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Preview: the Literary Saloon

the Literary Saloon

opinionated commentary on literary matters

Copyright: Copyright 2017 the Complete Review

Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize shortlist
       They've announced the shortlist for this year's Oxford-Weidenfeld Translation Prize -- the prestigious prize: "for book-length literary translations into English from any living European language".
       Several of these are not US-available yet (the Salvayre, the Sebastian); the only one under review at the complete review is Lisa C. Hayden's translation of Vadim Levental's Masha Regina -- though I should get to the Sebastian and the Šarotar sooner rather than later.
       The eight finalists were selected from 127 titles, translated from 26 different languages; since we don't get to see the list of entries we have no way of knowing whether John E. Woods' translation of Arno Schmidt's Bottom's Dream was submitted, but one has to assume not -- how else could it fail to be a finalist ?
       Beggaring all belief, it now appears the Woods/Schmidt will not be honored by any translation or literary prize. Suggesting something is very wrong in the world of literary prize-giving ....

Blue Metropolis Literary Grand Prix
       Anita Desai will pick up the Blue Metropolis Literary Grand Prix on Saturday; see also the nice overview/profile by Ian McGillis in the Montreal Gazette, Blue Metropolis honours Anita Desai with Literary Grand Prix.

Not One Day review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Oulipo-author Anne Garréta's 2002 prix Médicis-winning Not One Day, just (about) out in English from Deep Vellum.

       Choice quote from the book:
For life is too short to resign ourselves to reading poorly written books and sleeping with women we don't love.
       Though with the PEN World Voices Festival looming ahead -- next week, in NYC -- this one sticks out too:
As a rule, it's not a good idea to line writers up in a room and entice them to talk. It's enough to turn you off of literature.

Granta's Best of Young American Novelists
       Another decade, another Granta 'Best of Young American Novelists'-list.
       Sigrid Rausing introduces the issue/list (with a couple of good titbits, such as: "NoViolet Bulawayo, a marvellous writer, unfortunately turned out not to be eligible, but she was part of our original selection" (too old ? too un-American ? she doesn't say)), but surely they're not doing it entirely right if I have to go to another source to simply find a list of the authors (such as, fortunately, The Guardian provides).
       Notably many are foreign-born and -rooted; relatively few (Joshua Cohen, Karan Mahajan) have any titles under review at the complete review (I'm definitely behind on my keeping-up-with-US-writing, especially by the younger guard).

The Australian/Vogel's Literary Award
       The Australian/Vogel's Literary Award is given for an unpublished manuscript by a young Australian writer, and this year, as Stephen Romei reports, Vogel prize goes to novel reimagining Kafka's relationship with friend.
       Yes, Marija Pericic's The Lost Pages was inspired by the Kafka-Brod relationship -- and the legal battle over Kafka's papers that Brod mis- and man-handled. Yes, this sounds a bit dubious; still, I have to admit, I am curious, and hope that it eventually makes it to the US/UK. For now there's just the Australian Allen & Unwin edition; see their publisity page.

Enigmas of Spring review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of João Almino's recent novel, Enigmas of Spring.

       Wide-ranging, it does include the nice quote:
The world has too many images, words, and too much information, don't you think ? I want to sell silence.

International Prize for Arabic Fiction
       They've announced that this year's International Prize for Arabic Fiction went to موتٌ صغير ('A Small Death'), a: "fictional account of the life of Muhyiddin Ibn 'Arabi", by Saudi (but now living in Canada ...) author Mohammed Hasan Alwan; see also the Dar Al Saqi publicity page
       The work was selected from 186 novels, by authors from 19 countries. The prize pays out US$50,000, and "funding will be provided for the English translation of A Small Death".

The Gray House review-overview
       The most recent addition to the complete review is a review-overview of Mariam Petrosyan's The Gray House, just out in English from AmazonCrossing.
       Russian prize-winning, this is an impressive, big read -- though with its disabled adolescent cast of characters it teeters near earnest YA-territory. I could see eventually getting itno it -- it's well done -- but lack the patience for it at this time.
       Still, this is one of those more serious AmazonCrossing offerings, and there's no question it will at least be in the Best Translated Book Award discussions next year; I'd put the odds at an even 50:50 that it gets longlisted.

Austrian State Prize for European Literature
       It is limited to European authors, but the Österreichischer Staatspreis für Europäische Literatur does have one of the more impressive winners-lists for a literary award -- and they've now announced (though not yet at the official site, last I checked ...) that My Struggle-author Karl Ove Knausgård will get this year's prize; see, for example, the APA report.
       (Meanwhile, the Österreichischer Kunstpreis für Literatur -- the domestic author prize -- went to The Weather Fifteen Years Ago-author Wolf Haas.)

Wellcome Book Prize
       They've announced that The Heart (UK title: Mend the Living), by Maylis de Kerangal, has won this year's Wellcome Book Prize, "which celebrates exceptional works of fiction and non-fiction that engage with the topics of health and medicine and the many ways they touch our lives".

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o Q & A
       At the Los Angeles Review of Books Nanda Dyssou has An Interview with Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o.
       Among Ngũgĩ's observations:
Getting published is one of the most infuriating challenges of writing in African languages. There are hardly any publishing houses devoted to African languages. So writers in African languages are writing against great odds: no publishing houses, no state support, and with national and international forces aligned against them. Prizes are often given to promote African literature but on the condition that the writers don't write in African languages.

Three Envelopes review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Nir Hezroni's recent thriller, Three Envelopes, just out in English.        For those not interested in the book/review itself, I nevertheless offer the Google/author/editor-fail description noted in my review:        The US edition does offer an amusing/annoying example of the dangers of relying on (and not fully understanding) some now-basic technology (and basics of how language and translation function).        Wanting to add a bit of a local flavor and color, there's a scene where a character orders a beer:      "Ein Glas Weizentrumpf, bitte." Carmit smiled at the bartender and placed a ten-franc note on the countertop. The bartender nodded and poured her drink. He offered her change but she waved it away. "Halten die Änderung." He nodded again and put the coins in the tip jar on the bar.        What Carmit is supposed to be saying is the simple: 'Keep the change'. That's not what: 'Halten die Änderung' means -- or rather, 'Halten die Änderung' is a very literal (and grammatically not quite correct) word-for-word translation that translates 'keep' as 'hold' and 'change' not as the loose-coin-kind, but rather the alteration sort.        What happened here ? Hezroni put 'keep the change' through Google Translate -- or rather, he put the Hebrew (equivalent (?)) through.        If you Google Translate the English 'keep the change' into German you actually get a reasonable result -- 'behalte das Wechselgeld'.        If you Google Translate the English 'keep the change' into Hebrew, you get 'שמור את העודף' -- and if you Google Translate that into German ... voilà, 'Halten Sie die Änderung'.        Hezroni apparently felt it was safe to assume the English expression was similar in German -- and that a limited/strictly literal translation, even via a second language, was safe to use. (In Google he trusts !) But while 'behalte das Wechselgeld' is actually even closer, literally, than what he wound up with, his roundabout way of trying to find the right expression confused the terms.        (Ironically, a simple Google search, for say: 'keep the change German' would have also yielded better results than what he wound up with.)        What's surprising is that he didn't do any other checks to see if he had gotten it right -- the obvious one being to Google, in quotes: "Halten die Änderung". You don't have to know German to realize from the results that something is off with that particular phrasing/expression.        Truly shocking, however, is that neither the translator nor the English-language editors bothered to check, or to ask anyone, either. Again: a simple Google search should have alerted everyone that something was not right here.        But maybe all they cared about was the spelling ?        Come on, folks -- Google (and Google Translate) is a wonderful tool, but you have to put a little effort into using/getting it right. [...]

Reading in ... Iran
       An interesting piece at the TLS' weblog, as Pardis Mahdavi writes about Iran's literary sexual revolution, focusing on how:
a different genre occupies today's literary love landscape: the romance novel-cum-self-help book.
       But Mahdavi isn't quite right when she wonders: "why none of these powerful and beautifully written books has made its way outside of Iran". In fact, the first one she mentions, Fattaneh Haj Seyed Javadi's Bamdad-e-Khomar has been published in 'the West' (albeit not yet in English ...) and is even under review at the complete review .....

Eduardo Mendoza receives picks up Cervantes Prize
       The awards ceremony for the Cervantes Prize, the leading Spanish-language author prize, was a couple of days ago, with Eduardo Mendoza (An Englishman in Madrid, etc.) finally able to pick up his prize; see, for example, the Deutsche Welle report.
       His acceptance speech is now up (in Spanish), too.

The Snow Kimono review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Mark Henshaw's The Snow Kimono.

       This is one of those rejected-then-acclaimed works -- Rejected 32 times, The Snow Kimono by Mark Henshaw wins NSW Premier's Literary Award, Susan Wyndham reported in the Sydney Morning Herald -- a second novel (more or less -- there was some co-written stuff in between) more than a quarter of a century after the author's debut. But it doesn't seem to have really taken off or made that much of an impact outside Australia.

European Union Prize for Literature
       They've announced the 'winners' of this year's European Union Prize for Literature -- the very peculiar EU 'prize' that rotates through all the member states, twelve or thirteen each year (including, for the last time ever this year, the brexiting United Kingdom).
       Alas, it is not Europeanly decided, but rather the winners are named by national juries -- admittedly better-positioned, at least language-wise, to assess the local talent, but coming with a host of other problems and baggage. (See the prize jury lists (warning ! dreaded pdf format ! -- and surely it tells you everything that they can make the official winners-announcement readily internet-accessible but offer this only in the ridiculous pdf format ...): my favorite is the Maltese jury, consisting of three 'Dr.'s (i.e. PhDs), a 'Prof.' and a 'Fr.')
       I don't doubt that there are some fine authors and works here; I do doubt that this is a good way of doing ... anything.

Cullman Center fellows
       The New York Public Library has announced the fifteen fellows (selected from 357 applicants from 38 countries) who will be Cullman Center Fellows from September 2017 through May 2018.
       Among them are The Physics of Sorrow-author Georgi Gospodinov, who will be working on a (so far untitled) "novel about the childhood fears of different generations", and Willa Cather and the Politics of Criticism-author Joan Acocella, who is working on a biography of Mikhail Baryshnikov.

Man Booker International Prize shortlist
       They've announced the shortlist for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize, and the six remaining titles are:
  • Compass by Mathias Énard, tr. Charlotte Mandell
  • Fever Dream by Samanta Schweblin, tr. Megan McDowell
  • A Horse Walks Into a Bar by David Grossman, tr. Jessica Cohen
  • Judas by Amos Oz, tr. Nicholas de Lange
  • Mirror, Shoulder, Signal by Dorthe Nors, tr. Misha Hoekstra
  • The Unseen by Roy Jacobsen, tr. Don Bartlett and Don Shaw
       The winner will be announced on 14 June.

César Aira Q & A
       I recently reviewed César Aira's The Little Buddhist Monk and The Proof, and in The Skinny Alan Bett now has a Q & A with the author.
       Among Aira's observations:
I have a provocative (but sincere) definition for my books: 'Dadaist fairy tales'. I recently found a much better one: 'Literary Toys for Adults'.
       Sound about right.

The Life of Harishchandra review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Raghavanka's The Life of Harishchandra, another volume in Harvard University Press' Murty Classical Library of India series.

       With the NYRB re-issue of U.R.Ananthamurthy's Samskara and the recent US and UK publication of Vivek Shanbhag's Ghachar Ghochar Kannada literature has already done pretty well in 2017 -- and this classical work shows yet another facet .....
       It also offers at least one frame-worthy quote:


Stella Prize
       The A$50,000 Stella Prize, awarded for a work -- fiction or non -- written by a woman, has announced that the 2017 prize goes to The Museum of Modern Love, Heather Rose's novel inspired by Marina Abramović's The Artist Is Present exhibit/performance piece.
       Showing yet again that it's not just fiction in translation that doesn't have it easy getting a foothold in the US/UK, but rather anything foreign, The Museum of Modern Love has apparently not yet been published in either the US or the UK; the Kindle edition seems the best can offer ..... But see, for example, the Allen & Unwin publicity page.
       Nice also to see the official prize site post Heather Rose's Stella Prize acceptance speech.

Ketabook profile
       Via I'm pointed to Ursula Lindsey's profile of Ketabook and the man behind it, Mohamed El Mansour, at Al-Fanar Media, Moroccan Academic Plays Matchmaker Between Books and Readers.
       Showing yet again that 'publishing' by itself isn't enough -- people have to know the books exist, and have the possibility of finding them .....

Libraries in ... Bangkok
       With the fancy new Bangkok City Library already accessible (though officially only opening 28 April), Melalin Mahavongtrakul takes a look around there and compares it to some of the 36 other public libraries in Bangkok, in Shelf improvement, in the Bangkok Post.
       Plans to keep it open 24 hours a day have apparently been shelved -- cut back to less than half that, in fact. And apparently they could use some more books ("What they seem to have more of right now are spots for people to lounge around", one visitor observes) -- and they're hoping for (a lot of ...): "donated books from private companies and the public".
       (Rather shockingly, the library also does not appear to have its own website -- though it does have a 'Facebook'-page (and yet again I find myself baffled how anyone can possibly use that atrocity of a site).)

Best Translated Book Award shortlists
       They've now announced the fiction finalists for the (American) Best Translated Book Award -- ten titles still in the running. (They announced the five poetry finalists too.)
       The most notable missing title is, of course, John E. Woods' translation of Arno Schmidt's Bottom's Dream, though since that wasn't on the longlist ... kind of saw that coming. Still: no excuse. It's the translation of the year, anyway you cut it, look at it, whatever.
       The ten also-rans remaining are:
  • Among Strange Victims by Daniel Saldaña Paris, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Mexico, Coffee House Press)

  • Chronicle of the Murdered House by Lúcio Cardoso, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson (Brazil, Open Letter Books)

  • Doomi Golo by Boubacar Boris Diop, translated from the Wolof and French by Vera Wülfing-Leckie and El Hadji Moustapha Diop (Senegal, Michigan State University Press)

  • Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi, translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman (Mauritius, Deep Vellum)

  • Ladivine by Marie NDiaye, translated from the French by Jordan Stump (France, Knopf)

  • Oblivion by Sergi Lebedev, translated from the Russian by Antonina W. Bouis (Russia, New Vessel Press)

  • Umami by Laia Jufresa, translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes (Mexico, Oneworld)

  • War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans, translated from the Dutch by David McKay (Belgium, Pantheon)

  • Wicked Weeds by Pedro Cabiya, translated from the Spanish by Jessica Powell (Dominican Republic, Mandel Vilar Press)

  • Zama by Antonio di Benedetto, translated from the Spanish by Esther Allen (Argentina, New York Review Books)
       Lots of fairly new voices -- we haven't seen most of these authors in English before -- and a good mix of publishers (though big translation guns AmazonCrossing, Dalkey Archive Press, Seagull, and New Directions all aren't represented by any titles).
       The winners will be announced 4 May.

New issue of Asymptote
       The April issue of Asymptote is now available online, themed: 'People from the In-Between' and with a 'Special Feature on Literature from Banned Countries' (as in: those countries whose citizens American president Trump has repeatedly tried to ban from traveling to the US).
       Lots of great content -- including Mahmoud Dowlatabadi (The Colonel, etc.) on his own aborted recent (non-)trips to the US, The Trip That Did Not Happen.

César Aira reviews
       The most recent additions to the complete review are my reviews of two short César Aira novels -- forthcoming in a single volume in the US (from New Directions) and just out in the UK in separate volumes (from And Other Stories):

Translation prize finalists
       The big(ger) translation prize shortlists are coming up later this week -- the American Best Translated Book Prize today, the Man Booker International Prize on Thursday -- but we have a few single-language ones to tide us over:

        - They've announced the three-title shortlist for the US$10,000 Helen and Kurt Wolff Translator's Prize, for translations from the German, published in the US.
       Shockingly, however, it appears that John E. Woods' otherwise eligible translation of Arno Schmidt's Bottom's Dream, was not submitted, and hence not considered, even though ... well, this should sweep all the translation prizes, from here to kingdom come, but certainly a translated-from-the German prize like this one.

        - They've announced the three-title shortlist for the also US$10,000 Albertine Prize, for translations from the French, published in the US.
       Less shockingly, Bottom's Dream was also not a finalist for this prize -- though since it wasn't technically eligible they at least have a(n almost) reasonable excuse.
       One of the shortlisted titles -- Sam Taylor's translation of Maylis de Kerangal's The Heart (published in the UK as Mend the Living) is under review at the complete review.
       This is also a prize where you can vote for the winner -- you have until 30 April to cast your vote.

Taban lo Liyong Q & A
       At the Daily Monitor Emmanuel Mukanga considers African literature through the eyes of Taban lo Liyong, interviewing one of the grand old men of (East) African literature.
       He's unimpressed with how African literature has(n't) developed since Okot p'Biteks's Song of Lawino (which Taban also translated):
Young writers are writing mostly about problems of growing up and criticising mothers-in-law.
       And the problem of an underdeveloped reading culture is addressed -- in the pointed question:
It is said that if you want to hide something from a Ugandan, write a book. How can we develop a reading culture ?
       Several of Taban's books are under review at the complete review, including Another Last Word.

Krleža's Zastave (in German)
       Several of Croatian author Miroslav Krleža's (1893-1981) works have been translated into English; The Banquet in Blitva is the only one under review at the complete review, but there's also, for example, On the Edge of Reason (see the New Directions publicity page, or get your copy at or His one great post-World War II work -- the multi-volume epic of the early twentieth century, Zastave --, however, hasn't.
       There is, however, now a five-volume German translation -- as Die Fahnen -- from Wieser Verlag; see their publicity page, or get your copy at In the Neue Zürcher Zeitung Jörg Plath just reviewed it -- and suggests yet again that it is a European classic.
       If tiny Wieser Verlag can translate it, surely some US/UK publisher could have a go at it too, no ? (I know, I know: no.)

Vietnamese literature in English
       At VnExpress International Quynh Trang asked Wayne Karlin and Hoang Hung to recommend The best 15 English titles you should read, a decent starter list.

Attentat review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Amélie Nothomb's (not yet translated into English) novel, Attentat.

       With this 1997 novel I have now reviewed all of Nothomb's annual offerings from 1992 through 2007, and I have now gathered the few missing pieces through 2015, so maybe I'll be (almost) up-to-date with her output by the end of the year. For now, the 21 Nothomb-reviews at the site still lag behind the 24 Naguib Mahfouz titles under review -- but not by much.