From the New York Times Arts Blog:
James Joyce’s fiendishly difficult novel “Finnegans Wake” has been called many things since it first began appearing in portions in 1924, including “the most colossal leg-pull in literature,” “the work of a psychopath,” and “the chief ironic epic of our time.”
Now, it can add another designation: best seller in China.
A new translation of the novel has sold out its initial print run of 8,000 since it appeared on Dec. 25, thanks in part to an unusual billboard campaign in major Chinese cities, The Associated Press reported. In Shanghai, where the book was advertised on 16 billboards, sales were second only to a new biography of Deng Xiaoping in the “good books” category, according to the Shanghai News and Publishing Bureau.
The book’s surprise success has drawn some clucking from Chinese observers (how do you say “coffee table trophy” in Mandarin?). But at a panel on Tuesday, the translator, Dai Congrong of Fudan University, who spent nearly 10 years wrestling with Joyce’s runaway sentences and knotty coinages, confessed that even she didn’t fully understand the book. “I would not be faithful to the original intent of the novel if my translation made it easy to comprehend,” she said.
From The Guardian:
James Joyce’s Ulysses has topped poll after poll to be named the greatest novel of the 20th century, but according to Paulo Coelho, the book is “a twit”. [. . .]
Writers go wrong, according to Coelho, when they focus on form, not content. “Today writers want to impress other writers,” he told the paper. “One of the books that caused great harm was James Joyce’s Ulysses, which is pure style. There is nothing there. Stripped down, Ulysses is a twit.”
Here are just a few of the things that are wrong with these statements:
1) I’m willing to go out on a limb here and claim that Ulysses has had, oh, approximately 0% impact on the writing of the vast majority of today’s popular/influential English writers—J-Franz, Richard Ford, 90% of MFA graduates, most all Oprah book club authors, etc. etc.
2) Can a book even be a “twit”? That’s confusing. The other day I was on a rant that NBC should get crabs, but even I realized the absurdity of that statement. Hey, Paulo—Ulysses is a book. It is fiction. It is not a living breathing thing.
3) And “twit”??? Who even says that?
4) THIS sort of “I APPEAL TO EVERYONE” crap is what I think is ruining contemporary literature.
Speaking to Brazilian newspaper Folha de S Paulo, Coelho said the reason for his own popularity was that he is “a modern writer, despite what the critics say”. This doesn’t mean his books are experimental, he added – rather, “I’m modern because I make the difficult seem easy, and so I can communicate with the whole world.”
Nothing like a bit of stupid to get me back into the swing of this blogging thing . . . .
Linn Ullmann’s The Cold Song, her fifth novel, is built much like the house about which its story orbits: Mailund, a stately white mansion set in the Norwegian countryside a few hours drive from Oslo. The house, nestled into the. . .
Karel Schoeman’s Afrikaans novel, This Life, translated by Else Silke, falls into a genre maybe only noticed by the type of reader who tends toward Wittgenstein-type family resemblances. The essential resemblance is an elderly narrator, usually alone—or with one other. . .
In Joris-Karl Hyusmans’s most popular novel, À rebours (Against Nature or Against the Grain, depending on the which translated edition you’re reading), there is a famous scene where the protagonist, the decadent Jean des Esseintes, starts setting gemstones on the. . .
There are books that can only wisely be recommended to specific types of readers, where it is easy to know who the respective book won’t appeal to, and Kristiina Ehin’s Walker on Water is one these. What makes this neither. . .
Imagine the most baroque excesses of Goethe, Shakespeare, and Poe, blended together and poured into a single book: That is The Nightwatches of Bonaventura. Ophelia and Hamlet fall in love in a madhouse, suicidal young men deliver mournful and heartfelt. . .
In 1899, Maurice Ravel wrote “Pavane pour une infante défunte” (“Pavane for a Dead Princess”) for solo piano (a decade later, he published an orchestral version). The piece wasn’t written for a particular person; Ravel simply wanted to compose a. . .
Fiston Mwanza Mujila is an award-winning author, born in the Democratic Republic of Congo, who now, at 33, lives in Austria. From what I could find, much of his work is influenced by the Congo’s battle for independence and its. . .