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April 29, 2013

Andrei Makine: interview

Brief Loves That Live ForeverTim Martin speaks to Andrei Makine, a Russian novelist who has been compared to Stendhal, Tolstoy and Proust.

So classical in form and so precise in execution are Andreï Makine’s novels of Russia that one half-expects their author to be a kind of glittering book-world fossil, as old as the 20th century, wizened from a lifetime of unpacking the tragic ironies of Communism in gorgeously intricate prose miniatures. Makine has been compared to Stendhal, Tolstoy and Proust; our best historians of the Soviet era queue up to pronounce him one of the finest living writers on the period; and he is regularly tipped to be among the contenders for the next Nobel in literature.

So can the trim, courteous man in his mid-50s with the look of a Bergman monk, who pads downstairs from his hotel room and greets me in a perfect French bass with a discreet Russian roll on the R, really be him? I feel like asking for ID.

Makine’s own life, it turns out, has been almost as extraordinary as any one might invent for him. Born in Siberia in 1957 and raised partly in an orphanage and partly by his French-speaking grandmother, he served with the Russian military in Angola and Afghanistan, where he was blown up in a jeep and spent three weeks in a coma. Back in Russia, he studied to be a teacher.

“But my tongue was too long. I started talking about the things I’d seen in Afghanistan, and I soon realised I’d have to choose between being behind the Urals” – in a camp – “or on the other side of the Iron Curtain. I had the chance to escape and I escaped.”

He came to Paris, where he began to write novels in French. In 1997 a lean first period, in which he was forced to pretend that his books were translations from Russian originals before French publishers would agree to put them out, came to an end when his second novel, Le testament français, won both the Prix Goncourt and the Prix Medicis.

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The 10 Best Book Endings

Jessica Soffer

Jessica Soffer

By Jessica Soffer

Jessica Soffer’s Tomorrow There Will Be Apricots is a novel about families, food, and facing uncomfortable truths. It also culminates in a revealing and satisfying ending that brings all its pages together. For Tip Sheet, Soffer shared 10 of her favorite endings in books.

I don’t like to play favorites. It’s not right. Sometimes, it’s an act in futility. Apples and oranges and such, especially in literature. But here we are. Ten Best Book Endings, according to me, a woman who has read as much as she possibly could during her twenty-seven years and who wishes every day for more reading time so that she could say “Ten Best,” and feel more certain. Until then, “best” is a moving target—and I’m not even in possession of all the darts.

Bottom line: the most we can look for is an end that justifies, honors, makes meaningful the means. And sometimes we might hope for an end that does more: an end that outdoes the means. Sometimes, a deftly plotted twist will do the trick, or a really grand grand finale, or a thought so moving, so appropriate that we write it down and keep it in our wallets for years. When endings work they feel both inevitable and earned, which just doesn’t happen in real life where nothing is ever still long enough to really end at all. And so good endings must do more than life: honoring what’s come before, swelling with the promise of what’s to come, and hovering in exactly the right place so that when it’s over, it’s hardly over. It’s just right.

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What Was the First Book that Made You Love Books? PW Staff Picks


night Every now and then, PWxyz likes to let the staff around here talk about books, because that’s all we secretly want to do. Previously, the PW staff has Fixed the Modern Library 100 Novels List, named some favorite short stories, and picked the best books read in 2011 and 2012. Here, we asked: What’s the first book you read that really made you love books?


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Oil, Chavez And Telenovelas: The Rise Of The Venezuelan Novel

Barbaraby Marcela Valdes

Marcela Valdes is the books editor of The Washington Examiner and a specialist in Latin American literature and culture.

For more than 40 years, the most important book prize in South America has been bankrolled by the region’s most famous petro-nation: Venezuela. Yet Venezuelan novelists themselves rank among the least read and translated writers in the entire continent. Over and over again as I worked on this article, I stumped editors and translators with a simple question: Who are Venezuela’s best novelists?

“If you were to ask me about Mexico or Nicaragua …” one translator hedged. A second tried guessing that “there can’t be a lot happening in a country that basically represses.” A third editor was more frank. “I know zip about the country’s literature,” she confessed. “How embarrassing.”

Yet since 1967, a Venezuelan award, the International Novel Prize Rómulo Gallegos, has been the kingmaker of Spanish-language book prizes. Among the crowned: Mario Vargas Llosa, Gabriel García Márquez, Carlos Fuentes, Elena Poniatowska, Roberto Bolaño, Javier Marías, Enrique Vila-Matas and Ricardo Piglia. Gerald Martin, whose biography of García Márquez covers more than 70 years of literary history, judges it “the only Latin American prize which does the same for Latin America as the Nobel does for the world.”

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Little-known novel named Manitoba book of year

By: Morley Walker

Meira Cook

Meira Cook

A little-known novel set against the end of apartheid in South Africa has been named Manitoba’s book of the year.

Winnipeg writer Meira Cook, best known for her poetry, won the $5,000 McNally Robinson Book of the Year Award for The House on Sugarbush Road at the Manitoba Book Awards ceremony Sunday, April 28.

Cook beat out her more prominent competitor, David Bergen, whose novel The Age of Hope walked off with two prizes, the $5,000 Carol Shields Winnipeg Book Award and the $3,500 Margaret Laurence Award for Fiction from the province.

Thirteen awards in total were handed out at the 25th annual event, held this year at the West End Cultural Centre.

Cook’s novel was released in 2012 by Enfield & Wizenty, the literary imprint of Winnipeg-based Great Plains Publications.

Set in Johannesburg during the 1990s, The House on Sugarbush Road focuses on two families, one white and the other black, just after Nelson Mandela has been elected president of racially torn South Africa.

Cook herself immigrated to Canada from South Africa in 1991 at age 26.

The Age of Hope relates the life story of a fictional southern Manitoba Mennonite woman. It was published last year by Toronto-based HarperCollins Canada.

The Winnipeg-based Bergen has won several Manitoba book awards for his past novels. In 2005, he won the national Giller Prize for The Time in Between.

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Two for Harvill on Indy shortlist

iffp_logo | By Joshua Farrington

Two titles from Harvill Secker have been shortlisted for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize.

The Detour by Gerbrand Bakker, translated from the Dutch by David Colmer is in the running alongside Dublinesque by Enrique Vila-Matas, translated from the Spanish by Rosalind Harvey and Anne McLean.

Indies make up the rest of the shortlist, with Trieste by Daša Drndic, translated from the Croatian by Ellen Elias-Bursac (Maclehose Press); Bundu by Chris Barnard, translated from the Afrikaans by Michiel Heyns (Alma Books); The Fall of the Stone City by Ismail Kadare, translated from the Albanian by John Hodgson (Canongate); and Traveller of the Century by Andrés Neuman, translated from the Spanish by Nick Caistor and Lorenza Garcia (Pushkin Press).

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Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – review

AmericanahChimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s third novel is a superb dissection of race in the UK and the USA

By Elizabeth Day

There are some novels that tell a great story and others that make you change the way you look at the world. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Americanah is a book that manages to do both.

 It is ostensibly a love story – the tale of childhood sweethearts at school in Nigeria whose lives take different paths when they seek their fortunes in America and England – but it is also a brilliant dissection of modern attitudes to race, spanning three continents and touching on issues of identity, loss and loneliness.

This is Adichie’s third and most ambitious novel – her first, Purple Hibiscus, was longlisted for the Booker prize and her second, Half a Yellow Sun, won the Orange prize. A highly acclaimed 2009 collection of short stories, The Thing Around Your Neck, cemented her position as one of the most promising African writers of her generation. She was awarded a prestigious MacArthur “Genius” grant and in 2010, the New Yorker featured her in its list of the 20 best authors under the age of 40.

So a lot is expected of her. Gratifyingly, Americanah does not disappoint.

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Hitchcock, De Quincey, Murder

Alfred Hitchcock   (1899 - 1980)

Alfred Hitchcock (1899 – 1980)

On this day in 1980 Alfred Hitchcock died. Hitchcock borrowed from a long list of 20th century novelists, but in one of his last public appearances he showed a wider range by borrowing from Thomas de Quincey’s 1827 essay, “On Considering Murder as One of the Fine Arts.” He then bid the gala crowd farewell: “They tell me that murder is committed every minute, so I don’t want to waste any more of your time. I know you want to get to work. Thank You.”

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April 25, 2013

10 Imaginary Countries in Books


disgraceIn Partial Disgrace, a novel by the late Charles Newman more than twenty years in the writing, is being published by Dalkey Archive. Since the book concerns an imaginary Central European nation, Cannonia, we asked its editor, Ben Ryder Howe, to come up with a list of ten novels featuring mythical countries.

A good mythical country is not a place that doesn’t exist. It’s a place that does exist but you weren’t aware of it, either because you didn’t look at the map carefully, haven’t spent enough time in that particular part of the subarctic Eurasian hinterlands, or simply got confused by the exotic-sounding name. (For its part, Cannonia, the setting of In Partial Disgrace, is a country that is “effectively all border,” and usually covered on maps by the compass sign or coat-of-arms.)

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Poet’s Nightmare in Chinese Prison


Liao Yiwu was a reluctant dissident.

A Chinese poet and storyteller nourished on Beat generation literature, he picked fights, drank to excess and despised politics.

“I have never taken an interest in mass movements or foreign imports such as democracy, freedom, human rights and love,” he declared as the student pro-democracy movement unfolded in Beijing in 1989. “If destruction is inevitable, let it be.”

Then came the Tiananmen crackdown. Mr. Liao was transformed. He composed and recorded a poem of fury and frustration called “Massacre.” He joined with friends to make a film called “Requiem” — to appease the souls of the dead.

He was arrested in 1990 as a counterrevolutionary and endured four years of beatings, torture, hunger and humiliations in a series of prisons. After being denied an exit permit 16 times and facing new threats of imprisonment for his writing, he slipped across the border into Vietnam in 2011 and made his way to Berlin, where he still lives.

Now Mr. Liao’s prison memoir, “For a Song and a Hundred Songs: A Poet’s Journey Through a Chinese Prison,” has appeared in the West. Banned in China, it has been a best seller and prizewinner in Germany; has won critical acclaim in a French-language edition; and is being translated into Czech, Italian, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish and Swedish. An English-language version will be published by New Harvest in June.

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