Tag Archives: Nobel Prize

Geniuses

Well, isn’t that just fantastic?

Less than a year after I wrote about Sara Danius, permanent secretary to the Swedish Academy, she’s been forced out. I’m fairly certain her being a woman is not immaterial.

It’s so bad the King is planning on knocking some sense into the remaining members. Except, I’m fairly certain this is another instance when there are already too many ‘posh’ older men involved, and we don’t need another one, even if he is the boss of the so called geniuses of the academy. He’s also been in hot water, in the not too distant past.

As Jonas Gardell, who is someone very famous in Sweden, wrote in one newspaper, if it happens behind locked doors, it’s not going to be good. That’s true in more everyday circumstances, and I’m fairly certain he’s right. It was just we didn’t think about it before.

Klas Östergren i Edinburgh 2009

I somehow believed people, even when they are men, could be decent. The two academy members I’ve met have been. That’s one ordinary member – Klas Östergren – and one former permanent secretary – Peter Englund. And presumably I was right about them, as they were two of the three who resigned first. I was surprised when I read about that, but should have realised it was a sign worse was to come.

Peter Englund

In a year when women are standing up for their rights, it’s sort of interesting that in a country like Sweden, the establishment feels so established that they can ignore reports of rape and generally inappropriate sexual behaviour by people in and out of, but close to, the academy. That they can just get away with it.

It seems it’s one or two of the former permanent secretaries who can’t quite give up being boss, and who are of an age where they feel entitled, who are [mostly] behind all this. As Jonas Gardell wrote, they’ve won the battle, but they won’t win the war. I hope he is right.

And how can you have a member who passes on academy secrets, such as who’s about to get the next Nobel Prize for literature, to her husband? And if she didn’t do it, it appears the husband is tight with enough members that he could have heard it from any of them. He is the sex pest, apparently. As an exile I’d never heard of him, but it seems he runs a business financed by the academy, where he has access to women to pester.

I’m fairly certain that this will be a tough problem to solve, if it’s even possible. But I fail to grasp how this could have been the fault of the relatively new, and female, permanent secretary. My bet is on a few of the men. Perhaps kick them out in Sara’s place?

The problem being, of course, that you are supposed to die on your chair. You can’t resign or be fired. That’s why there are now too few members left.

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Kepler, take 2

Translations can be tricky. I’m sure that in some cases it doesn’t matter what they are like. In the case of instructions for household appliances it does help if they don’t cause people to be injured, or worse. On the other hand, it has been claimed once or twice that a good translation of mediocre literature can win awards for authors, including the Nobel.

But does a bad translation prevent sales? After all, you tend to buy before you discover this, if you are able to tell. Sequels might suffer, though.

I read about the plans to reissue the crime novels by Lars Kepler, with new translations into English, and was reminded of a comment on here when I reviewed The Hypnotist, which was their first. Adèle Geras felt quite strongly that the translation was what put her off finishing the book. On the other hand, Alexander and Alexandra Ahndoril (aka Lars Kepler) reckoned the translation was good. And I found no immediate fault with it, but could have been handicapped by having already read the book in Swedish. It was just not a favourite of mine.

Now, however, Niclas Salomonsson of the Salomonsson Agency believes he knows why the books haven’t done as well in the US as he feels they deserve. When he ‘discovered’ that the translations were bad, he first spent a lot of money on buying the agency which owned the rights and then he bought back the US rights and hired a new translator to retranslate the first three books (of six). And he has high hopes of success, second time around.

It will be interesting to see if he’s right.

Another ‘fascinating’ aspect is how this all goes down in the translating community. A job is a job, so I can understand if the new translator feels OK about this improvement task. But it must surely also feel a little icky, re-doing what your colleague seemingly has ‘failed’ at? And if you’re the ‘failure’? Except, according to my in-house translator, we don’t know who did the first translation, as it was a pseudonym, so I imagine no one will be publicly embarrassed.

In the end, I wonder if it will make a difference. I believe more in a good publicity effort, even if it is second time lucky. After all, we mostly don’t read crime novels and thrillers for any literary chills that might run down our spines. We want quick thrills.

But the blurb by Lee Child probably won’t hurt.

Noble about a worthy Briton

I think the nicest thing about Kazuo Ishiguro being awarded this year’s Nobel Prize for literature is that everyone’s being so nice about it. None of this ‘who?’ or ‘really?’ but just a quiet acceptance.

Not having read anything by Ishiguro I’m not in a position to comment on his worthiness. He seems to be popular, but not too popular, except from the point of view that those asked to comment in the Guardian last week all had good things to say.

What’s more, it’s so ‘nice’ that he’s British. I’m at least as British, apart from the fact I don’t have the passport to go with it. Otherwise, Kazuo and I are both foreigners, really. But people like to claim successes as their own whenever they can.

Whether there are too many English language authors being successful with awards is another matter. You can’t avoid the fact that their work will be easier to access, and that identifying with what they write about is also easier. I like books where I feel at home. I see no reason why awarding committees shouldn’t also feel that way, even if they are not aware of it.

And I don’t believe awards should go to someone because of the colour of their skin, or for belonging to any category under-represented in the awards competition. (Reminds me of The Good Wife, where one character greets another with the words ‘You must be the woman! I’m the black.’)

So few will win any kind of jackpot that this will always be unfair in some sense.

Mårbacka

It took me a while to work out what Mårbacka was. As a child I’d read another Selma Lagerlöf autobiographical book with very nearly the same title. I was reluctant then, but as a book-starved young thing, there was no way I could ignore even a boring looking book for very long, and once I began reading I loved it.

Selma Lagerlöf, Mårbacka

This time I felt much the same, except this new translation – by Sarah Death – does not look boring. It’s very pretty with its red roses on the cover. But I thought it might go over the same ground (I suppose it does, but not so it matters), and I really don’t feel I ought to read it in anything but the original.

But once I got past that bit of snobbery, I discovered it was fun, in a quiet Swedish kind of way. Disconcerting, too, as I feel that this was more or less my life, one hundred years earlier. I wonder if this is something that many Swedes are afflicted by? I grew up in a small family with not much money, in a town. Selma was part of a larger and wealthier family in the countryside.

It could have been my life too. And the anecdotal way of telling us about her life is a good technique. It’s almost like a regular column in a magazine. And like them, entertaining and partly truthful while also being helped along with some embellishments to the truth.

As I was reading, I couldn’t help stopping every now and then to consider what the original might have said. A bit as with subtitles when you don’t need them; you still look for something. (I might have gone differently with the vörtbröd…)

It’s charming, and funny, and it shows the reader what Sweden was like before the big move to the towns, before socialism and before Ikea. It’s about building a new cowhouse, the Swedish way of celebrating birthdays when you can’t prevent the whole county from turning up uninvited, about having your old, former maid come to tea, coming face to face with a kelpie, dreaming of the King coming to visit, and how it took days to travel from Värmland to the West coast.

I can see that if I had been awarded the Nobel prize, I’d have done exactly what Selma did and done up my childhood paradise. After all, she only did what her own father worked on before her. What most of us would do if we could.

How, erm, very Nobel

Bob Dylan eh?

I like it. I mean, I’m not a particular fan of Dylan’s, but I’m not not a fan either. He’s just Dylan.

It’s funny though. Yesterday morning on Facebook people were discussing who it might be, who they wanted it to be, and so on, mentioning names I’d either heard of, or ones I really didn’t know much about. My only comment was that surely the Swedish Academy could only pick someone no one – but them – had ever come across.

Peter Englund

Can’t you just picture it, The Eighteen sitting around pondering who they could possibly find that would enable them to hold their heads up high. And then some bright spark (that could be absolutely any one of them, obviously) came up with the complete opposite to the ‘never heard of him’ conundrum. ‘Let’s go for Bob Dylan! We just need to think up some clever way of saying why we chose him. But we can do that.’

And Peter Englund – probably – said that even the Bookwitch will know Dylan. Problem solved.

(Yes, I know. Peter is no longer their permanent secretary. But I have a photo of him I can use. And he might ‘know’ me. OK, I have photos of two more members, and I have met one, but not so he would remember.)

It has the surprise factor, and the Swedish Academy never disappoint. They just ‘never disappoint’ in different ways every time.

Bob Dylan… This is Swedish protest at its best. (That rhymed. I’m quite pleased with my phrase. Witty. And rhyme, all at the same time. Yes, I know. That rhymed too, but it was totally unintentional.)

Because, it can’t be because some of those old fogeys want to hang out with Dylan? Or that the King said he wouldn’t mind hanging with Bob?

I wonder what Joan Baez is thinking?

Bookwitch goes to a conference

Some people didn’t look anything like I’d imagined them. But then why should they? I went to a conference at the University of Edinburgh yesterday. Along with some similarly minded colleagues, Son has spent some time organising the Nordic Research Network conference, and the embarrassment factor of having your mother there was one I didn’t want to deprive him of. Both parents, actually, as the Resident IT Consultant had been roped in to chauffeur the sandwiches for lunch.

Ian Giles

And I did feel that this was my kind of thing; language, literature, translation. As I said, I’d been in contact with or heard of some of the people before, and you have a mental image of them, but they were generally less blonde than I had expected. Being realistic, I decided not to go to everything (it’s on today as well), but swanned in towards the end of the day when Son chaired the Translation session.

Charlotte Berry

Charlotte Berry talked about Chatto & Windus and their British Translations of Maria Gripe. It was based on notes the publisher had kept on how they discussed and decided what to translate, and that was really quite interesting. Basically, it was all down to networking, with an editor chatting to the right person somewhere else, trying to interest them in their book. And after that it was a case of organising the translating. One translator had been judged likely to be all right, because she was a mother herself… Charlotte said it was a hard topic to write about, since she didn’t want to offend anyone.

Agnes Broomé

Agnes Broomé talked on the subject of In the Wake of the Crime Wave – How to Publish Scandinavian Fiction in Translation in the New Millennium. Swedish books account for something like just over 1% of translated fiction in the English speaking world of books. Of 2000 fiction titles a year, 600-800 are translated, which is pretty good. The Nobel prize and the Astrid Lindgren award raise Sweden’s profile. (Astrid has been translated into 98 languages, coming after Shakespeare and Agatha Christie, but before Dickens and Plato.) In the past Swedish books went abroad via Danish or German, but now it is all through English. In the 1970s most translations were of children’s books, while in the last decade it’s been mostly crime. The risks with crime possibly becoming less popular are that because people have concentrated so heavily on crime fiction, other genres have suffered and are less active.

Nichola Smalley

Finally, Nichola Smalley told us about Contemporary Urban Vernaculars in Swedish Literature, and what translators do to make it work. The ways to do it are Compensation, Replacement, Representation, Adaptation or Standardisation. And the advice is not to translate dialect, though of course some do, as it’s integral to the plot in certain cases. Nichola’s conclusion was that translators work hard to avoid standardising texts, and that the finished work is often down to more than the named translator, who has probably discussed solutions with many people. She gave examples from a couple of recent Swedish novels.

There was a Q&A afterwards, with questions of the kind you’d expect from a more expert kind of audience than I usually encounter.

After coffee the first day ended with a keynote speech by Mads Bunch from Copenhagen, on the subject of North Atlantic Literature in a Scottish Context – Iceland, Faroe Islands and Orkney. (Privately I wondered what dear old Shetland had done to be excluded, and as though he’s a mind reader, Mads began by explaining why not.)

Mads Bunch

I was surprised that he mentioned fairies, until I worked out that they sound much the same as the Faroes. The Faroese are descended from seasick Vikings; those who felt so bad on the way to Iceland that they asked to be allowed to stay on the Faroe Islands.

According to Mads the peripheries (I think that’s the above islands) don’t tend to influence each other in literature, as they are sufficiently similar, and have less to give. The good stories come from the contrasts between modern westerners and the isolated islands. Mads told the story of Edwin Muir from Orkney, who travelled 150 years in the two days it took him to leave Orkney and arrive in Glasgow in 1901.

These days there are plenty of new things in Icelandic and Faroese literature, whereas Mads reckons there is little change in Orkney. They continue with their sagas, while the Icelanders write about the economic collapse, and the Faroe Islands have a thing about Buzz Aldrin…

In the Q&A session, an Icelandic reader pointed out how tired she is of hearing only Laxness mentioned all the time, and talked at length about her own favourite author (whose name I didn’t catch) who is quite excellent. And apparently they have a lot of bookshops in Iceland.

After suitable thanks, Son sent us upstairs to an evening reception with music and Lidl rye bread and cheese and olives, washed down with wine and IrnBru. Thinking of today, I made my excuses and hobbled in the direction of my train home (the sandwiches need chauffeuring one more day), instead of joining the others for dinner somwhere.

Bookwitch bites #128

Listing. Not me personally, or at least, not very much. I’ve had some sleep now. But there are lists. Everywhere.

And I will start with me. It seems I am on the Cision Top 10 UK Children’s Literature Blogs. Which is nice. (I’m sure they are mistaken, but I will not insist on a recount.) I’m in excellent company, and I shall bask in the glory for a day or two.

Various lists appear every now and then, listing (well, obviously) really good books. There was the UKLA list a couple of weeks ago, and I was relieved to see I’d actually read a respectable number of the books on there.

Then we had the 100 best children’s books in the Sunday Times, and I can’t tell you much at all about them. Plenty of people on fb were enthusing, but most ran out of steam before they’d copied all 100 book titles for us who are on the wrong side of the Times paywall. I do know Helen Grant and Keith Gray were on it, which I’m pleased about. The pleasure I’d get from knowing how many of the 100 I’ve read and liked, will have to wait. Possibly forever.

The Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award list was made public this week, and I’m definitely not going to publish the names of all 197 candidates. Good luck to them!

It’s been an awardy kind of week, hasn’t it? The Nobel prize almost passed me by completely, as I was so busy I barely even registered it was that time of year again. The 2014 prize went to Patrick Modiano, as I’m sure you know. (Has anyone here read him?) I was intrigued to see that Philip Roth should have got it instead. (Surely there must be more writers out there who ‘should’ have won?)

On the popularity front I’m sure Malala getting the Nobel peace prize is good news to – almost – everyone. Let’s hope it will make a difference, somehow.