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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 September 2015

11 September: Man Booker bump nudge | Scarlett Thomas, not in the US
12 September: Wilhelm-Raabe-Literaturpreis shortlist | Grimm-world | Writing in ... (South) Korea
13 September: Writing in ... Kenya | Mbokodo Awards
14 September: Chateaubriand, beyond the tomb | Metro-lit in India | Tonio review
15 September: Fall Quarterly Conversation | Q & As: Natasha Wimmer - Shahriar Mandanipour | Comrade Sahib review
16 September: Shortlists: Man Booker - Lucien Stryk Award - Daphne Awards | Prix Médicis longlists | Boxes review
17 September: Shortlists: Deutscher Buchpreis - SEA Write Award | Wole Soyinka profile
18 September: Longlists: (American) NBA - Prix Femina | Aleksandar Hemon Q & A
19 September: Brooklyn Book Festival | Freeman's profile | The Occupation Trilogy review
20 September: St. Francis College Literary Prize | The last 100 reviews

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20 September 2015 - Sunday

St. Francis College Literary Prize | The last 100 reviews

       St. Francis College Literary Prize

       The St. Francis College Literary Prize -- a biennial US$50,000 prize: "for a 3rd to 5th published work of fiction" -- has apparently been announced (though not yet at, or anywhere near, the official site, as I write this, because ... ?), and it's gone to ... The Man Who Walked Away (by Maud Casey); see, for example, here.
       It is not under review at the complete review, but see, for example, the Bloomsbury publicity page, or get your copy at or (especially cheaply)

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

       The last 100 reviews

       So, another 100 reviews up at the complete review, as we've now hit 3601, and here some statistics about the last hundred (well, numbers 3501 through 3600):

        - The 100 reviews were posted over 179 days (previous hundred: 172), total 91,164 words (previous hundred: 86,979), and the reviewed books had a total of 24,868 pages.

        - Thirty-one reviews were over 1000 words (the longest: 2738), four were under 500 words (previous hundred: 22 > 1000 words, 12 < 500).

        - Eight reviewed books were over 500 pages long, and three of those were over 800, but there were no thousand-pagers (longest reviewed book: 884pp).

        - Reviewed books were originally written in 22 languages (including English), including two new languages (Galician, Malay). Reading was way too Francophone -- more than a third of reviewed titles were originally written in French (35) -- and 22 were originally written in English. Amazingly and oddly, no German-written books were reviewed. (This is a bit surprising, since I did read half a dozen or so German novels over this period -- but, for a variety of reasons, didn't review any of them.) See also the full round-up of How international are we ? and, especially, the full breakdown of all the languages the books under review were originally written in.

        - Reviewed books were by authors from 37 countries, led by France (25), the US (8), and Indonesia and the UK (5 each).

        - Hey ! I wasn't quite as sexist as usual -- 22 of the titles were authored by women, above the historic average that has now been nudged up to ... (a still very embarrassing) 15.47 %.

        - Fiction -- properly and appropriately -- dominated (fiction is what counts !): 91 of the reviewed titles were fiction: 84 novels and 7 story collections (though I've really tired of story-collections and would be just fine not seeing another one for quite a while).
       Only one play and one poetry-collection were reviewed.

        - No reviewed title was graded 'A', but there were 9 "A-" -- and one "C".

        - The reviewed titles were more contemporary-heavy than I had thought (cf.): 15 titles each that were first published in 2014 and 2015. There were also 9 titles from the 1980s, and 6 from 1900-1909. Only two from before 1900, however.

       I don't really take (m)any lessons from these statistical overviews -- beyond the obvious/usual (read more ! read more fiction ! read more fiction written in more different languages !). Obviously, I think I've been overdoing it on the French stuff (35 out of the past 100 ?!??) and I'd like to be reading more pre-twentieth century works (and a few more plays and poetry collections ...), but I imagine that all won't really influence the next hundred title reviewed (indeed, the first, review 3601, was yet agin, a French novel ...)

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

19 September 2015 - Saturday

Brooklyn Book Festival | Freeman's profile | The Occupation Trilogy review

       Brooklyn Book Festival

       The Brooklyn Book Festival is tomorrow, and it's packed with great-sounding events -- so many that it looks like it'll be quite a challenge to pick and choose. The weather is supposed to be great, too.

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

       Freeman's profile

       After an impressive stint as prolific book reviewer, John Freeman was editor of Granta for a while, and now he's back in the literary-periodical-game with his very own Freeman's. (No official site, as far as I can tell -- the publicity page at partner Grove was about as close as I could find -- but you can pre-order the magazine at or
       Now there's a nice introductory profile by Julia Felsenthal in ... Vogue, There's an Illustrious New Literary Journal in Town. (I don't think I've ever linked to any literary coverage at Vogue before, because ... Vogue ... literary coverage ... ?)
       I haven't seen a copy yet, but the opening line-up looks strong, author-name-wise, so probably worth a look.
       The magazine launches -- the first of many events -- at the New School in New York on Monday, 28 September at 19:00.

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

       The Occupation Trilogy review

       The most recent additions to the complete review are my reviews of Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano's first three novels, now published in one volume, as The Occupation Trilogy:        The latter two were previously available, published in English in the early 1970s (in the same translations, which have now been revised by Frank Wynne), but this is the first opportunity English-speaking readers have to read his debut, La Place de l'Étoile. (And you can sort of see why US/UK publishers might have hesitated after the first two -- as they did -- not quite sure where this guy was going; Modiano is definitely easier to appreciate once there's a critical mass of his work to work with. But waiting so long on La Place de l'Étoile was a mistake, even steeped in all things (well, certain things) French as it is.)

       Given how slim these (and essentially all of Modiano's) works are, it makes some sense to package these in a three-for-one volume (as Yale University Press also did with Suspended Sentences last year) -- though admirably Bloomsbury has, or is, also bringing these out in stand-alone volumes (at least in the UK). But there's always the danger of a mix-and-match set -- so also with Suspended Sentences -- and it's amusing to note that, for example, the Germans also published a Pariser Trilogie ('Paris Trilogy') that includes The Night Watch and Ring Roads -- but completed it with Livret de famille (1977), rather than La Place de l'Étoile .....

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

18 September 2015 - Friday

Longlists: (American) NBA - Prix Femina | Aleksandar Hemon Q & A

       Longlists: (American) NBA

       They've now announced all the longlists for this year's (American) National Book Awards, the ten-title-strong fiction longlist (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) the last to be revealed.
       The fiction finalists were selected from 419 submissions (which, disappointingly and outrageously -- if very predictably -- are not revealed (so we never find out what worthy titles weren't submitted by their publishers, and hence weren't even in the running ...)) -- still, less than 494 non-fiction submissions (but more than the 221 poetry titles and 294 ' Young People's' titles considered for those categories).
       Predictably, too, none of these titles are under review at the complete review; indeed, I haven't seen a one of them. As usual, I am a bit disturbed by my disconnect from the contemporary American literary scene; sure, this establishment-approved selection is hardly fully representative, but still ..... But I think the reason behind it is less a lack of interest in American writing than a focus that isn't on the truly current: sure, most of the books reviewed at the site are books in translation -- but few of these originally appeared this year, or last year, or the year before, etc. I'm simply not very up-to-date -- and the focus at the site will certainly never be to try to be that.

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

       Longlists: Prix Femina

       They've announced the longlists for this year's Prix Femina, another big French literary prize -- and another one that also honors foreign fiction.
       Hey ! they (seem to ...) have an official site ! Hey, it's about as useless as every other French literary prize site. (Seriously, the pathetic prix Goncourt-section of the Académie Goncourt site is the best of all of these -- it's amazing how little effort they put into this.)
       So you have to find the list of titles elsewhere -- so see, for example, Prix Femina 2015: les 32 romans sélectionnés at BibliObs.
       Binet makes the French cut here, but de Vigan -- on a roll so far -- doesn't; neither does Liberati. Meanwhile, Sansal's 2084 goes for the clean sweep -- every one of the major prizes has longlisted it; it'll be interesting to see what its staying power in the next rounds is. Still, have to figure the English-language publishers (Europa Editions ? or has a bigger publisher swept in ?) are rushing the translation.
       Meanwhile, Martin Amis makes the foreign fiction longlist -- which includes quite a few written-in-English titles. Among these: hard not to root for Jane Gardam's Le maître des apparences.

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

       Aleksandar Hemon Q & A

       At PEN Atlas Rebekah Murrell has a Q & A with The Making of Zombie Wars-author Aleksandar Hemon.
       Hemon discusses being a: "bilingual, bicultural writer" -- and he mentions:
Most recently I've been enjoying Elena Ferrante, and not enjoying Knausgaard, but I spend a lot of time reading books in translation.

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

17 September 2015 - Thursday

Shortlists: Deutscher Buchpreis - SEA Write Award | Wole Soyinka profile

       Shortlist: Deutscher Buchpreis

       The German Book Prize -- the German imitation-Man-Booker -- has announced its six-title-strong shortlist.
       Jenny Erpenbeck is the most familiar name to English-speaking audiences. And I should be getting to the Frank Witzel, still my favorite title in the bunch. Among the longisted titles that didn't make the cut: Clemens J. Setz's massive (1000+ pp) Die Stunde zwischen Frau und Gitarre (see the Suhrkamp foreign rights page (hey ! 'Rights available' !))
       See also the (brief) report at Deutsche Welle.

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

       Shortlist: SEA Write Award

       The SEA Write Award is a bit confusing -- down to the name ('South East Asian Writers Award' the official site titles itself, but tefers to it as the 'S.E.A. Write Award' everywhere else ...), but they've now announced their finalists, or their Thai finalists (it's supposedly an ASEAN prize, or has been, or ... well, I can't really figure it out).
       More usefully, the Bangkok Post has a Q & A with the nine shortlisted (Thai) authors, which provides some information about the titles in the running and also about the Thai literary scene more generally. (Indonesia -- guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair next month -- is the 'hot' South-East Asian country right now, but I'd love to see more Thai attention/stuff too.)

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

       Wole Soyinka profile

       At Deutsche Welle Sabine Peschel profiles Wole Soyinka -- in a piece with an attention-grabbing headline: 'Before you talk literature you better oil your gun'.
       A sad sign of the times -- and the desperate situation (and incompetency of Nigerian authorities, especially its military) -- that the Nobel laureate spouts ideas like calling for: "parallel armies" and suggesting:
Arms should not be stored in people's homes, should not be "flying around," as Soyinka puts it, but people should definitely have access to them.

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

16 September 2015 - Wednesday

Shortlists: Man Booker - Lucien Stryk Award - Daphne Awards
Prix Médicis longlists | Boxes review

       Shortlist: Man Booker

       They've announced the shortlist for the Man Booker Prize for Fiction.
       None of the titles are under review at the complete review.
       The winner will be announced on 13 October.

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

       Shortlist: Lucien Stryk Award

       The American Literary Translators Association has announced the shortlist for the Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize.
       Poetry-heavy, I haven't seen any of these, but it looks like a pretty neat selection.

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

       Shortlists: Daphne Awards

       At Bookslut they've announced the shortlists for the Daphne Awards, "for the best book of 50 years ago, but really 51 years ago, because we are playing by National Book Award rules, and so that makes it 1964 instead of 1965". (There don't seem to have been any real longlists, but the titles were apparently chosen from these.)
       The only title under review at the complete review is Albert Angelo, by B.S.Johnson. (Among the titles that seem to have slipped past them: The Face of Another by Abe Kobo was probably worth considering.)
       The non-fiction category looks stronger than fiction.

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

       Prix Médicis longlists

       Another of the major French literary prizes has come out with its longlists, the prix Médicis -- with domestic and foreign fiction categories, which is always interesting to see (what fiction-in-translation is of interest abroad). No real official site, but see, for example, the report in Le Figaro.
       Fifteen French titles make that list, including four Goncourt-nominated novels (but not Liberati's Eva), and de Vigan and Sansal are the only ones going three-for-three so far (Goncourt, Renaudot, Médicis).
       Authors with foreign-fiction-shortlisted titles include Javier Cercas and Joyce Carol Oates.

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

       Boxes review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Pascal Garnier's Boxes, from Gallic Books.
       This is the seventh Garnier title under review at the complete review -- the whole, very attractive Gallic set -- and, honestly, who can ever get enough of Garnier ?

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

15 September 2015 - Tuesday

Fall Quarterly Conversation | Q & As: Natasha Wimmer - Shahriar Mandanipour
Comrade Sahib review

       Fall Quarterly Conversation

       The Fall 2015 issue of the Quarterly Conversation is now up, with a good amount of interesting material (and reviews of quite a few books also under review at the complete review).

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

       Q & A: Natasha Wimmer

       At the Asymptote blog Katrine Øgaard Jensen's Translator's Profile Q & A this week is with Natasha Wimmer -- translator of, among much else, Roberto Bolaño's The Savage Detectives and 2666.
       The description of her forthcoming translation, of Álvaro Enrigue's Sudden Death, makes it sound unmissable: it's apparently: "about a tennis match between the painter Caravaggio and the Spanish poet, Francisco de Quevedo".
       (See also the Riverhead publicity page, or pre-order your copy at or And while Quevedo's Dreams and Discourses is under review at the complete review, the book of his I'm really hoping to get to is his El Buscón -- why hasn't anyone translated that into English yet ? [updated: see the Penguin Classics publicity page, or get your copy at or]).)

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

       Q & A: Shahriar Mandanipour

       At Little Village James C. Yu has an Interview: Iranian novelist-in-exile Shahriar Mandanipour on love, censorship and wearing religiosity like a hijab.
       Mandanipour is the author of Censoring an Iranian Love Story.

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

       Comrade Sahib review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Rohit Handa's 1977 novel, Comrade Sahib.

       I picked this up because ... well, when you stumble across a book like this, which you know you're unlikely ever to stumble across again you snap it up. But I'm an easy mark for this kind of thing anyway, and it's great to find some obscurer pre-Rushdie English-language Indian fiction too (i.e. beyond Narayan, Desai, Markandaya. Raja Rao, etc.) The handy pocket-sized format of the Genesis Publishing reprint edition also helped. (It happened to be signed, too, and only set me back a dollar, so that didn't hurt either.)
       And I have to admit, I was pleasantly surprised -- it was considerably more fun (in a gently subversive way, no less) than I thought it would be, and it's actually a solid piece of writing

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

14 September 2015 - Monday

Chateaubriand, beyond the tomb | Metro-lit in India | Tonio review

       Chateaubriand, beyond the tomb

       François-René de Chateaubriand is best-known for his Memoirs from Beyond the Tomb (get your copy of the Penguin Classics edition at or, and in France there's a fun legal case about what is apparently: "the only complete original manuscript" of the work -- deposited with a notary in 1836 (and replaced by a fuller version in 1847). The notary-practice passed on to another family firm, and the current man in charge, Pascal Dufour apparently tried to sell the manuscript in 2012 -- but the French authorities have stepped in, saying he doesn't have the right to sell it, since he is only the safe-keeper; apparently things have been further muddied by the distant heirs claiming a stake. See reports in The Guardian or at the BBC, or (in French) in Le Figaro.

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

       Metro-lit in India

       The Sahitya Akademi is the Indian National Academy of Letters, and as Manoj Sharma reports in the Hindustan Times, Metro station takes literary turn with Sahitya Akademi stores -- so that now:
Delhi Metro is becoming a hub of literature and art at a time when book shops are fast closing down in the city.
       With bookstores in the local subways -- with: "a 15 per cent discount to all metro card holders" ! -- they seem to have found good high-traffic spots to spread the word, especially about regional-language literature. Sounds good.

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

       Tonio review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Adri van der Heijden's Tonio: A Requiem Memoir, just out in the UK and Australia (but not, sigh, in the US) from Scribe.

       Odds and ends about this:
  • The author's name is Adrianus Franciscus Theodorus van der Heijden and I can't believe he doesn't just go whole hog with that; in the Netherlands and Germany he publishes as 'A.F.Th. van der Heijden'. (Okay, family -- including son Tonio, about whom the book is -- call him 'Adri', but still .....)

  • As long-time readers know, I've been touting van der Heijden for a while -- the first review of one of his books appeared on the complete review over fifteen years ago ! -- but this is the first of his (many) books to appear in English.

  • It was pretty clear to me -- as I mentioned not long after the book first appeared in Dutch -- that this was the likeliest of his books to get translated. (The problem with most of them -- including the other strong contender, the Charles Manson-Roman Polanski novel, Het schervengericht -- is that they're often incredibly long, and even many of the shorter ones are parts of his two big novel-cycles.)

  • There's a bit of name-dropping here -- and in a country the size of the Netherlands it's not surprising that it can seem that pretty much everyone knows everyone else: the oddest cameo here is a sullen six year-old Robin van Persie, encountered with his more charming older sisters on a French vacation.
       I'm curious to see whether Tonio will be not so much the break-out but at least the break-through novel for van der Heijden that will push English-language publishers to consider translating some of his fiction.
       I'm always struck how, despite how much Dutch literature gets translated into English, there are still enormous lacunae -- from Gerard Reve's De avonden, finally due out in English in a year or so, to much by the great The Darkroom of Damocles-author Willem Frederik Hermans to a whole pile of Harry Mulisch's work to J.J.Voskuil's epic Het Bureau (and Bij nader inzien, for good measure). Van der Heijden is clearly one of the most important Dutch writers of recent decades, standing out even among the very solid competition of recent years (notably Tirza-author Arnon Grunberg) and it's astonishing that a nationally acclaimed author of his stature hasn't been translated previously.

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

13 September 2015 - Sunday

Writing in ... Kenya | Mbokodo Awards

       Writing in ... Kenya

       In the Daily Nation Tom Odhiambo argues that there's way too much moaning about the state of literature in Kenya, and much of it is unfounded, in Stop the criticism and do some actual literary work.
       Certainly good to hear about: "many novels, plays and poetry anthologies in Kiswahili that litter bookshelves in this country".

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

       Mbokodo Awards

       The Mbokodo Awards honor South African women in the arts in a variety of categories, and they've now announced the 2015 winners -- not at the official site, last I checked, but, for example, at the Books Live blog, and Zoo City-author Lauren Beukes won the Creative Writing award.

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

12 September 2015 - Saturday

Wilhelm-Raabe-Literaturpreis shortlist | Grimm-world
Writing in ... (South) Korea

       Wilhelm-Raabe-Literaturpreis shortlist

       The Germans, as I've often noted, favor author- over book-prizes, and while the Man Booker-imitation German Book Prize wasn't the first to try to change the focus to an annual work, rather than a career, it quickly became the best-known. The Wilhelm-Raabe-Literaturpreis got there earlier -- in 2000 -- but since they started off as a biennial prize they've only awarded it as often as the slightly later-starting (2005) German Book Prize; now annual, the €30,000 award is big-time -- and does pip the German Book Prize at least with the cash prize, if not reputation. (Among previous Wilhelm-Raabe winners is Wolf Haas' The Weather Fifteen Years Ago -- certainly a winning selection -- as well as the just-out-in-English Imperium by Christian Kracht.)
       They've now announced their shortlist -- and, rather boringly, it features only one title (36,9°, by Nora Bossong), that isn't also on the German Book Prize longlist .....
       But, hey, maybe this really is the cream of the German crop this year.

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


       It sounds rather ... grimmer than, say, Disney World®‎, but in Kassel -- yes, documenta central, as immortalized in Enrique Vila-Matas The Illogic of Kassel -- is now home to a new theme park, Grimmwelt. Dedicated to the Brothers Grimm, and their tales.
       Lots of material to work with, anyway .....

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

       Writing in ... (South) Korea

       In The Korea Times Kwon Mee-yoo suggests the fallout from the plagiarism scandal surrounding Please Look After Mom-author Shin Kyung-sook -- among others -- is still reverberating, in Scandals reshape publishing world.
       Apparently, however, this remains a largely local concern: at The Economist Prospero writes about The lone room of Kyung-Sook Shin's Seoul without so much as a mention of the to-do .....

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

11 September 2015 - Friday

Man Booker bump nudge | Scarlett Thomas, not in the US

       Man Booker bump nudge

       In The Bookseller Kiera O'Brien and Sarah Shaffi look at the sales numbers for the Man Booker longlisted titles -- and find Tyler is top-selling Man Booker longlisted title.
       While it shouldn't surprise any longer, it still does: books don't really sell. Tom McCarthy's Satin Island -- which got a lot of coverage -- sold a pathetic 922 copies pre-announcement -- and has only sold an additional 589 since. Anne Tyler's book leads the pack -- but: "Most of this is down to the release of the paperback last week".
       The shortlisted titles, and then especially the winner, can expect more of a boost -- but still: this is quite sad.

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

       Scarlett Thomas, not in the US

       Scarlett Thomas has been among the more interesting British authors to follow in recent years, and several of her books are under review at the complete review:        There are not that many English-writing authors whose next books I am always on the look-out for, but Thomas is definitely one of them, and so I was excited to hear about her new release, The Seed Collectors -- and then shocked to hear that while it had a UK publisher, Canongate (see their publicity page, or get your copy at, no one in the US has picked it up yet.
       Apparently, as Thomas tweeted, it was:
Too weird, British, far too much sex, 'unlikeable' characters who drink too much...
       I've had the opportunity to read it since, and wasn't disappointed. (I did read it 'only' in e-format, which is the main reason I haven't posted a review yet; I really find it difficult to deal with books, and especially review something like this, without being able to fall back on the printed format .....)
       Now Laura Miller wonders Did Scarlett Thomas Miss Her Chance ? at Slate, taking a closer look at the circumstances here.
       I remain baffled: Thomas isn't a marginal novelist that poses a big risk. Sure, literary stuff doesn't sell, in the best of circumstances (see my previous post), but surely it's obvious that Thomas is a major talent worthy of continued support (and with some real break-out potential somewhere down the line). That American publishers shy away even from this is a very sad sign of the state of commercial publishing in the US.

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

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