New year, and news could be better from France. Over 600 small businesses have been destroyed or damaged in Paris alone since the yellow vests protests at the end of last year. President Macron’s open letter to French citizens seems to have done little to quell dissent; ditto for his tour of the regions in an attempt to get Mayors and their communities to share what’s on their mind. The EU’s political landscape is set to change after the elections in May 2019. Thank goodness for books, films and music offering an essential breath of fresh air!
“Judging the Banipal Translation Prize was a most enriching experience. It reminded me that literature can be a force for good – no bad thing! We need to be shocked out of a comfortable complacency that suggests that books should not attempt to bring about social and political change. The entries provided no shortage of shocks.” Pete Ayrton, Chair of Judges, the Saif Ghobash-Banipal Prize for Arabic Literary Translation.
The Man Booker International, the IMPAC Award, English PEN’s Writers in Translation Programme* and the Society of Authors’ series of prizes for outstanding literary translations from works in Arabic, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Swedish are the leaders of the prize-giving pack.
The Book of Birmingham is the latest title to be published by Comma Press in their cities in short fiction series which serves as an excellent introduction to some superb contemporary writers. The ultimate in armchair city tours, the series is ideal for discovering other places, other lives.
The Book of Birmingham – focusing on the second largest city in the UK after London which “sits atthe central crossroads of England, the industrial heartland of the country” – brings together short stories by some writers known to me, (Kit de Waal, Bobby Nayyar, C.D. Rose, Sharon Duggal, Kavita Bhanot), and some not, (Sibyl Ruth, Malachi McIntosh, Joel Lane, Jendella Benson, Alan Beard, Balvinder Banga). The city’s “working-class foundation is inseparable from the city’s literature, reflected in the voices of its best-known contemporary authors: Jonathan Coe, Catherine O’Flynn, Benjamin Zephaniah, Kit de Waal, Joel Lane . . .”
Written in the aftermath of the 2016 referendum when the UK voted to leave the EU, Robinson is essential and entertaining reading. By the end of the 19th century there were over 700 spin-off versions of Robinson Crusoe: the novel is brilliantly and succinctly revisited by Charles Boyle a.k.a. Jack Robinson in a modern-day setting.
Random thoughts from an offshore island
“James Joyce considered Robinson’s grandfather to be ‘the true prototype of the English colonist . . . The whole Anglo Saxon spirit is in Crusoe: the manly independence; the unconscious cruelty; the persistence; the slow yet efficient intelligence; the sexual apathy; the practical, well-balanced religiousness; the calculating taciturnity.’ Crusoe – the eponymous hero of the book by Daniel Defoe that is often considered to be the first English novel.”Continue reading Review | Robinson and An Overcoat, both by Jack Robinson a.k.a. Charles Boyle
“Since the ages of Enlightenment and Romanticism, the champions of translation – such as Goethe and Madame de Staël – have urged its necessity, if only as an inferior substitute for the true polyglot’s command of several tongues. That case still needs to be made, especially in English, whose position as a planet-spanning lingua franca may trick native speakers into the delusion that their language, or any language, may encompass the whole world of thought and art.” – from the Introduction
Great novels help us to understand what makes people tick and offer glimpses into the human psyche; they are as illuminating as psychology books. Translated fiction gives a whole added dimension, opening windows on to other worlds and ways of being and perceiving, which is ever more important now that Britain is being forced to re-evaluate its place in the world.
In 2001 when he was literary editor of The Independent, Boyd Tonkin revived the Independent Foreign Fiction Award – first won in 1990 by Orhan Pamuk for The White Castle (trs. Victoria Holbrook). He was one of the five co-judges until 2015 when it merged with the Man Booker International Prize. The prize has not only been a huge boost for quality translations and translators, but has also paved the way for other prizes – the TA’s translation prizes which recognize outstanding translations from works in Arabic, Dutch, French, German, Italian, Spanish and Swedish; the TA’s first translation prize; and the Warwick prize for women in translation. Continue reading Review | The 100 Best Novels in Translation, Boyd Tonkin | Book of the Week
Our April top 10 indie reads take in Albania, Arabia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, the Balkans, the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Indian and Pacific Oceans, along with the Best of British crime, poetry, and experimentalism.
Negative Space by Lulketa Lleshanaku trs. Ani Gjika (Bloodaxe Books) buy here Winner of an English PEN Award
“At night the voice of the river is totalitarian
like his alcoholic father’s breath
that blows against his neck after a haircut.
And he doesn’t dare look back at what he did.
His vision doubles, two pasts,
two version of the truth,
two women to fall in love with,
two lives to escape.
But which of them is real? Which an illusion?”
“God, like fireflies, only shines in the darkness, wrote Schopenhauer.” – Fireflies (p. 71)
Fireflies by Luis Sagasti is a brief, existential history of the world in the form of eight essays knitted together by subtle connection points. An eclectic array of highbrow and pop cultural personalities are presented in a seemingly random manner but have common threads that carry an underlying message. Philosophy helps us live our lives, is a consolation: Wittgenstein and Habermas make an appearance; as does the celebrated author of haikus, Matsuo Basho.
An original and stimulating work of experimentalism, Fireflies is in the tradition of fellow Argentine writer Jorge Luis Borges, Italo Calvino (who asserted that “the brain begins in the eye”), Roland Barthes and Michel Tournier. What is true and what is false? Are conspiracy theories grounded in any kind of reality? Is there a relationship between death and black holes? Can words express truth, and is perception reality?
Good writing and good ideas of all kinds make the world go round! Since we first began our celebration of independent publishing in February 2015, seasonal newsletters rounding up our exclusive interviews and curated eclectic reads have been emailed to friends in the publishing and media industries in the UK, US and France. All the wonderful feedback received over the years has been sustaining and heartening. For readers who have missed out on our latest activity, here’s a taste of what’s been happening . . .
“To define is to limit” ― Oscar Wilde
Dandy at Duskpublished by Head of Zeus on 5 October, is hailed as a “future classic” by Nicky Haslam, the interior designer and founder of the London-based interior design firm, NH Studio Ltd. Meet the author, Philip Mann, to whom we asked, “Why do you write?” . . . “Because I inexplicably missed out on being a film star.” He writes about Soho Bohemia, in his exclusive guest feature: “For thirty years I hid my fame in taverns“. Our other guest writer this month, freelance writer, journalist and cultural historian C.J. Schüler, writes about all things dandy. Continue reading BookBlasts® | Autumn Reads for Independent Minds