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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 December 2017

11 December: 'Gained in Translation' | Republic of Consciousness longlist | Sapir Prize shortlist | Internet Literature in China review
12 December: Anne Garréta Q & A | Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature | Icelandic Literary Prize shortlists | New Quarterly Conversation | Secularism review
13 December: WLT's '75 Notable Translations of 2017' | 9mobile Prize for Literature longlist | Corridors of Shadow review
14 December: German 'best books of the year' list | Rabisankar Bal (1962-2017) | Prix Simone de Beauvoir | 'World Literature' in the US
15 December: 'Literary fiction in crisis' (again ...) ? | Burmese Literary Conference | The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil review
16 December: Spanish 'best books of the year' list | US literary translator survey | The Joy of Being Awake review
17 December: Burning Deck | UK publishers hits and misses
18 December: 'Prix des Prix' | Han Kang Q & A
19 December: Le Clézio's Korean novel | Welsh books of the year | They Know Not What They Do review
20 December: Read Russia Prize longlist | The Years review

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20 December 2017 - Wednesday

Read Russia Prize longlist | The Years review

       Read Russia Prize longlist

       They've announced the longlist for the 2018 Read Russia Prize, awarded: "for the best new English translations of Russian literature".
       Only two of the titles are under review at the complete review:        The shortlist will be announced: "at the end of January/early February", the winner at the London Book Fair in April.

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

       The Years review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Annie Ernaux's The Years, a 2008 work just out in English from Seven Stories Press.

       This is the thirteenth Annie Ernaux-title under review at the site -- and one of the best. It's shocking/mystifying how little review- (and other) attention it has received in the US; it's not like she's an unknown quantity in English .....

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

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19 December 2017 - Tuesday

Le Clézio's Korean novel | Welsh books of the year
They Know Not What They Do review

       Le Clézio's Korean novel

       In The Korea Times Yun Suh-young reports that Nobel laureate releases book about Korea's capital -- as J.M.G. Le Clézio has a new book out, apparently called: 'Bitna: Under the Sky of Seoul'.
       Interestingly, the French original is apparently only due out in March, while the Korean translation has now been published -- and: "the English version will be out this Wednesday by Seoul Selection U.S.A." (though I'm afraid I can find no mention of it on their site, or on Amazon ...).
       Given the summary, I'm not so sure about this one .....:
In the book, 19-year-old female protagonist Bitna tells five different stories to Salome, a woman on her deathbed. In those stories, Bitna takes readers to various locations in Seoul.
       But Le Clézio is a long-time South Korea fan and has been there a lot, so it might be interesting to see his fictionalized take.

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

       Welsh books of the year

       Always good to see the local best-of-the-the-year lists, and now the Wales Arts Review team has picked its top 10 Welsh books of 2017 -- though I can't help but notice that none of these titles are actually in Welsh ... and isn't, for example, the translated-from-the-Turkish Women Who Blow on Knots (see, for example, the Parthian publicity page), well, more Turkish ? (But, hey, great to see these books get the attention.)

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

       They Know Not What They Do review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jussi Valtonen's They Know Not What They Do, just out in English from Oneworld.
       This won the Finlandia Prize in 2014 -- Finland's most prestigious novel-prize -- and it's certainly ambitious (though rather sunk by its too many ambitions ...).
       (Also interesting: yet another author-bio of a foreign-language-writing author that reports: "He lives in New York".)

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

18 December 2017 - Monday

'Prix des Prix' | Han Kang Q & A

       'Prix des Prix'

       The French 'Prix des Prix' -- 'prize of pizes' -- is a clever idea, pitting the winners of the eight biggest French literary prizes (Académie française, Décembre, Femina, Flore, Goncourt, Interallié, Médicis, and Renaudot) against one another -- and they've now announced this year's winner, the prix Renaudot-winning title, La disparition de Josef Mengele, by Olivier Guez; see, for example, the Livres Hebdo report.

       The (sales-)significance of the 'big' literary prizes in France is also reflected in the sales figures: Goncourt-winner L'ordre du jour (by Eric Vuillard) is tops among rentrée littéraire-titles, with 176,600 sold to date, while La disparition de Josef Mengele is third (98,600) -- with the latest Amélie Nothomb, the non-prize-winning Frappe-toi le cúur, slipping in between them (with 137,600 sold); see the Livres Hebdo infogram.

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

       Han Kang Q & A

       In The Guardian Hannah Beckerman has a Q & A with The Vegetarian-author Han Kang.

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

17 December 2017 - Sunday

Burning Deck | UK publishers hits and misses

       Burning Deck

       The review copies arrived in July, accompanied by the letter announcing that: "here are the last two books published by Burning Deck Press" -- sad news indeed.
       It was a long -- over half a century -- and very good run, and at the Words without Borders Dispatches weblog Eric M.B. Becker now offers: Experimental Poetry Press Closes Shop: An Interview with Burning Deck's Rosmarie Waldrop.

       (Several -- though not nearly enough -- Burning Deck titles are under review at the complete review -- for example: Frédéric Forte's Minute-Operas.)

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

       UK publishers hits and misses

       One of The Guardian's most-loved annual features is now out, as they get publishers to comment on the Best books of 2017: the hits and misses of the publishers' year.
       Always interesting to see which of their titles they believe: "deserved to do better" -- and which: "I wish I'd published".

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

16 December 2017 - Saturday

Spanish 'best books of the year' list | US literary translator survey
The Joy of Being Awake review

       Spanish 'best books of the year' list

       Now El País weighs in with their list of Los 20 mejores libros de 2017.
       Berta Isla, by Javier Marías, was named 'libro del año'; no doubt, this will be appearing in English (fairly) soon.
       Meanwhile, big collections by dead American authors also did very well: Robert Frost (3), Henry James (10), William Carlos Williams (13). And, aside from books originally written in Spanish, translations from the English dominated, with only one translation each from the Romanian and French slipping in.

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

       US literary translator survey

       The (American) Authors Guild surveyed literary translators, and now reports on the results; see the overview-piece, A Glimpse into the World of U.S. Literary Translators, as well as 2017 Authors Guild Survey of Literary Translatorsí Working Conditions: A Summary (warning ! dreaded pdf format !).
       Note that: the survey "was distributed online ", and they received (only) 205 responses (out of: "approximately 1,200 total recipients" -- an underwhelming response-rate of one in six (which, of course, also means it's not clear whether or not these results are truly representative of the American translating scene -- but, hey, it's better than no information ...)).
       There are some strikingly skewed numbers, and the one that really jumped out at me is that an astonishing 43 per cent responded as holding "a Ph.D. or equivalent". Given that, in the general population, less than two per cent have Ph.Ds [the census report Educational Attainment in the United States: 2017 reports 1.66 per cent of Americans over 18 have a Ph.D. and 1.88 per cent of those over 25], this is an incredible disparity with the 'real world', and suggests that literary translation in the US is very 'academic' (though there is no obvious reason that it should/must be, beyond possibly that, like much creative writing in the US, it has become institutionalized: the academy is where translators can make a living, but they need the advanced degree (or at least it really helps to have it) in order to get a spot in the ivory tower). What that means, I leave for others to consider -- but I would suggest that this is something worth closer study. (I'd be curious how this rate compares with translators in other countries and cultures as well.)
       Disappointingly, only this summary of the results is on offer, not the detailed break-down -- e.g. we're told that: "Respondents translate from a total of 42 languages", but aren't provided a full break-down of those .....
       Among the more/most disappointing observations:
A worrying 41% of respondents report that payment of their fee has sometimes depended on the publisher receiving a grant.
       Worrying indeed -- and further proof (as if it were needed ...) how grant-reliance skews the market (and hurts languages for which fewer grants are available).
       Fairly shockingly, too:
66% of prose translators report that they always or usually retain copyright on their translations, while 17% sometimes do, and 17% usually do not.

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

       The Joy of Being Awake review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Héctor Abad's The Joy of Being Awake.

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

15 December 2017 - Friday

'Literary fiction in crisis' (again ...) ? | Burmese Literary Conference
The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil review

       'Literary fiction in crisis' (again ...) ?

       I like the sensational headline -- Literary fiction in crisis as sale drop dramatically, Arts Council England reports reports Alison Flood in The Guardian -- but I hate this kind of article. Not for its ostensible conclusion, but the presentation.
       Most frustrating:
  • For the life of me, I can't find the report (or indeed any other mention of it) online. Great, The Guardian has 'the scoop' -- but I don't want their digest-summary, I want the actual report. (Note: it may be somewhere on the Arts Council England site, but I'll be damned if I can find it (or pretty much anything ...) there. I'm sure the fancy site-design is 'tablet-friendly' (for some sort of tablet, in some sort of universe...), but....)

    [(Updated): The report has now been posted at the Arts Council site (it wasn't hidden when I wrote my post, just not up yet ...; The Guardian article did not have a hyperlink to it either, but has added one), and you can download it here (yes, only in the dreaded pdf format ...). Certainly that helps -- a lot ! -- and I look forward to taking a closer look. Eye-catching immediately, however: the reliance on '(BookScan) 'General Fiction' data and extrapolating to the (fantasy category) of 'literary fiction' from that, as well as the not entirely reasssuring promise: "Wherever possible all the findings of this report are grounded in solid data".]

  • The report was: "Carried out by digital publisher Canelo". Huh ? What ? Why ? Canelo is an e-book publisher -- a publisher. What's their expertise ? (Also: no mention of the report at their site either .....)

  • There's a whole mess of dates in this article, and it's entirely unclear what period was covered -- "the report analysed sales data from Nielsen BookScan and found that between 2007 and 2011 [...]" at one point, while there's a 'Guardian graphic' going up to 2016. This is a grab-bag of numbers and time-spans -- no way can any conclusions from this mix-and-match mess be relied on.

  • The emphasis is on £, rather than unit-sales, e.g.: "the price of the average literary fiction book has fallen in real terms in the last 15 years" (arguably a positive -- certainly for consumers, who get a bigger literary bang for their buck); "between 2007 and 2011, hardback fiction sales slumped by £10m", etc. Yes, money matters, but surely the actual number of books sold is a better indicator of the health of 'literary' (and other) fiction. Not the market -- screw the market -- but the field.
       Of course, a little hysteria about the demise of fiction and the end of the novel and the collapse of serious reading and all that stuff is always good fun -- but can't we at least get some actual numbers (not cherry- or at least very selectively picked, as here, but rather all of them (yes, this mysterious report also apparently relies solely on Nielsen BookScan data -- a limited pool in the first place ...)) for our debates ?

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

       Burmese Literary Conference

       At least it looks pretty ambitious: The Global New Light of Myanmar, for example, reports on the Literary Conference 2017 in Yangon "under the theme of 'Free Literature and Free Voice'", while the Straits Times reported that Aung San Suu Kyi stresses literary development for nation building.

       (Bonus titbit: not only is The Global New Light of Myanmar an impressive newspaper name, but it started out in 1964 as The Working People's Daily.)

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

       The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Stephen Collins' graphic novel, The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil.

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

14 December 2017 - Thursday

German 'best books of the year' list | Rabisankar Bal (1962-2017)
Prix Simone de Beauvoir | 'World Literature' in the US

       German 'best books of the year' list

       Die Zeit has critics select Die besten Bücher des Jahres, in various categories.
       I'm not sure dividing things up by 'easy to read' and 'for advanced readers' is very helpful (and honestly, when you have critics putting the same book (e.g. Daniel Kehlmann's Tyll) in both, that's just plain confusing ...). On the other hand, listing (among others) Robert Menasse's German Book Prize-winning Die Hauptstadt under 'Also for younger readers' (i.e. the YA section), suggests the general reading-standards expectations are pretty high.

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

       Rabisankar Bal (1962-2017)

       Bangla-writing author Rabisankar Bal (1962-2017) has passed away; see, for example, the Times of India report
       His novel Dozakhnama is quite impressive, and I should really get a review up: how can one not be curious about a novel subtitled: Conversation in Hell -- with that conversation between leading literary lights Manto and Ghalib; see the Penguin publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

       Prix Simone de Beauvoir

       They've announced that the 2018 prix Simone de Beauvoir pour la liberté des femmes will go to Turkish author (The City in Crimson Cloak, etc.) Aslı Erdoğan; see, for eample, the Livres Hebdo report.

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

       'World Literature' in the US

       An interesting piece by Norton Anthology of World Literature-general editor Martin Puchner at Inside Higher Ed, Learning From World Literature in the South.
       Fascinating to learn that:
Our next lesson came when we learned where the anthology would be taught: world literature was a North American phenomenon. Even though the United States is famously provincial in that only about 2 percent of books sold are translations from abroad, it is the world leader in world literature courses. The most important reason is structural: the looseness of the American-style liberal arts education accommodates broad survey courses more easily than the more specialized systems dominant in the rest of the world.

More to the point, world literature is a phenomenon of the southern United States. The 11 southern states contained only 14 percent of the nation’s population, but they accounted for half of our adopters.
       (But, still, great though it is to see Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz gaining readers, it's hard to imagine Goethe being plausibly/reasonably crowded out -- he's woefully under-read and -appreciated in English as is.)

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

13 December 2017 - Wednesday

WLT's '75 Notable Translations of 2017'
9mobile Prize for Literature longlist | Corridors of Shadow review

       WLT's '75 Notable Translations of 2017'

       At World Literature Today Michelle Johnson lists their '75 Notable Translations of 2017' -- certainly useful, as a quick reference, covering many (but not all ...) of the most significant translations published in 2017.
       (Quite a few -- but far from all, around a quarter or so -- of these are under review at the complete review.)

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

       9mobile Prize for Literature longlist

       What used to be the Etisalat Prize for Literature -- "the first ever pan-African prize celebrating first time writers of published fiction books" -- has been re-branded as the 9mobile Prize for Literature, and they've now announced the longlist for the 2018 prize; the list at Ventures Africa is slightly easier to read .....
       The nine-title-strong longlist is dominated by titles from Nigeria and South Africa. Yes, they're all by authors from either Nigeria (4) or South Africa (5) .....
       The shortlist will be announced next month.

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

       Corridors of Shadow review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Galician autor Agustín Fernández Paz's Corridors of Shadow.

       Small Stations Press -- who specialize in translations-from-the-Galician -- brought this out last year, and it's the third of their Fernández Paz-titles reviewed at the complete review. (The author passed away last year.) These aren't hidden treasures or anything, but they're nice little books -- basically YA, but solid through and through; not exceptional, but definitely a cut above average, and with enough to them to stand out in small ways; as a teen I would have wolfed them down; you can see why he was so successful (locally). This is exactly the sort of 'international fiction' that we see (and buy ...) far too little of !

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

12 December 2017 - Tuesday

Anne Garréta Q & A | Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature
Icelandic Literary Prize shortlists | New Quarterly Conversation
Secularism review

       Anne Garréta Q & A

       At The Paris Review's The Daily weblog Sarah Gerard has a lengthy Q & A with French (and Oulipo) author Anne Garréta -- great to see, because she's generally neither garrulous nor particularly public.
       Lots of interesting stuff, including about the reception of her work in France and now, much later, in English.
       Both her novels available in translation are under review at the complete review: Sphinx and Not One Day.

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

       Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature

       They've announced that this year's Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature goes to مُخمَل ('Velvet'), by Huzama Habayeb; see, for example, Mohammed Saad's report at ahramonline, Palestinian writer Huzama Habayeb wins 2017 Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature, as well as coverage at Arabic Literature (in English), Naguib Mahfouz Medal for Literature to Huzama Habayeb for 'A New Kind of Palestinian Novel'.
       This prize from the American University in Cairo Press includes the promise of translation and publication of the work into English, so it will be available to English-reading audiences eventually too.

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

       Icelandic Literary Prize shortlists

       At the Icelandic Literature Center they report on the recently announced Nominations for the 2017 Icelandic Literary Prize, in the three categories (fiction, non, and kids' stuff)

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

       New Quarterly Conversation

       Issue 50, the winter 2018 issue of the Quarterly Conversation, is now up online, with a variety of reviews and Q & As.
       As always, well worth your while.

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

       Secularism review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Andrew Copson on Secularism: Politics, Religion, and Freedom, just out from Oxford University Press.

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

11 December 2017 - Monday

'Gained in Translation' | Republic of Consciousness longlist
Sapir Prize shortlist | Internet Literature in China review

       'Gained in Translation'

       At The New York Review of Books' NYR Daily Tim Parks writes about what's Gained in Translation -- and observes:
Translators are people who read books for us. Tolstoy wrote in Russian, so someone must read him for us and then write down that reading in our language.
       He's not wrong, of course -- but then this is also one of the difficulties/frustrations I have with translation: I don't want someone else to do the reading/interpretation for me .....

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

       Republic of Consciousness longlist

       The Republic of Consciousness Prize for Small Presses has announced its longlist, and at the TLS site founder Neil Griffiths runs down this year's titles.
       Yet again, Mathias Énard's Compass is the only one that is under review at the complete review.

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

       Sapir Prize shortlist

       The Israeli National Lottery-sponsored Sapir Prize -- one of the leading Israeli book prizes -- has announced its five-title shortlist; see, for example, The Jerusalem Post report by Amy Spiro.

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

       Internet Literature in China review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Michel Hockx's Internet Literature in China.

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

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