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The Literary Saloon Archive

21 - 30 September 2019

21 September: National Book Award for Fiction longlist | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Q & A
22 September: '100 best books of the 21st century' ? | Berta Isla review
23 September: Günter Kunert (1929-2019) | Simenon's Maigret-novels
24 September: Ismail Kadare Q & A | Royal Society Science Book Prize | Textermination review
25 September: SFC Literary Prize | The Infinity Of Grace review
26 September: MacArthur Fellows | East Central Europe literature panel | Bookninja !
27 September: DSC Prize longlist | Reviewing translations
28 September: Chinese literature in ... Africa | Jane Eyre in translation
29 September: Halldór Laxness Prize | Babelandia review
30 September: Nobel Prize in Literature countdown | Translation in ... India

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30 September 2019 - Monday

Nobel Prize in Literature countdown | Translation in ... India

       Nobel Prize in Literature countdown

       Nobel week begins next week and with it also will come the announcement of the winners of the Nobel Prize in Literature -- this year's winner, and one they're going to call last year's winner (since they were in no position to name one in 2018). With the Nobel Foundation having put the literature-prize-deciding Swedish Academy on a much tighter leash we even know the day of this year's announcement further ahead of time than usual: in previous years, the Swedish Acadmy got to decide on which Thursday in October they would reveal the winner -- presumably depending on how their deliberations went --, only confirming they would announce on the Monday of that week, three days before they revealed the winner; this year the Nobel Foundation has insisted they get the deal done and announce on Thursday 10 October.
       As you may recall, the Swedish Academy has had a bad couple of years. Poor laureate-choices are usually forgiven (or possibly even expected ...) or at least soon forgotten, but the misstep of the silly 2016 selection was certainly reputation-damaging; worse yet, was the institutional rot revealed in the scandal centered around academician Katarina Frostenson's husband, Jean-Claude Arnault; see, for example, Andrew Brown's report, The ugly scandal that cancelled the Nobel prize in The Guardian.
       The institution that previously you had only been able to leave by dying -- you could leave your seat empty and not participate, but officially you were still part of the organization -- has now seen considerable (live-action-)turnover in the past two years, including the exit of Sara Danius, who, as permanent secretary, had run the Nobel-show the past few years.
       Now, after taking last year off, the Swedish Academy is back at it, with Mats Malm taking the permanent secretary reins (though only since early summer, i.e. the after the early part of this year's Nobel-process (up to the selection of the (never publicly revealed) shortlist(s) of 'five priority candidates' for this year's prizes) was already completed). With quite a big turnover in the Academy itself, this means quite a few members are voting for a laureate for the first time, so it's even harder than usual to get a read on what they might be thinking. (For what it's worth, Malm's academic work, for example, has been more focussed on classical literature and poetry than contemporary literature.)
       It's hard to imagine that the academicians aren't thinking about restoring the reputation of their institution in making this year's selection -- i.e. they seem unlikely to go out on a Dylanesque limb, and indeed seem more likely to over-correct with very safe choices. The interesting thing, however, is that they can make two choices this year, which would seem to give them some leeway, i.e. allow them to try to satisfy different criteria and win the approval of different audiences. (True, they've always had the possibility of naming two winners in any given year -- and have done that on a handful of occasions (most recently and disastrously in 1974, when they gave it to two of their own) -- but this is a somewhat different case, where one of the two is essentially a make-up prize.)

       In previous years, there has been an active -- or at least much-discussed -- betting market on the prize, with several betting shops offering odds. Apparently burned by the Arnault-scandal (on top of everything else, he was apparently also a leaker of his wife's inside information), there hasn't been much action this year, with even sector leader Ladbrokes, who have gotten good publicity for this in past years, not having posted odds. Indeed, the only place where there seem to be odds at the moment is Unibet.
       Given their odd limitation -- "Only the Winner of the 2019 award will be settled as the winning outcome" -- it doesn't seem like worth taking a punt: how frustrating it would be to get the name right but have the Swedish Academy (surely entirely arbitrarily) assign it the 2018 prize .....
       Unibet gives odds on 26 authors -- a small pool, but at least a fairly serious one, with only one throw-it-in-for-the-fans author on offer (George R.R.Martin, at 250/1 odds -- yes, no J.K.Rowling (yet ...)). Opening odds for the top ten authors were:
  • Anne Carson 4/1

  • Maryse Condé 5/1

  • Can Xue 8/1
  • Murakami Haruki 8/1
  • Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o 8/1
  • Lyudmila Ulitskaya 8/1

  • Margaret Atwood 10/1
  • Nádas Péter 10/1
  • Marilynne Robinson 10/1
  • Olga Tokarczuk 10/1
       A lot of these (and the rest) are the usual suspects; the one newish name, Maryse Condé, -- last seen on the Ladbrokes betting list in 2015 (at a decent 25/1) -- rates so high because she is associated with last year's prize, having been awarded the Nobel pseudo-stand-in 'New Academy Prize in Literature' last year. (This prize was so fleeting that its official website isn't even up any longer, after less than a year .....)

       Regrettably, there's no sense of how the Swedish Academy might be tackling the prize-selection process -- not even whether there were separate nominations and then lists of 'priority candidates' for the 2018 and 2019 prizes, or whether there's just one list of ca. five (or ten ?) 'priority candidates', from which the top two are then selected to get the prizes .....
       (Mats Malm is interviewed in today's Svenska Dagbladet, but, alas, the piece is paywalled .....)
       I really have no idea what they might be thinking. The choices of the past few years -- stretching the prize some (and not necessarily in good ways ...) -- and now the wholesale personnel overhaul of the institution suggest anything is possible. Indeed, this is arguably the perfect time and opportunity or them to reïnvent the prize -- though of course part of its old appeal was its staid battiness, and change (from the pre-Danius years) might well be the last thing they need .....
       I have no idea about, and no sense of, the individual names that that they might be considering, but I suppose one can guess a few likelihoods. I'd be stunned if they didn't pick at least one woman (and not too surprised if both prizes went to women). I imagine there will be one European winner, but doubt there will be two. I'd be surprised if at least one of the winners wasn't primarily a novelist, but suspect they'll go for some variety here too. I hope neither of the winners is English-writing (but I'm not counting on it.)
       More thoughts, perhaps, later ..... (Though after the utterly deflating 2016 selection, compounded by the institutional implosion, it's getting hard to rouse real interest in this exercise.)

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

       Translation in ... India

       Much as I dislike linking to anything Huff, Harsimran Gill's piece on 8 Indian Translators On Their Favourite Work And What They'd Like To See Translated is an exercise that's impossible to resist .....
       A nice range, and some interesting suggestions.

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

29 September 2019 - Sunday

Halldór Laxness Prize | Babelandia review

       Halldór Laxness Prize

       At the biennial Reykjavík International Literary Festival this spring they announced the inaugural winner of their biennial Halldór Laxness International Literary Prize, a new €15,000 prize, and Ian McEwan has now picked it up; see, for example, the Reykjavík Grapevine report by Sam O'Donnell and Angela Rawlings, Interweaving Reality And Imagination: Ian McEwan Accepts Literature Prize.
       McEwan has been busy this year, with Machines Like Me coming out in the spring and now his Brexit-novel, The Cockroach, just out; not sure I'll be getting to that one .....

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

       Babelandia review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ecuadorian author Demetrio Aguilera Malta's 1973 novel, Babelandia.

       This 1985 translation was published by Humana Press; it's actually still in print -- while Humana Press has meanwhile been bought by Springer, "known as an innovative nursing, behavioral and health sciences, and medical publisher". Yes, this is a very odd match -- one of the least likely titles in their catalogue .....
       (It's also an odd, oversized volume, a peculiar stand-out in all respects.)

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

28 September 2019 - Saturday

Chinese literature in ... Africa | Jane Eyre in translation

       Chinese literature in ... Africa

       At Quartz Africa Abdi Latif Dahir reports how China's global campaign to promote its literature has arrived in Africa.
       Interesting also to see the list of African authors translated into Chinese, according to them -- with a mere eight Naguib Mahfouz titles, for example. (Can it really be that few ?)

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

       Jane Eyre in translation

       At The Conversation Matthew Reynolds considers Jane Eyre translated: 57 languages show how different cultures interpret Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel, reporting on the fascinating-sounding on-going Prismatic Jane Eyre-project, 'An Experiment in the Study of Translation' -- an exercise that certainly would be invaluable regarding many, many other works as well.
       I look forward to phase four of this -- "publication of an open-access book, linked to the website, which will provide fuller analysis of the material presented here, together with essays by all the researchers" (due late 2020/early 2021).

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

27 September 2019 - Friday

DSC Prize longlist | Reviewing translations

       DSC Prize longlist

       They've announced the fifteen title strong longlist for this year's DSC Prize for South Asian Literature, which includes three titles in translation: There's Gunpowder in the Air, by, Manoranjan Byapari, A Lonely Harvest, by Perumal Murugan, and Sugandhi alias Andal Devanayaki, by T.D.Ramakrishnan.
       The shortlist will be announced 6 November, and the winner on 16 December.

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

       Reviewing translations

       The Asymptote blog has a three-part series on 'How Should We Review Translations ?' See: part I (with Bilal Hashmi and Sophie Lewis), part II (with Lauren Albin and Sue Hyon Bae), and part III (with Johannes Göransson and Katherine Hedeen).

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

26 September 2019 - Thursday

MacArthur Fellows | East Central Europe literature panel | Bookninja !

       MacArthur Fellows

       They've announced this year's twenty-six MacArthur Fellows -- which comes with: ""with a stipend of [US]$625,000 to the recipient, paid out in equal quarterly installments over five years.
       Recipients include authors, such as Valeria Luiselli and Ocean Vuong, as well as translator Emily Wilson.

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

       East Central Europe literature panel

       An interesting sounding panel at Columbia University in New York tomorrow at 16:00, on: Bringing the Literatures of East Central Europe to English-speaking Readers.
       I'd go, if I were in the neighborhood .....

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

       Bookninja !

       A blast from the past as George Murray has revived his long dormant Bookninja weblog -- great to see one of the literary blogs from the early days back up again.

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

25 September 2019 - Wednesday

SFC Literary Prize | The Infinity Of Grace review

       SFC Literary Prize

       Over the weekend they announced the winner of this year's St. Francis College Literary Prize, a biennial US$50,000 prize for an author's third to fifth published work of fiction, and it is the collection The Dark Dark by Samantha Hunt.
       See also the Farrar, Straus and Giroux publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

       The Infinity Of Grace review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of O.V.Vijayan's The Infinity Of Grace -- which, disappointingly, appears to be out of print .....

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

24 September 2019 - Tuesday

Ismail Kadare Q & A | Royal Society Science Book Prize | Textermination review

       Ismail Kadare Q & A

       They announced that Ismail Kadare (The Successor, etc.) has won this year's Park Kyung-ni Literature Award, a relatively new South Korean international literary prize that has also gone to Ludmila Ulitskaya (2012), Marilynne Robinson (2013), Amos Oz (2015), Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o (2016), and A.S.Byatt (2017).
       In The Dong-a Ilbo Seol Lee has a Q & A with the prize-winner, 'Literature is the most valuable thing in life'.

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

       Royal Society Science Book Prize

       They've announced that Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez has won this year's Royal Society Science Book Prize, 'the only major international award that celebrates popular science writing for a non-specialist audience', paying out £25,000.
       Get your copy at or

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

       Textermination review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Christine Brooke-Rose's 1991 novel, Textermination.

       Lots of fictional characters from other works of fiction pop up in this one, which is certainly half the fun. (So many that I only added the most significant ones to the Index of Real People in Works of Fiction .....)

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

23 September 2019 - Monday

Günter Kunert (1929-2019) | Simenon's Maigret-novels

       Günter Kunert (1929-2019)

       German -- first East, then West -- author Günter Kunert has passed away; see, for example, the (German) Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung piece
       He wrote an extraordinary lot -- and a lot that was very good. Among his recent publications is the novel Die zweite Frau, which he wrote 45 years ago but could not publish in the GDR; see also the Wallstein Verlag publicity page.

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

       Simenon's Maigret-novels

       In The National Chandrahas Choudhury reports on Literature's enduring hero: The Inspector Maigret novels will soon all be available in English.
       Of course, all the Maigret novels have already long been available in English -- but Penguin has been bringing out new translations of the whole lot, a series that will soon be completed; quite a few are under review at the complete review -- most recently, Maigret and the Good People of Montparnasse.
       Of course, I'd love to see more of Simenon's other novels -- too many of which have not yet been translated -- available in English.

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

22 September 2019 - Sunday

'100 best books of the 21st century' ? | Berta Isla review

       '100 best books of the 21st century' ?

       The Guardian offers The 100 best books of the 21st century -- covering both fiction and non.
       I'm not sure about the value of the exercise, beyond as clickbait -- but it's certainly effective as that .....
       Anyway, a number of the titles -- though not all too many -- are under review at the complete review:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Berta Isla review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Javier Marías' recent novel, Berta Isla, now also out in a US edition -- almost a year after the UK edition appeared.

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

21 September 2019 - Saturday

National Book Award for Fiction longlist | Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Q & A

       National Book Award for Fiction longlist

       They've now announced all the finalists in the various categories of the (American) National Book Awards, finishing off with the announcement of the ten fiction finalists, selected from 397 (unfortunately and disappointingly not revealed) submissions.
       I've only seen one of these -- Disappearing Earth, by Julia Phillips -- and don't imagine I'll get to any of the others before the shortlists are announced on 8 October.
       The winners in all the categories will be announced 20 November.

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

       Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Q & A

       At Deutsche Welle Ulrike Sommer has a Q & A with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on politics, human rights and storytelling.

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

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