The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Gao Jianqun's historical novel, Tongwan City.
I've been complaining how little contemporary Chinese fiction is out there -- we've now found more than three titles to consider for the Best Translated Book Award, but not many more (this one was already among the three on record) -- but maybe things are picking up slightly: up soon, Mai Jia's Decoded, which I've had to restrain myself from reviewing already .....
They've announced that this year's DSC Prize for South Asian Literature (and the US$50,000 prize money that goes with it) goes to Chronicle Of A Corpse Bearer by Cyrus Mistry.
See also the Aleph Book Company publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Flipkart.
The Jaipur Literature Festival started Friday, and it has a pretty impressive program -- including The Global Novel-panel, which included Jhumpa Lahiri, Jonathan Franzen, and Jim Crace.
It's Lahiri's comments that much of the Indian media have pounced on, as they report, for example:
"Our reading habits are transformed by the mainstream and to be frank, I find American literature massively overrated," the 46-year-old author said at the ongoing Jaipur Literature Festival here today.
She also expressed disappointment about the lack of translations into English available in the US -- comparing the situation to much more translation-welcoming Italy.
Meanwhile, Raymond Zhong offers a fairly detailed report at the Wall Street Journal's India Realtime weblog, Day Two at Jaipur Literature Festival: Fiction, Nonfiction and the Space in Between -- paying more attention to the "panel's liveliest presence", Guo Xiaolu:
But writing in English is also the "easiest and laziest" to do, she lamented, because you don't have to wait months or years for the book to be translated and thereby reach a world audience.
"This is a battle," she said.
Ms. Guo turned to Mr. Franzen to express her frustration with the Anglocentrism of today's publishing industry: "I love your work, Jonathan, but…American literature is massively overrated."
Of course, it's entirely plausible that they all think American literature is overrated .....
(Indeed, this IANS report suggests both Lahiri and Guo denounced it as 'massively overrated'.)
They've announced the winners of the National Jewish Book Awards -- which have a lot of categories, from 'Anthologies and Collections' to 'Holocaust' to 'Writing Based on Archival Material'; they also list the finalists.
Amos Oz's Between Friends (which I should be getting to eventually) won the Fiction award, and there are a couple of other finalists that I have (such as the second volume of Reiner Stach's Kafka-biography); an interesting mix of books, from the popular to academic, in any case.
They've announced the winners of the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation -- joint winners, for the first time, as Jonathan Wright (for Youssef Ziedan's Azazeel -- which I unfortunately haven't seen yet) and William M. Hutchins (for Wajdi al-Ahdal's A Land Without Jasmine) share the prize.
They've announced that Pankaj Mishra has won the Leipziger Buchpreis zur Europäischen Verständigung ('Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding'), which he gets to pick up at the Leipzig Book Fair on 12 March, with Ilija Trojanow giving the laudatio; see also the (English) press release from the German Missions to India.
I wonder how far my own sensitivity, my perception and thinking have been formatted by the difficult, none too precise but very vivid Polish language.
Could I express what is so crucial for me in writing -- a presentiment, a mood, the sense of unease that lurks beneath a seemingly fixed, safe configuration of events -- in another language ?
Maybe I should be grateful for my linguistic destiny ?
And she acknowledges:
I am able to communicate in two other languages, but it is simplified communication, and in some ways painful.
You could put me in Sevres, near Paris, where all sorts of standard models are kept, as the perfect example of a Polish-language specimen.
I am embedded in Polish like a fly in amber. It is not an objective point of view.
For a writer, translators often perform the function of helpful psychoanalysts -- they ask the most surprising questions.
One should write them down, keep them and publish them now and then in special editions, to give the reader a chance to appreciate the miracle of writing and the effort involved in translation.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Sibylle Lewitscharoff's Apostoloff, just out from Seagull Books -- who continue to bring out translations of significant contemporary German fiction (among much else) at a rate that puts US/UK publishers to shame.
Régis Jauffret has done pretty well by basing some of his works of fiction closely on notorious events -- see my mention of his recent Claustria (based on the Josef Fritzl case), or his Severe, based on the Édouard Stern murder.
Now he has set his sights on another lowlife and the bizarre mess he got himself involved in: Jauffret's novel, La ballade de Rikers Island, came out yesterday (see the Seuil publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.fr) and its ostensible subject -- unnamed, but obvious to one and all -- has already sued.
Yes, it's in all the French papers (and none of the English-language ones -- come on guys, get your act together already): "DSK" [three-letter personal acronyms may be presidential in the US -- FDR, JFK, LBJ -- but in France they're a sure-fire indicator of full-of-themselves, larger-than-life(-at-least-as-seen-by-the-media) diminutive pseuds who should just be ignored (think: BHL)] sees -- quite correctly -- himself in the novel, and he's apparently not flattered.
Dominique Strauss-Kahn -- amazingly, still a public figure of sorts -- has already had success once in suing an author (Marcela Iacub, for her fictionalized account of him in Belle et bête; see, for example the review in the New Statesman), so who knows what will happen here (DSK: pourquoi Régis Jauffret pourrait perdre son procès they consider in Le Figaro, for example).
For a (French) summary, see for example DSK attaque le roman du Sofitel en diffamation, but you can easily find your fill: there's (French) coverage all over the place.
And, of course, the 'novel' has shot to the top of the Amazon (and presumably soon most other) bestseller charts.
Jauffret probably deserves to be sued -- for helping to bring (back/more) attention to this best-forgotten bum -- and I'm too annoyed by even pseudo-fact-based fiction to be fully in Jauffret's corner here (I can't imagine bringing myself to actually read this thing and trying to judge it on purely literary merits, but then I hardly think that is Jauffret's point ...), but I think all's fair in even the worst fiction: DSK should leave the guy alone and crawl back under his rock.
There are some good author centenaries coming up in 2014 -- Tove Jansson: 9 August ! -- but tomorrow's is hard to top: yes, Arno Schmidt was born 18 January 1914.
Among the handful of authors who have meant the most to me, he ranks right up there: along with Borges he's the rare author who inspires both as writer and as reader (check out Radio Dialogs I and Radio Dialogs II; from Wieland to Edward Bulwer-Lytton, Schmidt introduced me to more authors than any other writer has), along with (the entirely different) Peter Weiss, he displayed a greater versatility in his writing than practically any writer I have read (okay, there's Joyce -- but Joyce did it in just a handful of works ...).
He's been quite well translated into English, largely thanks to John E. Woods, Dalkey Archive Press' offerings -- four volumes (see the publicity page for volume one -- unaccountably listed as being in their 'American Literature Series' in the nightmare that still is their revamped website) -- nicely complementing Green Integer's.
But the big news is that Woods' has reportedly completed his translation (and with it his translating career) of Schmidt's magnum (very magnum ...) opus, Zettels Traum -- so the word from the man himself, in this recent (German) interview (but no word as to any publisher or publication date, yet ...).
There's tons of German coverage -- and you can even watch the one-hour ARTE documentary online.
I'll try to collect more coverage for you (I hope there will be some English-language stuff ...) but meanwhile -- just read the stuff.
The School for Atheists -- try that, for example .....
At Russia beyond the Headlines Phoebe Taplin reports that Translation challenges the brightest minds, as 'Top translators of Tolstoy and Pelevin talk to RBTH about misunderstandings, cultural differences and how not to get lost in translation'.
Among the observations:
Many translators find themselves struggling to interest the general, English-reading public in contemporary, Russian literature.
"Most Russian texts are too long to begin with, and tend to get longer in the process of translation," said Arch Tait.
He even feels that with poetry, "The effort required to make it travel well is usually disproportionate to the impact it is likely to produce."
Le Figaro offers that annual favorite, Les dix best-sellers français de l'année 2013, tallying up the French sales (for all their books) of the ten best-selling French authors in 2013.
The top two remained unchanged from last year (see my discussion) -- though they both saw significant declines in the number of copies shifted.
The top three were:
Guillaume Musso - 1,405,500 copies sold (-17.83%)
Marc Levy - 1,199,800 (-16.27%)
Gilles Garnier - 682,600
Among the surprises: last year's number three, Katherine Pancol didn't crack the top ten (okay, after The Yellow Eyes of Crocodiles that doesn't really surprise me ...) -- and Amélie Nothomb's ten-year run in the top ten has come to a screeching halt (though all it took to get the tenth spot was 339,400 in sales).
(Meanwhile USA Today has a list of the 100 bestselling titles in the US in 2013.
Given that there are no actual unit-sales numbers (or box-office revenue numbers) ... well, the list is pretty worthless.
(How can this industry be taken seriously if they're not even willing to share/reveal/figure out these numbers ?
I understand that publishers are embarrassed about the low sales numbers for even 'successful' titles, but come on .....))
The January issue of Asymptote -- the impressive "international journal dedicated to literary translation and bringing together in one place the best in contemporary writing" -- is now up, with a lot of great online-pieces.
Please do check it out for yourself -- a lot to keep you busy.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of P.C.Jersild's 1980 disembodied-brain novel, A Living Soul , which Norvik Press brought out in Rika Lesser's translation in 1988.
Come on, folks !
A disembodied-brain novel !
In fact, a short film based on it is just set to be released in Sweden (see the official page) -- and Jersild titled a recent retrospective work of his Ypsilon (2012), based on the central ... figure in A Living Soul; see, for example, the (Swedish) review in Svenska Dagbladet.
The Omnivore's Hatchet Job of the Year Award -- "for the writer of the angriest, funniest, most trenchant book review of the past twelve months" -- has announced the shortlist for this year's award.
The Sunday Times ones (there are two of them) are behind paywalls, so they're new to me, but of the others two are ones I recall well and ... fondly ?
Hedley Twidle's Paul Theroux take-down in the New Statesman was certainly memorable:
Bankrupt in more ways than one, then, this is a book I would recommend only as a teaching aid or to someone interested in tracking the final sub-Conradian wreckage of a genre, rusting away like the hulks of tanks that so fascinate the narrator along the roads in Angola.
(I've enjoyed Theroux's work and read practically everything he's written, but this certainly helped push me towards steering clear of this one.)
The planned boycotts appear to be related to a longstanding divide between those in the literary community who have worked with Burma's military dominated governments, and those who have insisted upon independence from the country's rulers.
It's too bad they can't get everyone on board -- especially as there are few comparable alternate venues yet.
But a few teething problems and a little dissent are probably for the best in what is still a time of transition in the country.
The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of another of Michael Crichton's early novels (published under the pseudonym 'John Lange' in 1970), Drug of Choice.
Gotta admire pulp fiction that comes with an epigraph by ... Karl Jaspers (!).
(At first I thought: well, okay, Jaspers died around then, so he was presumably getting more attention than usual -- but the completion-date Crichton gives for the novel was a month before Jaspers died, so .....)
The National Book Critics Circle Awards finalists (in six categories) have been announced, with the winners to be announced 13 March.
Two of the finalists -- predictably: from the fiction category -- are under review at the complete review: The Infatuations by Javier Marías, and The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt.
One of the things that has always baffled me about the US book market was how poorly Spanish-language fiction did, given the huge Spanish-speaking readership (not to mention the many Spanish-writing authors living in the US, much of whose work remains unavailable in English translation ...).
An interesting piece by Ken Bensinger in The Los Angeles Times now suggests a shift, as Spanish-language books flourish thanks to e-readers -- as:
In the last two years, the number of Spanish-language titles available in the U.S. has tripled at some online booksellers.
Imported hardcovers such as Colombian author Alvaro Mutis' Maqroll trilogy that once retailed for more than $100 can now be had online for less than $15.
And entire genres of Latin American literature -- think contemporary Ecuadorean poetry -- that were all but impossible to acquire at any price are now a few mouse clicks away.
Overall, this seems to be a very positive step (though the failure of print to take hold sure says a lot about the mishandling of that business).
Another day, another old geezer Nobel laureate calls it quits -- at least as far as the long-form (novels) go ?
Yes, this week it's octogenarian Günter Grass who gives the Passauer Neue Presse the scoop (who hide it behind a paywall ...); Der Spiegel has the German summary, while ... PM News offer an English one (Novelist Gunter Grass hangs up pen) -- and, yes, he says that at age 86 his health no longer permits the long-term planning necessary for a longer work (though he is still drawing and scribbling shorter stuff).
In a few days the best-known Japanese literary prizes, the Akutagawa and Naoki awards, will be announced, and in The Japan News Masayuki Murata and Shinya Machida preview them, in Literary awards aim to stay relevant, expand horizons (as they apparently face: "daunting challenges at a time when book sales are on a worrying decline").
Meanwhile, All Wrongs Reversed previews the Akutagawa nomineees (though not (yet) the Naoki ones.).
Asahi Shimbun's ongoing Chasing Haruki Murakami-series offers a steady flow of all sorts of Murakami-related pieces.
Among the recent ones of particular interest is Michael Emmerich: Fans around the world reading Haruki Murakami in parallel worlds, as Emmerich -- who recently led a seminar on Murakami -- weighs in on the author and his reception, finding, for a variety of reasons: "the Murakami who appears in English to be a totally different writer from Murakami in Japanese".
He points to the differences in the three main Murakami translators' approaches -- with Emmerich noting that Jay Rubin "hesitantly cut nearly 25,000 words" from his translation of the first two parts of the three-part 1Q84 (Philip Gabriel translated the third part).
This is the sort of stuff that brings tears -- of rage and sadness -- to my eyes; 25,000 words, that's easily sixty or seventy pages, and it's unfathomable to me how a work by one of the leading contemporary writers could be treated in this way.
(It might also help explain why I liked 1Q84 -- the first two volumes of which I first read in the German translation -- more than those who only read the English translation (though as I recall, few complained about it being too short ...).)
Still: interesting to see how everything from the order in which books are published to the cover-designs can have an impact.
And interesting that Emmerich thinks of Murakami's chances in making it internationally:
If he were to start with 1Q84, firstly he probably wouldn't be published at all, because it's too long.
And if he were to start there instead of The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, then the trajectory of his career would be totally different
Catching up with some older Icelandic news: they announced the winners of the Icelandic Booksellers' Literature Prizes last month, with The Blue Fox-author Sjón taking the prize for best Icelandic novel, for Mánasteinn (see the Forlagið publicity page) [via]
Meanwhile, the Icelandic Literature Center year-end round-up reports allocating 75 grants for translations of Icelandic works into 26 languages in 2013.
How many to the US ? All of ... one (well done, Open Letter).
The UK does better, with four (although one of those is for a publisher in ... the Netherlands (who separately get support for seven titles)).
Sure, some big-name translations might not need/qualify for the grants, but still, the into-English-numbers are pretty dire.