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Viewing Blog: the Literary Saloon, Most Recent at Top
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1. 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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2. 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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3. 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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4. 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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5. 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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6. 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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7. 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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8. 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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9. 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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10. 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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11. 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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12. 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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13. '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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14. 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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15. 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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16. Print/digital in ... Hungary

       At hlo Szabolcs László considers Print vs. online literary journals in Hungary -- a subject of some debate, apparently.
       Among the fun incidental titbits: hand-writing Péters Nádas and Esterházy share(d) not only a name but: "a much-beloved typist".

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17. Financial Times summer books list

       The FT's Summer books 2015 -- "FT writers and guests pick their books of the year so far" -- is certainly ... extensive -- but, helpfully divided up by subject-matter (including 'Fiction in translation' !), among the better compilations we'll be seeing.

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18. Reading the World review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Ann Morgan's Reading the World: Confessions of a Literary Explorer, which has just been published in the US, as The World Between Two Covers: Reading the Globe (because ... publishers .. you know ...).

       This is the book resulting from Morgan's A year of reading the world project -- and, given the subject matter, presumably of interest to almost all complete review readers -- international literature and all that !

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19. Miles Franklin Literary Award

       They've announced that The Eye of the Sheep, by Sofie Laguna, has won this year's Miles Franklin Literary Award, one of the leading Australian literary prizes.
       It does not appear to be available in the US or UK yet, but see the Allen & Unwin publicity page.

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20. EU Prize for Literature ceremony

       They announced the winners of this year's EU Prizes for Literature a couple of months ago but they just had the ceremony.
       This award -- or rather, these awards (they handed out twelve of them) -- rotate through the EU member countries, a dozen or so at a time and, as I've noted before, the name is a bit misleading -- as is the description that the winners are: "nominated by national juries". In fact, each national jury names the national winner -- so far from being an EU Prize it's a national literary prize that just happens to be handed out on the EU stage. (It's also hard to believe the national juries are quite as objective as an international one might be .....)
       What is neat (if also a bit worrisome) is that the winners get some cash and: "will be given priority to receive EU translation grants through the support programme for Europe's cultural and creative sectors, Creative Europe". This apparently helps quite a bit:

The translation of more than 56 EUPL winners' books since 2009 already allowed them to be read by a much larger audience throughout Europe.
       And while you probably haven't heard about or read many of the winning titles/authors over the years, they have honored some very good stuff that has done very well in translation.

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21. Reading in ... Russia

       At Russia Beyond the Headlines Marina Obrazkova looks at Trends in Russia's reading culture.
       The figure of 37 per cent not reading at all is kind of shocking. Interesting also to hear that the director of the Mescheryakov Publishing House believes:

Russia has never had a particularly large reading public in relation to other countries. You will that find bookstores in Germany or France are far busier than in Russia, for example.
       (I don't know that bookstore-busy-ness equates with reading culture -- and, after all, this is the same guy who also claims: "Literary tastes are formed in childhood and are unrelated to trends. If parents have good taste, they'll pass it down to their children" .....)
       As the infographic shows, e-readers really haven't taken off there yet -- no domestic Киндл yet, apparently ..... Yet 13 per cent read on their computers, so it's not the e-format that is holding things back.

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22. Rentrée littéraire preview

       The 'rentrée littéraire' is the annual French flooding of the book market that starts at the end of August, and they've now released the first numbers: Livres Hebdo reports that there will be 589 works of fiction on offer (down from 607 last year). French works make up 393 (with 68 debuts, down from 75 last year), and there are 196 works in translation (down from 203 last year).
       They -- and others, such as the report at L'Express -- mention some of the big-name authors with new works coming out (and there will be a lot more coverage in the coming weeks). Among the notable publications: L'infinie comédie, as David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest finally gets translated into French; pre-order you 1488-page copy at Amazon.fr.

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23. Murakami's beginnings

       We've heard a lot of this before, but it's still entertaining to read Murakami Haruki on his beginnings as a writer; the Literary Hub now prints the introduction from the forthcoming re-translation of his two first novels, which is being published as Wind/Pinball.
       See also the publicity pages at Alfred A. Knopf and Harvill Secker, or pre-order your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

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24. (Criminal) Borgesian remix

       As reported in The Guardian, Pablo Katchadjian's 2009 remix of a Jorge Luis Borges story in El Aleph engordado has landed him in a heap of legal trouble.
       The Guardian piece, by Fernando Sdrigotti, is tendentiously titled 'Re-working Borges is a legitimate experiment, not a crime', as he argues that this sort of literary experimentation is a good thing. While I agree with the premise, I note that copyright law (likely) prohibits this sort of thing with an in-copyright work (as Borges' story still is) -- i.e. it is a crime (hey, lots of silly things are) -- and that the argument: "when everything is reproduced and available to anyone clever enough to perform a web search" isn't exactly a winning counter/defense.
       I think it remains a good idea for copyright holders to maintain as much control over their work as they wish (hence also my strong support for the often withheld copyright for translators) -- though there is no question that current copyright regimes linger way too long: so here also the problem is not long-dead Borges, who couldn't care less (or, as Sdrigotti suggests, might even approve) but rather his estate -- in the form of the widow Kodama and her enabler, estate-handler Andrew Wylie.
       It might not be the worst thing if they threw the book at this guy and jailed him; over-the-top punishment might raise public awareness of how sillily extreme copyright laws have become and might help pare them back to more reasonable levels.

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25. Covers of ... books by South Asian women writers

       At Scroll.in Lisa Lau explores Why do so many books by South Asian women writers have the same kind of covers ?
       Among the embarrassing observations:

We also compared those covers published for a Western marketplace and for an Indian marketplace, and flagged up the differences. The divergences are considerable, as one might expect. (Those for the Indian market were far less traditional, conservative, and exoticised; they tended to be more contemporary, playful, modernised.) We surmised target audiences, and social messages being conveyed by covering books with such images, and discussed what identity constructions were being offered and encouraged, and where.
       As always, the cover-debate escapes me: for me it's always: as basic, unembellished as possible -- the French and German uniform unillustrated looks (Gallimard, Éditions de Minuit, P.O.L.; some of those Suhrkamp series, the pocket-sized yellow Reclam texts) being, of course, my ideal.

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