The latest addition to my website is Luigi Malerba‘s Il pianeta azzurro [The Blue Planet]. One of the joys of reading novels, particularly those from other countries, is getting different perspectives on the world. With Malerba, you certainly always get a different perspective – sometimes absurd, often fantasy, often paranoid, and always the view of a lone man who does not quite get the world. In this novel, we read about a man who may or may not be going to kill a man whom he calls only The Professor but who is clearly based on Licio Gelli. The possible killer fantasises, observes, is paranoid and is clearly obsessed with Gelli and with freemasonry, while the narrator reads his diary of the planned killing. Does he intend to do it or is just imagining it? And is the narrator telling the truth any more than the potential killer? It is a wonderful novel, with twists and turns and Malerba’s trademarks ramblings. Sadly, it has not been translated into any other language.
I have been following the rumblings around the Man Booker International Prize nominations and thought that I would add my ten cents’ worth. Michael Orthofer and Chad Post have raised their concerns more eloquently than I can. I own works by nine of the ten writers. However, I have only read one of them – Josip Novakovich (whom I have classified as Croatian, while they have classified him as Canadian) – though I have met Marilynne Robinson (she signed my copy of Housekeeping). She is on my (large) list of writers to read, along with far too many others. One day…
Chad’s beef is that, in the press release, they state that there is nothing familiar or expected and only two of the writers can be said to have a wide international profile, Marilynne Robinson and Aharon Appelfeld. Michael goes on to say (Robinson has a wider international profile than Stamm, Yan, or Sorokin ? In what universe, other than the Anglo-centric one?) So, let’s look at their international profile. Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead has been translated, as far as I can determine, into Danish, Chinese, Spanish, Dutch, Hebrew, Italian,, Norwegian, Polish, Vietnamese, Czech, French, German, Korean, Portuguese, Romanian and Swedish, though her other novels have been translated into far fewer languages. Aharon Appelfeld’s Badenheim 1939 has been translated into English, French, Italian, Dutch, Spanish, Polish, Japanese, Norwegian, Danish, German, Greek, Portuguese, Romanian and Turkish, though his other novels have also been translated into fewer languages. Both seem to me to be respectable numbers and indicative of an international profile. Peter Stamm’s Sieben Jahre has only been translated into English, Danish, French and Spanish though Ungefähre Landschaft has been translated into English, Estonian, French, Georgian, Catalan, Croatian, Korean and Spanish. Agnes has made it into French, Italian, Portuguese, Catalan, Hebrew, Polish, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Norwegian, Slovenian, Spanish, Bulgarian, Estonian, Georgian, Croatian, Korean, Russian, Slovak and Serbian, a very impressive showing. Yan and Sorokin have not been quite so successful but still very well translated. Indeed, if we consider solely number of languages into which they have been translated, Stamm is ahead of Robinson However, it is clear that, despite the press release, several of these authors do have a wide international profile, even if this has escaped Tim Parks and Man Booker.
Michael rightly points out there are no African, no Arabic-writing, no Spanish-writing (or indeed Latin/South American of any sort), no Japanese authors. There are four Asian authors, three North American if you count Novakovich as Canadian, four European authors, if you count Novakovich as Croatian and consider Russian as European. This, of course, goes contrary to the famous statement by Nobel Prize secretary Horace Engdahl that the US is too isolated, too insular. Obviously, they cannot include every area (no Indonesia, no Central Asia, no Oceania, either) but the lack of Spanish- and Arabic-speaking and African authors is worrying.
There is also the issue of the availability of their books in English. Here is what I have found (information taken from a well-known online bookseller):
U.R. Ananthamurthy has two books in print in English and one book of short stories that is out of print but not too difficult to obtain
Lydia Davis has written just one novel, though several volumes of short stories and translated Flaubert and Proust into English
Intizar Husain has one novel in print in the US (only available in Kindle format in the UK), two volumes of stories in print in the US (one in the UK) and other volumes of short stories out of print but not too difficult to obtain
Yan Lianke has three novels in print
Marie NDiaye has two novels in print in the US and none in the UK (though two will be published later this year). Incidentally, there are around a dozen available in French
Josip Novakovich has one novel in print and two volumes of short stories. His other works in English are out of print and not always easy to obtain, e.g. his Three Deaths will cost you $120 from that online bookseller.
Marilynne Robinson has written just three novels in over thirty years, all in print
The other three seem to be well represented in print
Conclusion? An interesting collection of writers but perhaps not highly representative, with some of the writers not having much available in English and with several of them not having a good collection of works in English. Like Michael Orthofer, I find short stories far less interesting than novels, which is why Lydia Davis and Intizar Husain have not been high on my list. I consider Marilynne Robinson a writer I really should read but only three novels in over thirty years? Marie NDiaye is the youngest and I am still not sure that she is going to become a great writer. I have read Josip Novakovich but he seems to have settled into being a short story writer rather than a novelist. Indeed, only Peter Stamm seems to me to be destined for greatness. However, I shall look forward to reading those I have not read.
The latest addition to my website is Upton Sinclair‘s The Jungle. This is one of those books (too many, I am afraid) that I should have read long ago but somehow never got around to doing so. While it is not a great novel, it is interesting, as, unlike most novels, it influenced government policy and resulted in changes in US food legislation. It paints a very grim picture of the meat packing industry in Chicago and the horrible situation of the workers in that field, both as regard their working conditions but also the other abuses they are subject to, in housing, health and safety, food and the generalised corruption found in Chicago at that time (and still going on, to a certain degree). Muckraking, powerful and horrifying are some of the adjectives used to describe it. Apart from this novel, I suspect Sinclair is no longer much read, even in the USA.
The latest addition to my website is Norah Lange‘s Norah Lange: 45 días y 30 marineros [45 Days and 30 Sailors], yet another Latin American novel that has not been translated into English. This is the story, based on an actual voyage Lange made, of a young woman (the real Lange was twenty-eight) travelling from Buenos Aires, alone with a male crew of thirty sailors and one male passenger. Much of the novel finds both passengers and crew drunk but there are also many sexual undertones that threaten to break out into overtones. Indeed, a considerable part of the story is how this develops and how Ingrid, the Lange character, deals with it. Lange has had something of a cult reputation in Argentina, partially because of her association with Borges (they may have been lovers at one time) but is now somewhat better known since her collected works were issued in 2005. Sadly, none of her work has been translated into English.
Bookfinder published a list of the Top 100 most sought after out-of-print books in 2012and a fairly grim list it is. I have read three – the Paul Gallico when I was about eleven, Allegory of Love when I was at university and The Act of Creation many many years ago and I own one other, the Dennis Potter. I sincerely doubt that I will read any of the others. Indeed, I had heard of very few. Do people really feel the need to see Madonna with her clothes off? A quick Google of Madonna nude will surely give you all you want and for free. And it isn’t cheap. Amazon US is selling it new for $262.56 and Amazon UK for £250.00.
Stephen King is the only author to have two books in the top ten. I must confess that I have never read him but are there people prepared to pay large sums for his lesser works? Apparently. Lynne Cheney is still there. When her husband was Vice-President of the United States, it was almost impossible to obtain this porn novel but it can be yours for a mere £35. For $78.90 you can buy Too Good to Be Threw : The Complete Operations Manual for Consignment Shops. Is there someone out there who feels the need to pay this money for this book? Some of my literary buying choices are, frankly, a bit recondite as my significant other never fails to remind me but whenever I feel guilty in the future about paying for a book, I shall merely look at this list and remind myself that people are paying a lot more for a lot worse. Just think, if you don’t know how to make pancakes, you can get Pancakes A to Z for a mere $43.59 plus shipping.
The latest addition to my website is Milena Ercolani‘s Figlie della luna [Daughters of the Moon]. It is not a novel but rather a collection of short stories, nominally linked by a common theme (a feminist sensibility). Given that there is not much from San Marino, it is here but it really is not very good and I am not too convinced by the feminist sensibility thing either. Of course, it is only available in Italian and I very much doubt that it will every make it into English or, indeed, any other language.
The latest addition to my website is Rafael Chirbes‘ Crematorio [The Crematorium]. Like La larga marcha [The Long March] and La caída de Madrid [The Fall of Madrid], this one is a portrait of Spain, this time set in the 1990s/early 2000s and shows the complete and utter corruption of the construction boom, as the fictitious town of Misent has been massively over-developed to the benefit or Rubén Bertomeu. Rubén’s brother Matías, who opposed his brother’s activities, has just died and we follow, through a stream-of-consciousness approach, the thoughts and feelings of those associated with the brothers. Chirbes gives us a wonderful picture of a thoroughly decadent and corrupt society at the height of the Spanish development boom, a boom that we know will come crashing down. Sadly, though this is a first-class novel, you will not be able to read it in English.
The latest additions to my website are two Anne Enright novels. The first is What Are You Like?, an earlier novel. Frankly, this story of two young women looking for their origins did not really work for me. I found that, while Enright’s writing is, as always, superb, the plotting was somewhat unstructured and wooly and did not awaken my interest as the two women, Maria Delahunty and Rose Cotter, just drifted around. I could not feel any great sympathy for them or, indeed, any interest in them, despite their need to know where they came from and who they were.
The Gathering, however, is a different matter. It deservedly won the Man Booker Prize, apparently unanimously, despite not being the favourite. It is a wonderful story of Veronica Hegarty, one of twelve, whose brother, Liam, eleven months her senior, has just killed himself. Why did he kill himself and what was the role of Ada, her grandmother? The complex nature of large and somewhat dysfunctional families is examined. While, as in What Are You Like?, she jumps around, you always have the feeling that she is focussed on the main issue, Liam’s death, Ada’s role and the problems of large families, unlike in What Are You Like? where the focus seems to drift away from the main issue. This is definitely a book worth reading
The latest addition to my website is Shalom Auslander‘s Hope: A Tragedy, one of the funniest books I have read in a long while. It is very politically incorrect, featuring a still alive but smelly and cantankerous Anne Frank, struggling to write a novel, a Jewish man whose fatal flaw is hope, his mother who spends her life bemoaning her fate as a Holocaust victim, despite the fact that she was born in Brooklyn in 1945 and, like all her close relatives, never went anywhere near Europe, and an arsonist. Solomon Kugel joins the list of literary Jewish heroes who struggle with life and with mothers.