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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 June 2015

1 June: BTBA ... 2016 ? | Malaysian pulp | Literary prize sponsorship
2 June: HKW Internationaler Literaturpreis 2015 shortlist | (Dutch) reaction to Janet Maslin's role-shift
3 June: Franz Kafka Prize | Marina Warner on global fiction | 36th anniversary of Arno Schmidt's death
4 June: Women’s Prize for Fiction | Horacio Castellanos Moya Q & A | Seveneves review
5 June: Katara Prize for the Arabic Novel | Stephen King on translation
6 June: Wales Book of the Year Awards | Japanese literature abroad
7 June: Ludvík Vaculík (1926-2015) | Before and During review
8 June: Premio Rómulo Gallegos | Amitav Ghosh Q & A
9 June: (Fake) Czech classics | Hebrew literature, in and outside Israel | Enrique Vila-Matas reviews
10 June: French-American Foundation Translation Prizes | German literature in ... Taiwan | Icelandic literary scandal ? | Calligraphy Lesson review

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10 June 2015 - Wednesday

French-American Foundation Translation Prizes | German literature in ... Taiwan
Icelandic literary scandal ? | Calligraphy Lesson review

       French-American Foundation Translation Prizes

       They handed out the French-American Foundation/Florence Gould Foundation Translation Prizes yesterday (at a nice ceremony at the Century Association which I was able to attend -- there was a big translator-turnout, too).
       A lifetime achievement Honorary Award went to Arthur Goldhammer -- translator of more than 120 (!) books, including recently Thomas Piketty's Capital in the Twenty-First Century.
       The fiction prize went to Donald Nicholson-Smith, for his translation of The Mad and the Bad, by Jean-Patrick Manchette -- a fine choice, and one that I hope helps ensure that, as he suggested, New York Review Books might be up for some more Manchette translations in the near future .....
       The non-fiction prize went to David Ball for his translation of Diary of the Dark Years, 1940-1944 by Jean Guéhenno; see the Oxford University Press publicity page, or get your copy at or
       (John Lambert's translation of Limonov got an 'honorable mention' in the non-fiction category.)

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

       German literature in ... Taiwan

       At DeutscheWelle Holger Heimann reports that 'translations of German bestsellers are particularly en vouge' [sic -- but you know what they mean] in Taiwan, in Reading between the lines in Taiwan.
       Apparently: "Most translations from German are published by Business Weekly" -- not a really huge number, but some impressive numbers behind it, nevertheless:
When I started out at Business Weekly 15 years ago, we published a translation from German only once every two years. By now, we publish three to five such works every year. Whereas we had only two German speaking editors before, we now have four.
       I wonder how many US publishers have four editors who all speak any one foreign language -- especially one from across the world (say, Chinese, Japanese, or Korean ...).

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

       Icelandic literary scandal ?

       Hey, it's a small country, so you can't expect too much, literary-scandal-wise -- but this does involve The Ambassador- and The Pets-author Bragi Ólafsson.
       He apparently wrote a limited-(to-300-copies-)edition book titled Bögglapóststofan which was: "given to a select group of 300 people as a Christmas gift" by the company that commissioned it. The problem ? The company was: "the very unpopular financial management company Gamma", and the gift was for their: "300 top customers".
       Anyway, Kári Tulinius has the story at Grapevine, in So What's This Literary Scandal I Keep Hearing About ?

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

       Calligraphy Lesson review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of The Collected Stories by Mikhail Shishkin, Calligraphy Lesson, recently out from Deep Vellum.

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

9 June 2015 - Tuesday

(Fake) Czech classics | Hebrew literature, in and outside Israel
Enrique Vila-Matas reviews

       (Fake) Czech classics

       At Radio Praha Ian Willoughby has a Q & A with David Cooper about the Rukopis královédvorský and the Rukopis zelenohorský -- two medieval Czech texts discovered in the nineteenth century that turned out to be hoaxes.
       Apparently a medieval revival across Europe at the time led to the rediscovery of classic texts all over -- but:
The Czechs were looking in their manuscript traditions for similar kinds of material and they weren't finding it.
       What to do ? Fake it, of course.
       And they were pretty damn successful -- in fact: "It was the most translated work of Czech literature for most of the 19th century into English." (Man, is that sad.)

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

       Hebrew literature, in and outside Israel

       In Forward Haim Weiss argues Israel Doesn't Have a Monopoly on Great Hebrew Literature -- writing in response to the Sapir Prize for Hebrew Literature changing its rules to now limit the award to (Israeli) resident authors.
       As he notes:
The isolation of a language, and the self-isolation of a culture, is a death sentence.
       For a relatively small -- but (at least thinly) widespread -- language such as Hebrew surely everything possible should be done to encourage its literature wherever it might be produced. (Aside from that, passport and residency requirements are an administrative nightmare; they should save themselves the trouble).

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

       Enrique Vila-Matas reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are my review of two Enrique Vila-Matas titles that New Directions is publishing ... today (with the first coming to the UK in a Harvill Secker edition shortly):        Great to have these, but, man, there is so much of his work (especially the early stuff) that hasn't been translated yet.

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

8 June 2015 - Monday

Premio Rómulo Gallegos | Amitav Ghosh Q & A

       Premio Rómulo Gallegos

       Among Spanish-language novel prizes the premio Internacional de Novela Rómulo Gallegos is hard to top: winning titles include One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez, Terra Nostra by Carlos Fuentes, Palinuro of Mexico by Fernando del Paso, The Savage Detectives by Roberto Bolaño, and titles by Mario Vargas Llosa, Javier Marías, Enrique Vila-Matas, and Ricardo Piglia so, yeah, its worth perking up and paying attention when the next prize is announced -- as it now has been: Tríptico de la infamia by Pablo Montoya beat out 162 submissions for this year's prize.
       See also the Latin American Herald Tribune report, Colombia's Pablo Montoya Wins Venezuelan Novel Prize.

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

       Amitav Ghosh Q & A

       The Times of India has an IANS Q & A with Amitav Ghosh, who has just released the last volume of a trilogy.
       Among the reveals: "I love appam and idiyappam". But anyone who approves of a dish simply because of the inclusion of poppy seeds easily wins me over .....
       Disappointing however to learn that: "I am currently writing a non-fiction".

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

7 June 2015 - Sunday

Ludvík Vaculík (1926-2015) | Before and During review

       Ludvík Vaculík (1926-2015)

       Czech author Ludvík Vaculík has passed away; see, for example, the report in The Prague Post.
       Open Letter reissued his novel The Guinea Pigs a few years ago; see their publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

       Before and During review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Vladimir Sharov's Before and During.

       As I mentioned just over a week ago, this book, in Oliver Ready's translation, won this year's Read Russia Prize (and it is an impressive translation). I was somewhat hesitant/slow in reviewing it because of the narrator-in-a-madhouse set-up, and the mysticism didn't help either, but I have to say I was pleasantly surprised, and very impressed. From what one hears, Sharov is definitely one of the more interesting contemporary Russian authors (and I was kind of hoping another of his more recent novels would be translated soon, so I could get to that first ...), and on the basis of this there's little doubt that he is to be taken very seriously.
       He's won a number of Russian literary prizes -- including last year's Russian Booker; see also this Q & A with him about that -- and there's no doubt that, sooner or later, more of his work will be available in English. Soon, I hope.
       Certainly the most exciting new Russian voice I've come across since Mikhail Shishkin.

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

6 June 2015 - Saturday

Wales Book of the Year Awards | Japanese literature abroad

       Wales Book of the Year Awards

       They've announced the Wales Book of the Year Awards, with Other People's Countries taking English-language-fiction top honors (see the Vintage publicity page, or get your copy at and Awst yn Anogia by Gareth F. Williams named the Welsh-language book of the year (get your copy at

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

       Japanese literature abroad

       In The Japan News Mariko Ozaki reports on a recent international symposium held in Seoul where they considered: 'The present and future prospects of Japanese-language literature within the world', in Japanese explored as a world literature.
       Among the interesting quotes: one from a professor teaching in France who observed: "Japanese is second after English in terms of the number of works translated from those languages into French" -- a statement that came with a very big but: "but about 90 percent are manga".
       Somewhat depressing, too: the claim:
Murakami is the key to opening up Japanese culture to the rest of the world.
       Way to put some pressure on the guy .....

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

5 June 2015 - Friday

Katara Prize for the Arabic Novel | Stephen King on translation

       Katara Prize for the Arabic Novel

       The Katara Prize for the Arabic Novel is a new, big-money prize for Arabic fiction,and in Al-Ahram Weekly Nourhan Tewfik 'sums up the debate surrounding Qatar's new literary prize', in A prize with a view.
       Prize-winner Ibrahim Abdel-Meguid weighs in -- noting:
"In 1996," he says, "I won the Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature from AUC. At the time, the committee was also anonymous and there was no application process. I was awarded the prize without applying. But the same debate ensued, because I was the first to receive the it. People argued that I was a foreign agent.

At the time, my response was: 'An agent for $1000 ? Come on, $2000 would have been more realistic !"

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

       Stephen King on translation

       Stephen King is featured in this week(end)'s 'By the Book' Q & A in The New York Times Book Review, and among the questions posed to him were:
Do you enjoy fiction in translation ? Stories from particular corners of the world ?

I actually avoid novels in translation when I can, because I always have the feeling that the author is being filtered through another mind.
       It's a fair objection, of course; still, not something that one hears too often nowadays. (And he does admit: "I also enjoyed Stieg Larsson, wooden prose and all".)

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

4 June 2015 - Thursday

Women’s Prize for Fiction | Horacio Castellanos Moya Q & A
Seveneves review

       Women’s Prize for Fiction

       They've announced that How to Be Both, by Ali Smith, has won the Women's Prize for Fiction (formerly Orange; currently sponsored by some liquor (pardon: liqueur) firm).
       I still haven't gotten to this one, but should eventually ...; meanwhile, see the Knopf publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

       Horacio Castellanos Moya Q & A

       Both parts of Caitlyn Christensen's Q & A with Horacio Castellanos Moya at Sampsonia Way are now up, here and here.
       Four of his works are under review at the complete review (e.g. The She-Devil in the Mirror), but I haven't gotten around to the latest to appear in English yet, The Dream of My Return; see also the New Directions publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

       Seveneves review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Neal Stephenson's new novel, Seveneves.

       This novel is 861 pages long -- but that only makes it the sixth (!) longest Stephenson novel under review at the complete review. There are authors I've reviewed considerably more books by, but going strictly by page-count, the 8174 pages worth of Stephenson books under review probably easily rank tops among any reviewed author.

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

3 June 2015 - Wednesday

Franz Kafka Prize | Marina Warner on global fiction
36th anniversary of Arno Schmidt's death

       Franz Kafka Prize

       They've announced that the 2015 Franz Kafka Prize, awarded annually for the: "artistically exceptional literary production of a contemporary author whose work addresses readers regardless of their origin, nationality and culture, like the work by Franz Kafka", will go to Eduardo Mendoza Garriga.
       Only two of his novels are under review at the complete review:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Marina Warner on global fiction

       In The Guardian yesterday Alison Flood previewed Marina Warner's William Matthews Memorial Lecture last night, in Man Booker International judge speaks out against lack of world literature in English.
       Warner noted:
One of the main causes for past failures of translated fiction to emerge as the winner in the MBI has been the absence of cultural transmission at this level. When Carmen Callil was a judge she found over and over again that the translators were not writing well in English.
       And she emphasizes:
But it is the reason more translations are needed: the more works make the passage into English, the better will be the results, as one instrument picks up from another to create that region's music, as it sounds when played in English
       I hope the full lecture is printed somewhere at some point.

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

       36th anniversary of Arno Schmidt's death

       Arno Schmidt passed away 3 June 1979, and while we wait for the publication of John E. Woods' epic translation of his Bottom's Dream (likely still a ways away) you can read up on the master in my Arno Schmidt: a centennial colloquy.
       Or maybe you prefer playing around with The Arno Schmidt Dressing Doll ?

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

2 June 2015 - Tuesday

HKW Internationaler Literaturpreis 2015 shortlist
(Dutch) reaction to Janet Maslin's role-shift

       HKW Internationaler Literaturpreis 2015 shortlist

       The Haus der Kulturen der Welt ('house of the cultures of the world') has a prize for the best translated-into-German "work of current international narrative prose", paying out €25,000 to the winning author and another €10,000 to the translator, and they've now announced the shortlist for the Internationaler Literaturpreis 2015.
       With NoViolet Bulawayo's We Need New Names there's one translated-from-the English title; with Amos Oz (and his not-yet-translated into-English contender) there's one very big name author.
       The winner will be announced on 29 June.

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

       (Dutch) reaction to Janet Maslin's role-shift

       The news that Janet Maslin, one of the daily The New York Times staff book reviewers (along with Michiko Kakutani and Dwight Garner -- and completely separate from The New York Times Book Review), is: "downshifting to a contributing role" attracts a bit of attention in the New York media and publishing world (hence, for example, the Capital report) but otherwise surely hardly qualifies as news. But the reach of the book reviewer apparently extends, in this Internet-age, much farther than one might expect: so, for example, NRC Boeken -- the literary weblog of NRC Handelsblad -- report on it -- admittedly from a very Dutch angle, wondering whether this means there's Hoop voor Koch ? Zijn grootste criticus bij 'The New York Times' doet stapje terug
       Yes, Maslin did not give bestselling Dutch author Herman Koch (The Dinner, etc.) glowing reviews (here and here) -- and such is the (perceived) power and influence of the official The New York Times verdict that they sigh with relief: "Nu is er hoop voor Koch" ('Now there's hope for Herman').

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

1 June 2015 - Monday

BTBA ... 2016 ? | Malaysian pulp | Literary prize sponsorship

       BTBA ... 2016 ?

       The 2015 Best Translated Book Award was just announced a few days ago but we are, after all, already five full months into the new year, so maybe it's time to start considering what might be in the running for the 2016 BTBA (for best translation of a previously untranslated work of fiction published or distributed in the US in 2015). (Hey, The Mookse and the Gripes Forum got started on BTBA 2016: Speculation a while back already .....)

       I have to admit that I am a bit surprised not to have come across more obvious contenders yet. There's lots that impresses -- but little, so far, that really stands out.
       Of the books I've seen (admittedly a limited number), I think the only ones that I'd rate very likely to make the longlist are:
  • Sphinx by Anne Garréta -- which looks like the closest thing to a sure-thing

  • The Physics of Sorrow by Georgi Gospodinov

  • The Meursault Investigation by Kamel Daoud -- which will surely be the most-discussed/reviewed translation of the summer, if not the whole year

  • Nowhere to Be Found by Bae Suah -- very slim -- and an AmazonCrossing title ! -- but everyone who has read seems to be bowled over by it
       Beyond that ?

        - Well, we'll have fourth volumes in series by Elena Ferrante and Karl Ove Knausgaard, both of which should be somewhere in the discussion-mix; I haven't seen the Ferrante yet, but as the final volume in a series that has been very much to the BTBA judges' liking this is certainly one to look out for; I suspect Knausgaard may have to wait until that series is finished off (with volume six).

        - We have a couple of Nobel laureates with books out: Oe Kenzaburo's Death by Water (Grove; see their publicity page) and a whole pile of Patrick Modiano, with The Occupation Trilogy looking like the most promising contender (Bloomsbury; see their publicity page); I haven't seen any of these yet, but they should get a closer look. (Mario Vargas Llosa's The Discreet Hero -- even in an Edith Grossman translation -- and Dario Fo's The Pope's Daughter (Europa; see their publicity page) look less likely to be in the final running.)

        - This year's Murakami is a twofer of (ineligible) re-translations (Knopf; see their publicity page) but a couple of other big names also have new books, notably Michel Houellebecq -- Submission (FSG; see their publicity page) -- and Milan Kundera -- The Festival of Insignificance (Harper; see their publicity page). (I haven't seen these, but they'll certainly get the judges' attention.)

       Books that should have a decent shot at the longlist include:
  • Before & During by Vladimir Sharov (Dedalus; see their publicity page) -- this just won the Read Russia prize for translation from the Russian, and Sharov is certaily an author we should be hearing more of and from soon

  • Story collections by Silvina Ocampo (Thus Were Their Faces; NYRB; see their publicity page) and Clarice Lispector (The Complete Stories; New Directions; see their publicity page) both look very impressive. (I almost always have some trouble with story collections, but these look like they have good chances at longlisting -- as might Sait Faik Abasıyanık's A Useless Man and Alejandro Zambra's My Documents.)

  • The Heart by Maylis de Kerangal (FSG; see their publicity page); I was very impressed by Birth of a Bridge, and this is definitely a book to look out for

  • Rock, Paper, Scissors by Naja Marie Aidt (Open Letter; see their publicity page); her Baboon was longlisted this year

  • Divine Punishment by Sergio Ramírez, who never seems to get the (English-language) recognition he deserves)

  • Tram 83 by Fiston Mwanza Mujila (Deep Vellum; see the Pontas Agency information page), which looks very promising
        - Jean Echenoz's Lightning was shortlisted in 2012, and I wonder whether another Tesla-book has a chance, as Vladimir Pistalo's Tesla: A Portrait with Masks (Graywolf; see their publicity page) is eligible.

        - Early Georges Perec might not be his best, but Portrait of a Man Known as Il Condottiere (University of Chicago Press; see their publicity page) comes translated by David Bellos, so that will certainly get a closer look.

        - As far a genre (or genre-esque) fiction goes, not much has struck me yet -- except a previously untranslated Simenon, The Mahé Circle, which would seem to have a longlist-chance

        - Both Dalkey Archive Press and Seagull have piles of impressive offerings; it would be surprising if they didn't place several on the longlist; I barely know where to start here with their possible contenders

       Finally, there's one much-anticipated title which I would have pegged as a contender sight unseen but where circumstances leave me currently a bit more confused, The Big Green Tent by Ludmila Ulitskaya (FSG; see their publicity page). This was originally due out in April, in Bela Shayevich's translation. It is now appearing in November -- in Polly Gannon's translation.
       Something clearly went very wrong somewhere here: originally listed in the FSG catalogue as a translation by Bela Shayevich, it is now listed as by Gannon (though the cover image (hey ! translator's name on the cover ! yay !) and the Amazon-listing still name Shayevich). In fact, this title was reviewed in Publishers Weekly in October 2014 (!) -- presumably from a galley-copy of Shayevich's translation. But FSG apparently took the pretty radical (and costly) step of commissioning a new translation -- I hope we eventually learn why. (Gannon is the better-known translator (including of personal but not BTBA favorite last year, The Symmetry Teacher), but Shayevich did, for example, translate an Ulitskaya-story that appeared in The New Yorker .....)
       (Also: will Publishers Weekly review the title again, this time in the translation that's actually being published ?)

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

       Malaysian pulp

       In The New York Times Chen May Yeemay reports that Malaysians Seek Escape in Pulp Fiction as Government's Grip Tightens.
       An interesting-sounding phenomenon:
The books can be riddled with typos, but they have slick covers, and some young Malaysians regard them as cool fashion accessories. Unlike traditional pulp fiction in Malaysia, mostly soppy romance novels, the new works are written in the street slang favored by the young and often feature story lines that flirt with taboo topics such as sexual promiscuity and communism.
       Except for the pseudonyms ('Nami Cob Nobbler' ?) it all sounds pretty good.

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

       Literary prize sponsorship

       Just a few weeks ago I mentioned how the Folio Prize had lost its sponsor. Last week, another UK prize -- the Samuel Johnson Prize for Non-fiction -- put out a call for a new sponsor -- and now comes word that the money has dried up at the International Impac Dublin Literary Award, their trust fund having run out.
       Tough business, running (or rather funding) a literary award nowadays.

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

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