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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 March 2015

1 March: Yaşar Kemal (1923-2015) | German March/spring best-of lists
2 March: March issue of Words without Borders | Norman Manea Q & A | The Faces of God review
3 March: Writing in ... Burma | The Helios Disaster review
4 March: New(ish) issue of list | Book piracy in ... Zimbabwe | The Discreet Hero review
5 March: Vietnamese literature abroad | Bookselling in ... Russia | L.A. Times Book Prize finalists | The Room review
6 March: Orhan Pamuk Q & A | African literature at American universities
7 March: Top Chinese fiction since 1900 ? | Knausgaard Q & A
8 March: Solaris, the opera | Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol review
9 March: Red Bull® giving publishing wings ? | Dispelling Yaşar Kemal/Nobel rumors | The Crimson Thread of Abandon review
10 March: Orange Prize longlist | Wellcome Book Prize shortlist | Israel Prize in literature | Translation from ... Indonesian | Newspaper review

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10 March 2015 - Tuesday

Orange Prize longlist | Wellcome Book Prize shortlist | Israel Prize in literature
Translation from ... Indonesian | Newspaper review

       Orange Prize longlist

       The twenty-title-strong longlist for the Orange Prize for Fiction (now apparently re-named for some alcoholic-beverage sponsor), for the best UK-published novel written by a woman in English, has been announced.
       Predictably, none of the titles are under review at the complete review -- not only do I review far too little written by women, I haven't reviewed a single English-written work of fiction in almost three months (despite covering over fifty books in that span). The best bet remains the Ali Smith, which I really will be getting to ... eventually.

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

       Wellcome Book Prize shortlist

       The six-title-strong shortlist for the Wellcome Book Prize -- open to both fiction and non, as long as it has: "a central theme that engages with some aspect of medicine, health or illness" -- has been announced.
       Two novels made the shortlist, but, rather unsurprisingly, none of the titles are under review at the complete review.

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

       Israel Prize in literature

       One prize for which there won't be a long- or short-list, or a winner this year is the Israel Prize in literature.
       A month ago I mentioned how Israeli PM -- and then-Education Minister -- Benjamin Netanyahu got the ball rolling here by meddling in it.
       He dismissed two of the judges, and the third resigned -- so a new judging committee was needed. Brilliantly, however, as reported in Haaretz:
the appointment of a new committee requires the education minister's approval, and the temporary appointment of Netanyahu as education minister expired.

Since there is no education minister and, therefore, no way to appoint a new committee, the prize will not be awarded.
       I have to admit, I'm impressed -- it's hard to manufacture a situation more ridiculous than this.
       See also the ynet report, Israel Prize in literature dropped due to row following Netanyahu's interference.

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

       Translation from ... Indonesian

       Indonesia is the Frankfurt Book Fair 'guest of honour;' this year, and in The Jakarta Post they report that Indonesian literati demand a translation center [via] -- maybe a bit late in the day, but it would still be good to see.
       Sad but hardly surprising to hear:
If her books received any international exposure, it was due to luck, Okky said. "We cannot rely on the quality of our work per se and pray that someone will find it somehow."

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

       Newspaper review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Edouard Levé's Newspaper, the fourth Levé title from Dalkey Archive Press.
       Not quite Kenneth Goldsmith's The Weather, but certainly an interesting (and pretty successful) concept-work.

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

9 March 2015 - Monday

Red Bull® giving publishing wings ? | Dispelling Yaşar Kemal/Nobel rumors
The Crimson Thread of Abandon review

       Red Bull® giving publishing wings ?

       'Energy'-drinks company Red Bull® is already active in a wide variety of entertainment-fields -- mainly of the (more or less) athletic sort --, but in 2013 they bought publishing house ecowin and they're now working on setting up a literary (of sorts ?) imprint, Benevento.
       The offical site is ... disappointing, at this stage -- not even exploding soda cans or anything -- but they've hired an editor-at-large, Birgit Schmitz, and in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung they have a (German) Q & A with her. Not particularly revealing -- apparently third-rate mysteries are not a high priority -- she toes the Red Bull Media House party line well: outside the box stuff, etc. etc. And hints that they're looking at the big picture, eager to take advantage of 'in house'-synergies that can (re)use the material digitally, or cinematically.
       Lots of money behind it, so it'll be interesting to see what they do.

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

       Dispelling Yaşar Kemal/Nobel rumors

       The Swedish Academy's Nobel Prize-point man (for a few more weeks -- Sara Danius is taking over shortly) Peter Englund doesn't often comment about Nobel-related gossip but apparently he's concerned about the Academy's honor being besmirched by some swirling rumors, and so at his weblog he wants to counter claims apparently made in the Turkish media, that the Swedish Academy caved to outside pressure and that's why the just-deceased Yaşar Kemal was denied the Nobel Prize.
       In both English and Swedish (but, disappointingly and oddly, not in Turkish) Englund says: no way. So there.
       (It sounds reasonable enough: why would the Swedish Academy care about the possible (Kurdish, Turkish) interest groups that might care about this, one way or another ?)
       Englund proudly defends the honor of the institution:
From time to time the Academy is subjected to campaigns, mostly about promoting an author, sometimes about trying to do the opposite thing. It never works. At least not as intended. If it has an effect, it is in the form of a backfire of sorts. The Academy is in all respects an independent body, and reacts almost vehemently to attempts to tell us what we should or should not do.
       The petulant 'backfire' admission is anything but reassuring -- after all, who is to say interested parties, recognizing this, wouldn't approach furthering their interests in this way (by pretending to undermine them, trying to influence the Academy to do the opposite of their real ends ...) ? And human psychology suggests it's hard to maintain true objectivity in the face of any sort of outside pressure -- but I imagine that for the most part it is true enough.
       Still, for all its 'independence', it would be foolish not to realize that there are surely a lot of (personal and institutional) agendas constantly in play in the hallowed Academy halls.

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

       The Crimson Thread of Abandon review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of a collection of stories by Terayama Shūji, The Crimson Thread of Abandon, recently published by Merwin Asia.

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

8 March 2015 - Sunday

Solaris, the opera | Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol review

       Solaris, the opera

       Dai Fujikura's opera Solaris, based on the Stanisław Lem novel, premiered on Thursday in a production at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées; see, for example, Marie-Pierre Ferey's AFP article, Opera of sci-fi classic 'Solaris' creates strange world, or initial (French) reactions in Le Figaro and at There's also an English-language overview of the work and creators -- but only in the dreaded pdf format.
       Solaris has also been filmed twice -- by the great Andrei Tarkovsky, as well as by Steven Soderbergh. As to the novel: alas, in print/paperback you still can only get the abomination that is the translated-from-the-French-rendering by Joanna Kilmartin and Steve Cox; Bill Johnston's version, actually translated directly from the Polish (what a concept !), is only available in e-form (get your Kindle copy at or, or audio-book form .....

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

       Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Okot p'Bitek's Acoli classic(s), Song of Lawino and Song of Ocol.

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

7 March 2015 - Saturday

Top Chinese fiction since 1900 ? | Knausgaard Q & A

       Top Chinese fiction since 1900 ?

       Via Paper Republic I'm pointed to Time Out (Beijing)'s The best Chinese fiction books of the last century, where: "24 Chinese literature experts, novelists, literary agents, publishers, editors, critics and journalists" voted for their top available-in-English titles written by authors born in "Mainland or Greater China" (which is how J.G.Ballard slips on the list, though doesn't explain Pearl S. Buck's presence) and published since 1900,
       Annoyingly spread out over five pages, their top twenty picks are obviously far from representative because of that translated-into-English requirement (not that much has been translated from Chinese, folks).
       The top pick is unsurprising (and uncontroversial, I would think).
       Among the rest, several are under review at the complete review (including several of the you've-got-to-be-kidding selections):        A couple of other choices are also easily justifiable -- Fortress Besieged, obviously -- and it's at least a nicely varied selection. But the best of the past 115 years ? I think they only got a few of them.

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

       Knausgaard Q & A

       With the fourth volume of Karl Ove Knausgaard's My Struggle-series just out in the UK (I'll get to it -- meanwhile, pre-order your copy at, or get your copy at the media blitz continues.
       In The Independent they at least take the straightforward Q & A approach, offering a few odds and ends of interest.

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

6 March 2015 - Friday

Orhan Pamuk Q & A | African literature at American universities

       Orhan Pamuk Q & A

       Orhan Pamuk (The Museum of Innocence, etc.) was at the Cairo Literary Festival a couple of weeks ago, and in Al-Ahram Weekly they have a Q & A Mona Anis and Youssef Rakha conducted with him there, Ottoman culture in disguise.
       Lots of interesting stuff -- including:
There are readers who are following my books, but say in the United States I am most famous for Snow, while they don't care about that book in China. They definitely care about My Name is Red there [...] These are issues I like, and these I think for example Chinese or Korean, Asian readers care about while American readers don't care much about the issues we have with individuality. American readers want to know about political Islam, or they care about My Name is Red in the sense of artists, drawing, they did this kind of miniatures, very interesting, but not as an issue of today. Or, for example, in Spain my bestselling book is Istanbul
       And, amusingly:
That's the problem with interviews. You do an interview and you define a certain situation that's resolved in two years' time, but 16 years later they're still quoting.

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

       African literature at American universities

       A couple of weeks ago Yale professor Wai Chee Dimock wrote about A Literary Scramble for Africa, occasioned by the annual MLA-centered hiring-ritual.
       Dimock reported that:
To our surprise, almost one-third of the people we ended up interviewing were again working on Africa, and not even the usual suspects: Chinua Achebe, J.M. Coetzee, Nadine Gordimer. The field seems to have grown up overnight and turned into something no one had foreseen. Here and there we ran into some vaguely familiar titles -- Ngugi wa Thiong'o's Wizard of the Crow, NoViolet Bulawayo's We Need New Names, Helon Habila's Oil on Water -- but, for the most part, people were writing about authors we had never heard of: Senegal's Boubacar Boris Diop, Tanzania's Ebrahim Hussein, Congo's Sony Labou Tansi, Uganda's Monica Arac de Nyeko, Mozambique's Mia Couto, Malawi's Shadreck Chikoti.
       You may have heard my anguished cries -- though at the time I only tweeted a few initial reactions. But it's good to see that there's now a more comprehensive, measured response: Aaron Bady writing about Academe's Willful Ignorance of African Literature -- well worth a look.
       The PEN World Voices festival (NYC; 4-10 May) this year is 'On Africa' -- with at least one of these 'authors we had never heard of' in attendance (Boubacar Boris Diop); I'm curious to see whether this helps raise the African profile.
       I'm embarrassed about many lacunae at the complete review (though often it is more a case of not enough -- applicable to almost all categories -- than none at all), and the sampling of African literature under review is certainly among them. And yet: familiarity just with the reviewed-here titles -- limited though the selection is -- could have saved Dimock some ignorance-embarrassment. Which is, in itself, sad: what you find here really doesn't even scratch the surface -- and at least in academia they should be aware of far more.

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

5 March 2015 - Thursday

Vietnamese literature abroad | Bookselling in ... Russia
L.A. Times Book Prize finalists | The Room review

       Vietnamese literature abroad

       As I've often noted, the South-East Asian languages are among the worst-represented in translation (especially into English). In Viet Nam they apparently have been holding an international conference -- "attended by the local literati and over 150 international poets, authors, and translators from 43 countries and territories" -- trying, in part, to figure out what can be done about the situation.
       Coverage can be found in:        Among the advice on offer:
Kazakhstani writer Bakhitkozha Rustemov stressed that a joint effort from the Government and relevant sectors and agencies, as well as national and ministry-level cooperation agreements, are needed.
       Ah, yes, relying on 'national and ministry-level cooperation agreements', that's the ticket .....
       Of course, there are some ... positive (?) observations: sure, Russian interest and activity is down since Soviet times, but, hey:
As many as 6 books by Vietnamese authors are scheduled to be published in Russian by 2016.
       Compare that to the US: the Three Percent database lists all of one work of Vietnamese fiction published in translation in all of 2014 -- Ticket to Childhood by Nguyen Nhat Anh (not, I'm afraid, a front-runner for the Best Translated Book Award) -- and none at all so far on the (admittedly still incomplete) 2015 database.

       Still, at least they seem to be trying to address the issue(s), and looking for ways to get the word/books out. Which seems more than local laggards Thailand, Burma, Laos, and Cambodia have managed to date .....

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

       Bookselling in ... Russia

       At Russia Beyond the Headlines they offer an English version of Kira Latukhina and Pavel Basinsky's Rossiyskaya Gazeta article, finding that The Russian book industry is at a crossroads.
       The bleak situation:
"Book distribution networks have been ruined in recent years," Alexei Varlamov says. "The situation is even worse in the regions, where publishing a book is the same as publishing it for yourself. As a result, almost all literary engagement is restricted to our two main urban centers: Moscow and St. Petersburg." The problem is complex and can only be resolved with a complex approach that extends beyond the Year of Literature. Money must be invested into maintaining and reviving regional as well as central bookstores, otherwise a significant portion of the country faces being cut off from this important cultural marker.
       Given the abject failures of the Putin regime in managing ... well, pretty much anything, things do not look promising.

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

       L.A. Times Book Prize finalists

       They've announced the finalists for the 35th annual L.A. Times Book Prizes.
       Some interesting works -- and a lot of categories. I have some of these, but none are under review at the complete review at this time.

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

       The Room review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jonas Karlsson's small workplace novel, The Room.

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

4 March 2015 - Wednesday

New(ish) issue of list | Book piracy in ... Zimbabwe | The Discreet Hero review

       New(ish) issue of list

       The website for the 'Books from Korea' publication list, from the Literature Translation Institute of Korea, recently underwent a redesign, and they still seem to be figuring things out -- that 'Current Issue' page still isn't current (and doesn't offer much of an(y) issue) ... -- but with a little effort at least the Winter 2014 issue can now be found -- with Yi Mun-yol (Our Twisted Hero, etc.) as 'Featured Writer' -- complete with A Letter to My Readers Around the World from him, as well as a Q & A.

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

       Book piracy in ... Zimbabwe

       In The Herald Beaven Tapureta reports on a Raw deal for academic, non-fiction authors in Zimbabwe, as:
The fight against book piracy in Zimbabwe has become a requiem which writers and publishers continue to sing in perpetual hopelessness. The literary choir has its rhythm toned down and it now plays to the gallery.
       Which is at least a nice way of putting it .....
       Summing up:
It is clear that if nothing is done to clear loopholes in the local book industry, the country is likely to lose its indigenous publishing gusto and posterity will suffer. The current situation indeed calls for collective action involving concerned parties.

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

       The Discreet Hero review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of the latest novel by Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa to be translated into English (by Edith Grossman), The Discreet Hero.

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

3 March 2015 - Tuesday

Writing in ... Burma | The Helios Disaster review

       Writing in ... Burma

       In the Myanmar Times Chit Su reports on the recent ninth annual Tun Foundation Literary Awards, in Literary awards seek to keep Myanmar writing.
       Alas, no detailed list of the winning titles -- the winning authors are listed, but that's not very helpful -- but at least mention of some of them -- and good to see a literary prize that includes an 'environment category' (which a title like Hygiene and Sanitation Manual for Food Safety can win). And U Myint Kywel took the 'lifetime award'.

       Meanwhile, in The Irrawaddy, Kyaw Hsu Mon recently had a Q & A with Seikku Cho Cho publishing house owner U San Oo, finding Books 'Have a Future'.
       Interesting that:
Then there is Myanmar literature, for example the author Juu. Her book sales are still strong. But for those kinds of books, most of them are self-published.
       But it's depressing to hear:
Q: Who are the best sellers in the classics category ?

A: The top classic books are by Mya Than Tint, Mg Tun Thu, Dagon Shwe Myar, Shwe Ou Daung, then Mg Moe Thu, Tin New Maung and Soe Thein. Their masterpieces are still performing strongly.
       Depressing because ... well, try to find any of these masterpieces in English.

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

       The Helios Disaster review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Linda Boström Knausgård's The Helios Disaster.
       This will presumably get a reasonable amount of attention because of who Boström Knausgård is married to -- that Karl Ove guy (My Struggle 1-6, etc.). It's also noteworthy as one of the first publications from Dutch publisher World Editions, De Geus' English-language publishing venture, with an ambitious list (and a confounding website).

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

2 March 2015 - Monday

March issue of Words without Borders | Norman Manea Q & A
The Faces of God review

       March issue of Words without Borders

       The March issue of Words without Borders is now up, featuring: 'On Memory: New Japanese Writing', as well as some pieces on 'Mexico Interrupted'.

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

       Norman Manea Q & A

       At Bomb Morten Høi Jensen has a Q & A with Norman Manea, whose early work, Captives, is finally available in English; see the New Directions publicity page, or get your copy at
       I have a copy and should be getting to this; meanwhile, the only Manea title under review at the complete review is The Lair.

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

       The Faces of God review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Mallock's thriller, The Faces of God -- part of his 'Chroniques barbares'-series (though US publisher Europa editions is going with the more anodyne 'A Mallock Mystery').

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

1 March 2015 - Sunday

Yaşar Kemal (1923-2015) | German March/spring best-of lists

       Yaşar Kemal (1923-2015)

       Turkish great Yaşar Kemal has passed away; see, for example, The New York Times' obituary.
       The New York Times suggests he was Turkey's "first novelist of global stature"; whether he was first or not, he was certainly of global stature, and a serious Nobel candidate.
       Memed, My Hawk is a good place to start: see the New York Review Books publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

       German March/spring best-of lists

       The German-critics-best list for March is out, the SWR-Bestenliste, where 26 prominent literary critics vote for their top title of the month: Ian McEwan's The Children Act tops the list, albeit very unenthusiastically -- a total of 67 points is lower than if every judge had voted it in fourth place .... Meanwhile, Stefano D'Arrigo's much more interesting sounding Horcynus Orca, which I mentioned recently, came in second, with the new Kundera a lowly seventh, the new Houellebecq an even lowlier eighth (the latter two also still to come in English). Not much uniform enthusiasm, it seems.

       Meanwhile, there's the Bestenliste "Weltempfänger" from Litprom, where a jury selects the best translated (into German) works from Africa, Asia, and Latin America -- the new spring selections more conveniently listed here -- which looks pretty interesting too.

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

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