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<<August 2015>>
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Viewing Blog: the Literary Saloon, Most Recent at Top
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1. Pirate libraries

       At Eurozine they reprint Bodó Balázs' piece (originally in Visegrad Insight), offering 'A central and eastern European perspective' on Pirate libraries.
       He reports that:

Today's pirate libraries were born to address political, economic and social issues specific to Soviet and post-Soviet times, but they quickly became vital beyond their original context.
       Of course, the legal morass remains ... a morass.

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2. Fiction from ... Central Europe

       Checking out Visegrad Insight (re. above), I find this useful Translators' guide to new fiction from the Visegrad Group countries (the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, and Poland) -- a nice overview of notable recent fiction from Central Europe.
       None of these titles are available in English yet, as best I can tell (and I can tell pretty well -- and it's hardly surprising: fiction from these nations usually does not get translated with ... alacrity), but a lot of these names are familiar -- indeed, almost all of them have had works published in English.
       Among the less well-known (but already translated) is Martin Reiner -- though I have to say I'm not so sure about his (600-page) "biographical novel in the form of literary collage", about Ivan Blatný; see the Torst publicity page.
       Among the better-known: books by Esterházy Péter, Kertész Imre, and Olga Tokarczuk. And Rivers of Babylon-author Peter Pišťánek's last work.

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3. Moods review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Yoel Hoffmann's Moods, recently published in translation by New Directions.

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4. Mogadishu International Book Fair

       Great to hear that they're holding the Mogadishu International Book Fair (see also the write-up by Warka at Mareeg, Literary feast in Mogadishu as Mogadishu International Book Fair opens).
       Or is this just a reaction to the Hargeysa International Book Fair they held earlier this month (see also Nyabola, H. Nanjala's write-up at Quartz, Somaliland's book fair opens the country to the world) ... ?
       Still, holding book fairs has got to be a good sign, right ?

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5. China Bookworm Literary Award

       With judges including A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers-author Guo Xiaolu and translator (e.g. Running Through Beijing) and editor Eric Abrahamsen, the China Bookworm Literary Award seems well-positioned to select worthy new Chinese fiction deserving of translation -- and now they've announced the first winners of the award, with the winner getting 5000RMB, and both the first and second place titles to be published in English translation.
       Hard to judge based on the brief descriptions available here, but second-place-winner Li Ziyue's I Am in the Red Chamber, You are on the Journey to the West is one of the best titles I've heard this year.

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6. 'Novel Scarlett Johansson tried to ban'

       I mentioned Scarlett Johansson's suit against French author Grégoire Delacourt (The List of My Desires (US title: My Wish List)) about his using her (sort of) as a character in a novel of his -- and now Nick Clark reports in The Independent that Novel Scarlett Johansson tried to ban, Grégoire Delacourt's The First Thing You See, to be published in UK.
       I'm actually surprised the publisher isn't going with: 'Novel Scarlett Johansson tried to ban' as the title ... or that they aren't even playing up this angle more. Good for them -- and I am eager to see the book. (No US publication is sight, yet, as best I can tell.)
       See also the Weidenfeld & Nicolson publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.co.uk (and ignore that 'July, 2014' publication date -- it's only coming out in English now).

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7. Posthumous Günter Grass

       Günter Grass may be dead, but that's no reason why he shouldn't have more books coming out -- and, indeed, as DeutscheWelle reports, Günter Grass leaves a last farewell book (I'm not quite clear on how many first/other farewell books he 'left' ...), Vonne Endlichkait.
       See also the (very nice) Steidl publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.de. And apparently: "An English version should be available in the fall of 2016".

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8. Lisa Hayden Q & A

       At Russia Beyond the Headlines they have a translation of Yulia Arseniy's Q & A with translator and Lizok's Bookshelf-blogger Lisa Hayden.
       I have both Addendum to a Photo Album (see the Dalkey Archive Press publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) and Laurus (see the Oneworld publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk) and hope/expect to get to them.

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9. Philippine Literary Festival

       The Philippine Literary Festival runs tomorrow through 30 August.
       They seem to be using the 'big' foreign names -- Matthew Quick and Meg Wolitzer -- as ... loss leaders ? but most of the other participants are local. Interesting to see especially the local phenomena -- iamkitin ! iDangs ! marielicious ! KwentoNiJhingness ("I write. I rant. I am a potato." her weblog promises) ! blue_maiden ! Yam-Yam28 ! Art Sta. Ana ! And why haven't I seen any of their books ?

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10. Tram 83 review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Fiston Mwanza Mujila's Tram 83, yet another impressive addition to the Deep Vellum catalogue.

       Tram 83 odds and ends:

  • Lubumbashi-born Mwanza Mujila was the 'Stadtschreiber' (city-writer) 2009-10 (and is currently pursuing his PhD) in my hometown of Graz, Austria.

  • The Kirkus review offers the wonderful incongruous observation: "Mujila is not working in the George Eliot tradition of realistic fiction". I mean it's true, sort of, technically -- but talk about out of left field .....

  • Papa Wemba gets a shout-out in the novel ! Does no one listen to Papa Wemba any longer ? Maria Valencia has been echoing in my head all night .....

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11. Man Booker International Prize judges

       As I (tried to) explain last month, the one-time biennial author prize that was the Man Booker International Prize ate -- and transmuted into -- what used to be the annual book prize that was the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize (which no longer exists as such -- or rather exists pretty much unchanged (except there's now more prize money on offer) but is now called the 'Man Booker International Prize' ...).
       Now: The Man Booker International Prize 2016 Judges Announced -- and a pretty impressive panel it is, chaired by Independent Foreign Fiction Prize-holdover Boyd Tonkin, and including Tahmima Anam, Ruth Padel, Daniel Medin, and, most impressively, David Bellos.
       Of particular interest: Medin was a two-time Best Translated Book Award judge, and he's the first to serve on the juries for both of these leading translation prizes. And of course it raises the question of whether Krasznahorkai's Seiobo There Below isn't the prohibitive favorite to take the 2016 Man Booker International Prize -- it won the 2014 BTBA (on which Medin served as one of the judges, as did I). (It is presumably eligible, with official UK publication only coming this year; get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.)

       One of the reasons they apparently ditched the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize and went all-in on the revised Man Booker International Prize was to take advantage of the brand recognition. It's disappointing then to see that, aside from a more or less regurgitated press release mention at The Bookseller the announcement of the judging panel so far hasn't rated any major-press mention. Sure, this isn't the most exciting news in the world -- but you'd (well, I'd) figure it would make for filler-material in the British papers at this relatively slow-news time of the year. It's hard to imagine something won't pop up -- especially at The Independent, given the Tonkin connection -- but so far the Man Booker brand hasn't pulled its weight ..... Read the rest of this post

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12. New World Literature Today

       The September/October issue of World Literature Today is now (partially) available online.
       Completely available: the World Literature in Review-section -- i.e. the reviews, with lots of good coverage.

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13. Writers from ... Indonesia

       With Indonesia the guest of honour at the upcoming Frankfurt Book Fair there has been a decent amount of coverage -- and at Qantara.de Monika Griebeler now introduces Seven must-know authors from Indonesia (with a bonus of three dead-so-they-won't-be-able-to-attend authors, making for ten in all).
       A decent introduction, and hard to argue with most of these inclusions, which include Ayu Utami (whose Saman remains one of the defining novels of the past twenty years (even as it opens, as I never fail to be amused by, overlooking (New York's) Central Park ...)); Leila Chudori, whose Home is forthcoming in English from Deep Vellum soon (see also the Modern Library of Indonesia publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk); Supernova-author Dewi ("Dee") Lestari; and The Rainbow Troops-author Andrea Hirata.
       You can argue about who was overlooked -- and the most obvious name here is Eka Kurniawan, two of whose books are appearing in English this fall too (my review of Beauty is a Wound should be up soon; meanwhile see the New Direction's publicity page, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).
       As to the three bonus-selections: yes, Pramoedya Ananta Toer remains the foremost Indonesian author, the other two are also worth seeking out.

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14. Les Misérables in ... Urdu

       In Dawn Rauf Parekh reports on A new, complete Urdu translation of Les Misérables -- apparently the first complete-length rendering, though an abridged one appeared almost a century ago.
       I must say I also like the cover, which includes the famous Émile Bayard-Cosette but goes beyond the bleakly black-and-white.

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15. Erdal Öz Edebiyat Ödülü

       He won the Nobel Prize quite a few years ago, but only now does Orhan Pamuk win the Erdal Öz Edebiyat Ödülü; see, for example, the report in Today's Zaman
       The previous winners of this prize aren't nearly household names abroad -- but maybe this is a sign that the Turkish literary establishment is fully embracing Pamuk as one of their own ..... Read the rest of this post

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16. The NYTBR reviews slanders Mario Vargas Llosa ?

       Oh, dear.
       So The New York Times Book Review had Book of Numbers-author Joshua Cohen review Nobel laureate Mario Vargas Llosa's new non-fiction title, Notes on the Death of Culture -- an admittedly somewhat thankless task (Mario Vargas Llosa's Notes on the Death of Culture is as uplifting as the title suggests, The Globe and Mail titles its review ...); I have the book and haven't managed to bring myself to cover it yet .....
       As the 'Editors' Note Appended' warning now found at the top of the review suggests, there are ... issues with the review. Vargas Llosa helpfully also wrote a letter to the editor, complaining about: "information about me that is both slanderous and perfidious", and noting, nicely indignantly:

I am flabbergasted to learn that this kind of gossip can work its way into a respectable publication such as the Book Review.
       The New York Times Book Review helpfully explains both that the text has now been altered and that:
editors determined that the reviewer had based his account of these matters mostly on information from an article about Vargas Llosa in The Daily Mail, but neither the reviewer nor editors independently verified those statements. Using such information is at odds with The Times's journalistic standards, and it should not have been included in the review.
       Interestingly, that Daily Mail article still stands -- with the offending claims unchanged (unlike the NYTBR piece ...), despite the stricter British libel laws. And I can't find a letter to their editor from Vargas Llosa .....
       Not a shining moment for The New York Times Book Review -- but fact checking is something that's presumably easy/tempting to skimp on. I think the fact that they couldn't even spell the poor lady's name right -- see the first correction, because there were several ... ---, something even one of their kids could/should have checked on the Internet, is even more damning .....
       This one is going to be tough to live down, all around ..... Read the rest of this post

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17. Ishiguro archive to Ransom Center

       They've announced that Ransom Center to Acquire Archive of Kazuo Ishiguro, as the Harry Ransom Center has purchased Kazuo Ishiguro's archive (for: "just over $1m", The Guardian reports).
       Among the finds: "his first serious attempt at fiction, a pulp Western", which I am so hoping someone publishes.

       Ishiguro seems kind of young (he's sixty) to be selling out -- though, yeah, the money is good and times are tough. Still .....
       And I wonder how much younger writers -- who don't have nearly as much archival accumulation in this electronic age -- consciously try to collect papers so that they'll someday have a pile to sell too ..... Read the rest of this post

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18. Shimmer Chinodya Q & A

       In The Herald Elliot Ziwira has a lengthy Q & A with Zimbabwean Chairman of Fools-author Shimmer Chinodya.
       All over the place -- but also some good advice:

Read, read, read ! Write, write, write, write ! Open your windows to ventilate your imagination.

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19. Korean fiction

       In The Korea Times Nam Hyun-woo writes about Kim Jin-myung's (김진명) latest novel, 글자전쟁 ('Letter Wars'), which has apparently been very successful in South Korea.
       The premise has a predictably nationalistically-pleasing twist -- Chinese (writing) characters aren't Chinese at all, the Koreans invented them ! -- but hand it to the author, he presents it dressed up in a very different sort of story, featuring:

an ambitious arms dealer who proclaims that his ultimate goal is earning 50 billion won. However, his successful career starts to go wrong as a prosecutor investigates him on a charge of illegal lobbying. He flees to China and gets along with North Koreans, looking for a chance to return to his job.
       As Nam notes:
Writer Kim has garnered popularity with his stories deriving from a hidden piece of history or a conspiracy that can be interpreted in a way of promoting Koreans' pride. Such a theme and the veteran novelist's technique create a riveting read.
       Much as I appreciate a great deal of the Korean literature that is finding it's way into English, what I want to know is why crap like this isn't. Surely, this is excactly the sort of pop fiction we should be seeing (and reading), too. Come on -- here's an author who: "never distracts readers with absurd bids to materialize abstract thoughts" !
       Okay, I understand most 'literary' publishers couldn't touch (or bear) this stuff with a ten foot pole -- but there must be publishers who could handle it.
       AmazonCrossing, how about it ? We need to see this stuff !

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20. Q & A: Yevgeny Yevtushenko

       At Russia Beyond the Headlines they have an English version of Igor Virabov and Pavel Basinsky's Российская газета Q & A with Yevgeny Yevtushenko (original).
       Among the take-aways: he's coming to Brooklyn next month (really).
       There's also some fun Soviet-era nostalgia:

It was a venue for about 800 people, but they put speakers out on the street, and people stood and listened there, too. It was a very chilly day in April. I read for four and a half hours without a break. There were children in the audience as well. That was one of the happiest days of my life.
       And interesting (if unsurprising) the observation:
Our intelligentsia simply does not understand how detached it is from the general public.

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21. Q & A: K.E.Semmel

       At the Asymptote blog Katrine Øgaard Jensen has a Q & A with translator-from-the-Danish K.E.Semmel -- whose translation of Naja Marie Aidt's Rock, Paper, Scissors, just out from Open Letter, I recently reviewed. (Another Semmel-translation under review: Disgrace (US title: The Absent One) by Jussi Adler-Olsen.)
       In response to the question; 'What is the best translated book you've read recently ?' he says ... The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist ..... Read the rest of this post

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22. Chetan Bhagat Q & A

       At Scroll.in Mayank Jain has a Q & A with mega-bestselling (in India ...) Chetan Bhagat (One night @ the call centre, etc.), occasioned by the publication of his new book -- a non-fiction collection ("I want to expand my range as a writer", he explains ...), Making India Awesome.
       And while a bit of an exaggeration -- interviews such as this one surely are marketing-efforts (even if he doesn't have to pay for them) -- interesting to hear that:

So how much emphasis do you put in marketing your books ?

I don't need to. I just need to put on Twitter that I am writing a book, if you can call that marketing. I have zero budget for marketing. I have never spent anything on it at all.

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23. Swedish romance ?

       After the Nordic crime wave comes ... Swedish romance novels ? Francis Hoch suggests that terrifying prospect in Publishers Weekly, in Swedish Romance -- the Next Hot Trend ? as a novel by the 'Swedish queen of of romance' (yes, Sveriges romancedrottning) Simona Ahrnstedt -- "an avid feminist, and a passionate cheese lover", as her agency's information page helpfully informs -- is going to be published in English.
       I'm always glad to see popular fiction in all its form get published in translation -- and several of her works have already been translated into other languages -- but I think it's unlikely that this is the beginning of something big. Still, I am curious as to the impact -- and whether it will lead to popular romance novels from other languages/countries (not just Scandinavian) getting translated.

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24. The Maestro, the Magistrate & the Mathematician review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Tendai Huchu's The Maestro, the Magistrate & the Mathematician.

       This came out from Zimbabwean publisher amaBooks last year, and is now being published abroad by Welsh Parthian. Just last week The New York Times Book Review covered his debut, The Hairdresser of Harare (now out in a US edition).

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25. Savage Seasons reviews

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Haitian author Kettly Mars' novel of 'Papa Doc' consolidating power in the 1960s, Savage Seasons, recently released in translation by the University of Nebraska Press.

       A bit depressing to see how many online reviews of the German edition (published by a really small publisher) are available, while the English-language version has had a .... limited impact (not even reviews at Publishers Weekly or Kirkus Reviews ...).

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