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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 30 November 2014

21 November: Lydia Davis reading Dag Solstad | Coming to NY: New Literature from Europe festival - Russian Literature Week !
22 November: Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature | Cundill Prize in Historical Literature
23 November: Nobel's library | Maskew Miller Longman Literature Awards | Tristana review
24 November: Bookselling in ... Taiwan | Strand bookstore profile | Nagasaki review
25 November: Cervantes Prize to Juan Goytisolo | IMPAC award longlist | García Márquez archive to Harry Ransom Center
26 November: Nigerian Writers Series | Athens Prize for Literature | Bookselling in ... the US | I hadn't understood review
27 November: French best of the year lists
28 November: P.D.James (1920-2014) | Expo 58 review
29 November: Prizes: Jan Michalski - Большая книга - DSC Prize shortlist | 'Who Are African Books For ?'
30 November: Best of the year lists ... | Elif Shafak on writing and language

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30 November 2014 - Sunday

Best of the year lists ... | Elif Shafak on writing and language

       Best of the year lists ...

       The flood of 'best of the year'-lists has begun.
       Among the more interesting ones are the personal recommendations from writers and critics (rather than the institutional ones, like The New York Times Book Review's ridiculous 100 notable books list, due out any day now ...). The Times Literary Supplement only reveals a small selection of their admirable collection online, but, for example, The Guardian has so many Writers pick the best books of 2014 that they apparently have to space it out over several pages and days -- this is just part one [updated (1 Decmeber): and now part two is up too].
       Elsewhere, the Financial Times offers a mix of celebrity- (by Karl Ove Knausgaard and Elena Ferrante, among others) and critic-picks in their extensive, multi-category Best books of 2014 selection.
       In the Irish Times their 'Literary Correspondent' gets to do the honors, with Eileen Battersby’s books of 2014 -- lots of fiction in translation (a lot of which hasn't been published in the US yet ...), and quite a few titles under review at the complete review.

       (Updated - 1 December): See now also Best Books 2014: Slate Staff Picks.

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

       Elif Shafak on writing and language

       At PEN Atlas Elif Shafak tries to answer the question: But why do you write your books in English and Turkish ?
       Interesting to learn what her writing-process now involves:
I write my novels in English first. Then they are translated into Turkish by professional translators, whose works I admire and respect. Next I take the Turkish translations and rewrite them, giving them my rhythm, my energy, my vocabulary, which is full of old Ottoman words.

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

29 November 2014 - Saturday

Prizes: Jan Michalski - Большая книга - DSC Prize shortlist
'Who Are African Books For ?'

       Prize: Jan Michalski

       They've announced -- in their usual subdued way (it's almost like they don't want anyone to know ...) -- that Ворошиловград (or the French translation, La Route du Donbass) by Ukrainian author Сергій Жадан (Serhiy Jadan, for French purposes; generally transliterated as Serhiy Zhadan into English) has been awarded the 2014 Jan Michalski prize for literature (which went to the great Mahmoud Dowlatabadi's The Colonel last year -- so, yeah, to be taken seriously, and not just because of the SF50,000 payday).
       It hasn't been translated into English, but see for example the Suhrkamp foreign rights information page (or the Éditions Noir sur Blanc publicity page for the French edition).
       I've actually read several of the Zhadan titles -- Suhrkamp has translated quite a few into German -- though not this one; the only one of his books available in English to date is Depeche Mode; get your copy at or

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

       Prize: Большая книга

       Yes, they've announced the winner of Russia's prestigious but ridiculously named Большая книга -- 'big book' -- literary award, with Zakhar Prilepin's Обитель taking the prize; see also the overview of the results at the indispensable Lizok's Bookshelf (though she hasn't finished the prize-winner yet -- I'm curious to hear what she has to say about it).
       Now Alexandra Guzeva has a Q & A with Prilepin at Russia Beyond the Headlines -- worth a look. Several of his works have been translated into English (I should get around to reviewing one or another at some point) -- and: "According to my agent, there is very serious interest in The Cloister in the United States".

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

       Prize: DSC Prize shortlist

       They've announced the five-title shortlist for the DSC Prize for South Asian Literature. (Since it's a prize for 'South Asian Literature', the announcement was, of course, made: "at the historic London School of Economics and Political Science" .....)
       The winner of the US$50,000 prize will be announced 22 January.

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

       'Who Are African Books For ?'

       In The New York Times Adaobi Tricia Nwaubani wonders Who Are African Books For ? noting/claiming that: "Success for an African writer still depends on the West".
       She has a point, of sorts -- African (meaning, as too often in these types of stories: sub-Saharan: northern Africa tends inexplicably (or perhaps due to some rather ugly explanations ...) to be treated as an entirely separate entity ...) infrastructures complicate achievement of any sort of 'domestic' success.
       Nevertheless, this looking-for-validation abroad -- common though it is, almost everywhere else, too, not just 'Africa' -- is a pernicious, ugly thing. 'Success', surely, is a more complicated matter -- and I suggest there's considerably more of it on the continent, and beyond it, than she allows for (or is willing to acknowledge as 'success').
       I point only to two prominent examples of alternative successes, of sorts: much-admired-hereabouts Ayi Kwei Armah (Two Thousand Seasons), who abandoned Western 'success' but seems to be doing just fine with Per Ankh; and the offerings available through the wonderful African Books Collective (hardly, for the most part, titles 'successful' abroad, but at least readily available -- a foundation that can and should be mined by interested readers).
       As with literature from everywhere else in the world, I don't cover nearly enough from Africa at the complete review; still, I think even the very limited selection under review at least points to a bit of a world just beyond 'Western' notions of success and acceptance.

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

28 November 2014 - Friday

P.D.James (1920-2014) | Expo 58 review

       P.D.James (1920-2014)

       P.D.James has passed away -- so, lots of coverage; see, for example, obituaries in The Guardian (Richard Lea) and The New York Times (Marilyn Stasio)
       She was very good, and I've read almost all her books; four are under review at the complete review:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Expo 58 review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jonathan Coe's Expo 58, now also out in the US.
       I'm a Coe-enthusiast -- all his fiction is under review at the complete review -- but this one was a bit of a let-down. Still, Penguin seem to have re-issued his backlist over the summer, so you can (and should) dig into that.

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

27 November 2014 - Thursday

French best of the year lists

       French best of the year lists

       There's already been a flood of US/UK 'best of the year' (and the like) lists, but these aren't nearly as popular (or premature) abroad.
       One that's been around for a while is Lire's top twenty -- the best book in a variety of categories -- and they've now announced Le palmarès des 20 meilleurs livres de l'année selon la rédaction de Lire.
       Their book of the year is Limonov-author Emmanuel Carrère's Le Royaume (about which I continue to harbor doubts -- but it looks like I'll have to have a look at it, when/if I can get my hands on a copy; see also the P.O.L. publicity page).
       They named James Salter's All That Is the best foreign novel (get your copy at or, and Nii Ayikwei Parkes' Tail of the Blue Bird was named best foreign first novel. A Tanizaki was named best audiobook ....

       Le Point is the other periodical out with a(n early) top-of-the-year list -- again headed by the Carrère: Le palmarès "Le Point" des 25 livres de l'année. Salter makes their top 25, too (as does Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch -- a best foreign novel finalist on Lire's list). Of course, Hillary Clinton's Mémoires make Le Point's top-25 too, so .... forget that ?

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

26 November 2014 - Wednesday

Nigerian Writers Series | Athens Prize for Literature
Bookselling in ... the US | I hadn't understood review

       Nigerian Writers Series

       Hoping to emulate the success of the African Writers Series -- see, for example, my review of James Currey's history of The African Writers Series and the Launch of African Literature, Africa Writes Back -- the Association of Nigerian Authors.has launched a Nigerian Writers Series, now announcing the first ten titles (from fifty total and thirty-eight 'valid' submissions) that will be published by a variety of Nigerian publishers.
       See also Henry Akubuiro in The Sun on the New dawn for Nigerian writers this might facilitate.
       Sounds like a good idea, in any case, and I hope to eventually see some of these titles.

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

       Athens Prize for Literature

       As Theodoros Grigoriadis reports at his weblog, they've announced this year's winners of the Greek Athens Prize for Literature, with Anthony Marra's A Constellation of Vital Phenomena winning the best translated category (dominated by translations from the English; see the shortlist, which included titles by Coetzee, McEwan, Banville, and Hollinghurst) and Tηλέμαχος Κώτσιας' Kώδικας Τιμής taking the Greek novel prize (see also the Ψυχογιός publicity page).

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

       Bookselling in ... the US

       In The Los Angeles Times Frank Shyong describes how To Survive in the U.S., Chinese Bookstores Evolve Way Beyond Books.
Internet competition has forced bookstores across the nation to close, but in the San Gabriel Valley, they've evolved. Chinese bookstores ship packages, repair laptops, supply lottery tickets. One bookstore became a classroom, another a convenience store.
As for books, they mostly gather dust.

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

       I hadn't understood review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Diego De Silva's I hadn't understood.
       The second in De Silva's series is about to come out -- My Mother-in-Law Drinks; see the Europa editions publicity page, or pre-order your cppy at or -- but I figured I should get to this one first.

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

25 November 2014 - Tuesday

Cervantes Prize to Juan Goytisolo | IMPAC award longlist
García Márquez archive to Harry Ransom Center

       Cervantes Prize to Juan Goytisolo

       The Premio de Literatura en Lengua Castellana Miguel de Cervantes is the biggest Spanish-language author prize, and they've finally gotten around to giving it to the greatest -- and by far the most important -- living Spanish-writing author, Juan Goytisolo (though they haven't gotten around to mentioning that at the official site yet, last I checked ...); see, for example, the Latin American Herald Tribune report, Juan Goytisolo Wins 2014 Cervantes Prize.
       The Premio Cervantes has an impressive list of winners -- including Alejo Carpentier (1977), Jorge Luis Borges (1979), Octavio Paz (1981), Carlos Fuentes (1987), Miguel Delibes (1993), Mario Vargas Llosa (1994), and Álvaro Mutis (2001) -- but of course they'll never be able to live down not giving Gabriel García Márquez the prize, and they took their time with this other big-omission-to-date; thankfully, they came to their senses.
       There aren't too many incontestable all-time literary greats around right now -- Handke is one of the few in the same league -- but there's little doubt that Goytisolo is one of them. No doubt, actually.

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

       IMPAC award longlist

       The bizarre literary prize that is the International IMPAC DUBLIN Literary Award has announced its longlist -- 142 books, a (sort of) impressive 49 in translation, originally written in 16 languages.
       On the one hand, it's a neat idea -- libraries from around the world nominate books ! On the other hand, it's a batty idea -- libraries from select few libraries in parts of the world (preferably apparently not ... off-color parts of the world) nominate (far too often local) works.
       Yes, this is a prize which has as many nominators (one) from Liechtenstein as it does from all of Africa. More nominators from Iceland (one) than Japan (zero). More nominators from the Caribbean (two -- Jamaica and Barbados) than all of South America (one -- Brazil).
       And of course nationalism rules the day (surely the first rule here should be: you can't nominate a book by an author from the country you represent). So, for example, the National Library of Liechtenstein nominated ... Kurt J. Jaeger's The Abyssinian Cache because ... well, of course they did -- who wouldn't have ? Because you've seen The Abyssinian Cache at your local library/bookstore/friend's house. Amazon ranking 5,956,751 ? Pah -- it's published (meaning in this case also: self-published) by illustrious ... Windsor Verlag, with which you're as familiar as you are with Kurt J. Jaeger (who admirably and industriously also self-translated his masterpiece). (In case you unfathomably haven't gotten a copy for yourself yet: see their publicity page, or get your copy at or
       Look: I don't know, Kurt J. Jaeger may be the next coming of Günter Grass, Thomas Bernhard, and W.G.Sebald rolled into one -- but this sure smells to me like a hometown boy being put up for a prize that is way, way out of his league.
       Somehow, among the 141 other international contenders not a single work written in Arabic or Japanese makes the cut ? Sure, impressively a title translated from the Malay is in the mix -- but, hey, guess what: it was nominated by the National Library of Malaysia. For god's sake, the 'Literature Translation Institute of Korea Library' nominated two titles whose translation into English their parent organization subsidized -- how is that okay ? how is that permissible ? (And why is one of those -- At Least We Can Apologize by Lee Ki-ho -- listed on the 2015 Printable Longlist but not on the list of The Nominees ? I know it's hard to keep track of so many titles, but ... sheesh.)

       Anyway, the result is a mix of some really good stuff and ... works by ... how shall I put it politely ? less widely recognized ? local authors such as Kurt J. Jaeger. One hopes the judges will be able to separate the wheat from The Abyssinian Cache the chaff.

       A fair number of the nominated titles are under review at the complete review (and I'm also surprised by how many more I've read but didn't get around to reviewing) -- alas, not (yet ?) The Abyssinian Cache:        The shortlist will be announced in April -- but, boy, do they have their work cut out for them trying to (re)gain the slightest bit of credibility .....

       See also M.Lynx Qualey on The Curious Relationship Between the IMPAC Prize and Arabic Literature at Arabic Literature (in English).

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

       García Márquez archive to Harry Ransom Center

       They've announced that Nobel Prize-Winning Author Gabriel García Márquez's Archive Acquired by The University of Texas at Austin's Harry Ransom Center.
       How much they paid is, alas, not revealed, but no doubt serious money was involved -- Maggie Galehouse reports in the Houston Chronicle that the National Library in Colombia had been negotiating for the papers, but they obviously couldn't come up with the money the Texans have at their disposal.
       Among the items are not only his manuscripts but also: "the Smith Corona typewriters and computers" he used.

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

24 November 2014 - Monday

Bookselling in ... Taiwan | Strand bookstore profile | Nagasaki review

       Bookselling in ... Taiwan

       At CNN Johan Nylander reports on Nightclubs for literature ? Why book selling is booming in Taiwan, looking at the success of the Eslite book chain -- as, for example:
The Eslite store in central Taipei opens 24 hours and has more night owl visitors than most Western bookstores could dream of during their daytime hours.
       But, yes:
Eslite's success may seem counter-intuitive especially when it seems most late-night visitors treat it like a library, leaving empty handed after hours of free reading.

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

       Strand bookstore profile

       In this week's issue of New York Christopher Bonanos profiles New York's enormous ('18 Miles of Books') Strand bookstore, in The Strand’s Stand: How It Keeps Going in the Age of Amazon.
       Certainly, the fact that in 1996 they bought the building that houses the store (and thus are able to set their own rent, and collect rent on much of the remaining space) makes survival a lot easier (though one hopes they recall that the similarly legendary Gotham Book Mart also owned its prime real estate, and that didn't work out so well ...).
       I used to live nearby, and frequented it frequently (along with doing the rounds of all the other now-lost neighborhood bookstores); I still need my regular fix -- monthly or so -- but the 2003 renovation took a lot of the soul out of the place and it isn't quite the treasure-trove it used to be. ("Fifteen percent of the store's revenue now comes from merch", which pretty much says it all.) Still, rare is the visit when I don't pick up something (or an armload) because I know I'm unlikely to easily or ever find it anywhere else ever again.

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

       Nagasaki review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Éric Faye's Nagasaki, the 2010 Grand Prix du roman de l'Académie française winner out from Gallic Books (in the UK; coming to the US in January).

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

23 November 2014 - Sunday

Nobel's library | Maskew Miller Longman Literature Awards | Tristana review

       Nobel's library

       The official Nobel Prize site continues to impress with the wealth of information available on it. Okay, I don't really need to know the contents of each and every of the Menus at the Nobel Banquet 1901-2013 -- but I do like stuff like that catalogue of Alfred Nobel's Private Library
       Given the criticism the literature prize gets -- especially for its early choices -- it's interesting to see what Nobel had in his own library -- and revealing that, for example, he had a tidy Tolstoy collection (much of it in Russian, no less) but not a volume by the first Nobel laureate, Sully Prudhomme (a prize Tolstoy could -- and arguably should -- have won).
       First off, the Nobel winners -- a mix of the predictable (Nordic) ones and a few of the early stand-outs: Nobel's collection included works by: Henrik Pontoppidan (1917), Carl Gustaf Verner von Heidenstam (1916), Paul Heyse (1910), Selma Lagerlöf (1909), Rudyard Kipling (1907), and Bjørnstjerne Bjørnson (1903). (It makes me wonder yet again about the now-forgotten Verner von Heidenstam, whose citation reads: "in recognition of his significance as the leading representative of a new era in our literature" -- what era was that ? But Nobel had a bunch of his work, and he was translated into English back in the day.)
       The only surprising missing laureate-name is Knut Hamsun, whose work was already fairly well-known before Nobel's death.
       An interesting mix of other titles, too: no Dickens, for example, but Edward Bulwer-Lytton's notorious (for its: "It was a dark and stormy night ..." opening) Paul Clifford, and overall really quite a decent literary collection (in an impressive selection of languages).
       (Also good to see: Karl Gutzkow's Die Ritter vom Geiste -- one of those big German books Arno Schmidt introduced me (and so many others) to (as noted also, of course, in my Arno Schmidt: a centennial colloquy).)

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

       Maskew Miller Longman Literature Awards

       I noted yesterday that it was great to see the announcement of a new prize, the Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature for writing in Kiswahili; among prizes already honoring work in a variety of African languages is the Maskew Miller Longman Literature Awards, "for all 11 official South African languages".
       They rotate through genres, and this year was a drama year. They received 117 entries -- and 86 of those were in African languages (meaning, I'm guessing, excluding English ... (and Afrikaans ?)) -- and they have now announced the finalists; Books Live has the complete run-down, in Winners of the 2014 Maskew Miller Longman Literature Awards Announced

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

       Tristana review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Margaret Jull Costa's new translation of Benito Pérez Galdós' classic, Tristana -- yes, the basis for the 1970 Luis Buñuel film with Catherine Deneuve in the title-role -- coming out from New York Review Books.

       It's apparently Pérez Galdós-revival time -- a (new ?) translation in the Everyman's Library (see the ... cover) of his masterpiece, Fortunata and Jacinta, is one of the big upcoming publications of 2015 -- but much as I'm glad to see these works reworked and him getting attention, it would be neat if some of the still untranslated fiction was (also) made available, given how many huge piles of it still haven't been. (Not that anyone could easily get their hands on the old translation of Tristana, either .....) I can see these as the easier sell, but Pérez Galdós is one of the Spanish greats, and it's about time more of his work was available in English (for the first, not -- as in these cases -- the second or third time).
       Well, maybe these, if nicely successful, will help open the floodgates.

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

22 November 2014 - Saturday

Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature
Cundill Prize in Historical Literature

       Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature

       Yes, "Major New Prize for African Literature Announced", the Mabati-Cornell Kiswahili Prize for African Literature, and that's certainly very welcome.
The prize recognizes excellent writing in African languages and encourages translation from, between and into African languages.
       Which is certainly admirable -- though excellent writing in African languages might be easier to recognize if the prize weren't restricted to just one of them ... (as the prize is for: "the best unpublished manuscripts or books in Kiswahili published within two years of the award year").
       Still, as (Gikuyu-writing author) Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o notes:
Prizes have generally been used to drown African Literature in African languages under a Europhone flood. [...] I hope that this prize becomes an invitation for other African languages to do the same and much more.
       (There are/have been some (generally regional/national prizes) honoring work in African languages, but this looks like the grandest in scale to date; the money is good too)
       Let's hope prizes in other major African languages follow suit -- though the real dream is, of course, to finally see a truly pan-African prize in which submissions can be in any language.

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

       Cundill Prize in Historical Literature

       Just three weeks ago I noted that The Blood Telegram: Nixon, Kissinger and A Forgotten Genocide, by Gary Bass, had picked up the Asia Society Bernard Schwartz Book Award, and now it has picked up the next (and even more remunerative) honor, winning the Cundill Prize in Historical Literature -- a Canadian prize (that pays out in US dollars -- a tidy 75,000 for the winner).
       See the Vintage publicity page for the book, or get your copy at or

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

21 November 2014 - Friday

Lydia Davis reading Dag Solstad
Coming to NY: New Literature from Europe festival - Russian Literature Week !

       Lydia Davis reading Dag Solstad

       'Tis, sadly, already newspaper/magazine literary-silly-season -- meaning, astonishingly, things get even sillier than usual, with periodicals filling their pages (prematurely) with their 'best of the year'-selections -- see, for example, Publishers Weekly's Best Books of 2014, Kirkus Reviews' Best Fiction Books of 2014, and The Washington Post's The top 50 fiction books for 2014.
       Slightly more interesting than these are the contributors'/authors' favorites of the year that a variety of publications always publish -- the Times Literary Supplement's is always a favorite, The Guardian/The Observer always has a good line-up, The Spectator .....
       Among the first up this year: the New Statesman offers their: Books of the Year: NS friends and contributors choose their favourite reading of 2014.
       Worth it just for Can't and Won't-author Lydia Davis, who reveals:
One of the most interesting books for me this past year has been the latest "novel" by the much-laurelled Norwegian Dag Solstad.
       (As longtime readers know, I revere Shyness and Dignity-author Dag Solstad, the Scandinavian author -- along with, perhaps, Per Olov Enquist -- most deserving of the Nobel Prize, if they dare pick anyone from that region anytime soon.)
       Even more impressively:
Since the book, known familiarly over there as "Telemark novel" (its full title is long), does not exist in English, I have been struggling, happily, to make what I can of it in Norwegian
       Way to go Ms. Davis !
       (The book is -- suggested English title -- The Insoluble Epic Element in Telemark in the Years 1592-1896; see the Aschehoug Agency information page (and, hey, the opening words are, apparently: "Read slowly, one word at a time, if you want to understand what I am saying", which is presumably what Davis is doing). I'm hoping for imminent translation into English (though I'll settle for: in my lifetime -- and am tempted to seek out a Norwegian copy, to try to make my way through it Davis-style ...).)

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

       Coming to NY: New Literature from Europe festival

       This year's New Literature from Europe festival -- Crossing Borders: Europe Through the Lens of Time -- is on 5 and 6 December.
       As always, a nice little line-up (though the only title under review at the complete review so far is Viviane, by Julianne Deck).

       Flabbergasting, however: the site with the URL -- surely the one you'll be pointed to if you 'Google' (or whatever you do) for 'New Literature from Europe' -- only offers information about last year's festival, while the official site for this year's festival is apparently Why not update the old site (archiving the 2013 information there too, so it's nicely all together ...) ?

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

       Coming to NY: Russian Literature Week !

       It's Russian Literature Week ! 1 to 5 December.
       Some pretty interesting-sounding panels, definitely worth a look.

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

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