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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 May 2015

1 May: Bookselling in ... Burma | A Legend of the Future review
2 May: May Words without Borders | Vano and Niko review
3 May: Ruth Rendell (1930-2015) | Ngũgĩ's early writing life | Tehran International Book Fair
4 May: Cullman Fellows | New Swedish Book Review | Nervous Conditions review
5 May: Borgesian Library of Babel | Emirates Novel Award | The Steel Spring review
6 May: Best Translated Book Award - fiction finalists | New World Literature Today | Goncourt du premier roman | (Over)publishing in ... Iceland | The Book of Beginnings review
7 May: International Prize for Arabic Fiction | Sergio Ramírez event | Literary funding in ... New Zealand | 'Rubbish Chinese fiction' in Viet Nam | The Making of Zombie Wars review
8 May: Professor of Poetry, Oxford | Literaturpreis des Kulturkreises der deutschen Wirtschaft | Literary prize requirements/limitations | PEN World Voices panel
9 May: Dalkey Archive Press heads to Texas | Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize | Censorship in Russia | Sitti Nurbaya review
10 May: Preserving oral literature | Nigeria International Book Fair | Shibata Motoyuki profile

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10 May 2015 - Sunday

Preserving oral literature | Nigeria International Book Fair
Shibata Motoyuki profile

       Preserving oral literature

       In The Standard Vivere Nandiemo and Barrack Oduor maintain We must save oral literature from extinction (in Kenya).
       I think maybe they get carried away in arguing, for example:
(I)t is high time some of the lost values in this generation were tactfully inculcated using oral literature; patience, tolerance, chastity, love and even kindness. Looking upon today's society, it is these values that are missing. Maybe this is why tribalism is rife, coastal youths are turning extremism, HIV and Aids is scaling new heights and crime is a way of life.
       (Is it really necessary (or in any way helpful) to frame the debate in this way ?)

       See also Okot p'Bitek's classic Song of Lawino, from which they quote in opening the piece; as well as the Kenya Oral Literature Association.

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

       Nigeria International Book Fair

       The Nigeria International Book Fair -- "NIBF, as abbreviatedly called", as they helpfully suggest at the official site -- runs from tomorrow through Saturday: "a well-packaged, well-organised, the biggest and the consistent book event in Africa today".
       Glad to see there's some media coverage -- but I'm not sure headlines such as Nigeria book fair drags foreign publishers, printers to Lagos (as Simeon Mpamugoh reports in The Sun) make it sound as tempting as it should be.

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

       Shibata Motoyuki

       In The Japan Times James Hadfield profiles The 'dwarf' architect of Japan's literary boom, Shibata Motoyuki (柴田元幸)
       Among the observations: he: "still finds it hard to convince American editors how good [Kawakami Hiromi] is" (the author of The Briefcase (UK title: Strange Weather in Tokyo) and Manazuru).
"Japanese literature is in great shape now," Shibata says. "So many writers are trying so many different things. It's really a wonderful time for literature."
       Hopefully, this will eventually also translate abroad .....

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

9 May 2015 - Saturday

Dalkey Archive Press heads to Texas
Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize
Censorship in Russia | Sitti Nurbaya review

       Dalkey Archive Press heads to Texas

       Dalkey Archive Press settled at Illinois State University in 1992 and stuck it out there through 2006; for a while they intended to move on to the University of Rochester, but that fell through (which turned out to work out well, since that gave us Open Letter Books), heading to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign instead. After less than a decade there they are relocating again, as Dalkey Archive Press announces relocation to UHV. (Confusingly, the Dalkey Archive archive went to Columbia University in 2012 -- and they also have offices in London and Dublin)
       UHV ? That would be the University of Houston-Victoria, Texas (yeah, I hadn't ever heard of it either) -- which happens also to be the home of another former Illinois State University-alum, the American Book Review.
       I have no idea what ramifications such an office-move might have, but given that I rely on them for so many of the books I review (well over a hundred Dalkey titles are currently under review at the complete review) as long as they keep churning out the same kind of stuff, I really don't care much. (But it would be nice if they finally got their web-presence a bit better organized: the About-page (and lack of any information about the impending move ...) pretty much sum things up .....)

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

       Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize

       They've announced that Catherine Schelbert will receive the 2015 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize for her translation of Hugo Ball's Flametti, or The Dandyism of the Poor published by Wakefield Press -- a great choice. (See also the Wakefield Press publicity page, or get your copy at or

       One of my favorite things about this prize is that they reveal all the titles in the running (as every literary prize should) -- making it also a great resource to see what's been translated from German into English in any given year. The list of 2015 submissions is noteworthy both for how few submissions there were -- twenty-one (compared to more than fifty in 2014, for example) -- and the fact that a stunning nine of those twenty-one were from a single publisher -- Seagull Books. Yes, a publisher based in India dominates translation-from-the German-into-English.

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

       Censorship in Russia

       Headlines don't get much more depressing than this: in The Moscow Times Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber reports that More Than 80% of Russians Favor State Censorship of Literature, Film, Art. Yes, the good news is that: "56 percent of the Russian population think bans on theater productions, films and other artistic creations are unacceptable" -- but a little censorship, that's apparently okay with the vast majority.
82 percent of Russians agree with the state's control of films, books, theater productions and art exhibits. Respondents in favor of state censorship frequently said it was needed to prevent the injurious effects of works of art containing violent, vulgar or immoral episodes on society.
       Praise the Soviet legacy, saving contemporary Russians from themselves !

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

       Sitti Nurbaya review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Marah Rusli's 1922 novel, Sitti Nurbaya: A Love Unrealized, yet another volume in Lontar's Modern Library of Indonesia, and a nice little discovery.

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

8 May 2015 - Friday

Professor of Poetry, Oxford
Literaturpreis des Kulturkreises der deutschen Wirtschaft
Literary prize requirements/limitations | PEN World Voices panel

       Professor of Poetry, Oxford

       The great Geoffrey Hill has been Professor of Poetry at Oxford since 2010, and with his five-year-term ending soon, the hunt is on for his successor, with voting to be held from 22 May to 17 June.
       In The Guardian Alison Flood reports that Wole Soyinka leads candidates for Oxford professor of poetry, the author receiving more than 90 nominations (with fifty the minimum needed to be considered). Ian Gregson (54 nominations) and Seán Haldane (51) are the others in the running.

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

       Literaturpreis des Kulturkreises der deutschen Wirtschaft

       The Literaturpreis des Kulturkreises der deutschen Wirtschaft -- the literary prize of the 'Association of Arts and Culture of the German Economy at the Federation of German Industries', as they apparently style themselves -- is certainly among the odder German literary prizes. Sort of like if the (US) Chamber of Commerce had a cultural wing, and gave out prizes (and money !) to young artistic talents. (Yes, I know the very idea is too comically absurd for my American readers to even wrap their heads around ... these wacky Europeans !)
       But they actually do very impressive work, and offer some nice support -- and they've announced that Juja- (and Das achte Leben (Für Brilka) -- which is coming out in English translation !) author Nino Haratischwili has been awarded the €20,000 prize this year. Nice.

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

       Literary prize requirements/limitations

       At Africa is a Country Ishtiyaq Shukri explains Why I asked for my work to be withdrawn from the inaugural FT/OppenheimerFunds Emerging Voices Awards -- his main complaint being the bizarre citizenship-limitations on artists considered for this "cumbersome prize".
       Shukri explains:
I do not believe in "emerging voices" or "emerging market countries". Having spent enough of my life in contrived categories, I uphold the vision of just one world.
       Amen to that (and with its wonderful national eligibility definition -- "defined by the World Bank Atlas Method (i.e. those with a GNI per capita of less than $12,746" -- the prize was really setting itself up for this reaction.)
       (I do note, however, that his complaint about passport/proof of nationality-requirements isn't well-informed -- European and North American (and other) artists are indeed "interrogated in the same way" for quite a few national-limited prizes (with the Man Booker one of the few to have made the question moot by finally, sensibly giving up on any citizenship requirement).)

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

       PEN World Voices panel

       There are any number of worthwhile PEN World Voices events for you to still attend -- an impressive lot today, too -- and tomorrow I'll be on the panel Who We Talk About When We Talk About Translation: The Bloggers, in illustrious company: BookSexy Review herself, Tara Cheesman-Olmsted; Conversational Reading and The Quarterly Conversation (and so much more)'s Scott Esposito; founder and managing editor Nana-Ama Kyerematen; all moderated by The Bridge co-founder Sal Robinson.
       It's at Albertine (which should be enough to entice you), Saturday at 15:00.

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

7 May 2015 - Thursday

International Prize for Arabic Fiction | Sergio Ramírez event
Literary funding in ... New Zealand | 'Rubbish Chinese fiction' in Viet Nam
The Making of Zombie Wars review

       International Prize for Arabic Fiction

       They've announced that The Italian [الطلياني] by Shukri Mabkhout [شكرى المبخوت] wins 2015 International Prize for Arabic Fiction.
       This leading Arabic fiction prize comes with US$50,000 prize money, and Mabkhout is: "guaranteed an English translation of his novel". There were 180 entries for the prize.
       As M. Lynx Qualey notes in her report in The Guardian, the novel has been banned from bookshops across the Emirates (though it will be available at the Abu Dhabi International Book, which opens today). [Updated: As Qualey now reports at her weblog, the ban has been lifted/PR nightmare averted.] Mixed messages here -- awards, yes, but let people actually/easily read the book: not so much.

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

       Sergio Ramírez event

       The English translation of Sergio Ramírez's 1988 novel, Divine Punishment, was launched yesterday at a PEN World Voices/Americas Society event.
       As I've mentioned, the book actually got a lot of good US media coverage when it first came out in Spanish -- see the profiles in The Los Angeles Times and The New York Times -- and was slated for 1990 publication in the US. But the Sandinistas lost the 1990 elections, Ramírez -- Nicaragua's vice-president since 1985 -- was no longer a hot political figure, the editor at his American publisher left, and they dropped the book. (Neither Ramírez nor his translator, Nick Caistor, were sure of who exactly the publisher had been -- a few names were bandied about, but the foolish outfit not definitively identified.)
       Caistor had actually translated the book back then -- but all traces of hard- and disk-copies were lost in the ensuing mess, and he actually translated it again, for the now available -- from McPherson & Co. -- edition.
       Ramírez described how he wrote the book, even though he was kept rather busy in his official capacity at the time -- rising at four in the morning (with the help of his wife -- someone to wake him, and push him out of bed ...), and working for a few hours before he switched to a completely different frame of mind.
       Among the amusing titbits: he did write the book on a computer -- an IBM that came to him via Canada and Madrid (with the US embargoing Nicaragua, computers were impossible to get from or via the US at the time) -- using the old Symphony (DOS) program. The book took up 20 (!) floppy disks -- ah, the good old days of data storage -- which, of course, are now essentially unreadable (the necessary hardware hardly exists any longer); he donated them to a Spanish literary museum.
       Back in 1988 the book got a rave from Carlos Fuentes -- a rave published just as Fuentes was picking up his Premio Cervantes, the highest Spanish literary honor. Ramírez was in town for the ceremony, as were many of Fuentes' foreign publishers; selling foreign rights to the book went very well that week.

       (You can catch Ramírez at another PEN World Voices event today, Sergio Ramírez: Journey to the Heart of Literature; the PEN World Voices page notes it's in Spanish but fails to note that the Instituto Cervantes admirably provides simultaneous translation (see the small print), so (just-)English-speakers shouldn't be scared off. An interesting life, and a very fine writer, so an event well worth checking out.)

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

       Literary funding in ... New Zealand

       Literary times are tough in New Zealand, it seems. As Belinda Feek reports in The New Zealand Herald:
New Zealand Book Month has been postponed indefinitely as the trust that governs it failed to get funding, the Literary Awards are on hold after BNZ pulled its funding and The New Zealand Book Awards had a shake-up after NZ Post withdrew their funding last year.
       Relying on sponsorship is, of course, always risky; sad to see what looks like near-across-the-board cutbacks here.

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

       'Rubbish Chinese fiction' in Viet Nam

       Via I'm pointed to this article from a couple of weeks ago at Tuoi Tre News, Oversentimental, sex fiction of Chinese origin endemic in Vietnam, which is as bizarrely amusing a story as you'd expect.
       All the concern about: "Young Vietnameseís adoration for soppy fiction" is good fun, but what I also found fascinating was that:
The boom in online "translators," most of whom have a fragmentary command or none at all of the Chinese language, has added to the bountiful supply of such books.

They generally use software to convert the Chinese versions into awkward Vietnamese stories before clumsily "editing" them into finished "works."

Such "translators" as Yingli, Dennis Q, and Greenrosetq are "venerated" by their fans as much as the Chinese writers themselves
       Despite the journalist's disdain ("disdain" ?), surely it's of interest that these "translators" are onto something -- that re-writing machine-translation (of the right material) is good enough to wow the fans. Obviously, these 'translators' are more (if also rather differently) involved in shaping the final text than is usually the case, but if they're being identified and venerated, they surely must be doing something very right (both in their selection of source material and then their repackaging of it in Vietnamese).
       I'm curious whether anything similar will ever happen (or has happened ?) in 'major' languages with a better-established domestic translation/publishing market.

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

       The Making of Zombie Wars review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Aleksandar Hemon's just-released new novel, The Making of Zombie Wars.

       I've been hoping to cover more English-language/US fiction -- I've been lagging: this is the first American work of fiction I've reviewed in seven months ! -- but this did not help convince me that that would be a good investment of my reading and reviewing time and resources.

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

6 May 2015 - Wednesday

Best Translated Book Award - fiction finalists | New World Literature Today
Goncourt du premier roman | (Over)publishing in ... Iceland
The Book of Beginnings review

       Best Translated Book Award - fiction finalists

       They've announced the fiction-finalists for the Best Translated Book Award (for which I am a judge), and they are:
  • The Author and Me, by Éric Chevillard, tr. Jordan Stump

  • Faces in the Crowd, by Valeria Luiselli, tr. Christina MacSweeney

  • Fantomas versus the Multinational Vampires, by Julio Cortázar, tr. David Krunick

  • La Grande, by Juan José Saer, tr. Steve Dolph

  • Harlequin's Millions, by Bohumil Hrabal, tr. Stacey Knecht

  • The Last Lover, by Can Xue, tr. Annelise Finegan Wasmoen

  • Pushkin Hills, by Sergei Dovlatov, tr. Katherine Dovlatov

  • Things Look Different in the Light, by Medardo Fraile, tr. Margaret Jull Costa

  • Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, by Elena Ferrante, tr. Ann Goldstein

  • The Woman Who Borrowed Memories, by Tove Jansson, tr. Thomas Teal
       A nicely varied lot (with just a bit of a Spanish-language tilt), and it'll be interesting to see what winner emerges.
       The winner will be announced 27 May (at BookExpo America).

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

       New World Literature Today

       The new issue of World Literature Today is (partially) available online, with a focus on 'New Hebrew Writing'.
       Most importantly: the World Literature in Review review-section is fully accessible -- always worth a look.

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

       Goncourt du premier roman

       They've announced the winner of this year's Goncourt du premier roman -- the 'first novel'-Goncourt -- and it's yet another prize for The Meursault Investigation, Kamel Daoud's variation on Camus.
       It will be available next month in the US (and in two in the UK); see the Other Press publicity page, or pre-order your copy at or

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

       (Over)publishing in ... Iceland

       At Grapevine Elliott Brandsma wonder whether in famously book-friendly Iceland there might be Too Many Books: Do Icelandic Publishers Need To Chill Out ?
       When there was: "one year when the publishing companies collectively released almost a hundred new cookbooks" (this in a country with a total population of not much more than 300,000) one can argue that the industry/market maybe aren't functioning perfectly ..... Still, I hope they keep it up.

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

       The Book of Beginnings review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of François Jullien's The Book of Beginnings, a non-fiction work in Yale University Press' always worthwhile Margellos World Republic of Letters-series.
       An interesting look at looking at Chinese culture/thought -- with some good discussion of translation-issues along the way.

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

5 May 2015 - Tuesday

Borgesian Library of Babel | Emirates Novel Award | The Steel Spring review

       Borgesian Library of Babel

       It was only a matter of computing power and time before someone would try to (re)create what Jorge Luis Borges imagined in his story, 'The Library of Babel' (read it in his Collected Fictions -- since, of course, you should read his collected fiction), and Jonathan Basile has had a pretty good go at it, with
       Overview-articles have been appearing all over -- check out those at Slate, The Guardian, and The Independent -- but the site is fun to check out as well. That said, it does take quite a bit (a near infinite amount of time, probably ...) of shelf-browsing to stumble across anything that is ... readable.

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

       Emirates Novel Award

       At Gulf News they report that Winners of Emirates Novel Award honoured (complete with a great lots-of-hands-on-the-prize photograph).
       Any local recognition seems like a positive, and maybe it helps get some attention farther afield too -- not too much Emirati fiction making it abroad nowadays ..... (At around US$16,000 the prize isn't huge, but not bad.)

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

       The Steel Spring review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Per Wahlöö's The Steel Spring, the second of his two Inspector Jensen novels.

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

4 May 2015 - Monday

Cullman Fellows | New Swedish Book Review | Nervous Conditions review

       Cullman Fellows

       They've announced the 2015-2016 Fellows at the New York Public Library's Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers -- a nine-month gig that includes "a stipend of up to $70,000, an office, a computer, and full access to the Library's physical and electronic resources".
       Always an interesting group of writers and projects, but most eye-catching this time around are:
  • Two-time Best Translated Book Award-winner Krasznahorkai László, who: "will be working on a novel about Melville after the publication of Moby Dick". Awesome !

  • Bonsai-author Alejandro Zambra, who: "will be working on a book about personal libraries".

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

       New Swedish Book Review

       The 2015:1 Issue of the Swedish Book Review is now up, with all the book reviews and some of the articles (including a report on The Tove Jansson Centennial Conference: Multiple Aesthetics, Passion, Politics and Philosophy by Silvester Mazzarella) freely accessible.

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

       Nervous Conditions review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Tsitsi Dangarembga's 1988 novel, Nervous Conditions -- a novel that lives up to its modern-African-classic reputation.

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

3 May 2015 - Sunday

Ruth Rendell (1930-2015) | Ngũgĩ's early writing life
Tehran International Book Fair

       Ruth Rendell (1930-2015)

       Crime writer Ruth Rendell (who also wrote as Barbara Vine) has passed away; see the overview at Literature Matters or, for example, obituaries in The Guardian and The Telegraph, or Val McDermid on No one can equal Ruth Rendell's range or accomplishment in The Guardian.

        While none of her books are under review at the complete review I've read about twenty or so; I have another half dozen in reserve -- I'll generally pick up any mass-market-paperback copy I haven't read that I stumble across at any used bookstore She is one of those reliable authors one can turn to if nothing else seems to fit the bill at a certain point, and it's always good to have a few spare still unread ones at hand should the need arise.

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

       Ngũgĩ's early writing life

       At The Standard Ngũgĩ recalls his literary walk as Weep Not, Child turns 50.
       This is apparently: "an adaptation from Ngũgĩís upcoming third memoir titled: The Making of a Dream Weaver: A Makerere Memoir".
       I can't find any record of it elsewhere (yet), but that's certainly something I am looking forward to. Meanwhile, I'm most excited to be able to hear the great author in person at the PEN World Voices opening night event tomorrow !

       (Updated - 5 May): A reader points me to the information that the third volume of Ngũgĩís memoirs is forthcoming (alas, only in the fall of 2016) from The New Press (not, like the previous two, Pantheon -- I wonder why ?). Equally exciting: they'll be publishing: "a new work of fiction, The Perfect Nine: The Epic of Gikũyũ and Mũmbĩ".

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

       Tehran International Book Fair

       The Tehran International Book Fair opens Tuesday, with President to open 28th Intl. Book Fair, as Hassan Rouhani will be doing the honors. I look forward to hearing reports from the fair -- and wonder whether there has been an appreciable change in the local literary (atmo)sphere.
       And I am kind of curious about the guest of honor -- Oman. One doesn't hear much about, or see much Omani literature ..... (M.Lynx Qualey has a good introductory look at her Arabic Literature (in English) weblog, Where Are Oman's Authors ?)

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

2 May 2015 - Saturday

May Words without Borders | Vano and Niko review

       May Words without Borders

       The May issue of Words without Borders is out, with a focus on 'New Palestinian Writing' as well as some 'New Writing from Bulgaria'.

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

       Vano and Niko review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Erlom Akhvlediani's Vano and Niko and other stories -- another in Dalkey Archive Press' Georgian Literature Series.

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

1 May 2015 - Friday

Bookselling in ... Burma | A Legend of the Future review

       Bookselling in ... Burma

       In The Myanmar Times Zon Pann Pwint reports on the shuttering of Amay Eain (Mother House) bookshop -- "The oldest bookshop on Pansodan Road" --, in Yangon's long-standing bookshop shuts down
       The familiar lament:
"The decline in sales is one of the factors behind the closure. People don't read, they just play with their mobile phones," said owner U Nyi Nyi, gazing disconsolately at the barred accordion gates.
       One writer does note: "there are many bookshops still open in Yangon"; one hopes that will remain the case.

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

       A Legend of the Future review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Agustín de Rojas' A Legend of the Future.

       This work of Cuban science fiction is due out soon in paperback from Restless Books (it's already available in e-book format, on Kindle, etc.) -- one of the first titles in their ambitious and promising series. Great to see these being translated into English (and also more widely available in Spanish ...).

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

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