The September/October issue of World Literature Today is apparently now available. (Stealing from Michael Orthofer’s playbook, I say apparently because I actually subscribed to WLT a couple years ago and received exactly one issue . . . which is pretty much what happened with my subscription to The Nation. What the hell? This is a pretty savvy way to keep newspapers & magazines alive—convince people to subscribe and send them nothing.)
Anyway, the new issue has a focus on “International Short Fiction,” edited by Alan Cheuse. A couple of the stories are available online (although the vast majority of the content is only available in the mythical “print” version—OK, I’ll stop now), as is Alan Cheuse’s introduction to the special section.
I was going to copy over the paragraph describing the stories in this section, but the way WLT displays its content prevents this. I love WLT and all the people who work there, but this is stupid. On a less busy day, I would retype the paragraph and try and intrigue anyone reading this to click over to read the issue—or maybe even buy a copy. But fuck it. If you’re not going to play the game right, you’re not going to get any online love. So. There are stories. That are short. From authors. Maybe of interest.
I will link to this conversation between Michael Orthofer and Eshkol Nevo that took place at this year’s PEN World Voices Festival. It’s an interesting discussion, and Nevo sounds like a fascinating writer (Homesick is available from Dalkey Archive).
Anyway, hopefully someone in Oklahoma will decide to abandon this ridiculous internet format before the November/December issue. (And yes, I know it’s been like this for a while, but it’s never pissed me off this much before.) If you want to offer a limited amount of content from your magazine, that’s your prerogative. But if you want to tap into the power of finding readers on the Internets, offer said content in a form that makes sense. OK. Done.
Having been at this for almost three years myself, I’m astounded by Michael Orthofer’s ability to keep writing such quality posts and reviews for so long. He’s on top of everything related to international literature, and really does cover stuff that no one else is writing about.
So congrats, Michael!
And in related news, Michael recently bought a Sony eReader. I’ll be very interested to see what he thinks of this as time goes on . . .
Here’s a picture from this month’s Best Translated Book Award, with some of the winners and several judges.
A good time was had by all.
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 . . .
This was a great week for Open Letter books, with three of our recent releases getting some nice coverage:
In English for the first time in Martha Tennent’s translation, Death in Spring is about a society that finds highly elaborate ways to elude the inevitable and to conquer time. Its means are slow and insidious, ritualistic and bizarre, always teetering on the line between the real and the magical. Its members, obsessed with imprisoning themselves, pour concrete into the mouths of the dead to keep their souls from escaping. Every spring, they paint the houses pink and it’s unclear whether anyone remembers why. Though the novel is propelled forward by a linear narrative, it is its characters’ evasion of this diachrony that is most captivating. The book is driven by linguistic and thematic repetition, like a prose sestina in which the end words could be symbols or simply icons, aesthetic trends or markers that unfold and elaborate the path of the narrative. We see wisteria and bees, horses and butterflies, souls and prisoners weave in and out of the text, each time reappearing with a new relevance, a new level of meaning.
Christopher Byrd’s review of Jerzy Pilch’s The Mighty Angel in the B&N Review is also pretty fantastic:
From the opening paragraph — in which the protagonist awakens to discover a couple of Mafiosi in his room who have taken it upon themselves to act as literary agents for a female poet — to the closing paragraphs that flick away the tragic arc that’s usually prefabricated for books in the end-of-the-bottle genre, Pilch teases out plenty of LOL moments from desultory situations. All told, The Mighty Angel furnishes enough Schadenfreude to stylishly blacken just about any comedic sensibility.
Becky Ferreira at L Magazine agrees:
Pilch’s prose is masterful, and the bulk of The Mighty Angel evokes the same numb, floating sensation as a bottle of oadkowa Gorzka. But it’s not until Jerzy haphazardly reveals facts of his grandfather’s life that the naked grotesquerie of alcoholism pierces through the book’s often casual and flippant wit. Though the final chapters posit a chance at redemption, it remains unclear whether Jerzy is breaking the cycle, or just trading in one vice for another. To Pilch’s credit, both of Jerzy’s possible paths seem unfortunate and equally likely.
What’s riveting about Rupert’s account is his self-assuredness. Yes, he often speaks of ‘Rupert’ in the third person, an abstraction he’s removed from — but then Rupert is, after all, the ultimate ‘I am camera’. It’s a fascinating split-personality on display here — and some . . . perversely fine writing. [. . .] Cleverly, artfully done, Rupert: A Confession is no pleasant read, but an oddly seductive one. Well worthwhile.
Back on April 5, 1999, the Complete Review published its first review, giving Nicholson Baker’s The Everlasting Story of Nory a “C” for being “too cute for its own good.” Well, 2,250 reviews and ten years later and CR is still going strong.
Michael Orthofer has a nice write up about his first decade running the site, and his desire to do even more:
The mix of books covered at the complete review remains eclectic (mostly my fault/taste), and while best-known for coverage of translated (and, occasionally, not-yet-translated) fiction, I’m more or less satisfied with the range of books covered. I’d always like to cover more — far more — but the logistics are too daunting. (The grand irony of the site for me also always remains that since it takes up so much of my time I actually read less than I otherwise might.)
He’s already averaging 225 reviews a year—for one person that’s absolutely amazing. And yes, it really is just one person:
After all these years I also figure it is time to abandon my hopes of creating an independent institutional identity for the complete review. I’ve always tried to stay in the background (and would, of course, prefer disappearing completely unrecognized behind the scenes, an entirely anonymous puppet-master), but despite my best efforts to de-personalize the site it has become futile to avoid the obvious: complete review, c’est moi. Not that it’s always been that way, not absolutely entirely, but by now I figure some ninety-five per cent of the reviews, and near as much of the weblog-content can be ascribed to me, and all of it in recent times, and so I might as well do away with any pretense of there being anything more to the complete review than me for now. (There’s always hope that the complete review-as-institution concept can be revived, but between my ‘vision’ for the site, and my taskmaster-skills … don’t count on it.) Hence one minor change: posts and reviews will now be signed ‘M.A.Orthofer’, as I might as well lay claim to (and accept blame for) them.
Congrats to Michael and best of luck for the next ten years.
We’re a bit late with the news—I swear, the Book Fair will be my excuse for everything for the next three weeks at least—but Uwe Tellkamp’s Der Turm won this year’s German Book Prize. Hasn’t been a huge amount of interest from American or British publishers (surprise!) for this 1,000 page book. Michael Orthofer is one of (if not the) first American’s to review the novel giving it a solid B+:
Der Turm is set in Dresden, in the East Germany of the 1980s, then still the German Democratic Republic. The book covers the period right up to the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, though it moves at varying speeds across these years, lingering over particular episodes and stretches, then leaping over longer periods. [. . .]
Tellkamp offers a vast survey of East German life, even as he keeps it within relatively limited areas: school, the workplace (the hospital and the publishing house), army life. For the most part, those whose lives are described are fairly well-to-do — if not financially particularly well-off, at least relatively secure in their places, and certainly comfortable (even as that occasionally proves illusory). True, occasionally strangers are assigned a portion of their living spaces, as lines are redrawn in the houses and officialdom literally encroaches on their lives further, but most can get by relatively comfortably. Tellkamp does, however, pointedly describe the lives of the truly privileged, the nation’s favoured sons, which some of the others catch a glimpse of — an entirely different world. [. . .]
Yes, in many respects Der Turm is a glorious epic of that sad last decade of East German history, with some remarkable patches of writing and some very fine scenes. Yet it feels incomplete as a history, the pendulum swinging too far and spitefully back in a book that drips with contempt and feels too personal in its reckoning with an entire nation and system.
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 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.
We mentioned this a couple weeks back, but this morning, the Literary Saloon has a more factual follow-up to Douglas Kibbee’s claim that translations are on the rise, as evidenced by the increase in coverage for translations in the New York Times Book Review.
Michael Orthofer—who both questioned the veracity of this statement and the idea that a review of a translation a week was a success—compiled some stats on the last three issues:
Of the 62 books reviewed in all a mere two — Ogawa Yoko’s The Diving Pool and Michael Krüger’s The Executor — were originally written in a foreign language (and they only received the ‘books-in-brief’-treatment).
I have a complicated relationship to all of this, in part because I feel that Kibbee’s kind of right—things are getting better for translations, he just chose an odd way of “proving” it—and that it’s not necessarily the mandate/responsibility of the NYTBR to cover a certain number of literary translations. True, it’s unfortunate that so few foreign voices make their way into the Book Review, and as a publisher who is always scrapping for any review coverage we can get, I wish the Times reviewed only literary translations, but I don’t feel like the Times is unilaterally hostile towards all books in translations.
(I’m sure many bloggers will disagree with me about this, but I really believe that what gets reviewed is tied up in a more complicated dynamic including who the publishers are, what’s hot, how publishers publicize, etc., etc. It’s just not as simple as translation vs. English . . . It may fall more into the realm of large publisher—with all the clout and organizational resources associated with that—versus small—and often disorganized or too busy to focus—and since large publishers have the means to really promote their books, and since so few are works in translation, these statistics turn out the way they do. I’d be interested in seeing what the percentages are for coverage of translated books from commercial presses versus translated books from indie presses. I suspect that a healthy percentage of books reviewed in the NYTBR from independent presses are literature in translation—but that the number of reviews of books from independent, or university, presses is rather modest. In shorthand, it’s complicated . . . )
One thing that came up at the Translation Conference panel was the relative lack of translator-reviewers. At a panel that took place a few weeks ago, representatives from the New York Times and The New Republic commented on how it can be difficult to find a good reviewer familiar enough with the context and tradition surrounding a particular work of international literature to be capable of writing a really thoughtful, interesting review.
That may be a bit of a cop-out, but it is absolutely true that there are far more American writers reviewing these days than there are translators . . . Not sure in the end if this would make a difference, but if there were a couple dozen very active translator-reviewers out there pitching books, capable of writing about a work from Brazil without relying solely on the English version and flap-copy bio of the author, maybe there would be an overall increase in the amount of general coverage of translations. . . .
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.
Paul Klee’s Boat, Anzhelina Polonskaya’s newest bilingual collection of poems available in English, is an emotional journey through the bleakest seasons of the human soul, translated with great nuance by Andrew Wachtel. A former professional ice dancer(!), Polonskaya left the. . .
In Seiobo There Below, Lázló Krasznahorkai is able to succeed at a task at which many writers fail: to dedicate an entire novel to a single message, to express an idea over and over again without falling into repetition or. . .
There are curious similarities in three Italian mystery series, written by Maurizio de Giovanni, Andrea Camilleri, and Donna Leon.1
They’re all police procedurals, and all set in Italy: Naples, Sicily, Venice.
The three protagonists are Commissarios: Luigi Ricciardi, Salvo. . .
Poetry always has the feel of mysticism and mystery, or maybe this feeling is a stereotype left over from high school literature class. It is generally the result of confusion, lack of time committed to consuming the poetry, and the. . .
Our Lady of the Flowers, Echoic is not only a translation, but a transformation. It is a translation of Jean Genet’s novel Notre Dame des Fleurs, transmuted from prose to poetry. Originally written in prison as a masturbatory aid (Sartre. . .
Equal parts stoner pulp thriller and psycho-physiological horror story, a pervasive sense of dread mixes with a cloud of weed smoke to seep into every line of the disturbing, complex Under This Terrible Sun. Originally published by illustrious Spanish publishers. . .
From the start, Daniel Canty’s Wigrum, published by Canadian press Talonbooks, is obviously a novel of form. Known also as a graphic designer in Quebec, Canty takes those skills and puts them towards this “novel of inventory” and creates a. . .