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Viewing Blog: the Literary Saloon, Most Recent at Top
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1. Foreign children's classics in the Soviet Union

       At Russia Beyond the Headlines Alena Tveritina reports that: 'In Soviet children's literature, retellings and altered versions of foreign classics captivated society far more than translations -- so much so that some classic characters were completely russified', in How Dr. Dolittle became Dr. Aybolit.
       So, for example, Alexander Tolstoy took on Pinocchio -- but:

At first I just wanted to write Collodi's content in Russian, but then I abandoned that idea because it was too boring and bland
       (For what it's worth, his version was phenomenally successful, even for that captive market.)

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2. Jonathan Franzen Q & A

       In the Indianpolis Star Will Higgins has a Q & A with Jonathan Franzen.
       J-Franz reveal his favorite TV shows, how many bird species he's seen (2,600 worldwide), and the fact that both he and David Foster Wallace have/had a one-handed backhand (increasingly rare at the pro level).

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3. The publishing-wait in Iran

       Books in Iran generally aren't officially censored -- publishers are just denied the permission needed to actually publish them. All books need to get official permission, and while permission is sometimes denied outright, usually the Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance just makes authors and publishers wait, and wait. and wait.
       How long ? Well, as IBNA reports: Iranian author's 'The Smoke' was released after eight years, as Hossein Sanapour's novel finally got the green light after eight years.
       Mention that: "It was waiting for the issuance of a publication permission in the previous government for some years" suggest perhaps change is in the air -- but things still seem to be moving slowly.

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4. New World Literature Today

       The November-December issue of World Literature Today, with a focus on 'After the Wall Fell: Dispatches from Central Europe 1989-2014', is now available, a decent chunk of it accessible online -- as is the entire World Literature in Review-reviews section.

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5. Per Petterson Q&A

       At PEN Atlas Tasja Dorkofikis has a Q&A with Per Petterson, author of I Curse the River of Time, etc.

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6. Prize shortlist: T.S.Eliot Prize

       They've announced the ten-title shortlist -- selected from 113 (unnamed, sigh) book submitted for consideration -- for the T.S.Eliot Prize.

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7. Prize shortlists: Prix Femina

       They've announced the shortlists for the French prix Femina -- notable because it has three categories: fiction (French), foreign fiction, and non-fiction.
       There doesn't seem to be an official site, so see, for example, Prix Femina 2014: Le jury dévoile ses finalistes at 20 minutes. Three of the five foreign-fiction finalists are translations of books written int English.

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8. Polizzotti on translating Modiano

       Mark Polizzotti -- translator of the forthcoming Yale University Press three-in-one collection by newly crowned Nobel laureate Patrick Modiano, Suspended Sentences (see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) -- writes on Quiet Resonance: Translating Patrick Modiano at the YUP weblog, Yale Books Unbound.

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9. Neustadt Festival

       The Neustadt Festival -- culminating in The Tuner of Silences-author Mia Couto picking up the 2014 Neustadt International Prize for Literature -- started yesterday; see the full program.

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10. The King review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Dutch-writing Iranian author Kader Abdolah's The King, now also available in the US in an edition from New Directions.

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11. Ali A. Mazrui (1933-2014)

       I'm a bit late in reporting this -- he passed away on the 12th -- but Ali A. Mazrui has died; see, for example, Douglas Martin's obituary in The New York Times or Horace G. Campbell on The Humanism of Ali Mazrui at counterpunch.
       The only Mazrui book under review at the complete review is, predictably enough, his only work of fiction, the woefully under-appreciated (look for mention of it in the obits ...) The Trial of Christopher Okigbo. Flawed though it is, I would argue it's still a very significant/important novel, a major work of the 1970s. (And, yes, I am pretty proud that I already got to this in the much earlier days of the site, reviewing it back in 2001.)

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12. Chinese reforms

       I mentioned Chinese president Xi Jinping's recent address on cultural production in China and, regrettably, it already seems to be having some effect. In the South China Morning Post Nectar Gan reports that the Ministry of Culture thinks it's now a good idea for Art and literature awards to evaluate 'social benefit' of works, as Zhu Di, head of the art department of the ministry:

said Xi's comments on arts and literature -- that works should place social benefits first, should not bow to commercial demands and should be evaluated by the public -- will become "important principals for the ministry's award evaluation system reform in the future".
       Oh, great .....
       Better yet:
The central propaganda department of the Communist Party is taking the lead in reforming guidelines, Zhu said.
       But I have to admit I'm curious how this will work out, since China has a vibrant -- and huge -- writing scene that isn't going to pay any attention to this kind of nonsense.

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13. Claude Ollier (1922-2014)

       At 91, French author Claude Ollier has passed away; he published his last book ... last year: Cinq contes fantastiques (see the P.O.L. publicity page). Surprisingly little notice of his death so far, even in the French press -- but see, for example, Sabine Audrerie's Mort de l'écrivain Claude Ollier.
       Several of his works have been translated; most of these were published by -- of course -- Dalkey Archive Press. (And, yes, Ollier's work fits the Dalkey-profile to a T.)
       Only one of his works is under review at the complete review: Wert and the Life Without End.
       See also Cecile Lindsay's 1988 A Conversation with Claude Ollier from the Review of Contemporary Fiction.

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14. Nobel-effect on Modiano sales

       So far there have been few articles about the sales-effect of the announcement that Patrick Modiano is this year's Nobel laureate -- in part, in the US/UK, no doubt because almost none of his works are actually available or in print (a situation that will be changing in the coming weeks).
       Unsurprisingly, he got a nice boost in France -- though not enough of one for his new novel to top last week's (through 12 October) bestseller list (you can see how Le suicide français would be hard to top, regardless of international honors ...).
       Ahn Sung-mi reports, in The Korea Herald, that Nobel prize boosts Modiano's book sales in South Korea, as, for example:

Online book retailer Interpark said Missing Person recorded 300 books in sales over a four-day period since the announcement. "This is a drastic change from 2010 when the book was first published and total of 120 books were sold that year," said Jeong Ji-yeon from Interpark.
       And:
"Prior to the award announcement, less than 10 copies of his books were sold on average in a month at bookstores," said a representative of Munhakdonge, publisher of seven books of the author. Munhakdongne printed 13,000 Modiano books upon the Nobel Prize announcement, and plans to print 10,000 more copies as the demand is increasing.
       More surprisingly and impressively, the Tehran Times reports that Patrick Modiano's books soar to Tehran bestsellers list, with six Modinao titles among the top-five at various Tehran booksellers.
       Okay, so in South Korea there are apparently seven Modiano titles available, in Iran -- Iran ! -- there are six, in the US/UK ... less.
       Yes, the situation is changing/improving: Yale University Press' three-in-one collection, Suspended Sentences (see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk), substantially increases what's available (from those two Godine titles, with one more reprint to follow soon), and the University of California Press has quickly resuscitated Dora Bruder -- a re-issue is due out next month (see their publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com; no Amazon.co.uk listing at this time). (The University of Nebraska Press seems also to be working on resuscitating Out of the Dark -- see their publicity page, or back-order at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.) Still, overall: a sad state of English-speaking affairs -- and surely yet another counter-example to all the supposed translation-enthusiasm that everyone is so excited about: the down-to-earth reality looks like this: a lot uglier, with even the Iranians managing to do a better job in at least some (and possibly many ?) cases.

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15. International publishing statistics

       In The Bookseller Joshua Farrington reports that IPA: UK publishers 'published most in the world' in 2013, summarizing the new International Publishing Association Annual Report (warning ! dreaded pdf format !), as:

UK publishers released 2,875 new titles per million inhabitants, more than 1,000 titles ahead of the nearest nation, Taiwan. In absolute figures, 2013 saw the UK publish 184,000 new titles and re-editions, the highest figure in Europe, with only the US and China publishing more, with 304,912 and 444,000 titles respectively.
       I do note that Iceland is not included in the reckoning; the most recent statistics I could find, covering 2012, report 1349 published titles; with an Icelandic population at the end of 2012 of 321,857, that makes for 4,191 new titles per million inhabitants .....
       Nevertheless, the UK totals are impressive. Those from Georgia, too -- what the hell is that about ? On the other hand: South Africa only published 68 titles per million inhabitants ? (Okay, those are 2010 figures; not necessarily directly comparable -- but it's still shocking.)

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16. DSC Prize for South Asian Literature longlist

       They've announced the ten-title strong longlist for the 2015 DSC Prize for South Asian Literature.
       A couple of real heavyweights on the list: books by Jhumpa Lahiri, Khaled Hosseini, and Kamila Shamsie. Shamsur Rahman Faruqi's The Mirror of Beauty is apparently the only work in translation that made the cut (not that you could tell it's a translation from the Penguin India publicity page ...).

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17. Augustpriset shortlists

       They've announced the shortlists for the Augustpriset, one of the leading Swedish literary prizes.

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18. The Fall review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of A Father's Memoir in 424 Steps, Diogo Mainardi's The Fall.

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19. Handke: abolish the Nobel Prize !

       Sore loser ? Annoyed by the annual distraction ? Whatever the case, Peter Handke thinks it's time to abolish the damn thing -- the Nobel Prize in Literature: that's what he said Thursday, Die Presse reports.
       He argues: it brings a brief bit of attention, 'six [!] pages in the newspaper', but that's about it. (Americans meanwhile shake their heads even more -- what newspaper would have six pages of laureate coverage ?)
       It can't all be sour grapes: he thinks this year's selection an excellent one -- and you can take his word for it: he's translated two of Modiano's books into German, Une jeunesse (see the Suhrkamp publicity page) and La Petite Bijou.
       (A pretty decent stamp of approval, to have been translated by Handke -- and a reminder, yet again, how few prominent English-writing authors also translate, while a world-class author like Handke thinks it's important enough to occupy himself with ....)
       I wonder whether he'll take up a petition among his prominent-author-buddies. And whether the Swedish Academy will hold this against him ..... Read the rest of this post

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20. Writing in ... China

       While on the one hand, as reported at Livemint, Publishers aim to take Chinese literature to the world, the local authorities haven't all gotten the memo -- or rather: they're sticking with an old script. Yes, as Xinhua reports in China Voice: Boom of arts, a must for Chinese dream Chinese president and general secretary of the CPC Central Committee Xi Jinping:

addressed another forum on literature and arts, again calling for artworks to "embody socialist core values in a lively and vivid way", to "uphold Chinese spirit" and "rally Chinese strength".
       Apparently the concern is that:
Although China has already had a Nobel Prize winner in Literature and a number of Chinese films have won international awards, there are plenty of vulgar, repetitive and fast-food art works. They lack insight and artistic values and do not meet the needs of the people.
       Always good to see when the state (or any other pseudo-authority) decides what exactly meets the "needs of the people" .....
       But maybe here is finally an explanation why Chinese literature (which seems to be thriving in China ...) hasn't done particularly well abroad yet ?
The current weakness of Chinese literature and art may derive from the pervasion of consumerism and money worship. These trends prevent artists from reaching deep into society to find the most vivid materials -- the method that Xi called for in the meeting.
       Down with such pervasion ! (?)

       Though I have to admit Xi's speech did give me the giggles -- the thought that he could take himself seriously (much less believe any 'artist' might) ..... Read the rest of this post

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21. Toni Morrison's papers to Princeton

       Princeton University has announced that Nobel laureate Toni Morrison's papers will join their library-collection -- about 180 linear feet worth (and counting, presumably). No word, alas, how much they shelled out for the collection.
       Recall that a 1993 Christmas Day fire at one of Morrison's houses fortunately apparently did not badly damage what was at hand there at the time. Already then, then Schomburg Center chief Howard Dodson said: "The whole world wants her papers".
       (He also said:

he and Ms. Morrison, friends for about seven years, have discussed the possibility that some of her papers would be left to the Schomburg Center, which she has long supported, but no formal agreement has been reached.
       Guess that didn't work out.)

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22. Marilynne Robinson profile

       In The Telegraph Jane Mulkerrins profiles Marilynne Robinson: the Pulitzer Prize winning author on her new book.

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23. (German) art-in-literature database

       The University of Vienna has put up an online Datenbank literarischer Bildzitate, a database of some 1,500 references to works of art in modern German literature, searchable by author, artwork, artist, and text. (See the search page, which makes it reasonably obvious what's on offer.)
       I'm not sure how comprehensive this is (yet) -- Bernhard referenced specific works of art in only one of his novels ? -- but it's still fairly interesting and even somewhat useful.

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24. Judging the Man Booker

       The obligatory 'judging the Man Booker Prize'-piece comes from Sarah Churchwell at The Guardian's book blog, where she writes about The joys of judging the Man Booker prize.
       (I enjoy these, but I'd love it if one year they did get the judge who just hated the experience to spill all the ugly beans about the process.)

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25. Limonov review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Emmanuel Carrère pseudo(?)-biographical 2011 prix Renaudot-winning Limonov -- rather desperately subtitled in the US edition: The Outrageous Adventures of the Radical Soviet Poet Who Became a Bum in New York, a Sensation in France, and a Political Antihero in Russia.
       As longtime readers know, I'm not a big fan of biography in any form, and I note with some amusement that my review barely even mentions any of these supposedly 'Outrageous Adventures' Limonov had -- I found and consider them completely uninteresting (and Limonov -- despite some obvious talents -- a vacuous poseur: I can't imagine a less interesting person or subject matter, all noise and affectation). I didn't even notice until after I finished writing the review, but it didn't even occur to me -- though of course it should have: presumably a not insignificant percentage of readers are curious about the book because they want to know about Limonov. But, yeah, I really shouldn't be reviewing biographies -- even if this can also be considered something else entirely (and is much more interesting when considered as such).
       (This is also the second recent prix Renaudot-winner that I've reviewed in less than two months -- Our Lady of the Nile is the other.)

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