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1. Reading Kundera in Central Europe

       At Eurozine they reprint a piece by Jonathan Bousfield from New Eastern Europe, Growing up in Kundera's Central Europe, in which he discusses how Milan Kundera's concept of Central Europe (and his writing) influenced three writers from the area -- from Czechoslovakia (Tomáš Zmeškal, "of mixed Czech and Congolese descent"), Yugoslavia (Miljenko Jergović, several of whose works have been translated into English), and the Soviet Union/Ukraine (The Moscoviad-author Yuri Andrukhovych) -- three countries that no longer have the same contours as they did when these authors were growing up, or even after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

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2. Fiona McCrae Q & A

       At Guernica Jonathan Lee has a Q & A with Graywolf Press-publisher Fiona McCrae, The Art of Independent Publishing.
       She worked at Faber during interesting times, too, and describes the pleasant surprise that was the success of Per Petterson's Out Stealing Horses.

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3. 124 entries for Nigeria Prize for Literature

       The closing date for entries for this year's Nigeria Prize for Literature was 31 March, and they've now announced (though not yet at the official site ...) that there were 124 entries; see, for example, the This Day report.
       The prize rotates through four genres, and this year it's drama; the winner will receive US $100,000.
       To "encourage literary criticism" there's also a literary criticism prize, "open to literary critics from all over the world" (as long as the criticism is of Nigerian literature). Here the prize-sum is given in the local currency -- presumably since 1,000,000 naira sounds more impressive than its US dollar equivalent (less than $6200).

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4. New Asymptote

       The April issue of Asymptote is now out -- and worth your while, top to bottom. Nevertheless, a few of the highlights:

       But don't overlook the rest, either !

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5. Best Translated Book Awards - poetry finalists

       As a judge for the fiction category for the Best Translated Book Awards (and, let's face it, someone whose reading is entirely dominated by fiction (as I noted recently, 91 of the past 100 titles reviewed at the complete review were of works of fiction)) I focus almost exclusively on that half of the BTBA (see also yesterday's mention) -- but, of course, there's also a poetry half to the BTBA, and the finalists for that were also announced yesterday.
       I've only even seen one of these -- but that one is under review at the complete review: The Unknown University by Roberto Bolaño.

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6. Don Bartlett Q & A

       At the World Literature Today weblog Sarah Smith has a Q & A with translator (of Knausgaard, among others) Don Bartlett, Translating Norway's Love of Literature.

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7. Best Translated Book Award shortlist

       The Best Translated Book Award shortlist will be announced today at 10:00 AM (EST); this post will be updated around then with the list and some commentary.

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8. Pulitzer Prizes

       They've announced this year's Pulitzer Prizes.
       The fiction prize went to The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, which beat out The Son by Philipp Meyer and The Woman Who Lost Her Soul by Bob Shacochis.

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9. Knausgaard coverage

       Karl Ove Knausgaard and his multi-volume My Struggle epic (see reviews of volumes one and two, with more to follow) is getting a nice lot of attention.
       In the US the series is coming out in hardcover from Archipelago Books, with Farrar, Straus and Giroux then publishing each volume in paperback.
       Archipelago prints their copies in a more or less uniform look, boxy books with a cover design like this:

My Struggle I - Archipelago


       The FSG paperbacks were originally designed (and the first one published) as:

My Struggle I - FSG     My Struggle II - FSG


       Universally reviled and ridiculed -- and presumably not selling as well as hoped for -- FSG appears to have had a change of heart -- and cover-designer. The first three volumes now look like this:

My Struggle I - FSG    My Struggle II - FSG    My Struggle III - FSG


       Looks a bit more promising .....
       (But if you got a copy of the original FSG-volume one paperback, hold onto it -- collector's edition !)

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10. New Swedish Book Review

       The 2014:1 Issue of the Swedish Book Review is now available online, including a whole bunch of reviews -- including of the most recent book by The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared-author Jonas Jonasson, Analfabeten som kunde räkna (which, disappointingly, will apparently be titled The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden in English); Kevin Halliwell finds him mining: "once more the material of his earlier work to produce another entertaining, Fieldingesque romp" (I think I might pass.)

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11. Why I Killed My Best Friend review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Amanda Michalopoulou's Why I Killed My Best Friend, just out from Open Letter.

       (Oddly, of the last four books I've reviewed, three have some form of 'kill' in their title (even more oddly, the one book that doesn't is the only real mystery/thriller among them ...); I'm not quite sure what to read into that.)

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12. Svenska Akademiens nordiska pris

       The Swedish Academy (the folks that decide who gets the Nobel Prize, among others) announced a month ago that Lars Gustafsson would be getting their Nordic Prize, and the ceremony was held on Wednesday, Gustafsson picking up his 350,000 kronor prize (a bit more than $53,000 at the current exchange rate). Previous winners include Purge-author Sofi Oksanen (last year) and Per Olov Enquist (2010).
       At his weblog Swedish Academy permanent secretary Peter Englund writes about the event, while in Svenska Dagbladet Per Wästberg has a nice tribute, Hos Lars Gustafsson är gåtan svaret.

       New Directions brought out a pile of Gustafsson's works but seem to have lost interest -- a shame. He deserves more and continued attention.

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13. Writing in ... Norway

       Evan Hughes recently published a profile of My Struggle (etc.) author Karl Ove Knausgaard in The New Republic and now follows that up with a wide-eyed report on how wonderful the literary situation in Norway is, The Norwegian Government Keeps Book Publishers Alive.
       It's always fun to read Americans writing about state support in other nations for ... well, almost everything (even outrageous things like ... health care !), but especially the arts.
       The Norwegian situation is a bit unusual -- they have even more money to play with than most countries (and, unlike most of the other oil-rich nations, are more convincingly democratic, and less corrupt ...), but a lot of this sort of support, direct and indirect, is common elsewhere too. And some things surely are less than ideal -- such as: "The leading bookstore chains in Norway are owned by the major publishing companies".

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14. Ozick on Reiner Stach on Kafka

       In The New Republic the great Cynthia Ozick writes on the first two volumes of Reiner Stach's Kafka-biography (the third volume, covering his early years, is apparently nearing completion), in How Kafka Actually Lived -- well worth a read.
       While I agree with much that she says -- and admire the way she puts it -- I'm not not fully on board with all her raging against the term 'Kafkaesque'. As she notes, "it has by now escaped the body of work it is meant to evoke" -- and that's exactly how I see it: it seems perfectly fine (if admittedly a bit confusing) to me if treated as such: I find 'Kafkaesque' a useful shorthand in describing some writing and situations, but when I do I never mean anything to do with Kafka; so, also, Kafka's own writing doesn't seem in the least 'Kafkaesque' to me and I would never call it that.

       For the Stach-volumes (which I have, and hope to get to):

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15. LA Times Book Prize winners

       They announced the winners of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes on Friday.

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16. Kamila Shamsie profile

       In The Guardian Natalie Hanman profiles Kamila Shamsie.
       Of particular interest:

She is scathing about what she sees as a lack of rage in the fiction coming out of the world's superpower, a country with such a tangled involvement -- both past and present -- in the region she comes from. "I am deeply critical of American writers for their total failure to engage with the American empire. It's a completely shocking failure, not of any individual writer ... but it's the strangest thing to look around and say, 'Where is the American writer writing about America in Afghanistan, America in Pakistan ?'. At a deep level, there is a lack of reckoning."

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17. Up and coming, out of Russia ?

       At Russia Beyond the Headlines Phoebe Taplin considers what she terms Future legends of Russian literature at the London Book Fair.
       A lot of names bandied about, and among the most interesting is Eugene Vodolazkin -- see also the Banke, Goumen & Smirnova information page, as well as Lizok's Bookshelf's review of his Лавр (apparently coming to English soon).
       Given that even what should have been a very impressive one-two punch by Mikhail Shishkin of Maidehair and The Light and the Dark barely seems to have even registered in the US/UK I think contemporary Russian fiction still has quite the uphill climb -- and I don't know that any of the authors mentioned here will help make much of a dent either.

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18. How's the Pain ? review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Pascal Garnier's How's the Pain ?.
       Gallic Books brought this out in the UK in 2012, and now it's finally also coming to the US -- and let's hope the flood of Garnier titles continues, because these are damn fine books.

       Also a nice touch: translator Emily Boyce is described as the: "in-house translator for Gallic Books". Every publisher should have an in-house translator !
       (Of course, less nice, still: the translation copyright is in Gallic Books' name, not Boyce's .....)

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19. Prizes: Magnesia Litera

       The Czech Magnesia Litera awards have been handed out, and as Jan Richter reports at Radio Praha, Guide to wartime Prague wins top literary award, as the non-fiction category winner, the unusual Průvodce protektorátní Prahou by Jiří Padevět also took book of the year honors.
       The fiction category winner was Skutečná událost, by Of Kids & Parents-author Emil Hakl; see also the (Czech) Argo publicity page.
       The translation category winner was Robert Svoboda's translation of Esterházy Péter's Celestial Harmonies (get your copy of the English translation at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk).

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20. Prize: Gyldendalprisen

       The Gyldendalprisen, a Norwegian award for significant writing in any genre, has been awarded to Øyvind Rimbereid; see, for example, the report, Poet wins prestigious literature prize.
       The previous two winners were Karl Ove Knausgård and Per Petterson, and other winners include Dag Solstad (1996), Jon Fosse (1999), and Tomas Espedal (2009), so it certainly has a good track record. The 400,000 kroner prize -- US$67,428 at the current exchange rate -- isn't bad either.

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21. Indonesia prepares for Frankfurt

       Indonesia will be the 2015 Guest of Honour at the Frankfurt Book Fair, and in the Jakarta Post Niken Prathivi considers Frankfurt Book Fair 2015: How serious is Indonesia in promoting its culture, literature ?
       Among the news:

So far, we've translated 61 titles -- there are about 40 to go. We're optimistic that every title will be ready by next year
       Sounds good.
       Less good:
Even so, Wandi is realistic. "Most publishers overseas still look down on Indonesian books. Only books from great and famous authors, like Pramoedya Ananta Toer, get their attention."
       And pretty disappointing to hear (from Kate Griffin, international programme director for the British Centre for Literary Translation):
"In the UK, we are generally not as adventurous and open to other literary styles as other European countries. Crime fiction in translation is popular, as is straightforward storytelling, but not so much literary experiments.

"This means that UK publishers are often quite cautious in what they choose to translate, selecting titles that don't stray too far from the taste of UK readers and familiar literary styles. They might focus on genres such as crime, or big family sagas, to be sure that there is an audience," she said.
       Sigh.
       Meanwhile, see the official sites, Indonesia @Frankfurt Book Fair and Indonesia goes Frankfurt 2015.

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22. Killing the Second Dog review

       The most recent addition to the complete review is my review of Marek Hłasko's Killing the Second Dog, a re-issue from New Vessel Press (they're following up later this year with All Backs were Turned -- Cane Hill Press first brought these translations out some two decades ago).

       Amusing Killing the Second Dog trivia: in 1995 the New York Daily News reported:

Fresh from his Outbreak box office success, Dustin Hoffman has bought the rights to Killing the Second Dog, Marek Hlasko's novel about a gigolo in Israel who preys on rich American women
       Too bad that never made it to the screen -- it definitely has screen potential, and some prime acting roles.

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23. Guggenheim fellowships

       They've announced the 2014 (US and Canadian) Guggenheim fellows -- 178 of them (from almost 3000 applicants).
       As always, lots of writers -- and a few translators, notably Susan Bernofsky for two Robert Walser works.

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24. Writing from ... (North) Korea

       Korean writing has been increasingly visible in English in recent years (with lots of help from the LTI Korea), with more titles being published in translation -- especially in Dalkey Archive Press' Library of Korean Literature -- and just now there's been a Korea Market Focus at the just-concluded London Book Fair.
       Of course, pretty much all of this is South Korean literature (and the part that's not tends to be pre-divided Korean ...), i.e. there's not much heard or word from North Korea. Insights of any sort remain rare -- see, for example, Sonia Ryang's Reading North Korea -- but it's good to see at least some discussion of the subject around the LBF events.
       At Publishing Perspectives Olivia Snaije reports on Yi Mun-Yol on Allegory and Naked North Korean Writing, as Yi (see my reviews of Our Twisted Hero and The Poet, among others) addressed the subject:

He said there was almost zero literary output coming from North Korea, and that in the case of the few non-fiction books that make their way to South Korea, "even though the language is the same, we can't identify with them. The forms and mechanisms are completely unfamiliar. We feel like we're reading South Korean books from 50 years ago."
       (North Korean non-fiction sounds particularly uninteresting, but surely there's some fiction that trickles out, no ?)
       Apparently speaking about North Korean exiles now writing in the South:
While he finds North Korean authors' stories very interesting, unfortunately South Koreans don't appear to be responsive to what they have to say, remarked Yi Mun-yol.
       Meanwhile, at PEN Atlas Shirley Lee reports on North Korean love poetry (and wouldn't it be great to see an anthology of that stuff ?).

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25. Mansoura Ez-Eldin Q & A

       At Qantara.de Arian Fariborz has a Q & A with Mansoura Ez-Eldin about the literary situation in Egypt these past few years.
       Ez-Eldin's story, Gothic Night, is available online. I have a copy of Maryam's Maze and will try to get a review up soon; meanwhile, see the American University in Cairo Press publicity page, or get your copy at Amazon.com or Amazon.co.uk.

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