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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 April 2015

11 April: Children's literature in translation | Divine Punishment review
12 April: Translating science fiction into ... Chinese | Translation in ... India | Nepali literary symposium
13 April: London Book Fair | The Red Notebook review
14 April: Günter Grass (1927-2015) | Eduardo Galeano (1940-2015) | Literature in translation statistics (UK and Ireland) | Reading in ... Afghanistan
15 April: International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award shortlist | European Union Prize for Literature | Hoda Barakat Q & A
16 April: 'Books from Taiwan'-site | Agenting translations | The Dead Mountaineer's Inn review
17 April: PEN Literary Awards shortlists | Translation from ... Chinese | Book surplus ? | The Death of Napoleon review
18 April: Georgi Gospodinov profile | Nigeria Prize for Literature | Why these books should win (the BTBA)
19 April: Q & As: Marina Warner - Willis Barnstone | The Four Books review
20 April: Los Angeles Times Book Prizes | German Book Prize | Jazz, Perfume and the Incident review

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20 April 2015 - Monday

Los Angeles Times Book Prizes | German Book Prize
Jazz, Perfume and the Incident review

       Los Angeles Times Book Prizes

       They announced the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes over the weekend -- and one title is even under review at the complete review: First Fiction winner Faces in the Crowd (by Valeria Luiselli).

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

       German Book Prize

       The German Book Prize -- with a winner to be announced in October, at the Frankfurt Book Fair -- has revealed that Publishers submit 167 titles.
       Alas -- and inexplicably -- they don't reveal what those 167 titles are, embracing a Man Booker-like lack of transparency.

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

       Jazz, Perfume and the Incident review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Seno Gumira Ajidarma's Jazz, Perfume and the Incident., another title in Lontar's excellent Modern Library of Indonesia.

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

19 April 2015 - Sunday

Q & As: Marina Warner - Willis Barnstone | The Four Books review

       Q & A: Marina Warner

       At her Arabic Literature (in English) weblog M. Lynx Qualey has a Q & A with author and Man Booker International Prize judge Marina Warner, including about the wonderful Library of Arabic Literature. (A note at the end suggests: "This interview first appeared on the Library of Arabic Literature website", but I can't find a trace of it there.)
       Some interesting observations about the Man Booker judging process, Warner also mentioning that Radwa Ashour "was a strong candidate for the shortlist if she hadn't died", and:
One of the writers whom we read, who unfortunately didn't quite make the list, is Bensalem Himmich. And Himmich is a very strong example of writing about the past in a very detailed, rich way -- as Gamal al-Ghitani does, in Zayni Barakat, a novel I also admire profoundly. These are exemplary historical writings, that bring the past into living being, but at the same time they're actually palimpsests through which one sees the present time.
       As far back as 2010 I suggested Himmich was among the strongest Arabic Nobel-contenders (along with al-Ghitani -- as well as Ibrahim al-Koni, who is a Man Booker International Prize finalist this year); see reviews of The Polymath and The Theocrat.

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

       Q & A: Willis Barnstone

       At The New York Times' Sinosphere weblog Ian Johnson has a Q & A with Willis Barnstone on Translating Mao and Touring Beijing With Allen Ginsberg, the translator recounting some interesting experiences [via].

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

       The Four Books review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Yan Lianke's The Four Books.
       This has been out for a few months in the US (and UK), but has received very little major-US media attention -- a bit surprisingly, to me, given Yan's stature (and the decent amount of coverage his previous titles have gotten). True, it doesn't seem entirely successful to me, but in many ways it's his most interesting work, lending itself to college course-reading, for example.

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

18 April 2015 - Saturday

Georgi Gospodinov profile | Nigeria Prize for Literature
Why these books should win (the BTBA)

       Georgi Gospodinov profile

       With The Physics of Sorrow out in English this week Garth Greenwell writes about The Bulgarian Sadness of Georgi Gospodinov at The New Yorker's Page-Turner weblog.

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

       Nigeria Prize for Literature

       The Nigeria Prize for Literature -- at US$100,000 more remunerative than many major American literary prizes (though you'd figure with the kind of cash they could get around to updating the official page to this year's competition ...) -- rotates through four genres (fiction, non, children, drama), and this year is a kid's-lit year.
       At This Day they now report that 109 Authors Vie for 2015 NLNG Literature Prize. Good to see there's that much eligible children's literature being written in Nigeria -- and hopefully the prize can help raise the profile of some of it.

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

       Why these books should win (the BTBA)

       I hope you've been following the daily installments of the 'Why This Book Should Win' (the Best Translated Book Award)-series at Three Percent as the judges (and a few others) make the case for each of the twenty-five longlisted titles.
       Yesterday was my (first) turn, making the case for Leopoldo Marechal's Adam Buenosayres.

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

17 April 2015 - Friday

PEN Literary Awards shortlists | Translation from ... Chinese
Book surplus ? | The Death of Napoleon review

       PEN Literary Awards shortlists

       They've announced the shortlists for the (many) PEN Literary Awards.
       Of most interest to me (also but not solely because I haven't reviewed any of the shortlisted titles in any of the other categories): the PEN Translation Prize.
       The final five are:        Only one of these titles also made the Best Translated Book Award longlist (of 25 titles) -- Baboon -- but I'm pleased to see the Bitov figure in the final five here, too.

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

       Translation from ... Chinese

       Perry Link's piece on The Wonderfully Elusive Chinese Novel -- nominally a review of the final volume of David Tod Roy's five-volume translation of The Plum in the Golden Vase or, Chin P'ing Mei -- is now freely accessible at The New York Review of Books site, and well worth a read.
       Among the points raised by Link:
Whether Chin P'ing Mei is taken as broad social canvas, literary innovation, serious ethical criticism, or only spicy entertainment, a question that has haunted its study over the last hundred years is whether it is -- indeed whether China has -- a "great novel." I think China would be better off if the question were not asked so much.
       He explains:
But why do I feel that China -- and Sinologists -- would be better off to relax about the idea that "we have great novels, too" ? I feel this because I think that setting up literary civilizations as rivals (although I can understand the insecurities that led Liang Qichao and others to do it) only gets in the way of readers enjoying imaginative works.
       Interesting also his observation:
Should we compare poetry across civilizations ? If we do, classical Chinese poetry wins easily. The contest is almost unfair, because, as my students of Chinese language eventually come to see, the fundaments of language are different.
       I'm sure there are a few English professors left gasping by the thought:
Emily Dickinson might have come to be known as the greatest poet in world history if she had written in classical Chinese.
       Overall, the piece is a good (and probably necessary) reminder of how varied literature is, and why familiarity with the foreign (mostly, sigh, via translation) -- and an understanding of its 'difference' -- is so (in)valuable.

       Like longtime local favorite The Story of the Stone, I can certainly recommend Chin P'ing Mei -- though I read (back in my college days) the Clement Egerton translation (with its infamous Latin passages). For the David Tod Roy translation (beginning with volume one), see the Princeton University Press publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

       Book surplus ?

       At The New York Review of Books' blog Tim Parks wonders whether there are Too Many Books ? -- arguing: "it's hard not to feel that we are in an era of massive overproduction", as well as that this surfeit: "tends to diminish the seriousness with which I approach any particular book".
       I barely understand the question/concern -- sure, I'm annoyed by the piles of crap that flood the market (or non-market ...), and could certainly do without the dozens of e-mail pitches touting yet another anguished memoir I seem to get daily, but I don't think we've reached anywhere near capacity and I still thirst for (much) more. (The limited amount of fiction-in-translation published in English annually -- however many hundreds or even now/soon thousands of titles it is -- is a constant reminder of how little of even just the good stuff we get to see: it remains just a fraction of what is written in other languages, a needle-tip of an iceberg (sorry about that mixed metaphor, but it seems about right).)
       Bring it on, I say. We -- well, I -- can't get enough.

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

       The Death of Napoleon review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Simon Leys' nice little novella, The Death of Napoleon.
       This has been re-issued (it seems) countless times, but New York Review Books are having another go at it -- and theirs is certainly a nicer-looking volume than the horrific movie-tie-in one.

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

16 April 2015 - Thursday

'Books from Taiwan'-site | Agenting translations
The Dead Mountaineer's Inn review

       'Books from Taiwan'-site

       I'm not sure how useful national literary sites are in getting the word out among readers or potential publishers abroad, but I find some of them are very helpful. A relatively new one on the block is Books from Taiwan (already staking '© 2015-2016' ...), and it looks like it has some potential [via].
       Presumably the page of greatest interest to foreign (especially American) publishers is that describing the funding support -- the NT$150,000 translation grant translates into a bit less than US$5,000; the publication-only grant is (impressively) three times that amount.

       (While on the subject of national book sites, I'm cautiously optimistic about how the Georgian National Book Center is shaping up -- especially with the promise of an electronic database of Georgian literature in translation (due to be available in August -- though already pictured (with a link to nowhere ...) on the site's main page).)

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

       Agenting translations

       At Publishing Perspectives Tara Tober has a Q & A with Laurence Laluyaux on agenting translated fiction.

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

       The Dead Mountaineer's Inn review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of One More Last Rite for the Detective Genre by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, The Dead Mountaineer's Inn, available in English translation (by Josh Billings ) for the first time, from Melville House.
       An earlier translation was slated for publication in 1988, as Inspector Glebsky's Puzzle -- it even had an ISBN number (0931933684) -- but it apparently never saw the light of day.

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

15 April 2015 - Wednesday

International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award shortlist
European Union Prize for Literature
Hoda Barakat Q & A

       International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award shortlist

       They've announced the shortlist for the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award -- at ten titles still quite long, but certainly more manageable than the 142 titles they started out with.
       Three of the ten finalists are translations. Embarrassingly, I've only read one of the shortlisted titles (Horses of God by Mahi Binebine, which also made the Best Translated Book Award shortlist last year) and reviewed none (with the small excuse that the two other translated titles don't appear to be published in the US yet).
       Among the notable titles failing to make the final cut were Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries, Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch, and NoViolet Bulawayo's We Need New Names, as well as titles by J.M. Coetzee, Elena Ferrante, and Karl Ove Knausgaard. Stephen King and Thomas Pynchon, too.

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

       European Union Prize for Literature

       They've announced the winners of the European Union Prize for Literature (which should surely be the European Union Prizes for Literature, given that they hand these out a dozen or so at a time).
       I also don't understand why this is a European prize for literature, since it is distinctly national: the winners are selected by national juries, who (are mandated to) each select a hometown winner.
       Still, the basic idea -- to get authors from across Europe some attention on a bigger stage -- is certainly worthy, and it seems to be working reasonably well.

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

       Hoda Barakat Q & A

       In the Daily Star India Stoughton has a Q & A with Man Booker International Prize-finalist Hoda Barakat (a prize she was apparently unfamiliar with until she was named a finalist ...).

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

14 April 2015 - Tuesday

Günter Grass (1927-2015) | Eduardo Galeano (1940-2015)
Literature in translation statistics (UK and Ireland)
Reading in ... Afghanistan

       Günter Grass (1927-2015)

       1999 Nobel laureate Günter Grass has passed away; see, for example obituaries in The New York Times and The Guardian.
       As one of the authors whose work I had read long before I started this site, little is under review at the complete review -- just a few odds and ends from the past fifteen years:        A few weeks ago Peter Handke was in New York, at the Wim Wnders retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, and in one of the post-film discussions he rambled on about all sorts of things. Grass came up too, and Handke acknowledged he was a very great writer -- or, as Handke put it, had been, 'for three years' (presumably meaning the trilogy years -- which were actually four, 1959 (The Tin Drum) to 1963). If he peaked there, Grass certainly also wrote enough else that deserves to be remembered and read.
       There's tons of media coverage of course; for some writer-reactions see Salman Rushdie explaining The Greatness of Günter Grass at The New Yorker's Page-Turner, and a Q & A with Jeffrey Eugenides at DeutscheWelle.

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

       Eduardo Galeano (1940-2015)

       Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano has passed away; see, for example obituaries in The New York Times and The Guardian.
       The Book of Embraces is a good, personal starting point; see the W.W.Norton publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

       Literature in translation statistics (UK and Ireland)

       At Literature Across Frontiers they have posted Publishing translated literature in the United Kingdom and Ireland 1990-2012 statistical report (pdf; see also the summary press release).
       (This supersedes the preliminary and (so I found) very problematic 2012 study and looks to be considerably more thorough and precise (and reliable).)
       Lots of interesting information here -- including re. source languages (where it's nice to know that some woefully under-represented ones have fared better in recent years (e.g. Georgian, with Dalkey Archive's Georgian-series -- or Korean, with Dalkey's Library of Korea-series outpacing all translations from Korean from 2000 to 2012)). But it's the methodology and definitional questions which are of course of the greatest interest -- what exactly is being counted, and how, and the discussion here is very helpful -- especially compared with the previous study, which helpfully provided raw data but overlooked many of the issues that data presented.
       What's really exciting is the promise of what comes next:
The next step in the effort to provide comprehensive information on translations published in the United Kingdom and Ireland will be the creation of a freely available database of literary translations, analysis of the previous decade (1990 2000) and ongoing analysis of future annual data supplied by the British Library.
       With a slightly different ambit (beyond just the geographical) than the Three Percent Translation Database (limited, e.g., to (adult) fiction and poetry, and only first-time translations), this study counts a somewhat different (and, helpfully, broader) variety of titles -- but, like the Three Percent database, the database should prove very helpful in providing some insight and being a useful starting-point for analysis.
       All these numbers must be treated with some caution -- note for example with 168 translations from ancient Greek, these translations would make ancient Greek the ninth-most-translated from language in the period 2000-2012 (here's where the raw data/the database will be useful -- in revealing what these titles are, allowing us to better judge how we should consider them), while on the Three Percent database it essentially doesn't figure at all ... -- and I'd still be cautious about throwing around that 'three per cent' figure (unless you add it all up carefully -- as they do here --, noting all the necessary caveats and limiting definitions), but this is a nice step forward in coming to grips with the question of what and how much is getting translated into English.
       (Of course, just like the Three Percent US-distribution requirement, the geographical/BNB limitation, in this age of much greater/easier cross-border movement of foreign publications (including of foreign English-language publications from huge markets such as India, Australia, and South Africa to local/governmental publications) doesn't necessarily reflect what and how much is actually quite readily available .....)

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

       Reading in ... Afghanistan

       Via I'm pointed to Qayoom Suroush's piece at Afghanistan Analysts Network, Reading in Kabul: The state of Afghan libraries -- a fascinating/depressing overview.

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

13 April 2015 - Monday

London Book Fair | The Red Notebook review

       London Book Fair

       The London Book Fair, the big UK publishing trade fair (with much foreign interest and involvement), starts tomorrow, running through Thursday.
       The 'Market Focus Spotlight' is on Mexico this year.

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

       The Red Notebook review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Antoine Laurain's The Red Notebook, just out in English, from Gallic Books.

       Written and published in France shortly before Patrick Modiano was named the Nobel laureate, the book features a Modiano cameo appearance -- using and capturing the author pretty darn well, too. Modiano's Nobel-win probably spoils this a bit in the French original -- Modiano suddenly too 'big' a writer for Laurain's purposes -- but actually helps for the English-language version, since it seems most US/UK readers otherwise wouldn't have had the foggiest idea of who this guy is.

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

12 April 2015 - Sunday

Translating science fiction into ... Chinese | Translation in ... India
Nepali literary symposium

       Translating science fiction into ... Chinese

       An interesting piece by The Three-Body Problem-translator Ken Liu at io9 on how when: 'early science fiction novels were first translated into Chinese, the translators took a lot of liberties with the material', in The "Heroic Translators" Who Reinvented Classic Science Fiction In China
       As he notes this early-days (and often via the Japanese translation) "audacious style of translation-cum-adaptation came to be known as 'heroic translation'". (No fan of free/adaptive translation, I'd prefer to employ a different term .....)

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

       Translation in ... India

       At dna Marisha Karwa reports on Literature's unsung heroes -- yes, that would be translators.
       She notes:
But while translated literary titles have steadily been available in India, especially in Kerala and West Bengal, translations of English titles into regional languages or those of regional works in other Indian languages, is a slowing trend.
       Interesting odds and ends -- including that apparently: "There is no Assamese equivalent for many words, such as seconds, minutes, miles, etc." -- as well as the usual depressing observations, such as:
Even if a book has been translated well, it is questionable whether a publishing house will take it up.

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

       Nepali literary symposium

       The Times of India previews an upcoming Nepali literary symposium, reporting that Literary meet to explore challenges, trends in Nepali literature.
       I hope there will be some reports from the proceedings -- especially regarding the: "presentations on trends in Nepali literature and renaissance in south Asian literature".

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

11 April 2015 - Saturday

Children's literature in translation | Divine Punishment review

       Children's literature in translation

       Daniel Hahn just published the second edition of the Oxford Companion to Children's Literature (see the Oxford University Press publicity page or get your copy at, or pre-order it at but now reports at PEN Atlas that, as far as children's literature in English translation goes, it remains: A rather grim story.
       He sees translation generally having made strides recently:
But one area where we haven't made our progress yet is in books for children; in recent years our children's publishing world has been as closed to work from other languages as it's ever been.
       Imprints like Pushkin Children's Books certainly help the cause -- but compared to the movement of children's literature across other languages it's amazing how closed-off the English-language market one remains (far more so than adult fiction, for example).

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

       Divine Punishment review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Sergio Ramírez's Divine Punishment.
       A 1988 novel, this was actually slated for publication from a major American publisher in the late 1980s but, as translator Nick Caistor notes, they pulled the plug in 1989, after the Sandinistas held (and lost) elections in Nicaragua: soon-no-longer-vice-president Ramírez was suddenly not such an interesting personality, apparently.
       At the time, Ramírez certainly was hot: when this title came out in Spanish he got profiles in, among other publications, The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times; you'd think with lead-ins like that the publisher would go ahead with publication even after he was no longer in political office. But no -- and it's taken a quarter of a century until the book now finally appears in English, from McPherson & Company.

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

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