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Preview: the Literary Saloon

the Literary Saloon

opinionated commentary on literary matters

Copyright: Copyright 2016 the Complete Review

Martin Amis Q & A
       At LiveMint Tishani Doshi has A conversation with Martin Amis.
       Lots of interesting comments, including about the American president-elect -- as well as the attention paid to writers, which he thinks was a temporary aberration:
I don't think it will ever disappear, but it will shrink. It will go back to what it was when I started out, which is a minority interest sphere, which some people happen to be very interested in.
       And interesting also the apparently common practice that: "As a rule you never read anyone who's younger than you unless they're friends" (which I find a rather baffling idea):
But usually I read the dead or else very old people, or very, very old people, because why read the sensational new novel by the 25-year-old when you have no idea whether it's going to last more than six months ?
       No wonder then that:
At a certain point, you lose your connection with the contemporary. That's why as I get older I write about the past because I know about that. My reading of the present, my general sense, my take, is not as confident as it used to be.

Translation from ... Lithuania
       In The Baltic Times Linas Jegelevicius has a Q & A with Stephan Collishaw, in Grabbing Britons' attention for Lithuanian fiction is now easier than ever.
       Collishaw is an editor at Noir Press -- who want to offer: "The best of contemporary Lithuanian fiction in translation". So that sounds good.
       First up is Breathing into Marble, by Laura Sintija Černiauskaitė; see their publicity page, or get your copy at or

Jantar Publishing Q & A
       At Radio Praha David Vaughan has a Q & A with publisher Michael Tate: bringing us the best of Central European writing, as Tate runs the wonderful Jantar Publishing, who specialize in: "high quality English translations of literature written in the languages of Central and East Europe".
       They just launched Burying the Season by Antonín Bajaja, which is also discussed at some length here. (I have a copy and should be getting to it soon; get your copy at or
       Tate says they've published eight books to date, and several are under review at the complete review: Daniela Hodrová's A Kingdom of Souls, Jan Křesadlo's GraveLarks, and Michal Viewegh's Bliss Was it in Bohemia. I haven't been disappointed yet.
       And apparently next year they're coming out with ten new titles -- I can't wait for that flood.

Inscribed to García Márquez
       The Harry Ransom Center has acquired books from Gabriel García Márquez's library, including ones "that are inscribed, signed and sometimes annotated" -- and some of the inscribed ones can be viewed online (click on the covers to see the dedications).
       Neat to see doodles by Orhan Pamuk and Carlos Fuentes !
       One they unfortunately don't picture is described in the press release:
One of the oldest presentation books is an inscribed first edition of Augusto Monterroso's Obras Completas (y otros cuentos) (Complete works (and other stories)). García Márquez once said of one of Monterroso's works, "This book should be read with your hands in the air: Its danger is based on its sly wisdom and the deadly beauty of its lack of seriousness."
       I've long been a huge Monterroso-fan, and remain very disappointed that so little of his work is available in English -- though that volume is certainly a stand-out.

Wasting Time on the Internet review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Kenneth Goldsmith's Wasting Time on the Internet (just in case you need some help with that -- though there's actually quite a bit more to the book).

Lire top 20 in France
       End-of-year best book lists aren't nearly as popular or widespread abroad (and also tend to appear appropriately closer to the actual end of the year ...) but Lire puts out a top twenty in various categories, and they've now announced their 20 meilleurs livres de 2016 -- usefully complete with runners-up this year.
       An Elena Ferrante takes their 'book of the year' prize, a Serge Joncour is their top French book, and Richard Flanagan's 2014 Man Booker-winner is their top foreign fiction title (with the runners-up also (originally) English-language books -- as notably (disturbingly ? ) many of the titles-in-translation that won categories, or were finalists, are translations from the English).

NYTBR books of the year
       A week ago The New York Times Book Review announced their 100 Notable Books of 2016 -- and now they've announced The 10 Best Books of 2016.
       Like last year, two translations make the list -- Stefan Hertmans' War and Turpentine and Han Kang's Man Booker International Prize-winning The Vegetarian.

Nobel laureates visit White House
       All the American Nobel laureates were invited to the White House where they met the president, before they head off to pick up their medals and cash, and, yes, as press secretary Josh Earnest briefed the press, literature prize winner Bob Dylan was -- do you need three guesses ? -- a no-show:
Q: Did Bob Dylan give a reason for why he can't be here this afternoon?

MR. EARNEST: He didn't. I know that he has indicated publicly that he's honored to have received the Nobel Prize, but I know that he's also indicated that he does not intend to travel to Norway to participate in the ceremonies in which he'd be awarded the prize. Again, based on what I've seen in published reports, I think the Norwegians are hopeful that he'll choose another time over the course of the coming year to travel to Norway and give a speech and accept his prize. But that will be up to him.

There have been previous occasions -- at least one previous occasion where Mr. Dylan has had an opportunity to visit the White House, and the President enjoyed meeting him there. But he'll not be here today.
       So maybe the Swedish Academy shouldn't feel too bad -- Dylan snubbed the American president as well, without explanations or excuses. Of course, he'd also 'been there, done that', so it's not quite the same ..... (Since Obama is on his way out, Dylan presumably didn't think it was worth his while (to show up, or even just to say he couldn't come); maybe if Trump were already in office he would have rushed over ?)
       And Earnest's earnest explanations also suggest that the Swedish Academy's utter humiliation didn't really register -- the guy thinks it's all the Norwegian's fault, and is under some poorly-informed delusion that the Nobel ceremonies take place in Norway (as he kept repeating, over and over) when, of course it is -- save the Peace Prize stuff -- an entirely Swedish affair. (Seriously, who prepares the briefings for this guy ?)

Open Letters Monthly's 'Year in Reading'
       A generally more interesting variation on the usual best-books-of-the-year-lists is the more personal approach: The Millions have their huge A Year in Reading: 2016 (which is, however, presented horribly annoyingly piecemeal ...), for example.
       Among other publications that do this is Open Letters Monthly -- see parts one and two of their 'Our Year in Reading 2016'. And, of course, I'm particularly pleased to find my The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction among Sam Sacks' selections.
       He writes:
As a reference to writers rarely discussed in the United States, Orthofer's guide is invaluable, and just as importantly, it capably defends the "genre" of world literature, which has been subject to easy disparagement from people who know too little of it.

TLS review of CR Guide
       Very pleasing indeed to see a review [sorry, paywalled at this time] in the new (2 December issue) Times Literary Supplement by Michael LaPointe of my The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction
       He notes:
Orthofer's Guide, which one can hardly believe was written by a single individual, traces almost every nation's literature since 1945, with a particular emphasis on the past two decades.
       And suggests it is:
(T)he most complete resource for readers of a transnational bent, interested in further expanding their horizons.
       And he also notes, among other things that:
Especially impressive are the chapters on Chinese and Iranian fiction, and adventurous readers will make good on the inclusion of sub-genres
       I recently mentioned that this might be a useful book for you to make your Christmas-giving selections -- or indeed that it makes a decent gift, too .....
       See also the Columbia University Press publicity page, or get your copy at or

Premio Cervantes
       The Premio Cervantes is the leading Spanish-language author prize, and they've now announced that Eduardo Mendoza has won this year's prize (which he gets to pick up next April); see also, for example, the DeutscheWelle report.
       Three Mendoza titles are under review at the complete review:

Crossword Book Awards
       The Crossword Book Awards are among the biggest Indian literary prizes, awarded in a variety of categories, with both a juried selection (four categories, including translation) and a set of 'popular' awards (six categories, including ... "Business and Management" and "Health and Fitness" (but no translation, since that couldn't possibly be popular ...)).
       There's lots of coverage of this award (and who attended, etc.) -- but few run-downs of who actually won any of the prizes, including at the official site, which, last I checked, still only listed the finalists. But here, at The Hans India, you can find all the winners listed (scroll down) -- and Flood of Fire by Amitav Ghosh won the fiction prize, and The Sun That Rose From the Earth by Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, in his own translation, took the translation prize; see the Penguin India publicity page, or get your copy at or

Bad Sex in Fiction Award
       The Literary Review has announced the winner of this year's 'Bad Sex in Fiction Award' -- and it's Erri De Luca's The Day Before Happiness.
       Yes, it's long been under review at the complete review ! And I'm pleased to note that I even made specific mention of part of the offending passage cited by the Literary Review -- though since I read the Michael Moore-US translation it reads slightly differently than the new Jill Foulston-UK edition.
       Moore, for example, had it:
My sex was a block of wood glued to her womb.
       Meanwhile Foulston has it as:
My prick was a plank stuck to her stomach.
       Either way, I think it's fair to say: not good.

       Meanwhile, the official announcement notes that De Luca has pulled what is surely now being called 'a Dylan' in the literary prize-giving world:
De Luca was unable to attend the ceremony and unavailable for comment.

We Three review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jean Echenoz's 1992 novel, We Three, that's finally coming out in English.

       Dalkey Archive Press is actually only bringing this out in February -- but it's Echenoz ! and he sends his characters to outer space ! how could I resist jumping on this immediately ?

       They've announced the winners of the August Prize, the major Swedish literary prize, with the fiction prize (well, the svenska skönlitterära bok-prize, but you know ...) going to De polyglotta älskarna, by Lina Wolff; see also the Bonnier Rights (English) information page.

       Wolff's Bret Easton Ellis and the Other Dogs was published earlier this year by And Other Stories; see their publicity page, or get your copy at or; appealing though it sounds, I have to admit I didn't take to it.

Julian Barnes Q & A
       At Russia Beyond the Headlines Pavel Basinsky talks to the author coming to the non/fiction book fair in Moscow (full fair name: International Book Fair for High-Quality Fiction and Non-Fiction) in the provocatively titled piece: Julian Barnes: Russians had 40 years to write Shostakovich novel but didn't.
       Interesting titbit: Barnes visited the Soviet Union in 1965 !
       (Quite a few Barnes titles are under review at the complete review -- England, England ! etc. -- but I haven't been able to bring myself to consider The Noise of Time yet; get your copy at or

The Absolute Gravedigger review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Vítězslav Nezval's surrealist collection, The Absolute Gravedigger, out in an (as always) beautiful edition from Twisted Spoon Press.

Reading in ... Viet Nam
       At the TLS Giang Nguyen-Thu looks at Popular tastes in Vietnam -- including literary ones.
       Among her observations, of some twenty years ago:
Nguyen Huy Thiep, whose writing provides a poignant account of daily struggles, was the most widely read author in Vietnam. And yet outside the country, Thiep was eclipsed by Bao Ninh and Duong Thu Huong, whose work better pandered to the image of Vietnam in the Western imagination -- a land of warfare and socialist dictatorship.
       (I'm pleased to note that all three authors find a mention in my The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction .....)
       A surprising copy-editing slip -- hey, this is the TLS; I expect better -- crops up, too:
By 2010, literature laden with politics no longer dominated the front shelves of Hanoian bookstores. Instead, we saw a colourful mixture of globally popular titles, such as the Twilight saga, Harry Potter and books by Marc Levi.
       Surely, that's Replay (etc.) author Marc Levy.
       I'd love to see this kind of piece about more corners ofthe world.

Serhiy Zhadan profile
       At The New Yorker's Page-Turner weblog Marci Shore profiles The Bard of Eastern Ukraine, Where Things are Falling Apart -- Voroshilovgrad (etc.) author Serhiy Zhadan.

Turbid Rivers review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ch'ae Man-Sik's 1930s novel, Turbid Rivers, one from the latest batch -- just out -- of Dalkey Archive Press' Library of Korean Literature titles (and probably one of the most reader-friendly -- even if it definitely edges close to (pure) melodrama).

       Note that, despite the claims (and cover-images) at both the publisher's site and, the finished copy went with the plural in the title (Turbid Rivers), not, as it would otherwise appear, the singular.

Gift-giving season - suggestions
       We've already reached the height of books-of-the-year-lists season -- put together prematurely, presumably in the hopes and expectation that these are what readers might find useful in making their seasonal gift-giving plans. I'm afraid I can/t/won't oblige with my own best-of-the-year list yet -- there's still more than a month or reading left, and I figure I have at least twenty reviews left in/ahead of me, along with a handful more books I'll read (and dozens to at least leaf through and consider).        Still, I'd like to be helpful -- and, in fact, don't think my own best-of list is really an ideal gift-giving-guide; I suspect readers find my reviews and raves and dismissals more useful for their own reading-purposes than in selecting appropriate gifts. So here a few thoughts and suggestions:        First off, a bit of self-promotion: many of you are already familiar with it, but if not: my The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction (see also the Columbia University Press publicity page, or get your copy at or is something you might want to look into. While I do think this would, of course, make a great Christmas gift, you might actually want to get one now for your personal use, since it might help you find just the right book for you to give to the harder-to-please enthusiastic readers among your friends and family.        (Wide-ranging reader Tyler Cowen recently posted his always-interesting selection of Best fiction of 2016 at Marginal Revolution and kindly also includes the CR Guide there -- noting: "If you could own only ten works on literature, this should be one of them".)        Beyond that: I tend to think that Christmas (etc.) book-gifts should be not-quite-ordinary -- not necessarily, as noted, the best-of-the-year (everyone's already heard about -- and considered getting -- that latest National Book Award (or whatever) winner), but slightly unusual or off-beat, something that the person you're giving it to might not have thought of getting themselves.        So, in a variety of categories, some suggestions:         - This year's over-the-top literary must-have surely is Arno Schmidt's enormous Bottom's Dream , in the great (and many-prize-winning) John E. Woods' career-culminating translation: if you want to go big, you surely can hardly go bigger; get your copy at or        Yes, this definitely isn't a gift for everyone, and very few readers are likely to make it all the way through -- it's an incredible undertaking -- but those who can appreciate it will really appreciate it. This oversize volume might not be something readers dare splurge on on their own, and it's impressive enough as book and object to make a welcome library or desktop adornment even for those who can't find the time or energy to actually read it. (I am a bit disappointed that this hasn't gotten more press coverage yet -- there's no doubt that this is one of the 'books of the year', by any measure.)        (Self-servingly I suggest also you bundle it with the much slighter read, my little Arno Schmidt-monograph, which serves as a useful introduction to the auth[...]

Trysting review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Emmanuelle Pagano's variations on love, Trysting.

       In the UK this is published by And Other Stories, and in the US by Two Lines Press -- which is like a double seal of approval.

More best books lists
       In The Guardian they have part one of their 'Best books of 2016', where a solid list of writers: 'choose their best reads of 2016'.

       In The Telegraph they have their: 'top critics count down the year's best, from 50 to 1', in The top 50 books of the year.

'Non-western' recommendations
       A pretty short list, but a decent idea: in The Guardian a variety of authors suggest The non-western books that every student should read.
       Again, this barely scratches the surface -- but, hey, at least they're scratching .....
       And several of the titles are under review at the complete review:

The Clothing of Books review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jhumpa Lahiri's The Clothing of Books.
       This was a literary festival keynote address -- given and written in Italian. And this translation is by her husband.

Prix Roger-Caillois
       The French prix Roger-Caillois now has four categories: one for a Latin American author, one for a French author, one for an essayist, and -- newly added this year -- one for a translator.
       It has a solid list of laureates -- especially in the Latin American category, where winners include Mario Vargas Llosa, Carlos Fuentes, César Aira, and, rather late in the day, Roberto Bolaño (he got the prize in 2009 -- six years after his death ...). As is too common with French literary prizes, there is no handy awards-site; indeed, the best overview is, embarrassingly, the authority of last, desperate resort, the Wikipedia page ......
       They've now announced this year's winners, and Livres Hebdo has the run-down, as Spilt Milk-author Chico Buarque took the Latin American prize, and A Modest Proposal-author Régis Debray took the French prize.

Nietzsche on His Balcony review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Carlos Fuentes's (just) posthumous novel, Nietzsche on His Balcony, due out shortly from Dalkey Archive Press.

       (Note that neither the cover nor the page count (actually: 332 (+ iv)) on the Amazon page resemble those of the actual book. But I hope you're not buying it just for the cover .....)

Hexed translation ?
       A fascinating review of Dutch author Thomas Olde Heuvelt's Hex in The Oxonian Review reveals something I hadn't heard/noticed before:
Nancy Forest-Flier's 2016 English version of Hex is not a mere translation. Olde Heuvelt decided to seize an opportunity not many writers are in a position to do: he rewrote the book for the translation, creating a novel with a different setting and ending, a 'second edition' that is usually only produced by textbook writers. This version was then translated to English in consultation with Olde Heuvelt, who has a degree in American literature. Whereas the revision of the storyline is largely beneficial, the Dutch reader would be surprised to discover that Olde Heuvelt has uprooted the story from its Dutch setting and planted it in a village in New York State instead. Only the witch remains Dutch.
       US/UK readers might be ... surprised too: I only briefly leafed through a library copy of the (US edition of the) book and remained unaware of any revisions on this scale (and there's no indication of these on the copyright page either) -- though admirably the author does discuss doing this at his US publisher's weblog. (Still, I'd really like to see this announced and discussed much more prominently in/around the book itself, so that it's clear to potential purchasers and readers what has happened here.)
       Even if it's all a change for the better, it does raise some interesting issues -- including for, for example, the Best Translated Book Award judging of the book (it's eligible for next year's prize): how much does the transformation of the book weigh on judging it ?

       See also the Tor publicity page, or get your copy at or

Murakami in Copenhagen
       Murakami Haruki recently picked up the Hans Christian Andersen Literature Award (previous winners: Paulo Coelho, J.K.Rowling, Isabel Allende, and Salman Rushdie, so, yeah ...), and in The Asahi Shimbun Kan Kashiwazaki reports on some of the events at and surrounding that, in Murakami: As a translator, I believe in 'power of translation' -- though not without ridiculously (and inaccurately) noting: "Murakami rarely makes public appearances or talks about his work", as if this was something special and exceptional (it's not).
       Murakami's acceptance speech in Copenhagen is available -- in Danish; presumably they'll eventually get around to posting the English translation too, though they certainly don't seem to be in much of a rush.

Writing in ... India
       The Economist reports on what they call The latest craze among Indian readers -- though maybe it's not that new, given that they note:
The man credited with inaugurating this mythological revival is Ashok Banker, once better known as a literary novelist but who turned to mythological stories in 2003 with an eight-volume Ramayana series
       (Also: 'literary novelist' may be a bit of an exaggeration (hey, I read Ten Dead Admen when it came out ...).)
       Obviously, there's a lot of great material here -- and it's not like authors haven't turned to it before. I would, however, love to see some more creative and experimental approaches.

Books of the year list: TLS's 'Books of the Year'
       In the Times Literary Supplement many, many contributors name their Books of the Year 2016, an always interesting feature that, this year, is available in full online (previously, there was only a sampler freely accessible online).

       Bonus: a much shorter best-of list can be found at the New Statesman: Books of the year: the NS team on their favourites of 2016.

Books of the year list: NYTBR's 100 Notable Books
       At The New York Times Book Review they've announced their 100 Notable Books of 2016.

       Only six of the titles -- four fiction, and two non -- are translations, a big decrease from last year's bumper crop of fourteen. And, revealing just how much the NYTBR and I fundamentally diverge: I've only reviewed one out of the hundred titles (in 2015 it had been six; in 2014, five) -- Han Kang's The Vegetarian (though I should be getting to a handful more, eventually).

Amos Oz Q & A
       This week's By the Book-column in The New York Times Book Review features Amos Oz -- and he was definitely my kind of childhood reader:
I read everything. Anything at all. I read the user's manual of the electric heater, I read novels that were way above my grasp, I read poetry which could only offer me the music of its language while the meaning was still far from me. I read newspapers and magazines of all sorts, leaflets, ads, political manifestoes, dirty magazines, comics. Anything at all.
       Also: among the books he singles out for praise: Yan Lianke's Lenin's Kisses.

The Osamu Tezuka Story review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ban Toshio and Tezuka Productions' The Osamu Tezuka Story: A Life in Manga and Anime, just out -- after nearly a quarter of a century -- in English, from Stone Bridge Press.
       Despite combining two genres I generally avoid -- biography and cartoons -- (and that problematic 'Tezuka Productions' writing credit) ... well, in this case, it's appropriate and, more or less, works.