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Preview: the Literary Saloon

the Literary Saloon

opinionated commentary on literary matters

Copyright: Copyright 2017 the Complete Review

Man Booker Prize
       As widely noted, they've announced that this year's winner of the Man Booker Prize for Ficton is Lincoln in the Bardo, by George Saunders.
       Obviously a book we've all heard a lot about, but I haven't seen it yet (nor sought it out), and I don't expect to get to, but see the publicity pages at Random House and Bloomsbury, or get your copy at or

Prix Femina shortlists
       They've announced the prix Femina shortlists, in the three categories: French and foreign fiction (five titles left in the running in each), and non-fiction (seven left); see, for example, the Livres Hebdo report.
       Three of the five foreign novel finalists are translations from the English .....
       The winners will be announced 8 November.

South African Literary Awards shortlists
       They recently announced the shortlists for the South African Literary Awards -- which admirably consider writing in a large number of South African languages.
       The winners will be announced 7 November.

Monsterhuman review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Kjersti Annesdatter Skomsvold's Monsterhuman, recently out from Dalkey Archive Press.

       It's the second of her books they've brought out; the previous one -- which this one is, in part, about -- got a decent amount of attention, but so far this seems to have slipped under the US/UK review-radar .....
       For those who like that sort of thing, there's quite a bit of the Norwegian literary scene along the way -- including:
     We cross the street, round the corner to the parking lot. And that's where I meet the rangy author for the first time. I will later talk about this meeting more extensively.
     "That was Karl Ove Knausgård," says the Satanist.
     "Never heard of him," I say.
       While not quite Knausgårdian, Monsterhuman is certainly similarly personal (and hefty ...) fiction.

Premio Planeta
       Getting a jump on the Man Booker -- which announces its winner today -- the Premio Planeta, the world's richest book- (as opposed to author- (like the Nobel)) prize, worth a cool €601,000, has announced its 2017 winner -- and despite there even being a piece on the world's richest book prizes out yesterday (Alessandro Speciale writing at Bloomberg on How to Make a Buck Writing Novels (Tip: Use Spanish)) there appears to be, as I write this, not a single English-language mention of who won .....
       As widely reported -- in other languages -- the winning entry (out of 634 !) was Javier Sierra's manuscript of a Holy Grail-novel, El fuego invisible; see, for example, the El Mundo report.
       Javier Sierra.
       No, none of his work is under review at the complete review -- but even I couldn't get around giving him a one-sentence, two-title mention in my The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction (yes, I am that conscientiously thorough). What can I say ? Let's just say ... El Confidencial sums it up in there (off-by-a-1000-euros) headline, Javier Sierra, el Dan Brown español, se lleva los 600.000 euros del premio Planeta
       He is very popular, and quite a few of his works have been translated into English. But I really can't recommend any of them. And I'm not holding out high hopes for this one, when it gets translated.

Svetlana Alexievich Q & A
       At The Paris Review's The Daily weblog Mieke Chew offers Suitcase Full of Candy: An Interview with Svetlana Alexievich

Margaret Atwood: 'Stories in the World'
       Margaret Atwood picked up the Friedenspreis des Deutschen Buchhandels (Peace Prize of the German Book Trade) yesterday, and her acceptance speech, Stories in the World, is now available online; you can also watch the entire prize ceremony here (English-speakers should feel free to jump ahead to the ca. 46 minute mark for the prize hand-over and then her speech -- though, while after an impressive German opening she switches to English, there's a German simultaneous translation rendering it almost English-incomprehensible).

Ali Smith: 'The novel in the age of Trump'
       In the New Statesman they print (an edited version of) Ali Smith's 27 September Goldsmiths Prize lecture, The novel in the age of Trump, which is certainly worth a look.

Literature in ... Kashmir
       In Greater Kashmir Muzaffar Karim tries to (emphatically) make the case for/against Kashmir: The uselessness of literature !!
       Apparently, the situation there has gotten a bit ... confused, as he wonders:
why are people who deal with facts trying to write fiction and vice versa ? This is bad.
       Well, it ain't good .....

Black Money review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ross Macdonald's 1966 novel, Black Money, now also collected in the most recent Library of America Macdonald collection, Four Later Novels.

       Some really great writing here; interesting to see that, while of course always popular in the US/UK, many of the foreign editions are long out of print -- only the Germans (thanks to Diogenes) really seem on top of things -- with this one out just last year in a new translation). Getting the voice right might be part of it -- though he doesn't seem to be that hard to translate, once you get the hang of it.

German literature in ... Arabic
       In The National Saeed Saeed reports that A wealth of German literature awaits Arabic publication.
       Jordanian-German translator Mustafa Al Slaiman is quoted at length -- including noting that:
"If you want me to be to totally frank, I will say that, yes, we have many publishers in the Arab world but for many, their motivations are wrong. They don't operate with the ideals that powers the most esteemed international publishing houses in Europe or the United States.

"The goals are mostly financial and profit-driven. The idea of pushing the culture forward is not really there and that is a sad thing."
       It is a sad thing -- but I'm afraid most European and US houses also have have goals that are: "mostly financial and profit-driven".
       And while I'm all for any encouragement to get to the works of Peter Weiss ...:
Other German works that are important to translate are the 18th-century poetry of Friedrich Schiller or the more modern 20th-century poetry of Peter Weiss.
       (I guess you could say all his work is 'poetic' -- but he didn't publish any poetry .....)

'Georgia: Made by Characters'
       France is this year's 'guest of honour' at the Frankfurt Book Fair (see their Frankfurt in French-site), but next year it's Georgia's turn -- and there web-presence is now up: Georgia Made by Characters.
       I'm hoping for a flood (well, trickle, in(to) English ...) of translations, but I note that the Three Percent translation databases list no US translations from the Georgian for 2018 yet. And none for 2017. And none for 2016. Sigh.
       There are a few Georgian title under review at the complete review, but I really would like to be able to add more .....

Prix de la Page 111
       They read 222 page 111s, came up with an eleven-title (page ?) longlist, read and discussed the finalists in a 111-minute podcast, and have now announced that Roi. by Mika Biermann takes the prize. (They don't seem to have an official page, just one on the Facebook, so forget that, but see, for example, the Livres Hebdo report.)
       As is often the case with French literary prizes, it's more about the honor than the cash: the payout is a mere 111 centimes (in 1-centime coins).
       See also the Anacharsis publicity page for Roi., or get your copy at

Writing in ... Singapore
       In the Straits Times Darryl Whetter makes the case that Sing Lit comes of age.
       Among his points of emphasis, however, is:
At a recent Tropics of the Imagination conference hosted by James Cook University in Singapore, I argued in a paper that the rise of creative writing education here is part of a literary coming of age. Lasalle, for example has a Master of Arts degree in creative writing, of which I am the inaugural programme leader.
       I have to admit that I disagree with his spin; indeed, I was more heartened by the European examples he cites:
It's also heartening that there is such a burgeoning interest in creative writing education here, for in this respect, Singaporeans might be pleasantly surprised to hear they're ahead of many developed Western countries.

Continental Europe remains so disinterested in creative writing that, according to Lasalle MA student and debut novelist Olivier Castaignede, his native France counts just one such master's programme. A Spanish professor was quoted as saying that he's first trying to launch a creative writing master's programme in English (at a Spanish university) in hopes of then branching out into Spanish.
       (I (grudgingly) accept that there's something to be said for (some) creative writing MFA programmes -- yes, maybe even/particularly in the case of a place/literature such as (contained, but multi-lingual) Singapore's -- but on the whole think writing is better placed (as well as both learnt and practiced) outside the academy.)

The Gurugu Pledge review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Juan Tomás Ávila Laurel's African-migrants novel, The Gurugu Pledge, recently out from And Other Stories.

Ishiguro in ... Iran
       In the Tehran Times Seyyed Mostafa Mousavi Sabet reported that local authors were on board with the Swedish Academy's choice this year, in Iranian writers welcome Nobel prize for Kazuo Ishiguro -- which includes one of my favorite reactions (though this is presumably due in no small part to how it was translated), by Ahmad Puri:
"Ishiguro is his due to receive the prize," he said and added, "Bon appetite !"
       A reader also points me to the more detailed Iranwire story by Arash Azizi, Reading Ishiguro in Tehran.
       Among the observations of interest:
[Ishiguro] is also very well known in Iran, where he can perhaps be counted as one of the most-read novelists in the country.

Every single novel by Ishiguro has been translated into Persian, often more than once, and not just by anybody, but by the giants of Persian literature and translation.

George Andreou Q & A
       At the Harvard Gazette Colleen Walsh has a Q & A with the new director of Harvard University Press, George Andreou, in New adventures in editing.

Houellebecq in Frankfurt
       With France the 'guest of honour' at the ongoing Frankfurt Book Fair they have ton of writers on site -- including Submission-author Michel Houellebecq, and at Deutsche Welle Jochen Kürten reports on his appearance there, in French author Michel Houellebecq in Frankfurt Book Fair's spotlight.
       Some good quotes and suggestions -- including:
Maybe the Germans, he said, should specialize in sophisticated pornography as a chance to keep the literature industry up and running.
       And good to see him note:
Houellebecq argued that literary translators in Europe need to be paid more. European translation, he pointed out, is the only way to make sure that European nations read more than just their own books and translations from English.

Warwick Prize for Women in Translation shortlist
       They've announced the shortlist for the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation, selected from 58 eligible entries (admirably revealed !).
       A UK prize, not all these are US-available -- indeed, I've only seen one, Susan Bernofsky's translation of Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Tawada Yoko.
       The winner will be announced 15 November.

Prix Goncourt, next round
       The prix Goncourt has announced its deuxième sélection -- not yet the final shortlist, as a troisième will follow (on 30 October) before the winner is announced (on 6 November) -- yes, after their starting longlist, the Goncourt has a short and then a shorter list .....

2017 MacArthur Fellows
       As widely noted, they've announced the 2017 MacArthur Fellows -- the US$625,000 "no-strings-attached award".
       As usual, there are a few writers in the crowd -- Viet Thanh Nguyen and Jesmyn Ward, as well as playwright Annie Baker.

Writing in ... France
       With France this year's 'guest of honour' at the (ongoing) Frankfurt Book Fair there's even more attention than usual to what's going on there (at least in Germany ...), and at Deutsche Welle Jochen Kürten suggests 8 French heavyweight authors to check out at the Frankfurt Book Fair -- which includes a Q & A with prominent literary critic Iris Radisch, who just published a book called: Warum die Franzosen so gute Bücher schreiben ('Why the French write such good books') -- see also the Rowohlt foreign rights page.
       Among Radisch's explanations:
It is connected with libertinage, with the experimental love lives of the French

Tony Duvert reviews
       The most recent additions to the complete review are my reviews of two Tony Duvert titles -- both originally published in French in 1978, and just out in English in beautiful little pocket-sized editions from Wakefield Press:        These are very short books -- fifty pages and less -- but both enjoyable (with Odd Jobs the more obviously entertaining).
       Duvert seems to be having a moment: Semiotext(e) have brought out several of his other books -- most recently Atlantic Island; get your copy at or

African literary prizes
       They've announced the winners of the Jomo Kenyatta Prize for Literature -- James Murua's weblog has a run-down of the various category winners (because there doesn't appear to be an official one yet ...) -- with Henry Ole Kulet's The Elephant Dance winning the English fiction category (see also, for example, Why Ole Kulet, a winner yet again, deserves more respect from critics by Goro wa Kamau in the Daily Nation), and Tom Olali's promising-sounding Mashetani wa Alepo winning the Kiswahili category.

       They've also announced that The Heresiad, by Ikeogu Oke has won this year's Nigeria Literature Prize (they rotate this prize through four genres; 2017 was a poetry year); see, for example, Ikeogu Oke is 2017 winner of Nigeria Prize for Literature by Prisca Sam-Duru in Vanguard.

Paul Olchvary Q & A
       At hlo they have a Q & A with translator-from-the-Hungarian and New Europe Books-publisher Paul Olchvary

Forever and a Death review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of a another posthumous Donald E. Westlake novel from Hard Case Crime, Forever and a Death -- which apparently started out as a treatment for a possible James Bond movie. (No Bond, or Bond-like character left over, however.)

German Book Prize
       The Man Booker-imitation German Book Prize has announced its winner, selected from 200 (disappointingly: not revealed ...) titles that were considered, and it is Die Hauptstadt by Robert Menasse; see also the DeutscheWelle report, Robert Menasse wins German Book Prize 2017.
       Since it just came out in German it's not yet available in English, but MacLehose Press has bought the UK rights, and maybe some US publisher will have a go at it. See also the Suhrkamp foreign rights page, or check out a sample translation (warning ! dreaded pdf format !). And for those who can't wait for the English translation, it appears to be available -- and selling quite well ("Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #21,140", as I write this) -- at the US

ACFNY Translation Prize
       A reminder that this Thursday, 12 October, at 19:30, they'll have the ACFNY Translation Prize ceremony
       Adrian West will pick up the prize, for his translation of Josef Winkler's Die Verschleppung/The Abduction -- and the author will also be present ! John Wray will join them in conversation, and Jeremy M. Davies will deliver the laudatio
       Sounds like it'll be good. I plan to attend .....

(American) National Translation Awards
       The American Literary Translators Association (ALTA) has announced the winners of their 2017 National Translation Awards.
       Esther Allen won the prose category, for her translation of Antonio Di Benedetto's Zama, while Daniel Borzutzky won the poetry category for his translation of Galo Ghigliotto's Valdivia; see the co•im•press publicity page, or get your copy at or

Uselessness review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Puerto Rican author Eduardo Lalo's Uselessness, just out in English from the University of Chicago Press -- the second Lalo they've published.

Writing in ... Nigeria
       In Vanguard Morenike Taire wonders, Where is Nigerian Literature ? -- focussing on the domestic scene, as:
Helon Habila, former Arts Editor for the Vanguard; as well as Chimamanda Adizie who won the 'junior Booker prize' and the Orange prize respectively, have moved on from Nigerian affairs, choosing, like Okri, to be Nigerian writers at large. [...] No home based writer is given any recognition, except in literary circles.
       Taire suggests:
This state of affairs might have more to do with the dearth of the entire industry than with the literary giants. Nobody is rewarding writers, so nobody wants to write. The level of literature that is available is therefore abysmal in nature. There is no competition, no inspiration, no encouragement.
       There certainly are institutional issues -- but I'm not sure lack of 'competition' is (even near) the heart of the problem. And while 'rewards' are certainly helpful, many writers nevertheless continue even without them .....

Indian writing abroad
       At Kanishka Gupta has a Q & A with David Higham Associates' 'literary' agent Jessica Woollard, in What does it take for an Indian writer to be published abroad ? A literary agent has some answers.

Fear review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Dirk Kurbjuweit's socio-psychological thriller Fear.

       An interesting publishing path into English -- Australian publisher Text were the first to bring this out, earlier this year (continuing the somewhat surprising small trend of Australian publishers taking the lead with books in translation, even/especially from the European patch ...), and has now just come out from Harper in the US. It will be out shortly from Anansi in Canada, while the UK edition is only coming out at the beginning of 2018, from Orion.
       Kurbjuweit tries too hard/much, to my mind (and too obviously, all of it) -- but there's no question that it is a book that stirs up a lot of questions and issues. And so also my review of it is one of my longer ones, just under 2000 words .....