The Independent Foreign Fiction Prize longlist was announced this morning, and is pretty spectacular. As you’ll find out on Tuesday, four of the books on the IFFP longlist are also on the BTBA longlist. (Which may seem small, but a number of these—The Detour, The Sound of Things Falling—have yet to be published/distributed in America, and thus aren’t yet BTBA eligible.)
Anyway, here’s a chunk of Boyd Tonkin’s great write-up on this year’s list:
Every year, the balance of the books that reach this antepenultimate round shifts. This time, central and eastern Europe shines: Pawel Huelle’s wryly delightful Polish stories; Ismail Kadare’s commanding Albanian history-cum-fable; Laszlo Krasznahorkai’s black-comic dystopia from rural Hungary; Dasa Drndic’s tragic family drama in north-eastern Italy, and the camps further east, under German rule.
We also showcase two different faces of Africa: the no-man’s-land between South Africa and Mozambique depicted in Chris Barnard’s ideas-rich adventure; and the remembered Congo that haunts the jesting barflies in Alain Mabanckou’s Paris. A trio of major contenders from past years re-appear: Turkey’s Orhan Pamuk, Italy’s Diego Marani, and Colombia’s Juan Gabriel Vásquez. We visit the Assads’ tyrannous Syria, (Khaled Khalifa), investigate a Danish killing (Pia Juul), and learn dark Norwegian family secrets (Karl Ove Knausgaard).
Our long-listed authors also travel far and wide. Andrés Neuman, Argentinian-born, creates a Romantic-era town in Germany; Dutch Gerbrand Bakker despatches a heroine to rural Wales; in France, Laurent Binet re-imagines Nazi Prague; Enrique Vila-Matas sends a Barcelona publisher to literary Dublin. The Republic of Letters has no border controls. So join this mind-expanding tour – and bon voyage.
This year’s judging panel is as impressive as ever. Joining Boyd in this nearly impossible task is Frank Wynne, Elif Shafak, Gabriel Josipovici, and Jean Boase-Beier. Good luck—it’s going to be tough to pick a winner from this list.
To get on with it, here’s the complete 15-title longlist:
Gerbrand Bakker: The Detour (translated by David Colmer from the Dutch), and published by Harvill Secker
Chris Barnard: Bundu (Michiel Heyns; Afrikaans), Alma Books
Laurent Binet: HHhH (Sam Taylor; French), Harvill Secker
Dasa Drndic: Trieste (Ellen Elias-Bursac; Croatian), MacLehose Press
Pawel Huelle: Cold Sea Stories (Antonia Lloyd-Jones; Polish), Comma Press
Pia Juul: The Murder of Halland (Martin Aitken; Danish), Peirene Press
Ismail Kadare: The Fall of the Stone City (John Hodgson; Albanian), Canongate
Khaled Khalifa: In Praise of Hatred (Leri Price; Arabic), Doubleday
Karl Ove Knausgaard: A Death in the Family (Don Bartlett; Norwegian), Harvill Secker
Laszlo Krasznahorkai: Satantango (George Szirtes; Hungarian), Tuskar Rock
Alain Mabanckou: Black Bazaar (Sarah Ardizzone; French), Serpent’s Tail
Diego Marani: The Last of the Vostyachs (Judith Landry; Italian), Dedalus
Andrés Neuman: Traveller of the Century (Nick Caistor & Lorenza Garcia; Spanish), Pushkin Press
Orhan Pamuk: Silent House (Robert Finn; Turkish), Faber
Juan Gabriel Vásquez: The Sound of Things Falling (Anne McLean; Spanish), Bloomsbury
Enrique Vila-Matas: Dublinesque (Rosalind Harvey & Anne McLean; Spanish), Harvill Secker
Four works from Latin American writers appeared on the long-list; three still figure here. If the Southern Cone ever went away as a heartland and hotbed of excellence in modern fiction (which I doubt), it has returned in triumph. Yet this trio – Alberto Barrera Tyszka from Venezuela; Santiago Roncagliolo from Peru; Marcelo Figueras from Argentina – defies all generalisation. From hard-boiled political thriller to eerie family fable to child’s-eye recollection of a risky adult world, they traverse an Andean range of forms. Almost half a century after the original “boom” of the 1960s began to reverberate around the literary world, it makes no more sense to issue glib edicts about the nature of the continent’s fiction than it would for Europe or North America. Prosperity means complexity, in art as in life. [. . .]
This prize rewards the double-act of author and translator. In the other half of that equation, our shortlist is graced by some of the most talented practioners at work today. One of them, Edith Grossman, recently published her own robust, even combative, defence of her metier in a manifesto entitled Why Translation Matters (Yale, £10.99). Read it for a sinew-stiffening call to arms. Grossman will leave you in no doubt that a culture that neglects translation will starve for want of nourishment – yes, even one that speaks English. A cut-down, creolised version of our language may now help the world to do business. It does not (and no one language ever could) begin to tell us the full story behind the planet’s other lives.
That’s why translation matters. This shortlist delivers a sample of those stories, and those lives, in the most pleasurable of ways. For these books all speak fluent human.
Check out the “full article”: for more on the Prize, and for short write-ups of all six books.
Last Thursday the publishing news of
month year century broke with the announcement that the Andrew Wylie Literary Agency (one of the largest, most powerful, most intimidated, most unscrupulous literary agencies out there) had launched Odyssey Editions so they could publish ebook editions of a number of backlist titles by the best-selling Wylie represents, such as Midnight’s Children, Invisible Man, Lolita, Portnoy’s Complaint, Borges’s Ficciones, Brideshead Revisited, and many more.
Approximately 5 minutes after this was announced the entire book world went a little bit apeshit.
I’m not entirely sure how I feel about this, although it is sort of a wet dream for anyone really interested in the future of the business of publishing . . . To an outside reader, this might seem pretty mundane—suddenly some famous books are available for the Kindle—but it’s actually a very layered story, the ramifications of which will be playing out for months and months to come.
Maybe the easiest way to unpack this is to go through each of the parties involved and look at their level of pissed. And there’s no better place to start than Random House.
Frequent readers of this blog are most likely aware of my skepticism with regard to the big corporate commercial publishing model. These presses do amazing, fantastic books—immediate case in point is David Mitchell’s The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet—but I can’t say I’m a big fan of the way they rely on the blockbuster model, on producing more and more books to outrace returns, etc., etc. There’s no need to rehash all the “This is the End of Publishing! We’re all gonna die!” lines of thought, but it’s worth pointing out that ebooks are one of the crucial issues—how much they’ll sell for, what royalties should be, how this could jack a press’s cash flow, and so on.
From a publisher’s perspective, Wylie’s move is pretty much a direct assault. First off, there’s the whole question of whether this is even legal. Prior to the advent of ebooks, contracts would usually assign a publisher the right to “print, publish, and sell the work in book form,” which, pretty typical when it comes to book contracts, is a bit vague. I don’t know exactly what’s in a Random House contract, but obviously royalties rates for hardcover and paperback editions are stated, as are any and all subrights, such as splits for film or foreign sales. But what’s missing from most all of these is any mention of ebooks. Who really knew this would be an issue? And besides, doesn’t “book form” include electronic versions? It’s still a book, right?
At least that’s the line of argument that most publishers try and promote. Little problem is that almost ten years ago, before the Kindle was a glimmer in Jeff Bezos’s eye, Random House filed an injunction against the epublisher Rosetta Books, claiming that Rosetta had violated Random’s rights by publishing e-versions of a number of Random House titles. Unfortunately—for Random—they lost. (Here’s another summary of the case.)
This test case established that unless specifically noted in a contract, an author owns the ebook rights to their works. Therefore, the estates technically control ebook rights for all of these classic titles that Wylie represents, thus allowing him to either a) sell the ebook rights to the highest bidder or b) simply publish them himself.
When I was in France last fall for the study trip, this issue came up once or twice. Our trip took place shortly after Jane Friedman had launched Open Road Media and had bought the ebooks rights to a bunch of William Styron titles out from under Random House. A few of the big publishing people who were on the trip argued that rights situation aside, this was really offensive, since [insert publisher here] made all the original investments to promote these titles and help establish them as “important works.”
And it is true that Wylie is riding a bit on the coattails of those who came before him. Does Odyssey need a marketing budget to promote The Adventures of Augie March? Fuck and no. It’s Saul Bellow for Christ’s sake. Just let people know it exists and that’s good enough. (At the moment the sales ranking for the Odyssey edition of Lolita is #577.)
So, insulted, irritated, and whatever, Random House issued a missive against Wylie, including this awesome section:
The Wylie Agency’s decision to sell e-books exclusively to Amazon for titles which are subject to active Random House agreements undermines our longstanding commitments to and investments in our authors, and it establishes this Agency as our direct competitor. Therefore, regrettably, Random House on a worldwide basis will not be entering into any new English-language business agreements with the Wylie Agency until this situation is resolved.
Maybe New Directions will be able to retain the rights to all the Bolano books they’ve been publishing . . .
Oh, and yeah, if I didn’t mention it before, Odyssey books are only available through Amazon. Which pissed off a few other groups of people, including independent bookstores and readers who don’t use a Kindle.
Michael Orthofer has a great post about this whole situation that touches on the Amazon-exclusive issue. In many ways, this is unfortunate, but whatever. I’m not entirely sure Wylie is really trying to “reach readers” at all—this seems more like a provocation to increase ebook royalties while making a little quick money for some of his big time authors.
On the independent bookstore front, Square Books in Oxford, MS, put together a Wylie World display featuring books that are “not for sale”:
Amazon manufactures a reading device, the “kindle,” which requires its owners to buy digital merchandise exclusively from Amazon – a bit like our selling you books that you could read only by using the bedside lamp you must also purchase from us. And this would be the only way you could read these books. Wylie’s authors’ electronic books will be available only via the kindle, only via Amazon, a soiling of first amendment principles that many of the agency’s authors, such as Arthur Miller and Salman Rushdie, have fought so hard to protect.
As you look at this display, we encourage you to think about the ramifications of this effort to vertically integrate the book industry and limit or exclude access to information and free expression. And, as always, we encourage you to support independent booksellers everywhere. Together we can let books live.
Again, not breaking news that indie stores are in trouble and that ebooks are disruptive to their (struggling) business model as well. But this display illustrates the level of pissed that’s going on at both of the key players in this deal. Publishers have their own issues with Amazon and seem a bit more focused on Wylie, the rights issue, the possibility that other agents could do something similar . . .
Or, other agents could at least start demanding higher royalty rates for ebooks. Enter stage right—the Authors Guild, who issued an interesting statement that has four main points: 1) yes yes yes authors control their ebook rights and publishers can suck it, 2) it’s scary when an agent becomes a publisher, 3) exclusive deal with Amazon equals bad, and 4) this is all a result of stingy publishers:
To a large extent, publishers have brought this on themselves. This storm has long been gathering. Literary agencies have refused to sign e-rights deals for countless backlist books with traditional publishers, even though they and their clients, no doubt, see real benefits in having a single publisher handle the print and electronic rights to a book. Knowledgeable authors and agents, however, are well aware that e-book royalty rates of 25% of net proceeds are exceedingly low and contrary to the long-standing practice of authors and publishers to, effectively, split evenly the net proceeds of book sales.
Bargain-basement e-book royalty rates will not last. Low e-book royalty rates will, as e-book sales become increasingly important, emerge as a dealbreaker for authors with negotiating leverage. Publishers will, inevitably, agree to reasonable royalties rather than lose their bestselling authors to more generous rivals and startups. We suspect publishers are well aware of this and are postponing the unavoidable because it seems to make sense in the short run. We believe this is short-sighted.
(My absolute favorite line from this release: “A major agency starting a publishing company is weird, no matter how you look at it.” Yeah. Totally weird.)
Who knows what’s really going to happen with all of this. As Boyd Tonkin stated in this post, “Wylie aims to provoke, and to annoy. He has done both.” These ebook concerns have been brewing for a long time (the Rosetta thing is ten years old, the Authors Guild has been bitching about ebook royalties for years), and it’s interesting to see that Wylie’s forced the issue now, a couple weeks before the entire publishing industry tends to shut down, only to emerge in the pre-Frankfurt build-up . . .
In the end, I’m more fascinated by this whole situation that concerned about it. It does totally suck that we don’t have ebook rights to most of our titles—mainly because foreign publishers were really reluctant to include these in a pre-Kindle world—and that now the agents have a bit more power in terms of negotiating with us over these rights. It sucks that I sort of respect Wylie for throwing down the gauntlet and livening up the whole ebook debate. It sucks that I don’t have time to reread Lolita (although I would read the actual paperback edition).
But it’s great that this publishing kerfuffle lead to the creation of the
EvilWylie and GoodRandomHouse twitter accounts. Not the funniest of twitter accounts, but still, it’s fun to see tweets like this:
EvilWylie Thank you for following! Evil Wylie has granted you exclusive rights to turnJaneFriedman’s tweets into a musical.
EvilWylie even sent one directly to me . . . After grumbling about how stupid Arizona is as a state and baseball team for trading Dan Haren to the Angels (he should've come back to the Cardinals), I was informed that EvilWylie had negotiated that deal. Bastard!
In today’s Independent, Boyd Tonkin has the complete longlist for the 2007 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize. Before getting to the list itself, Tonkin makes a case for the publication of literature in translation:
The annual list of the bestselling paperbacks in Britain made, as ever, a more enlightening read than many of the books on it. Take away those titles sold at a large discount and number 12 in the top hundred for 2007 was Suite Française by Irène Némirovsky, with sales of 320,343 copies (after its triumph in hardback, of course). [. . .] True, Suite Française is a very special novel, with an uncommonly moving story behind as well as within its pages. Yet disheartened publishers, booksellers and translators should ponder those figures the next time some corporate blockhead argues that Britain counts as a uniquely hostile landscape for fiction from beyond the English-speaking world. In any language, that is nonsense.
All the same, an absence of knowledge, of courage and of will does conspire to delay, or sometimes prevent, the arrival on these shores of countless great books from outside the Anglosphere. This long-term market failure to deliver the world’s best fiction in good time (or at all) to our shelves is what justifies the expenditure of comparatively tiny amounts of public money to speed the passage of such books. Without its help, the British literary scene might really start to look like what many overseas authors and critics that I meet already assume it is: the global village idiot, loud-mouthed and lame-brained, foisting its clod-hopping middlebrow fare (very successfully, it must be said) on the rest of the planet while remaining stone deaf to whatever other tongues might have to say to us.
Since 2000, the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize has enjoyed the stalwart support of Arts Council England in order to play a part in resisting this global-village idiocy.
(He does touch on the current controversy about the ACE funding cuts for Arcadia and Co., but I won’t go into that now.)
This list of 17 titles (selected from the 100 translations submitted) will be trimmed to 6 next month, with the £10,000 prize (divided between author and translator) to be awarded in May. (BTW, last year’s winner was The Book of Chameleons by Jose Eduardo Agualusa, published in the UK by Arcadia and forthcoming from Simon & Schuster in the U.S.)
Enough of that—here’s the list:
Overall, a very impressive list, and it’s interesting that a number of these books—The Way of the Women and The Past to name two—have yet to find U.S. publishers . . .
Prose translators will likely disagree, but I believe translating poetry requires a significant level of talent, a commitment to the text, and near mania, all of which suggests that the undertaking is the greatest possible challenge. The task is to. . .
The biggest issues with books like The Subsidiary often have to do with their underpinnings—when we learn that Georges Perec wrote La Disparition without once using the letter E, we are impressed. Imagine such a task! It takes a high. . .
Following The Infatuations, Javier Marías’s latest novel seems, like those that have preceded it, an experiment to test fiction’s capacity to mesmerize with sombre-sexy atmospheres and ruminative elongated sentences stretched across windowless walls of paragraphs. Thus Bad Begins offers his. . .
Death by Water, Kenzaburo Oe’s latest novel to be translated into English, practically begs you to read it as autobiography. Like The Changeling, as well as many other works not yet released in English, Death by Water is narrated in. . .
Jocelyne Saucier’s Twenty-One Cardinals is about the type of unique, indestructible, and often tragic loyalty only found in families. For a brief but stunningly mesmerizing 169 pages, Twenty-One Cardinals invited me in to the haunting and intimate world of the. . .
We know so very little; so little that what we think to be knowledge is hardly worth reckoning with at all; instead we ought to settle for being pleasantly surprised if, on the edge of things, against all expectations, our. . .
Many of Virginie Despentes’s books revolve around the same central idea: “To be born a woman [is] the worst fate in practically every society.” But this message is nearly always packaged in easy-to-read books that fill you with the pleasure. . .