I’m home sick—damn winter colds that are even resistant to Advil Cold & Sinus, the Wonder Drug—so it’s a perfect day for a guest post from intern Will Eells. You might remember Will from his review of The Housekeeper and the Professor, and he will be writing more reviews for us in the future, including one of “The Changeling,” the new Kenzaburo Oe novel coming out from Grove this spring. Anyway, Will’s a huge Murakami fan—even did a translation of a previously untranslated Murakami story for his translation class project—and was very intrigued by this situation regarding the new Murakami novel . . .
It was reported a few days ago that Haruki Murakami’s newest novel 1Q84 (my favorite way of saying this is “Q-teen Eighty-four”) has all but demolished sales records this year and is the top-selling book in Japan for 2009, selling at least a million copies for both volume one and volume two. From The Literary Saloon:
Tohan said 1Q84 was the first literary work to top the year’s best-seller list since it began compiling the data in 1990.
Who is the competition? Mainichi Daily news offers some (worrying) insight in their own report, Murakami’s 1Q84 tops 2009 bestseller ranking:
“In second place was 読めそうで読めない間違いやすい漢字 (Easily confused kanji which look readable but aren’t), published by Futami Shobo Publishing Co. Third place was secured by ドラゴンクエスト9 星空の守り人 大冒険プレイヤーズガイ (Great adventure player’s guide to Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies), published by Shueisha.”
It’s pretty cool to see that Murakami is finally seen as someone “literary” by the Japanese after years of being considered light pop-lit (he’s got an awesomely bitter short story called “The Rise and Fall of Sharpie Cakes” in Blind Willow, Sleeping Woman about his disgust with Japanese literary critics), and it’s even cooler to see that people are genuinely excited about his work. On the other hand, although Japan is typically thought of to be a nation of readers, their top selling books are overall pretty lame, even after accounting the fact that almost every person and their dog is playing Dragon Quest IX in Japan right now. Looking through the rest of the top 10, I only discovered one(!!) other piece of fiction, and the rest of the list being rather light-weight non-fiction books like new weight-loss and “health” guides and more language trivia.
All of this means of course that American publishers are also very excited and want to get the book out as fast as possible. And of course Knopf and Vintage, who have published all of Murakami’s other work in America, will be publishing 1Q84 as well.
Normally this would pose no problem at all, but Murakami himself is throwing a huge curveball towards the American publishers. And how is he doing that? He’s currently writing Volume 3, and it’s not even being released in Japan until next summer.
So what does Knopf do now? They want to get it published as soon as they can (but without rushing, so we can have a good translation . . . right, Knopf?), but I can’t think of any single work that was published in more than one installment in the U.S. Apparently, this is the solution:
UK and Commonwealth rights, excluding Canada, have been acquired and Harvill Secker will publish the first two volumes in a single edition simultaneously with Knopf in the States in September 2011. The paperback editions will be published by Vintage. The first two books are being translated by Jay Rubin and the third by Philip Gabriel.
This, my friends, is madness. Knopf is fusing volume one and volume two into a single work, as they assumedly planned to all along, but not only can they not wait for volume three to come out, they won’t give Jay Rubin the extra time to translate it and are handing the next part for Philip Gabriel to work on separately.
It’s fascinating, and a little scary, to have two translators working on what’s officially supposed to be one work. By now, Jay Rubin has translated the majority of Murakami’s works, and besides the early stuff Alfred Birnbaum tackled, Philip Gabriel has been responsible for a good chunk of Murakami’s work as well, including Kafka on the Shore. They’re both great translators that I trust with Murakami’s work. But that doesn’t mean that they’re going to translate 1Q84 the same way, so it poses some interesting questions as to what’s going to happen. Will they be communicating with each other? Will they be reading each other’s manuscripts and collaborating? Since typically Japanese editors don’t exercise the kind of creative control that Western editors are typically thought to have, Jay Rubin is known to act as an editor for Murakami as he translates (which he even does with Murakami’s involvement, which in one case resulted in revisions in the Japanese from the hardcover edition to the paperback), but does Philip Gabriel have the same editorial vision? There’s no telling how a sudden third volume will effect 1Q84 as a whole anyway, so how will that affect how the readers see the novel both in the original and in the translation? Will Vintage’s paperback version be one or two books?
It’s a lot of stuff to think about, and we won’t find out what happens until both volumes are finally published sometime in late 2011.
Not many people are as dialed into the Nobel Prize for Literature speculation as Michael Orthofer of the Literary Saloon. And his post this morning about the possibility of Herta Müller being announced as the winner tomorrow is pretty intriguing.
And before anyone says “Herta who?,” Michael already put together a Herta Müller page with info about all of her books. A few of her titles have made their way into English, including Traveling on One Leg and most recently The Appointment.
Now that’s all fine and good, but it’s the basis for Michael’s speculation that’s really interesting:
1. Ladbrokes’ odds have broken her way in a strong way: there’s been almost no movement on the list — and Amos Oz remains the 4/1 favorite — but the odds on Müller have gone from 50/1 to 7/1. [Updated: And now she’s up to 3/1 (as is Oz, who has moved slightly) — though this final movement of the odds may be because of the sort of speculation I am spewing out …..]
If you remember what happened last year—Le Clezio’s odds shot up from 14/1 to 2/1 due to a possible leak—you know that this shift in odds can be pretty telling . . . Also:
2. The referrer logs for the Literary Saloon yesterday — when I’d mentioned that the Müller-odds were worth paying attention to — showed several visits from mail.Svenskaakademien.se
Visits from the Swedish Academy (who select the Nobel laureate) aren’t that unusual, but more than one in close succession is — and this indicates someone there was mailing around the (well, a) link. It’s impossible to know whether they were just keeping track of Nobel coverage, laughing at how off-base my comments were — or expressing irritation. Nevertheless, it seems noteworthy that at least some of what I’ve written here has proven to be of interest to the powers that be — and the Müller-speculation seems the obvious thing that might have caught their eye.
Sure, there’s an air of conspiracy theory to all this speculation, but it is fun, and somewhat convincing . . . We’ll all find out tomorrow . . .
I can’t remember ever buying a book based on a blurb, but even if I wasn’t already a Thomas Bernhard fan, I’d buy his Meine Preise immediately if this blurb were on the cover:
“The asshole Thomas Bernhard—and I say this even though I dislike speaking ill of the dead—the asshole Thomas Bernhard, it’s fairly certain to say, only wrote a single good book. This book appears only now, even though he already wrote it in 1980, and it demonstrates what an asshole he was.”—Maxim Biller, Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung
More information about the review—and the book itself—can be found at Literary Saloon.
Thanks to Michael, for pointing out that Zone made Lire‘s 20 best books of 2008 list. According to my pidgin French, they say that it “possesses a scope that is rare in the French novel” and that it’s “difficult, but great.”
PW also noted our acquisition:
What’s in a period? That might be the question Chad Post, at Open Letter Press, was asking himself when he acquired the French novel Zone. The book, about a traveler making his way to Rome via train, is a study in, among other things, grammatical experimentation; it unfolds over 500 pages, in a single sentence. Open Letter, which submitted a bid for the book shortly after the Frankfurt Book Fair, is planning to publish the book Stateside in 2010; the title is published in France by Actes Sud and was written by Mathias Enard. Charlotte Mandell (who just finished The Kindly Ones) is doing the translation.
Unfortunately, my French isn’t up to it yet (I’m working on it!), so I’m anxiously awaiting—along with the rest of you, I hope—Charlotte Mandell’s translation.
In the Literary Saloon post about David Tresilian’s A Brief Guide to Modern Arabic Literature, Michael Orthofer quotes this paragraph about the dismal (though not terribly shocking) number of Arabic books translated into English since World War II:
Recently modern Arabic literature seems to have made several long strides all at once. It is interesting to note that in the 20 years from 1947 to 1967 a mere 20 titles from modern Arabic literature appeared in English translation. In the next 20 years the situation improved slightly with 84 titles being published in translation between 1967 and 1988. I do not have figures for the yearly number being published these days, but the position has greatly improved.
In terms of 2008, 21 works of adult literature and poetry were translated from Arabic into English, so the position has most definitely improved. . . . (BTW, I’ll be posting an updated translation database in the very near future.)
Michael Orthofer has a great rant over at Literary Saloon about “how not to publish translations.” His piece centers around Serbian Classics Press, a press that I’ve personally never heard of (neither had Michael, so I feel like my ignorance is excusable), but one that is bringing out Mansarda, Danilo Kis’s first novel.
The book seems to have been released . . . well, as if printing and binding it were all there was to it. The publisher is Serbian Classics Press, and with their mission of: “publishing classic and contemporary Serbian fiction, biography, literary criticism and reference works in translation, as well as original English language works by authors from the Serbian diaspora” they sound like exactly the kind of outfit we should know about. Except, of course, that we didn’t. That happens — we’re constantly learning about new publishers. But what can we learn about them and their offerings ? Yes, they have a website, but the catalogue-page doesn’t seem to have been updated in years [Ed. note: since 2004!], and we couldn’t find any information about the Kiš-title on it. [. . .]
Which leads to the second problem: not only is there no information at the publisher’s site, this book is not listed at any of the English-language Amazons. (Or Barnes & Noble.)
Imagine that, in this day and age, where every print-on-demand title is listed at every online bookseller. Here’s a book, published in New York in 2008, which you can’t buy through Amazon.com.
One of my big gripes is the way in which small and independent publishers have a tendency to sabotage their best intentions. SCP is a pretty extreme example of how not to do things—although there are others . . .
SCP’s website is incredibly embarrassing. The fact it’s four years out of date is horrendous and the presentation is totally amateurish. Really too bad. The five books listed there sound pretty interesting (as does the Kis!) and there are even excerpts! Of course, there’s no sign of distribution (which is the number one problem in independent publishing right now) and the order form is awesomely outdated—it’s a pdf you have to print and mail in along with a “check or money order.” C’mon guys, today’s world is premised upon the ability to use credit cards for everything.
Putting them aside for a moment, this is a much larger issue that missing an opportunity with a new Kis and being technologically inept. A couple years ago, I moderated a panel at the London Book Fair that included Daniel Soar from the London Review of Books. At the beginning of his bit, he admitted that he was embarrassed by how few works in translation the LRB had reviewed over the past 6 months or so. (If I remember it was something like 3-4 titles compared to 50+ from English.) One of the reasons he gave for this was the lack of context for these books. Most translations published are by authors he’d never heard of and arrive on his desk with nothing more than a two paragraph press release and a reference to author X being the “James Joyce of country Y.” Of course, I’m paraphrasing here, but it sounded like a lot of these titles looked interesting, yet without more information, it was difficult to figure out what to do with them.
Based on the relatively few books that we get in for review (some of which are devoid of jacket copy), I can see how this is a major problem for large, influential publications. It’s much easier to decide whether to review a young American author who has been appearing in lit mags and anthologies, who has been talked about by other editors and reviewers, and who may have even shown up at a number of literary events and gatherings—the context for who this author is already exists. But a book by a relatively obscure international author needs some additional information. That’s one of the reasons publishing literature in translation costs so much—you have to spend a lot more on marketing than you do for an author working in English.
The more savvy publishers become with creating websites, generating buzz, figuring out creative ways to introduce these authors to the reading public, producing informative overview essays that place an author within a broad literary tradition—the better these books will be received and will find their voice. And the more one success will help other titles. I don’t agree with it, but I understand why Barnes & Noble has a thing against literature in translation. For years they stocked translations from a handful of presses that never figured out how to best market their books. When return rates are in the hight 70% range, one starts to generalize that translations don’t sell . . . (On the flip-side, our Icelandic book—The Pets by Bragi Olafsson—will be widely stocked due to the success of Per Petterson’s Out Stealing Horses. And yes, I know these are different countries, types of books, etc., but in addition to credit, our book culture is all about trends and duplication.)
I hate to pick on SCP, but this is a disservice to Kis. He actually has a following, one that could be tapped and cultivated. Instead these readers are lucky to find out that Mansarda (MAO has a few things to say about that title as well) is available.
The Literary Saloon pointed out another new UK-based translation site: this time Booktrust’s Translated Ficion. One of the first articles on the site is from Daniel Hahn, translator of one of my favorite authors, Jose Eduardo Agualusa.
He has a refreshingly different take on the low number of translations that appear in the UK (we have the same problem here):
But given a choice between on the one hand transforming those 3% into a market share of, say, 6%, and on the other remaining at 3% and doubling the readership for each of those fine books we’re already translating, I’d choose the latter without hesitation.
and then a bit later:
We should be persuading readers to read more bravely whatever the language; instead of bemoaning the paltriness of the 3% quota, we should be talking passionately about those culture-expanding books that are being published and how damn good they are. (And many of them – as it happens – are translations.) We should celebrate them, these many, many varied triumphs. You absolutely must read the most wonderful novel I’ve just discovered…
His argument is a good one (and I especially agree with his point about the mistake of grouping translations as if they were a monolithic genre) but within limits. That is to say, it’s a good argument for how to proceed from where we are now (moving from few translations with a smallish readership to few translations with a larger readership), but it seems to me that that can only be the first step, not the end of the discussion.
In the first place, as Chad has documented, we’re somewhere far, far short of that 3% number (and there is no way that 6000 translations came out in the UK last year—the 3% of the 200,00 Hahn said were published). If we’re at a low number of translations, and it’s a very low number, then the likelihood of that ‘adventurous’ reader stumbling upon a translation is also very low, even if we double the number of adventurous readers out there. The likelihood of those books getting good attention (from publishers, the media, booksellers) is proportionally low, especially when those publishers who publish the translations are not the ones with large marketing/media budgets, or, when they are, that money is generally not going to translations.
I don’t think we can raise awareness for what it is we’re doing without simultaneously doing more of it. The more translations (of all kinds) that are available, the more the cultural playing field can be leveled, and the better chance we have of garnering some attention for those books. By publishing more translations, you’re increasing the chances that one of those translations will break into the larger public consciousness.
Anyway, Hahn’s article is well worth the read. I suggest you take a look, and best of luck to Booktrust, it seems like it’s off to a rousing start.
The site’s mission is pretty huge, but if this comes to fruition, this would be one of the most valuable sites on the internet for finding out about international writers and their books:
Everything you need to know about the world’s great writers and emerging voices is on this site, created by PEN, the worldwide writers’ association. We believe that great writing has the power to change your life, and to change the world.
All the content is added by you: readers and writers who want to pass on your tips and create a new global community of readers. This site is launching with a focus on writing from the Arab region. There is a world of writing out there. Tell us about it!
The paucity of info available about Arabic books has been a frequent complaint of many a publisher, so this site should make an immediate difference. The fiction section could use some better navigation, and it would be great if translators would post English samples, but whatever, there’s finally a fiction section would searching through for interesting titles. I guess my only other hope is that they develop some way of getting the word out when new info is added. (I can envision this becoming one of those sites I have bookmarked but infrequently check in on.)
In addition to fiction (which is what I naturally gravitate towards) there are sections on The People and Working With the Arabic World. Overall, kudos to the BC for putting this together. And launching it in conjunction with the London Book Fair.
As Michael Orthofer—who has been praising this book and its break-out potential for quite some time—points out, the book hasn’t been receiving a lot of attention on this side of the Atlantic. (The Dalkey site references pieces in the San Francisco Chronicle, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and Bookslut.) This did make our Top 10 Translations of 2007 list, and is a brilliant book that’s definitely worth reading. (We probably would’ve reviewed it, but haven’t received a copy yet, and I don’t want to base a review on my memory of reading it in manuscript form.)
I want to echo Orthofer’s sentiment that hopefully this paucity of attention will change with the release of the book in the UK. Of course, Thorne points out some of the potential obstacles in the opening paragraph of his review:
It is hard to imagine Omega Minor, Paul Verhaeghen’s extraordinary new novel, having the same success in England as it has enjoyed in Germany, the Netherlands and the author’s native Belgium. Indeed, it seems likely that the author has translated the book himself not as a display of his polymath abilities but because he might have found it hard to find another translator prepared to take on a 700-page novel about cognitive psychology, quantum physics, Nazis and Neo-Nazis. It would be philistine not to admire the sheer ambition of the book, especially when the market for serious fiction is under endless assault, but the author has a number of quirks that may alienate some readers. Foremost is a bizarre fixation with ejaculation, prompting phrases such as “pearly liquid”, “creamy harvest”, “frothy broth” and, most imaginatively, “an acrobatic snake snapping at – but missing – its own tail”. There are dozens more.
Still, the review ends where it should, praising the qualities of this ambitious novel:
Omega Minor is undoubtedly a curate’s egg, but few recent novels rival its richness. And there is something admirable about an author who challenges not just the structural limitations of the novel, but also the limitations of our understanding of the universe. For all its flaws, this is an uncommonly intellectually stretching- and satisfying – experience.
One of France’s most interesting publishers passed away last week. As the director of his eponymous publishing house, Christian Bourgois published a slew of influential world authors, including Roberto Bolaño, Ernst Jünger, Antonio Lobo Antunes, and Enrique Vila-Matas.
Literary Saloon has some info about the new issue of the New York Review of Books (not available online yet), including a bit about an exchange between Gitta Honegger and Tim Parks on his piece How to Read Elfriede Jelinek.
In arguing her point, Honegger references Die Kinder der Toten (The Children of the Dead), which was the last novel of hers published before receiving the Nobel Prize, and is considered by many to be her “magnum opus,” but has yet to appear in English. There is hope on the horizon though:
It’s news to us (and we can’t find any other mention of it), so it’s certainly worth noting: Honegger mentions that: “The American translation of the 666-page novel, to be published by Yale University Press, is currently in progress.”
This took place a few days ago, but The House of Mirth has a fantastic write up (complete with video!) of the CJR panel on the state of book reviews that took place last week.
Sounds like a lively panel—like this exchange between Carlin Romano (on the populist side) and Steve Wasserman (on the intellectual criticism side):
Now it was Wasserman’s turn. “When I hear the word elitism,” he said, “I reach for my revolver.” Romano: “That’s quite a role model.” Wasserman: “Well, I only reach for it on Tuesdays and Thursdays.” Sifton: “That’s what Dr. Goebbels did, too.” We had reached an important threshold in any panel discussion: one participant had compared another to the Nazis. All in fun, you might say, but Wasserman kept up his attack, accusing Romano of reverse snobbery. What he was prescribing was “criticism as baby talk.” And Osnos, too, was guilty of a category error. “Criticism is not a species of selling,” Wasserman scolded him. “It’s something entirely other.”
On a related note, the National Book Critics Circle event “The Age of Infinite Margins: Book Critics Face the 21st Century” also took place last week. Scott Esposito at Conversational Reading wasn’t able to attend, but pulled out a couple interesting points from Literary Saloon’s coverage.
Specifically, Scott was upset about Wasserman’s desire for the old days “when you could tell you were dealing with a crank from the appearance of the letters and even the envelopes from the disgruntled readers, and he actually said that one of the things that disturbed him about the Internet is how presentation no longer separates the cranks from the serious.” Which I agree is rubbish.
The Literary Saloon has some coverage of a panel that Chad was on, called ‘Promoting Literature in Translation Online’:
While familiar with the sites, it was interesting to hear what they were doing and what they had planned, especially as several of the sites are in the process of being overhauled (or, in the case of Words without Borders, recently were). There is a good deal — and variety — of information available among them, even as they have different, sometimes overlapping objectives. Speaking for Dalkey, Martin Riker noted the difficulty of serving both a public non-profit objective (i.e. largely informational) as well as being on some level a commercial publisher (i.e. selling books) — albeit with non-profit status — an issue Open Letters will eventually also face. The French organizations are there to try to promote specifically French titles, while In Translation, Ww/oB, and, to some extent, PEN are trying to promote foreign literature and translators.
They also take issue with the idea of RSS feeds, saying, ‘I always think the emphasis should be on actual content’. We agree, which is why people who subscribe to our RSS feed get access to all of our content through their readers.
And he called us Open Letters, but what’s an extra ‘s’ between friends?
Literary Saloon has an interesting piece about the recent passing of Swedish poet Lars Forssell (1928-2007).
The loss of Forssell is one thing, the fact that he was Chair No. 4 on the committee that decides the Nobel Prize for Literature is another . . .
All of this is recapped in the article mentioned above, which offers a fascinating look at the current politics and protests going on. (In brief, multiple members are protesting the committee due to various events such as Jelinek winning—most controversial recipient ever imho—to not doing anything about the Rusdie fatwa.)
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. . .