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Viewing Blog: the Literary Saloon, Most Recent at Top
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1. Lire books of the year

       French magazine Lire annually selects a top book in twenty different categories -- with one crowned as overall "meilleur livre de l'année". They announced this year's list -- and 2084, by Boualem Sansal, is the not-so-surprising book of the year.
       Other category winners include a two-volume Virginie Despentes as French novel of the year, a Jón Kalman Stefánsson as best foreign fiction (beating out titles by Javier Cercas and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie), and Ryan Gattis' All Involved as best roman noir.
       They also list the finalists in all the catgories, and among the oddities surfacing there: an Elmore Leonard-biography, apparently translated from (though apparently not yet published in) English, by Laurent Chalumeau -- see the Rivages publicity page -- the author of such works as Anne Frank 2, le retour !, and Fuck (see the Grasset publicity page). I wonder whether this will make it (back ?) into English.

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2. La nave di Teseo

       The big news in Italian publishing this year has been the sale of RCS Libri to Mondadori (see, for ecample, the Mondadori press release), with venerable literary imprints including Bompiani and Rizzoli suddenly swallowed into a 'Mondazzoli' juggernaut (apparently controlling half of the local book market, and seventy percent of the paperback market) -- run by a Berlusconi, no less.
       It doesn't come as much of a surprise that many literary types are apparently jumping ship -- led by Bompiani editor in chief Elisabetta Sgarbi, who has now announced the founding of a new publishing house, to be called 'La nave di Teseo'; see, for example, the (Italian) report at Il libraio.
       I'm not so sure about that name -- suggested by no one less than Umberto Eco, who is fully on board with the new venture -- given that it's the (Rizzoli-published) Italian title of a ... J.J.Abrams book (see the publicity page)
       No real English-language coverage that I've seen so far, but there should be some shortly -- this is a big (and nicely messy) story.

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3. Life, Only Better review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Anna Gavalda's Life, Only Better, just out in English from Europa Editions.

       I'm always curious about bestselling fiction abroad, and Gavalda is one of the few really popular-in-France domestic authors that is also regularly translated (others like Guillaume Musso or Marc Levy have a much harder time getting translated). This is the fourth of her books under review at the complete review, and that isn't even all of them (I drew the line at Billie).
       I do grudgingly have to admit that she's onto something -- indeed, I think these would be good books to dissect in creative-writing classes. I just wish she'd be a bit more (or is it less ?) ambitious with her subject-matter. (It's also why that other very popular French author, Amélie Nothomb, is so much better: Nothomb's aim isn't first and foremost heartstrings-tugging and crowd-pleasing (as Gavalda's so obviously is); Gavalda is a manipulative writer, playing to the crowd, while Nothomb is largely (and wonderfully hopelessly) only caught up/entangled in herself.)

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4. Prize: Jan Michalski

       The Jan Michalski Prize for Literature is an impressive (if shockingly poorly publicized) prize, without language or genre restrictions, and they've announced the winner of this year's prize -- Birth Certificate, Mark Thompson's Danilo Kiš biography. (My preference is, of course, always for fiction, but they do always select interesting titles, regardless.)
       See also the Cornell University Press publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

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5. Prizes: Irish Book Awards

       They've announced (albeit not very conveniently at the official site) the winners of this year's Irish Book Awards, with The Green Road, by Anne Enright, taking book of the year honors.

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6. Prize: Prix Ivoire

       The Prix Ivoire pour la Littérature Africaine d'Expression Francophone has announced its 2015 winner -- and it's Je suis vivant, by Haitian author Kettly Mars; see, for example, the Haiti Libre report, as well as the Mercure de France publicity page for the book.

       Mars' Savage Seasons recently came out in English, but has attracted disappointingly little review (or other) attention.

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7. Fifteen Dogs review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of André Alexis' Fifteen Dogs.

       Yes, I was led to this by its recent Scotiabank Giller Prize-win -- that, and the promise/premise of talking dogs, Greek gods still doing their mischief, and the mention of some Oulipo poetry. Also: I seem to be sucker for titles that begin with numbers ..... Read the rest of this post

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8. Translations from ... Madagascar

       The December issue of Words Without Borders will apparently be devoted to literature from Madagascar, and at Broadly Ilana Masad profiles translator Allison Charette, in Meet Madagascar's 27-Year-Old Literary Ambassador.
       Madagascar is one of those countries from which almost nothing is available in English -- even though some Malagasy writers write in French (i.e. aren't that inaccessible). Charette got a PEN grant to translate Naivo's Au-delà des rizières (see the Sepia publicity page), so hopefully we'll at least see that in English soon.

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9. Library of Bangladesh

       I mentioned the announcement of the Dhaka Translation Center's 'Library of Bangladesh'-series earlier this year, and apparently the first two volumes are now out, published by bengal lights: see their publicity pages for two novellas by Syed Shamsul Haq and a collection of stories by Hasan Azizul Huq -- and let's hope there's some foreign distribution for these, too.
       Apparently ten more volumes are already planned.

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10. Cassava Republic coming to UK

       In less than a decade Cassava Republic has established itself as a leading Nigerian publisher -- and it's great to hear that, as Natasha Onwuemezi reports in The Bookseller, African publisher Cassava Republic to launch in UK.

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11. Because She Never Asked review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Enrique Vila-Matas' Sophie Calle-novel(la), Because She Never Asked.
       This is actually just one story from a bigger Spanish collection (Exploradores del abismo), published as a stand-alone in New Directions' lovely pocket-sized Pearl-series.
       It's a great introduction to Vila-Matas' work -- perhaps the ideal starter-volume.

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12. Reading in ... India

       The peculiar business that is book publishing is, of course, peculiar worldwide -- hence it's not just in the US/UK/etc. that one can find a headline such as The reading conundrum: Is the books business booming or dying ? -- as Saudamini Jain explores the Indian situation, in the Hindustan Times.
       Mixed signals indeed:

In the late 1970s, the average book sold around 2,000 copies, writes veteran publisher Ashok Chopra in his memoir A Scrapbook of Memories. This, he says, is roughly true even of today, four decades later.
       Indeed, apparently:
Most successful books sell not more than 3,000 copies in India. This is a low number for anywhere in the world -- especially considering the size of the Indian middle-class
       I'm not sure their sense of the Indian situation versus that abroad is correct:
The big failure of Indian publishing, [Thomas Abraham, managing director at Hachette India] says is that "We, as an industry, have failed to do anything collectively to build the reading habit. We have done nothing to propagate serious reading. In the West, they have a designated Reading Day when the government and publishers come together. In Chicago, for instance, everyone on that one day will read Anna Karenina or whatever. You need to create something on TV, like Oprah Winfrey does with her Book Club. We have nothing."
       Much as I like to imagine all of Chicago walking around with their heads buried in Anna Karenina ("or whatever" ...), well ..... Read the rest of this post

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13. Augustpriset

       They've announced the winners of this year's Augustpriset, the leading Swedish literary prize, with Montecore-author Jonas Hassen Khemiri taking the fiction prize, with Allt jag inte minns.
       Rights have already been sold to this, with it scheduled for publication from Atria in the US and Scribner in the UK; see also the Ahlander Agency information page.

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14. (Australian) Prime Minister's Literary Awards shortlists

       Malcolm Turnbull is the fourth Australian prime minister in office since June 2013, but after a bit of turmoil in recent years things seem to have settled down around the Australian Prime Minister's Literary Awards, and they've now announced the shortlists for this year's prizes.
       Quite a few familiar names among the finalists (including Peter Carey, Elizabeth Harrower, David Malouf) but none of these titles are under review at the complete review.

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15. The Blizzard review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Vladimir Sorokin's unusual (but seasonal ?) Russian satire/homage/zombie tale, The Blizzard, coming out next week from Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

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16. Translation from ... Hindi

       Anjum Hasan's fascinating look at 'Reading Hindi literature in translation' -- English translation -- in The Caravan, Novel Renditions, is now fully accessible online.
       An interesting overview -- and many interesting observations, including that:

It is striking how so many of the novels recently translated into English capture life at a modern, usually mid- to late-twentieth-century, juncture. The dodgy, if not outright corrupted, nature of this modernity is what gives these novels their charge.
       Surprising, too, that apparently The Gift of a Cow-author Premchand -- "the king himself", Hasan writes -- has only had some 70 of his 300 stories translated.
       More depressing than just how little Hindi literature has been translated is how little of even just that has made it, readily accessibly, to US/UK shores. For every Uday Prakash (The Girl with the Golden Parasol, The Walls of Delhi) there seems so much more that is at least available in English but not readily available locally.
       But this does get me to put my copy of Gillian Wright's translation of Raag Darbari closer to the top of my get-to pile.

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17. An Englishman in Madrid review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Eduardo Mendoza's An Englishman in Madrid.
       This book won the Premio Planeta in 2010 -- a prize that with its €601,000 cash award blows pretty much every other literary prize (especially the American ones) out of the water.
       Nick Caistor's translation was published in the UK in 2013, but for some reason it only made it to the US this summer -- and doesn't seem to have gotten much attention here.

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18. Jalal Al-e Ahmad Literary Awards

       The Jalal Al-e Ahmad Literary Awards are one Iran's leading literary prizes -- and, with each award paying out "110 Bahar Azadi gold coins" (reportedly: "worth over $33,000"), remunerative -- and they've announced this year's winners -- see the report in the Tehran Times -- and the not-winners, as:

No works in the categories of short story, literary criticism, or documentation were deemed worthy of Iran's most lucrative literary award during this year's edition of the Jalal Al-e Ahmad Literary Awards
       Meanwhile, the novel prize was shared, Fall Is the Last Season by Nasim Marashi and The Well-Behaved Girl by Shahriar Abbasi splitting the prize.
       In the categories without winners there were still some honorable mentions -- by works with some intriguing titles: Overview of Practical Anecdotes in the literary criticism section (and who doesn't like their anecdotes to be practical ?); Are Guys from Khazaneh Saved ? in the short story category; and Water Never Dies and You Will Die in Cairo in the 'documentation section'.

       The prize was, of course, named after leading Iranian author Jalal Al-e Ahmad -- nowadays perhaps better known in the US/UK as Simin Daneshvar's husband ? Four of his titles are under review at the complete review, including The Israeli Republic, which was recently brought out by Restless Books.

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19. Zakaria Tamer in ... Sardinian

       An interesting piece by Alessandro Columbu at Arabic Literature (in English), as he writes On Why I Translated Zakaria Tamer's Stories from Arabic into Sardinian.
       Always good and interesting to see translations into 'smaller' languages -- and always good to see some more Zakaria Tamer getting translated.
       Fortunately, even if you can't read Sardinian, several of his work are available in English translation too: see, for example, Breaking Knees and The Hedgehog.

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20. Prix des libraires du Québec longlists

       The Prix des libraires du Québec is a French-language literary prize (well prizes, in several categories), and it's always interesting to see what they look at on the other side of the Atlantic (québécois writing, for one thing, which doesn't attract too much attention in France proper ...).
       They've now announced their longlists (well, 'listes préliminaires'). The Catégorie Roman québécois introduces many works ... well, which we haven't heard much about. Meanwhile, the Catégorie Roman hors Québec covers everything from a recent Man Booker winner (Eleanor Catton's The Luminaries) to a work by a Nobel laureate (a Toni Morrison) to an Elena Ferrante and Michel Houellebecq's Submission and, oh dear, Andri Snær Magnason's LoveStar.

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21. Private Life review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Josep Maria de Sagarra's classic 1932 novel of Barcelona, Private Life, just out in English from Archipelago Books.

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22. Reading in ... Romania

       The Romanian Gaudeamus International Book and Education Fair runs from 18 through 22 November in Bucharest -- the 22nd edition of the fair.
       At BalkanInsight Marian Chiriac reports Romania Fair Booms in Tough World For Books, as: "The number of people reading literature is constantly falling, official data show".
       Not what you want to hear:

(I)ndustry specialists are pessimistic about the future of reading in Romania as a whole.
       With 39 (!) per cent of Romanians reportedly not having read any books at all last year ... well, that's a shockingly high proportion of the population ..... Read the rest of this post

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23. Petros Markaris Q & A

       Greek mystery writer Petros Markaris recently picked up the Premis LiberPress in the literature category, and at Catalonia Today they have a Q & A with him.
       Among the interesting quotes:

The crime novel is the only social novel left in European literature.
       (And I am surprised that he hasn't gotten more US/UK coverage, as his novels have been among the most insightful about Greek conditions for quite a few years now.)
       Also amusing to hear that, while he does read a lot of crime fiction he admits:
But I am fed up with the Scandinavians
       See also my reviews of his Deadline in Athens and Zone Defence.

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24. Murder Most Serene review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Gabrielle Wittkop's Murder Most Serene, one of two Wittkops just out from Wakefield Press in beautiful editions (I'll get to the other one, Exemplary Departures, too; meanwhile, see their publicity page).

       Note that this isn't a murder mystery, at least not anywhere near the traditional sort; this is a book by the author of The Necrophiliac, and with its Sadeian epigraph, is very much in a similar vein ..... Read the rest of this post

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25. New Statesman 2015 favourites list

       The past two weeks The Spectator has been having contributors name their best and most overrated books of the year (see my previous mention), and now the New Statesman also gets a nice cast of "friends and contributors" to weigh in on their favorites of the year, in Books of the year: the essential NS reading list.
       Always interesting to see what people come up with -- and these also include some older titles

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