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The Literary Saloon Archive

11 - 20 January 2021

11 January: Ved Mehta (1934-2021) | Nobel archive (not-yet-)opening | The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata review
12 January: Coming in 2021 | Bestselling in the US in 2020 | Barbara Epler Q & A | The Dark Domain review
13 January: Banipal Prize | Dædalus online | The bookseller of Kabul
14 January: Vassilis Alexakis (1943-2021) | Thebes at War review
15 January: Swiss Literature Awards | Al Saqi Books profile | Literature in ... Bhutan
16 January: Grand prix de la Francophonie | Top online reads in China | 'Breaking Down the Bestselling Books of 2020'
17 January: Icelandic Book Prize preview | Adivasi literature
18 January: Bestselling in 2020 in ... France | The Copenhagen Trilogy reviews
19 January: Plagiarism in South Korea ? | Canadian book preview | Munchausen and Clarissa review
20 January: Taiwan Literature Base | 'Gay disclaimers' | The last 100 reviews

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20 January 2021 - Wednesday

Taiwan Literature Base | 'Gay disclaimers' | The last 100 reviews

       Taiwan Literature Base

       They've opened the Taiwan Literature Base, with seven Japanese-style edifices on the grounds; in the Taiwan Times Huang Tzu-ti reports on how Japanese dorms turned into literary center in Taipei.
       It sounds like a neat idea -- though I am a bit surprised by the choice of site, given that Japanese colonial rule isn't that long-past. But, hey:
Other highlights of the historical venue include a café offering Japanese matcha drinks and treats as well as three air-raid shelters
       I'm sure they'll figure it all out eventually .....

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

       'Gay disclaimers'

       At Reuters Marton Dunai reports on the latest nonsense from Hungary, as Hungary's government orders disclaimers on books with gay content.
       Yes, apparently:
The government said the action was needed to protect consumers from being misled
       It seems the order is directed specifically at the books of publisher Labrisz and such 'disclaimers' are not (yet ?) universally mandated -- but anything seems possible under this regime.

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

       The last 100 reviews

       I recently reached 4700 books under review at the complete review, so it's time for another overview of the past 100 reviewed titles (4601 through 4700).

       - The last 100 reviews were posted over 181 days -- just a bit quicker than the previous 100 (183 days) -- and totaled 161,356 words (last 100: 143,466 words), as reviews were, on average, the longest they've ever been over a 100-review span. The longest review was *only* 3674 words long (in the previous hundred one was 5490 words ...), but nineteen were over 2000 words long (compared to twelve in the previous hundred).
       Reviewed books had a total of 24,778 pages, down quite a bit from the previous 26,810; the pages-per-day rate of 136.90 was also 10 down from the previous hundred's 146.50. The longest reviewed book was only 651 pages long, but only two were shorter than 100 pages.

       - Reviewed books were originally written in 27 different languages (including English); English again led the way by a considerable margin, with 27 titles, followed by French (15) and then Spanish (7). One new language was added -- Syriac -- bringing the total number of languages covered to 82. (See also the updated full breakdown of all the languages books under review were originally written in.)

       - As always, I reviewed many more male-written books, with 81 of the reviewed books written by men and only 19 by women. Still, that raised the historic sexist average of written-by-women titles under review ever so slightly, to 16.53 per cent.

       - No books were rated 'A', but eleven did rate 'A-'; the lowest-rated title was a 'C+'.

       - As always, fiction -- and especially novels -- dominated, with 78 titles that were novels reviewed.

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

19 January 2021 - Tuesday

Plagiarism in South Korea ? | Canadian book preview
Munchausen and Clarissa review

       Plagiarism in South Korea ?

       In The Korea Times Park Ji-won reports on the latest instance where an Award-winning novel comes under fire for plagiarism.
       As in Japan, literary prizes play a major role in the making of new authors in South Korea, giving them an outsize importance. With the stakes so high, there have repeatedly been plagiarism scandals -- so now also with this case, where the author apparently won no less than five literary prizes in the past two years -- three of which have already announced retractions of those prizes.
       The whole set-up is obviously problematic:
"The literary community is very small and conservative. And no one really knows how assessing literary awards are conducted. Also, systematically, it is very hard to complain about the awards because literary aspirants, in particular, are in a weak position as they are regarded as authors only after winning an award," an insider at a publication company said.

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

       Canadian book preview

       Quill & Quire have their spring 2021 previews of fiction and non-fiction to look forward to -- an interesting selection.

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

       Munchausen and Clarissa review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Paul Scheerbart's 1905 Munchausen and Clarissa: A Berlin Novel, just about out in English now from Wakefield Press.

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

18 January 2021 - Monday

Bestselling in 2020 in ... France | The Copenhagen Trilogy reviews

       Bestselling in 2020 in ... France

       Livres Hebdo offer some of the numbers as to the bestselling titles in France in 2020, in Dicker, Musso, Le Tellier et Lignac dominent les meilleures ventes de livres en 2020.
       Fiction dominated the top 50, with 37 titles, and most of the titles were originaly written in French -- 42 out of the top 50. Guillaume Musso placed three titles in the top 50 (two in the top five), for sales of over 1,000,000, but the single bestselling title was Joël Dicker's L'énigme de la chambre 622, selling 493,919 copies; no doubt we'll eventually see this in English, but it might still be a while.
       Barack Obama's memoir made the top ten -- but only in tenth place, selling 262,212 copies.

       At ActuaLitté they look at the sales of last year's big-prize winners -- led by Hervé Le Tellier's prix Goncourt-winning L'Anomalie, which shifted 439,405 copies.
       They usefully also provide the numbers for the 2019 prize winners -- as well as updated totals, how many copies these books have now sold through 2020. For example, the 2019 Goncourt-winner, Tous les hommes n’habitent pas le monde de la même façon, by Jean-Paul Dubois, sold 366,310 copies in 2019 -- considerably fewer than the Le Tellier this year -- but its total sales are now up to 482,141 copies.
       At ActuaLitté they also have Les 10 meilleures ventes de romans en 2020 -- the top ten bestselling novels; the numbers are slightly different from those at Livres Hebdo -- the Le Tellier is ahead of the Musso here, for example -- but the list is usefully limited to novels.

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

       The Copenhagen Trilogy reviews

       The most recent additions to the complete review are my reviews of the three volumes of Tove Ditlevsen's The Copenhagen Trilogy:
  1. Childhood
  2. Youth
  3. Dependency
       They are coming out, in one volume as well as three separate ones, from Farrar, Straus and Giroux in the US, after being published to considerable critical acclaim in the UK over the past two years. (There, the one-volume collection is titled: Childhood, Youth, Dependency .....)
       It looks like these will be Ditlevsen's break-out works in English -- but she's not entirely unknown. For one, these translations of Childhood and Youth were previously published together as Early Spring, way back in 1985 (yes, to rather little notice ...). And, while Dependency is now available in English for the first time, the Times Literary Supplement saw it and her as important enough to review the Danish original when it came out in 1971.
       (In the international lockstep that so much of publishing has become, the Germans (like also the Dutch) have picked up on her too, and are also publishing the trilogy -- though I remember the red edition suhrkamp volume of Sucht from way back in the early 1980s; they've retitled it as Abhängigkeit ('Dependency', too) for the new edition, however.)

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

17 January 2021 - Sunday

Icelandic Book Prize preview | Adivasi literature

       Icelandic Book Prize preview

       They announced the finalist for the 2020 Icelandic Book Prize last month, and now at The Reykjavík Grapevine Valur Grettisson has a preview of the prizes, which will be announced in a couple of weeks, Reading Too Much Into The Icelandic Book Prize Nominees 2021. (It does seem that these are the 2020 prizes, however.)
       The finalists, in three categories (fiction, non, and children's literature), were selected from 280 submissions.
       One of the fiction finalists, Ólafur Jóhann Ólafsson's Snerting -- see the Forlagið publicity page -- actually came out in English translation a couple of years ago already, as One Station Away; see the Ecco publicity page, or get your copy at or
       Another finalist is by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir -- who won the 2016 Icelandic Book Prize for Hotel Silence. It's interesting to hear that while her The Greenhouse was nominated for the Nordic Council Book Prize in 2009, it wasn't nominated for this prize that year:
Her sales in Iceland were actually quite low compared to her acclaim abroad, which perhaps explains her absence from the list, but the snub was still a scandal.

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

       Adivasi literature

       At The Caravan Akash Poyam suggests Ten voices from Adivasi literature -- a useful overview, even if not very accessible to English-speaking readers at this point.

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

16 January 2021 - Saturday

Grand prix de la Francophonie | Top online reads in China
'Breaking Down the Bestselling Books of 2020'

       Grand prix de la Francophonie

       The Académie Française has announced the winner of this year's €30,000 Grand Prix de la Francophonie, and it is Lebanese author Alexandre Najjar; see also the Livres Hebdo report.
       Several of his works have been translated into English; see the author page at Saqi Books.

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

       Top online reads in China

       At Sixth Tone Cai Xuejiao and Chen Qi'an summarize an iiMedia report, in Here Are the Top Reads From China's $5 Billion Online Literature Market.
       Yes, online reading and publishing is a big industry in China; I always wonder whether this sort of thing will catch on anywhere else to anywhere near this extent.

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

       'Breaking Down the Bestselling Books of 2020'

       An interesting look at the most successful books (and publishers) in the US market last year, as Liz Hartman goes about Breaking Down the Bestselling Books of 2020 at Publishers Weekly.
       Despite the dominance of the so-called 'Big Five' in American publishing, independents had a good showing, at least in this area.

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

15 January 2021 - Friday

Swiss Literature Awards | Al Saqi Books profile
Literature in ... Bhutan

       Swiss Literature Awards

       They've announced the (national) Swiss Literature Awards for 2021 -- seven for individual works, as well as the big (author) prize, the CHF40,000 Grand Prix suisse de littérature, which goes to Frédéric Pajak; see also the report, Frédéric Pajak wins top Swiss literature prize.
       New York Review Books published his Uncertain Manifesto not too long ago -- see their publicity page, or get your copy at or --; I have a copy and will try to get to it.

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

       Al Saqi Books profile

       In The National Jamie Prentis profiles Al Saqi Books, in Something in the water: the compelling tales of London's oldest Arabic bookstore.

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

       Literature in ... Bhutan

       At Siok Sian Pek-Dorji reports on More reading, and even more listening: How the pandemic has affected literature in Bhutan.

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

14 January 2021 - Thursday

Vassilis Alexakis (1943-2021) | Thebes at War review

       Vassilis Alexakis (1943-2021)

       Greek-French author -- yes, he wrote works both in French and Greek -- Vassilis Alexakis has passed away; see, for example, Tasos Kokkinidis' report in Greek Reporter, Greek Writer and Journalist Vassilis Alexakis Dies at 77; obviously, there's also a lot coverage in the French media.

       Alexakis is woefully under-translated into English, but a bit of his work is available -- his novel Foreign Words for example; see the Autumn Hill publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

       Thebes at War review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of another of Naguib Mahfouz's early historical novels, Thebes at War.

       That is the twenty-eighth work by Mahfouz under review at the complete review -- but I still have so many to get to !

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

13 January 2021 - Wednesday

Banipal Prize | Dædalus online | The bookseller of Kabul

       Banipal Prize

       They've announced the winner of this year's Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation, and it is Kay Heikkinen's translation of Velvet by Huzama Habayeb.
       See also the Hoopoe publicity page, or get your copy at or
       The prize will be awarded 11 February, along with the other Society of Authors Translation Prizes.

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

       Dædalus online

       What great, great news: "In January 2021, Dædalus became an Open Access journal". They're still working on digitizing the back catalog, but eventually all this great material will be freely accessible.
       Some of it already is -- like the new Winter 2021 issue, 'On the Novel', edited by Michael Wood. Lots of things that look worth a closer read, including: Simon D. Goldhill arguing for Finding the Time for Ancient Novels, Robyn Creswell on Poets in Prose: Genre & History in the Arabic Novel, and Two Theories by Franco Moretti.
       A good-looking issue (on a topic of obvious interest ...), but that whole archive will be something to return to again and again .....

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

       The bookseller of Kabul

       At Selina Sheth profiles Shah M Book Co-bookseller Shah Muhammed Rais -- yes, the The Bookseller of Kabul -- in For this bookseller of Kabul, the pandemic was a blip in a country afflicted by long-term war.
       Certainly an interesting story.

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

12 January 2021 - Tuesday

Coming in 2021 | Bestselling in the US in 2020
Barbara Epler Q & A | The Dark Domain review

       Coming in 2021

       The Millions has now posted their Most Anticipated: The Great First-Half 2021 Book Preview -- 152 titles to look forward to.
       Meanwhile, at Vulture they present 46 Books We Can't Wait to Read in 2021.
       Certainly some titles of interest here -- but there's a lot more coming out .....

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

       Bestselling in the US in 2020

       At Publishers Weekly John Maher has the numbers -- the top twenty-five bestselling titles in the US in 2020, along with the number of copies sold (as reported by NPD BookScan).
       Barack Obama's A Promised Land was the only title to shift over 2,000,000 copies, and six more titles shifted over a million each. None of the top twenty-five are under review at the complete review.

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

       Barbara Epler Q & A

       At the World Literature Today blog Veronica Esposito has a Q & A with the longtime New Directions publisher, in “Lusting after a Tart of Peacock Tongues”: A Conversation with Publisher Barbara Epler -- a good look at the changing publishing scene, especially regarding work in translation, in the US over the past twenty-five years.

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

       The Dark Domain review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Stefan Grabiński's collection about The Dark Domain, recently re-issued by Dedalus.

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

11 January 2021 - Monday

Ved Mehta (1934-2021) | Nobel archive (not-yet-)opening
The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata review

       Ved Mehta (1934-2021)

       Indian-born author Ved Mehta has passed away; see, for example, Margalit Fox's obituary in The New York Times, Ved Mehta, Celebrated Writer for The New Yorker, Dies at 86, as well as the notice in The New Yorker.

       I read the first few installments of his twelve-volume memoirs -- it was a pretty fascinating life -- many, many years ago but never saw it through; predictably, the one Mehta title under review at the complete review is his novel, Delinquent Chacha.

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

       Nobel archive (not-yet-)opening

       One of the fun traditions at the start of every year is that the Swedish Academy opens the archives regarding the deliberations about the awarding of the Nobel Prize in Literature from fifty years earlier; this is where we learn who had been nominated for the prize (and by whom), and who the choice came down to (as well as some of the reasons the eventual winner came out top). This year we are due to learn about the 1970 prize, which went to Alexandr Solzhenitsyn -- but, as you will have noticed, we haven't heard anything yet .....
       Usually, the archive is opened in the first days of January. This year, however, -- presumably in no small part because of the COVID-problem (closing the Nobel Library, among much else) -- they've announced they're postponing the big reveal, until (at least) the first of February; that is, for now, the provisional date for the opening; tune back in then .....

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

       The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Gina Apostol's The Revolution According to Raymundo Mata.

       Originally published -- in the Philippines, where it won the National Book Award -- in 2009, this is the first time it has been published outside the Philippines, in a revised edition, just out from Soho Press.
       Also: I really, really have to get around to reviewing José Rizal's Noli Me Tangere. (His El Filibusterismo has long been under review at the site, but I haven't been able to get my hands on a copy of the Penguin Classics edition (Harold Augenbraum's new -- well, 2006 -- translation) -- see their publicity page, or get your copy at or

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

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