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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 July 2015

11 July: Literary impotence ? | Books to look forward to
12 July: Author summer reads recommendations | Submission review
13 July: Prix Jean Monnet de Littérature Européenne | Smile as they Bow, uncensored
14 July: Chenjerai Hove (1956-2015) | Gerhard Zwerenz (1925-2015) | (Lack of) copyright in Iran | 'Israeli' literature
15 July: BTBA 2016 countdown begins ! | Africa Writes report
16 July: (American) National Translation Award prose longlist | New Asymptote | Urgency and Patience review
17 July: Reviewing issues | Translating Persian literature into ... Arabic | Bangkok Book Festival
18 July: Akutagawa and Naoki Prizes | Nigerians in Space review
19 July: Prix Littéraire de La Mamounia | Modiano coverage
20 July: Maj Sjöwall profile | Premio Dashiell Hammett | The Novella Award shortlist

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20 July 2015 - Monday

Maj Sjöwall profile | Premio Dashiell Hammett
The Novella Award shortlist

       Maj Sjöwall profile

       In The Telegraph Jake Kerridge profiles Maj Sjöwall, in The couple who invented Nordic Noir (the other half being long-dead Per Wahlöö, with whom she co-authored the classic Martin Beck-series (Roseanna, The Man who went up in Smoke, etc.)).
       Nice to see her/them get the attention -- though surely they always get their due, as no one can doubt they weren't: "the begetters of what we now know as Nordic Noir"

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

       Premio Dashiell Hammett

       So they just handed out a bunch of literary prizes at the Semana Negra 2015, and the Premio Dashiell Hammett went to Yo fui Johnny Thunders by Carlos Zanón; see, for example, Carlos Zanón gana el premio Dashiell Hammett 2015 in El País.
       I have to admit that I thought it was kind of sad that a prize for the best Spanish-language crime novel (well, 'novela negra') was named after a non-Spanish-writing author. It has an impressive track-record, with winning titles by Paco Ignacio Taibo II (again and again), Leonardo Padura, Jorge Franco, Ricardo Piglia -- even Sergio Ramírez's Divine Punishment (just recently out in English translation) -- but still .....
       Looking at what the body behind the prize is -- the Asociación Internacional de Escritores Policiacos/International Association of Crime Writers -- both clears up and muddies the question further: founded in 1986 in Havana, the founding authors consisting of: "Paco Ignacio Taibo II of Mexico, Julian Semionov of the then U.S.S.R., Jiri Prochazka (Czechoslovakia), Rafael Ramírez Heredia (Mexico), Daniel Chavarría (Uruguay), Alberto Molina and Rodolfo Perez (Cuba)", this looks very much to have been set up as a counter-weight to 'Western' mystery-writers organizations -- and so you can see why they'd go with Hammett (if they had to go with an English-writing author).
       Yet its (few) international branches look pretty local-mainstream, and among them is the North American one -- which hands out its own Hammett Prize (also with a reasonably solid list of winners (though Alice Hoffman beating out Walter Mosley and Donald E. Westlake in 1992 is ... striking)). (The German branch -- Das Syndikat -- sensibly went local-language: theirs is the Friedrich Glauser Preis.)
       A bit confusing and murky ... but maybe appropriate for a noirish organization/prizes.

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

       The Novella Award shortlist

       So there's something called The Novella Award -- "a writing competition that celebrates new fiction in the novella form" -- and they've now announced their shortlist, with the winner to be announced 7 October.
       As the report by Katy Guest in the Independent on Sunday observes, it does at least answer that burning literary question of what the hell is a novella (or at least how long should it be) -- which they then manage to get wrong in the headline (Novella Award organisers have defined a novel as being a piece of fiction between 20,000 and 40,000 words).
       Yes, apparently it's 'the Richard Ford solution'/definition:
"When a writer approaches the 20,000-word mark," Ford wrote in The Granta Book of the American Long Story, "he knows he's edging out of the country of the short story; likewise when he passes the 40,000-word mark, he's edging into the country of the novel."

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

19 July 2015 - Sunday

Prix Littéraire de La Mamounia | Modiano coverage

       Prix Littéraire de La Mamounia

       They've announced (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) the five finalists for the prix Littéraire de La Mamounia, one of the leading hotel-sponsored literary prizes, a MAD 200,000 prize for French-Moroccan literature -- and whose seven-person judging panel includes Alain Mabanckou and ... Douglas Kennedy this year.
       The winner will be announced 19 September.

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

       Modiano coverage

       A flurry of Patrick Modiano-translations (and updated translations ...) are due out in the US/UK in the coming months, with Pedigree due out soon, and the three-pack of The Occupation Trilogy -- a first-time translation his debut, plus revised translations of two early works that were published in English some forty years ago -- also soon available (pre-order your copy at or
       Hence we can also expect lots of Modiano-coverage -- but I hope we can soon move beyond the Patrick Modiano: the Nobel Prize-winner nobody had read-sort (so Duncan White in The Telegraph). I know a lot of this is tempting -- but Modiano was neither that obscure nor that undertranslated, even in English (and especially not elsewhere, even outside France).

       (Meanwhile, for an amusing Modiano cameo in someone else's novel -- which I'm afraid plays very differently, post-Nobel --, check out Antoine Laurain's The Red Notebook.)

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

18 July 2015 - Saturday

Akutagawa and Naoki Prizes | Nigerians in Space review

       Akutagawa and Naoki Prizes

       They've announced the winners of the (153rd) Akutagawa and Naoki Prizes, with 火花 by 又吉直樹 (Matayoshi Naoki) and スクラップ・アンド・ビルド by 羽田圭介 (Keisuke Haneda) sharing the Akutagawa and 流 by 東山彰良 (Higashiyama Akira) winning the Naoki; see, for example, reports such as Comedian Matayoshi, Hada win Akutagawa Prize (Yomiuri Shimbun) amd Taiwan-born novelist wins Japan's popular literature award (Want China Times).
       Apparently, the Matayoshi-win is a big deal -- he's a popular comedian, and the book has been selling very well (640,000 copies already in print). Indeed, apparently Publisher to print 1 mil. copies of Akutagawa Prize-winning Hibana (Kyodo News) -- or, as The Japan Times summarizes, Comedian Matayoshi's literary win offers hope for sagging publishing industry.

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

       Nigerians in Space review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Deji Bryce Olukotun's Nigerians in Space.
       It's taken me a while to get around to this; I've been curious/interested -- Nigerians in space ! -- but also leery. But what a pleasant surprise -- and, overall, what a surprise, because it turns out to be nothing like what I expected. (Among the nice surprises: lots of abalone -- which, aside from making my mouth water (and breaking my heart a bit), is actually also really well done/utilized (no baloney -- abalone !).)
       What really impresses is that this is an 'African' novel that isn't -- like practically everything else brought out by US/UK presses (well, excluding some South African stuff, as well as everything from the whole north African stretch) -- self-consciously and overly-emphatically 'African'. It's comparable to something like Okey Ndibe's Foreign Gods, Inc. -- but Olukotun hits it on the nose, while Ndibe (pressured by his editor ?) tries way, way too hard.
       This was brought out by Unnamed Press -- and good for them -- but it's incomprehensible that this wasn't brought out by a major publisher; it's bigger- (if not mass-)audience appealing, and it's damn good. (The one reason one wishes a major had published it: maybe it would have gotten the attention it deserves -- because it deserves a hell of a lot more than it got.)

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

17 July 2015 - Friday

Reviewing issues | Translating Persian literature into ... Arabic
Bangkok Book Festival

       Reviewing issues

       In the Irish Times Martin Doyle considers Reviewing Irish books: the good, the bad and the ugly truth -- and asks a a variety of local reviewers and critic for their opinions on the matter.
       Since practically everyone know everyone the small market/literary field exacerbates the usual problems -- and it's interesting to hear what the reviewers think about this.

       Meanwhile, in the US (well, on the Internet -- indeed billed as '' Online Only') at n + 1 Nell Zink (a hot new thing on the literary scene -- and often sold/advertised as Discovered by Franzen) (p)reviewd Jonathan Franzen's new upcoming novel, Purity, offering Early thoughts on Purity by Jonathan Franzen. Except that after a couple of hours they pulled that content, 'explaining', as you can now read there:
Update: this page is temporarily unavailable. Bowing to publishing convention, we are going to hold this pre-review until closer to the book's release date.
       I have no idea what this 'publishing convention' is, or why they're bowing to it: reviews of Purity have been up at Publishers Weekly (posted 18 May) and Kirkus Reviews (posted 6 May) for months; the title is fair game, and I'm disappointed I haven't seen more coverage elsewhere yet.
       Jezebel suggests: "In all likelihood, Zink's post was taken down because of an embargo" -- but given the PW and Kirkus coverage, it was broken long ago , if it ever existed .....
       I know publishers like to (think they can) manage, if not control how coverage of their books plays out, but I wish they wouldn't try so hard. (Apparently the Kakutani's early review last week of some widely anticipated (in some circles) title that was 'embargoed' rankled, too; see, for example, coverage here.)
       (Given that the focus at the complete review is on fiction in translation, books I cover tend to have been reviewed elsewhere (like in their original language ...) earlier anyway. And the really big titles -- like Houellebecq's Submission -- have often been widely reviewed even in English long before their US/UK publication dates ..... (No Publishers Weekly review for that one yet, however.))

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

       Translating Persian literature into ... Arabic

       In Al Monitor they have a wide-ranging Q & A with Ghassan Hamdan, Iraqi writer brings Persian literature to Arab world.
       Interesting to hear about what he translates, and the conditions -- including that not all that long ago:
The reason I chose Syria's Ministry of Culture was because it was a government organization and had a budget allocated for translating and publishing world literature. The private publishers, however, were not interested.
       Also interesting (if less surprising):
As far as publications are concerned, yes, there are publications everywhere, even in the poorest Arab countries, such as Yemen, Mauritania and Sudan. Publication is not the problem. Distribution is.

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

       Bangkok Book Festival

       The Bangkok Book Festival starts today, and runs through Sunday.
       See also Anchalee Kongrut's preview, The Reading Feast, in the Bangkok Post.

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

16 July 2015 - Thursday

(American) National Translation Award prose longlist
New Asymptote | Urgency and Patience review

       (American) National Translation Award prose longlist

       The American Literary Translators Association has announced the longlist for the 2015 National Translation Award in prose.
       It's like a 'best of the translation prizes'-longlist: among the finalists are:
  • Annelise F. Wasmoen's translation of The Last Lover by Can Xue, which won this year's Best Translated Book Award

  • Susan Bernofsky's translation of The End of Days by Jenny Erpenbeck, which won this year's Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and the Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize

  • Donald Nicholson-Smith's translation of The Mad and the Bad, which won this year's French-American Foundation/Florence Gould Foundation Translation Prize
       Nice also to see the Open Letter recognition -- four of the twelve finalists ! -- and interesting that only one (classic) re-translation made the cut (one of last year's Anna Karenina translations).
       Other finalists under review at the complete review are:        The shortlist will be announced "in September", and the winner will be announced at the annual ALTA conference (held 28 to 31 October).

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

       New Asymptote

       The July issue of Asymptote is now available online, with -- as always -- a very impressive and broad selection of international literature content.

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

       Urgency and Patience review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jean-Philippe Toussaint's slim collection of non-fiction, Urgency and Patience, just out from Dalkey Archive Press.

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

15 July 2015 - Wednesday

BTBA 2016 countdown begins ! | Africa Writes report

       BTBA 2016 countdown begins !

       The starting gun for the Best Translated Book Awards 2016 (for best previously untranslated work of fiction and of poetry published/distributed in the US in 2015) has now pretty much officially sounded: at Three Percent they introduce the fiction judges -- and reveal the significant dates: the longlist will be announced 29 March, the shortlist on 26 April, and the winner on 11 May.
       I've been a judge for the past few years, but not this year -- there's a whole new slate, with a nice variety of backgrounds, including some notable translators (who have had previously long/shortlisted titles in the running).
       I strongly encourage publishers to submit their eligible titles !

       I previewed the 2016 BTBA right after this year's award, and I haven't really seen anything that convinces me to reassess my initial projections (though I'm sure I eventually will -- there are still a lot of titles I haven't seen yet (and, yes, publishers, even though I am not a judge this year, you're welcome (and encouraged !) to send me all eligible titles too !)). (I have, however, read Sharov's Before & During in the meantime (along with a couple of others I mentioned), and can confirm that this is definitely a worthy contender.)
       The one big advantage about not being a judge this year is that I can be much more obnoxiously publicly partisan, so look forward to that !
       (And here's hoping The Mookse and the Gripes Forum's BTBA 2016: Speculation discussion gets (and continues) going properly, too.)

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

       Africa Writes report

       The Royal African Society's annual literature festival, Africa Writes was held 3 to 5 July, and at openDemocracy Ché Ramsden has a lengthy report on it, In celebration of African literature: Africa Writes 2015.
       Local success stories like that of Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi Kintu are certainly encouraging (though one hopes/wishes the title were readily available beyond the continent as well ...).

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

14 July 2015 - Tuesday

Chenjerai Hove (1956-2015) | Gerhard Zwerenz (1925-2015)
(Lack of) copyright in Iran | 'Israeli' literature

       Chenjerai Hove (1956-2015)

       Zimbabwean author Chenjerai Hove has passed away (in Norway, having long lived in exile); see, for example, the BBC report, as well as Lovemore Ranga Mataire's report, Literary fraternity mourns Hove, in The Herald.
       An important author, whose work seems no longer to be adequately in print; but get your copy of Bones, for example, at or

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

       Gerhard Zwerenz (1925-2015)

       Prolific German author (and sometime parliamentarian, post-unification) Gerhard Zwerenz has passed away; no English-language reports yet, as far as I've seen, but see, for example, Arno Widmann's obituary in the Frankfurter Rundschau.
       Only two of his works appear to have been translated into English, the last -- Little Peter in War and Peace, probably his most popular and biggest success (hey, The New York Review of Books reviewed it (Neal Ascherson)) -- in 1970. Still, in The New York Times Book Review in 1966 Charles Poore said of the stories in the collection Remembrance Day that they were: "as murkily wild as underground movies, as stylishly brutal as the theater of the absurd".
       And he did get a The New York Timkes mention again when he -- and others, like Stefan Heym, won seats in parliament in 1994

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

       (Lack of) copyright in Iran

       I've noted this phenomenon a couple of times here, and now at the Asymptote blog Poupeh Missaghi writes about how Iran's very free copyright regime -- there's very little intellectual property protection -- leads, in conjunction with other factors, to multiple translations of the same work, in 31 Animal Farms: Literary Translation and Copyright in Iran

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

       'Israeli' literature

       Last month I mentioned the debate in Israel about what constitutes 'Israeli' literature, as a leading national Hebrew literary prize, the Sapir Prize, changed its rules to limit eligible authors to those resident in Israel.
       The Economist's Prospero shows just how silly it is to try to straightjacket Israeli/Hebrew literature, in All Change. All for the good, I would think -- but fascinating also to see the extent of it.

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

13 July 2015 - Monday

Prix Jean Monnet de Littérature Européenne
Smile as they Bow, uncensored

       Prix Jean Monnet de Littérature Européenne

       A couple of weeks ago I wondered whether we might be looking at a Christoph Ransmayr revival, with Atlas of an Anxious Man set to come out at the end of this year from (who else ?) Seagull Books; see their publicity page or the S.Fischer foreign rights page (foreign rights sold in eight markets ! including ... Abu Dhabi !), or pre-order your copy at or
       Well, it's now won the Prix Jean Monnet de Littérature Européenne -- no news at the official site yet, last I checked (hey, they're only actually handing out the prize 21 November so no rush, right ?), but see, for example, the Sud Ouest report -- and given the longlist (it beat out the hot new Rafael Chirbes, which you'll be hearing a lot more about, as well as Gonçalo M. Tavares' A Man: Klaus Klump), that's pretty impressive.
       It's not exactly clear what this prize is for, but both titles in French and French translation are eligible, and while the previous winners' list is ... eclectic, I find that I've read about half of these; titles under review at the complete review range from Angel Wagenstein's Farewell, Shanghai to modern classics including Harry Mulisch's The Discovery of Heaven to Antonio Tabucchi's Pereira Declares. William Boyd's Any Human Heart has won, too.

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

       Smile as they Bow, uncensored

       In The Myanmar Times Chit Su reports that Classic novel to be published uncensored (in Burma), as Nu Nu Yi's Smile as they Bow will finally appear uncut, two decades after its first publication.
       Apparently, back then: "The censorship board didnít like the word 'gay' at all".
       (And while this is certainly good news, it would be great to see more (anything !) come out of Burma. It doesn't have to be 'classic' -- just some contemporary fiction .....)

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

12 July 2015 - Sunday

Author summer reads recommendations | Submission review

       Author summer reads recommendations

       In The Guardian they offer a Best holiday reads 2015 guide, where "leading authors recommend favourites and reveal what books they'll be packing for the summer holidays".
       Always fun to see what writers recommend -- and they have some decent names offering selections.

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

       Submission review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Michel Houellebecq's Submission.

       On the one hand I am way early with this -- the William Heinemann/UK edition is only due out in September, the Farrar, Straus and Giroux/US one in October -- yet I can't recall the last time I covered a title not yet available in English translation with so many English-language reviews to link to already up.
       It made a huge splash when it came out in French; on many levels I find it hard to take it very seriously, but have to admit I enjoyed it more than any book I have in quite some time (yes, part of that is that I enjoy Houellebecq's particular kind of silliness). And I am curious what the (popular) American take will be, as the Islamic regime Houellebecq installs in France is uncomfortably similar in many respects (most, save the embrace of polygamy) to the American 'Tea Party'.

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

11 July 2015 - Saturday

Literary impotence ? | Books to look forward to

       Literary impotence ?

       In the Irish Times Ian Maleney has a Q & A with Michel Faber -- and the author laments:
For a long time now, especially since the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, I've despised literature for its impotence to change the world for the better, its inability to dissuade or enlighten the people who do harm.
       Sounds like he's asking/expecting way too much -- or fundamentally misunderstands literature. Surely literature is longterm; the contemporary polemic may get some attention, but to effect (immediate) change ? That's a tall order -- and I'm not sure I'd even like literature (or anything) to be that immediately effective .....

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

       Books to look forward to

       I mentioned The Millions' Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2015 Book Preview a couple of days ago, and that's all well and good and semi-useful, if you want to know about the 'big' upcoming books, but really it only scratches the surface (very much the big-publisher surface) and misses much of the great stuff (especially in translation).
       At his (new sleek look) Conversational Reading Scott Esposito has been doing 'Interesting New Books'-lists for a couple of years now, and has now gotten around to adding a (second half of) 2015 one, Interesting New Books 2015. Currently with just over 50 titles (meaning there's still a lot more to add/look forward to ...), it's a good start. Several are already under review at the complete review -- Newspaper, Pedigree -- and I have (and will be getting to) quite a few more. But explore for yourself !
       And remember that he notes/promises: "This list grows with time", so check back !

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

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