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opinionated commentary on literary matters - from the complete review

The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 30 May 2018

21 May: Jane Eyre in ... China | Convenience Store Woman review
22 May: Literature in translation in ... Australia | Standard Arabic decline ? | Antipodean literature, language, and translation
23 May: Philip Roth (1933-2018) | Man Booker International Prize | Top 100 'stories' ? | Miles Franklin Literary Award longlist
24 May: Franz Kafka Prize | Internationaler Literaturpreis shortlist | Nevada Days review
25 May: Princess of Asturias Award for Literature | Prix mondial Cino del Duca
26 May: Indian Novels Collective | Rating Roths | Further Nobel delay ?
27 May: Stig Abell profile | Golden Man Booker Prize
28 May: Sheldon Pollock Q & A
29 May: Kamchatka - the opera | Slow/moving times
30 May: Still packing

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30 May 2018 - Wednesday

Still packing

       Still packing

       Sorry, another slow day or two before things slowly rev back up to normal hereabouts, as I (try to) pack and move .....

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

29 May 2018 - Tuesday

Kamchatka - the opera | Slow/moving times

       Kamchatka - the opera

       It's always interesting to see what texts composers pick for operatic treatment; Marcelo Figueras' Kamchatka was one I didn't see coming -- but here it is, by Daniel D'Adamo, with a libretto by the author.
       The New York Opera Fest will present it 5 and 6 June.

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

       Slow/moving times

       Things are a bit slow at the complete review these days -- it'll be a few days before the next new review is posted -- as I am moving, and am currently consumed/overwhelmed by packing (i.e. packing books -- is there anything else ?).

       It is not going well:

Moving, sigh

       (Though, yes, admittedly this is what my ... living space usually looks like .....)
       (No, I exaggerate -- there's (an astonishing amount of) flooring visible here, so it's not quite as cluttered as usual.)

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

28 May 2018 - Monday

Sheldon Pollock Q & A

       Sheldon Pollock Q & A

       At livemint Seema Chowdhry has a Q & A with Sheldon Pollock, the general editor of the Murty Classical Library of India.
       There has been some controversy (in India) about a foreigner being in this position, but surely the results speak for themselves -- it's a great series (several titles of which are under review at the complete review, with more to follow).
       Quite a bit of interest, including the observation that:
There is a kind of imperialism of English which is worrisome but it is extremely important to acknowledge it and live with.
I want every kid to do four years of a classical language, doesn't matter what it is. It is a yoga, a very powerful yoga. It is a discipline of analytical thinking.

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

27 May 2018 - Sunday

Stig Abell profile | Golden Man Booker Prize

       Stig Abell profile

       Stig Abell was named Peter Stothard's successor as editor of the venerable Times Literary Supplement in February 2016, taking over later that spring; in The New York Times Dwight Garner now profiles him and the TLS under his tenure, in A Scrappy Makeover for a Tweedy Literary Fixture.
       Impressive statistic:
Paid sales from subscriptions and newsstand have been up 30 percent each of the past two years, from some 26,000 in 2016 to nearly 45,000 today.
       (Well, impressive growth -- those totals are still rather disappointingly low. Though I see that as a die-hard TLS-fan; I always forget that so few people really care about this stuff (though the complete review user stats should be a daily reminder ...).)

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

       Golden Man Booker Prize

       So they're awarding a 'Golden Man Booker Prize', celebrating yet another anniversary. The gimmick this time: five judges each select one favorite winner from each decade in which the prize has been awarded to create a shortlist -- which they've now announced.
       The five select titles are:
  • In a Free State, V.S.Naipaul (1971); selected by Robert McCrum
  • Moon Tiger, Penelope Lively (1987); selected by Lemn Sissay
  • The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje (1992); selected by Kamila Shamsie
  • Wolf Hall, Hilary Mantel (2009); selected by Simon Mayo
  • Lincoln in the Bardo, George Saunders (2017); selected by Hollie McNish
       It's an ... unusual list. Most notable among the omissions is Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, which has already won several of these 'best of the Booker'-things (presumably the reason it was left off, to give some other book a chance -- not that its 1980s replacement, Moon Tiger, stands much of a chance here).
       Not the titles I would have chosen, but, hey, at least Simon Mayo didn't go for Vernon God Little ( or Life of Pi), so it's not nearly as terrible as it could have been.
       Worryingly, the choice of who wins this thing is now left to 'the public', which has a month to vote on it.
       The winner, inevitably chosen by Russian bots, will be announced 8 July.

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

26 May 2018 - Saturday

Indian Novels Collective | Rating Roths | Further Nobel delay ?

       Indian Novels Collective

       The Indian Novels Collective aims:
To bridge the gap between the English reader and classics of Indian literature by making available quality translations and building reader communities that celebrate Indian storytelling.
       They aim to release (by January 2019) a shortlist of 100 titles slated for translation -- with the Hindi titles already announced, and with books from the other major Indian languages to be listed soon.
       At Bhavya Dore writes about the undertaking, in Reviving the past: A literary collective is translating 100 classic novels across Indian languages.

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

       Rating Roths

       Amon the many, many reactions to Philip Roth's death have also been a few ranking and recommending his titles: see, for example:
  • '20 novelists, critics and historians make their case' for Philip Roth's Best Book in The New York Times

  • Philip Roth Books, Ranked, by Boris Kachka, Sam Anderson, and Christopher Bonanos, at New York's Vulture (though they're more loosely grouped than ranked)

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

       Further Nobel delay ?

       In a Sverige Radio interview Nobel Foundation executive director Lars Heikensten apparently reïterates what he already suggested in a Q & A at the official Nobel site last week -- that while the hope is the Swedish Academy gets its act together and announces both a 2018 and a 2019 winner next year, it's by no means a sure thing, and further delays are (distinct ?) possibilities:
The Swedish Academy's goal is to make its decision on the 2018 Nobel Prize in Literature and to announce it together with the 2019 Prize. We hope that this will be the case, but it depends on the Swedish Academy restoring its trust.
       I'm kind of warming to the idea of this dragging on and them then announcing like five winners all at once, five years from now .....

       (Updated - 27 May): See now also Christina Anderson's report in The New York Times, Once Delayed, Nobel Prize for Literature No Sure Thing in 2019.

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

25 May 2018 - Friday

Princess of Asturias Award for Literature | Prix mondial Cino del Duca

       Princess of Asturias Award for Literature

       They've announced that the 2018 Princess of Asturias Award for Literature will go to ... popular crime writer Fred Vargas.
       (Only one title by Vargas is under review at the complete review -- Have Mercy on Us All -- though I've been meaning to get to more.)
       The award -- until 2014 the Prince of Asturias' award, until he became King and handed off the prize(-name) to Leonor (currently: all of twelve ...) -- has honored some very fine writers, including Philip Roth (2012). Vargas is an ... interesting choice.

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

       Prix mondial Cino del Duca

       OK, here's a prize that's almost fifty years old, pays out €200,000, and has honred, among others, Andrei Sakharov and Václav Havel, and writers such as Vargas Llosa and Modiano (both pre-Nobel), as well as Kundera, Borges, Kadare, and both Alejo and Alain Carpentier. You'd figure it would have a higher profile than ... well, when was the last time you heard about the Prix mondial Cino Del Duca ?
       They've now announced this year's winner -- not that I can find the information at the official site ..., but Livres Hebdo has us covered: it is Philippe Jaccottet.
       Seagull Books has brought out several of his books; see, for example, the recent The Second Seedtime, translated by Tess Lewis; see their publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

24 May 2018 - Thursday

Franz Kafka Prize | Internationaler Literaturpreis shortlist
Nevada Days review

       Franz Kafka Prize

       They've been awarding the Franz Kafka Prize, an international author-prize, since 2001 -- Philip Roth was the first winner -- and they've now announced that this year's winner is ... Ivan Wernisch; see, for example, the report at the Prague Daily Monitor, Czech poet Wernisch to receive Franz Kafka Prize this year
       For all its international aspirations, the prize does seem to lean a bit to the hometown writers -- Wernisch is the fifth Czech winner, of eighteen awarded -- but it's hard to complain too much about the previous ones (Ivan Klíma, Arnošt Lustig, Václav Havel, and Daniela Hodrová), so he's probably worth checking out -- which is easier said than done in English: In the Puppet Gardens, published by Michigan Slavic Publications (!) looks to be the only vaguely available translated title; see the publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

       Internationaler Literaturpreis shortlist

       The Internationaler Literaturpreis - Haus der Kulturen der Welt "honors an outstanding work of contemporary international literature that has been translated into German for the first time" -- and pays out a tidy €20,000 for the author and €15,000 for the translator -- and they've now announced this year's shortlist of six titles; they include Virginie Despentes's Vernon Subutex (the English translation of which was a finalist for the recently announced Man Booker International Prize), Éric Vuillard's not-available-in-English-yet prix Goncourt winner, The Order of the Day, and, one of two translations-from-the-English, Eliot Weinberger's The Ghosts of Birds.
       Always interesting to see what foreign literature is acclaimed in translation in other countries/cultures, and the ILP-HKW is one of the most impressive foreign translation prizes.

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

       Nevada Days review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Bernardo Atxaga's Nevada Days, which came out in the UK last year (from MacLehose), and which Graywolf Press will be releasing in the US this summer.

       On the one hand: how awesome that this is translated by Margaret Jull Costa.
       On the other: how disappointing that her translation is from the Spanish translation of the Basque original. Yes, author Atxaga co-translated that, from the original Basque -- but still .....
       Amaia Gabantxo's (paywalled) review of this in the Times Literary Supplement addresses this issue/question at length, noting: "Basque and Spanish are very different languages. Atxaga is a very different author in each one." and I agree emphatically with her:
I truly believe that direct translation from Basque into English would better serve Basque literature.
       Lots of issues here, but let's face it: direct is the way to go, whenever at all possible (and there's no reason for it not to be possible, especially when we're talking about translation into the world's most popular language, English).

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

23 May 2018 - Wednesday

Philip Roth (1933-2018)
Man Booker International Prize | Top 100 'stories' ?
Miles Franklin Literary Award longlist

       Philip Roth (1933-2018)

       American author Philip Roth has passed away; see, for example, Charles McGrath's obituary in The New York Times. There will be a great deal more coverage in the days to come .....

       Several of Roth's novels are under review at the complete review:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Man Booker International Prize

       As widely noted, they've announced that this year's Man Booker International Prize goes to Flights, by Olga Tokarczuk, in Jennifer Croft's translation.
       This book isn't US-available yet -- the Riverhead edition is coming out in August -- and I haven't seen it yet -- but I did first mention this title a decade (!) ago, when it won the biggest Polish literary prize the Nike (actually, I first mentioned it a month before that, when it was shortlisted for that award ...)
       I hope to get to it once it reaches the US; meanwhile, see the Fitzcarraldo Editions publicity page, pre-order your copy at or get your copy at

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

       Top 100 'stories' ?

       The BBC has an odd new list of The 100 stories that shaped the world -- whereby almost all the 'stories' are full-fledged books.
       They invited: "108 critics, scholars and journalists from 38 countries" to each: "nominate up to five fictional stories they felt had shaped mindsets or influenced history" -- and admirably they do at least also show who these folks were, and who they nominated, here.
       It's unclear what the exact instructions were -- name any five ? or the top five ? and "shaped mindsets or influenced history" makes for a pretty big field -- and the answers were all over the place (or, in many cases, limited to very specific places ...); perhaps the biggest surprise to me is that, despite several Chinese classics getting lots of (Chinese) support, The Story of the Stone (aka The Dream of the Red Chamber, etc.) didn't rate at all -- but then the question wasn't what's the best or most impressive work of fiction .....

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

       Miles Franklin Literary Award longlist

       They've announced the longlist for this year's Miles Franklin Literary Award, and along with the latest works by Peter Carey and Michelle de Kretser, Gerald Murnane's Border Districts made the cut.
       The shortlist will be announced 17 June.

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

22 May 2018 - Tuesday

Literature in translation in ... Australia | Standard Arabic decline ?
Antipodean literature, language, and translation

       Literature in translation in ... Australia

       At The Conversation Alice Whitmore finds Australia's taste for translated literature is getting broader, and that's a good thing.
       Of course it is !
       (And it is noteworthy that several Australian publishers have leapt ahead of US/UK publishers with some translations -- which speaks for them (and, alas, against the prevailing US/UK scene, which gets to a lot, but continues to have huge gaps .....)

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

       Standard Arabic decline ?

       At the Atlantic Council Hossam Abouzahr considers Standard Arabic is on the Decline: Here's What’s Worrying About That.
       I hope to hear/read some debate about this.

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

       Antipodean literature, language, and translation

       An interesting piece by Vana Manasiadis in The Spinoff, the co-editor of Tātai Whetū: Seven Māori Women Poets in Translation (see the Seraph Press publicity page) offering A manifesto for a true bilingual literature
       She suggests that -- certainly in this case --:
So translation is really all about reclamation, freedom of movement, equality. It evens the territory and levels the hierarchies.
       Well worth a look.

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

21 May 2018 - Monday

Jane Eyre in ... China | Convenience Store Woman review

       Jane Eyre in ... China

       In the South China Morning Post Victoria Burrows explains Why China loves Jane Eyre, whether as a feminist manifesto, a history of colonialism or just a simple children's bedtime story.
       Yes, apparently Jane Eyre -- 简·爱 -- is big in China -- really big.

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

       Convenience Store Woman review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Murata Sayaka's Akutagawa Prize-winning bestseller, Convenience Store Woman, due out in English shortly from Grove Press (US) and Portobello Books (UK).

       Interesting title-variations among the translations -- the French simply went with the abbreviated Japanese word for convenience store from the original, Konbini; the Germans, without the convenience of convenience stores, with the reasonably fitting Die Ladenhüterin (essentially: 'the shopkeeper' (f)) -- but I have to say, I'm not entirely sure about the feel of the Italian: La ragazza del convenience store .....

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

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