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The Literary Saloon Archive

1 - 10 August 2016

1 August: Fazil Iskander (1929-2016) | Jonathan Franzen Q & A
2 August: 'Scotland's Favourite Book' | French literary prize calendar | Gesell Dome review
3 August: Swedish women crime novelists | Me Against the World review
4 August: 'World's Highest-Paid Authors' | Royal Society Science Book Prize shortlist | Healthy reading ? | Multiple Choice review
5 August: Joanna Scott on Georges Perec | Indignation, the movie | Book shopping at Strand
6 August: Jan Michalski Prize shortlist | Writing in ... Cambodia
7 August: Authors on the Olympics | I'll Sell You a Dog review
8 August: (American) National Translation Award longlists | Little Jewel review
9 August: Brod estate/Kafka papers decision | FT/Oppenheimer Funds Emerging Voices shortlists
10 August: Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize entries | A Quiet Place review

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10 August 2016 - Wednesday

Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize entries | A Quiet Place review

       Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize entries

       The Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation is a prize:
made to the translator(s) of a published translation in English of a full-length imaginative and creative Arabic work of literary merit published after, or during, the year 1967 and first published in English translation in the year prior to the award
       Admirably, and usefully, they publish a list of all the eligible entries that are considered for the prize -- transparency that every prize should offer but few do (good luck trying to find out what was submitted for the Man Booker Prize (etc. etc.)) -- and they've now announced the 19 eligible entries for the 2016 Prize.
       Nineteen titles -- seventeen fiction and two poetry -- is down from 2015's 29, but up from 2014's 17; in any case, the list provides a good overview of what contemporary Arabic literature has recently been translated into English.

       Only three of the titles are under review at the complete review:
  • The Televangelist by Ibrahim Essa, translated by Jonathan Wright
  • 32 by Sahar Mandour, translated by Nicole Fares
  • Whitefly by Abdelilah Hamdouchi, translated by Jonathan Smolin
       I have three -- but only three -- more of these titles; I do hope to see more eventually.

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

       A Quiet Place review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Matsumoto Seichō's A Quiet Place, recently published in English by Bitter Lemon Press.

       It's been a while since any Matsumoto has been translated into English (though several volumes have) -- and James Kirkup's 1992 obituary in The Independent suggests one stumbling point:
Reading these works in English is rather hard-going, even though (or perhaps because) the drastically condensed Inspector Imanishi Investigates is re-edited, re-arranged and sharply condensed from the 766 pages of the original paperback to 300 large-print pages of American English. The fiction serial tradition in Japan is largely to blame, because it forces authors to overwrite. So plots are over-contrived, characters too many and too wooden; too many coincidences and rigid plot-structure leave no room for inspired shock endings or psychological subtlety, while the jog-trot dialogue is often just desultory Japanese-style conversation saying nothing and leading nowhere.
       Hmmm ... personally (as you well know ...) I'd much prefer the complete, 'overwritten' version, rather than the maybe-not-so-helpfully edited English version. (I did, in fact, read Inspector Imanishi Investigates long, long ago (Points and Lines too) -- but now I'm holding out for the unedited translation before I consider reviewing it .....)

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

9 August 2016 - Tuesday

Brod estate/Kafka papers decision
FT/Oppenheimer Funds Emerging Voices shortlists

       Brod estate/Kafka papers decision

       A story that has dragged on for years, and which I've mentioned numerous times, has reached a final resolution, as the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled [sorry, judgment currently only available in Hebrew -- but they're pretty good about translating these into English in a timely fashion] that the Max Brod estate -- basically of interest (and extremely high monetary value) only because of the Kafka-papers (manuscripts and letters) it includes -- should go to National Library of Israel; see also their press release.
       As readers may recall, Brod left his hoard to Esther Hoffe, and she and her heirs (she died in 2007) did all they could to claim it was theirs to do with as they pleased. They had good reason to hold on: the dollar (or shekel, or euro) value of this stuff is ... great: in 1988 the German Literary Archive in Marbach apparently paid Hoffe close to US$ 2,000,000 for the manuscript of Der Proceß ('The Trial').
       While not up-to-date with the last years' legal wranglings, Elif Batuman's Kafka's Last Trial for The New York Times Magazine offers a good introductory overview of the whole mess.

       A few observations:

        - The Supreme Court decision does make note of Kafka's explicit instructions to Max Brod that his papers were to be destroyed upon Kafka's death -- and Brod's excuse that 'he didn't really mean it'. The irony that the Hoffe-heirs' claims that Brod didn't mean it the way everyone likes/wants to see it -- donate it for the public good, not to the highest bidder -- aren't given equal deference continues to go largely unmentioned. What's good for the goose apparently doesn't apply to the ganders ..... (You know what I mean .....)
       (My ideal outcome: make digital copies of the lot, and then put a match to it -- legacy preserved (without all this silly fuss about the originals, and taking financial considerations (the $-'value' of the papers) out of the equation), justice and Kafka's memory served .....)

        - I still haven't seen/read anything resembling an accounting of what the haul of papers actually consists of.
       The library press release suggests it includes:
correspondences in Kafka's handwriting to Max Brod, Kafka's Paris journals, drawings, and many of Max Brod's works and the letters to Kafka
       It's unclear whether there is any unpublished writing by Kafka, or whether all of this has been previously published, like that manuscript of The Trial they sold off.

        - Brod really did manage to hitch his wagon to Kafka exceptionally well; a not-uninteresting if decidedly second rate author in his own right, he'd be a literary footnote, his works largely unread if it weren't for his controlling association with the master. Just yesterday Andreas Kilcher wrote about Brod and the 'Prague Circle' in the Neue Zürcher Zeitung, in Der Kampf um die Deutungshoheit -- which includes the smug Brod certainty: "dass schliesslich meine Kafka-Darstellung sich durchsetzen wird" ('that in the end my Kafka-view will prevail'). He certainly tried his best to make sure no other outcome was possible (though fortunately Kafka -- and his work -- are bigger than even Brod could control completely).
       Brod did a lot for Kafka -- but, man, has he proven to be a millstone too.

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

       FT/Oppenheimer Funds Emerging Voices shortlists

       The bizarre FT/Oppenheimer Funds Emerging Voices Awards -- note that the categories are geographically limited: artists had to be 'a national or passport holder of one of the eligible Africa and the Middle East countries'; fiction authors had to have their work available in English and be from: 'one of the eligible Asia-Pacific countries', etc. -- have now announced this year's shortlists.
       The three works left in the fiction category are:        The winners will be announced 26 September.

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

8 August 2016 - Monday

(American) National Translation Award longlists | Little Jewel review

       (American) National Translation Award longlists

       The American Literary Translators Association has announced the longlists for this year's (American) National Translation Awards.
       One of the poetry titles is under review at the complete review -- Frédéric Forte's Minute-Operas -- and several of the prose titles are, too:        Many of the longlisted titles in both categories are familiar from Best Translated Book Award and PEN Translation prize longlists; no question as to my favorite in the prose category -- one title (you know which one ...) stands out, considerably, from the rest.

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

       Little Jewel review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano's Little Jewel.
       Australian publisher Text brought this out last year, and now the US edition is forthcoming from Yale University Press.
       Noteworthy, also:
  • Yes, the typical Modiano narrator/protagonist, with a focus on the just-turning-adult time, absent and inadequate parents, etc. etc. -- except that for once the narrator/protagonist is female !

  • Peter Handke translated this into German. Peter Handke, folks. Enough said ?

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

7 August 2016 - Sunday

Authors on the Olympics | I'll Sell You a Dog review

       Authors on the Olympics

       A nice feature at the Literary Hub, where they have 20 Writers From Around the World on the Olympics.
       Greatly varying levels of sports-enthusiasm and awareness/knowledge, but still quite interesting.

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

       I'll Sell You a Dog review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Juan Pablo Villalobos' I'll Sell You a Dog, just (about) out from And Other Stories.

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

6 August 2016 - Saturday

Jan Michalski Prize shortlist | Writing in ... Cambodia

       Jan Michalski Prize shortlist

       They've announced -- very quietly, as is their wont (god forbid anyone should notice !) -- the 'Second selection of the Jury' for this year's Jan Michalski Prize for Literature (where they also list the first selection -- which is the first I've seen of that too ...).
       The Jan Michalski Prize is an impressive (and, at CHF 50,000, remunerative) -- if also exceptionally (indeed, exemplarily !) poorly publicized -- book-prize, awarded annually to: "a work of world literature" -- fiction, non, and, apparently, 'illustrated' titles competing head-on. Better yet: it's awarded "irrespective of the language in which it is written" (though as best I can tell it had better be available in English, German, or French to be considered ... (though this does not appear to be an official requirement)). The only official restrictions are that it: "published and printed by [a] publishing house", and the book must originally have been published within the past five years.
       Anyway, among this year's finalists are a Julian Barnes work (Levels of Life), as well as Georgi Gospodinov's The Physics of Sorrow and Aatish Taseer's The Way Things Were.
       Some interesting-looking titles on the first-selection-list, too -- always worth checking these out.

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

       Writing in ... Cambodia

       In the Financial Times Harriet Fitch Little reports that Cambodia authors forge Khmer language literary revival.
       Among the interesting information:
"Cambodian writing has a lot of Pali and Sanskrit aesthetic influence," she says. Traditionally there are no paragraphs, no sentence breaks and no quoted dialogue. "[Traditional writing] has lots of adjectives, it's extremely descriptive, it tends to not have so much of a plot oftentimes," says Yamada. And, critically for writers dreaming of international acclaim, "It is extremely challenging to translate that writing into English."
       Sounds good to me ... indeed, I worry some about writers: "taking outside influences and fusing them, transposing them, into something new". There's a future there, no doubt -- but I'd really love to see more of this un(der)influenced 'traditional writing' first.

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

5 August 2016 - Friday

Joanna Scott on Georges Perec | Indignation, the movie | Book shopping at Strand

       Joanna Scott on Georges Perec

       In The Nation Joanna Scott writes on Georges Perec, in Never-Endings -- and I don't need to say any more, do I ?
       (Lots of Georges Perec under review at the complete review -- a dozen titles, and several about.)

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

       Indignation, the movie

       So they've made a film of Philip Roth's Indignation, directed by James Schamus; see, for example, the IMDb page. (There apparently isn't an official site, just an official Twitter account, and I can't express how sad I find that.)
       There doesn't seem to be much critical consensus -- Indignation Is the Best Philip Roth Film Adaptation By a Mile says David Edelstein in New York ! A Sterilized Philip Roth Adaptation says Richard Brody, in The New Yorker ! etc.

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

       Book shopping at Strand

       In conjunction with my recent conversation with Tyler Cowen (watch and/or read), I also had the opportunity to go book-shopping with him -- on camera -- at the Strand bookstore, and you can now watch the (cut-down-to-manageable-size) video: How to Shop at the Strand (or any good bookstore) with Michael Orthofer & Tyler Cowen.
       (It was good fun, but needless to say, the allotted time was not nearly enough for me to really get in full book-seeking mode.)

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

4 August 2016 - Thursday

'World's Highest-Paid Authors' | Royal Society Science Book Prize shortlist
Healthy reading ? | Multiple Choice review

       'World's Highest-Paid Authors'

       Forbes has once again reckoned The World's Highest-Paid Authors 2016 -- though please note:
Earnings estimates are compiled by examining print, ebook and audiobook sales from Nielsen BookScan figures, considering TV and movie earnings and talking to authors, agents, publishers and other experts.
       So these are very rough numbers ..... Pre-tax, too.
       James Patterson is far and away the top-earner.
       What is interesting: the top 15 all write in English.

       [Note that there is a link to what is supposedly a Full list: The World’s Highest-Paid Authors 2016 -- but this link is not to a 'list' as anyone understands the word; no, it's one of those obnoxious click-through 'slide-shows'. Screw that, and screw them.]

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

       Royal Society Science Book Prize shortlist

       They've announced the shortlist for the Royal Society Insight Investment Science Book Prize (yeah, not sure that's an improvement over last year's 'The Royal Society Winton Prize for Science Books', but I guess you take your money where you can get it -- who needs a sensible prize name ?).

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

       Healthy reading ?

       At The New York Times' Well Nicholas Bakalar reports on a study appearing in the September issue of Social Science & Medicine [abstract/summary], suggesting that reading 'books' "is tied to a longer life".
       I'm naturally suspicious -- and annoyed not to be able to read the study in full -- but supposedly: "researchers controlled for those factors as well as age, race, self-reported health, depression, employment and marital status", so .....
       Anyway, I love the 'Highlights' of the study -- and the way they're phrased -- including:
  • Book reading provides a survival advantage among the elderly
  • Books are more advantageous for survival than newspapers/magazines
       Not sure I want to be counted among the 'elderly' but, hey, you gotta grab those survival advantages where you can !
       (As to books being "more advantageous for survival than newspapers/magazines" -- well, come on, what isn't more advantageous than dead media ?)

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

       Multiple Choice review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Alejandro Zambra's Multiple Choice, just out in the US (though it'll be a few more months before the UK edition appears).
       Gimmicky ? Sure -- but in just the way I like it. Good fun. (And see, for example, the review at Messengers Booker (and more) for one more in keeping with the book's conceit .....)

       (This is the fifth Zambra book to appear in the US, and I can't help but notice that it's the fifth different publisher he's had; in order, they've been: Melville House; Open Letter; Farrar, Straus and Giroux; McSweeney's; and now Penguin. It's not uncommon for authors to switch publishers; to switch through this many, at this rate (a-book-a-house), however, is ... unusual. And not a great sign, I'd suggest.)

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

3 August 2016 - Wednesday

Swedish women crime novelists | Me Against the World review

       Swedish women crime novelists

       At the Los Angeles Review of Books Rosemary Erickson Johnsen considers Hej, Men Nej, to "The Girl" and "Girls' Books": Three Swedish Women Crime Novelists -- Liza Marklund, Camilla Läckberg, and Helene Tursten.
       A helpful overview, especially in offering a look at the authors-behind-the-books -- though to say that: "Swedish women crime novelists have been squeezed out of the limelight by the wildly successful Stieg Larsson franchise" seems to be slightly over-simplifying -- Swedish men crime novelists seem no less squeezed (and I'd rate both Leif GW Persson (e.g. Another Time, Another Life) and Håkan Nesser (e.g. Borkmann's Point) ahead of Larsson -- though of course they can't compete with the The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo-trifecta) -- and Läckberg (The Ice Princess, etc.), in particular, seems to be enjoying considerable/staggering international success.

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

       Me Against the World review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Shiraishi Kazufumi's Me Against the World, due out shortly from Dalkey Archive Press (and with an Afterword by Kawakami Hiromi).

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

2 August 2016 - Tuesday

'Scotland's Favourite Book' | French literary prize calendar | Gesell Dome review

       'Scotland's Favourite Book'

       At the BBC they are looking to determine 'Scotland's Favourite Book', and they've opened voting among the top thirty novels they've preliminarily narrowed it down to.
       Though I've read more of these, only three titles are under review at the complete review:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       French literary prize calendar

       There's still some time to go -- the first longlist is due 6 September -- but for those who want to be well-prepared, Livres Hebdo has a handy (if not quite complete) calendar of the long- and short-list dates for the major French literary prizes (Goncourt, Renaudot, etc.), Le calendrier des 7 grands prix littéraires 2016.
       (Given that they drew a complete blank for the prix Interallié, that really should be: 'des 6 grands prix' .....)

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

       Gesell Dome review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Guillermo Saccomanno's Gesell Dome, just (about) out from Open Letter Books.

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

1 August 2016 - Monday

Fazil Iskander (1929-2016) | Jonathan Franzen Q & A

       Fazil Iskander (1929-2016)

       The great Russian-writing Abkhaz author Fazil Iskander has passed away -- or, as NDTV put it (in 2016 ...) Soviet Humanist Writer Fazil Iskander Dead At 87. (Perhaps we should just say the great Caucasian writer ? Okay, maybe: the great writer of the Caucasus .....)
       He's best known for his Sandro of Chegem, which is well worth seeking out -- but it may be easier to get your hands on The Goatibex Constellation (though I haven't managed, yet ...); see the Overlook Press publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

       Jonathan Franzen Q & A

       At Slate Isaac Chotiner has 'An exclusive conversation with the novelist' as he talks with Jonathan Franzen on Fame, Fascism, and Why He Won't Write a Book About Race.
       Franzen admits: "I am not being hounded by my publisher to promote myself via Facebook" -- an indignity less well-known authors rarely are able to escape -- but even he apparently can't get out of the occasional interview, especially when there's a book to promote (the paperback of Purity is just about out in the US) .....

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

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