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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 February 2015

1 February: Literary prizes in ... India | Icelandic Booksellers' Prize 2014 | Carl Djerassi (1923-2015) | Universal Bureau of Copyrights review
2 February: February issue of Words without Borders | Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award longlist | Sherazade review
3 February: 'Typographical Translation Award' | Sanshirō review
4 February: Best Hungarian fiction, 2014 | Ottaway nominations | New/old Harper Lee novel
5 February: International book awards | Amit Chaudhuri Q & A | Politics and poetry | Swiss Literary Prizes | Imperium review
6 February: | Preis der Leipziger Buchmesse finalists | Heinrich-Mann-Preis
7 February: Literature in ... Azerbaijan | The Legs of Izolda Morgan review
8 February: Assia Djebar (1936-2015) | André Brink (1935-2015) | The Lady in White review
9 February: Israel Prize for Literature panel mess | F. Sionil José on 'Literature and society'
10 February: Folio Prize shortlist | 'African Literature' | The Door review

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10 February 2015 - Tuesday

Folio Prize shortlist | 'African Literature' | The Door review

       Folio Prize shortlist

       They've announced the eight-title-strong shortlist for the second Folio Prize, selected from eighty nominated titles (warning ! dreaded pdf format !).
       None are under review at the complete review (yeah, I really should take a look at some more contemporary English-language fiction, shouldn't I ? not really on top of these things, am I ?), but several are certainly of interest.
       The winner will be announced 23 March.

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

       'African Literature'

       An interesting exchange at The New Inquiry, where they wonder: What Even is African Literature Anyway.
       Lots of good points and a fun read.

       (See also, of course, the African literature under review at the complete review -- an inadequate sampling, but, relatively speaking .....)

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

       The Door review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Szabó Magda's The Door, Len Rix's translation, published in the UK in 2005, finally making it to the US, courtesy of New York Review Books.
       One wonders whether (and strongly suspects ...) it took the anticipation of Szabó István's (director of the Academy Award-winning Mephisto) film-version -- starring Helen Mirren ! -- to seal that deal and finally get it published stateside. As it turns out, the film seems to have turned out to be a complete bit of a dud -- it doesn't seem to have even gotten a US release -- but this edition is doing fine, thank you very much, thanks to Claire Messud's rave ("If you've felt that you're reasonably familiar with the literary landscape, The Door will prompt you to reconsider") in the most recent issue of The New York Times Book Review: as NYRB reports: "some online retailers are out of stock" -- including, where its sales rank is a lofty 272 (and it's -- a bit dubiously -- listed as the: "#1 Best Seller in War Fiction").
       Messud suggests in her review:
The dismaying discussion of how little translated work is available in the United States must wait for another venue
       But surely the question is a slightly different one: as she (admirably) notes, The Door was actually first translated into English and published in the US two decades ago. So it's hardly simply a matter of 'availability'. Yes, as she notes, it was: "brought out here by an academic publisher" -- so is that the problem ? That an 'academic publisher' can't/won't be able to find an audience ? (Given how dismally the book did -- in terms of the numbers of reviews, and copies sold --, very well: maybe.)
       Yet it also came out a decade ago, in this translation, in the UK, and garnered some great reviews -- they even recycled Ali Smith's TLS review as an 'Introduction' for this edition. But even that apparently wasn't enough for anyone to have a go at bringing this out in the US for ten more years.
       On the one hand, it's great to see a review in The New York Times Book Review help a book find the audience it deserves. On the other hand ... that's what it takes ? (I note with some dismay that this week's NYTBR is almost comically retro-Tanenhausian in its coverage of literature-in-translation: yes, two reviews is more than usual, but one is of a work by a Nobel laureate (Mo Yan), the other of a re-translated work by a dead author (the Szabó). As usual, there's some serious boat-missing going on here .....)
       As I recently noted re. another recent work in translation, Christian Bobin's The Lady in White, (in)visibility -- in its broadest senses -- still seems to be a huge problem, especially regarding works in translation (so also, for some two decades, that of the 1995 translation of the Szabó). Frustrating.

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

9 February 2015 - Monday

Israel Prize for Literature panel mess
F. Sionil José on 'Literature and society'

       Israel Prize for Literature panel mess

       The Ministry of Education in Israel awards the prestigious Israel Prize. Because ... oh, who knows, the Israeli government goes through endless re-shuffles, and somehow Benjamin Netanyahu -- despite what one would have thought is a pretty full plate, as Prime Minister, and running for reëlection, and getting ready to address the US Congress -- currently also plays at being Minister of Education, which means he oversees this prize. And he seems to be taking an active role: as Or Kashti now reports in Haaretz, Netanyahu rejects judges' candidacy for Israel Prize for Literature panel -- professors Avner Holtzman and Ariel Hirschfeld having been turned away by the PM.
       The reason ? "The Education Ministry was unable to explain the reason for the decision."
       Among the fall-out: "the third committee member, author Gail Hareven, resigned". Good for her (the author of The Confessions of Noa Weber and Lies, First Person.)
       Maybe someone should remind Netanyahu that the last prime minister to meddle in a national literary award was Australian PM Tony Abbott, overruling his literary panel to give award to Man Booker winner Richard Flanagan. Look at how things have gone for him since then ..... (Though he has now -- or at least for now -- survived that leadership challenge).

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

       F. Sionil José on 'Literature and society'

       In The Philippine Star F. Sionil José writes on Literature and society.
       Incidentally, it's good to hear from the ninety-year-old (!) author:
Yes, I am working on a new novel

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

8 February 2015 - Sunday

Assia Djebar (1936-2015) | André Brink (1935-2015)
The Lady in White review

       Assia Djebar (1936-2015)

       Algerian-born, French-writing author Assia Djebar, an 'immortal' member of the illustrious Académie française (fauteuil 5) and often thought to be a contender for the Nobel Prize, has passed away; see, for example, the RFI report.
       None of her works are under review at the complete review, but much of it is available in English; get your copy of her 'Algerian Cavalcade' Fantasia at, for example.

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

       André Brink (1935-2015)

       Afrikaans- and English-writing South African author André Brink has passed away; see, for example, The New York Times' obituary of this 'towering South African literary presence', or Shaun de Waal's piece in the Mail & Guardian.
       None of his works are under review at the complete review, but he is probably best-known for A Dry White Season; get your copy at or -- though I'd also suggest The First Life of Adamastor (get your copy at; it was published in the US as Cape of Storms, but appears to be out of print there).

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

       The Lady in White review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Christian Bobin's The Lady in White.

       This slim translated-from-the-French novel is about Emily Dickinson, and it's a nice piece of work; it appears, however to have attracted basically no attention in the United States, where it was published by the University of Nebraska Press a few months ago, whatsoever. Before my review went up, a title/author search on Google (for: "The Lady in White" Christian Bobin) turned up all of 28 results -- an almost impossibly small number of results (by comparison: substituting the French title yielded: "About 9,440 results"). Given the subject matter, and the fact that several of Bobin's books have previously been translated (and the fact that he's held in very high regard in France), this is almost unfathomable. What happened here ?

       The book was, on some level, well-supported: the copyright page acknowledges subsidy support from no less than three different governmental authorities: the publishing assistance program of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs/Cultural Services of the French Embassy; the Institut Français; and a grant from the (American) National Endowment of the Arts. It's unclear how much of the costs were covered, but it looks like a decent amount was. It does not appear, however, that much went into marketing.
       Shocking also -- especially given the public-interest entities that put up cash to see this published in translation -- to find that the translation copyright is not held by translator Alison Anderson, but rather that:
English translation © 2014 by the Board of Regents of the University of Nebraska Press
       Vesting interest there certainly did nothing for this title: come on, Regents, if you're going to (mis)appropriate a right you have no moral right to then at least get off your asses and support the damn book. Go door to door in your (fancy, right ?) neighborhoods selling copies if you have to ! Do something ! Rights (-- especially those that shouldn't really be yours ... --) come with responsibilities, too, and you sure don't seem to have lived up to yours here.
       (And a reminder again to the NEA and all those national publishing-support agencies out there: don't stand for this: if you're going to give money in support of the publishing of translations make sure that the creative talents are properly respected; given their limited bargaining power translators, in particular, are in need of your protection -- so use your clout/purse-strings for some good and ensure that translators, like authors, retain copyright of their intellectual property and work..)

       For all the supposed recent increase in interest in fiction-in-translation in the US, this title would seem to suggest that the situation isn't quite so rosy: a well-deserving title, with an attractive(-to-a-US-audience) subject-matter, published with the support of several agencies that, one would think, would have an interest in seeing it succeed -- and yet it remains almost entirely invisible to the public (if you can barely find reference to it on Google it's pretty damn invisible).
       Disappointing, all around -- and far from an isolated case. But, hey, at least you know about this title now, and can check it out -- as I would suggest you might really want to.

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

7 February 2015 - Saturday

Literature in ... Azerbaijan | The Legs of Izolda Morgan review

       Literature in ... Azerbaijan

       In Daily Sabah Kaya Genç reports that Filled with surprises, Baku's literary scene awaits discovery -- with a focus on a visit to the Nizami Museum of Azerbaijani Literature.
       The museum is certainly housed in an impressive building -- though it is perhaps not entirely tourist-friendly:
A guide is appointed to you, irrespective of your desire. You have exactly one hour to visit more than 30 rooms in the building with your guide, who talks about biographies of authors in Azeri, following you wherever you go. The lights in the museum halls are only turned on when you enter them. No cellular phones are allowed inside the building.
       As to the modern Azeri literary scene, the endorsement isn't exactly ringing:
"Writers of my generation are kind of lazy," Efendi told me. "The number of high quality literary works is not high.
       Nevertheless, it would be great to see more Azeri works available in English -- they certainly lag behind, for example, Georgia, which has been putting a lot of effort into getting its literature out (and will be Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair in a couple of years); see also the index of Georgian literature under review at the complete review.

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

       The Legs of Izolda Morgan review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Selected Writings -- in both Polish and Russian -- by Bruno Jasieński, The Legs of Izolda Morgan, in a lovely edition from Twisted Spoon Press

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

6 February 2015 - Friday | Preis der Leipziger Buchmesse finalists | Heinrich-Mann-Preis

       In the Wall Street Journal Jennifer Maloney previews a new site, suggesting Literary Hub Is a New Home for Book Lovers, which: 'aims to carve out a central online space for books'.
       This 'Literary Hub' is scheduled to go live 8 April and -- scroll down -- given the "partners' involved (a really nice mix) should be able to offer some interesting content.
Focusing on literary fiction and nonfiction, it will present personal and critical essays, interviews and book excerpts
       (Maloney observes parenthetically; "Organizers are still discussing whether it should publish its own book reviews".)
       On the one hand it seems worrisome that this is: "a website styled as a Huffington Post for the literary world -- a one-stop shop of bookish aggregation"; on the other hand ... maybe that's the way to go. I am a fan of aggregation, after all. (Of the Huffington Post -- less so: it's an almost unlink-to-able site, save as an example of how not to do something --; on the other hand, it seems to be 'successful' in page-view/financial terms, which is certainly more than most content- (and, especially literary-content-)sites can say, so, yeah, a model that, on that level, is worth imitating.)
       Given how poor publisher-sites are at presenting themselves as go-to destinations -- in part because they simply don't have the (news-)content (or the energy to collect/present (news-)content sufficiently regularly and frequently) to entice readers to drop by, other than when they're looking for specific book-information -- Melville House, who put a lot of effort in, being among the few exceptions -- there's certainly potential here. Still, I have to see it to believe it ......
       (Grove Atlantic is apparently taking the lead here ('Created by' Grove Atlantic and Electric Literature, the site states) which might also be some reason for concern, at least from a functionality perspective: they publish great books, but their own site is a busy mess of a stand-out (and not in a good way) among the many near-unusable and unlink-to-able publisher sites out there ....)

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

       Preis der Leipziger Buchmesse finalists

       There are two big German book prizes: the German Book Prize, awarded to a novel every fall at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and, every spring, the Prize of the Leipzig Book Fair, which is actually three prizes: for best work of fiction, best work of non, and best translation.
       They've now announced the finalists in the three categories, five titles in each, selected from 405 (regrettably and outrageously unrevealed) submissions.
       Noteworthy: none of the translation-finalists is a translation from the English -- which definitely beats the odds, and is rather surprising. Nevertheless (or for that reason ?) it's a pretty impressive list: translations of works by Lucretius, Modiano, Amos Oz, and Selma Lagerlöf (two Nobel laureates, a perennial contender, and a Latin classic -- not bad). But the most intriguing title, which some US/UK publishers have been cautiously considering, is surely the translation of Stefano DŽArrigo's Horcynus Orca -- 1472 pages (!) in the S.Fischer German edition (see their publicity page), and the odds-on favorite for the prize. It'd be great to see this in English ... maybe someday .....

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


       The Heinrich-Mann-Preis is a German author prize, with a focus not on fiction but on 'Essayistik' -- a not-quite-non-fiction prize ('Essayistik' is part of the broader 'Sachbuch' category, but not equivalent to it) -- and they've now announced that Adam Zagajewski (Another Beauty, etc.) will be getting this year's prize (on 27 March).
       An award of the German Akademie der Künste, it's not top dollar -- 'just' €8,000 -- but is certainly very prestigious.

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

5 February 2015 - Thursday

International book awards | Amit Chaudhuri Q & A | Politics and poetry
Swiss Literary Prizes | Imperium review

       International book awards

       In Prize and Prejudice, at Foreign Policy, Diane Mehta wonders: 'Do international book awards dilute world literature ?' (via).
       The piece takes in a lot of the recent debates -- though it does a poor job of noting the difference between author- and book-prizes. And the casual mention that: "Some elite international prizes accept translations" seems also rather misleading: as far as book prizes go, very few do -- beyond the 'best foreign/translated book'-prizes that many countries/languages have. Even an ostensibly international-friendly prize like the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award restricts entries to books available in English; the Jan Michalski Prize for Literature appears to be one of the few (the only ?) prize that places no restriction on what language a book was written -- or is available ! -- in (though logistics obviously favor books at least translated into one of the widely-read European languages).

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

       Amit Chaudhuri Q & A

       At Tweed's Pooja Pande has a Q & A with Amit Chaudhuri -- mainly about his Odysseus Abroad (available in India for a while already -- see the Penguin India publicity page or get your copy at Flipkart -- and just out in the UK (get your copy at; it'll be a few more months until it reaches the US (pre-order at

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

       Politics and poetry

       As Robert Coalson notes at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Lavrov The Poet: Russian Foreign Minister Showcases His Literary Side, as three of his poems have been published in Русский пионер.
       Always good to see some literary interest from those involved in affairs of state, but I wouldn't read to much into it.

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

       Swiss Literary Prizes

       They've awarded this year's Swiss Literary Prizes.
       Open to Swiss authors writing in any of the official Swiss languages or dialects, the winners get tidy CHF 25,000 apiece, which they'll get to pick up on the 19th.

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

       Imperium review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of A Fiction of the South Seas by Christian Kracht, Imperium, forthcoming in July from Farrar, Straus and Giroux
       This stirred up a bit of controversy when it came out in Germany a few years ago, its (partial) colonial-imperialist subject matter leading some critics to read a rightist programme into the work. It'll be interesting to see whether anyone in the US/UK notices or cares.

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

4 February 2015 - Wednesday

Best Hungarian fiction, 2014 | Ottaway nominations
New/old Harper Lee novel

       Best Hungarian fiction, 2014

       At hlo they have a top five of Hungarian Best books of 2014 I. -- some familiar names, and some interesting sounding-titles, and the Péterfy is definitely something that should make it into translation.
       I also like that Nobel laureate Kertész Imre's 'death diary' is called 'The Ultimate Pub' (A végső kocsma).

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

       Ottaway nominations

       Words without Borders awards a 'James H. Ottaway, Jr. Award for the Promotion of International Literature' -- "selected on the basis of his or her efforts to build cultural understanding by advancing popular awareness of international writers and literatures" -- with the first two honorees having been the eminently worthy Drenka Willen (2013) and Carol Brown Janeway (2014).
       They're now asking for nominations for this year's prize, so if you have any suggestions, weigh in !

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

       New/old Harper Lee novel

       This is apparently big literary news -- well, with a planned first printing of two million: undeniably -- so I figure I have to mention it: To Kill a Mockingbird-author Harper Lee's attorney has conveniently dug up her first, unpublished novel (featuring some of the same characters) and looks to be cashing in big time (because the To Kill a Mockingbird-sales -- still a million a year -- are apparently not enough).
       It all sounds pretty dubious to me: in The New York Times Alexandra Alter reports:
Jonathan Burnham, senior vice president and publisher of Harper, said that the company had never spoken directly to Ms. Lee about the book and had communicated with her solely through her lawyer, Ms. Carter, and her literary agent, Andrew Nurnberg. The statement Ms. Lee provided expressing her delight that the new novel will finally be published was delivered through her lawyer, Mr. Burnham said.
       Yeah, those are two parties who no doubt have Ms. Lee's best interests at heart ..... No reason to doubt their claims, since she's been so eager to publish over the years .....

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

3 February 2015 - Tuesday

'Typographical Translation Award' | Sanshirō review

       'Typographical Translation Award'

       Typographical Era offer a Typographical Translation Award (for: "the best translation of 2014", limited to fiction), and it's now down to the final eight -- and you get to vote for the winner.
       I'm one of the judges for the Best Translated Book Award, where we're busy (if still also quite a ways from) sorting out our (twenty-five title strong) longlist, so it's interesting to see what has been attracting attention here, and what's in the running. Surprising, too, I might add .....
       Several of the TTA finalists are under review at the complete review:        I suspect several of these final eight will make the BTBA longlist; I also suspect several will certainly not.
       You have until 22 February to vote for yout TTA favorite.

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

       Sanshirō review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Natsume Sōseki's classic, Sanshirō, in Jay Rubin's Penguin Classics (re)translation.
       Mizumura Minae discusses this in her recent (and interesting) The Fall of Language in the Age of English, which is what led me to pick it up again (I had read Rubin's original translation many, many years ago), and it's definitely a work deserving more attention. And the Penguin Classics edition comes with an Introduction by Murakami Haruki .....

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

2 February 2015 - Monday

February issue of Words without Borders
Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award longlist | Sherazade review

       February issue of Words without Borders

       The February issue of Words without Borders is now available online, featuring: 'International Graphic Novels: Volume IX', as well as some 'New Slovak Women's Writing'.

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

       Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award longlist

       They've announced the longlist for the Sunday Times EFG Short Story Award.
       Nineteen stories, by some fairly well-known authors, but nothing I'd come across previously. I had some hopes for Jules Verne Seeks Dreamers for Long-Distance Travel in Time but unfortunately it is not really very Verne-y.

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

       Sherazade review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Leïla Sebbar's Sherazade, a 1991 translation (originally published by Quartet) recently reissued by Interlink.

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

1 February 2015 - Sunday

Literary prizes in ... India | Icelandic Booksellers' Prize 2014
Carl Djerassi (1923-2015) | Universal Bureau of Copyrights review

       Literary prizes in ... India

       In The Hindu Jaya Bhattacharji Rose considers whether: 'Indian literary prizes set literary standards', in The prize is right ?
       Neat to hear, at least, that:
An award for a translated book has a simultaneous impact in two languages says Mini Krishnan, editor-translations, OUP. "A classic case is Bama's Karukku translated by Lakshmi Holmstrom. That Crossword Prize in 2001 changed Bama's life. I think there must be over 100 MPhils on the book and many Tamil Dalit works were picked up for translation in English after that. ... When a translation wins a prize, the sales of the original also picks up."
       (See the Oxford University Press publicity page for the recent second edition of Karukku, or get your copy at or
       Too bad, then, that there aren't more literary prizes in India that reward or even just consider translations -- disappointingly, The Hindu's own Literary Prize excludes them .....

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

       Icelandic Booksellers' Prize 2014

       They actually announced the winners of the Icelandic Booksellers' Prize over a month ago but I missed that -- but they just handed out the prizes a few days ago -- see, for example, the Iceland Review report --, so that's good enough a reason and occasion to make note of them now.
       Öræfi, by Ófeigur Sigurðsson, took the novel prize; see the Forlagið publicity page.

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

       Carl Djerassi (1923-2015)

       Carl Djerassi has passed away; see, for example, The New York Times' obituary.
       Best-known for his impressive work as a scientist, he also tried to write fiction (and drama) dealing with a variety of scientific issues -- a different kind of science-fiction. I read quite a bit of it, and while little that he produced was really memorable, most of it was at least fairly entertaining and decently thought-provoking -- certainly good stuff for the scientifically interested kids.
       Check out, for example, The Bourbaki Gambit (get your copy at or or Cantor's Dilemma (get your copy at or

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

       Universal Bureau of Copyrights review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Bertrand Laverdure's unusual little novel, Universal Bureau of Copyrights.

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

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