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opinionated commentary on literary matters - from the complete review

The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 December 2014

1 December: 'First Editions/Second Thoughts' | Finlandia Prize | Japan and the Shackles of the Past review
2 December: December Words without Borders | Dossier 51 review
3 December: NYTBR '100 Notable Books' | Ticket to Childhood review
4 December: Q & As: Robert Darnton - Peter Kaufman | Equal Danger review
5 December: Serhiy Zhadan on 'Memory and Responsibility' | Translation in ... Pakistan | Palpasa Café in ... French
6 December: Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding | Mirror literature | Central Asian literature | AKO Literatuurprijs
7 December: Menis Koumandareas (1931-2014) | Best lists abroad | Hispabooks profile | Outlaws review
8 December: Modiano's Nobel lecture | Русский Букер | Mãn review
9 December: (Australian) Prime Minister's Literary Awards | Chinese literature abroad
10 December: Elena Ferrante Q & A | Rameau's Nephew review | Arno Schmidt in paperback at Amazon

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10 December 2014 - Wednesday

Elena Ferrante Q & A | Rameau's Nephew review
Arno Schmidt in paperback at Amazon

       Elena Ferrante Q & A

       In The New York Times Rachel Donadio has a lengthy Q & A with Elena Ferrante, who seems to have become a breakout-author over the past year or so; Donadio also has offers profile of the author, based in large part on the Q & A, Scant Clues to a Secret Identity.
       None of the titles in Ferrante's Neapolitan-quartet are under review at the complete review, but her three earlier novels are:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Rameau's Nephew review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Denis Diderot's dialogue, Rameau's Nephew.
       This was first published in 1805, in the German translation by Goethe, which sounds like a pretty good recommendation.

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

       Arno Schmidt in paperback at Amazon

       My own recent little Literary Saloon dialogue, Arno Schmidt: a centennial colloquy is now available in paperback from Amazon, too (US and UK, along with most of the others).
       It's also available on Kindle, or, from Lulu, in either ePub or paperback. Availability at other outlets should follow, sooner or later, but paperback-at-Amazon seems the most trusted buying option relied on by many readers, so I mention it -- and note that the Amazon page gives you a decent 'Look inside'-preview opportunity, so you can see what you'd be get yourself into.

       You still have time, I should think, to put it on your Christmas wishlist, or purchase it as a gift for your literarily-inclined friends and acquaintances, and those you might want to convert to Schmidt.
       I'd suggest it might also serve as a useful planting-the-seed title, an appropriate gift to give someone from whom you might hope for Schmidt's Bottom's Dream in return eventually, when that becomes available -- a much dearer proposition. (Planning ahead, it's perhaps also a useful gift for a spouse or loved one, whom you'll be trying to explain the huge outlay for Bottom's Dream when it appears (it ain't going to be cheap) to, if you're forced/compelled to purchase it yourself; I'm not sure Arno Schmidt: a centennial colloquy can fully justify your folly, but surely it provides some decent arguments in favor of Schmidtian indulgence, even at its most extravagant and costly.)

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

9 December 2014 - Tuesday

(Australian) Prime Minister's Literary Awards | Chinese literature abroad

       (Australian) Prime Minister's Literary Awards

       They've announced the winners of the (Australian) Prime Minister's Literary Awards, with Man Booker Prize-winning The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan a co-winner in the fiction category; see also, for example, Martin Shaw's report in The Guardian, The Prime Minister's Literary Awards: the ties that bind.
       The Guardian also prints an edited version of Flanagan's acceptance speech, in which he explains that he is donating his A$40,000 prize money to the Indigenous Literacy Foundation.

       (Updated - 11 December): See now also reports that the Prime Minister himself (rather than the judging-panel) decided Flanagan's book was deserving, as, as for example Jonathan Pearlman reports in The Telegraph, Australian PM overrules literary prize panel to give award to Man Booker winner Richard Flanagan.

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

       Chinese literature abroad

       Via Paper Republic I'm pointed to this interesting piece at Bruce Humes' Ethnic ChinaLit weblog, "Most Influential" Chinese Literature in Translation: 2014 Ranking by International Library Purchases.
       This seems like an interesting way of measuring the success of translated fiction abroad -- by determining how many library copies have been purchased worldwide. These numbers look at the top translations-into-English -- and several of the titles are under review at the complete review:        This seems like a fairly interesting way of seeing how widely a title is diseminated -- I'd love to see numbers on translations from other languages as well.

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

8 December 2014 - Monday

Modiano's Nobel lecture | Русский Букер | Mãn review

       Modiano's Nobel lecture

       It's Nobel Prize ceremony-week, and literature Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano gave his Nobel lecture yesterday. You can watch the whole thing on video, or simply read it, in English translation or the French original.
       Pedantic note -- though perhaps of some interest, since the lecture can be re-printed pretty much by anyone who wants to, anywhere (see the note at the beginning of the lecture setting out the very generous terms): the English version of the lecture -- which, presumably, will be widely re-printed -- was translated by "James Hardiker, Semantix" (Semantix being, of course, "the leading supplier of language services in the Nordic countries") and he/they saw fit -- sensibly; it's English/American convention -- to add the middle name to a mention of the writer 'Edgar Poe' (as the French original has it). The middle name he/they added is: 'Allen'. That is not Edgar Poe's middle name. Close, but no cigar, as they say. I'm curious how many publication reprinting the lecture will make the necessary correction. (And whether/when the Nobel site will.)

       Meanwhile: a reminder that Modiano is worth a look -- I recommend Honeymoon, in particular, but the three-in-one volume that is/includes Suspended Sentences is certainly a good introduction to his work.

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

       Русский Букер

       They've announced that Vladimir Sharov's Возвращение в Египет has won this year's Русский Букер -- the 'Russian Booker' prize. (And, yes, while I'm pleased/almost impressed the announcement is up in a timely manner at the official site, that is one really unimpressive official announcement.) See also some coverage at Lizok's Bookshelf (with bonus Sharov- and other Russian literary commentary ...).
       I will be getting to Before & During -- and I do hope someone picks up this one too; it sounds intriguing and Sharov is clearly an author well worth paying attention to.

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

       Mãn review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of French-writing Canadian-Vietnamese author Kim Thúy's new novel, Mãn.
       The English translation of this 2013 novel came out pretty quickly in Canada (and the UK), this year -- but I can't help but note that the Swedish (!?) translation came out quicker .....

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

7 December 2014 - Sunday

Menis Koumandareas (1931-2014) | Best lists abroad
Hispabooks profile | Outlaws review

       Menis Koumandareas (1931-2014)

       As, for example, reported by Philip Chrysopoulos at Greek Reporter, Acclaimed Greek Writer Menis Koumandareas Found Murdered at Home.
       Dalkey Archive Press brought out his Koula a couple of years ago (and he's quite well-translated into French); aside from being an important writer he was also a translator -- of Hemingway and F.Scott Fitzgerald, for example.

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

       Best lists abroad

       As often noted, the US and UK lead the way with 'best of the year'-lists, and there tend to be far fewer abroad (especially this early in the year), but among those now available are:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Hispabooks profile

       At El País' Trans-Iberian Chris Finnigan suggests Put Down Orwell and Pick Up Contemporary Spanish Literature in his profile of the wonderful Hispabooks.
       I've reviewed far too few of their titles (The Hotel Life and The Faint-hearted Bolshevik), but I do have a pile of them and will continue to make my way through them -- and can certainly recommend them to you.

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

       Outlaws review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Javier Cercas' Outlaws.

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

6 December 2014 - Saturday

Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding
Mirror literature | Central Asian literature | AKO Literatuurprijs

       Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding

       At the Leipzig Book Fair -- the big spring German book fair -- they hand out the Leipziger Buchpreis zur Europäischen Verständigung ('Leipzig Book Award for European Understanding'), and they've announced that Nostalgia-author Mircea Cărtărescu will get the 2015 prize next spring for his Orbitor-trilogy (which Archipelago is bringing out in English, publishing the first volume, Blinding, last year; see their publicity page).
       See also the list of previous winners.

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

       Mirror literature

       At KGOU Suzette Grillot talks to Warren Motte (editor, for example, of Oulipo: A Primer of Potential Literature), finding Warren Motte Watches Literary Characters As They Watch Themselves, as:
When University of Colorado professor and French literature critic Warren Motte was a graduate student around 35 years ago, he noticed that he kept coming across scenes of people looking at themselves in mirrors in different works of literature.

"I started collecting these scenes, kind of as an antidote to the dissertation that I was writing at the time," Motte says. "I collected these in my reading over the years and finally I ended up with somewhere between 12,000 and 15,000 of them."

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

       Central Asian literature

       In The Astana Times -- 'Bringing Kazakhstan to the World' -- Michelle Witte reports that Publisher Hopes Literature in English Can Unite Europe, Central Asia, profiling Marat Akmedjanov, founder of Hertfordshire Press. (Aside: I have no idea why a publishing house founded to publish books from and about Central Asian would call itself something like 'Hertfordshire Press'.)
       Given that Central Asia is, along with a swath of Southeast Asia, the worst-represented literary area of the world in English any little bit helps, so I hope they have continued success.

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

       AKO Literatuurprijs

       The AKO Literatuurprijs, one of the leading Dutch literary prizes (with a nice €50,000 payday) is now the ECI Literatuurprijs; see the official (Dutch) press release, as well as the report, Book retailer AKO stops sponsoring €50,000 literature prize.

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

5 December 2014 - Friday

Serhiy Zhadan on 'Memory and Responsibility' | Translation in ... Pakistan
Palpasa Café in ... French

       Serhiy Zhadan on 'Memory and Responsibility'

       As I mentioned last week, Serhiy Zhadan's Ворошиловград won this year's Jan Michalski prize for literature.
       At PEN Atlas he now writes: 'about growing up in eastern Ukraine, a region now at war, and how love and attentiveness are the lessons of literature in a world of silence and oblivion', in Memory and Responsibility.

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

       Translation in ... Pakistan

       In The Express Tribune Ishrat Ansari profiles Essence of Camphor-translator Muhammad Umar Memon, in Translate this: 'Translation is an act of self-discovery'.
       Among his claims:
While discussing translations in Pakistan, Dr Memon said that translating books, novels and essays is something that has decreased over the years. "In Middle East, it is the opposite. People love their language and translated works have really picked up," he said. "If we had a higher literacy rate, things could change."

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

       Palpasa Café in ... French

       Narayan Wagle's Palpasa Café is among the best-known and -selling modern Nepali works -- and it's even been translated into English (get your copy at or Now, in the Nepali Times, Stéphane Huët describes its long journey into French, in Bonjour, Palpasa.

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

4 December 2014 - Thursday

Q & As: Robert Darnton - Peter Kaufman
Equal Danger review

       Q & A: Robert Darnton

       At Sampsonia Way Micaela Corn has a Q & A with Robert Darnton, about censorship and his recent book, Censors at Work: How States Shaped Literature, which sounds pretty interesting.
       See also the W.W.Norton publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

       Q & A: Peter Kaufman

       At Russia Beyond the Headlines Ilya Krol has a Q & A with Read Russia-founder Peter Kaufman, in Read Russia: An American lover of Russian literature.
       Among his responses:
RBTH: Which books offer the best way to understand Russia ?

P.K.: Gogol's Dead Souls. But sometimes a little Kharms still works wonders.

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

       Equal Danger review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Leonardo Sciascia's Equal Danger.
       New York Review Books re-issued this a while back, but Granta have now also re-issued a pile of Sciascias in the UK; he's very good indeed.

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

3 December 2014 - Wednesday

NYTBR '100 Notable Books' | Ticket to Childhood review

       NYTBR '100 Notable Books'

       The New York Times Book Review has announced its 100 Notable Books of 2014. (I have to admit the NYTBR has become near-unfathomable to me; under Sam Tanenhaus' leadership it was at least fairly predictably off (especially regarding coverage of fiction in general and works in translation in particular), but the new administration continues to surprise (or, more precisely: baffle); the fact that Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century isn't considered one of the hundred (100 !) notable books of the year, and, for example, World Order Henry Kissinger is sums it up as well as anything.)
       There are eight translated titles in the top 100 -- which is more than in recent years (and a great improvement over last year's three ...). Last year I'd only reviewed three of the 100-notable at the complete review; this year I've already gotten to ... five:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Ticket to Childhood review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Nguyễn Nhật Ánh's Ticket to Childhood.
       A bestseller in Viet Nam, this is -- so far -- the only book translated from a South-East Asian language (Vietnamese, Thai, Malay, Indonesian, Burmese, Khmer, Lao, etc.) we've found among the 500 or so we're considering for the Best Translated Book Award. I'm still hoping for some overlooked books from this region to make their way to us .....

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

2 December 2014 - Tuesday

December Words without Borders | Dossier 51 review

       December Words without Borders

       The December issue of Words without Borders -- Around the Globe: International YA Writing, with a bonus of: 'New Voices in Uruguayan Poetry' -- is now available online.

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

       Dossier 51 review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Gilles Perrault's 1969 data-mining novel, Dossier 51.
       This has long been out of print (though back in the day Penguin did bring out the UK paperback edition), and it probably falls short of reprint-quality/worthiness, despite having held up quite well, especially considering present-day NSA/Facebook/Google concerns. Interestingly, the only place it seems to have recently been revived is Israel: Nahar Books brought out 51 תיק in Hebrew a couple of years ago -- and you can see it fitting well in the חטופים/Homeland climate.
       The Michel Deville film-version, from 1978, also seems worth seeking out. Well, not according to Vincent Canby ("the sort of movie that's more interesting to talk about than to sit through"), but others seem to have thought more highly of it. (And it would probably make a good double-feature with Francis Ford Coppola's The Conversation.)

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

1 December 2014 - Monday

'First Editions/Second Thoughts' | Finlandia Prize
Japan and the Shackles of the Past review

       'First Editions/Second Thoughts'

       PEN America is holding an auction at Christie's (NY) tomorrow, First Editions/Second Thoughts, hoping: " to raise substantial funds to support PEN's mission to defend freedom of expression and to celebrate literature that such freedom makes possible".
       It's pretty neat:
Through annotations including notes, essays, drawings, photographs, letters to the reader, and inserted memorabilia, each contributor has transformed a first edition of a classic work into a distinct new artifact for one lucky buyer.
       See also the nice spread at The New York Times, where you can peek inside each of the 75 books up for auction.

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

       Finlandia Prize

       The Finlandia-palkinto is the most prestigious Finnish literary prize -- and comes with €30,000 in prize money.
       They've now announced that He eivät tiedä mitä he tekevät, by Jussi Valtonen, won this year's prize; see the Elina Ahlback Literary Agency information page (foreign rights still very much available ...), or the Tammi (Finnish) publicity page, or see And the winner is ... Finlandia Prize for Fiction 2014 at Books from Finland.
       It does feature American characters and locales: "When professor Joe Chayefski's neuroscience lab in Baltimore is attacked by animal rights activists, he doesn't connect the dots at first" the description at his agent's site begins ..... Disappointingly, it seems this isn't just based on Valtonen having seen a couple of episodes of The Wire but rather personal familiarity with the locale -- he studied at Johns Hopkins for a while .....
       Nothing of his is available in English yet -- well, except for his other writing: see, for example, New learning of music after bilateral medial temporal lobe damage: evidence from an amnesic patient (warning ! dreaded pdf format !), on which he was the lead author.

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

       Japan and the Shackles of the Past review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of R.Taggart Murphy's Japan and the Shackles of the Past, just (about) out from Oxford University Press.
       An excellent introduction/survey of contemporary Japan -- and I'm very curious to see what kind of reception it gets in Japan itself (where it will no doubt be widely read and discussed).

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

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