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Preview: the Literary Saloon

the Literary Saloon

opinionated commentary on literary matters

Copyright: Copyright 2017 the Complete Review

Raduan Nassar profile
       At The New Yorker Alejandro Chacoff profiles A Cup of Rage-author Raduan Nassar, in Why Brazil's Greatest Writer Stopped Writing.
       Great to hear from the man himself, and the (two) books are definitely significant ones, well worth reading (now that they are finally available in English ...) -- but 'Brazil's Greatest Writer' ? That's quite a(n over)statement, or at least one open to some (I would suggest: a lot of) debate.

Nobel-Myanmar Literary Festival
       The 'Nobel-Myanmar Literary Festival' is apparently underway, today through the 24th; there is an official "Facebook' page, but that appears to be about it (and, no, I won't link to that -- Facebook ? seriously ?).
       In the Myanmar Times Nandar Aung previewed it, in Nobel Myanmar Literary Festival on the way -- noting that among the plans:
As part of the festival, organisers will collect the 100 most-read local books over the past 100 years and make a list for interested readers.
       Count me interested; I hope they make it widely available (i.e. not just on the 'Facebook').

Marilynne Robinson on the new American president
       In The Guardian Marilynne Robinson writes that: With President Trump, American democracy faces its greatest test.
       Marilynne Robinson is, of course, an author who Obama was comfortable conversing with, while being -- it's safe to say -- someone the new American president is entirely unfamiliar with.

Nobel Prize in Literature 1966 overview
       The archives -- of the Nobel Prize deliberations from fifty years earlier, the official waiting period -- were opened at the beginning of the year, and newspaper reports already provided most of this information (which I summarized for you more than two weeks ago), but now the official Nobel site has finally posted their overview, Candidates for the 1966 Nobel Prize in Literature. (The dateline on this is 4 January, but, strangely, it was not posted until yesterday.)
       Nothing really new here, but a useful overview.

German mystery prize
       The 'Deutscher Krimi Preis' is all prestige, no cash, but with a solid, serious jury it is well-respected (and claims to be the oldest German mystery-book prize -- at a not very old 33 ...), and they've now announced the winners (and the two runners-up) in the two categories.
       The best German mystery category was won by Die Mauer ('The Wall'), by Max Annas (see, for example, the Rowohlt publicity page). Neither it, nor any other book by him -- or indeed the two runners-up -- appears to have been translated into English.
       The international mystery category was won by a translation from the English -- indeed, the top three titles were all translated from the English, and two of them by the same translator (Peter Torberg) at that -- The Heavenly Table, by Donald Ray Pollock (get your copy at or Books by Liza Cody and Garry Disher came in second and third.

The Televangelist - the movie
       The American University in Cairo Press launched their hoopoe-imprint last year, and among their first titles was Ibrahim Essa's The Televangelist.
       I see now that a film version has come out -- listed as 'Mawlana' at IMDb -- the Arabic title, مولانا, transliterated. But apparently it's being called 'The Preacher' in English, with AUC Press unable to make the film-book connection very clear -- a shame, given the (small, but still) advantages of movie tie-in PR.
       So, for example, The Hollywood Reporter's (positive) review refers only to: "Issa's 2012 novel Mawlana/Our Master" -- spelling the author's last name differently than the publisher did, and providing a different English title (i.e. anyone asking for this in a US/UK bookstore is unlikely to be handed a copy of The Televangelist). The review in Variety also spells the author's name differently, referring (only) to "journalist-novelist Ibrahim Eissa's bestselling book"; again, there's no way to make the leap from this to The Televangelist.
       A shame -- a small but missed opportunity.

       (This is the first I've heard of the film -- made aware of it through Hani Mustafa's less enthusiastic review in Al-Ahram Weekly (where the title of the novel is at least give as The Televangelist, even if the author's name is spelled: 'Ibrahim Eissa').)

Japanese literary prizes
       They've announced the winners of the latest round of Akutagawa and Naoki prizes -- two of Japan's biggest; see, for example, Daisuke Kikuchi's report in The Japan Times, Sumito Yamashita claims 156th Akutagawa Prize.
       Yes, Yamashita Sumito's (山下澄人) しんせかい ('New World') won the Akutagawa prize, while Onda Riku's (恩田陸) 蜜蜂と遠雷 ('A Honey Bee and a Distant Thunder') won the Naoki prize.
       Neither author appears to have any book published in English translation yet.

Ghachar Ghochar review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Vivek Shanbhag's Ghachar Ghochar.

       HarperCollins India brought this out just over a year ago, but now Penguin Books is bringing it out in a US/UK edition -- a big deal. With NYRB's re-issue of U.R.Ananthamurthy's Samskara two works translated from Kannada are being published in the US/UK within a month of each other ! Yes, both have been previously available in English -- Samskara has long been available in an OUP edition -- but these are much more likely to reach a bigger audience. Will they ?
       In Kanishka Gupta's 2016-overview article that I mentioned yesterday, Much hype, few sales, he notes that, in India:
One of Harper Perennial's big successes of the year, Vivek Shanbag's critically acclaimed Ghachar Ghochar, which sold more than 5,000 copies, was translated from Kannada.
       But, hey, 5000 copies sold of a translation probably counts as (great) success in the US too.

PEN America Literary Awards finalists
       They've announced the finalists for the 2017 PEN America Literary Awards -- and there are a whole lot of categories.
       There's some good money on offer too -- the PEN/Jean Stein Book Award pays out US$75,000, which is many times over what the Pulitzer and National Book Award offer -- though even 'Literary Sports Writing' (US$5,000) pays out more than either of the translation prizes (US$3,000 apiece).
       Meanwhile, the bar is set pretty loftily for some of these prizes: the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay is:
For a book of essays published in 2016 that exemplifies the dignity and esteem that the essay form imparts to literature.
       Dignity ! Esteem !
       The career achievement and manuscript categories don't name finalists, so we have no idea who is in the running for, for example, the PEN/Nabokov Award for Achievement in International Literature.

       Two of the (prose) translation prize finalists are under review at the complete review: Kerri A. Pierce's translation of Iben Mondrup's Justine, and Deborah Smith's translation of Han Kang's The Vegetarian.
       (And no, I still don't know -- and can't fathom -- why John E. Woods' translation of Arno Schmidt's Bottom's Dream didn't just win this category by default (with all due respect for the other translators, this should be: no contest).)

       The winners will be announced 22 February.

Fiction in India in 2016 overview
       At DNA Kanishka Gupta 'looks back at what's happened in the world of fiction in the past year' in India, in Much hype, few sales.
       Actually, commercial fiction apparently did do well -- it's the literary stuff that's lagging, as, depressingly:
(T)here has been a decline in the sales of literary fiction and translations. Even the latest releases by giants of Indian Writing in English, including a former Booker winner, have missed sales estimates by a significant mark or sold at a slower pace than expected. There has hardly been any breakout debut literary fiction in terms of sales, making some publishers rethink their strategy for acquiring fiction
       Apparently: "monetarily, the genre makes little sense".
       Worse: "Most multinational publishers are scaling back on translations" -- though it's good to see that some of the less-widely translated local languages do seem to be getting more attention.
       Meanwhile, literary prizes -- other than the Man Booker or Pulitzer -- apparently don't help with book sales, and: "Most of the top Indian prizes have no sway whatsoever over readers". (Of course, what is a 'top Indian prize' ? I'd be surprised if -- outside India -- more than a handful of my well-read readers could name even one.)

La Femme de Gilles review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Madeleine Bourdouxhe's 1937 novel, La Femme de Gilles.

       First translated into English a quarter of a century ago, this also came out in Northwestern University Press' excellent European Classics-series in 1994 but didn't seem to attract much notice back then. It was recently reissued by Melville House -- and, I hope, will enjoy more success now. It is very, very good (despite the awfulness of the underlying story).

NBCC awards finalists
       The finalists for the (American) National Book Critics Circle Awards have been announced.
       There are quite a few categories -- fiction, 'general nonfiction', biography, autobiography, criticism, and poetry -- but I'm afraid that none of the titles are under review at the complete review.
       (I do sometimes worry about my apparent disconnect from the contemporary (US/UK) literary scene, at least as reflected by what's in the running for various English-language literary awards (at least the ones that aren't primarily or significantly translation-oriented).)

       The winners will be announced 16 March.

Singaporean literature abroad
       Via I'm pointed to Olivia Ho's piece in The Straits Times which finds Local books going global, as: "Singapore fiction continues to make headway on international bookshelves this year".
       English-language fiction totally dominates, but at least some of it is being translated to reach other markets.
       Interesting also to hear that Epigram Books is opening a London-branch:
Epigram founder Edmund Wee took out a six-figure bank loan for the venture, which he hopes could put a Singaporean novel in the running for the prestigious Man Booker Prize. Books must be published in Britain to be eligible.

Translator Q & A: Shelley Frisch
       At the Princeton Alumni Weekly Carrie Compton talks to Shelley Frisch *81 on Voice in Translation; you can either listen to the 'podcast' or read the transcript.
       The third and final volume of Frisch's translation of Reiner Stach's Kafka-biography came out a few months ago -- and she notes:
Many people have asked me if I've used published translations of Kafka's works, and I have not. I've retranslated everything I see there. The translation situation of Kafka's works is very spotty, and we're also finding out, with each passing year, new things about what Kafka intended. [...] The newer translations tend to be philologically correct but a little bit sort of dead in the water. And so, I thought it's important for me to retranslate all these texts. Also, there are copyright issues, which is a whole other kettle of fish. If you get permissions for all off these things, it can be very cumbersome and possibly expensive. So, I did all of them myself.

Translator Q & A: on Ewald Osers
       At Radio Praha David Vaughan commemorates what would have been Ewald Oser's hundredth birthday, in Ewald Osers and the chemistry of translation, talking to Ivana Bozděchová about him, and also presenting excerpts from a 2001 interview with Osers himself.

IPAF longlist
       They've announced the longlist (and the judges, only revealed now) for this year's International Prize for Arabic Fiction -- sixteen novels selected from 186 entries from 19 countries. Several of the longlisted authors have had previous books translated into English, so some of these names should be familiar.
       As always, Arabic Literature (in English) has a good overview (noting also some of the big titles/authors that didn't make the cut).
       The shortlist will be announced 16 February, and the winning title on 25 April.

Viet Nam Literature Association Awards
       They've announced the winners of the 2016 Viet Nam Literature Association Awards; see, for example, the VietNamNet Bridge report, VN writers, poets, translator win 2016 literature awards.
       The novel award went to Mưa đỏ ('Red Rain'), by Chu Lai; the best translation was Nguyen Chi Hoan's of Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall.

New Asymptote
       The January issue of Asymptote is now up, and there's just an incredible variety and amount of material for you to enjoy.
       Go look for yourselves -- and free up a couple of hours so you can check it all out.

Obama book Q & A
       American president Obama has been giving any number of exit-interviews, and now there's also an agreeably bookish one with The New York Times' book reviewer Michiko Kakutani.
       They wrote this up in article form, but of course the Q & A transcript -- even in its adulterated form (yes, it's: "edited and condensed", for unfathomable reasons) -- is what you want to check out.
       Obama shows again that he is a real reader (of novels, even !).

       (I am sort of looking forward to the Kakutani's exit-Q & A about books with president-defect elect Trump -- presumably available within a year, after the surely inevitable impeachment/Pence-enthronement proceedings. I suspect it will be considerably shorter, and less focused on fiction. Or maybe not -- possibly all he'll have to talk about is his own (ghost-written) works, which might not be traditional fiction but sure as hell aren't non, either.)

Inheritance from Mother review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Mizumura Minae's Inheritance from Mother.

       This is only coming out in May, from Other Press, but, sorry, I couldn't resist.
       A lot about this that I didn't like, but it's easily among the most notable of my reads of the past few months; she really is a very interesting writer, and I hope we get to see more of her work soon (私小説 from left to right, please ! (see e.g. the publisher's publicity page)).

Literary magazines in ... India
       In the Hindustan Times Manoj Sharma finds A host of new digital literary magazines are giving a boost to India's literary magazine culture.
       Among the magazines mentioned and discussed are:        Worth checking out !

(Self-)publishing success in ... India
       At Kanishka Gupta reports that While you weren't looking (or reading), Savi Sharma sold 100,000 copies of her romance -- 'India's first woman writer of mass market fiction to cross that mark'.
       Originally self-published -- before Westland picked it up -- her Everyone Has A Story has proven to be an enormous success; get your copy at or

Russian PEN Centre
       The worldwide PEN centres admirably work: "to promote literature and defend freedom of expression around the world", and their regional centres lead the local way -- unless they don't: as widely noted, things seem to have gone south in Putin-stained Russia; as, for example, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reports, Russia's PEN Center Fractures Over Creeping Kremlin Control, with notable writers including Boris Akunin, Nobel laureate Svetlana Alexievich, Lyudmila Ulitskaya, and Vladimir Voinovich abandoning the Русский ПЕН-Центр.
       In the openDemocracy piece by Anna Kachurovskaya, Writers against Russia's PEN-center several writers explain the situation and their stands.
       Most PEN centres seem to be on considerably more secure footing -- for now. Whether that lasts ... well, we can hope.

Bodies of Summer review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Martin Felipe Castagnet's Bodies of Summer, a fun little bit of speculative fiction, just out from Dalkey Archive Press.

Dubravka Ugrešić Q & A
       At KGOU, in their World Views programme, Suzette Grillot has a Q & A with Author Dubravka Ugresic On Literature And Her Life In Exile.
       Ugrešić recently won the Neustadt International Prize for Literature, and many of her works are under review at the complete review.

Korean literature abroad
       In The Korea Times Yun Suh-young reports from a Translation Symposium held at Yonsei University, in 'Vegetarian gave hope for future of Korean literature'.
       Jeong Gwa-ri noted:
"The sales spree of Please Look after Mom in the U.S. did not spill over to other works," he said, adding that "Korean literature remains unappealing and peripheral at best to American readers."
I had felt miserable about the situation Korean literature faced before The Vegetarian's winning of the Man Booker Prize because despite the efforts made to export Korean literature overseas, its reputation did not increase. But with The Vegetarian winning the award, I felt hopeful for the future of Korean literature. It was an opportunity to introduce the value of Korean literature overseas
       He also adds some interesting (disturbing ?) comments about the translation of the Han Kang novel:
Deborah Smith's translation boldly reduced, simplified or exaggerated meanings, hence creating or adding different feelings to the text.

"Smith added emotional adverbs in descriptions and amplified the emotional context by making something ordinary more special," he said.
       It will be interesting to see whether or not there is The Vegetarian-trickle-down effect; as is, much of the other Korean fiction recently published in translation (and there has been quite a bit) hasn't gotten that much attention (or found that many readers, I fear).
       See also the Korean literature under review at the complete review.

A Niche for Marilyn review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Miguel Anxo Fernández's A Niche for Marilyn, recently published by estimable Small Stations Press.
       Anxo Fernández writes in Galician, and this 2002 novel was the first in his private detective series featuring Frank Soutelo; interestingly, he chose not to take advantage of local color/exoticism, and instead has Frank work in Raymond Chandler-territory, as the book is set in Los Angeles.

(More) popular abroad
       In The Guardian Richard Lea tackles the always interesting phenomenon of writers who catch on more abroad than in domestic markets, in Found in translation: the English-language writers who succeed abroad -- while admirably avoiding two of the most often-cited examples of this phenomenon, Jonathan Coe and Paul Auster.
       Some interesting explanations on offer, including the effect of: "the different structures of the publishing industry in the UK and the US" -- which are dominated by a very few conglomerates -- compared to a more diverse publishing culture in continental Europe.
       And then there's how Donna Leon sees it:
"I think Europeans read less crap," Leon says, "and most of [the crap] they read, they get from the US. Since this is true about food and entertainment, why should it not be true about books ? Europeans, especially Germans, read serious fiction, read it in great numbers, and it is common to hear people speak in social situations seriously and at length about literature."

JQ Wingate Prize shortlist
       They've announced the shortlist for the 2017 Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize, a prize: "awarded to the best book, fiction or non-fiction, to translate the idea of Jewishness to the general reader".
       Impressively, three of the five finalists are works in (actual) translation -- though none are under review at the complete review.
       The winning title will be announced on 23 February.

New Mithila Review
       Issue 7 of the Mithila Review is up, and this 'speculative arts and culture magazine' with a global outlook is worth a closer look -- some interesting stuff, both fiction and non.

RBC Taylor Prize finalists
       They've announced the five finalists for the 2017 RBC Taylor Prize, a prize meant: "to enhance public appreciation for the genre known as literary non-fiction"
       The winner will be announced 6 March.

Jhumpa Lahiri Q & A
       Tyler Cowen has a Q & A with Jhumpa Lahiri on writing, translation, and crossing between cultures.

       The two most recent Lahiri titles -- both translated from the Italian -- are under review at the complete review: In Other Words and The Clothing of Books.

Marvellous Thieves review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Paulo Lemos Horta on the Secret Authors of the Arabian Nights, Marvellous Thieves, just out from Harvard University Press.