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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 May 2014

11 May: Sigrid Rausing profile | The Mussel Feast review
12 May: Elechi Amadi Q & A | Against Art review
13 May: Translating Abdourahman Waberi | Publishing in ... Zimbabwe | No Hero review
14 May: Literary prizes: Libris Literatuur Prijs - Sophie Kerr Prize - Kleist-Preis | Amélie Nothomb conference | Last Words from Montmartre review
15 May: Miles Franklin Literary Award finalists | Chris Andrews Q & A
16 May: Ian McEwan archive | Thomas Keneally profile
17 May: Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize shortlist | VSV review
18 May: Sunday Times Literary Awards shortlists | Numismatic Literary Guild | Reading in ... Ethiopia
19 May: Murty Classical Library of India | 'Religion and culture in African literature' | Game review
20 May: Papal Nobel ? | José Luís Peixoto in North Korea | NSW Premier's Literary Awards | Mountain Echoes | With My Dog-Eyes review

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20 May 2014 - Tuesday

Papal Nobel ? | José Luís Peixoto in North Korea
NSW Premier's Literary Awards | Mountain Echoes
With My Dog-Eyes review

       Papal Nobel ?

       Via I learn of the latest crazy Vatican conspiracy: at MondayVatican Andrea Gagliarducci speculates on A Pope, Nobel Laureate in Literature ? as, apparently, Father Giuseppe Costa, director of the Vatican Publishing House:
had thought about initiating a campaign to give Benedict XVI the Nobel Prize in Literature, and had reached out to some major universities to promote the candidacy. The project did not take off, and then Benedict XVI resigned.
       'The project did not take off' -- yeah, there's a surprise. I wonder if Father Costa is also the guy who has been pushing the equally unlikely Bob Dylan candidacy all these years ..... (I'm sure the Swedish Academy is also really glad to hear about institutions which decide to generously take it upon themselves to 'give' some candidate the Nobel Prize in Literature; saves them a lot of debating-bother (and reading) .....)
       Sure, Benedict XVI published a lot -- check out the offerings of the Ignatius Press -- and, sure, inspiring works like Be Saints ! (get your copy at or have a five star reviewer rating at (so it must be good, right ?) but maybe Nobel aspirations are a bit of a stretch.
       Hey, Winston Churchill is a Nobel laureate -- honored: "for his mastery of historical and biographical description as well as for brilliant oratory in defending exalted human values"", and Bertrand Russell won one, too (and presumably not (primarily) for co-authoring Principia Mathematica ...), so there's room for non-fiction, especially of a humanitarian bent. Nevertheless, I have my doubts that Benedict XVI (or any other pope) has displayed the necessary literary chops.
       The Church, of course, focuses on the wrong thing:
The rationale at the root of the idea, however, is still valid: religious literature is not a "class B" literature, it has gravitas and addresses a market demand.
       Of course, 'religious literature' is not a class B literature -- but little of it (as of any literature) is top quality. As to gravitas and addressing market demands -- who cares ? (Come on, folks, raw porn addresses market demands too; so what ?)
       The problem with writing-in-the-service-of-the-Church -- and essentially all officially sanctioned/fostered religious writing, be it Islamic, Jewish, Buddhist, whatever -- is that it is explicitly, and primarily, programmatic and didactic. That's its raison d'être. And very, very rarely is that literature. (The fact that the ideas espoused and the foundations they're based on are, at least to outsiders ... far-fetched, if not downright absurd doesn't help matters.)
       (Mind you, there are a couple of old masters from way, way back who would definitely be in the Nobel running if they had handed it out centuries ago -- St.Augustine or Thomas Aquinas would have been shoe-ins, back in the day -- but let's face it, Benedict XVI et al. aren't quite in that league.)

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

       José Luís Peixoto in North Korea

       Portuguese writer José Luís Peixoto (author of, for example, The Implacable Order of Things) took part in the Kim Il Sung 100th Birthday Ultimate Mega Tour of North Korea in 2012 (well, who wouldn't have, if they had the chance ?) and published a travel book, Dentro do Segredo about that adventure -- and now Ninth Letter have serialized (five) excerpts from that book. Well worth a look.

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

       NSW Premier's Literary Awards

       They've announced the (Australian) NSW Premier's Literary Awards and Michelle de Kretser cleaned up, with a trifecta, Questions of Travel taking the Christina Stead Prize for fiction, co-winning the Community Relations Commission Award for a Multicultural NSW, and taking overall book of the year.
       Get your copy of Questions of Travel at or

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

       Mountain Echoes

       The Mountain Echoes Literary Festival in Bhutan starts tomorrow, running through the 24th.
       Sounds more fun than BEA .....

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

       With My Dog-Eyes review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Hilda Hilst's With My Dog-Eyes, just out from Melville House.

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

19 May 2014 - Monday

Murty Classical Library of India
'Religion and culture in African literature' | Game review

       Murty Classical Library of India

       This was announced a while back, and I've been looking forward to it ever since -- and now, finally, in the new Harvard University Press catalogue the first volumes in the Murty Classical Library of India have been announced (though it'll be a few more months before they're actually available ...).
       What so great about this series ?
The Murty Classical Library of India aims to make available the great literary works of India from the past two millennia. [...] The series will provide modern English translations of classical works, many for the first time, across a vast array of Indian languages, including Bengali, Hindi, Kannada, Marathi, Pali, Panjabi, Persian, Sanskrit, Sindhi, Tamil, Telugu, and Urdu.
       (I remind you that for this year's Best Translated Book Award there was all of one eligible title in the fiction category in any sub-continental language -- an indicator of how far too little translated from any (and all) Indian languages is published in the US; these works might not add much to these totals over the years (not that much fiction among them, for one thing, presumably), but any new venture on this scale certainly helps (and might also help pave the way for more modern works to be translated too).)
       The recently started Library of Arabic Literature (at NYU Press) has shown how invaluable such an academic series can be, and I imagine the Murty-series can do much the same for classical Indian literature. The first titles look like a fairly interesting variety, and I can't wait to see them, and where this series goes.

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

       'Religion and culture in African literature'

       In The Herald Elliot Ziwira considers Religion and culture in African literature.

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

       Game review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Swedish author Anders de la Motte's Game, the first in his 'Game'-trilogy.
       Very much airport-thrillerish fluff, but a pleasant surprise -- and a welcome, breezy change from the heavy, drawn-out intensity of so much Nordic crime fiction.

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

18 May 2014 - Sunday

Sunday Times Literary Awards shortlists | Numismatic Literary Guild
Reading in ... Ethiopia

       Sunday Times Literary Awards shortlists

       They've announced the (South African) Sunday Times Literary Awards shortlists -- for the Sunday Times Fiction Prize (with Lauren Beukes' The Shining Girls one of the finalists, a book I have and do expect to get to), as well as, in the non-fiction category, for the Sunday Times Alan Paton Award.

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

       Numismatic Literary Guild

       Who knew ? There's a Numismatic Literary Guild. Well, sure. Why shouldn't there be one ?
       They give out awards, too -- 57, including 'The Ribbit' and 'The Clemy' ("the Guild’s highest honor"). Ironically, the awards do not seem to be associated with a whole lot of coin (i.e. cash prizes seem ... limited).
       Among the prizes: for Book of the Year (for the: "work having the greatest potential impact on numismatics"), as well as for specialized books in categories including 'Tokens & Medals' and 'World Paper Money'.
       They don't seem very big on fiction, however.

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

       Reading in ... Ethiopia

       In The Reporter Henok Reta reports ... yes, you guessed it: Book culture in decline.
       You know the story:
Books look sidelined with many young people these days while electronic devices and other patterns of socialization take the time of reading, many argue.
       Still, always good to see the subject being discussed and debated, and 'solutions' being sought.

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

17 May 2014 - Saturday

Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize shortlist | VSV review

       Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize shortlist

       They've announced the shortlist for this year's Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize -- eight titles, rather than the usual six, "in recognition of the high quality of this year's translations and the large number of entries (151)" (alas, what those entries were is not revealed; transparency, people, transparency !).
       The prize is: "for book-length literary translations into English from any living European language" -- so no limitations as to genre, re-translation, or whether or not the author is living. But only European languages need apply (and apparently a lot did ...).
       One of the odd consequences is that (European) colonial languages are embraced -- Canadian/Haitian author Dany Laferrière's translated-from-the-French The Enigma of the Return (originally published in English, in Canada, as The Return) is a finalist -- but books translated from local, non-European languages aren't .....

       Only two shortlisted titles are under review at the complete review:        I have to admit I'm a bit surprised by the Ruge making the grade: Bell's work here does not seem to me to be anywhere near her best.

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

       VSV review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Leon de Winter's VSV (of Daden van onbaatzuchtigheid).

       A couple of years ago Adam Kirsch, in his review of God's Gym, wonders why he'd never heard of this author before, as:
de Winter, a Dutch Jew, seems like a natural for the American market, and especially for American Jewish readers. Not only does he divide his time between Holland and Los Angeles -- where God's Gym is set -- but he has been called, by a Swiss newspaper, "an American among the European writers," for his ability to use mass-market genres to explore political ideas.
       Five years later, de Winter remains no less obscure -- this is the seventh of his novels under review at the complete review, and yet another one not translated into English. And that despite the reasonably sensational subject matter, beginning with Theo van Gogh in the afterlife .....
       De Winter figures in the book too -- carrying on the long tradition of real people in works of fiction --, maybe not a selling point, given his continuing American obscurity (outside reactionary think-tank circles (he was a Hudson Institute fellow) -- yeah, admittedly that can't help ...). Amusingly, he has himself divorced from real-life wife Jessica Durlacher in the book (whose American profile -- she's written a bunch of books too ... -- is even lower than her husband's). Despite widespread unfamiliarity with their creative work, they've gotten quite a bit of press for their recent Anne Frank-play (see, for example, The New York Times' report) -- but that seems unlikely to help get more of their fiction published in the US.
       VSV isn't a book I'd say has to or even should be translated, but de Winter has written enough that's good and entertaining enough that he really should have established himself in the US/UK market by now -- as he has in, for example, German translation. [The Germans -- or at least his (and Durlacher's) publisher, Diogenes -- may, however, be taking their besottedness a bit far: sixteen-year-old daughter Solomonica's Die Geschichte von Blue (translated 'from the American' -- before it's appeared in the American ...) is coming out there this fall.] It's really rather baffling why he hasn't been able to make greater American inroads; it also must drive him absolutely nuts -- embracing (certain, generally what would be considered 'conservative') American ideals and spending quite a bit of his life here he has failed about as miserably and completely as would seem possible in his adopted half- (and ideologically nearly whole-) homeland, both as a filmmaker and as a writer (while back home he's a major public intellectual and widely read novelist).

       (All that said, the backlog of Dutch (and Flemish) authors US/UK publishers need to get to before they should even think about bothering with the likes of de Winter (whose works I do like -- I'm happy to pick up every new offering) is a long and terrible/impressive one, from more works by Willem Frederik Hermans and Gerard Reve (the basics !) to A.F.Th. van der Heijden and J.J.Voskuil. Hell, there are still piles of Harry Mulisch and Hugo Claus to get to ..... Get to them, folks !)

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

16 May 2014 - Friday

Ian McEwan archive | Thomas Keneally profile

       Ian McEwan archive

       They've announced that Acclaimed Writer Ian McEwan's Archive Acquired by Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas, Austin -- and:
The archive includes scrapbooks kept by McEwan's mother, containing cuttings of his magazine work and reviews, photographs and audio and video tape recordings, including copies of radio and television broadcasts.
From 1997 onward, McEwan's complete email correspondence is preserved as part of the archive.
       (Does that really mean every last bit of e-mail ? Even if not .... dear god .....)
       In The Guardian Mark Brown reports that the HRC paid US$2,000,000 for the archive -- not bad.

       Most of McEwan's more recent work is under review at the complete review; see, for example, Atonement.

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

       Thomas Keneally profile

       In The National James Kidd profiles Thomas Keneally, the wizard of Oz letters, on the consolations of creativity.

       The only Keneally title under review at the complete review is The Tyrant's Novel.

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

15 May 2014 - Thursday

Miles Franklin Literary Award finalists | Chris Andrews Q & A

       Miles Franklin Literary Award finalists

       They've announced the shortlist for the 2014 Miles Franklin Literary Award, one of the leading Australian book prizes. Among the six finalists are books by Richard Flanagan, Tim Winton, Alexis Wright, and Evie Wyld.

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

       Chris Andrews Q & A

       In the Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka) Tina Edward Gunawardhana has a Q & A with Chris Andrews -- translator of several books by Roberto Bolaño, as well as books by authors such as César Aira (such as Varamo) and most recently Severina by Rodrigo Rey Rosa.

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

14 May 2014 - Wednesday

Literary prizes: Libris Literatuur Prijs - Sophie Kerr Prize - Kleist-Preis
Amélie Nothomb conference | Last Words from Montmartre review

       Literary prize: Libris Literatuur Prijs

       They've announced that the €50,000 Libris Literatuur Prijs, one of the leading Dutch literary prizes, has gone to La Superba, by Ilja Leonard Pfeijffer; see also the Dutch Foundation for Literature information page, or the (Dutch) De Arbeiderspers publicity page for the book.
       Open Letter published Pfeijffer's Rupert: A Confession a couple of years back, and his stock has certainly risen in recent years; look for more translations to follow.

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

       Literary prize: Sophie Kerr Prize

       The Sophie Kerr Prize -- "the nation's largest undergraduate literary award" in the US, awarded by Washington College -- has been awarded to Alexander Stinton, his portfolio beating out those of 31 other seniors; as to the prize money ($61,382 this year): "the Prize check itself will be awarded in Chestertown on Saturday, May 17, as part of Washington College's 231st Commencement".

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

       Literary prize: Kleist-Preis

       The €20,000 Kleist-Preis will go to Marcel Beyer this year -- no news at the official site yet (sigh ...), but see, for example, the report.
       This is one of those one-person-picks-the-winner prizes (the Germans like these, for some reason) -- though oddly there also is an actual jury (to pressure the decision-maker ?); this year it was Hortensia Voelckers who picked the winner. Presumably as a consequence of this selection-process this prize is all over the place as far as the previous winners goes, but they have included Alexander Kluge, Heiner Müller, Ernst Jandl, Herta Müller, and Daniel Kehlmann,
       Several of Beyer's works have been translated into English; the unsettling Goebbels-novel, The Karnau Tapes is probably your best bet, get your copy at or (I have no idea what the deal is with that cover).

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

       Amélie Nothomb conference

       15 -16 May the University of Kent at Paris is holding an 'international conference', Identity, Memory, Place: Amélie Nothomb: Past, Present and Future.

       Lots of Nothomb-works under review hereabouts, as you know .....

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

       Last Words from Montmartre review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Qiu Miaojin's Last Words from Montmartre, a 1996 work now coming out in translation from New York Review Books -- who will also be publishing her Notes of a Crocodile.

       On the plus-side: this is shaping up to be a pretty good year of translations-from-the-Chinese in the US: okay, the over-hyped Decoded was a bit of a disappointment, but on top of this just in the last week I've gotten review copies of Xu Zechen's Running through Beijing (see the Two Lines Press publicity page) and Can Xue's The Last Lover (see the Yale University Press publicity page)
       On the minus-side: yet another suicide. What the hell is it with books-by-suicides this year ? I can't seem to escape them. (And she was just twenty-six -- another one of these ridiculously young suicides.)

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

13 May 2014 - Tuesday

Translating Abdourahman Waberi | Publishing in ... Zimbabwe
No Hero review

       Translating Abdourahman Waberi

       In the NEA Arts Magazine Rebecca Gross takes 'A Look at Literary Translation', in Literature's Invisible Art, profiling 2014 NEA Translation Fellowship-winning Nancy Naomi Carlson and Abdourahman Waberi, as Carlson is working on the translation of a poetry-collection by Waberi which -- who else ? -- Seagull books will be bringing out next spring.
       Several of Waberi's novels are under review at the complete review, including In the United States of Africa.

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

       Publishing in ... Zimbabwe

       In The Herald Stanely Mushava asks whether Zim literature operating at zero profitability ? as piracy has apparently cut deeply into what little money might go to local authors.
       "Prolific novelist, playwright and screenwriter Aaron Chiundura-Moyo" is the example on offer, and it's a pretty depressing example:
Moyo, far and away one of the more accomplished artistes, revealed that his 14 books have collectively earned him less than US$400 from 2000 to date.
       This after:
In 1991, Moyo’s play Kuridza Ngoma Nedemo raked in around $20 000 (local currency) in royalties.
       (Of course, the hyper-inflation unleashed by the Mugabe regime probably has something to do with diminished returns, too.)
       Matters are not helped by widespread acceptance of various forms of piracy either:
"I have engaged police and parent ministries on the problem. I have observed that they are not even in consensus among themselves that piracy is a crime. Some chefs see it as a form of employment while others are discreetly involved," he said.
       Still, Moyo also shows himself an old-fashioned, (previous) status quo -- emphasis on the status -- kind of author in denigrating the rise of self-publishing:
"Yes, publishing has never been easier. It no longer requires passing through the prohibitive bureaucracy older writers had to endure to see their works in print.

"However, my reservation is on whether the new authors are living up to the same standards set by the preceding generations. In my opinion, they are not," Moyo said.
       (When was the last time anyone from the preceding generation admitted that new authors were actually living up to -- or exceeding -- tired old standards ?)

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

       No Hero review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jonathan Wood's fantasy-thriller, No Hero, just re-issued by Titan Books, as sequels are in the offing in the fall and next spring.

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

12 May 2014 - Monday

Elechi Amadi Q & A | Against Art review

       Elechi Amadi Q & A

       Nigerian author Elechi Amadi turns eighty today, and in The Sun Henry Akubuiro has a Q & A with him.
       Get your copy of The Concubine from or

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

       Against Art review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Tomas Espedal's novel, Against Art -- yet another book from Seagull Books that deserves more attention/readers than it got.

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

11 May 2014 - Sunday

Sigrid Rausing profile | The Mussel Feast review

       Sigrid Rausing profile

       In The Telegraph Mick Brown profiles the mega-rich owner/operator of both Granta and Portobello Books, in Sigrid Rausing on money, addiction and collective farming.
       How mega-rich is she ? Well: "Quite how wealthy, she declines to say", but the article does throw out some jaw-dropping numbers -- at least it's nice to see some of that gets put into these literary ventures.

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

       The Mussel Feast review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Birgit Vanderbeke's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize-shortlisted novel(la), The Mussel Feast.

       It does seem to have established itself as a modern German classic of sorts, taught in school, etc. -- but it's still fun to see some of the early reactions, including Rolf Michaelis shredding it to pieces (warning that the 110-page work felt like a 1000-pager and comparing it (very) unfavorably to Thomas Bernhard) in Die Zeit when it came out.

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

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