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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 31 December 2015

21 December: The Mein Kampf quandary | Japanese 'business novels' | Quratulain Haider profile
22 December: The Mekong Review | Arcadia review
23 December: UK independent publishers' 'winners and losers' | Translating Tagore (into Chinese) | Translation in ... India
24 December: De Avonden read-along | The Millions Year in Reading | Son of Man review
25 December: Bestselling in ... the UK | Amit Chaudhuri on the Murty Classical Library | PEN Centres' 2015 Highlights
26 December: New World Literature Today | Bestselling in ... Russia, in 2015 | Divergent Paths review
27 December: The year in literature in ... South Korea | Papal reading
28 December: Literature from ... Nepal | Worst of 2015 | Literature from ... Ethiopia | The Core of the Sun review
29 December: Aidan Higgins (1927-2015) | E.C.Osondu Q & A | Beyond Greek review
30 December: Best of the year abroad | Academics' best books | Pakistani thrillers | The Cavemen Chronicle review
31 December: Bestselling in ... Bulgaria | Istanbul as cultural bridge | 2016 -- the year of ... Henry James in Germany ?

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31 December 2015 - Thursday

Bestselling in ... Bulgaria | Istanbul as cultural bridge
2016 -- the year of ... Henry James in Germany ?

       Bestselling in ... Bulgaria

       It's only the numbers from one bookchain, but it's local giant Хеликон, and so it presumably is a pretty representative tally, as they list the top 100 bestselling titles for the year (well, through mid-December, anyway) -- and, as the BNR report points out, Five Bulgarian books on Helikon bookstores 2015 Top 10 bestselling list.
       Good to see some local talent rising to the top -- even if some of this stuff does sound pretty dubious -- though the sales numbers are depressingly tiny (the Emil Conrad tops the list, just topping 10,000 copies sold ...).
       Interesting also to see what foreign titles made it (relatively) big -- with apparently perennial favorite To Kill a Mockingbird up from 57th in 2014 into the top 10, and Elif Şafak not only cracking the top ten (placing a title in seventh) but also two more in the top 100.
       Also interesting that few Bulgarian authors who have been translated into English are to be found here: Georgi Gospodinov is the biggest exception, with both The Physics of Sorrow (39) and a special edition of Natural Novel (68) making the list, while there's also a Milen Ruskov (21), but that looks to be about it.

       As far as the Хеликон-staff's best books of the year go, Houellebecq's Submission came out tops (but bear in mind that Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman finished third ...).
       Probably to be taken more seriously: the recently announced Хеликон-prize for best Bulgarian novel went to 432 херца, by Nedyalko Slavov (though the photo accompanying the article is the saddest trophy-hoisting picture I've seen in a while ...).

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

       Istanbul as cultural bridge

       At GlobalVoices Arash Azizi writes about Finding the Cultural Bridges of the Middle East in Literary Istanbul

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

       2016 -- the year of ... Henry James in Germany ?

       The SWR-Bestenliste is where 'twenty renowned German literary critics' vote each month for the new publications that they'd most like to see find many readers (some sort of polite(ly worded) variation on naming the best-of-the-month, presumably).
       January may be a slow month in German publishing, but it's still astonishing to see not one but two Henry James titles make the January selection -- including a new translation of The Ambassadors in the top spot. Yes, 2016 is the centenary of his death, so he'll be getting lots of attention all around, but still .....

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

30 December 2015 - Wednesday

Best of the year abroad | Academics' best books
Pakistani thrillers | The Cavemen Chronicle review

       Best of the year abroad

       A few more best-of-the-year lists or collections from other countries -- always interesting to see what foreign titles make the cut, and to hope some of the local stuff eventually makes it to the US/UK ...:        And, for the sake of convenience, some previously mentioned lists:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Academics' best books

       At Times Higher Education 'Scholars and senior sector figures reveal their favourites', in their Books of 2015 piece.

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

       Pakistani thrillers

       In Dawn Hamna Zubair reports on Thrillers: How a neglected genre helped Pakistani fiction get its groove back in 2015.
       Among her observations:
Commenting on the state of Pakistani fiction as a whole is unfair because the machinery required to produce, sell and distribute local fiction in English in Pakistan is broken, lacking vibrancy, diversity and investment.
       And how strange to find:
Our salvation comes in the form of Indian publishers and the odd book published by fledgling independent publishing houses.
       (Alas, US/UK publishers don't seem to play much of a role .....)
       And interesting that she suggests:
This year we have evidence that the thriller could be Pakistani fiction's next big export.
       I'd certainly love to see some of these .....

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

       The Cavemen Chronicle review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Mihkel Mutt's The Cavemen Chronicle, just out from Dalkey Archive Press -- and a pretty good modern Estonian-lit starter volume, offering a good sweeping look at that country's recent history, and its bohemian class, then and (near) now.

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

29 December 2015 - Tuesday

Aidan Higgins (1927-2015) | E.C.Osondu Q & A | Beyond Greek review

       Aidan Higgins (1927-2015)

       Irish author Aidan Higgins has passed away; see, for example, Acclaimed Irish writer Aidan Higgins dies aged 88 by Patsy McGarry in the Irish Times.
       Dalkey Archive Press brought out many of his books -- see also their announcement -- and though I have (and have gone through) a pile of these, surprisingly, none of his work is under review at the complete review.
       Lots worth a look -- try Flotsam & Jetsam, for example; see the Dalkey publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

       E.C.Osondu Q & A

       In Vanguard Prisca Sam-Duru has a Q & A with Caine Prize winning author E.C.Osondu.
       His most recent novel is This House Is Not for Sale; see the publicity pages from Granta and Harper, or get your copy at or

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

       Beyond Greek review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Denis Feeney's examination of The Beginnings of Latin Literature, in Beyond Greek.
       Although this largely deals with what happened over two thousand years ago, there are interesting modern-day parallels -- and in particular it shakes one's faith in the idea that literary translation is something that will, almost naturally, occur (and offers some clues why the number of translations into English is so bafflingly small, even (or especially) nowadays).

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

28 December 2015 - Monday

Literature from ... Nepal | Worst of 2015
Literature from ... Ethiopia | The Core of the Sun review

       Literature from ... Nepal

       In The Himalayan Times Rastriya Samachar Samiti reports that Nepal Academy in bid to globalise Nepali literature, as:
Nepal Academy, established for the promotion of Nepali language, literature, culture and arts, philosophy and social sciences of Nepal, is currently busy in globalising the Nepali literature.
       There's certainly a lot of work left to do -- almost nothing from Nepal (much less Nepali, and even less any of the others from the: "123 languages being spoken in the country" ...) makes it to the US/UK. (The only translation from the Nepali under review at the complete review is Mountains Painted with Turmeric by Lil Bahadur Chettri.)

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

       Worst of 2015

       There seems to be no end of 'best of the year'-lists (even as the year has still not come to a definitive close ...), but I really miss the equally -- if not more so -- helpful lists of the worst of the year.
       Thankfully, at least, Steve Donoghue (who gets through far more books than most) now offers his traditional annual list, of The Worst Books of 2015: Fiction !
       I don't know whether to be pleased or disappointed that most of these passed me completely by -- while the only one I've seen (and reviewed) didn't strike me as bottom-of-the-barrel material (it's a deep barrel ...): Submission, by Michel Houellebecq.

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

       Literature from ... Ethiopia

       Okay, Edozie Udeze's In Ethiopia, Literature thrives - Maaza Mengiste is more author-profile than country-survey, but at least Mengiste has a few words to say about the local scene -- notably:
In Ethiopia, there are many writers, very, very exciting writers who do not spare the people in power, who go all out to let out the steam. Things are happening. The only difference between what we have in Ethiopia and what we have in Nigeria is that you people have the wider audience in English. In Ethiopia, we write in Amharic language which is not as popular. But then, they give literature the necessary fire it deserves.
       As someone desperate for translations from the Amharic (and even more so from the other local languages ...), I'd really love to see some of this stuff -- but almost/essentially nothing gets translated. Very disappointing.

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

       The Core of the Sun review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Johanna Sinisalo's The Core of the Sun.

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

27 December 2015 - Sunday

The year in literature in ... South Korea | Papal reading

       The year in literature in ... South Korea

       Kwon Mee-yoo's overview of the year in literature in South Korea in The Korea Times, Plagiarism scandals taint publishing world, doesn't see many bright spots.
The year 2015 has been a tough year for Korean publishers, especially for literature. There were few new works from established writers and even fewer made it onto the best seller lists.
       Self-help apparently did well -- "The boom reflects a growing interest in mental health as news of celebrities suffering mental illnesses such as anxiety or panic disorders was made known" -- but: "less and less people read literature in Korea", with only 20 of the top 100 bestselling titles at Kyobo Bookstore novels (down from 27 last year). Domestic fiction, in particular, seems to have had a slow year -- even as Korean fiction seems to be picking up (or at least getting published more widely ...) abroad.

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

       Papal reading

       Corriere della Sera are cashing in, presenting a twenty-volume collection of 'I libri più amati da Jorge Mario Bergoglio', La biblioteca di Papa Francesco. No doubt Pope Francis' actual library is more extensive, but these are billed as his favoured reads -- and with poetry collections by Jorge Luis Borges, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and Hölderlin ... not bad at all (though Loyola ... Loyola-liking is always problematic).
       (I do wonder what his (or the Vatican's) royalty-cut/endorsement-payoff is .....)

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

26 December 2015 - Saturday

New World Literature Today | Bestselling in ... Russia, in 2015
Divergent Paths review

       New World Literature Today

       The January-February issue of World Literature Today is now available, in part, online -- and all of the book review section is, with reviews of a nice assortment of titles.

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

       Bestselling in ... Russia, in 2015

       РБК Стиль offers a list of the top-selling titles in Russia in 2015 -- with actual book-sales numbers (provided by the publishers ... and with numbers so low that they don't seem to be inflated ...); Russia Beyond the Headlines offers an English summary, What books caught Russia’s imagination in 2015 ?
       A new Boris Akunin was the top-selling title -- with all of 168,000 copies sold. (For a depressing point of comparison: that would put it at 32nd (!) place in the UK, according to the recent The Guardian list of bestselling books there.) Second-best-selling was Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts -- a translation that actually came out in Russia in 2010 (and the 118,445 copies sold would have put it 64th on the UK list). Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch rounds out the (very heavy on translations-from-the-English) top ten -- with all of 65,285 copies sold).
       Always interesting to see what sells well in other countries -- and how little sells .....

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

       Divergent Paths review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Richard A. Posner on The Academy and the Judiciary, Divergent Paths (which is actually the twelfth Posner-title under review at the complete review).
       There's also a nice Posner-profile in the new Harvard Magazine, by Lincoln Caplan, Rhetoric and Law: The double life of Richard Posner, America's most contentious legal reformer -- and one of the books I'm most looking forward to in 2016 is William Domnarski's biography, forthcoming from Oxford University Press; see their publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

25 December 2015 - Friday

Bestselling in ... the UK | Amit Chaudhuri on the Murty Classical Library
PEN Centres' 2015 Highlights

       Bestselling in ... the UK

       In The Guardian John Dugdale looks at what were the Bestselling books 2015: Fifty Shades still on top -- which helpfully lists the top 100 bestselling titles in the UK in 2015 (well, to near-date, at least), as well as their sales totals (oddly, to two decimal points, though much to my disappointment, there weren't fractional sales of any of the titles ...).
       The highest-ranked (and, indeed, it appears only) title under review at the complete review (talk about disconnect from what people are actually buying/reading ...) is Ian McEwan's 51st-ranked The Children Act (with 129,785.00 copies sold).

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

       Amit Chaudhuri on the Murty Classical Library

       In The Guardian Amit Chaudhuri has The Murty Classical Library of India review - great literary works for a new generation, writing about the wonderful-sounding Murty Classical Library of India.
       I still haven't seen any of these (sigh), but it certainly sounds like a great and important undertaking, and good to see Chaudhuri spreading the word.

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

       PEN Centres' 2015 Highlights

       At PEN Atlas they have a couple (too few !) PEN centers report on their 2015 Highlights -- as well as recommendations: "for readers delving into literature from your country for the first time", which makes for an interesting selection.

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

24 December 2015 - Thursday

De Avonden read-along | The Millions Year in Reading | Son of Man review

       De Avonden read-along

       With an English translation of Gerard Reve's Dutch classic De Avonden ('The Evenings') finally due out next year (by Sam Garrett, from Pushkin Press; see also the Dutch Foundation for Literature information page) maybe it's time to gear up for this Dutch Christmas-time tradition (the book is set in the Christmas-to-New Year's period) -- and this year NRC show how it's done, with the large-scale read-, listen-, and click along, inviting you to: Lezen, luisteren én kijken: De Avonden van Gerard Reve

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

       The Millions Year in Reading

       The Millions entertainingly collect 'Year in Reading'-pieces from dozens of contributors, but the day-by-day piecemeal presentation is ... well, piecemeal; fortunately, now that they're done it's all available (still on separate pages, sigh) -- and certainly well worth a look.

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

       Son of Man review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Yi Mun-yol's 1979 novel, Son of Man.
       While several of his works have been available in English -- four others are under review at the complete review -- this early novel only makes it into English now, as part of Dalkey Archive Press' Library of Korean Literature-series. It's hard to understand what took so long -- unless US/UK publishers were worried the spin on the Christ-story that's part of this murder-mystery might offend too many. This is a major work, by a major author -- and with its police procedural trappings should have been (and should be now, too) an easy sell.
       Not much notice of it yet -- but Yi Mun-yol is too big a name for this not to get some deserved attention -- and, one hopes, many readers, too.

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

23 December 2015 - Wednesday

UK independent publishers' 'winners and losers'
Translating Tagore (into Chinese) | Translation in ... India

       UK independent publishers' 'winners and losers'

       A few days ago, as I mentioned, The Guardian had their annual The publishers' year: winners and losers-feature, and now they follow up, as Small and independent publishers share the books they enjoyed and envied in 2015.
       Interesting variety, too -- and somewhat shocking/disappointing to hear that Stefan Tobler of And Other Books has their two Ivan Vladislavić-titles in the 'books that deserved to do better'-category (i.e. they did not fare well) -- as both 101 Detectives and especially The Folly certainly deserve a lot of readers.

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

       Translating Tagore (into Chinese)

       A translation scandal (of sorts) !
       Via I learn that NDTV reports that Writer's Translation Of Rabindranath Tagore's Works Draws Ire in China.
       Raymond Zhou's full opinion piece -- titled Lust in translation -- in the China Daily comes with a great illustration -- and great lines, like:
There's a fine line between imprinting creative works with unique personality and screaming for attention. Feng Tang just crossed it, when he translated Tagore's tranquil verse into a vulgar selfie of hormone saturated innuendo.
       If the whole to-do reminds readers yet again that translation isn't just simple transposition from one language to the next, it's maybe not the worst thing.

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

       Translation in ... India

       Yet another article -- this time in the New Indian Express -- noting that, in India, Rich Regional Literature Faces Translation Hadicap (well, presumably it's facing a 'handicap').
       As 'Eminent writer Bani Basu' noted:
Because of a serious dearth of translations, we are not familiar with the literature of our own country. All our languages boast of a very developed and rich repository of literature. This kind of wide and varied literary canvas cannot be found anywhere else in the world. But people of our own country are aliens to the masterpieces in different languages due to lack of translation
       One hopes that the situation is slowly improving -- or eventually will.

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

22 December 2015 - Tuesday

The Mekong Review | Arcadia review

       The Mekong Review

       At VOA Khmer Phorn Bopha has a Q & A with The Mekong Review founder Minh Bui Jones about the new publication, In 'Mekong Review,' Literary Journalism, Criticism Find a Home.
       He says:
This magazine would be incredibly successful if we were able to encourage young and upcoming writers from Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand and Laos to write for us.
       Given the low international profile of any writers from the countries -- indeed !
       Of course I'm not so sure about this:
We want to discover the new Jonathan Franzen of Southeast Asia
       (I think many in the US would suggest there's no need for a new one; he's welcome to ours .....)

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

       Arcadia review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Iain Pears' new novel, Arcadia -- which came out a few months ago in the UK and is due in the US in February.
       This is by no means a 'great' novel, but it works exceptionally well at its intended level, and is among the most enjoyable reads I've come across in quite a while.
       There's also an "app" that goes with the novel, but as someone who wants nothing to do with any Apple™ products (it's only available as an 'iApp') and also generally avoids 'apps' (not least because of that ridiculous designation) I completely ignored that -- and enjoyed/understood the book just fine. Indeed, I wonder how much of the somewhat muted UK reception can be ascribed to the publisher/author's insistence that this is a novel conceived and written for an app (which, in nine case out of ten, would certainly be enough for me to completely ignore it). (Tellingly, US publisher Knopf seems to be blithely ignoring the existence of any 'app' in their promotion of the title -- a wise, wise choice, I believe.)

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

21 December 2015 - Monday

The Mein Kampf quandary | Japanese 'business novels' | Quratulain Haider profile

       The Mein Kampf quandary

       As widely noted, Adolf Hitler's infamous Mein Kampf goes out of copyright in Germany with the new year, and no doubt we'll be hearing much about what happens when it hits the market -- the two-volume, two thousand-page annotated edition prepared by the Institut für Zeitgeschichte München meant to deflate the work for proper critical consumption (see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy at
       At DeutscheWelle they now report on How booksellers will deal with 'Mein Kampf' -- and it will indeed be interesting to see how this all plays out.

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

       Japanese 'business novels'

       At the BBC Ruth Alexander considers Japan's curious passion for the business novel.
       As Marika Nagai explains:
The Japanese business novel is a micro[cosm] of all the anxieties and questions that Japanese people have
       One of the discussed titles is under review at the complete review: Azuchi Satoshi's Supermarket -- and I'm disappointed not to get to see more of these.

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

       Quratulain Haider profile

       In The Nation (Lahore) Haroon Ashraf profiles Quratulain Haider: the individual behind those literary masterpieces -- beginning his piece with the ringing endorsement:
In the world of Urdu literature, there are very few things upon which critics and readers unanimously agree. One such agreement is that Quratulain Haider is the greatest Urdu novelist ever, far superior and ahead of all her contemporaries, predecessors and successors.
       Two of her books are under review at the complete review: Fireflies in the Mist and River of Fire.

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

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