 (shortlisted for the German Book Prize; my review forthcoming) -- and last year they helped fan the fires in recognizing Christian Kracht's ultra-controversial Imperium (see, for example, one of my mentions last year). (Among German Book Prize-winners under review at the complete review: Uwe Tellkamp's Der Turm, forthcoming in English as an e-book from Frisch & amp; Co.)
       So, yes, it certainly seems worth paying attention to. (The only two longlisted titles I have are the Glavinic and the Klein, but I'm not done with them yet.)

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

       Translations from the ... Turkish

       Hürriyet Daily News have a piece explaining how Translation works open a new era for Turkish literature.
       Not much new, but at least a few numbers:
With this project, in 2012 a total of 791 works from over 350 writers have been published in different languages. In the framework of this process, Turkish literature has spread to 57 countries in 53 different languages.

Among the supported projects, the highest level of support went to Orhan Pamuk. Pamuk's books have been translated into 79 languages. And his book The Museum of Innocence has published in 13 different languages. The Black Book of Pamuk has been translated into 11 languages.

Orhan Kemal, on the other hand, came second in terms of support received.
       Interestingly, too:
One of the most supported books was The Time Regulation Institute by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar. The book has been translated into 22 languages and the most well known work of Tanpınar, Peace, has been translated into 18 languages.
       While a translation of The Time Regulation Institute has long been 'available' in English, that Ender Gürol translation from Turko-Tartar Press was ... never easy to find. But now Penguin is bringing it out, in a new translation by Alexander Dawe and Maureen Freely; see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy at or (tip: get your hands on this).

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

       Flavorwire's '25 Best Websites for Literature Lovers'

       At Flavorwire Jason Diamond offers his list of 25 Best Websites for Literature Lovers (and no, the complete review/Literary Saloon doesn't make the cut).
       Of course, such lists always depend on what you're looking for in a literary website -- and it's not a bad place to start. If you're looking for more, check out our links pages, such as for book review sites and literary weblogs -- there's a lot more on offer out there (and here, too ...).

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

5 August 2013 - Monday

Jan Michalski Prize finalists | Two or Three Years Later review

       Jan Michalski Prize finalists

       The Jan Michalski Prize for Literature is an admirable undertaking (though they appear entirely indifferent to any sort of publicity, making apparently no effort to publicize anything about the prize, I guess preferring to work in what amounts to close to secret). There are quite a few international author prizes, awarded for a lifetime's work, that are truly global and widely respected (the Nobel and the Neustadt leading the pack), but there are very few book prizes -- awarded for a specific title -- with an international ambit. Yes, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award comes close, but recall, it's restricted to works at least available in English (in translation or original) -- and then there's also the dubious selection method of the longlist (libraries nominate, and far too often they pick hometown favorites).
       What's special about the Jan Michalski Prize (worth a solid CHF 50,000) is that:
The Jan Michalski Prize for Literature is attributed each year by the Foundation to crown a work of world literature. An original feature of the Prize is its multicultural nature. It is open to authors from the world over and is intended to contribute to their international recognition. The Prize will be awarded for works of fiction or non fiction, irrespective of the language in which it is written.
       (It's an admirable ideal, but of course limited by what the judges can read; some of the works are clearly judged in translation (though not just English translation, at least, since that would really limit the field), so it's not entirely an equal opportunity prize.)
       They've now announced the five finalists for this year's prize -- all but one of which are available in English (though only one was written in English, and the spread of languages these were written in is, indeed, impressive):
  • L'Aigle et le Dragon by Serge Gruzinski
  • The Colonel by Mahmoud Dowlatabadi
  • The Emperor of Lies by Steve Sem-Sandberg
  • The Old Ways by Robert Macfarlane
  • The Walls of Delhi by Uday Prakash
       (Among the longlisted titles was Chris Ware's Building Stories, The Fat Years by Chan Koonchung, and the book I'm most curious about, Chet Baker piensa en su arte by Enrique Vila-Matas.)
       It's unfortunate that they don't just focus on fiction, but include non as well; still, it's a pretty solid shortlist. The winner will be announced in November; I'll try to remember -- since I doubt you're likely to hear about it anywhere else .....

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

       Two or Three Years Later review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Forty-Nine Digressions by Ror Wolf, Two or Three Years Later, just out from Open Letter.

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

4 August 2013 - Sunday

Reading in ... India | Chinese fiction abroad | Premchand eclipsed ?

       Reading in ... India

       In the Hindustan Times Indrajit Hazra offers a fairly extensive look at How young India is reading literature. Most of it is based on a survey of close to a thousand 18-35 year-olds but also includes more general data, including quarterly sales figures (comparing II/2012 and II/2013) for all books sold (as measured by BookSkan India) in a variety of categories.
       Interesting also the perception that things are different elsewhere regarding 'literary' fiction:
But while there is a lot of noise around 'mass-market' books, you can usually hear the crickets chirping when it comes to a new 'literary' book in India. Unlike in more mature (but declining) publishing markets in the West, reviews and author profiles in the media and literary journalism here are not great nudgers of public taste. Instead, they mostly preach to the converted.
       Amusing also to find the not-surprising complaint:
"Publishers promise to do bugger everything to promote a book. And they do. They do bugger all," says the man who has worked both in the advertising industry as well as in television and cinema and who knows a non-push from a shove for a Big Author's or a mass-market writer's book.
       No surprise that Chetan Bhagat (One night @ the call center , etc.) is the author that the largest number of respondents report both having read and plan to read.

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

       Chinese fiction abroad

       Yes, another article (by Kelly Chung Dawson, in China Daily) finding that West turns new page in thinking on Chinese literature. It begins by noting:
Harper Collins recently announced its purchase of Chinese novel Zu Jie [租界] by Xiao Bai [小白] for $60,000, for publication in English.

The noir thriller will be published in 2015 under the English name French Concession. The purchase is part of a trend signaling increased interest in Chinese literature among Western publications and readers.
       A couple of interesting things about this, beginning with the fact that it's apparently a 'noir thriller' -- not something we've seen much of coming out of China.
       But there's more and better detail in the Shanghai Daily report by Yao Minji from a few weeks ago, Old Shanghai thriller lures Western publisher. Here we learn that the book has already been sold in various other markets, notably the Italian one, where Sellerio Editore have already published it (see their publicity page, or get your copy at, and the Italian editor is quoted as saying it: "is selling very well in Italy and the critical reaction is excellent" -- and that:
The Italian edition was key to the size of the deal for Zu Jie. Chen says a few publishers who read the Italian version bid for the rights and drove the price beyond expectations.
       Indeed, the American purchasing editor is quoted:
"I don't read Chinese," executive editor Karten says. "I managed to get a copy of the Italian translation and it was this version that inspired me to make an offer for it."
       As I often remind readers, the publishing 'business' (and its models) are entirely beyond my understanding, but ... holy shit, this can't be the way things are done, can it ? We're talking about Chinese here, not some obscure language spoken by a few million, or a few tens of millions of people. And there are publishing professionals relying on ... the Italian version ? (And shelling out $60,000 on the basis of that .....)
       What's particularly interesting here is (the claim) that:
The novel by Shanghai author Xiao Bai sold only moderately well in China, but it has the elements that appeal to Western readers.
       Yes, it isn't even a particularly successful Chinese novel -- but, apparently, perceived to be a Western-reader-friendly one. Yes, clearly this book sold (to US publishers, etc.) not on the basis of its Chinese success or qualities, but on the basis of its Italian success.
       Indeed, apparently:
Many Chinese novels were first published in Europe, especially in France or Germany, before the English publishers read the books in French or German and picked up the deal.
       Any brilliant mind out there think there might be a connection between this selection-'method' and the failure of Chinese fiction to catch on in the English-speaking world ? Anybody ? Hello ?
       (You can't see the dent in my desk where I've been banging my head in pained disbelief at these 'business' practices, but trust me, it's there .....)
       The rights manager who 'facilitated' the deal knows how the game is played:
"It's better to make recommendations based on what Western readers might like rather than trying to sell bestselling Chinese authors or books to the West," Chen tells Shanghai Daily.
       God forbid anyone would simply be trying to buy or sell good books, not worrying about where it was or might be a bestseller. (Yes, I understand that publishers want to publish bestsellers, but as they should be the first to admit, about nine times out of ten (certainly with fiction) they haven't the foggiest idea beforehand whether a book will be a resounding sales success or not.)

       Anyway, getting back to Kelly Chung Dawson's China Daily article, which I started this post with, besides the usual generic blah-blah about Chinese literature in the 'West' (with the predictable pseudo-insightful (conveniently after the fact ...) quotes: "Duncan Jepson, a founding member of the Asia Literary Review, believes that Wang Shuo's Playing for Thrills never caught on in the West because the author's writing style meandered, and focused less on individual characters. Western readers prefer a more specific perspective, and a linear narrative.") I find the claim:
However, the growth and popularity of Chinese fiction outside of China is still in its infancy. American readers have not demonstrated a huge appetite for foreign literature; in 2012, US publishers purchased 453 foreign titles, about 3 percent of all US book publications. Only 16 of those books were first published in Chinese.
       As readers who have been paying attention will recall, I recently ranted about the use of these very figures; I won't repeat myself (but how I wish journalists wouldn't just grab and repeat whatever eye-catching figures they come across, but rather would actually consider what these mean and represent ...).
       So, given that those figures presented here are dubious, I'm not sure how seriously to take this claim:
China's book market is now the world's largest. The industry published 7.7 billion books in 2011, a 7.5 percent increase from 2010. Of those books, 48 sold more than one million copies. Most of those titles were written by Chinese authors for Chinese readers, but Western books translated into Chinese also feature prominently.
       Well, if nothing else, it's clear that the Chinese market -- domestic and foreign (translated) remains difficult to get much of a handle on.

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

       Premchand eclipsed ?

       31 July was Premchand's birthday, and in The Hindu Siddharthya Swapan Roy takes this occasion to wonder whether the great Indian author has been Cast into the shadows, asking:
Why do we see and hear so less of him ? What explains this obscurity ? Why this near absence from literary discourses ? This absence from being the cited inspiration of film stories and being adapted and reproduced in newer forms ?
       I'm pleased that the complete review review of his The Gift of a Cow (Godaan) remains one of the most popular at the site, month in and month out (even if that is likely student (i.e. assigned reading) driven ...).

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

3 August 2013 - Saturday

Solaris reading | Claire Messud profile
PEN International/New Voices Award longlist

       Solaris reading

       Today from 14:30 on the Atlas Review, in collaboration with the Marina Abramović Institute is hosting a marathon reading of Stanisław Lem's Solaris at the Wythe Hotel in Brooklyn; see, for example, this announcement -- and Greg Cwik's preview-post at MobyLives, the Melville House weblog, Failure to Communicate: on Stanislaw Lem's Solaris.
       Of course the real burning question is what text they're actually going to read from, as the only available in-print English translation is the abomination translated from the French (!) translation, by Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox -- see the Faber (shame on them ...) publicity page, or (don't) get your copy at or
       Bill Johnston -- yes, that Bill Johnston (Best Translated Book Award-winning translator; see his faculty page for a list of his translations) -- recently did translate it directly from the Polish (what an idea !) but it's only available as an e-book (well, and as an audio book ...); see the ... Premier Digital Publishing publicity page, or get your Kindle copy at or

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

       Claire Messud profile

       In The Guardian Alex Clark profiles Claire Messud: 'I still believe at the end somebody will say: and you get an A-minus for your life'.

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

       PEN International/New Voices Award longlist

       They've announced the longlist for the 2013 PEN International/New Voices Award -- "open to unpublished writers aged 18-30", and with a judging panel that includes Alain Mabanckou and Sjón; see also the official press release.

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

2 August 2013 - Friday

August online issues | The Unknown University review

       August online issues

       Among the August issues of online publications now available are Words without Border's Brazil issue -- which includes a section of "Poetry from the Faroe Islands" -- as well as the August issue of Open Letters Monthly.
       There's also a decent selection of pieces available online from this month's Literary Review.

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

       The Unknown University review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of New Directions' beautiful bilingual edition of (a lot of) Roberto Bolaño's poetry, The Unknown University.

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

1 August 2013 - Thursday

Literary award betting | Zimbabwe International Book Fair

       Literary award betting

       On the whole, wagering money on literary awards is a mug's game -- 'novelty bets' indeed. Yes, reading the Nobel-betting-leaves (see my most recent mention) is about the best one can do with that prize, in the absence of any other clues (there are no Nobel long- or shortlists, nor is the list of candidates being considered made public) -- and, in fact, the betting lists and shifts in odds have signaled who might be getting the prize in the past, but basically (and especially given the large number of folks who wager on Bob Dylan) the betting shops are just taking the punters' money with this one.
       Where at least the pool of final candidates is known -- such as now, with the Man Booker Prize, where a longlist of 13 finalists has been announced -- punters might believe the odds are a bit more in their favor -- and if you have a real good sense of the judges' likes and dislikes maybe you can make a real good guess. But if you're going to wager on the outcome you have to consider the odds -- and at this point Ladbrokes, at least, has stacked the deck so far out of your favor that it's even harder to take seriously than usual.
       As of 31 July the Ladbrokes odds on offer for the Man Booker were as follows:
  • 4/1: The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton
  • 9/2: Harvest by Jim Crace
  • 6/1: Spinning Heart by Donal Ryan
  • 13/2: Unexploded by Alison MacLeod
  • 7/1: The Testament of Mary by Colm Toíbín
  • 7/1: TransAtlantic by Colum McCann
  • 8/1: A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
  • 8/1: The Kills by Richard House
  • 9/1: Almost English by Charlottle Mendelson
  • 10/1: Five Star Billionaire by Tash Aw
  • 10/1: We Needs New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
  • 10/1: The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • 12/1: The Marrying of Chani Kaufman by Eve Harris
       What's wrong with this picture ?
       There are 13 possible winners -- but for not a one of them can you get longer than 12/1 odds (and only one for longer than 10/1).
       That is probabilistically, mathematically, and common-sensically an impossibility and absurdity. Indeed, I'd be astonished if it were legal.
       (Do I need to explain this ? If there are 13 titles to bet on and each stood an equal chance of winning, then they should all have odds of 13/1 (or at least very, very close to it, to account for the bookies' cut). Obviously some are considered to have a better chance of winning than others, and those have better odds -- as high as 4/1 here. But if some are considered to have a better (than 13/1) chance of winning, then others must have worse odds than 13/1. How many titles, and how bad odds isn't clear, but there have to be some (yes, there likely have to be several). If you don't believe me, check out your local horse racing form: you'll find in any race that, where n is the number of horses entered, more than one longshot will be running at worse than n/1 odds. In absolutely every last race.)
       Of course, if you're actually putting money on the Man Booker (and I would strongly counsel against it), then you should shop around. Paddy Power's odds aren't better for all the titles, but they at least offer three titles with longer than 13/1 odds (and eight at 10/1 or worse -- double the number at Ladbrokes), while Bet Victor's odds only give you one longer-than-13/1 opportunity (but offer you 6/1 for the Catton -- a considerably better payoff than you can get for the favorite at Ladbrokes).

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

       Zimbabwe International Book Fair

       Rather late in the day Stanley Mushava reports today (!) in The Herald:
The Zimbabwe International Book Fair which was slated for July 29 to August 3, has been deferred to September 30-October 5 to forestall collision with the harmonised elections which were held yesterday.
       Interesting timing (after the fact, as it is), as far as 'forestalling collision' goes .....
       I note also that the official site schedule has not been updated to reflect the shift. I wonder how many people showed up and learned this the hard way .....
       As Mushava notes in closing:
ZIBF was one of the biggest events on Africa's literary calendar at its height in the early nineties.
       Ah, yes, those were the days; nowadays, they can apparently reschedule (not at but actually past the last minute) and barely anyone even notices .....
       Well, we keep our fingers crossed that those 'harmonised elections' finally lead to the long overdue change in the political order in Zimbabwe, and that ZIBF@30 (yes, it's the thirtieth anniversary of the fair, too) turns into an even bigger celebration.

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

previous entries (21 - 31 July 2013)

archive index

- return to top of the page -

© 2013 the complete review

the Complete Review
Main | the New | the Best | the Rest | Review Index | Links