Sometimes it seems like all there is to write about is book awards. The National Book Awards are handed out, but wait, here are the Whitbread finalists. The Whitbread, Britain’s second most prestigious prize after the Booker, is, it seems to me, at a disadvantage. Since the Whitbread comes out only a couple of months after the Booker, the selections are compared in the press. If the Whitbread too closely mirrors the Booker, it loses some of its punch, but if the judges pick a shortlist with no overlap with the Booker, the Whitbread is criticized for being too obscure. This year, the only overlap with the Booker is that they have both shortlisted Ali Smith’s The Accidental. As was much remarked when the Booker list was announced, many well-known authors have books out this year: Kazuo Ishiguro, Ian McEwan, Zadie Smith and Julian Barnes, among others. None of those made the Whitbread list, a fact that seems likely to have prompted head judge Philippa Gregory’s defensive sounding remark in the Guardian: “Our shortlist may confuse the book trade. We are not saying these are the only good books. They are books which happened to resonate powerfully with the judges of the moment.” The list does include two notable names: Salman Rushdie for Shalimar the Clown and Nick Hornby for A Long Way Down. Rounding out the fiction list is Cotton by Christopher Wilson (which, since it is going by a different title in England, has been much misrepresented in the press, as the Literary Saloon points out.) For the finalists in all the categories, visit the Whitbread site.
The Guardian has a story on an interesting literary award. The International IMPAC DUBLIN Literary Award starts out with nominations from 162 libraries all over the world, which makes for a huge and eclectic longlist. The list of nominations includes everything under the sun. Or you can check out which libraries in which countries like which books. It’s sort of like a lesson in literary geography. Baudolino by Umberto Eco is apparently favored to win. Out of the three or four books on the list that I’ve read my favorite was probably The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster.
Howard Jacobson’s The Finkler Question has won the Booker Prize, beating out far better known shortlisters like C by Tom McCarthy and Parrot and Olivier in America by Peter Carey, and Emma Donoghue’s Room, which has been getting quite a lot of buzz of late.
Bloomsbury USA, the book’s stateside publisher, meanwhile, got lucky with the book hitting shelves today.
The publisher’s description calls the book “a scorching story of exclusion and belonging, justice and love, aging, wisdom and humanity. Funny, furious, unflinching, this extraordinary novel shows one of our finest writers at his brilliant best.”
An excerpt of the book (scroll down) begins:
He should have seen it coming.
His life had been one mishap after another. So he should have been prepared for this one.
He was a man who saw things coming. Not shadowy premonitions before and after sleep, but real and present dangers in the daylit world. Lamp posts and trees reared up at him, splintering his shins. Speeding cars lost control and rode on to the footpath leaving him lying in a pile of torn tissue and mangled bones. Sharp objects dropped from scaffolding and pierced his skull.
Jacobson has written a number of novels. Probably the best known are The Making of Henry, Coming From Behind, and Kalooki Nights, which was on the 2006 Booker longlist and which Sara Ivry in these pages called “Hilarious, shocking, provocative.”
Last month, we unveiled the longlists for the Best Translated Book Awards (BTBA), an award founded by Three Percent that comes with a $5,000 prize for author and translator alike. Below, behold the finalists. The winner will be announced at a ceremony in New York and at The Millions on May 4.
Best Translated Book Award 2017: Fiction Finalists
Wicked Weeds by Pedro Cabiya, translated from the Spanish by Jessica Powell (Dominican Republic, Mandel Vilar Press)
Chronicle of the Murdered House by Lúcio Cardoso, translated from the Portuguese by Margaret Jull Costa and Robin Patterson (Brazil, Open Letter Books)
Eve Out of Her Ruins by Ananda Devi, translated from the French by Jeffrey Zuckerman (Mauritius, Deep Vellum)
Zama by Antonio di Benedetto, translated from the Spanish by Esther Allen (Argentina, New York Review Books)
Doomi Golo by Boubacar Boris Diop, translated from the Wolof by Vera Wülfing-Leckie and El Hadji Moustapha Diop (Senegal, Michigan State University Press)
War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans, translated from the Dutch by David McKay (Belgium, Pantheon)
Umami by Laia Jufresa, translated from the Spanish by Sophie Hughes (Mexico, Oneworld)
Oblivion by Sergi Lebedev, translated from the Russian by Antonina W. Bouis (Russia, New Vessel Press)
Ladivine by Marie NDiaye, translated from the French by Jordan Stump (France, Knopf)
Among Strange Victims by Daniel Saldaña Paris, translated from the Spanish by Christina MacSweeney (Mexico, Coffee House Press)
Best Translated Book Award 2017: Poetry Finalists
Berlin-Hamlet by Szilárd Borbély, translated from the Hungarian by Ottilie Mulzet (Hungary, New York Review Books)
Of Things by Michael Donhauser, translated from the German by Nick Hoff and Andrew Joron (Austria, Burning Deck Press)
Cheer Up, Femme Fatale by Yideum Kim, translated from the Korean by Ji Yoon Lee, Don Mee Choi, and Johannes Göransson (South Korea, Action Books)
In Praise of Defeat by Abdellatif Laâbi, translated from the French by Donald Nicholson-Smith (Morocco, Archipelago Books)
Comcast’s Internet service was been down for about 36 hours which has made blogging difficult. Now that my day job is officially a work from home gig, I rely on steady Internet access like never before, and considering the amount of time I spend blogging and using the Internet for pretty much all of the information consumption in my life, going without is next to impossible for me. I’d say that’s a little scary, but it’s been like this for several years now so I’m pretty used to it. At any rate, hopefully I’m back up and running for good, no thanks to Comcast – it took three phone calls to them and 12 hours before they could even confirm that an outage was causing my problem. Luckily, Mrs. Millions was kind enough to let me use her office for work, otherwise I would have been really screwed.In the meantime, the Pulitzer Prizes were announced yesterday. To me, the Pulitzer Prize for fiction is the most predictable of all literary prizes as it usually goes to the most well-known American literary work of the previous year, especially if the book deals with American themes, namely the American immigrant/Melting Pot idea. American history is usually an important theme as well. This year I figured E.L. Doctorow’s The March was a lock, both because it sold well and because it’s about an iconic episode in American history, General Sherman’s great march during the Civil War. Instead, Doctorow’s book was named a finalist, but the much less well-known, but similarly named and themed book March by Geraldine Brooks won the prize. March is about the Civil War as well, but the book is not simply a fictional account of a historical event, rather March tells the story of Mr. March, the father who in Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women is away fighting in the Civil War. This isn’t the first time that what Booksquare calls a remix has won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. In 1999 Michael Cunningham’s The Hours, a “remix” of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway won the prize.Listed below are this years winners and finalists in all the “Letters” categories. I’ve included links to excerpts and other interesting material where available.FictionWinner: March by Geraldine Brooks – excerptThe March by E.L. Doctorow – excerptThe Bright Forever by Lee Martin – excerptDrama:No Winner: (I rather like that the Pulitzer unlike most other prizes is unafraid to not pick a winner if they don’t feel there’s a worthy book in a category – though, admittedly, I’d be surprised to see them not pick a fiction winner any time soon.)Miss Witherspoon by Christopher Durang – New York Times reviewThe Intelligent Design of Jenny Chow by Rolin Jones – New York Times reviewRed Light Winter by Adam Rapp – New York Times reviewHistory:Winner: Polio: An American Story by David M. Oshinsky – Bookslut reviewNew York Burning: Liberty, Slavery, and Conspiracy in Eighteenth-Century Manhattan by Jill Lepore – excerptThe Rise of American Democracy: Jefferson to Lincoln by Sean Wilentz – interviewBiography:Winner: American Prometheus: The Triumph and Tragedy of J. Robert Oppenheimer by Kai Bird and Martin J. Sherwin – excerptThe Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion – excerptThe Peabody Sisters: Three Women Who Ignited American Romanticism by Megan Marshall – Megan Marshall at SlatePoetry:Winner: Late Wife by Claudia Emerson – a poemAmerican Sublime by Elizabeth Alexander – excerptElegy on Toy Piano by Dean Young – excerpt (pdf)General Non-fiction:Winner: Imperial Reckoning: The Untold Story of Britain’s Gulag in Kenya by Caroline Elkins – (very short) excerptPostwar: A History of Europe Since 1945 by Tony Judt – Judt in The NYRBThe Assassins’ Gate: America in Iraq by George Packer – excerpt
China has its first literary Nobel Laureate as the prize has gone to 57-year-old novelist Mo Yan. Yan is said to make use of magical realism and satire in addressing China’s recent history. His books have been frequently banned in China and “Mo Yan” is a pen name meaning “don’t speak.” Yan’s given name is Guan Moye.
Yan’s style here is maximalistic, headlong, sloppy to be sure, but bursting with life; or rather, lives — human and otherwise. A Chinese landowner is executed at the dawn of the Cultural Revolution, and the story follows him literally to hell and back, again and again as he’s reborn in a progression of animal incarnations. Each time, he winds up near his former family and participates in its dramas, goes on animal adventures, and witnesses the hardships, cruelties, and absurdities of life in China over the last half-century. Mo Yan himself shows up as a character from time to time.
Yan’s other books available in English include:
Red Sorghum (which was made into a feature film)
The Garlic Ballads
Big Breasts & Wide Hips
The Republic of Wine
Shifu, You’ll Do Anything for a Laugh
Explosions and Other Stories
Forthcoming in January: Pow!
He also has a story in the collection of Chinese short fiction Chairman Mao Would Not Be Amused