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Preview: the Literary Saloon

the Literary Saloon

opinionated commentary on literary matters

Copyright: Copyright 2016 the Complete Review

Elif Shafak Q & A
       At Deutsche Welle Sabine Peschel has a Q & A with Author Elif Shafak: 'What happens in Turkey has repercussions beyond'.

Ring of Lies reviews
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Roni Dunevich's thriller, Ring of Lies.
       This is the third in a series, but, in too-typical-US/UK-publisher form, the first (and so far only) volume available in English .....

Dylan and the Nobel saga, cont'd.
       A couple of days ago I noted that Bob Dylan was still ignoring the Swedish Academy, and had not given any signs of acknowledgement to them regarding the Nobel Prize they want to bestow on him -- and how this whole growing fiasco was both bad for the 'Nobel Prize in Literature'-brand, as well as how it well may lead to a big shift back to far more conservative decision-making as far as future laureates go, as the pro-Dylan faction of the Swedish Academy that presumably pushed the decision through is being thoroughly humiliated by their idol.
       Things haven't improved since then, with the notable news being:
  • On Dylan's official website there was, briefly, mention of his winning the prize -- a mention that was, however, soon deleted; see, for example, the Entertainment Weekly report

  • Swedish academician Per Wästberg commented on the situation, noting that the ball is in Dylan's court and they'll just wait and see -- admitting that there's not really that big a rush, (perhaps unwisely) noting that: "Han kan nog dröja med att lämna besked tills väldigt nära själva festen" ('He can put off a reply until close to the festivities'). But also Wästberg admitted/suggested: "Man kan ju säga att det är oartigt och arrogant" ('One can say this is impolite and arrogant').

  • The Swedish Academy has released a press release, signed by personal secretary Sara Danius, emphasizing that Per's comments are not official -- this was: "Mr Wästberg’s private opinion and is not to be taken as the official standpoint of the Swedish Academy"

       Dylan is of course free to do as he pleases -- though of course the polite thing really would be to give the Swedish Academy a call and tell them what exactly his stand on getting the prize is.
       As I mentioned before, while this makes for short-term (melo)dramatics, whatever Dylan chooses to do (or not do) doesn't really matter much -- beyond for those hoping to get a free concert in Stockholm in early December.
       Meanwhile, much of the long term damage has already been done -- though its extent remains unknown. It's hard to believe the Swedish Academy stands united behind their choice any longer -- the week's delay in announcing the prize suggests there was considerable disagreement going into this, and that quite a few members had to be won over, and they are presumably mighty pissed right about now at having played a part in drawing the venerable institution into this circus. I can only assume there will be a backlash -- and I am very curious how that turns out.

The Evenings, finally in English
       As I've mentioned quite a few times that Gerard Reve's The Evenings is one of the most famous novels never to have been translated into English -- a situation that is only now being rectified, as Pushkin Press are coming out with a translation, by Sam Garrett; see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy at or
       It's nice to see Dalya Alberge's big preview-article in The Observer, but Dutch to share their dark masterpiece, 70 years on makes it sound like the Dutch were holding it back for all these years (when instead it was just US/UK publishers who couldn't be bothered to publish it). (He, and it, were certainly important enough to rate a mention in my The Complete Review Guide to Contemporary World Fiction.)

Revolution 2020 review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Chetan Bhagat's 2011 novel, Revolution 2020: Love. Corruption. Ambition.

       Two of the three -- and sometimes all three -- Chetan Bhagat novels under review at the complete review almost always feature among the fifteen most popular reviews each month; I suspect this one will enjoy similar popularity.
       I am a bit behind in my coverage of Bhagat's books: as popular as they are in India, they have not taken off in the US/UK, and are much harder to conveniently come by; I only finally came across a (used, US$1.00) copy of this one a couple of weeks ago.

Dutch/Flemish overviews
       With the Netherlands and Flanders as Guest of Honour at the currently on-going Frankfurt Book Fair more attention is being paid to the region and, for example, Eric Visser now offers an overview of Low Countries: lofty ideals in The Bookseller.

       See also my overview of 'Contemporary Dutch fiction from a foreign perspective' from 2010, in De Revisor -- and the considerable amount of Dutch literature under review at the complete review. (Dutch ranks an improbable sixth among all languages the books under review were written in -- just ahead of (though for all intents and purposes roughly the same as) Italian and Arabic.)

Prix Interallié (semi-)shortlist
       The prix Interallié isn't one of the top-tier French literary prizes -- high second-tier, let's say, though it does have the distinction of being the last-to-announce of the (more or less) major prizes, on 8 November -- and its semi-shortlist (like the Goncourt, it goes through four lists (long, semi-short, short, winner) rather than the more usual three) has just been announced.
       I probably wouldn't have bothered to mention this, except that it is a nice demonstration of how differently the French do things: of the twelve titles from the first round, seven gave been cut -- and one that didn't make the first round, Benoît Duteurtre's Livre pour adultes, suddenly pops on the second-round list. (Think of the drama if a book that hadn't been longlisted for the Man Booker found its way onto the shortlist .....)
       While unusual, it's hardly the first time this has happened with French literary prizes -- my guess is that the judges simply didn't read all the eligible/submitted books by the first deadline, and are willing to adjust and take into account their oversights.

       (Duteurtre isn't unknown in English -- and his Customer Service and The Little Girl and the Cigarette are both under review at the complete review.)

Translated from the Japanesem forthcoming in 2017
       No doubt, an early version of the 2017 Translation Database will soon be up at Three Percent, but it's good we already can get a limited preview of what we can look forward to in translations from the Japanese, helpfully collected at Lines from the Horizon.
       Los of big names here, and some very fine stuff.

Translation in ... Egypt
       At Al-Agram Weekly Rania Khallaf profiles the head of Egypt's National Centre for Translation, Anwar Mogeith, in Keeping the flame alight.
       He speaks about both translation into Arabic, and of Egyptian books for foreign audiences -- though noting:
"Previous translations done by the GEBO [General Egyptian Book Organization] were full of problems and the books ended up in the warehouses." The choices were made by Egyptians, he says, without any awareness of the target markets
       Government organizations are often not well-suited for this task, because of the (non-literary) agendas of many of those involved, so it will be interesting to see how/whether they approach this.

American Pastoral, the movie
       I posted my review of Philip Roth's American Pastoral a few days ago -- just in time for the (limited) release of the movie version (see the official site) -- and now the first reviews of that are out.

       The headlines pretty much say it all -- though admittedly a few reviews were more positive than others:        I think I will be skipping it. (But then I skip most movies, especially literary adaptations.)

New Books in German at 20
       New Books in German bills itself as an: 'essential resource for publishers, translators, booksellers and readers', and well, while 'essential' is probably a bit of a stretch, it is certainly a useful resource -- and it has now turned twenty, and at English PEN editor Charlotte Ryland and acting editor Jen Calleja now "discuss the last -- and next -- twenty years of the magazine", in New Books in German at 20.

       [Note that as a long-time member of the US 'editorial committee' I have been (and continue to be) peripherally associated with some of the doings of NBG.]

Birth of a Dream Weaver review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of the third of Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o's memoirs, A Writer's Awakening, Birth of a Dream Weaver.

Global Book Review symposium
       Tomorrow, 21 October, they're having a symposium on The Global Book Review at the Italian Academy at Columbia University in New York, from 14:00 to 17:30.
       James Wood will give the keynote, while a panel that includes The New York Times Book Review head Pamela Paul and representative from a variety of international publications will be discussing: "how the Internet has -- and has not -- created a global readership".
       I'm disappointed that I'll miss it (only learned about it earlier this week ...), but I do hope some reports about the proceedings appear online soon after.

The Beach at Night review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Elena Ferrante's kid's book, The Beach at Night -- one of two Ferrante books coming out shortly that broaden the range of her available-in-English work (the other being the largely non-fiction collection, Frantumaglia, which I hope to be getting to soon as well).
       There's already been lots of debate about how kid-appropriate this one is, for both silly reasons (the (one-time) use of the word 'shit') and not (it is one dark tale).

Baillie Gifford Prize for Non-Fiction shortlist
       The formerly-(long)-known-as-the-Samuel-Johnson-Prize but now apparently called (since Sam couldn't afford the £30,000 prize-money any longer) the 'Baillie Gifford Prize' for Non-fiction has now announced its four-title-strong shortlist.

       Unsurprisingly, none of the four titles are under review at the complete review; very surprisingly, it turns out I have reviewed other books by three of the four finalist-authors: Svetlana Alexievich (Voices from Chernobyl), Hisham Matar (In the Country of Men), and Philippe Sands (Lawless World).

American Pastoral review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Nobel Prize non-winning Philip Roth's Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, American Pastoral.

       This has now -- yes, almost two decades after the book came out -- been made into a movie (see the official site), which is opening ('in selected cities') on Friday. The film was directed by Ewan McGregor, who also gave himself a starring role, alongside Dakota Fanning and Jennifer Connelly. (Somehow I don't see Ewan McGregor as the all-American 'the Swede', but maybe he has the chops for it.)

       My favorite review-line comes from Michael Wood's review in The New York Times Book Review, where he suggests: "American Pastoral invites comparison with John Updike's In the Beauty of the Lilies" -- a reminder of how different these authors' current status is (and how hard it can be to properly judge the significance (and lack thereof) of books when they first appear). Sure, Roth is helped by the fact that he is still alive (albeit (apparently) retired) while Updike is dead, but of these two book's Roth's has certainly had much more of an impact and shown greater staying-power. The Pulitzer seal of approval helped, no doubt, but it goes beyond that; compare also the number of 'goodreads' ratings for each: 38,841 for the Roth, compared to a mere 1,462 for the Updike.

       A 'Nathan Zuckerman'-book, American Pastoral also offers some nice incidental writing observations, most notably Nate himself opining:
Writing turns you into somebody who's always wrong. The illusion that you may get it right someday is the perversity that draws you on. What else could ? As pathological phenomena go, it doesn't completely wreck your life.

German Book Prize
       The winner of the German imitation-Man Booker Prize, the German Book Prize, has been announced, and it's Widerfahrnis (by Bodo Kirchhoff); see also the DeutscheWelle report.
       See also the New Books in German information page about the book, the Frankfurter Verlagsanstalt publicity page, or get your copy at

       Kirchhoff's Infanta was published in English in 1992, by Viking in the US and Harvill in the UK (get your copy at or, but it presumably didn't do very well, and it looks like he was one-and-done as far as US/UK publishers were concerned. This prize will, of course, lead to a reassessment -- I imagine we'll see a translation -- and who knows ... maybe his backlist will take off here too.

The future of the Nobel Prize
       With the awarding of the 2016 Nobel Prize in Literature to Bob Dylan many were pleased to see the Swedish Academy embrace a far broader view of 'literature' (and many others were, of course, disappointed, confused, and outraged); see my recent overview and links.        Regardless of what position one took, it certainly looked like under Sara Danius' stewardship (which also saw last year's genre-stretching selection of Svetlana Alexievich) the Swedish Academy had moved towards a far more wide-ranging interpretation of what the prize could be awarded for. What next ? we wondered -- assuming that rather than returning to the more or less traditional novelists and poets who have dominated the Nobel there would be more 'bold' choices in the future.        Now I'm wondering whether Bob Dylan's (non-)reaction to getting this 'great honor' won't lead to the pendulum in fact swinging back, really hard, and really fast.        The new Nobel laureate seems singularly unimpressed with this 'honor' bestowed on him. As widely reported (here and here, for example), Dylan has so far ignored the Swedish Academy's efforts to contact him. They haven't been able to get through -- which at this point has to be taken to mean: he has no interest in hearing from them.        Obviously, he is free to do as he pleases, but at a certain point it's hard not to see this behavior as both rude and disrespectful. (For all those who argue Dylan is a reclusive artist who doesn't make many public statements: come on -- he's a performer, he's been on stage in front of thousands of people on several nights since he won the prize, and regardless of any- and everything it's simply polite to take the Swedish Academy's (private) call, even if just to tell them Thanks, but no thanks, or just Thanks, or that they can stuff the prize where the sun don't shine, or whatever. Some sort of acknowledgement doesn't seem to be asking too much.)        And this is where it gets interesting -- not so much regarding what happens next with Dylan and the Nobel this year (who cares ?), but what happens with the Nobel in future years.        One thing the prize does rely on is respect. Even Sartre, who turned the prize down, did so respectfully. Even those who couldn't care less have expressed their thanks and said they were honored.        Dylan -- who is, as I've mentioned, the first laureate bigger than the prize itself since Winston Churchill -- doesn't need to play along, and he isn't playing along. And while Sara Danius is all smiles about this, this is a humiliation that severely undermines the agenda, and the vision for the prize that those who supported the selection of Dylan-as-laureate have.        I think it's clear that there was disagreement at the Academy regarding this selection -- the delay in announcing the winner by a week (and it was a delay, no matter what they try to say) suggesting considerable disagreement (though no one has come forward publicly, as has happened with previous controversial choices (such as that of Elfriede Jelinek)). And now surely Dylan's behavior hands those opposed to giving him the prize -- a sizable minority, I assume -- a perfect argument for going back to the safe, more traditional way of doing things -- like [...]

Fall issue of Asymptote
       The fall issue of Asymptote is now online -- and there is a lot of very good material here: fiction, non, poetry, drama, interviews, and criticism.
       I won't even list the highlights-- just check it (all) out for yourself.

Premio Planeta
       Sure, the Nobel Prize in Literature -- paying out SEK 8 million (about US$ 905,000) this year -- is the biggest of the literary prizes out there, but it's a career-spanning (and, as we've now learned, very-loose-in-its-interpretation-of-'literature') prize. As far as book prizes, awarded for an individual title, the Premio Planeta de Novela, paying out a tidy €601,000, is nothing to sneeze at either.
       They've now announced this year's winner -- Todo esto te daré, by Dolores Redondo. No word at the official site yet, as I write this, but see, for example, the report in El Mundo.

       Redondo has of course already made it fairly big internationally, with her 'The Baztan Trilogy', which has even begun to make its way into English: the first volume, The Invisible Guardian, came out in English earlier this year; see the Harper Collins publicity page, or get your copy at or

Deep Vellum, reorganized
       Deep Vellum has quickly made an impact in the literature-in-translation market -- see the titles under review at the complete review -- as well as running an actual storefront in Dallas.
       There's now been some reorganization of the operations, and in the Dallas News Lauren Smart invites you to Meet the new owner of Deep Vellum Books, Anne Hollander.

The Silent Dead review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Honda Tetsuya's The Silent Dead.

       This is the first in a series, and I do appreciate the US (and UK) publishers actually starting at the beginning (almost a rarity with translated crime fiction series ...) -- but I kind of wish they had stuck with the original Japanese title, the English ストロベリーナイト (phonetically: 'Strawberry Night'; see also the Japanese edition) -- a fitting (it comes up in the story) but more or less nonsensical-in-English (as is often the case with Japanese attempts at appropriation ...) expression. And yet still probably better than the fairly pointless 'The Silent Dead'. (But, yeah, a harder sell in the US/UK.)

Alan Bennett profile
       In The Guardian Mark Lawson profiles Alan Bennett (The Uncommon Reader, etc.).

Carlos Fonseca Q & A
       At Bomb Chloe Aridjis has a Q & A with Carlos Fonseca, whose Colonel Lágrimas is just out in English.

Filming books in ... Egypt
       In Al-Monitor David Awad wonders Will screenwriters boost Egypt's literary scene ?
Writers and producers recently revived the idea of turning widely read and best-selling novels into screenplays.
       Given how common this has always been I'm surprised (and have my doubts ...) that it ever fell out of fashion; still, old or new idea, it presumably can't do much harm.

Nordic noir overview
       At the TLS Icelandic author Yrsa Sigurðardóttir offers a solid overview/introduction to 'Nordic noir', in Snowed under.

Profile: María Kodama
       In the Sydney Review of Books James Halford profiles Jorge Luis Borges' widow, in Such Loneliness in that Gold: María Kodama on Life After Borges.

Profile: Carlos Ruiz Zafón
       I have no idea what prompted this or why The Washington Post thinks Carlos Ruiz Zafón is The bestselling literary sensation you may struggle to name, but Manuel Roig-Franzia profiles the The Shadow of the Wind-author -- and the anecdote about the 'Dragon's Cave', a pretty fancy author-indulgence, is certainly weirdly interesting.

Writing in ... China
       In Observer (as it's now apparently called ...), Josh Feola and Michael Pettis report that Chinese Literature Finds Its Place, a slightly odd piece -- "Dazed and dealing with rapid modernization, PRC now produces writers who are unmistakably Chinese" -- that nevertheless offers a glimpse of some of the ways in which writing has changed in China over the past few decades.

Bob Dylan as Nobel laureate
       As discussed yesterday -- hey, it takes a while for the reality of this to sink in -- they named ... Bob Dylan this year's Nobel laureate.        A few more observations now that it's (very slowly ...) sinking in:         - I think the selection was a misstep for the Swedish Academy.        They've made some ... unusual choices before -- but these have tended to be of the relatively obscure literary kind, say a Dario Fo or Elfriede Jelinek: only a very limited audience really has sufficient familiarity with their work to even hold an opinion as to whether or not the choice was good. (Not that that ever stopped everyone else from opining/denouncing .....) Bob Dylan isn't just well-known, he's an international superstar, a celebrity bigger than pretty much any author. The last comparably famous literature laureate was also an odd choice -- Winston Churchill, in 1953 --, but Churchill did have an impressive body of serious writing. Sure, it was almost all non-fiction, and not widely read (outside the UK), but still.        Selecting Dylan weakens the brand the Swedish Academy had built up so carefully -- elitist and 'literary' (and, less helpfully, tending towards the male and European -- but that could be rectified by other means). As the media complained every year before a name was even announced: no popular authors if they could help it. It was a brand that was easy to criticize and/or make fun of, but, boy, they owned it. But by selecting someone more popular than pretty much any author, ever -- and someone who isn't a traditional author, but rather struts his stuff on a stage and in recording studios -- they've hopelessly confused and muddled the issue. And the brand.        What does this prize now stand for ? Sure, great, they take the large(st) view of what 'literature' is, and can be, now -- where does that leave us, or get us ? Wasn't their (high and mighty) little niche position a better perch ? (And a lot more fun ?)         - I can't help but wonder whether or not the somewhat rejuvenated Swedish Academy (a younger generation replacing the old fuddy-duddies who have died off) isn't simply star struck. They all are over-familiar with authors, and unimpressed by literary fame, so giving it to Philip Roth or Adonis or whoever is probably just a big yawn by now. But Dylan ... Dylan is a different kind of star, one they don't often get to mingle with. I have to wonder whether the Swedish Academy fan-boys and -girls weren't moved by nostalgia for days of youth and rock/folk abandon, and the chance to toast (and nervously giggle around) one of their big teen-idols in person (as they will have at the ceremonies in December).        (It will be interesting to learn (in fifty years, sigh ...) whether there was a generational divide in what was surely a contentious debate among the Academicians. Though note that Dylan has been on the scene for ages -- folks now in their 70s 'grew up' with him and his musi[...]

Dario Fo (1926-2016)
       On the day they announced this year's winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature comes word that (controversial) 1997 laureate Dario Fo has passed away; see, for example, obituaries by Michael Billington (in The Guardian) and Jonathan Kandell (in The New York Times).

Monsieur de Bougrelon review
       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jean Lorrain's Monsieur de Bougrelon, a nice little fin de siècle novel set in Amsterdam, forthcoming from Spurl Editions.