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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 October 2019

11 October: Nobel fall-out | NYRB Classics at 20
12 October: Penguin's 75 Maigrets | Translation into ... te reo Māori | Automatic Eve review
13 October: Murakami and sex | Arturo Pérez-Reverte Q & A | Till Day You Do Part review
14 October: Booker and German Book Prize announcements | Translation in ... Kazakhstan | 'Why hasn't an Indian got a Nobel Prize for literature in 106 years ?'
15 October: Booker Prize | German Book Prize | Harold Bloom (1930-2019) | Satyricon review
16 October: Frankfurt Book Fair | Prix du Premier roman finalists
17 October: Neustadt International Prize for Literature | Self-published growth | The Negro Grandsons of Vercingetorix review
18 October: Premio Planeta | Cundill History Prize finalists | New Asymptote
19 October: International author prizes | | The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun review
20 October: 'British Writers on Brexit' | Sun-Tzu's Life review

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20 October 2019 - Sunday

'British Writers on Brexit' | Sun-Tzu's Life review

       'British Writers on Brexit'

       At Deutsche Welle Elizabeth Grenier reports on a Frankfurt Book Fair panel, "British Writers on Brexit", in 'After Brexit it'll get worse than Brexit,' say British writers.
       Yes, unsurprisingly, they were not very optimistic.

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

       Sun-Tzu's Life review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ričardas Gavelis' last novel, Sun-Tzu's Life in the Holy City of Vilnius.

       This came out recently from Pica Pica Press -- who also have brought out a paperback edition of Gavelis' Vilnius Poker, which Open Letter brought out in hardback a decade ago.

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

19 October 2019 - Saturday

International author prizes |
The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun review

       International author prizes

       It's been a busy ten days or so as far as international author prizes go, with two Nobels announced (see my overview) and then the Neustadt International Prize for Literature (see my previous mention), not to mention various book prizes (Booker, Planeta, German) -- so much so that I missed two more high-profile author prizes:

        - they've announced that Salman Rushdie will receive this year's WELT-Literaturpreis. Small consolation for not picking up the Booker -- for which his book was actually a finalist --, much less one of the Nobels (hey, they gave it to Dylan, so anything is possible, he surely reminds himself every year), and only paying out €12,000, it does at least have a decent list of previous winners -- including Virginie Despentes last year, Zadie Smith in 2017, and ...uh ... Murakami Haruki in 2014, and Jonathan Franzen the year before ....
       He gets to pick it up on 10 November.

        - they've announced that Luisa Valenzuela will get this year's Premio Internacional Carlos Fuentes a la Creación Literaria en el Idioma Español -- an author prize that hasn't been around that long (this is only the fifth time they've awarded it) and is limited to Spanish-language authors but does pay out a decent US$125,000; last year's winner was Luis Goytioslo

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

       At the A.V. Club Kevin Cortez reports, in We're clearly out of good stories, so here's some science fiction books written by artificial intelligence, on publisher of AI-generated books
       They are certainly all-in with the concept: not only are the books AI-generated, so are the book descriptions, covers, reviews posted on the site -- and even the images of the reviewers. The prices seem computer-generated, too.
       The descriptions suggest there's still quite a lot of 'I' missing in this AI, but it is an amusing idea. And, probably, the future -- though not the near future, I suspect.

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

       The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Sébastien Japrisot's recently reïssued 1966 thriller, The Lady in the Car with Glasses and a Gun.

       Good to see more Japrisot available again.

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

18 October 2019 - Friday

Premio Planeta | Cundill History Prize finalists
New Asymptote

       Premio Planeta

       They announced the winners of the major English- and German-language novel prizes on Tuesday, paying out £50,000 (divided by two, this year) and €25,000 respectively -- but the really big money comes with the leading Spanish-language novel prize, the Premio Planeta, which pays out a staggering €601,000 (and even pays out more than the Booker and German Book Prize combined -- €150,250 -- to the runner up), and they've now announced that this year's prize goes to Terra Alta by Javier Cercas; you can already pre-order your copy from
       There were 564 submissions for the prize, with 306 from Spain and 15 from the US (and 7 from ... Canada); there were as many submissions from Bolivia as there were from China (one each).
       Quite a few Cercas titles are under review at the complete review:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Cundill History Prize finalists

       They've announced the three finalists for this year's Cundill History Prize, the US-dollar denominated (75,000) Canada-based international prize for history writing.
       The winner will be announced 14 November.

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

       New Asymptote

       The October issue of Asymptote is now up, with a nice large selection of material -- it should be enough to cover you for the weekend.

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

17 October 2019 - Thursday

Neustadt International Prize for Literature | Self-published growth
The Negro Grandsons of Vercingetorix review

       Neustadt International Prize for Literature

       Time for the next big literary award: they've announced the winner of the 2020 Neustadt International Prize for Literature, the biennial author award given: " in recognition of outstanding achievement in poetry, fiction, or drama", and it is Ismail Kadare.
       Several Kadare titles are under review at the complete review:
(Posted by: M.A.Orthofer)    - permanent link -

       Self-published growth

       Of books there may be enough -- but a hell of a lot more are being published: as Jim Milliot reports in Publishers Weekly, Number of Self-Published Titles Jumped 40% in 2018.
       That's a ... sizable increase. Of course, there's no way of knowing what these titles exactly amount to -- but still. (It's also interesting to see how completely Amazon is dominating this area, with its CreateSpace division publishing more than 35 times as many titles as the runner-up, Lulu.)
       Meanwhile, however, Milliot also reports at Publishers Weekly that: Bookstore Sales Fell 10.3% in August, so that's not good .....

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

       The Negro Grandsons of Vercingetorix review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Alain Mabanckou's 2002 novel, The Negro Grandsons of Vercingetorix -- just out in English from Indiana University Press.
       The translation is by Bill Johnston -- better-known for his translations from the Polish, but, yes, he also does French.

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

16 October 2019 - Wednesday

Frankfurt Book Fair | Prix du Premier roman finalists

       Frankfurt Book Fair

       The Frankfurt Book Fair opens today and runs through the 20th.
       Norway is the 'Guest of Honour'; see also the official site they've set up in conjunction with that. Lots of coverage in the German press, of course, as this has led to a ton of Norwegian writing being published in German; among the most interesting pieces is a lengthy interview in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung with Morgenbladet literary critic Bernhard Ellefsen about the Norwegian literary scene, „Wirklichkeitsliteratur ist ein idiotischer Begriff“.
       Newly minted Nobel laureate Olga Tokarczuk was conveniently on a German book tour, so they got her to the big show -- see, for example, Andrew Albanese's report Frankfurt Book Fair 2019: Nobel Winner Olga Tokarczuk Speaks of Unity. (No one seems to have gone out of their way to get Peter Handke into town .....)
       At Deutsche Welle they have a(n annoying) slideshow of 8 literary stars at the Frankfurt Book Fair -- but of course there are a lot more authors (especially Norwegian authors) and there's a lot more going on there, including lots of 'dealmaking' (sigh).

       (Updated - 17 October): See now also Norway grabs the literary spotlight by Nina Berglund at News in and Frankfurt Book Fair: Dreams, revolutions and a Nobel laureate by Sabine Peschel at Deutsche Welle.

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

       Prix du Premier roman finalists

       They've announced the finalists for the prix du Premier roman, a French literary prize that honors both a best first French novel as well as a best foreign one; see the Livres Hebdo report.
       There are seven French finalists left, and three in the translated fiction category -- all of which, rather disappointingly, are translations from the English (well, two are from l'américain).
       The winners will be announced 6 November.

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

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15 October 2019 - Tuesday

Booker Prize | German Book Prize
Harold Bloom (1930-2019) | Satyricon review

       Booker Prize

       According to the official rules, they're only supposed to honor one title, but: "On being told that it was definitively against the rules, the judges held a further discussion and chose to flout them" -- and named co-winners of this year's Booker Prize for Fiction: they've announced that The Testaments (by Margaret Atwood) and Girl, Woman, Other (by Bernardine Evaristo) both won.

       I haven't read anything by either of these authors in quite a while; the only review of any title by either author under review at the complete review is Atwood's The Penelopiad.
       For The Testaments: get your copy at or

       For Girl, Woman, Other: get your copy at or

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

       German Book Prize

       They've announced that Saša Stanišić has been awarded this year's German Book Prize for his novel Herkunft; see, for example, the Luchterhand foreign rights page or the Deutsche Welle report, Sasa Stanisic wins German Book Prize, criticizes Nobel winner Peter Handke.
       No word yet on a US/UK publisher for this, but it will no doubt appear in English, as previous works of his have also been translated (How the Soldier Repairs the Gramophone and Before the Feast).

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

       Harold Bloom (1930-2019)

       Big-time American literary critic Harold Bloom has passed away; see, for example, the obituaries in The New York Times, the Forward, and The Guardian.
       I'm afraid I mostly steered clear of his work, but he was certainly an important figure in American letters.

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

       Satyricon review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Petronius' classic, Satyricon -- the Loeb Classical Library series editions.

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

14 October 2019 - Monday

Booker and German Book Prize announcements | Translation in ... Kazakhstan
'Why hasn't an Indian got a Nobel Prize for literature in 106 years ?'

       Booker and German Book Prize announcements

       Last week the big author-prize -- the Nobel -- was announced; today they'll announce the winners of the leading German-language novel prize, the German Book Prize, and the leading English-language novel prize, the Booker Prize.

       Booker preview pieces include Alex Preston's suggestions in The Observer: Man Booker prize shortlist 2019: who to put your money on (though note there's no longer any Man in the Booker ...), the BBC's overview, Booker Prize 2019: Margaret Atwood leads six authors in the frame to win, and judge Afua Hirsch explains What I learned from my year of reading outside the box in The Guardian.

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

       Translation in ... Kazakhstan

       In The Astana Times they report that the Second International Writers Forum focuses on translation problems, reporting on the recent forum; see also the programme.
       Not surprisingly, the locals noted: "Currently, state support of literature translation is wanting" (and so much depends on state support (i.e. cash) ...).

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

       'Why hasn't an Indian got a Nobel Prize for literature in 106 years ?'

       At ThePrint they explore the question: Why hasn't an Indian got a Nobel Prize for literature in 106 years since Tagore ?
       Several contributors offer answers, making some good points (not just about the Nobel) -- though I'd feel better if the arguments did not include the likes of:
For one, the Nobel prize isn’t about literature alone. It’s also about the politics of it. Remember Nazi sympathiser Ezra Pound got it
       Actually, I don't remember that -- for a pretty good reason. (Yes, the obvious one -- though he was nominated disturbingly/surprisingly often (and the records are just available through 1966 !)).

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

13 October 2019 - Sunday

Murakami and sex | Arturo Pérez-Reverte Q & A
Till Day You Do Part review

       Murakami and sex

       In Metropolis Eric Margolis wonders at some length What's Up With Bad Sex in Murakami ? -- as in Haruki (fellow (if unrelated) Murakami Ryu, who also gets a mention here, is also known for his (rather different) sex scenes; see, for example, Piercing).
       There's also considerable focus on translation here -- including the observation that:
“Murakami is born in translation,” Snyder said. “He is constantly translating his own works back and forth and his works seek out translations in various ways.” Snyder is referring to a variety of translatable features in Murakami’s work, from Murakami’s self-stated preference for English, to the overt influences of American authors like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Raymond Carver, to the many familiar Western cultural touchstones in his work, like jazz and classical music.
       I'm not sure about this, however:
“To do a translation properly and enter a sex scene, you have to become aroused,” [Ted] Goossen said. “Some translators might feel that you should stay detached, but I believe that you really have to participate in the scene in order to make it work in English.”
       Just in case it wasn't clear, Murakami-translator Goossen also notes that Murakami is: "not an amoral flesh-peddler".

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

       Arturo Pérez-Reverte Q & A

       At Publishers Weekly Ed Nawotka has a Q & A with Arturo Pérez-Reverte.
       I have a pile of his novels but haven't gotten around to reviewing any; I should get around to that at some point .....

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

       Till Day You Do Part review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of newly minted Nobel laureate Peter Handke's 2007/2008 monologue Till Day You Do Part or A Question of Light.
       The English-language edition is a trilingual (!) one from Seagull Books that also includes the original French draft and the finished German version.
       It's sort of a response to yet another Nobel laureate's work, Samuel Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape.

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

12 October 2019 - Saturday

Penguin's 75 Maigrets | Translation into ... te reo Māori
Automatic Eve review

       Penguin's 75 Maigrets

       In The Bookseller Katherine Cowdrey reports that Penguin Press celebrates 75th Maigret novel translation and reveals cover -- their new translations of the classic series; see also the Penguin publicity page.
In total, according to PRH UK, global sales of the new translations reached a landmark one million copies. Through Nielsen BookScan, Simenon sold 433,157 books for £3.13m. The first in the Maigret collection, Pietr the Latvian, released in November 2013, shifted a respectable 19,041 copies.
       Five of these are under review at the complete review, and I have about twenty more -- and do expect to slowly get to them. But, of course, I'm particularly interested in Simenon's impressive other work -- and so it's good to hear:
"Simenon was famously prolific so there is plenty more for us to delve into," said Greywoode. "We would like to really establish this series now we've reached the end to ensure it has a long life. But, yes, then we will be publishing more of the novels Simenon wrote outside of the series of which there are around 200. We'll be looking to curate a selection of those to bring to readers hungry for more !"
       As someone who is, indeed, very hungry, I hope they don't limit themselves to a mere "selection".

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

       Translation into ... te reo Māori

       Neat to hear that in New Zealand they've launched an initiative to publish 100 books in te reo Māori; see, for example the Auckland University Press press release, Very special project brings te reo to the world and Alice Webb-Liddall's report in The Spinoff, Harry Potter among 100 books set to be translated into te reo Māori.
       I look forward to hearing more about what books they select -- and, of course, I also hope there will be more translations from te reo Māori.

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

       Automatic Eve review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Inui Rokuro's Automatic Eve, recently out from Haikasoru -- though unfortunately apparently their last title, for now, as they've gone on a hiatus of as yet undetermined length.

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

11 October 2019 - Friday

Nobel fall-out | NYRB Classics at 20

       Nobel fall-out

       Olga Tokarczuk and Peter Handke were named the 2018 and 2019 Nobel Prize in Literature laureates yesterday; see yesterday's post for all the news and commentary links.

       Certainly in the US/UK press Tokarczuk's anointing was generally very positively received, the only disappointment being that she is yet another European laureate (and that both laureates were European this year). The decision to give the prize to Handke, on the other hand, was heavily criticized, and not just because he's an old European white male writing in a dominant language -- reactions going so far as PEN America issuing an official statement, PEN America expresses "deep regret" over Peter Handke's Nobel Prize.
       The issue with Handke is almost entirely extra-literary: Carolyn Kellogg, for example, judged in the Chicago Tribune that Today's Nobel Prizes in literature ? A home run and a strikeout. -- while acknowledging: "I have never read Handke, and I don't plan to start now". Peter Maass at The Intercept offers a slightly more nuanced if no less harsh indictment in Congratulations, Nobel Committee, You Just Gave the Literature Prize to a Genocide Apologist, writing:
I am not saying that we should not read Peter Handke’s literary work. My objection is not a version of the age-old question of whether we should listen to Richard Wagner. Go ahead and listen to Wagner. Go ahead and read Handke. My point is this: It is one thing to read him, it is quite another to bestow upon him a prize that delivers a great amount of legitimacy to his entire body of work, not just the novels and plays that are most impeccable and nonpolitical.
       At issue is the support Handke has expressed and shown to, most notably, Slobodan Milošević and Serbian war crimes during the Yugoslavian conflicts. Even those otherwise sympathetic to the author and his work are generally baffled by his position and actions in this sphere; these are: "wohl nicht wirklich erklärbar" ('probably not really explicable'), Paul Jandl flails, for example. (While he has been very active in -- and generally lauded for -- supporting Slovene language- and political-rights in his native Carinthia, Handke's nostalgia for the Yugoslavian confederation seems to trump even these; Slovenia broke off from Yugoslavia early and rather easily, but Handke was not supportive of this.)
       Handke made his first mark as a provocateur, way back in the 1960s, but this is something rather different, and one can see how people are disturbed by it. It also shows how the Nobel is seen as a validation that goes beyond the purely literary, for better and worse. Hence, for example, the disappointment (even from me ...) that the Academy did not select an author from outside the so familiar European-North American literary world.
       From a purely literary perspective, the selection of Handke is hard to criticize. Indeed, I would argue that he is a considerably stronger winner -- again, in purely literary terms -- than Tokarczuk. She is good -- good enough to be a worthy laureate -- but Handke belongs in the literary pantheon; his output is surely among the strongest among all laureates of recent decades. (Overlooked in US/UK coverage is also the sheer range of his work: like Jelinek (and fellow Austrian Thomas Bernhard), he is also one of Europe's leading dramatists of the past half century.)
       I'm not sure how much my opinion/tolerance of Handke is colored by the fact that I pretty much grew up with his work, and read much of it before these Yugoslavian issues reared their very ugly heads (and before I started this site, which is why so few of his books are under review here). The Yugoslavian fiasco came as sort of an afterthought to an already enormous body of work -- unforgiveable, perhaps, but also very late in the day.
       I am a bit bewildered by the widespread sweeping condemnation -- the throwing out of the literary baby with the bathwater, as it were. True, even I can't bring myself to read his Yugoslvian apologias -- but most of his work is far removed from that, much of it in what surely can be considered an entirely different sphere. (Recently I got the latest Mishima Yukio translation, Life for Sale -- already out in the UK, but only coming to the US next April --, and I certainly won't be able to resist it, just like I couldn't recent translations The Frolic of the Beasts and Star -- but surely Mishima's ultra-militant nationalism (put into action, no less) is an altogether different order of noxious; if you draw the line at Handke, then Mishima surely must be way, way over it.)
       One wonders to what extent the Academy selecting Handke was an intentional affront -- a way of proving their independence, public opinion be damned (many people long believed Handke could not possibly be considered for the prize). On the one hand, it's admirable that they appear not to have cared -- and, with Handke, they did choose a literarily worthy winner -- but their arguably tin ear probably doesn't help enhance (or restore) their reputation, at least in the US/UK.
       But maybe we should try to see it as just about the writing ? Tokarczuk generously (and unsurprisingly) was enthusiastic about her fellow laureate (as was Jelinek -- a full-fledged Communist for a time ! -- who has long said Handke deserved the prize before her) .....
       The Nobel ceremony -- on 10 December -- should be ... interesting. As should Handke and Tokarczuk's Nobel lectures, delivered a few days earlier.

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

       NYRB Classics at 20

       NYRB Classics is now twenty years old, and at Publishers Weekly editor Edwin Frank 'reflects on its origins and its objectives' in 20 Years of NYRB Classics.

       Obviously, I love this series -- and quite a few NYRB Classics titles are under review at the complete review. And the one book at the site that has sold the most -- by far -- via the Amazon-link on the review page is the great volume, The Anatomy of Melancholy by Robert Burton; it's the only title that has sold hundreds of copies. (A few other titles have sold over a 100 copies over the years, and I shifted a couple of dozen copies of Uwe Johnson's Anniversaries over the last year, but nothing has proven anywhere near as popular as the Burton.)

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

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