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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 September 2015

1 September: Liu Cixin Q & A | Graywolf Press profile
2 September: Reading in ... France | September Words without Borders
3 September: Library of America profile | Dmitry Bykov Q & A | Kurdish writing
4 September: Prix Goncourt longlist | Erich-Maria-Remarque-Friedenspreis | Beauty is a Wound review
5 September: Rainer Kirsch (1934-2015) | Palanca Awards
6 September: John Nathan on Japan and the Nobel | My Struggle - the play | Sagan, Paris 1954 review
7 September: Michel Houellebecq profile | Prettiest German books | Antiquarian books in ... Thailand | Innocence review
8 September: Prizes: Premio FIL de Literatura - Nagrada vilenica - Nelly-Sachs-Preis
9 September: Prize desperation | Volker Braun archive | Prix Renaudot longlists | How Economics Shapes Science review
10 September: Giller Prize longlist | Dayton Literary Peace Prize finalists | The Private Lives of Plants review

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10 September 2015 - Thursday

Giller Prize longlist | Dayton Literary Peace Prize finalists
The Private Lives of Plants review

       Giller Prize longlist

       They've announced the longlist for this year's C$$100,000 (Canadian) Scotiabank Giller Prize.
       None of the titles are under review at the complete review; indeed, I haven't seen any of them.

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

       Dayton Literary Peace Prize finalists

       They've announced the finalists for this year's Dayton Literary Peace Prizes, in fiction and non. The $10,000 prize is for books: "that have led readers to a better understanding of other cultures, peoples, religions, and political points of view".
       None of the titles are under review at the complete review; indeed, I haven't seen any of them.

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

       The Private Lives of Plants review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Lee Seung-U's The Private Lives of Plants, forthcoming from Dalkey Archive Press in their Library of Korean Literature.

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

9 September 2015 - Wednesday

Prize desperation | Volker Braun archive
Prix Renaudot longlists | How Economics Shapes Science review

       Prize desperation

       Apparently the desperation of authors for prize-recognition knows no bounds: one would think the estimable Dazai Osamu would have both known better and not shown quite such obvious desperation, but, as Maiko Itagaki reports in the Asahi Shimbun, Osamu Dazai penned epic begging letter in hope of winning famous literary prize.
       Sure, he was young; sure, the prize -- the Akutagawa -- was, even then, clearly something that would mean a lot, both in the literary world and for a writer's career. Still, this is pretty embarrassing behavior -- and a late vindication for Sato and his part in 'the Akutagawa Prize incident'.

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

       Volker Braun archive

       The German Akademie der Künste has announced the acquisition of the archive of the great Volker Braun (Rubble Flora, etc.). (No word as to how much they paid -- and it's unclear whether the archive-gobbling Harry Ransom Center made a bid .....)
       Seems like a good home for the 150 boxes worth of files -- and more fascinating material (just look at the list of correspondents) than most.

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

       Prix Renaudot longlists

       They've announced the longlists for the prix Renaudot, the second most prestigious French literary prize, after the Goncourt. No real official site for them to post the information at, but see, for example, the report in Le Figaro.
       As usual at this stage, there's some overlap with the Goncourt (whose first longlist was announced last week; see my mention) -- Liberati's Eva, Sansal's 2084, Delphine de Vigan's D'après une histoire vraie -- as well as some the Goncourt (surprisingly ?) missed -- notably the Laurent Binet.
       The Renaudot also has a non-fiction prize -- and it's nice to see a collection by (long dead) Parentheses of Blood-author Sony Labou Tansi make that longlist.

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

       How Economics Shapes Science review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Paula Stephan's How Economics Shapes Science, just out in paperback from Harvard University Press.

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

8 September 2015 - Tuesday

Prizes: Premio FIL de Literatura - Nagrada vilenica - Nelly-Sachs-Preis

       Prize: Premio FIL de Literatura

       The Premio FIL de Literatura en Lenguas Romances is a US$150,000 lifetime achievement award for a Romance-language writer that they'll hand out on 28 November, at the Guadalajara International Book Fair, and they've announced that this year's winner is The Illogic of Kassel-author Enrique Vila-Matas. The official site only has a downloadable .doc press release (because a pdf isn't terrible enough ...), but see, for example, the EFE report at ... Fox, Spain's Vila-Matas to receive Mexican literary prize.
       Previous winners include Augusto Monterroso (1996), Sergio Pitol (1999), Juan Goytisolo (2004), Fernando del Paso (2007), António Lobo Antunes (2008), Yves Bonnefoy (2013), and Claudio Magris (2014). So, yeah, a pretty good track record.

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

       Prize: Nagrada vilenica

       They've announced that The Devil's Workshop-author Jáchym Topol has won this year's Vilenica International Literary Prize.
       The list of previous winners is very impressive -- Krasznahorkai won it last year, Albahari in 2012, Cărtăarescu in 2011, Nádas in 1998, Milan Kundera in 1992, Zbigniew Herbert in 1991, and Peter Handke in 1987. So, another prize that can be taken pretty seriously.

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

       Prize: Nelly-Sachs-Preis

       They've announced that Self-Portrait in Green-author Marie NDiaye will receive (on 13 December) this year's prestigious, biennial €15,000 Nelly-Sachs-Preis.
       Previous winners include Norman Manea (2011), Margaret Atwood (2009), Per Olov Enquist (2003), Christa Wolf (1999), Javier Marías (1997), Michael Ondaatje (1995), Juan Goytisolo (1993), Milan Kundera (1987), Nadine Gordimer (1985), and Elias Canetti (1975).

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

7 September 2015 - Monday

Michel Houellebecq profile | Prettiest German books
Antiquarian books in ... Thailand | Innocence review

       Michel Houellebecq profile

       With Michel Houellebecq's Submission due out in the UK this week (and in the US next month), the publicity machine gets properly rolling with Angelique Chrisafis' profile of the author in The Guardian, appropriately (sigh) sensationalistically titled: Michel Houellebecq: 'Am I Islamophobic ? Probably, yes'

       Meanwhile: authors' appearances should certainly not factor into judgment of their work, and, because they're irrelevant -- and just in case --, I prefer to avoid/ignore them, wherever possible -- but I have to admit a fascination with the (ever more of a) train-wreck that is Houellebecq. No denying that he has a certain ... je ne sais quoi ? (and I don't want to know .....)

Houellebecq !

       (That's from the Evening Standard's review.)

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

       Prettiest German books

       They've selected the 25 schönsten deutschen Bücher -- the prettiest German books of the year.

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

       Antiquarian books in ... Thailand

       In The Bangkok Post Kaona Pongpipat reports that: 'The market in Thailand for rare and antique books is thriving like never before', in A new chapter -- an interesting overview (not least in suggesting what older Thai literature is of some lasting value -- not that much of this (or any Thai literature ...) has been translated into English).
       (For your reference: the current exchange rate is ca. 36 baht per US dollar (and ฿ 40 = € 1).)

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

       Innocence review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Heda Margolius Kovály's Innocence or, Murder on Steep Street -- a rare (almost-)example of Communist-era Eastern European crime fiction (only almost because she'd lived abroad for nearly two decades before it was published, and it was published (in 1985) by an émigré press in Germany, not actually in Eastern Europe ...), now also available in English.

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

6 September 2015 - Sunday

John Nathan on Japan and the Nobel | My Struggle - the play
Sagan, Paris 1954 review

       John Nathan on Japan and the Nobel

       In The Japan Times Damian Flanagan recounts how Literature critic John Nathan dissects Japan's Nobel Prize laureates, as the Mishima- and Oe-translator (among others) opines on the Nobel-worthy -- and not so worthy.
       Among the interesting opinions:
"I don't think Mishima belongs with the greats," he says. "He was prolific -- one measure of genius -- clever, brilliant even. But in my view his work was marred by a certain artificiality: Mishima characters tend to dangle lifelessly from the strings of his ideas about them -- they aren't genuine or true to life and consequently they mostly fail to move us."
       Artificiality to art -- what a concept ..... Sure, Mishima is a toss-up -- and it's especially difficult to tell from the foreign perspective, given how little of his output has been translated (more of his work is available in English that by almost any other Japanese author, and yet ...; despite his early death, he was really prolific), so Nathan presumably has a better sense. Still, toss in his versatility (all those plays, too), and it's hard not to rank him fairly high up the Japanese ladder.
       One author Nathan thinks was Nobel-worthy:
You didn't ask, but I will say that in my view, Soseki was a greater writer than any of these others -- he deserved a Nobel Prize.
       (See also Nathan's new translation of Light and Dark -- and Mizumura Minae would certainly agree.)
       Not mentioned either -- but surely also consideration-worthy: Tanizaki Jun'ichirō.

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

       My Struggle - the play

       Karl Ove Knausgaard's six-volume My Struggle would seem an unlikely candidate for a play-version, but ... hey, sold as a potted version, why not ?
       So, yes, there's now a stage version -- "all 3,600 pages in only 200 minutes", as Richard Orange explains in The Observer.
       The Elena Ferrante tetralogy next ?

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

       Sagan, Paris 1954 review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Anne Berest's Sagan, Paris 1954 -- the story around the publication of Françoise Sagan's Bonjour Tristesse, sort of .....

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

5 September 2015 - Saturday

Rainer Kirsch (1934-2015) | Palanca Awards

       Rainer Kirsch (1934-2015)

       (East) German poet Rainer Kirsch has passed away; see, for example, the (German) report at DeutscheWelle.
       Not as well-known in English translation as Sarah, to whom he was married for about a decade, -- amazingly, there doesn't seem to be a single collection of his work published in English -- he was another very important representative of the 'Sächsische Dichterschule' (and student of the influential Georg Maurer) -- along with, among others, Karl Mickel (Einstein), Volker Braun (Rubble Flora), and Heinz Czechowski.

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

       Palanca Awards

       They've announced the winners of the 65th Carlos Palanca Memorial Awards in the Philippines -- selected from 895 entries in 22 categories.
       The English-language novel grand prize went to All My Lonely Islands by Victorette Joy Z. Campilan, while the Filipino nobela grand prize went to Toto O. by Charmaine Mercader Lasar.

       (Updated - 7 September): See now also Alfred A. Yuson's Kudos to literary awardees on these (and the Gawad Pambansang Alagad ni Balagtas) in The Philippine Star.

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

4 September 2015 - Friday

Prix Goncourt longlist | Erich-Maria-Remarque-Friedenspreis
Beauty is a Wound review

       Prix Goncourt longlist

       Despite its small payout -- all of € 10 -- the prix Goncourt is the most prestigious French book prize, and they've now announced the fifteen-title-strong longlist. (Unlike most literary prizes, the Goncourt actually has three rounds before announcing a winner -- long-, middle-, and short-list, if you will.)
       The Goncourt can (or should -- Romain Gary proved otherwise, by submitting a title under another name) only be won once -- hence books by previous winners, such as Houellebecq's Submission, were not eligible.
       The one big name/title whose omission surprises most this year is HHhH-author Laurent Binet, whose La septième fonction du langage -- Barthes' death re-imagined as murder-mystery (among other things) -- didn't make the cut; Le Figaro sums up the generally very positive media-reactions to it as "c'est Feydeau chez les «sex-addicts» !"; see also the Grasset publicity page.
       Quite a few of the authors with titles on the longlist have had books translated into English, including Mathias Enard (e.g. Zone), Jean Hatzfeld (e.g. Machete Season), Hédi Kaddour (Little Grey Lies), Simon Liberati (Anthology of Apparitions), Alain Mabanckou (Broken Glass), Boualem Sansal (The German Mujahid), and Delphine de Vigan (Underground Time).
       The most ... intriguing titles seem to be Liberati's Eva, which I wrote about at some length a month ago (and a copy of which I now have; I hope to get to it soon), and Sansal's Orwellian 2084 (subtitle: La fin du monde); see the Gallimard publicity page.
       (The Sansal and the Binet I expect we'll see in English soon (i.e. two or three years); the Liberati ... I'm not so sure, but given the French enthusiasm so far we may well, too.)

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


       The biennial, €25,000 Erich Maria Remarque Peace Prize -- awarded by the city of Osnabrück -- has a mixed but generally solid list of previous winners, and they've now announced that Syrian poet Adonis will get this year's prize (at the official ceremony in November).
       This choice has not gone over so well, as folks apparently don't think Adonis has been vocal, or vocal enough, about the situation in his homeland of Syria; indeed, as Kersten Knipp reports at Deutsche Welle: German peace prize for Syrian poet Adonis sparks outrage.
       The offical prize site already features a 'Stellungnahme' (official response) to the criticism on its main page .....
       It'll be interesting to see what follows. Oh, and I think it's safe to say you can strike Adonis from your Nobel-betting-form -- this should be sufficient to torpedo any chances he may have had.

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

       Beauty is a Wound review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Eka Kurniawan's Beauty is a Wound.

       With Indonesia the 'guest of honour' at the Frankfurt Book Fair this year we're seeing a couple of Indonesian works getting translated into English (a celebration-worthy rarity !), and the one-two punch of Kurniawans -- this one, and Man Tiger, also due out this month, from Verso; see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy at or -- is probably the most anticipated of these (though don't forget Leila S. Chudori's Home, coming from Deep Vellum ... pre-order your copy at or
       Beauty is a Wound lives up to the hype; I hope to see Man Tiger soon, too.

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

3 September 2015 - Thursday

Library of America profile | Dmitry Bykov Q & A | Kurdish writing

       Library of America profile

       In Humanities -- the magazine of the (American) National Endowment for the Humanities -- David Skinner recounts some of the history of the launched-with-the-help-of-an-NEH-grant Library of America, in Edmund Wilson's Big Idea: A Series of Books Devoted to Classic American Writing. It Almost Didn't Happen, providing some interesting background.

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

       Dmitry Bykov Q & A

       At Russia Beyond the Headlines Olga Mamayeva has a Q & A with Russian author (and visiting lecturer at Princeton) Dmitry Bykov.
       Some interesting responses -- and title-suggestions, including re. the Russian view of the United States:
In modern literature, the prevalent image of the USA derives from Anatoly Ivanov's novel The Eternal Call (written in 1971-76).
       This has been translated -- but the Progress Publishers (i.e. Soviet) edition isn't too readily available; get your copy at or

       Dmitry Bykov's own Living Souls has been published by Alma; see their publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

       Kurdish writing

       At Your Middle East Aras Ahmed Mhamad has a Q & A with Kae Bahar on Breaking new ground with Kurdish literature.
       As Mhamad explains:
While Kurdish language has two major written and spoken dialects, it also has numerous sub-dialects such as Kelhuri, Hewrami, Zazaki, and Leki. Moreover, Soranis use Arabic script whereas Kurmajis use Latin script. The division of Kurdistan has not only affected the geopolitics of the Kurdish land, but it also negatively influenced its literature and language.
       No wonder Bahar wrote his novel in English .....
       (Get your copy of Letters from a Kurd at or

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

2 September 2015 - Wednesday

Reading in ... France | September Words without Borders

       Reading in ... France

       BVA surveyed French reading habits in Les Français et la lecture and offer some of the summary-results there.
       That Victor Hugo remains the most popular author isn't that surprising; that Marcel Pagnol ties him perhaps is. But domestic tastes are often ... idiosyncratic. And the double bill of Jean de Florette and Manon of the Springs (get your copy at or certainly has more than just name-recognition even in English (helped by the film versions ...)
       Interesting also that Emile Zola is cited as the next-most-popular -- ahead of the similarly prolific Balzac, and also Flaubert ..... Jules Verne, on the other hand ... no surprise.
       (And as far as the foreigners go: Agatha Christie, followed in popularity by Stephen King, and Mary Higgins Clark. Which reflects the bestseller-lists pretty well, so at least the respondents seem to be honest with their answers (always a question with these 'who do you read'-surveys).)

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

       September Words without Borders

       The September issue of Words without Borders is now up, dedicated to the: 'Geography of the Peruvian Imagination'.

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

1 September 2015 - Tuesday

Liu Cixin Q & A | Graywolf Press profile

       Liu Cixin Q & A

       Liu Cixin's The Three-Body Problem won the 'Best Novel'-category this year at the just-announced Hugo Awards (all the more impressively for being a replacement-finalist that wasn't even in the running originally), and at Caixin Shi Rui has a Q & A with the author.
       Asked about the differences between Chinese and Western science fiction he suggests:
One aspect is that Western sci-fi stories are often embedded with elements of Judeo-Christian thought and tend to focus on belief systems, concerning itself with moral issues such as cloning or artificial intelligence. Chinese sci-fi has emerged from its own cultural background and this accounts for many differences in how the genre has been uniquely interpreted.

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

       Graywolf Press profile

       At Vulture Boris Kachka explains How the Tiny Graywolf Press Became a Big Player in Book Publishing in a profile of independent non-profit publisher Graywolf Press.
       As he notes:
Publishing just over 30 books a year, Graywolf has had authors win four NBCC awards, a National Book Award, two Pulitzers, and a Nobel Prize -- all in the last six years. This year, it will exceed $2 million in sales for the first time. No other independent press, never mind a 41-year-old nonprofit, has come so far so fast.
       A nice success story.

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

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