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1. Caine Prize

       They announced the winner of the Caine Prize yesterday -- not at the official site yet, last I checked, but see, for example, the report at the Books Live weblog -- and the prize whose: 'focus is on the short story, reflecting the contemporary development of the African story-telling tradition' went to The Sack (warning ! dreaded pdf format !) by Berkeley-professor Namwali Serpell (see her faculty page).

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2. The Millions' 'Second-Half 2015 Book Preview'

       The Millions' Most Anticipated: The Great Second-Half 2015 Book Preview is now up -- "at 9,100 words strong and encompassing 82 titles, this is the only second-half 2015 book preview you will ever need" they claim .....
       It's a nice overview of (mainly) the bigger titles due out over the next ... eight months (it actually goes through February 2016 ...) but far from comprehensive -- and it's particularly disappointing regarding fiction-in-translation, with almost none that's not published by the big(gest) houses included; a rare exception is Krasznahorkai's 'reportage', Destruction and Sorrow Beneath the Heavens (see the Seagull Books(' distributor's) publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).

       (Especially for those interested in books in translation, Typographical Era's The 2015 Visual Guide to Translated Fiction and the 2015 Translation Database at Three Percent (latest version here) are far more useful. Caveat and warning: the visual guide really is visual -- arranged by book covers -- rendering it enervatingly busy/near-unusable for some of us (all I want/can bear is text !), while the Translation Database is an 'Excel Worksheet' which, sigh, has to be downloaded (i.e. you can't open it directly in your browser).)

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3. 'Warhol by the Book'

       I had a chance to see the extensive and surprising Warhol by the Book exhibition currently on at the Williams College Museum of Art over the weekend.
       I was surprised to see some familiar-to-me covers were by Warhol (The Red and the Black !); see also, for example, the New Directions Blog post on Andy Warhol: New Directions book designer -- and see some other examples at Rare Book Digest, where they report on The Andy Warhol Book Covers that the Art World Overlooked.

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4. Bachmannpreis

       The Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis -- where authors read their texts in front of an audience and are publicly judged by a jury -- concluded with Nora Gomringer taking the prize with her text Recherche (warning ! dreaded pdf format ! and: German !).

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5. Gene Mapper review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Fujii Taiyo's Gene Mapper, just out in English from Haikasoru.

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6. 'African' writing

       In The Guardian Taiye Selasi (author of Ghana Must Go) writes at some length, arguing that we should stop pigeonholing African writers (whereby she apparently means -- as almost always happens in discussions of 'African' writers and literature -- only Sub-Saharan Africa ...).
       A wide-ranging and interesting discussion, including some examples of the terrible domestic situations as far as any publishing and book-distribution/selling infrastructure goes:

I am often asked why Ghana Must Go, a story about a Ghanaian-Nigerian family, was not published in Ghana or Nigeria. The answer is: we tried. Ghana, where my parents live, has no credible local publisher. To launch the novel in Accra, as I was determined to do, we had to go it alone. After an attempt to form a partnership with a bookshop failed (not wanting to pay the customs fees, they abandoned the shipment of books at the port), we organised two public events. After the book sold out, my mother ordered more directly from Penguin and sold them from her clinic.

I know of what Nwaubani speaks when she writes: "Any Nigerian in Anchorage who so wishes can acquire my novel. But here in my country [my] book is available only at a few bookstores."
       The identity-politics/issues are, of course, more complicated -- and hardly limited to 'African' authors: writers from all regions of the world face many of the same questions and similar criticism.
       As she argues, however:
We need more stories about more subjects, more readers in more countries. Not fewer.

It is precisely because there are so few novels by African writers in global circulation that we ask those novels to do too much. No one novelist can bear the burden of representing a continent and no one novel should have to.
       And I'd certainly agree that:
African books for global eyes must be written by a broader range of Africans, including those writing in non-European languages.
       One marvelous resource to find at least some more names is the African Books Collective, which distributes books by many African publishers (currently 149), making them fairly easily obtainable anywhere (and offering titles you won't find at your local Barnes & Noble).
       See also the index of African literature under review at the complete review.

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7. Publishing in ... Nigeria

       In The Sun Solomon Ojehonmon writes at length about the dismal publishing situation in Nigeria, in Death of the last publishing house in Nigeria: Matters arising.
       While it seems premature to worry about every last publisher in Nigeria dying off -- indeed, there seem to be some promising efforts underway -- Ojehonmon's fundamental complaint, about a failed industry, rings true.
       He also argues that publishers themselves are to blame, because they bought into the concept of 'African Literature' and ignored the writers and stories of more obvious and immediate interest to a local readership (making this piece a nice companion-piece to Taiye Selasi's, mentioned above).
       He laments:

So our once popular fables on witchcraft, sorcery and other African myths went out of the window as well as African thrillers, mysteries, action adventures, science fictions and romances.

What we have, instead, are depressing books on politics, poverty, civil war, prostitution, adultery, disease, colonial era and slave trade. Nepotism, favoritism, accusations, counter-accusations, back-stabbings, lies and hatred now dominate the pages of our novels. I once submitted a book for consideration to an English publishing house. The editor replied that my novel is so un-African it cannot be accepted for publication, querying the absence of bloodshed, disease, noise, dirt, dust, poverty etc.
       While he goes overboard with some of his claims, it certainly can't hurt to nudge the powers that be -- publishers, especially -- to rethink some of their approaches. Of course other fundamental problems, especially of infrastructure (the printing and distribution/selling of books, in particular) also have to be addressed.

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8. Q & A with ... me

       In Punctum Vilis Kasims has a Q & A with ... me -- Pretī citai literatūrai (yes, it's in Latvian).

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9. The Rape of Sukreni review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Balinese author Anak Agung Pandji Tisna's 1936 novel, The Rape of Sukreni, yet another in Lontar's Modern Library of Indonesia series.

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10. Quintessentially American ?

       A fun exercise at the Literary Hub, where:

In a deeply unscientific survey of nearly 50 writers, editors, publishers, critics, and translators, representing 30 countries, we asked them to name three quintessentially American books, and tell us about their choices.
       The results are up at Quintessential American Fiction, According to the Rest of the World.
       Quite an interesting group of people they asked, and while there's lots of predictable stuff there are some interesting choices, too. Always interesting to see how foreigners see a national literature.

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11. Thomas-Mann-Preis

       The (€25,000) Thomas-Mann-Preis has been around for ages (well, in one form or another -- it's actually apparently only been the 'Thomas-Mann-Preis' one year (2008) and is currently officially the: 'Thomas Mann Preis der Hansestadt Lübeck und der Bayerischen Akademie der Schönen Künste') and boasts an impressive set of previous winners.
       They did well again this year -- surprisingly selecting an author who doesn't write in German, Lars Gustafsson; see, for example, the report in Die Welt. New Directions published quite a few of his works -- fiction and poetry -- but seem to have given up on him; too bad, there's a lot still unavailable in English, and he really is very good.

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12. Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis

       They've started the 39th Tage der deutschsprachigen Literatur ('Days of German literature'), the annual festival around the Ingeborg-Bachmann-Preis, where authors read their texts out loud in competition (all broadcast on TV (and now, of course, also livestreamed)).
       They used to have good English-language information -- and even translations of the texts -- but they can't afford to do that any longer. Still, as you can see from the list of previous winners, a lot of soon-famous authors have passed this way: Wolfgang Hilbig, who you'll be hearing a lot more about this year, with the first English translations of his work (two books, no less) won in 1989, and other authors whose works have appeared in English in the past few years inculde Sibylle Lewitscharoff (1998), Inka Parei (2003), Uwe Tellkamp (2004), and Tilman Rammstedt (2008); 2011 winner Maja Haderlap's Angel of Oblivion is due out from Archipelago next year (see their publicity page).
       So probably worth paying some attention to.

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13. Writing in ... Africa

       In Vanguard Ikenna Asomba reports on the Nigerian Breweries/Farafina 2015 Literary Evening held last weekend, where Adichie, Wainaina worry over dearth of literary works in African languages.
       Good to see the topic and concern at least be addressed this prominently; one hopes it'll inspire some of the participants (and others, too).

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14. Books from Finland closes shop

       More than a month ago I mentioned they were pulling the plug on the wonderful Books from Finland site -- keeping it only as an archive -- and now they've gone and done it: here's the final post.
       Yes, after: "almost 10,000 printed pages and 1,500 posts" they've decided it's no longer worth adding content, so they're calling it a day. Very disappointing.

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15. July Words without Borders

       The July issue of Words without Borders, now available online, features: 'Emerging German Writers', with a bonus batch of: 'Burundi: Writing from the State of Sleep'.

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16. Hollow Heart review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Viola Di Grado's dead-girl-talking novel, Hollow Heart, just out from Europa Editions.

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17. Kafka manuscripts to National Library of Israel (probably)

       One of the more entertaining literary estate trials of recent years may have run its course, as a Tel Aviv District Court has rejected an appeal by the not-quite-heirs of Max Brod's remaining Kafka holdings (further appeals are, apparently, possible, however); see reports:

       As you might recall, Esther Hoffe wound up with a suitcase (and millions of dollars') worth of Kafka-papers from Max Brod -- and then lived forever (well, past the century mark, anyway). She sold some of them, and then passed on the rest to her daughter (the appellant here); the court seems to have frowned upon the cashing-in efforts - albeit with the rather curious argument:
"As far as Kafka is concerned, is the placing of his personal writings, which he ordered to be destroyed, for public sale to the highest bidder by the secretary of his friend and by her daughters in keeping with justice ? It seems that the answer to this is clear," wrote the judges.
       But, rather than doing right (finally !) by Kafka and ordering the long-overdue bonfire the papers are (probably) going to the National Library of Israel.
       Yes:
The court said Hoffe had no rights, and could not have any such rights -- as well as not having rights to any royalties -- for the documents Brod took from Kafka's apartment after his death. As for her holding on to such documents after Brod's death, she did do illegally and had no right to decide on the fate of the estate
       This is presumably correct, going by the letter of the law (well, the facts suggest there is some wiggle room here, legally speaking ...); the fact that Brod surely had no right (morally as well as by the letter of the applicable laws) either to do all the things he did with Kafka's manuscript unfortunately was not up for debate.
       I find it fascinating that everyone seems to be willing to give Brod the benefit of an overwhelming amount of doubt -- wink, wink, we all know what Kafka really meant (why ? because that's what we want to believe) -- while no one is willing to give Esther Hoffe the same courtesy: who is to say, after all, that Brod didn't intend for her to be the true beneficiary (he left her the papers, for heaven's sake, so she was already the nominal beneficiary), to be able do as she wished with the papers ? After all, if he hadn't, surely he would have seen to the proper disposal, one way or another, of the papers when he had the chance, rather than expecting the ambiguous testamentary dispositions he made to resolve things -- that's the argument re. Kafka, isn't it ? isn't it ?. (Even if Brod's instructions seem clear (and they really aren't), they are still nowhere as clear as Kafka's very precise instructions to Brod were: burn the stuff ! all of it !)

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18. Bảo tàng Văn học Việt Nam

       Việt Nam News reports that First Vietnamese literature museum opens to public.
       Apparently: "construction did not begin till 2004" on the three-story building -- and it seems it took over a decade, until now, to get it all done.
       The first floor covers the 10th through 19th centuries, the second "writers of the early 20th century", the "third floor is reserved for writers of the anti-French revolution period (1945-54)". Apparently there's no room for anything resembling contemporary literature -- or it's been relegated to the basement ..... Read the rest of this post

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19. Sunday Times Literary Awards

       They've announced the winners of the 2015 (South African) Sunday Times Literary Awards, with Arctic Summer, by Damon Galgut, taking the fiction prize, and Askari, by Jacob Dlamini, taking the non-fiction prize.
       Galgut's E.M.Forster-novel isn't under review at the complete review, but I've admired his earlier work; see also the publicity pages at Europa Editions and Atlantic Books, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

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20. Aubrey Menen profile

       Nakul Krishna's look at 'The particular strangeness of Aubrey Menen', Is Fun Fun ? is now fully accessible at The Caravan.
       There doesn't seem to be any Menen currently in print in the US or UK, but Penguin India have a solid collection of Classic Aubrey Menen; see their publicity page.

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21. 'Russian Library' (redux ?)

       In The New York Times Andrew Roth reports that Columbia University Press to Publish New Translations of Russian Literature, as:

The idea, tentatively named the Russian Library, envisions dozens, and perhaps more than 100, new translations of Russian modern literature and classics, selected by the publisher with support from a committee of Russian and American academics.
       Columbia University Press already has some good foreign literature coverage -- especially east Asian literature -- and among the publishers they distribute is leading international literature publisher Dalkey Archive Press, so this could be a really good fit.
       There's one open question/issue, however: readers might recall that a project not so tentatively named The Russian Library -- "scheduled to publish 125 volumes over the next 10 years" -- was launched by the very same Read Russia and the very same Peter Kaufman not all that long ago, in partnership with The Overlook Press (who, with imprint Ardis, have long been in the Russian game, too) -- see, for example, the Shelf Awareness report Overlook Press to Publish 'Russian Library' (which even pictures Vladimir Grigoriev and Peter Kaufman sealing the deal in 2012); see also the Publishers Weekly report from back then.
       So what happened with the Overlook deal ? (Disappointing reporting on the part of The New York Times, not to even acknowledge that this is apparently take two of this project, or to poke around and learn what happened to take one.)

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22. HKW International Literary Prize

       The've announced that Amos Oz's הבשורה על פי יהודה, in Mirjam Pressler's German translation (as Judas) has won this year's Internationaler Literaturpreis - Haus der Kulturen der Welt -- the big (€25,000 for the author, and €10,000 for the translator) German best translated (contemporary) book award; see also, for example, Sabine Peschel's report Amos Oz wins major German literature award at DeutscheWelle.
       It no doubt will appear in English translation eventually, but it hasn't yet. (Hey, why shouldn't it appear in ... say, Brazil before it comes out in the US/UK provinces, right ? I do note, however, without comment, that Oz is handled by 'literary' agent Andrew Wylie.)

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23. The Festival of Insignificance review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Milan Kundera's recent novel -- his first in over a decade -- The Festival of Insignificance.

       Interesting to see the mixed reactions to this -- and also how much review coverage there has been of it (the most, by far, of any book I 've covered so far this year).

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24. CWA International Dagger

       They announced the winners of the (UK) Crime Writers' Association yesterday, and the CWA International Dagger, for a crime-book "not originally written in English and has been translated into English for UK publication during the Judging Period" went to Pierre Lemaitre's Camille, in Frank Wynne's translation.
       Among the titles it beat out is Leif GW Persson's Falling Free, as if in a Dream, the last in his under-appreciated trilogy, and Deon Meyer's Cobra.

       (Bonus points and big applause for the CWA listing all the entries in the various categories: why can't all book prizes do this ?)

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25. The Defence of Lawino review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of A New Translation of Wer pa Lawino by Taban lo Liyong, his translation of Okot p'Bitek's The Defence of Lawino.
       I reviewed p'Bitek's own translation, and it's always interesting to compare translations; certainly, these make for a great comparative case-study.

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