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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 June 2014

11 June: World Cup (and books) | Jill Schoolman Q & A | The Man Who Loved Dogs review
12 June: Translation from the ... Chinese | Books in translation, at BEA | The Goldfinch reactions
13 June: International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award | Jerry Pinto reviews
14 June: Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award shortlist | Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books longlist | Lan Pham Thi in the Czech Republic
15 June: Premio Gregor von Rezzori | Commonwealth Short Story Prize | Summer House with Swimming Pool review
16 June: 'Big Book' shortlist | Michel Déon gets NYTBR-attention
17 June: Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize | Summer issue of the Quarterly Conversation | Kamal Jann review
18 June: Rosalind Harvey Q & A | Laidlaw review
19 June: PEN Literary Awards shortlists | Encore Award | On translating (and annotating) Proust | EJ Van Lanen Q & A | The US reaction to The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair
20 June: 2014 PEN/Pinter Prize | Carmen Balcells profile

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20 June 2014 - Friday

2014 PEN/Pinter Prize | Carmen Balcells profile

       2014 PEN/Pinter Prize

       They've announced that Salman Rushdie awarded the 2014 PEN/ Pinter Prize, which he'll get to pick up on 9 October at the British Library.
       President of English PEN and Chair of Judges Maureen Freely said:
This prize is English PEN's way of thanking Salman Rushdie not just for his books and his many years of speaking out for freedom of expression, but also for his countless private acts of kindness.
       Rushdie has indeed done an admirable job as public figure (a role he also seems to enjoy a great deal).

       (Updated - 21 June): See now also Pinter-widow Antonia Fraser on My hero: Salman Rushdie, winner of the 2014 PEN Pinter prize in The Guardian.

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

       Carmen Balcells profile

       It was big new a few weeks ago when word came that, as for example Publishers Weekly reported, Andrew Wylie Merges Agency With Carmen Balcells, as leading international 'literary' agent Andrew Wylie (The Wylie Agency) joined forces with dominant Spanish-market figure Carmen Balcells -- promising, as El País put it, una nueva superagencia literaria, Balcells & Wylie. (Apparently all is forgiven for Wylie's ... 'poaching', let's call it, of Roberto Bolaño (or at least his estate -- Wylie sure knows how to handle those widows (see also the ultimate widow, María Kodama, another Wylie client ...) from Balcells a couple of years back.)
       (I'm not sure how much to read into the fact that Carmen Balcells Agencia Literaria S.A. does not appear to have had any real public web-presence, the Wylie agency's is about as basic as it gets, and there does not yet appear to be any 'Balcells & Wylie' web-presence. So much for the internet age ......)
       In The New York Times today Rachel Donadio reports on the merger in her profile of Balcells, After Years of Solitude, Spanish Literary Champion Takes Partner.
       This hook-up certainly bolsters Wylie's estate-heavy list -- much easier to deal with than living authors, presumably.

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

19 June 2014 - Thursday

PEN Literary Awards shortlists | Encore Award
On translating (and annotating) Proust | EJ Van Lanen Q & A
The US reaction to The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair

       PEN Literary Awards shortlists

       They've announced the shortlists for the 2014 PEN Literary Awards (with the winners to be announced 30 July).
       Not many books from many categories under review at the complete review, but David Colmer's translation of Hugo Claus' Even Now -- in the PEN Award for Poetry in Translation category -- is.
       The PEN Translation Prize category finds three New York Review Books among the finalists (well done !) -- but only Yale University Press' edition of Jeffrey Gray's translation of Rodrigo Rey Rosa's The African Shore -- a Best Translated Book finalist -- is under review.

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

       Encore Award

       The Encore Award is a nice idea -- "The Encore Award literary prize celebrates the achievement of outstanding second novels" -- and they've announced that this year the £10,000 prize goes to All the Birds, Singing, Evie Wyld's second.
       Get your copy at or

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

       On translating (and annotating) Proust

       In the Boston Review Leland de la Durantaye looks at the recent Yale University Press edition of C.K.Scott Moncrieff's translation of Proust's Swann's Way, annotated by William C. Carter, in Style Over Substance.
       See also the Yale University Press publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

       EJ Van Lanen Q & A

       At the World Literature Today weblog Michelle Johnson has a Q & A with the Frisch & Co. publisher, in Stories Beyond the Binding: A Conversation with E-book Publisher EJ Van Lanen.

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

       The US reaction to The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair

       At The New Yorker's Page-Turner weblog Alice Gregory considers why Jöel Dicker's The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair has proven to be a Francophone Hit, American Letdown.
       That it has fallen rather flat in the US seems clear, from both the critical reactions and the sales numbers:
Based on current numbers acquired from Nielsen BookScan, the publishing industry's not-quite-reliable point-of-sale database, sales for The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair in the U.S. (including e-books) look to be around thirteen thousand -- not great, especially considering the enormous run.
       I agree with Gregory that the novel is written for European sensibilities -- especially re. America -- and that's not what Americans are looking for:
The French, Dicker seems to think, are too French for themselves; meanwhile, Americans can't get enough of Frenchness. A French writer trying to be more American just doesn't export well.
       And she pegs the book pretty well, noting it's (dubious) readability:
That said, I read the thing -- which is heftier than a suburban county phone book -- in two days. Not that I could answer many questions about its mechanics now, or even just hours after putting it down. It's the sort of novel you recommend to a grieving friend or coworker out on jury duty -- somebody with temporarily disabled critical faculties trying to forget who or where they are.

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

18 June 2014 - Wednesday

Rosalind Harvey Q & A | Laidlaw review

       Rosalind Harvey Q & A

       At English PEN Grace Hetherington has a Q & A with translator Rosalind Harvey, mainly about her translation of Juan Pablo Villabolos' Quesadillas.

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

       Laidlaw review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of William McIlvanney's 1977 Laidlaw, re-issued in the UK last year by Canongate, and now out in a new US edition from Europa Editions.
       Not sure I'd go as far as Laura Wilson did in The Guardian -- "If you only read one crime novel this year, this should be it" -- but, yeah, this is the real deal.

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

17 June 2014 - Tuesday

Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize
Summer issue of the Quarterly Conversation | Kamal Jann review

       Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize

       Over the weekend they announced the winner of this year's Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize ("for book-length literary translations into English from any living European language") -- and Susan Wicks won for her translation of Valérie Rouzeauís Talking Vrouz.
       See also the Arc publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

       Summer issue of the Quarterly Conversation

       The summer 2014 issue of the Quarterly Conversation is up, with an interesting selection titles covered -- set aside some time to check it out properly.

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

       Kamal Jann review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of French-writing Lebanese-born Dominique Eddé's novel of Syrian turmoil, Kamal Jann, just out in English from Seagull Books.

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

16 June 2014 - Monday

'Big Book' shortlist | Michel Déon gets NYTBR-attention

       'Big Book' shortlist

       Lizok's Bookshelf of course reported on the announcement of the finalists for Russia's (horribly titled but prestigious and remunerative) Большая книга ('Big Book') prize when it was made, more than two weeks ago; Russia Beyond the Headlines now follow up, as Georgy Manaev reports on the shortlist, in The Russian novel returns: Solovki prison, the defense industry, and an agronomist called Gogol. (But there's apparently a lot of time left until they choose a winning title .....)
       Svetlana Alexievich -- author of Voices from Chernobyl -- was, you might recall, very considered to be very much in the Nobel Prize-mix last year, and her shortlisted book has been racking up the prizes and critical praise throughout Europe; amazingly, her agent's site lists it being published in four countries, with rights sold in another ten, but nothing doing yet in the English-speaking world. How is this possible ?
       Vladimir Sorokin also has a book on the shortlist, as do Zakhar Prilepin and Vladimir Sharov (whose Before and During Dedalus recently brought out (see their publicity page) and which I look forward to getting to soon). A pretty interesting selection of books.

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

       Michel Déon gets NYTBR-attention

       Okay, the last time -- the only other time -- a Michel Déon title was published in English translation, back in 1989, The New York Times Book Review took notice too; still, neat to see that The Foundling Boy (which I haven't seen yet !) gets the full Diane Johnson-treatment in yesterday's issue.
       (I noted a couple of years back that it's amazing how under-appreciated (and -translated) he is in the US; I'm still not sure that official site (where his name loses the accent ...) is the ticket .....)
       I was also amused by Johnson's observation:
The Foundling Boy may win new readers for books translated from French, of which too few are published.
       Agreed -- but I note also that, as Chad Post recently noted in providing the preliminary 2014 numbers on new-translations-into-English(-in-the-US) at the Three Percent database, translations from the French crush the competition -- 93 counted, versus 50 for runner up from-the-German, and 48 from Spanish ..... So, yeah, much too little translated from the French is published -- but that ain't nothing compared to some (many ... most ... all) other languages. (Translations from the languages of India, anyone ? From the Thai ? Etc. etc.)
       I'm looking forward to seeing the Déon, which is out in Julian Evans' translation from Gallic Books; see their publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

15 June 2014 - Sunday

Premio Gregor von Rezzori | Commonwealth Short Story Prize
Summer House with Swimming Pool review

       Premio Gregor von Rezzori

       The Premio Gregor von Rezzori, a leading Italian prize for the best translated work of fiction -- won last year by the just-announced winner of this year's International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award ... -- has been announced; not at the official site, last I checked (because ... of course ...) but the papers have it as Naissance d'un pont by Maylis de Kerangal beating out Tom McCarthy's C, Georgi Gospodinov's forthcoming-from-Open-Letter Physics of Sorrow, and something by Dave Eggers, among others.
       Naissance d'un pont -- which also picked up two big French prizes, the prix Médicis and the prix Franz Hessel -- is actually due out in English this fall from Talonbooks, as Birth of a Bridge; see also the Verticales publicity page, or pre-order your copy at or

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

       Commonwealth Short Story Prize

       The Commonwealth prizes used to feature book-length entries but have now been sadly reduced to a story award, fine for what it is, no doubt, but still considerably less substantial than the much-missed novel and first-novel prizes of yore. They've now announced the winner of the 2014 Commonwealth Short Story Prize, Letís Tell This Story Properly, by Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi.
       She's had a good past year or so -- her novel, The Kintu Saga won the Kwani ? Manuscript Project.

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

       Summer House with Swimming Pool review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Herman Koch's latest novel to appear in English, Summer House with Swimming Pool.

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

14 June 2014 - Saturday

Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award shortlist
Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books longlist
Lan Pham Thi in the Czech Republic

       Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award shortlist

       The Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award, a €25,000 award for "a collection of short stories published for the first time, in English anywhere in the world" (translations are eligible) admirably reveals its longlist of submitted/eligible titles (as every literary prize should !) -- and now they've announced their six-title shortlist.
       Translations did not fare well -- none made the cut -- and none of the finalists are under review at the complete review.

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

       Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books longlist

       They've announced the longlist for the Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books.
       I haven't seen any of these, but it's usually a fairly interesting selection.

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

       Lan Pham Thi in the Czech Republic

       Melville House has just brought out Mariusz Szczygieł's Gottland: Mostly True Stories from Half of Czechoslovakia -- see their publicity page, or get your copy at or -- and at English PEN they now have an excerpt from a similar collection by Szczygieł, Playing Vietnamese, 'on the strange case of a Vietnamese literary prodigy in the Czech Republic who proved that fact is stranger than fiction'.
       Of course, readers of the Literary Saloon are already familiar with this unusual case, since I mentioned it on these pages over four years ago .....

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

13 June 2014 - Friday

International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award | Jerry Pinto reviews

       International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award

       They've announced that this year's International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award goes to The Sound of Things Falling, with €75,000 going to author Juan Gabriel Vásquez and €25,000 to translator Anne McLean.
       This didn't make it past the longlist of the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2013 and, quite honestly, didn't even come close to the 25-title strong longlist for the Best Translated Book Award. But Impac prize judge Maya Jaggi: how we chose this year's winner explains at The Guardian's Book Blog that its nearest competition was ... Andrés Neuman's Traveller of the Century .....
       I've been underwhelmed by the (three) Vásquezs I've seen so far (The Informers is the only one I bothered to review) -- there's some talent here, but .....
       English PEN offer a timely Q & A with translator McLean; see also the Bloomsbury publicity page, or get your copy at (it just came out in paperback in the US) or

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

       Jerry Pinto reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are my reviews of two Jerry Pinto titles:
  • His prize-winning (The Hindu Literary Prize, 2012; the Crossword Book Award, 2013) Em and the Big Hoom, now also available in the UK and US

  • His study of Helen: The Life and Times of an H-Bomb
       Helen who ? you ask. Well, Merchant-Ivory devoted a documentary to her -- Helen, Queen of the Nautch Girls -- and in The Caravan Manil Suri admits he: 'had always wanted to dance like Helen', in My Life As A Cabaret Dancer, so .....
       Em and the Big Hoom, on the other hand, is fiction -- the US edition coming with blurbs by Booker-winners Salman Rushdie and Kiran Desai, and a review by Eileen Battersby in the Irish Times finding: "There may not be such a thing as a perfect book, yet Jerry Pinto comes heartbreakingly close", so .....
       (Interestingly, in the UK this just came out in hardback; the US publisher went with the paperback original format.)

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

12 June 2014 - Thursday

Translation from the ... Chinese | Books in translation, at BEA
The Goldfinch reactions

       Translation from the ... Chinese

       In China Daily Chris Davis looks at Unlocking China's literary gems through translation -- wondering:
How many more Noble Prizes for Literature could China be winning if only their writers could get more international audiences through translation ?
       Sic, and sigh .....
       Though good for Olivia Milburn for pointing out:
As for Nobel Prizes waiting to be won, Milburn finds the fixation "deeply disturbing, and probably as damaging for Chinese literature as the quest for Best Foreign Film has been to large sections of the Chinese film industry."
       (Recall also Julia Lovell's book on the (desperate) Chinese Nobel-ambitions, The Politics of Cultural Capital.)
       Sad also, her point:
Milburn mentions another trend where well known Chinese novels have been translated into English and appear in abridged versions, a process she calls "horrifying". She cited Jiang Rong's Wolf Totem and Jin Yong's The Deer and the Cauldron as two recent examples.

"If these book were available translated into English in full with an extra abridged version, that would be one thing," she argued. "But the decision to simply publish short versions is (in my opinion) shocking. If the publishers of these translations thought that the historical details were too difficult for English readers, they should have arranged to translate a different type of book."
       The idea of an 'extra' (i.e. separate) abridged version is, of course, fantastical; still, the problem of such shameful large-scale editorial interference is one that is far too little mentioned and discussed, with publishers generally fairly reluctant to even admit to what is, sadly, a widespread practice.

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

       Books in translation, at BEA

       At the Global Market Forum and elsewhere at Book Expo America a couple of weeks ago it was good to see quite a bit of translation-related activity -- a whole day of panels, and then on BEA-floor itself a 'Translation Market' ghetto corner, with its very own stage devoted to translation-related presentations.
       I got to enjoy some of these, and it was quite interesting; embarrassingly, I couldn't be bothered didn't write up any of the events at the time -- but fortunately at Publishing Perspectives Saskia Vogel now offers a look at the several of the panels I did attend, in Yawn No More: Americans and the Market for Foreign Fiction, giving a solid overview of many of the main participants and points. (That (and everything else) said, I still think it's way too early to suggest the yawning is over .....)
       Meanwhile, at Russia Beyond the Headlines Anna Sergeeva and Georgy Manaev offer a Book Expo America Review: Bringing unsung Russian authors into the light, as they: 'asked publishers and translators to share their impressions of Russiaís participation at BEA'.

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

       The Goldfinch reactions

       Evgenia Peretz's article in Vanity Fair, It's Tartt -- But Is It Art ? -- using Donna Tartt's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel as a case-study, as: "the polarized responses to The Goldfinch lead to the long-debated questions: What makes a work literature, and who gets to decide ?" -- has been much discussed and commented upon already (now even rating a mention at Time, for example).
       I mention it because -- well, you can find a lot of links to a lot of those reviews at the complete review review-page; it's enjoyably absurd; and it gets lots of great/absurd quotes, from Jonathan Galassi helpfully weighing in (no bother that he: "hasn't yet read The Goldfinch" ...) to Lev Grossman suggesting:
A critic like [James] Wood -- whom I admire probably as much or more than any other book reviewer working -- doesn't have the critical language you need to praise a book like The Goldfinch. The kinds of things that the book does particularly well donít lend themselves to literary analysis ....
       Oh, yes, good fun to be had, all around.

       (Updated - 13 June): At The New Republic Evan Hughes suggests Vanity Fair's Donna Tartt Piece Reduces All Literary Criticism to Childish Squabbling, suggesting:
What makes Peretzís article worth discussing is its near-perfect embodiment of a widespread and pernicious attitude: She consistently treats other peopleís views as self-evidently the product of bad faith.
       (Sidenote: Evgenia Peretz is the daughter of the former owner and editor in chief of The New Republic, Marty.)

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

11 June 2014 - Wednesday

World Cup (and books) | Jill Schoolman Q & A
The Man Who Loved Dogs review

       World Cup (and books)

       The FIFA World Cup Brazil™ begins tomorrow, and lasts until 13 July -- a month that will keep football ("soccer") fans busy and presumably less-focused on literary matters.
       Nevertheless, some sites do make an effort to make a connection. Yes, all sorts of football-related books are being published (I'll pass, for now, thanks), but other online distractions include:
  • At The New Republic -- where they like to play at football fandom, and look to have fairly extensive World Cup coverage -- they have Eleven Writers and Intellectuals on the World Cup's Most Compelling Characters: Aleksandar Hemon on Miralem Pjanić, Karl Ove Knausgaard on Ángel Di María, Geoff Dyer on Gareth Bale, etc.

  • At Scottish Booktrust Danny Scott offers A Booklover's Guide to World Cup 2014, matching the competing nations/teams with "great books in translation from each of the countries competing at Brazil 2014" (they're not all fiction -- and they're not all translations)

  • More ambitiously, Three Percent has launched a World Cup of Literature, pitting books (fiction) from each competing country against each other, following the group format from the actual World Cup (albeit not having everyone 'play' everyone in each group). They apparently did make an effort: "in some quasi-logical way, to tie each book to its countryís actual team" -- though I'm looking forward to hearing some of those explanations: flyweight Australia is represented by heavyweight Barley Patch by Gerald Murnane, one of the great works of fiction in English of the past decade (surely a Tim Winton title should have gotten the call), way too many countries are represented by dead authors, and some choices seem just cruel (South Korea is represented by a novel whose main character is a sleeper-spy from North Korea (what are they suggesting ?); Belgium by a novel featuring a hell of a lot of alcoholic excess (and titled The Misfortunates ?!??); Ivory Coast by a novel -- very good though it is -- about child soldiers ? what the hell is the subtext there ?)
       Well, it should be a fun month.

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

       Jill Schoolman Q & A

       At the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy weblog Eben Shapiro has a Q & A with Jill Schoolman -- founder of Archipelago Books, which is currently enjoying some success with those Karl Ove Knausgaard books (admirably getting on board with Karl Ove already with A Time for Everything before taking the My Struggle-plunge).
       A decent number of Archipelago titles are under review at the complete review -- but this is definitely one of those publishers I can't get enough of. Good stuff (and some fine recommendations from Jill in the Q & A).

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

       The Man Who Loved Dogs review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Leonardo Padura's novel of the Trotsky assassination, The Man Who Loved Dogs.

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

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