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<<August 2014>>
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Viewing Blog: the Literary Saloon, Most Recent at Top
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1. The Zone of Interest interest

       There's a new Martin Amis out -- in the UK; US reader will have to wait another five weeks or so -- and it was apparently 'embargoed' in the UK until publication-time (meaning: no reviews could/should be posted). Pathetically, UK reviewers obediently held back until now -- even as reviews went up weeks ago at, for example, Kirkus Reviews ("(A)n indelible and unsentimental exploration of the depths of the human soul") and Publishers Weekly (starred; "An absolute soul-crusher of a book, the brilliant latest from Amis") -- folks, if you're going to 'embargo' in this internet age, then get your act together and make sure you've got things covered abroad, too. .... (Though you shouldn't 'embargo' anyway -- it's a silly policy, and the sooner it dies, the better.)
       So now the first UK (+) reviews are up as well, including at:

  • the Irish Times: Eileen Battersby calls it; "Highly cerebral and innovative, and also human, humane -- even humbling -- this is a brave, inquiring work from a literary maverick whose biggest problem as an artist has been his rampaging talent. He has certainly harnessed it here."

  • The Independent: James Runcie calls it: "a frustratingly memorable read"

  • The Independent: Katy Guest finds: "I read this once thinking it horrifically brilliant, and Amis's best novel for years. (It is, though that's not saying a lot.) I read it a second time asking, but what is the point ?"

  • Asylum, where blogger John Self weighs in
       I haven't seen a copy yet, but I hope to soon; I was disappointed by Koba the Dread -- but greatly admired Time's Arrow (possibly my favorite Amis) -- so I'm not sure what to expect.
       Meanwhile, get your copy at Amazon.co.uk, or pre-order at Amazon.com.

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2. Russia-born writers in America

       At Russia Beyond the Headlines Diana Bruk considers A long-distance romance: Russia-born writers in the U.S.

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3. La Mamounia Literary Award finalists

       Marrakesh hotel La Mamounia have an annual literary prize (well, what fine international hotel wouldn't ?) and, as Morocco World News now report, La Mamounia Literary Award Nominates 8 Candidates for its 5th Edition.
       Slightly -- okay, crushingly -- disappointingly it's a Francophone award -- yes, great that they've:

created an essential platform for francophone writers in which they promote their literary works and showcase the Moroccan talents by awarding them basically on the value of their productions.
       But, still ... Morocco, where there are some folks speaking -- and writing ! -- in languages like ... Arabic, Berber, even Spanish .....
       Still, solid literary support, with a prize of MAD 200,000 (yes, that translates into real money) -- though I do have to wonder about the symbolism of the photograph accompanying that article -- empty seats, no one behind the lectern ... easy to read a lot into that ..... Read the rest of this post

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4. Rashid al-Din in Edinburgh

       A neat-looking exhibit at the Edinburgh University Library: The World History of Rashid al-Din, 1314. A Masterpiece of Islamic Painting; see now also Si Hawkins piece in The National on it, Edinburgh University gives visitors rare chance to see the 700-year-old The World History of Rashid Al-Din
       It's on through 31 October -- sounds like it is definitely worth a look if you're in the neighborhood.

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5. Teaching translation

       At Words without Borders' Dispatches weblog Margaret Litvin offers a look Between Love and Justice: Teaching Literary Translation at Boston University.

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6. Geek Sublime review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Vikram Chandra's Geek Sublime, due out shortly in the US from Graywolf (after being published in the UK and India earlier this year).
       This was published under the same title by Faber in the UK, but the Indian edition was titled: Mirrored Mind.
       More bizarrely, each edition has a different subtitle:

  • US: The Beauty of Code, the Code of Beauty
  • UK: Writing Fiction, Coding Software
  • India: My Life in Letters and Code
       Publishers -- gotta love 'em.

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7. PEN/Heim Translation Fund grants

       They've announced the 2014 PEN/Heim Translation Fund grant winners:

From a field of 120 applicants, the Fund's Advisory Board -- Esther Allen, Barbara Epler, Sara Khalili, Michael F. Moore, Lauren Wein, and Lorin Stein -- has selected fifteen projects for funding.
       (That's a pretty impressive advisory board, by the way.)
       Some great-sounding projects, including work by some pretty big names -- Johannes Urzidil, Arseny Tarkovsky, Romain Gary, and Per Aage Brandt -- as well as a Richard Weiner, forthcoming from Two Lines Press (alas, too many of these other projects are still listed as: 'Available for publication' -- so check them out, publishers, some great things still up for grabs !).
       Among the intriguing projects: Sholeh Wolpé's translation of Farid ud-Din Attar's The Conference of Birds -- somewhat misleadingly presented as: "This artful and exquisite modern translation brings one of the definitive masterpieces of Persian literature to the English-speaking world". 'Definitive masterpieces' is right -- but of course it's hardly new to English-speaking audiences -- hey, there's a Penguin Classic's edition (Afkham Darbandi and Dick Davis' 1984 translation; get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk; my own dates to 1991, when I paid the then-list price of $6.95 for it at my local Barnes & Noble-- and even then I was reluctant to pay list, so a pretty significant book if I was willing to shell out that kind of money ...). Peter Avery's 1998 translation, published as The Speech of the Birds (see the Islamic Texts Society publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), has long seemed the most definitive version, but after more than fifteen years perhaps the time is ripe for a new version.

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8. Simin Behbahani (1927-2014)

       I last mentioned leading Iranian poet Simin Behbahani less than a year ago, on the occasion of her being awarded the Janus Pannonius Poetry Prize. Now she has passed away -- see, for eample, the IBNA report
       Some of her work has been translated into English -- your best bet is still A Cup of Sin: Selected Poems; get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk See also her official site.

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9. (African) literary prize debate

       In The Herald (Zimbabwe) Beaven Tapureta takes on the Caine Prize -- the leading (no doubt about that, for the time being) African short-story prize -- and literary prizes as a way of fostering (African) literature, asking What is an African story ?
       So they're wondering:

Are the Commonwealth Prize for Africa, Caine, Booker, and NOMA prizes doing more harm than good to the telling of a true African story ? On what basis are the works by African writers being judged at these prizes which in some cases have part of the juries coming from the continent ?
Zimbabwe's multi-award winning writer Shimmer Chinodya, who was shortlisted for the Caine Prize in 2000, its inaugural year, was bitter about the Prize for it has become.

One of the biggest crimes the Prize has committed is the way it has degenerated into gender and geographical issues. It has masqueraded as the prize 'for African writing', that's nonsense. We have had the NOMA Award for Publishing in Africa, the Commonwealth Prize for Africa although it has been downplayed by the Caine Prize which has made the short story look an easier genre to write than a novel. African tradition is not a minimalist tradition. I think the Prize should grow out of the ten-page stories and do something," he said.
       I've long argued that the Caine Prize -- estimable though it is -- shouldn't be considered the 'Man Booker' of African writing because, after all it is 'just' a short story prize. Nothing wrong with that -- but still, something different from novels (and, as you know, I'm a novel-man, through and through and through ...). Nevertheless, I must point out that the repeatedly mentioned "Commonwealth Prize for Africa" (meaning, surely, the Commonwealth Writers' Prize-African region) and the Noma Award for Publishing in Africa both ... no longer exist, having given up their respective ghosts in 2011 and 2009. Other pan-African (sort of ... northern Africa always seem to get rather left out of these, as does non-English-writing ...) prizes have sprung up, but nothing has established itself as near-convincingly pan-African as the Caine Prize.
       (As always, I note that the bizarre policy of announcing the winner of the Caine Prize in Oxford is perhaps not the best way to sell yourself as an 'African' prize; it's a big continent and there are lots of nice places you could hold an awards ceremony .....)

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10. African Poetry Book Fund

       At Sampsonia Way Annie Piotrowski has a Q & A with Kwame Dawes and the African Poetry Book Fund.
       He says

We want to see more African poets in print
       And, well, who doesn't ? This, and their efforts to bring libraries to Africa -- five are slated to open next month -- sounds very worthy and pretty impressive.
       See also the official site, where there's more information about their various initiatives.

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11. Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Murakami Haruki's Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, now also out in English.
       Lots of reviews out already, lots of links. And one of those books that you could easily find fault with -- all over the place --, but which I nevertheless found a very enjoyable read.

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12. Blasts from the Internet past

       So in posting a review of a new Murakami Haruki book -- Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage -- I also went back and cleaned up/updated the links on all the other Murakami-review pages at the site: there are reviews of eleven other Murakami-titles, as well as of two books about him, and an author page. I've ... dusted the older review-pages over the years, as new reviews have been added, but this is the most thorough overhaul I've done in close to a decade (and, yes, it was long overdue).
       It's a dirty, time-consuming, thankless job (yes, yes, I know you appreciate it -- but really, you only notice when the links don't work, and have no idea of the behind-the-scenes maintenance I waste so many hours on), and with this many reviews with this many links (there's lots of Murakami-material out there) it took me several days of heavy drinking and loud cursing -- lots and lots of loud cursing -- to get this done.
       I continue to be amazed by the mutability, fragility, and ephemerality of the Internet (and bless the Internet Archive, which I see as ever-more vital). It's amazing how little seems to be built to last -- or how little that was built is maintained accessibly. Yes, I understand some changes, but, for example, The Guardian changing its URL from the sensible "guardian.co.uk" to "theguardian.com" -- and not redirecting all the old URLs -- is just a giant fuck you to anyone who sees/wants to use the Internet for anything beyond today. (Yes, most of the guardian.co.uk content can be found at theguardian.com -- though damned if I can find some of it, and I put a decent (albeit drunken, cursing) amount of effort into trying -- but I don't enjoy the jumping through hoops necessary to get at it, and I assume most people can't be bothered.)
       Of course, The Guardian's URL switch happened like yesterday (to be followed, presumably, by another tomorrow) but in updating the Murakami links I came across some ancient stuff which I thought I'd share.
       My favorites include the 'hijacked' URLs -- abandoned, they've now been taken up by, of course, commercial interests. Among the great examples:

  • Remember when the The Onion's A.V. Club -- now at www.avclub.com -- was, perfectly sensibly, at "www.theonionavclub.com" ? Well, that site is now 'The A.V. Club of Ecigarettes'
  • Remember litblog Rake's Progress, at rakesprogress.typepad.com/ (it used to look like this) ? "Rakes Progress - 10 years and still no progress / How I am going to get fit this year with a rowing machine" the site now asks .....
       As always, I encountered Dalkey Archive Press' most misbegotten of their many, many, many misbegotten sites -- the 'Center for Book Culture' at www.centerforbookculture.org (which once looked like this); unconscionably they didn't even hold onto the URL, so poor unsuspecting fools (like yours truly) still click through ... to now find this 'Center for Book Culture' (and, yes, it always makes me feel like: well, I guess that's what book culture has devolved into in our day and age ...). (Much as I love Dalkey Archive, I find their URL- and site-changes close to unforgiveable, and the china always goes flying when I come across yet another www.centerforbookculture.org-link.)
       Other prominent changes I encountered:
  • Salon ... oh, Salon, Salon, Salon. Now the easy, obvious www.salon.com, but there was "www.salonmagazine.com", there was "www.salonmag.com"; I was almost disappointed not to encounter the other old standard, "www.salon1999.com" this time around !
  • A puzzler: why did The New York Observer abandon the perfectly good "www.nyobserver.com" (now unclaimed !) for observer.com ? (The old URL surely would have been worth preserving just as a mirror-site.)
  • And, okay, I understand why the Evening Standard switched from the bizarre "www.thisislondon.co.uk" to "www.standard.co.uk" (and, hey, the old URL points to the new one ! though, sigh, the old page URLs certainly don't carry over ...)
       Of course, the real fun ones are the sites that moved up in the world:
  • Remember when infinity plus -- now at "www.infinityplus.co.uk" -- was at "www.users.zetnet.co.uk/iplus/" ?
  • When Scott Esposito was publishing the Quarterly Conversation -- now at: "quarterlyconversation.com" -- at "esposito.typepad.com" (really ! check it out) !) ?
  • When Critique -- now at: "critique-magazine.com" -- was at "www.etext.org/Zines/Critique" ?
       Of course, some of these links go back to when ... Time could be found at: "pathfinder.com/time/magazine" .....
       Most disappointing, however, is what's (and how much has) just disappeared -- a Flak Magazine at "www.flakmag.com" that once looked like this now a front for what calls itself an Art and Jewelry Magazine
       Yes, it's kind of amusing to see how things have changed -- but also kind of depressing. Especially since so much of what is lost seems to go unnoticed.

       (I have no idea what the long-term legacy of the complete review might be, down the line, but its sheer durability and constancy -- if you linked to a page in April 1999 (and any time after that), that link still works, that page is still there -- seem pretty damn impressive, relatively speaking.)

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13. Louise Erdrich to get Dayton prize

       The Dayton Literary Peace Prizes "is the first and only annual U.S. literary award recognizing the power of the written word to promote peace"; they also award an annual Ambassador Richard C. Holbrooke Distinguished Achievement Award ("formerly the Lifetime Achievement Award") -- and while this year's book-prizes haven't been announced yet, they have now announced that Louise Erdrich will get this year's Holbrooke Award. (Inexplicably, they haven't announced that yet at their site, last I checked , but they did give AP the scoop; see, for example; Writer Louise Erdrich wins Ohio peace prize.)
       The book-finalists usually make for an interesting selection; I hope they'll be announced soon.

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14. Literature in(/from) ... Jamaica

       I think the Caribbean is probably the single most under-represented area at both the complete review and the Literary Saloon -- with Cuba probably the most-discussed/-reviewed country -- so it's good to find some coverage about, for example: Flourishing Jamaican literature, as reported in the Jamaica Observer.
       Okay, the piece is fairly limited -- but at least some enthusiasm, and a lot of names.

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15. The Children Act review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ian McEwan's new novel, The Children Act.
       It did not make this year's Man Booker longlist-cut (though, with McEwan a former winner, it presumably had a free pass to consideration (a high hurdle for many books ...) and was one of the 154 books considered for the longlist).
       After some spring-buzz (New Ian McEwan novel The Children Act to take on religion, etc.) there doesn't seem to have been much recent fuss about it; I wonder whether it will generate much noise/excitement. (As a McEwan it will no doubt sell just fine regardless.)

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16. Kertész to be honored in Hungary

       20 August is, of course, Szent István ünnepe in Hungary -- St. Stephen's Day, the big national holiday -- and among the honors the state hands out none is higher than the (revived) Magyar Szent István Rend -- the Hungarian Order of St. Stephen. And word is the eminently worthy Kertész Imre is to be so honored this year. Good job !
       Of course, this being present-day Hungary, the choice is, for some, controversial. And so, as Politics.hu reports, Jobbik protests planned state award to Kertész. Yes, the party that won twenty per cent of the vote in the most recent election, has written an open letter to the president, complaining, for example, that Kertész: "failed to use the international attention attracted by his Nobel Prize to promote his country" and:

According to Jobbik, Kertesz does not deserve a Hungarian state award and if Ader decorates him "it will cause indignation among a wide spectrum of society."

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17. Ivan Vladislavić profile

       Via I'm pointed to Greg Penfold's profile of The most famous unknown, Ivan Vladislavić (author of Double Negative, etc.), in Leadership -- worth a look.

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18. Digitizing, at Harvard

       At Harvard Magazine they have two articles about digitizing efforts at university-affiliated institutions: Francesca Annicchiarico writes about Tibetan Literature, Digitized, as: "Harvard Library has begun to upload onto its digital storage system 10 million pages of Tibetan literature", and she also writes about the creation of the 'Digital Loeb Classical Library', in Loeb Classical Library 1.0.

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19. NEA Literary Translation Fellowships

       The American National Endowment for the Arts has announced their fiscal year 2015 Literary Translation Fellowships -- US$300,000 shared by 20 translators.
       The recipients -- and descriptions of their projects -- can be found here -- alas, only in the dreaded pdf format.
       Some interesting-sounding projects. As to the languages from which the works will be translated: there are 12 (including one project translating from both Spanish and ... Isthmus Zapotec). With only twenty projects there are only so many languages that can be covered; nevertheless .....
       The number of projects/languages are:

  • 6.5: Spanish

  • 2: French
  • 2: Persian
  • 2: Russian

  • 1: Arabic
  • 1: Chinese
  • 1: Dutch
  • 1: Italian
  • 1: Korean
  • 1: Polish
  • 1: Yiddish

  • .5: Isthmus Zapotec
       Also of interest: they offer a downloadable booklet which: "brings together essays by 19 translators and individuals who help to make translated works available", The Art of Empathy: Celebrating Literature in Translation (warning ! dreaded pdf format !).
       A nice collection of very short pieces (by a pretty stellar cast) about many aspects of literature in translation (including Chad Post on 'The Myth of the "Three Percent Problem"' ...) -- with a bonus of recommended titles-in-translation (not all of which are translations-into-English ...) by each contributor.

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20. German Book Prize longlist

       They've announced the twenty-title-strong longlist for this year's German Book Prize, the Man Booker-like (right down to the outrageous practice of not revealing the names of the 176 titles submitted and considered for the prize ...) which has quickly established itself as the leading German-language book prize (in a culture still dominated by author- (i.e. career-spanning-) prizes)).
       A couple of names that have had books translated into English, but probably not much name-recognition for US/UK readers here.
       Amusingly, Marlene Streeruwitz's Nachkommen -- about a German Book Prize shortlisted author -- has made the longlist (see, for example, the S.Fischer foreign rights page). It's sort of as if Edward St. Aubyn's Man Booker-satire, Lost for Words, had been longlisted for this year's Man Booker .....
       On the whole, the German press seems rather unimpressed: in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung Andreas Platthuas bemoans the omission of their favorite -- Nino Haratischwili's 1000-pager Das achte Leben (Für Brilla) -- and the fact that a mere five of the twenty finalists are books by female authors; in Die Welt Richard Kämmerlings goes so far as to find: Diese Longlist ist ein schlechter Witz ('This longlist is a bad joke').
       And, of course, always good to see pathetic nationalism dominate provincial coverage, in Switzerland (Basler Zeitung: Deutscher Buchpreis: Longlist mit drei Schweizern ('German Book Prize: three Swiss on longlist')) and Austria (Der Standard: Deutscher Buchpreis: Fünf Österreicher auf Longlist ('German Book Prize: five Austrians on longlist')).
       The shortlist will be announced on 10 September.

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21. Writers review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Antoine Volodine's Writers, just out in English from Dalkey Archive Press.

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22. South Asian translations (not) in the US

       At the Asymptote blog Mahmud Rahman continues his survey of the odd situation, On the Dearth of South Asian Translations in the U.S. (Part II), this time getting reactions from translators about placing South Asian (Indian-language, for his purposes) translations in the US.
       Some pretty discouraging responses -- and even the 'successes' can seem odd. New York Review Books picks up a 1995 translation of Basti, some twenty years later ? (Cool that they're doing Samskara too -- but, you know, not exactly a novelty .....). Then there are the recent Uday Prakash titles, translated by Jason Grunebaum -- The Girl with the Golden Parasol (picked up by Yale University Press, five years after the Indian publication) and The Walls of Delhi, picked up by Seven Stories after originally being published by the University of Western Australia Press. (Aside: now that The Walls of Delhi is out in the US, is anyone going to review it? Hello? Anyone?)
       Interesting that one of the hurdles several mention is: "the absence of dedicated lists". I've been really excited about the Murty Classical Library of India at Harvard University Press, but perhaps/apparently what's really needed is a university press willing to start up a South Asian dedicated list. (Come to think of it, a Southeast Asian one would be welcome too .....) But apparently there's an: "institutional lack of commitment to South Asia within U.S. universities" (which, sadly, sounds entirely plausible). Maybe with an increasing number of Indian billionaires looking for some intellectual street cred someone will think to fund one ..... Read the rest of this post

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23. Moving Words

       Moving Words -- what a great idea:

Reflecting New Zealand's multi-ethnic and multilingual society, our competition aims to celebrate literature, languages and cultures [...] and to inspire and reward excellence in literary translation
       The words I left out ? It's a secondary school prize. How awesome is that ?
       Sure, it's limited to pieces of poetry or prose no longer than 400 words (a pretty small sample), but still ......
       Very cool, too: translations can be into English, te reo Māori, or New Zealand Sign Language.
       And they got Man Booker Prize-winner (and The Rehearsal-author) Eleanor Catton to chair the judging.
       So, yeah: I'm impressed.
       See also the New Zealand Book Council press release.

       And how about it, British Centre for Literary Translation (in the UK) or PEN Translation Committee and American Literary Translators Association (in the US) ? Wouldn't a translation prize for secondary/high school students be a pretty good idea ? I mean a really, really good idea ? (Especially if you can get some big name translators to play along, to get some decent press coverage.) Think about it, okay ? I mean, getting upstaged by ... New Zealand in the translation arena -- come on, show them you can do this sort of thing too !

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24. The Sarashina Diary review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of A Woman's Life in Eleventh-Century Japan, Sugawara no Takasue no Musume's The Sarashina Diary, out in a new translation/edition from Columbia University Press.
       It's been translated before -- including, by Ivan Morris, in a nice Penguin Classics edition titled As I Crossed a Bridge of Dreams, but four decades on there's certainly room for another, and this is a nice one.

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25. A Man: Klaus Klump review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Gonçalo M. Tavares' A Man: Klaus Klump -- the first in his 'Kingdom'-tetralogy, but the last to make it into English.
       Joseph Walser's Machine still seems to me the highpoint of the quartet, but all of Tavares' work is worth engaging with. It's certainly an exemplar of un- (in the sense of '(very) not') American writing: political, but not in a way much American fiction approaches politics (this particular one struck me as particularly in the Brecht-mold, and as Michael Hofmann just pointed out in a TLS-review of a new Brecht biography, Americans don't really do (or get) Brecht) and making no real effort to 'win over' the reader (something that American writers can't seem to avoid trying to do).
       As Saramago noted a while back, Tavares (b.1970) is a talent to keep an eye on.

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