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1. Miles Franklin Award longlist

       They've announced the longlist for the 2015 Miles Franklin Literary Award, one of the leading Australian book prizes. It includes Elizabeth Harrower's long unpublished In Certain Circles (which I hope to be getting to soon).
       See also, for example, Stephen Romei's report in The Australian.

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2. Writing in ... Zambia

       In the Times of Zambia Davies M.M. Chanda complains that Zambian Literary Works Below Par.
       Yes, because you probably hadn't noticed:

I am hereby announcing the bad news that Zambia is shamefully entering the other half of the century without producing a Ngugi or Achebe.
       (That's the other half of the century of Zambian independence Chanda is referring to .....)
       Not terribly encouraging -- but not particularly helpful either, I fear. But, hey, at least they aren't yammering about not having won the Nobel yet ..... Read the rest of this post

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3. The Queen's Caprice review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Jean Echenoz's The Queen's Caprice, forthcoming from The New Press.

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4. Translating from ... Kannada

       Via I'm pointed to the interesting Six lessons on translating the untranslatable at Scroll.in by Susheela Punitha, the translator of U.R.Ananthamurthy's Bharathipura -- her first translation.

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5. Matchbox Theatre review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Thirty Short Entertainments by Michael Frayn, Matchbox Theatre.

       While Faber & Faber brought out the UK edition last year, the US edition just came out from slightly less well-known Valancourt Books. They apparently specialize in: "the rediscovery of rare, neglected, and out-of-print fiction" -- and with five early Frayn novels coming up, along with this, are certainly doing something right.

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6. Spring issue of New Books in German

       The Spring 2015 issue of New Books in German is now available online, with reviews of new books (and some 'Forgotten Gems' -- some of which are already available in translation) and a variety of other features.
       The review section introduces a decent selection of new titles -- and great to see that, for example, the Nino Haratischwili already has a UK publisher (I have a copy but haven't gotten around to covering yet -- 1280 pp. is no misprint, but, yes, it impresses).

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7. The Librarian review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Mikhail Elizarov's The Librarian, winner of the 2008 Russian Booker Prize and just out in English from Pushkin Press.

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8. Tomas Tranströmer (1931-2015)

       2011 Nobel laureate Tomas Tranströmer has passed away; see, for example, The New York Times' obituary.

       Only one of his titles is under review at the complete review: Memories Look at Me.

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9. Tom McCarthy Q & A

       The Globe and Mail has a short Q & A with Tom McCarthy (Remainder, etc.).
       Fun to see him rag of Thomas Hardy.

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10. Dorthe Nors on short-story-form

       Karate Chop-author Dorthe Nors 'reflects on the beauty of the short story form' at PEN Atlas, in A form close to home.
       I've always been a novel-man, through and through, but I'm surprised to find my lack of interest in the story-form has actually increased recently. I can appreciate the qualities of Nors' collection, but I can't say it really engaged me; indeed, very little story-writing has, ever. In part -- especially in recent decades -- it's a reaction to/lack of interest in the horribly dominant MFA/Carver-Lish school of writing -- all too polished, all too simple, all too reduced -- but even beyond that, stories tend generally, in some (or many) way(s), not to be enough for me (unless, of course, the reduction is complete and absolute: Heiner Müller's Herzstück (arguably a drama ?) likely would make my list of ten favorite works of literature). Those that do impress tend to be strongly concept-based: Borges' Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote is probably the story that has most impressed me/had the most lasting effect; Queneau's Exercises in Style is among the few top-rated ("A+") books at the complete review; the last story-writer I really got excited about was Krzhizhanovsky (Memories of the Future, etc.); probably the last collection I was really impressed by was Ogawa Yoko's Revenge, which I've insisted from the beginning is a novel, not a story collection .....
       Anyway, it's something I want to examine more closely at some point.

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11. Latvijas Literatūras gada finalists

       They've announced the finalists for the Latvijas Literatūras gada -- the Latvian Literary Awards.
       Always interesting to see what the local talent is doing (among the names: Inga Ābele, whose High Tide has been published in English by Open Letter) and also what the top translations into the local language are (a Curzio Malaparte and Josef Škvorecký's The Engineer of Human Souls, among others).
       The winners will be announced 24 April.

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12. Translating from ... Chinese

       At The Millions Barclay Bram Shoemaker writes on Literary Prowess Lost: On Mo Yan's 'Frog' and the Trouble with Translation -- well worth a look.
       Get your copy of Frog at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

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13. Uday Prakash Q & A

       At Music & Literature translator Jason Grunebaum has A Conversation with Uday Prakash.

       The two Grunebaum-translated works available in English are under review at the complete review: The Girl with the Golden Parasol and The Walls of Delhi.

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14. Hohenemser Literaturpreis

       They've announced this year's winner of the biennial Hohenemser Literaturpreis, a prize for German-writing authors whose mother tongue is not German, and this year the €10,000 prize will go to Que Du Luu; she will pick up her prize on 27 June.
       Her (still unpublished) text 'Das Fest des ersten Morgens' was selected from 75 entries -- neat to see so many writers with other mother tongues writing in German.

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15. Peter Pišt'anek (1960-2015)

       Very sad to hear that Slovak author Peter Pišt'anek is dead, having reportedly: "left the world in silence and voluntarily"; see, for example, the report in The Slovak Spectator.
       His Rivers of Babylon-trilogy is very good and deserves to be far better-known than it is; all three volumes are under review at the complete review:

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16. Premio Alfaguara de Novela

       They've announced the winner of this year's Premio Alfaguara de Novela -- not the biggest Spanish-language book prize, but at US$175,000 and with a solid list of previous winners, certainly worth paying some attention to. The winning title was: Contigo en la distancia, by Chilean author Carla Guelfenbein; see, for example, the report in El País, where it is described as: "una historia sobre los recovecos del talento y del amor".
       Never mind the Man Booker Prize-dwarfing payout: there were 707 entries -- some five times what the Man Booker deigns to consider .....
       Her novel The Rest is Silence did come out from Portobello Books a couple of years ago; see their publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

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17. Orwell Prize longlists

       They've announced the Orwell Prize longlists -- which includes the twelve-title book-prize longlist. (The prize(s) are apparently: "Britain's most prestigious prize for political writing".)
       One of the titles is actually under review at the complete review, In the Light of What We Know, by Zia Haider Rahman.

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18. The Knight and His Shadow review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Boubacar Boris Diop's The Knight and His Shadow.
       Diop will be part of the PEN World Voices Festival in New York in May, and it's great to see this book available in time for that.
       The Knight and His Shadow is also the first (and currently only) in Michigan State University Press' new African Humanities and the Arts-series; it's a very good start, and I look forward to seeing how the series develops.

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19. Publishing in ... South Korea

       In The Korea Herald Ahn Sung-mi reports on Voicing diversity through books, noting that while the state of bookselling in South Korea seems to be worrisome, independent publishing is flourishing.

The number of registered publishers has grown to 42,000 from 16,000 in 2000, while the bookstores suffered a sharp decline -- in 1994, there were 5,683 bookshops in the country, but only 1,625 remain.

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20. The Folio Prize

       They've announced the winner of the 2015 Folio Prize, the £40,000 alternative-Man Booker "open to all works of fiction written in English and published in the UK", and it's Family Life (by Akhil Sharma); see, for example, the report in The Bookseller (as there is no word up yet at the official site as I write this ...).

       The winning title is not under review at the complete review (and I strongly suspect it's not something I'll get to anytime soon), but see the publicity pages at Faber and W.W.Norton, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

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21. Supernova review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Dewi Lestari's Supernova: The Knight, the Princess and the Falling Star.

       With Indonesia the guest of honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair this fall, Indonesian literature should be more in the news (and bookstores) and I am trying to get a few more titles in before then -- and the Lontar Modern Library of Indonesia is a great place to start (this is a volume in that series).
       On top of that, the film adaptation of Supernova -- see the trailer ! -- just came out a few months ago. (Yeah, just domestically; it's not playing at the local cineplex yet.)

       This is an interesting example of local(ized) literature: despite being (technically) available in English for a few years now, it probably hasn't sold very many copies in the US/UK, and I assume it's the first time you've heard of it. But apparently it sold 14,000 copies in its first two weeks of Indonesian publication -- "the fastest-selling Indonesian novel to date" -- with this and the two (still untranslated) sequels selling some 200,000 by the time this book appeared in English. (Not many copies by US/UK publishing standards, but a very big deal in Indonesia.)
       As to author Dewi Lestari -- let's face it, if you're not one of my Indonesian readers, you've never heard of her. (Okay, the complete review's readership is very knowledgeable, so there probably are two or three non-Indonesians among you who have, but otherwise .....) Yet Lestari has 1.11 million Twitter-followers -- more than almost any author under review at the complete review, I suspect. (By comparison: Stephen King has 671,000; Margaret Atwood 726,000, and even Salman Rushdie just 956,000.)

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22. The last 100 reviews

       Another hundred titles reviewed at the complete review, as we're up to (and now already beyond) 3500 -- so it's time again to break down the numbers.

       - Reviews 3401-3500 were covered over the course of 172 days (previous hundred: 181).

       - The reviews total 86,979 words (previous: 92,723); the longest review was 3055 words.

       - Books originally written in 28 different languages were reviewed. Stunningly, English was only the fourth-most popular language -- it's always been first or second. Two new languages were added: Maltese and Irish.
       The most common languages reviewed books were written in:

  • 1. French 30
  • 2. Japanese 8
  • 3. Spanish 7
  • 4. English 6
  • -. German 6
       (For the complete breakdown of languages of reviewed titles, see, as always our overview and the complete language list.)

       - As always, fiction dominated: 79 novels and 5 volumes of stories. Three volumes of poetry were reviewed, but not a single play.

       - Only a single 2015 title was reviewed, and six from 2014. (Remember: it's year of original publication: for translations (i.e. basically everything, this time around ...) that means whenever the books was first published in the language it was written in.) The most popular decades pre-1990 were the 1960s and 1920s, with six titles each. There were five nineteenth-century titles, and two from the eighteenth century.

       - The stubborn (well, you probably have a different word for it by now ...) male-female divide looks to be as deeply ingrained as ever: at 85 male-authored titles and a mere 15 by women the historic average was pretty much maintained (indeed, it didn't budge from 15.29 per cent; see the complete breakdown).
       The usual (pseudo-)excuses apply -- led by the fact that the sex-divide in translated works is also pretty bad (anecdotally averages seem to come in pretty consistently at 3:1 male) -- but I am a bit surprised. It doesn't feel like I'm reviewing that few, but the numbers tell a very different story.
       That said, this time around I'm even more shocked by how few written-in-English titles I got to: 15 books written by women is a dismal total; a mere 6 books written in English borders on the absurd. I know I concentrate on foreign fiction, but that's always been the case, and this is way fewer than I've ever managed; I have no idea what happened here

       Here's hoping that the next 100 aren't quite as Francophone-sexist (but still as fiction-focused -- that bias I'm completely fine with).

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23. Man Booker International Prize finalists

       They've announced the ten finalists for the biennial Man Booker International Prize (previously won by Lydia Davis (2013), Philip Roth (2011), Alice Munro (2009), Chinua Achebe (2007), and Ismail Kadaré (2005)).
       They are -- along with their titles under review at the complete review:

       It's an interestingly varied list -- and it's particularly nice to see that so many authors writing in languages other than English are being considered, especially since in the first year they were far more insistent about that 'available-in-English'-requirement: recall that 2005 judge Alberto Manguel reported that they had to limit themselves to: "authors who remained fortuitously available" (in print, in English translation) that year, and for that reason "had to delete" from consideration authors including: Peter Handke, Antonio Lobo Antunes, Michel Tournier, and Christa Wolf (despite their books surely being as readily available in English in 2005 as several of the 2015 authors' books are today ...).

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24. Walter Scott Prize shortlist

       They've announced the shortlist for the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction.
       I like the prize-premise, and there are some big names left in the running -- though none are under review at the complete review yet.

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25. Russian literature

       Rather (over-)dramatically, Owen Matthews asks: Is Russian Literature Dead ? at Foreign Policy.
       The focus turns out to be more on the dismal sales-figures of -- and limited public interest in -- contemporary Russian literature abroad. Of course, Matthews sets the bar rather high, noting, for example, that since The Gulag Archipelago "no Russian writer has enjoyed true breakout American celebrity". Well, yeah ... but given the limited number of foreign authors who achieved that (sure, Roberto Bolaño, Karl Ove Knausgaard ... but there really aren't that many) maybe the measure of success should be slightly more down to earth.
       Matthews does note that quite a bit is at least being translated and published abroad, and even mentions some titles -- but apparently nothing is flying off any shelves. And, he suggests:

For all their virtue, though, modern Russian works may never satisfy the nostalgia that Americans harbor for the crowd-pleasing grandeur of bygone writers' novels.
       Again, maybe not the ideal measure .....

       After quite a stretch in the doldrums, Russian literature and Russian literature in translation seem -- at least to me -- resurgent. I note, for example, that among the titles eligible for this year's Best Translated Book Award (whose longlist will be announced in less than two weeks ...) are surely-longlist-worthy titles such as:        (Whether any (or many, or all of them) actually made the BTBA longlist ... well, you'll just have to wait and see.)
       The fact that there have been no real breakout-authors (well, aside from Boris Akunin) might be vaguely meaningful, but a lot of modern Russian fiction is spreading abroad -- with worthwhile authors including Sorokin, Ulitskaya, Pelevin, Tatyana Tolstaya, Bykov, and Gelasimov regularly getting published in English -- which seems to be the important thing. Regrettably, however, their lack of name-recognition and popularity is also just more evidence that literature (from anywhere) in translation doesn't really sell, except in relatively rare cases.

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