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Preview: the Literary Saloon

the Literary Saloon

opinionated commentary on literary matters

Copyright: Copyright 2017 the Complete Review

(American) National Translation Award longlists
       The (American) National Translation Awards, administered by the American Literary Translators Association, are: "the only national award for translated fiction, poetry, and literary nonfiction that includes a rigorous examination of both the source text and its relation to the finished English work" (which is very cool !), and they've announced this year's poetry and prose longlists.
       None of the poetry titles are under review at the complete review, but two of the prose titles are: The Explosion Chronicles by Yan Lianke, translated by Carlos Rojas, and Zama by Antonio de Benedetto, translated by Esther Allen.
       The strong prose longlist also includes this year's Best Translated Book Award winner, Chronicle of the Murdered House by Lúcio Cardoso, and the recent Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize-winning A Whole Life by Robert Seethaler; non-fiction titles also made the longlist.
       Of course, one title -- yet again -- is very obviously missing: John E. Woods' translation of Arno Schmidt's Bottom's Dream. Sigh.

       The shortlists will be announced in August, and the winners in October.

The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O. review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of The Rise and Fall of D.O.D.O., co-authored by Neal Stephenson and Nicole Galland.
       It's a fine, big, lazy summer read, if you're looking for that (I don't get to too many books that would qualify as such, I'm afraid).

Translation from ... classical (Indian) languages
       At Parvathy Raveendran considers How do you translate classic literature for contemporary readers ?
       Among the translations discussed is Vanamala Viswanatha's of The Life of Harishchandra, a volume in the Murty Classical Library of India -- several of which are under review at the complete review.

Reviewing translations
       'Can no reviewer spare more than a minute for the year that a translator spends ?' Mini Krishnan wonders, in Of rupees and annas in The Hindu, arguing that the (un?)usual: "30-word pat for the translator" doesn't really cut it.

Barry Ronge Fiction Prize
       They've announced the winners of the (South African) Sunday Times Literary Awards, with the Barry Ronge Fiction Prize going to Little Suns, by Zakes Mda. No newspaper or online reports as I write this, but see for example the tweet.
       Little Suns has not been published in the US or UK yet, but see, for example, the Umuzi publicity page.

       Quite a few Mda titles are US/UK-available, with Seagull Books having published several; three Mda titles are under review at the complete review, including The Sculptors of Mapungubwe.

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o Q & A
       At the Los Angeles Review of Books Rosemary McClure has a short Q & A with Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o: The Language Warrior -- mainly about his multiply translated story, 'The Upright Revolution', which was featured in Jalada Translation Issue 01; you can read many of the translations (including the one into English) here.

       Several of Ngũgĩ's works are under review at the complete review.

Académie française palmarès
       The Académie française saves up announcement of their Grand prix du roman for the fall book-prize-season, but they announce most of the rest of their awards in one big go: yes, 63 prizes and honors (warning ! dreaded pdf format !), in all sorts of categories. (Livres Hebdo covers the major ones, too.)
       The Grand prix de la Francophonie, the most prestigious of these, went to Tierno Monénembo -- two of whose novels are under review at the complete review: The King of Kahel and The Oldest Orphan.

Translation in ... Iran
       I've frequently mentioned the unusual situation in Iran, that foreign titles often appear in numerous translations (hey, look at that, most recently here ...), and in The Guardian Saeed Kamali Dehghan now tries to explain Why Iran has 16 different translations of one Khaled Hosseini novel.

Daniel Hahn Q & A
       At his Conversational Reading weblog Scott Esposito has a Q & A with Translator Daniel Hahn on Winning the International Dublin Literary Award and Endowing a New Translation Award.
       (Hahn translated José Eduardo Agualusa's International DUBLIN Literary Award-winning novel, A General Theory of Oblivion.)

(In)direct translation
       Translation via a third language -- those Hungarian novels translated into English via the German translation, say (e.g. Embers) are less common -- in(to) English -- than they used to be (though surprisingly still not entirely rare exceptions), but especially with books from smaller languages it remains fairly common to find these translated into other languages via the dominant translation languages (English, French, and German). So it's nice to see more direct activity -- as now, as Maydaa Abo El Nadar reports at Egyptian Streets, In a Historic First, Zorba the Greek is Translated from Greek to Arabic.
       It's not that there hadn't been translation of Kazantzakis' classic in Arabic previously -- but:
Zorba the Greek was translated from Greek to Arabic through other languages. Thanks to Khaled Raouf this treasure book was directly translated from Greek to Arabic.

"I read several Arabic translation for Zorba, where translations happened from a third bridge language. Unfortunately in these Arabic translations many things were lost," said Raouf. "Translation is transmitting a culture to another one, without a third one being involved. This is why I am very happy to offer a direct translation of Zorba to the Arabic reader," added Raouf.
       The (old) translations -- in a number of languages -- of Zorba the Greek are notorious for having been mishandled/edited/censored, and so a new, direct translation is especially welcome; the relatively new (2014) English re-translation -- the one under review here -- by Peter Bien regrettably didn't get the attention it should have.

Losing is What Matters review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Manuel Pérez Subirana's Losing is What Matters, a 2003 novel that came out in English translation from Dalkey Archive Press last fall.

International DUBLIN Literary Award
       They've announced that this year's International DUBLIN Literary Award -- for which both books originally written in English, as well as those translated into English are eligible -- goes to A General Theory of Oblivion -- with author José Eduardo Agualusa getting €75,000 and translator Daniel Hahn getting €25,000
       The International DUBLIN Literary Award is unusual for a literary award in that the books considered for the prize -- 147 this year -- are nominated by libraries across (some of) the world. Unfortunately, the nominating libraries are geographically and linguistically not nearly as diverse as one would wish -- and there's (way) too much hometown-favoritism in the nominating process. So also, while the winning title is from Africa, not a single African library was involved in the nominating process -- while three of the four libraries that did nominate the winning title were in Portuguese-speaking countries. Meanwhile, not a single title originally written in Chinese, Korean, or Japanese was nominated -- not entirely surprising when only a single library from the entire region was involved (the Osaka Municipal Library -- which picked a title by ... Kazuo Ishiguro).
       While there is always quite a mixed bag as far as the nominated titles goes, there's enough quality for the shortlist -- and generally the winning title -- to be quite solid; so also this year.

Mizumura Minae Q & A
       At the Literary Hub Benjamin Moser has a Q & A with Minae Mizumura on Serializing Novels, Aging, and the Eternal Internet, with lots of interesting background information.
       Her Inheritance from Mother is just out in English, while The Fall of Language in the Age of English came out last year -- and don't forget the also worthwhile A True Novel.
       And how great to hear that An I-Novel From Left to Right is: "due out in English in a couple of years"

       The Georg-Büchner-Preis is the leading German author-prize, and they've announced that this year's prize will go (on 28 October) to poet Jan Wagner (not to be confused with mystery-writer Jan Costin Wagner ...); see also the Deutsche Welle report, Top German literature prize goes to poet Jan Wagner.
       His Self-Portrait with a Swarm of Bees recently came out from Arc; see their publicity page, or get your copy at or

HKW Internationaler Literaturpreis
       They've announced that the German translation of Tram 83, by Fiston Mwanza Mujila, has won this year's HKW Internationaler Literaturpreis -- pretty much the German Man Booker International Prize, for the best translation into German; see also Sabine Peschel's Deutsche Welle report, International Literature Award goes to Fiston Mwanza Mujila's 'Tram 83'.
       The author will get €20,000; translators Katharina Meyer and Lena Müller will share €15,000.

The Dying Detective review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Leif GW Persson's The Dying Detective, now also out in the US.

Premio Strega finalists
       A few days ago they announced the five finalists for the Premio Strega, the leading Italian literary prize.
       It is unusual among (inter)national literary prizes in not being decided on by a small group of judges but rather a huge (660 strong, this year) pool of voters.
       Paolo Cognetti's Le otto montagne (see the Einaudi publicity page)) took the most first-round votes -- 281 -- while the other four titles were bunched more closely, receiving between 158 and 177 votes.
       The winner will be announced on 6 July.

Copyright (not) in Iran
       Until the Soviet Union finally signed on international copyright treaties books from the Soviet Union were free game for foreign publishers -- which is why you had multiple translations/editions of, for example, many Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn works in English in the 1960s
       Iran still doesn't play by the international rules (but, hey: "The Iranian government submitted a new copyright bill to the Iranian parliament in May 2016 to tackle the chaos ruling the Iranian printing industry"), and while this isn't much of an issue with Persian-works-in-translation (for which there appears to be minimal interest in the US/UK ...), it does mean there's a free-for-all in Iran as far as translations into Persian go. Today's Exhibit A -- yes, there's practically a new one daily -- is Paula Hawkins' Into the Water (get your copy at or, as there are apparently six (!) different translation set to hit the market shortly.
       See the Tehran Times report, where translator Ali Qane' complains that "at least five other of his colleagues are working separately on the novel". And there were only two translations of The Girl on the Train .....

Kids' lit in ... Russia
       At Russia Beyond the Headlines Alexandra Guzeva offers a ist (of sorts) of the Top 10 most popular children's writers in Russia.
       It's not exactly clear, for example, who qualifies/was counted as a 'children's author' (Pushkin ?), and surprising that, for example, Holly Webb made the sales-cut, but J.K.Rowling didn't.
       Still, useful in providing the names of some Russian kids-lit authors (most of the authors are Russian-writing).

Translating from smaller European nations
       Via I'm pointed to the AHRC Translating Cultures Research Innovations Award Project at the University of Bristol, Translating the Literatures of Small European Nations -- and specifically the project report, Translating the Literatures of Smaller European Nations: A Picture from the UK, 2014-16 (warning ! dreaded pdf format !).
       An interesting overview -- with some reason for optimism, but also some harsh conclusions, such as:
Translated literature remains a preoccupation of the educated urban middle-class, centred fundamentally on London and almost completely absent from school curricula.
       (I do note that the report appears to be largely anecdotal -- relying on expert (or other) opinions rather than doing the numbers .....)

Miles Franklin Literary Award shortlist
       They've announced (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) the shortlist for this year's Miles Franklin Literary Award, a leading Australian fiction prize.
       ANZ LitLovers LitBlog helpfully has all the titles under review -- and favors Waiting by Philip Salom.
       Of course, the one I'm most curious about is Their Brilliant Careers, by Ryan O'Neill -- "a hilarious novel in the guise of sixteen biographies of (invented) Australian writers", so the Black & Inc. publicity page; get your copy at get your copy at or
       The winning title will apparently be announced on 7 September.

The Sacred Era review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Aramaki Yoshio's 1978 science fiction novel, The Sacred Era, now out in English from the University of Minnesota Press.

       Aramaki is clearly an interesting author and I'd love to see more of his work -- especially ある晴れた日のウイーンは森の中にたたずむ, a title Tatsumi Takayuki translates in his Foreword as 'One fine day in Vienna lingering in the woods', and which he describes as being: "structured around a profound meditation on the writings of the Marquis de Sade". Please, somebody translate and publish this !

'Academic Books and their Future' (in the UK)
       Michael Jubb's recent report on (UK) Academic Books and their Future (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) -- part of the Academic Book of the Future-project -- makes for depressing reading.
       Matthew Reisz's piece in Times Higher Education sums it up pretty well: Worst sellers: warning of existential crisis for academic books, as "the number of individual [academic] titles sold rose by 45 per cent, from 43,000 to 63,000" between 2005 and 2014 -- but (Nielsen BookScan-tracked sales figures): "show a decline for academic books of 13 per cent between 2005 and 2014, from 4.34 million to 3.76 million annually". Add it all up, and: "this meant that average sales per title fell from 100 to 60"
       University presses continue to churn them out:
University presses accounted for 11% of sales in both 2005 and 2014 from all the publishers analysed, and their revenues for 13% of the total in both years, indicating that their average revenues per title were slightly higher than the average for all publishers. But in 2005 they represented 43% of the titles for which sales were recorded, so their sales per title were only a little over a quarter those for other publishers.
       In the 'Literature' category:
The number of titles recorded with sales rose by 37%, to 10.8k [...]. But sales were only around a quarter of those shown in history, and between 2005 and 2014 they fell by nearly half, to 365k. The result was that sales per title fell from 88 to 34
       (As a point of comparison, my essentially self-published monograph, Arno Schmidt: a centennial colloquy had sold, as of 31 May, 117 copies (72 paperback and 45 e-versions) -- with a few more sold in the past few weeks.)
       Then there's this:
including all the creative writing titles, during the seven years 2008 to 2014, the submitted version of only just over half (54%) of the books submitted in English literature and language had any UK retail sale. Of those, 355 (16%) had sales of more than one hundred, and 128 (6%) of more than a thousand.
       (Emphasis added.)
       Lots of caveats re. the titles that are counted and so on ("Comprehensive and reliable statistical data on sales of academic books is notable mainly by its absence"), but the study is well worth closer perusal -- if you can read through the tears and head-shaking.

Literary prize: Premio Gregor von Rezzori
       The Premio Gregor von Rezzori is an Italian literary prize awarded for the best work of foreign fiction published in Italian, and they've announced (though not yet at the official site, last I checked ...) that this year's prize goes to Compass, by Mathias Énard, while the (separate) prize for best translation goes to Anna D'Elia for her translation of Antoine Volodine's Radiant Terminus (which I could see winning a couple of translation-into-English prizes next year ...); see, for example, the report in Corriere della Sera.

Literary prize: Walter Scott Prize
       They've announced the winner of this year's Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction (though not yet at the official site, last I checked ...), and it is Days Without End, by Sebastian Barry; see the ... official tweet.
       It's apparently an (American) Civil War novel, so it's very unlikely I'll get around to covering it; see instead the Faber publicity page, or get your copy at or

Asian fiction in translation
       At livemint Sana Goyal wonders: 'Is there increasing space in the UK for Asian fiction in translation ?' suggesting that it's A good time for translations -- based on the success of Vivek Shanbhag's Ghachar Ghochar.
       Still, with apparently only 15 per cent of the 126 titles submitted for the Man Booker International Prize from Asia (including -- indeed, presumably dominated by -- titles from China, Japan, and Korea) -- and a shocking only two from the sub-continent -- there's still a lot of room for improvement. Translations from Indian languages should be well-positioned, especially in the UK, but there's a great deal beyond that too .....

Unusual translation problem
       Here's an unusual translation problem: Carson Ellis' Du Iz Tak ? is a kids' picture book where the dialogue is in a made-up language (see the title ...); see, for example, the Candlewick publicity page, or get your copy at or
       This turns out to have befuddled 'translators' of the foreign edition -- so Ellis has written an English 'translation' to guide them along: see Sue Corbett's piece in Publishers Weekly on Working Out the Bugs: Adventures in Translating Carson Ellis's 'Du Iz Tak ?'.

Even creative writing isn't safe from AI (?)
       A paper recently put up at considers When Will AI Exceed Human Performance ? Evidence from AI Experts (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) -- though they undermine themselves from the get-go by claiming 'evidence' in the title: what they did was ask around, i.e. get opinions -- which doesn't really qualify as any sort of 'evidence' in my book .....
       Still: "352 researchers responded to our survey invitation (21% of the 1634 authors we contacted)", and their opinions as to when machines -- powered by artificial intelligence (AI) -- will perform at the same (or higher) levels than humans is disturbing enough.
       Among the very depressing results: there are experts who think it won't be much more than a decade before AI can: "Write New York Times Bestseller" (defined as being able to: "Write a novel or short story good enough to make it to the New York Times best-seller list"), with the median response a still-depressing 33 years.
       (Perhaps even more depressing: some experts think "Write High School Essay" (defined as: "Write an essay for a high-school history class that would receive high grades and pass plagiarism detectors") is pretty much around the corner -- and the median (!) guess is 9.6 years -- ahead of "Generate Top 40 Pop Song" (11.4 years), which I suspect says more about the standard that the experts thinks American high school learning is at than anything else .....)
       So, you creative types, you can hang on a bit longer -- the outlook is rosier than for retail salespeople (median expectation until AI takes your job: ca. 15 years) -- but apparently there's no long term future in writing The New York Times (or presumably any other kind of) bestsellers ..... (And I suspect if they had asked the experts, the median expectation for literary-artsy novels would have been even lower .....)
       I imagine James Patterson is already looking into collaborating with computers -- his 'books' surely lend themselves to automated writing -- and once he figures it out he'll probably dominate the bestseller lists even more than he already does (the brand-name being the only thing humans will have left going for themselves).

Bookselling in ... Thailand
       In the Bangkok Post Nanat Suchiva reports that: 'Thailand's independent bookstores have shown a remarkable resilience in the face of the rising popularity of digital media', in In the good books.
       Apparently, the independents -- about fifty of them in the entire cuntry -- are having more success in adapting to changed circumstances than the big chains .....

Suite for Barbara Loden review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Nathalie Léger's Suite for Barbara Loden, out in nice editions from Les Fugitives (in the UK) and Dorothy (in the US), in a prize-winning (Scott Moncrieff !) translation.